Wednesday, November 30, 2022

A Strange Hope

If you heard me say yesterday that it ought to give us great hope that we are not the first generation to deal with a group known as "the offended," and you've been paying attention to your Bible even the tiniest bit, then you're probably thinking right now - uhm, Aidan? That's a strange kind of hope you're talking about. 

Because these guys that we're looking at this week, guys like Paul and Jesus, were crucified by the offended. Yes, the ruling authorities declared them innocent. Yes, no actual fault could be found in them. But they were still crucified, just as many others like them were killed. 

Great hope there. Excellent hope. Just what you've probably always wanted from hope - the confident assurance that even being right doesn't save you from being crucified. 

Such is life. 

Or death. 

Or whatever. 

But it is great hope because it reminds us that our worldly wisdom, the best of what we think we know, isn't really all that wise. And it reminds us that when we are persecuted for truth - for being right - we aren't being singled out; we're not alone. Jesus has been there, done that, lived (haha) to tell the tale. 

These are the two things that we tell ourselves in times like these to try to settle our hearts just a little bit, aren't they? 

First, we tell ourselves that we're right. We're telling the truth. And because we're telling the truth and we're right, that ought to protect us from anything bad that might happen to us. Yes, the world can rant and rave and claim offense, but at the end of the day, the fact that we are right ought to keep us from any harm. 

The biblical story tells us something very different. And, it's true - God never called us to be right; He called us to be righteous, and there's a really big difference. And, it's also true - God never promised that even our righteousness would keep us from trouble in this world. In fact, He promised it would bring trouble right to us. So we can stop digging our heels in and demanding that our rightness keep us from any harm or trouble. Simply put, it won't. And when it doesn't, we can know that God already knew and promised us that much.

Second, we tell ourselves that the offended are simply unreasonable and that it's not actually the truth they don't like; it's us. They have some kind of pre-existing bias against us, whether it's because we're Christians or because we're male or female or because of where we live or some position we hold in our community or our economic level or whatever. It's not that the offended don't want to hear it; it's that they don't want to hear it from us

Then, we get all self-righteous and offended on our own and start making it personal against them because hey, they started it and made it personal against us. 

But it's not personal. It never was. 

If it was personal, Paul wouldn't have been the guy. He says himself all of the things that he can claim that should have bought him credibility with the very crowds that cried out against him - he was just like them in every way, except for this one fundamental disagreement in belief about who Jesus was - and even that didn't protect him. Because it wasn't personal; it wasn't because it was Paul saying these things that the offended were offended.

It's not because it's you saying it, either. No matter how new of a convert, how big of a hypocrite, how high or low of a status you have, whatever - it's not about you. It's not because it's you that the world is so offended by the message of Christ; it's because of Christ Himself, the high price He paid and the high price He calls His followers to pay for the sake of love. 

These are just things that I thought were worth thinking about this week, as we continue to try to navigate our way through a world that feels hostile to the very things that we hold dear about God and faith. It's not new, and it's not unique to us; this has been the way from the very beginning. 

So take heart, for there is great reason for hope - yes, even hope crucified. This is the way of the Cross. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022


It's the buzzword of our day, it seems - offended. Drop that word, and you can rightfully expect the world to stop for you. You can expect others to bow down and apologize. You can create an entire movement and remove an entire chunk of vocabulary from the dictionary and edit the pages of history itself just by being "offended" by something. 

Certainly, "the offended" are one of the toughest groups that we are up against. 

But this challenge isn't unique to our day.

This is exactly what we're talking about this week. This is the very thing that we see happening in the New Testament (and sometimes, the Old, as well) - persons who were confident they had everything figured out by creating tiny little boxes consisting entirely of their own self-righteous worldview started dragging these "Christians" before the ruling authorities claiming offense, trusting that everyone else was just as offended as they were. 

They did it to Paul. A lot. 

They did it to Jesus. 

Remember, the ruling authorities kept just kind of shrugging their shoulders saying, "I don't get it." These mobs kept insisting these men were the worst of the worst, absolutely intolerable, deserving of death for the good of society, but the ruling authorities kept just being baffled and saying to one another, and to the people, "I think the mobs are just offended? I think that's what's happening here." 

And the mobs kept just screaming, "Listen to him talk! See how offensive it is?" And the rulers just kept shrugging their shoulders like...what is going on? What do you want us to do about someone you merely find offensive?

That's what strikes me as funny in this whole thing. Here, we have the rulers of the majority of the world, and they say things that imply offensiveness isn't that big of a deal. It's just...part of living in a multiethnic world, as far as they're concerned; ideas are going to clash sometimes. Deal with it. 

Yet today, we live in a world that will literally stop everything because one person is offended. If you have a voice that can make a big enough noise, you can destroy anything. We can't just let anyone be ignorant any more; say something ignorant, and you're offensive and must be dealt with. We can't just let someone have a different opinion; go against the flow, and you're offensive and must be dealt with. Over and over again, particularly in recent years, we have seen being "offended" tear down some of the most inarguable stories - things no one would have blinked twice at for hundreds or thousands of years are now likely to get you canceled, or worse, because one day, someone decided they were "offensive" and that makes you a threat to the entire fabric of the human race for ever even having the thought, let alone saying the word. 

This is how we've ended up with a "Jesus" who is just nice and loving and tolerant and adores everything about this broken world because there's not a place in our culture, we think, for anything at all like truth. That would be offensive. 

But that's exactly the point. I mean, that's exactly why Jesus was put to death in the first place. He wasn't violent. He wasn't a threat. He wasn't a drunkard or a lawbreaker.

He was simply offensive. 

So was Paul.

So was Silas.

So was Peter. 

So was the Gospel. 

So it still is today. 

That doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing, no matter how much the world shouts at you that it does. 

And sometimes - okay, actually, a lot - the world make the claim and then asks you to speak for yourself, and when you do, they just point a finger and say, "See? See? It's offensive." And maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's supposed to be. Maybe it's not. 

But it's not new. 

And that fact should give us hope.  

Monday, November 28, 2022


The New Testament, particularly the early parts of it (the Gospels, Acts) are full of a number of trials, times during which believers in this new Way were dragged into the courts to defend themselves for one thing or another. Jesus was dragged before Pilate, Stephen before the Sanhedrin, Paul before the Romans, and a few others in between. And there's something interesting that keeps happening in these trials:

The people just assume the accused will condemn himself. 

They assume that the person they've dragged into court is going to start talking and everyone else will be just as offended as they are. They assume that when asked a question, the accused is going to answer and reveal his own rascality. Sometimes, the crowds quiet down just to hear the accused speak, only to go into a raucous uproar all over again, and the accusers just stand smugly by like, "See? See how much trouble this guy is causing?" 

We keep seeing stories that say that they've tried to bring in witnesses to accuse this or that person, but it's never the witnesses that actually end up doing anything. No, everything hinges on the accused actually speaking for himself, then everyone else just pointing fingers and insisting on his guilt. 

There's a bit of a game afoot here, if you're paying attention. Watch the pattern: 

An offended party drags the accused before some kind of council or ruling authority. The offended party then makes claims about what the accused allegedly said that was so offensive, usually something about the faith itself - something the accused believes that the accuser doesn't. The council or ruling authority asks the accused if the accusation is true or what he has to say for himself. The accused then repeats what he said that so offended whoever it was that dragged him there. Then, the accuser points the finger and says, "See? See? He said it." 

Then, the ruling authorities tend to get really confused (except when the ruling authorities are the Pharisees, then they just get a little stone-y and vengeful), unable to understand what it is exactly that the accuser wants the accused imprisoned or killed for, as it just seems to them to be some weird disagreement on the facts of their own shared-ish faith. The onlooking world (the Romans) can't understand why it matters so much that a man should face death just because he believes something different than someone else. 

But, as it tends to happen, the accuser makes such a stink and raises such a fuss that...what are you gonna do? What can you do? You can't have a riot, so you have to do something. 

So Jesus is hung on a Cross, Paul is forced to appeal to the emperor, 

I'm telling this story because this is our story, too. And we'll talk about it for a few days.

We're not going to talk about this all week, though. Thursday brings in a turn of the page for us, as December starts, and I've got some holy things burning in my heart as we head toward Christmas, so we're going to shift gears and start settling into an Advent of sorts, a season of reflection and hope and anticipation, and talk about Jesus. A lot.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Unlearned Men

The point of this week's discussion is this: any time someone tells you that you're not educated enough to understand the Bible, that person is trying to build his or her own authority so that he or she can preach their own understanding or adaptation. 

Sometimes, they're teaching the truth; often times, they are not. 

But if you look through the Bible, you'll see something strange happening - most of the men and women God chose, overwhelmingly most, were uneducated. 

He wasn't choosing the intellectuals. He wasn't choosing the elite. He wasn't choosing even the religious leaders. Samuel was adopted into the priesthood, not from the official line of priestly descent. Moses struggled with his own speech issues, but was chosen to speak anyway. David was a shepherd boy, the caretaker of his father's flocks. Amos was a fig picker. Even in the New Testament, we see that the peoples often "marveled" when the apostles spoke because they were "uneducated." And Jesus Himself was born into poverty, in the basement of an inn, no less. And when He read the Scriptures in the holy gathering, many asked even of Him, "Isn't He uneducated? He's just the carpenter's son." 

Over and over and over again, God has chosen the uneducated to whom to reveal His Word. Over and over again, He has shown that it doesn't take any special ability, except that which is given by Him, to understand. To prophesy. To preach. To love. To hope. 

There are no academic exegeses in the Scriptures. There are no word studies. No one stops to say, Gosh, I wonder what this means. The Scriptures are written plainly, spoken plainly, read plainly. It's not some hidden mystery that has to be discovered by all of our advances in academia. 

(In fact, if you've been following along with this blog for very long, you know that I absolutely hate what academia has tried to do to the Bible. It has tried for too long to tell the faithful that what they believe from the Bible is wrong because the Bible is "a human book written by humans within human history and if you don't know anything about humans, you can't possibly know anything about God." It's infuriating how even today, the Pharisees want to put a weight on you that you just can't bear.) 

Even Luke, who is perhaps one of the most educated of the biblical writers, doesn't make his account high-brow. He doesn't tell Theophilus that he'll do his best to relay the story, but he'll never understand it. No, he says that even his story is plainly told. Because it is the nature of the story of God that it is plainly told and that every heart that is open to it can understand. 


So no, there is no evidence, no reasonable argument, that you are ill-equipped to understand the divinely-inspired Word of God. There's no reason why you can't read your Bible and feel "strangely warm," as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus, knowing that God is with you. There is nothing at all to say that what you understand from the Bible, in the heart of your God-created being, is somehow insufficient or inaccurate. 

Yes, your flesh is going to get in the way. Mine does all the time. It's part of being human. But...God knew He was writing to humans when He started. To claim that our humanness is somehow a just doesn't make sense. It diminishes God, and right at the place where we are coming to understand His glory. 

Ignore that. 

God delights in His children who read His Word and are moved by it. Even, as He has shown so faithfully from the very beginning, His "uneducated" children who, in fact, are the only ones to ever truly tell the world about Him.  

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Interpreter

The Bible sets no precedent for us needing a human interpreter to understand what God has given us. In fact, it repeatedly tells us that we will be given all that we need to see. 

Ironically, what we are an Interpreter.

This was the promise all along, right? This is exactly what Jesus said. He said it was better for us if He went away because that meant He was sending Someone else to help us understand everything. He promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon us and guide us in all truth, and the New Testament repeatedly reports this happening - someone believes, the Holy Spirit comes upon that person, and that person understands what God has been trying to say all along. 

Now, if you've been following along this week, you know that there are probably some persons out there who are going to say something like, "Yes, God gave the Holy Spirit to the early believers because they were the ones who were going to have to tell the story for us. So they needed the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit to get it right. But He doesn't give us that any more." 

First, as we saw earlier, this doesn't really solve anything; it just pushes the inspiration and interpretation question a little bit further away, as we then have to ask how we're ever supposed to know whether we understand the human interpreters correctly.

Second, wow. God doesn't intend to give us the Holy Spirit any more? That's a slap in the face. (Among other things.) 

The Holy Spirit is fundamental to the Christian faith. Period. Everything we know, every good thing we do, every act of love, even of being loved, is a product of the Holy Spirit at work in us. To argue anything else is to say that there is such a thing as human goodness, and if there is human goodness, then the work of Jesus was entirely unnecessary as, it seems, we absolutely would have gotten there on our own. I mean, if we're getting there now on our own so far removed from God's gifts of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, all on our own left to figure things out by human wisdom, much for the work of the Cross and the promise of the Spirit. Thanks, God, but we don't need it. 

So then the next argument is, well, the same as it's been all week - that there is still a Holy Spirit, but it isn't given to you. It's only given to a select few, to elite pastors or academics, who are then tasked by God with the challenge of dumbing things down so that even you can understand (which is interesting because in the same breath they say this, these guys also often do everything they can to talk over your head so that you really believe that things are too complex for you until you get so frustrated that you end up just screaming, "Just shut up and tell me what I'm supposed to do!" Then, they've got you). 

But that wouldn't be the testimony of the Bible, either. The Bible keeps telling us of all these times that persons received the Holy Spirit on account of their believing, and these aren't elite pastors or academics. A lot of times, they aren't even Jews - they're Gentiles. They're the ones to whom the faith was closed for so long, like so many of the ragamuffins that today's religious elite still try to keep out of the church. In other words, it's the very same guys and gals that the "church" said could never be persons of God who received the gift of the Holy Spirit and came not only to know truth, but fire. They are the foundation of all that we are. (Okay, a lot of the foundation.) 

The same is still happening today. 

Everything we know, we know because God gave it to us to know. And because God then gave to us the One Who knows it - the Holy Spirit - to lead us into that truth. And that includes biblical truth. That includes the words that you've been told you aren't "supposed" to understand for yourself. In a sense, that's right - you don't. But you don't need some fancy full-of-himself human authority to tell you what it means. 

You've got the Holy Spirit. 

And that's exactly what He is for.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

A Matter of Interpretation

We're talking about the idea that the Bible is the inspired Word of God that God has not inspired you to understand and how certain individuals love to spout this argument so that they can become the biblical authority in your life and tell you what you're supposed to believe (because you're too dumb to figure faith out yourself). 

(Scary side point: I'm watching one of these guys right now who has made an entire short film to explain his current pet interpretation and how what the church at large is preaching to you is inaccurate because he found some shred somewhere that suggests otherwise and that better fits his narrative. It's just that easy, folks, when you've convinced the world that God doesn't want them to understand Him and that they need your help.) 

So we're at the point now where we're questioning the path this argument takes - that God hasn't inspired you, but has inspired others at various points of history and has currently inspired certain academics or certain individuals to understand the previously-inspired men (who you are also incapable of understanding without help). And at just the point that you're ready to confidently make this argument, at just the point where you're ready to say, "Wait a minute...," these guys jump in with this: 

Oh, that's the way God has always worked. See? He keeps sending prophets, and the prophets are there to interpret God for the people. They need that. And then in the New Testament, see? He says that whenever someone speaks, like in tongues, there has to be someone there to interpret for them. And what bigger tongue is there than the Holy Spirit Himself? 

The goal here is to change your "Wait a minute..." into a "'re right."'s not quite right. 

Yes, God has sent prophets to His people throughout history. That much, we know because it is in the story that He's given us. Yes, the very story that today's wanna-be "prophets" tell you that you can't understand without them. 

But notice that God never sent a prophet with the prophet to explain to the people what the prophet was trying to tell them. No, the prophet himself did that. Elijah didn't have an interpreter for the people. Elisha didn't have an interpreter for the people. Amos didn't have an interpreter for the people. You get the point. At no point in Scripture is there a guy just standing around so that he can explain to the people what the prophet is doing. 

Why would today be any different? Why would God send us a "prophet" to interpret the prophet He already sent, whose story is already written for us as plainly as it was told to the people of that time? You can see clearly that this is not the way that God operates.

But what about that speaking in tongues thing and always having an interpreter present? 

That, too, is pretty clear. (And we could talk about speaking in tongues in general for awhile, too.) When the people spoke in tongues, they were speaking not in nonsense, but in languages that actually existed. Which is all well and good, unless no one else there speaks that language. Then, you're just babbling, even if you have something really important to say. 

When God talks about needing an interpreter to be present, He's talking not about you having understanding, but about the words themselves having meaning. It's like...if you, as a member of the American church, went to a seminar where a Chinese pastor was talking about the state of the Chinese church. Except he only speaks Chinese and you don't. If there's no one there to interpret what he's saying, the entire talk means nothing to you and you are not encouraged by the global faith. 

That's why we have to have interpreters. But what the argument we're talking about is saying is that the interpreter doesn't just change the language; he tells you what it means. And when is that ever true? A good interpreter puts things in the language you already speak so that you already know what the words mean when you are told them. It would be strange otherwise, wouldn't it? 

"He said that he likes to watch basketball. That means he likes to watch a game whereby individuals convey a round, orange ball up and down a pre-designed court with the goal of throwing the ball through a small hoop elevated in the air." 

No interpreter does this. No, he tells you "basketball" in your native language and assumes you know what that means. 

That's the difference. 

So even though it sounds intimidating when these guys try to tell you that God has always sent prophets and interpreters (because it is true that He has), their definition is very different from God's definition, and it's simply not legitimate. Period. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Inspired Men

When I raised the question of why God would inspire a Word He doesn't then inspire us to understand, I got a rather interesting reply: 

God inspired men in the time of Jesus and shortly after to understand it, but He no longer inspires us to do the same. 

Thus, we are supposed to rely on those who lived around Jesus's age to tell us not only who Jesus was, but what Jesus means. 

This raises more questions than it answers. 

First, if it was only around the time of Jesus that men were inspired to understand the Scriptures, then that leaves the entire Old Testament un-understood for much of its history. It meant absolutely nothing to anyone. And the truth is, Israel could not possibly have been anticipating a Messiah at all if they never understood the Scriptures promising Him. So anything that we've ever said about God working His story toward Jesus would be a lie because HIs people could not have known that. 

But second, and most importantly, it doesn't get us around the question that we're asking. At all. 

This argument starts with the idea that the Bible is just a bunch of human works put together. Divinely inspired, maybe, but written by human hands. And then given into human hands to translate for us, since we are not divinely inspired. 

The obvious question, then, is: why would God inspire us to understand the humans who interpreted the Scriptures instead of just inspiring us to interpret the Scriptures ourselves? Why the extra step? This, again, takes us to a God who wants to create a measure of distance between us and Him, and that's simply not the God of the Bible. 

And it would require some inspiration for us to understand even the interpreters. Just look at the way that we can read a single news article today and each of us walk away with a different idea about what happened or why. We can't even agree on the things that we see with our own eyes. So we're supposed to just say that these guys have it right? What is right, anyway?

We run into the same problems of human interpretation when we're interpreting divinely-inspired interpreters as we do when we're interpreting divinely-inspired writers. The only thing it really does is to create a buffer for us where we can claim that we're no good at human history, rather than being no good at divine history. Where we can say we struggle to understand ourselves, not that we struggle to understand God. When we make an error, it is because we suck at human interpretation, not because we're not good at God's things. 

Do you see what we're doing? We're just passing the buck. 

Except that's not what the guy who makes this argument is actually saying. What he's actually saying is that our failure to even understand what the human interpreters have left us, the divinely-inspired human interpreters, means that we have absolutely no business trying to say anything at all about the Scriptures. If we don't understand what's been plainly given to us, how can we ever understand God's mysterious Word?

Again, it's a way to get you to shut up and sit down so that some "expert" can step in and tell you what it means, all while claiming that he doesn't really know either but that he only understands what someone else has said (so that he doesn't have to take responsibility for his interpretations, either). 

It's bunk. Pure bunk. And simply does not accurately reflect the heart, or the Word, of God. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Divine Inspiration

Recently, I saw a comment (okay, it was on Twitter) to the effect that "you should absolutely believe that God inspired the Word" but "your interpretation of it? Not so much." In other words, God wrote the Bible through divine inspiration, but anything you think you understand about it is limited and finite because you are an ignorant human being with no special ability to actually know what God was trying to say. 

As you can imagine, I have so many issues with this. 

Where do we even start?

First and most importantly, this establishes that there is a God who is sovereign over all, divine, inspired, and full of the kinds of things that He would put in His Word but that also, He doesn't want you to know Him. He hasn't given you what you need to understand Him. He has created a distance between you and Him because He has made you too limited and finite, too ignorant, to understand Him. 

This seems hard to believe, given that we have a God who walked in the garden in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve. A God who crossed heaven and earth to dwell among us as Immanuel. A God who spends His entire story trying to get back to us. 

A God who wants intimacy, whose entire story is told in intimacy, cannot also be a God who gives you purposely a Word that you will never understand. That's ridiculous. 

Second, this is set up to create a theological authority. The person who said this then comes along behind it and starts filling in all of this complicated Bible-related language and essentially can say anything he wants and tell you to believe it because *he* has the educational background, experience, etc. to understand the Word of God in a way that you never can. 

This is how Scripture gets twisted. This is how pastors abuse their authority. This is how they convince you that they are special, that they are better than you, that God loves them more, that they are endowed with special divine ability. They tell you that you can't understand God, then offer to interpret for you - and once they've convinced you that you need that service, they can say anything they want.

Third, this puts a massive emphasis on human understanding. If God has inspired His Word, but you are too dumb to understand it, then you need other humans to understand it for you. Thus, these guys always end up appealing to either figures in church history or academics in ivory towers. 

Do you see the fallacy here? If human interpretation is untrustworthy, why are history and academia - both written and practiced by human beings - any more trustworthy than anything you might understand on your own?

A bizarre deconstruction starts to happen here, usually. And the person who posted this tweet demonstrated it quite well - he went on to talk about how the Bible is a book written by a certain number of humans over a certain number of years in a certain number of places and languages, breaking down all of the content of the Bible in human terms. Then explaining that certain humans - educated humans throughout history (academics, ancient theologians) - are the ones best suited to explain this human book to you by nature of everything they have studied and understood about human history, the kind of human history in this very book. 

So we've gone from a divinely-inspired word humans cannot possibly understand to a very human work that only certain educated humans are qualified to explain to you and...wait. Where did divine inspiration go? Where did God go? 

We went from a God who is so foreign you can't possibly understand Him to a God you no longer even need because what was once divinely inspired is so thoroughly human that we could spend our lives getting lost in its languages and locations. 

Like I said, there is so much here that I take issue with. So much that is just so wrong about a statement like this. 

So much to talk about! 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Swapping Mercies

As we wrap up our discussion of Paul and Silas in prison and the difference that our praise can make in our witness and in the lives of those around us, there's one other aspect of this story that we need to talk about, and it centers around mercies. 

After the chains fell off all of the prisoners, the guard realized what was happening and panicked. He knew it was his head on the line, and he was pretty sure he was about to lose it (his head, I mean). To be in charge of a prison in which all of the prisoners are suddenly freed is not a good look, and it's running through his heart that he's better off just taking his own life than letting his superiors get their hands on him. He might as well just take the honest, humble way out and save everyone else the trouble. 

Then, a voice. "Stop. Wait. We're all here." Every one of the prisoners is still standing there, still sitting in that prison. 

Of course, Paul and Silas could have let the guard just kill himself. After all, if you're a prisoner planning an escape, there's no better cover than the fact that there wasn't even a guard at all. If he's dead, you're probably less guilty of leaving than if you push past the guy, right? Not that Paul and Silas were planning an escape, but some of their fellow prisoners most definitely had it on their mind (were they not listening to the men who set them free). It just tidies up a lot of loose ends if you let the guard kill himself. 

But it wouldn't have been truth. And if it's not truth, then it has no place in the testimony that Paul and Silas are building. 

So the first mercy is that Paul tells the jailer the truth - there's no reason to panic, no reason to fret; all of the prisoners are still here and God, the God of all glory and grace, has not put this jailer's life on the line when He set the prisoners free. (Man, this is so important. We could talk for awhile about how God's freedom doesn't make more captives. But I digress. Or do I?)

Having heard the truth, the jailer looks around and sees for himself. And then, he returns the mercy - by washing Paul and Silas's wounds. 

We can't overlook this. Paul and Silas have been sitting in jail with this jailer for hours by now, and at no point did this jailer offer, apparently, to even let them clean their own wounds. They're just sitting there, covered in blood and stinging in the raw places where their flesh has been ripped open, and this jailer has absolutely zero concern about this. Until he hears truth. Until he's offered mercy. Then, he offers mercy in return. 

And in a twist that is so God, as the jailer is washing Paul and Silas's wounds, he asks them about being saved and the answer is...that God must wash his. God must wash the stinging flesh of the jailer if he wants to be saved. So, the mercy turns once more and Paul and Silas, whose wounds have just been washed, wash the wounds of the jailer - the last man in the prison to be set free. 

This story is so deep, so wonderful. So amazing. It's got so many layers if you just follow the mercies through it, starting with truth and ending with grace, and we know that this is only the beginning of this story - we don't know what happens next. 

This is the kind of story we ought to be writing in the world ourselves. This is the way that grace works itself out - through mercy. This kind of thing can absolutely happen today, and it should be. 

It's like this: we tell the world the truth. The world sees that what we say is actually true and responds to us with tender mercy, a mercy it never had before. In the midst of that tender mercy, we start talking about grace. And bam, here we are - so-called prisoners setting the jailer free. 

And it all started with a simple hymn of praise.  

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Let Us Praise

As we're talking about this story, about Paul and Silas in prison and the chains falling off not just them, but every single prisoner in the place, there's something I've hinted at a bit but never really latched onto, yet, it deserves a conversation. In fact, I was starting to just write the next part of the story that I wanted to be telling, and I noticed that I was mentioning it again, so I decided to stop and, well, let's just talk about it. 

It's the fact that Paul and Silas were not praying in that prison. 

See, this idea is so foreign to us. We are a people of faith who think that the absolute best thing we can do for another person is to pray for them. We think, perhaps, that the least offensive thing we can do for someone is to pray for them. We think that if we want the power and presence of God to show up in a meaningful way, then it's definitely prayer that will make that happen. 

We have spent our lives being taught how to talk to God, the importance of talking to God, the power of talking to God, and on and on and on. We've had a major emphasis in most of our teaching, at least in many mainstream churches, on prayer as the avenue to connection with God. 

Strange, then, isn't it? that in the Bible, it's most often praise that is emphasized. 

This is true back in the Old Testament when Israel came to offer sacrifices. This was true in the wilderness when Miriam started dancing. This was true when David sat down and wrote, through the course of his life, dozens of psalms - these are songs, folks, not prayers. Even though we today often read them as prayers and use them in our own prayer life. 

In the Gospels, we don't see many persons approaching Jesus with prayer. They cry out, and we tell ourselves this is prayer, but look at how much praise is happening around Jesus, too. It's incredible when you really start reading with an eye for this. 

And now, here we are with two young believers in prison, just as the movement is getting off the ground, and they aren't praying for God's divine intervention. They aren't praying for God's goodness. They are praising His goodness. And that is when the chains fall off. 

It raises an interesting question: what if the world wasn't the object of our prayer, but the witness of our praise? How would it change the way the world sees God?

Let's face it - prayer has gotten kind of a bad reputation. We use it as an opportunity for gossip. It's become passive-aggressive in some cases, as we say snidely, "I'll pray for you." It's too often an empty promise - we say we will pray for someone, but we're really just trying to end the conversation and move on; too many of us don't pray the prayers we promise. It can sound rude to someone who doesn't believe, like we're not actually doing anything at all. And it's extremely (it seems) hands-off; it feels like the very thing the Bible tells us not to do, telling someone to keep warm when we have a coat to offer them. In prayer, too often, we tell someone we'll ask God to keep them warm while our extra coat is right there, draped over our own shoulder. 

Praise's just different. It is. Praise isn't a fingers-crossed hope; it's a confident assurance. It comes flowing out of this place that just knows that God is good and isn't waiting on Him to prove it. 

Do you see the difference? Paul and Silas could sit in that prison and pray, even pray out loud, and everyone's going to be holding their breath, waiting to see if God is as good as they say He is. Waiting to see if He's good enough to answer. But they don't do that. No, they sing about how good they know He is, and that's far more real in that moment. That's far more relevant to the rest of those prisoners. They don't have to wait to see if God is good; they already know it. After all, what other god has prisoners singing praises in a dark place? 

Praise changes things, and our world needs our praise as our witness. Yes, they need our prayer, too, but they need our praise. They need to hear us singing the goodness of God.

There's just something about it. 

If you don't believe me, try it. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

A Way to Deal

It can sound daunting, this idea of having to bear the burden of faith for the world. Of having to have a faith that will set all the prisoners free, not just yourself. But that's not at all what we're talking about here. 

Paul and Silas weren't intentionally trying to set anyone free, not even themselves. They weren't thinking about chains falling off. If they were, they probably would have prayed instead of singing hymns. They probably would have cried out to God, like so many men and women had done on the sides of the roads, for freedom. They would have folded their hands and bowed their heads (spoiler: this isn't really the posture of prayer, except that we've made it so) and begged for God's mercy. 

No, Paul and Silas were simply working to manage their own hearts in faith in the circumstances in which they found themselves. 

They were doing what their faith naturally led them to do - praising God. They were reflecting on what their faith was certain of - the goodness of God. Remember that in the times that the Bible was written, "hymns" didn't mean the same thing that it does to most of us. A hymn wasn't a nice song that sung about some wonderful attribute of God; more often, the hymns were stories that recounted God's goodness to His people. The hymns the Bible records for us are sagas, entire retellings of God's provision throughout Israel's history. 

The hymns were the stories of how God got us here, not how God is going to get us out. 

So to comfort themselves in the darkness, to remind themselves of the goodness of God, Paul and Silas simply sit in their chains and sing His story. All the way back to Abraham. Moses. David. Perhaps even by this point, Jesus, although we cannot be sure if He'd made His way into the hymns yet. Paul and Silas were singing a song that reminded them what was really going on here. 

It just so happened that when they did, their chains fell off. 

This is good news for us who aren't sure how we could ever have a faith that sets anyone else free, that takes onto its shoulders the chains of all. Truth is, most of us are just trying to figure out how to manage our own chains. 

But that's precisely the point - that's all we have to do. We simply have to live by faith, by our own faith, with the songs and the stories that make sense to us where we are. We simply have to be willing to live out loud the things that we're certain of, the things that make God meaningful to us, no matter where we are. When we hold onto our faith even when our hands are tied, that's when the knots start to loosen and everyone gets set free. That's the kind of witness that the world needs. That's the kind of faith that moves mountains.

So don't let it feel like some big thing. Faith is not some big thing. It's a little thing, just one little thing, done from the heart that is simply holding on. 

And when we're simply holding on, well...that seems to be the very moment that darkness must let go.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Set Me Free

So we're talking about Paul and Silas in jail, and these guys were not just in jail - they were in the center chamber of the jail, the worst of the worst. And for what? For causing an uproar, that's what.

It's kind of fun to think about some of the conversations that these two must have had, sitting there together. Chained to one another. It's fun to think about what they might have whispered back and forth, just out of earshot of the guard.

But then again, my guess is that Paul and Silas didn't have a whole lot to say to one another. Most of what they had to say was about Jesus, and that means that they probably spent most of their time whispering with the guard, talking with the other prisoners. They never lost sight of their message. 

And then, they started singing. 

They started singing hymns, songs for which the words were just in their hearts. They started singing about all of the incredible things God had already done, about what an incredible God He most definitely was. 

Then, a strange thing happened:

Their chains fell off.

But not just their chains. The Bible tells us that the chains fell off every prisoner in that jail. The noise was so loud, so startling, that the guard jumped to his feet and when he looked around and saw all of these loose chains laying on the floor, he got scared. He became fearful for his own life. He knew that all of the prisoners either had already escaped or they were about to, and that would mean his head. 

Now, there's a long way we could go from here, and we'll get there. But what is important right now is this: when Paul and Silas started singing hymns in that jail, they set every prisoner free. Every single one of them.

Not the prisoners who had been baptized. Not the ones who knew the words to the song. Not the ones who shouted "Hallelujah!" at the end. Not the ones who were paying attention. Not the ones who happened to be awake at the time. All of them. Every. single. prisoner's. chains fell off. Every one. 

This is why we can't get lulled into thinking that our faith is just our own, that the things that we do for God and the ways that we glorify God are just about us and our own salvation and our own faith and our own acts of worship. Because the truth is, everyone benefits when we get this right. Everyone's life gets better when we have worship correctly in our hearts. 

We ought to be a people who sing and everyone's chains fall off. That's what our faith was meant to do.

Do you believe that? 

Monday, November 14, 2022

My Faith or Yours?

My faith is my faith. Your faith is your faith. The world says things like, "Don't shove your faith down my throat." And when the world rejects our evangelism, we say things like, "Fine. If you want to go to Hell, don't say I didn't warn you." 

We live in an individualized culture, and so it is no surprise that we have individualized our faith. We preach sermons and listen to messages that tell us that Jesus died just for us, that if we were the only person in the whole world, He still would have died just for us. That Jesus came to be with us, individually. That we each have to make our own decision about what we believe and how we want to live and who/what we want to worship. 

We have even changed the way that we read the Bible. Ask anyone to name a significant character from the Bible, and you're going to get names - David, Samuel, Jesus, Paul, Peter. No one ever says, "The Israelites." No one ever says, "The church at Antioch." No one ever says, "The believers in Jerusalem." 

Yet, God keeps telling stories about peoples. Not persons, although some of them are named, but even in the stories where we have one guy or gal with a name, God is talking about a people. He's talking about the good of the nation. He's talking about cities and towns and regions and populations and whole groups all together. 

As strange as this sounds to us, like maybe it's some kind of hero worship or something where these named individuals are somehow mini-gods or mini-saviors or whatever, this was not at all strange to the people of God who were alive at the time these things were written. They knew their faith was not just about them. 

Ours isn't, either.

Our faith has ripple effects through this world - through our houses, our neighborhoods, our communities. Everyone around us is touched by what we believe and how sincerely we live it out. At least, they're supposed to be. That's how it's supposed to work. 

Your faith isn't supposed to just make your life better. Your faith isn't supposed to just set your heart right. Your faith isn't meant to just open your eyes. Remember the friends who brought the paralytic on his mat to Jesus? It was their faith, Jesus says, that made their friend walk again. 

And that's not even the story I want to talk about this week. 

This week, I want to look at another story, one that we know but don't think about a whole lot. One that has so much to teach us if we just take the time to read it slowly and really take in what's happening. (So much is happening.) 

That story is a story about two men of God - Paul and Silas - in a prison cell.  

Friday, November 11, 2022

Profaning the Name

It's complicated theology, really - we love God. So we love persons because we love God. If we focus too much on our loving God, then the world rarely sees our love for them; it feels like we don't really love them, but are just acting loving toward them out of accommodation to our God. If we focus too much on loving persons, sometimes, our love for God gets lost, and we come across as just "nice" persons. Or "good." 

It's complicated all the further by the words of Jesus, words like, "They'll know you are Christians by the way that you love one another." Which seems to put an emphasis on our loving persons, but even here, we do not love others just for loving them; we love others because we love God. 

And it's complicated even further than that when we go back to the verses where we started this week, in Amos, where God is pronouncing judgment on the nations for their sins. The non-peoples-of-God nations are guilty of the way they mistreat other human beings, but the nations of God - Judah and Israel - are guilty of "profaning God's name." 

How have they done this? (Get ready to get even muddier....)

Judah's pretty simple - they have "rejected the instruction of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes; but their lies have led them astray." We don't get any more specifics than that, except that it's clear that their sin is against God, not against men. 

But Israel....

"...they have sold the innocent for silver, and the needy in exchange for a pair of sandals; they...trample upon the heads of the poor, and thrust aside the humble from the way. A man and his father go in to the harlots, thereby profaning my holy name. Garments taken in pledge they spread out beside every altar; and the wine of those who have been fined they drink in the houses of their gods. ...but you made the Nazirites drink wine; and you laid command upon all the prophets, saying, 'You shall not prophesy.'" 

Now, those sound like sins committed Don't they? It sounds like mistreating the poor, prostituting oneself (and women), taking advantage of others.... So if these are the things that God is upset with Israel about, doesn't it seem that He is upset at the way they treat others? 

Yes...and no. He's upset with the way that they treat others not because of the sin of their own selfishness or their blindness to better things that has gotten in the way, but precisely because the way the people of God treat others stems directly from their relationship with the God who loves them. For the non-peoples-of-God nations, they don't have the same foundation of understanding that Israel does, but Israel has the very heart of God and they should know it. The way they are treating one another shows that they don't know - or trust - the heart of God the way that they should. 

And isn't that the very complaint that our world so often lodges against us? If your God is really all that good and loves you really all that much, then you should be a better human being than someone who doesn't know your God. 

That's why it's so devastating to God. Because He knows that the not-peoples-of-God nations are looking at Israel, and if they don't see something in God's people that is fundamentally different from what they see in not-God's-people, then that says pretty plainly that God is not all that special after all. He's not a difference-maker. He's not really the kind of God who matters in the lives of His people. So...why should anyone else be interested in Him?

We have to get this right. We're getting this wrong, but we have to get this right. We have to stop thinking that the world needs to love God and we need to love the world. It's just the opposite, and for this very reason - for the very glory of God - that we need to love God first

Thursday, November 10, 2022

By Our Love

When we read Amos, we see that God judges the nations by their actions toward other human beings, but He judges Israel - His people - by their love for Him. 

We've already seen how we get this pretty wrong by the way that we try to hold non-believers accountable to the word of God. But we're getting it just as wrong for ourselves - those of us inside the church. And we're doing this in two weirdly opposite ways.

On one hand, we're tempted to say that if we are simply being judged on whether or not we love God, then we must only confess, perhaps even just once, that we love God and we will be "good." This is how we get the doctrine we preach that says that if you pray a prayer in your heart just one time, with just one breath over the course of your living, that accepts Jesus Christ and confesses Him, then you get to go to heaven. Forever. Just like that. Jesus doesn't require anything more of you than one prayer with one breath of your life. 

And, of course, that is not consistent with what the Bible teaches about what it means to become a child of God. 

But the other way we're getting it wrong is just as dangerous. We tell ourselves that because we are now Christians, all that matters is how we treat one another. After all, that's what Jesus said, isn't it? That they'll know we are Christians by the way that we love. 

So we spend our lives trying to do good deed, to be good persons, to love one another (whatever that means to us), and then we build a theology of our own salvation around how good we are. It's nothing more than the same works-based faith that Jesus died to free us from and the Bible (yes, even the Old Testament) repeatedly warns us against. 

We convince ourselves that it's enough, as an act of "worship," to donate to charity, to serve soup in a kitchen, to send a note of kindness, to cook a meal, to...whatever. And we invest our entire life in doing the things that make us look like good persons. That make us look like we care about those around us. And maybe, of course, we do. 

In my experience, what happens when we start doing good works, even as an act of loving persons, is that we slowly start to shift our emphasis to those good works. We start to set our eyes on the things of this world and what we can do in it. Slowly, but surely, we lose sight of God entirely, or at least mostly, and settle on the fact that we are going to heaven because we are such thoroughly good persons and how could God not reward us for that?

We become experts at the second-greatest command, thinking it's the first, and we lose sight of what we were actually created for - to be creatures who worship the Creator. To be humans in the image of the God we love first. What is the greatest command? Even the rich man gets this right - it is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but we live a faith where too many of us are just trying to avoid the sin not of Israel, but of the Ammonites, so we are too busy being good to one another to give glory to God. 

And this is how we end up with a watered-down Gospel where God approves of us on account of our goodness and our love for one another, and in that kind of theology? There's no need for a Cross at all.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

For the Unbelievers

It bothers some persons to think that God could have any standards at all for those who do not believe in Him, for those who are "not His people." If God chose Israel, they say, then He has no "right" to speak about Moab. Or Tyre. Or Edom. Or the Ammonites. 

Of course, the very heart of this argument is that if I have not chosen God - if I do not go to church, if I do not believe in the Bible, if I do not pray, if I do not "buy in" to this whole "Christ thing" - then God has no right to speak about my life. 

This has been the tension between believers and non-believers since the beginning of time, I suppose, and not just about the Christian God. Even back in the times when peoples believed in more natural gods, like the gods of fertility or the harvest, for example, there were very likely these tensions. It's unrealistic to believe that every single person who ever lived in a culture believed in that culture's gods. So you had Joe, who was a farmer whose harvest wasn't going well, and next door was Bill, who kept telling Joe that the reason his harvest wasn't going well was because he wasn't performing the right sacrifices to the harvest god of the day. Then, Joe gets all upset because he doesn't believe in the harvest god and doesn't care about the sacrifices, so to Joe, what possible right could the harvest god have to his harvest if he hasn't bought into the so-called power of that god to begin with? To Bill, of course, it's obvious - the god of the harvest is the god of your harvest whether you "believe" it is or not. 

It's a little different when we're talking about a God of grace, but the basic idea is the same - those who keep their hands off God expect God to keep His hands off them. It's nearly impossible to teach them anything differently, no matter how much sovereignty or absolute authority you believe God has in the world. 

So to see God speaking about nations that aren't His, about peoples who aren't Israel, is tough. 

Where, then, does this leave us?

It leaves us talking about the same thing we talk about when we wonder how God is going to judge the whole world one day. Our first question always seems to be, "But what about those who have never heard of Him?" What about those who weren't given the chance? What about those to whom the Gospel never came? 

God says pretty clearly that it doesn't take the official message of God to see His fingerprints all over the world. It doesn't take an understanding of the Gospel to understand doing good to others. You don't have to recognize the image of God in humanity to see something meaningful and valuable in humanity itself and to treat it accordingly. You don't have to know the word that spoke the mountains into being to understand their beauty. 

That's why the standard for peoples who are not God's peoples is how they treat one another. It's judging them on how they relate to humanity, of which they themselves are a very real part. It's about how they deal with the things that they see in the mirror because, even in peoples who are not God's peoples, the human heart reveals much about the kind of peoples that we are. 

And God has always been about the heart. 

And isn't that what we want of Him, whether we believe in Him or not? Even the nonbelievers look at our idea of a God and say things like, "If God can't understand who I am, if God can't judge me by my heart, if God can't know what kind of person I am...." That's heart. That's what we want. We want a God who knows us, even if we're not sure what we think about Him. 

So cool, then, that that's precisely who He is.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Greatest Command

Yesterday, we introduced judgment from the book of Amos, and we saw that when it comes to the people of God, their sin was against God, but when it has to do with the peoples not of God, their sin was against men. 

Isn't it strange, then, that we seem to get this exactly backward? 

We are a people of God who believe our job is to convince the rest of the world not to sin against God, all the while practicing our greatest calling - to not sin against men. To us, the ultimate goal of existence, and the aim of all of our evangelism, is that we would love others and others would love God. 

It's why we spend so much of our time trying to legislate morality for the societies that we live in. We look around, and we say to ourselves that this people is doing a terrible job of loving God and living by His wisdom, so we decide that the best thing we can do for them is to make them live by God's wisdom. Perhaps, then, they might one day love Him.

And as we are doing this, we tell ourselves that this is us loving others. This is us having their best interest at heart. This is us telling them the hard truth that they need to hear. And isn't that what Jesus has called us to do?

Not at all. 

When we look at what God says to the nations, it's pretty clear. He never asks the nations outside of Israel why they don't love Him more and why they aren't doing a better job following His ways. His ways are not for them; they haven't bought into it. They haven't come to the place where that is meaningful for them. 

Similarly, God never asks Israel why they didn't do a better job of making the other nations follow God's ways. He never says things like, "Oh, Israel, how I longed for you to convert all of Tyre and make them into a God-fearing people so that they would live wisely and wonderfully." It's laughable when we write it out because it is just so far from anything that God has ever said.

What God says to the nations is, "Why don't you at least live like a people who knows what it's like to be a people?" And what He says to His nation is, "Why don't you live like you are my people?" And we really need to stop confusing the two. 

Because the truth is, living like we love God is a full-time job for us. It's something we will work on our entire lives and still have room for improvement in. It's something we're still getting wrong and God is still calling us out on. We talk about how important it is for us to love others because loving others is easier than loving God (especially when we claim that dropping a bomb of truth is "loving" - we can justify anything if we try hard enough). But at the end of the day, God's not going to ask us why we let others get away with not living well for Him.

He's going to ask us why we didn't live well for Him. 

And I can pretty much guarantee (although I am not God) that if we give Him the same excuses we give ourselves to justify our behavior, He's not going to be impressed with us. 

Monday, November 7, 2022

International Relations

This may seem like a weird title for a post in a theology blog, and you might be wondering if I'm getting caught up in election fever or something, but I assure you - I am not. The inspiration for today's post actually comes from the Bible, from the book of Amos.

When you read through the first couple of chapters of the book of Amos, you read the condemnation of nations for their sins. Of cities, of towns, of municipalities, of peoples. And if you pay attention to what you're reading, something really interesting jumps out. 

Damascus is guilty of threshing Gilead with threshing tools of iron. 

Gaza is guilty of carrying a whole people into exile to hand them over to Edom. 

Tyre is guilty of handing over a whole people as captives to Edom.

Edom is guilty of pursuing his brother with the sword and being angry forever. 

The Ammonites are guilty of ripping up the pregnant women of Gilead, to prevent the town from procreating. 

Moab is guilty of burning the bones of the king of Edom. (Which you would think God would like, if Edom was taking all of these captive peoples, but no.) 

Judah is guilty of rejecting the instruction of the Lord.

Israel is guilty of numerous injustices profaning the name of the Lord. 

Okay, so...what? All of these things make perfect sense, if we're talking about things that God doesn't particularly like. It's an easy list to read right past and to just sort of shrug and say to yourself, "Of course." 

But look again. 

The first six nations/peoples/cities mentioned - Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, the Ammonites, and Moab - are non-Israelite. These are not the set-apart peoples of God. And look at their sin - it is against humans. It is waging war and taking captives and exchanging people as goods and burning bones and destroying the unborn. Every sin listed here for the peoples not of God is a sin against human beings created in the image of God. 

Then we come to Judah, the southern portion of the Kingdom of God's people, and the sin is against God. It's rejecting God. It's breaking the holy covenant. 

Then we come to Israel, the northern (and majority) portion of the Kingdom of God's people, and the list of sins is a list of rejections of God - of His provision, of His power, of His promise, of His goodness, of His love. 

The people of God are guilty of breaking the covenant of God, but the peoples not of God...that's not their sin. 

This is important. It's something we can't afford to miss, whether you're reading this blog from inside the church or outside of it. So let's talk about it a bit this week and see where our discussion takes us. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

A Practical Faith

Here's the difference I think it makes whether we base our faith on the promise of eternity or the Good News of the Living God: it changes the way that we live. Or, one of those does.

Those who are in this thing for heaven don't really live any differently than those without that promise. They live their lives with one eye toward death and put all their eggs in a basket on the other side of the tomb, and in practical terms, it just doesn't matter a whole lot what I do on a Tuesday when heaven is forever and we aren't even there yet. 

On the other hand, if the Living God is the foundation of your faith, it absolutely changes the way that you live. You start to see the kinds of things that Jesus saw - a short man climbing a tree, for instance, that wouldn't mean a whole lot to you if you didn't have your eyes open to the world you're living in. You start to hear the things that Jesus heard - voices crying for mercy from the side of the road. You start to feel the things that Jesus felt - like someone touching just the hem of your robe, trying to get a little taste of just what it is that makes you so confident, so at peace, so sure. 

When Jesus is the model for your faith - the whole of Jesus and not just an empty tomb - it changes the way that you live in this world. It changes the things you choose to invest your time in. It changes the way that your heart responds to those around you. It changes the way that you see the world - and its inhabitants.

It changes everything. 

I think this is the biggest problem that we have right now; this is the root of it, anyway. Jesus said they'll know we are Christians by our love. And yet, the world doesn't know this about us. Ask the world what a Christian is, and "someone who loves" is nowhere near the top of their list. 

When we live just for heaven, it doesn't have to be. We focus either on works or on grace, but not a lot on love. There's no motivation for it. Eternity is eternity, and if all it takes to get there is to "believe" in Him...who has the energy for love? 

But when He is the center of our faith - the Living God, among us, the Gospel, the Good News - then love is the heart of it all. 

A few years ago, a coworker I was meeting for the first time (who worked in another building), came running excitedly up to me and said, "I was hoping I'd get to meet you!" And I wondered what in the world she meant, and she said, "You have always been so nice to me and my family, and I was just hoping I'd get to meet you and work with you!" I didn't know her or her family. I had no idea where I could have met them. She told me that they had come in while I was providing service in my job, and the way that I served them made such an impression that she never forgot it. 

I tell that story not at all to brag on myself (Lord knows there are too many days where I don't get that right), but to say this: heaven doesn't make me live like that. Eternity doesn't give me the heart to love and to serve others. Jesus does that. The Gospel does that. The God who walks the streets and came here just to show us what love is does that. 

So, I don't know, I just think that if more of us stopped living for heaven and started living for Jesus, it would change things in some very powerful ways. 

Like I said at the beginning of this week, heaven is the thing I'm least certain of, and that's okay with me. I...don't need to know that. Because what I do know, what I'm most certain of, is love. 

And that changes everything.  

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Living God

When I say something so bold as, "Heaven is the thing I am least certain of in my faith," it raises a lot of eyebrows. So many Christians stake their entire belief on this one thing, eternal life, that to suggest anything different as a locus of our relationship with God seems, at the very least, bizarre. 

"So, what? That means you just believe that Jesus lived in Jerusalem and was a good guy or something? Your entire faith is based around just a dude?" 

Uhm, pardon me. Just a dude?

Yes, believe it or not, persons actually say this. They wonder how it can be that the "fact" of Jesus, His historical reality, His life, can be more meaningful to me than eternal life, no matter how vague that idea actually is. 

But have you read the stories? Do you know the kind of "dude" Jesus was?

My faith is not centered on some "dude" who walked around some ancient city with a bunch of His friends and preached good sermons and had good ideas. 

I'm talking about the Son of God who walked around doing the unthinkable, the unspeakable, the impossible. I'm talking about a Jesus who kept opening eyes, and not just of the physically blind. 

I think we take for granted the things that absolutely amazed the persons of Jesus's day. I think we too often read right past them. We read, for example, that He taught in the synagogue and everyone "marveled" at His wisdom, and we just sort of think He was probably His day's Max Lucado or something, or we think of whoever our own favorite preacher is. But that doesn't even come close.

We read about how He spoke a word and demons fled, and we, like Simon the sorcerer in Acts, think what a neat little parlor trick that must have been. We think about how "fun" it probably was to see stuff like that, like the hottest ticket in Vegas. Like a really cool magic trick that you're not quite sure how it's done, but it's enjoyable to be present for. We like being wow'ed, but even when it comes to Jesus, we do it with a bit of a sense of suspension of our own disbelief, like we're just letting our eyes fool us. 

That wasn't the case in Jerusalem. That's not how the peoples of the region actually experienced Him. When they say that He spoke with an authority they had never heard before, they're talking about how real Jesus was. About how authentic and genuine. And there was nothing about Jesus that gave Him some kind of untouchable, unapproachable celebrity status. There was no stage, no smoke and mirrors, no bodyguard.

Jesus was the kind of guy you would just run into at Walmart and strike up a conversation with, and then, in the very next breath, He's doing something so amazing that you can hardly understand what's happening. 

I'm talking about the Jesus who gives sight to the blind, sound to the deaf, freedom to the captive, hope to the hopeless, redemption to the broken, place to the lost. I'm talking about the Jesus who spoke truth and grace so seamlessly together that you couldn't help but feel "strangely warm" around Him. I'm talking about the Jesus who went out of His way to be right where you are so that if you even got close enough to touch the hem of His robe, you would know not just the power, but the deep love, of God. 

I'm talking about a Jesus who didn't speak a word in His own defense because the message He had for humanity was so much bigger than anything He could have said to Pilate or the Sanhedrin or even the guards there on Golgotha. I'm talking about a Jesus who makes the earth shake in the middle of its darkness with nothing less than the absolute love of God for us. 

If you read the Gospels, if you really read them and don't let your postmodern cynical mind get in the way, hw could you ever come to the conclusion that the living God isn't "enough" to build your faith on? If you read the Gospels and hear Jesus speak through them, how could you ever decide that the very best thing about God is the eternity He's told you so little about? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

A Truth about Heaven

Since we're being honest these past few weeks about faith and doubt and believing, let me say something that may shock you (or perhaps it will bring comfort to your heart): 

Heaven is the thing I am least certain about when it comes to God. 

Yeah, I said it. The thing that so many Christians stake their entire belief on, this promise of eternity with God, is the thing I'm least certain about. It's the thing I have the most questions about. It's the thing that threatens to rock my faith more than anything else, even evil.

I'm not sure if it's because God spent so very little time actually talking about it or what the reason is, but there's something visceral in my being that recoils if I try to confidently say that one day, I'm going to live forever with God. 

Maybe, because as I write that sentence, I become aware - maybe it's because that sentence convicts me about how often I'm failing to live with God right now. 

But the other truth is this - eternity with God is just not a cornerstone of my faith. It's not the most important thing to me. In fact, it's something I could be absolutely wrong about, something I could be completely misunderstanding about what God is actually saying - something that turns out to be nothing like any of us expect it to be - and it wouldn't change my faith at all. 

If tomorrow, I died, and there was no heaven and there was no eternity and there was just darkness in a grave while my body rots away, then for me, that doesn't change anything. That doesn't change the God that I believe in or the goodness of Him or how much He loves me. 

See, my faith can't wait. And it wasn't made to. 

We weren't meant to stake all our hope on tomorrow; the Bible tells us that God is with us always, and that means today. Jesus came to walk among us now, not later. The miracle of the incarnation is that God is here. And that Kingdom of God that Jesus talked so much about? It's now

The Christian faith is living and active, just like the Word of God (Hebrews says this). The abundant life that Jesus promised is this one, if we'll just follow Him. 

This is something that I've struggled with and wrestled with for a really long time, precisely because the questions that I have about eternity are so foundation-shaking if I accept the kind of faith that too many Christians have settled for. But the conclusion that I've come to is this: loving God and being loved by Him changes my life now. It makes the life I have today worth living. It makes me a better human being - more loving, more compassionate, more peaceful, more steadfast. And that's what it's supposed to do.

And if that's all it ever does? It's worth it, no matter what lingering questions remain. 

I don't know what it means to "never die." God didn't say a whole lot about what that looks like. But He promised quite a bit about what it means to "truly live." And if I spend all my days trying to learn that, then I think that's what God wants of me. That's the promise I'm living into. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Not a Word

You might think that our concern about our own mortality is universal - that all men across all times have shared this same concern. But there's something interesting in the biblical witness that we have to consider: 

Jesus never tells us about it, and no one ever asks. 

Jesus died, rose again, and walked around talking about the Kingdom of God, not eternity in Heaven. He never talked about what He did in that tomb for three days. He never spoke of the glories that He saw to come. He didn't spend any of His time talking about the next life; His entire focus was this one, and us having it abundantly. 

Which is one thing, yeah, sure. We've even talked about it before. But look at what the disciples are talking about - they're talking about Jesus. With the resurrected Jesus.

The disciples aren't talking about eternity. They aren't asking about heaven. They aren't begging Him for more information about what happens after we die. They, too, are focused on life with Jesus, life now, life abundant and the Kingdom of God, which is here among us. 

In fact, if we are a people whose sole focus is on eternity, then the answers Jesus gives when He is asked about these things are wholly unsatisfying to our own curiosity. 

The Sadducees come and ask Him a question about marriage in the afterlife, about whose wife a woman will be if she married seven different brothers but had no children with any of them. And the answer Jesus gives them is that the next life is not like this one. Then everyone moves on. There are no follow-up questions. No one's asking what He means when He says that. Everyone just marvels at His wisdom and moves on. 

A rich man came up to Him and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor (in addition to loving God and loving neighbor), and the man walks away sad. No one asks what the man is missing if he misses eternal life. No one asks what the man will have in heaven. No one asks what the life the man's asking about will be like. 

The living God walked among the streets of Jerusalem and the surrounding region for thirty-three years (ish), and so few asked Him about eternity that we can count them on one hand, even after He conquered death and came back to life and showed that there was something more after this life. 

Could it be that we are a people who put too big an emphasis on eternity? On heaven? I mean, if Jesus isn't talking about it and the disciples aren't asking, it's fairly unique, actually, in the grand human story that we hinge so much of our own faith on it. That this is what we stake our hearts on. 

Could we be missing something here? Could our own human insecurity about mortality be blinding us to something greater even than heaven?