Friday, May 17, 2024

Come and Dine

I fell in love with the Table before I ever sat at it. 

Growing up, I wasn't a Christian. I went to Christian preschool, where I colored pictures of Jesus, but I didn't really know anything about this guy. My family was more interested in me learning my colors and letters than learning about the Lord; Christian preschool was simply the primary option in the 1980s. So that's where I went. 

When I finally started coming to church for real as an older child/young tween, I landed in this little country Wesleyan church in a town not far from here, where my great-aunt would take me with her. It was okay as far as churches went. I didn't understand denominational doctrine, if there even was any in this little place. There was an organ and a piano, and eventually a little drum set, and the preacher had a booming voice that carried through the small, antiquated sanctuary, reaching the ears of all seven attendees as he both preached and led the singing. 

That singing frequently included one particular song, an old hymn I had never heard of titled, "Come and Dine." 

Jesus has a table spread where the saints of God are fed; He invites His chosen people, Come and Dine. With His manna He doth feed and supplies our every need; O, 'tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time. 

Come and Dine, the Master calleth, Come and Dine. You may feast at Jesus' table all the time, O Come and Dine. He who fed the multitudes, turned the water into wine, to the hungry calleth now, Come and Dine.

I loved that song. (Loved it enough that today, more than 20 years after I left that little church, I can still sing it by heart.) 

But at that little country church, there never was a table. Not once. 

That little church never celebrated Communion. That little church never broke the body, never drank the blood. That little church never talked about the Upper Room, about the Passover, about the last night that Jesus spent with His disciples. At that little church, I didn't know there even was a Table on this side of heaven. 

But I dreamed about one. 

I dreamed about what it might be like to sit at a table with Jesus and eat. I dreamed about what manna must taste like. I dreamed about what it meant to have enough to be full, but to linger anyway because the company was so worth keeping. I dreamed about a party, a celebration, with a table not just for me and Jesus, but for everyone. I dreamed about a sacred pitch-in, or potluck, or whatever you call it.

I dreamed about having a place at that Table. 

I dreamed about coming and dining. 

And then, I came into a church that celebrates that Table. Every week. Not as a table that we're going to sit at some day when we are the saints of God, but a table that we sit at now while we are still sinners. I came into a church where I've been invited, every week, to dine. 

Anyone who knows me, who has heard me speak on a Sunday morning, knows how much I love this Table. The truth is, I fell in love with this Table long before I ever knew it actually existed, at least this side of heaven. And now that I get to eat here? I don't take that for granted. 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

A Matter of Faith

We've been talking this week about being an anti-people, a people who consistently set ourselves against something. And yesterday, we saw that in a post-faith world where we believe ourselves capable of controlling anything and everything, we kind of have to. 

What is the alternative?

The alternative is real faith. Plain and simple. The alternative is truth, on which our Christian faith is based. The alternative is knowing that what we believe in and what we have in Christ is strong enough to stand on its own and doesn't have to stand against anything. 

That's hard. And it's even harder to believe something like that. 

We live in a world where we are expected to have to convince everyone. A world in which truth is relative, so we have to be able to persuade someone to see our side of things, to agree with us. This is a world in which we cannot just lay out objective facts and expect everyone to believe the same things about them that we do, even the things about them that are obvious. Especially now that AI is everywhere, tricking our minds into believing what we know is not true, we have to ask - what even IS truth and how are we supposed to get anyone to believe is unless we can tear down what they think they have first? 

If you pay attention to most of the arguments on social media, you'll see that a lot of them are not differences of opinion; they are differences of perceived truth. And they quickly spiral into each party trying to tear down the other's truth to convince them of the solid nature of whatever they believe. 

But the truth about truth is that if it is really truth, it will stand on its own. It doesn't have to tear anything else down; those other things crumble on their own when the real truth comes out. 

All that we end up doing by trying to convince the world of the truth is exhaust ourselves and alienate others, because we come across as a very defensive people and truth doesn't need a defense. It is its own proof.

Take the example of a common houseplant. Maybe you believe that the best way to grow the houseplant is to water it every third day and keep it near a window. Maybe someone else believes that the best way to grow the houseplant is to water it whenever they remember and to put it on a high shelf somewhere, the top of a bookcase perhaps, which is where they want to display it. 

We could get into all kinds of arguments about how to care for this houseplant - and we do. But the truth reveals itself when the plant either grows or dies. All of our arguing, all of our posturing, all of our rebuttal...none of it makes a difference. The plant grows or dies based on the truth of what is actually good for it and what is actually not, and it's irrefutable. (We will still try to refute it because we hate being wrong. There must have been something defective about that plant's biology for it to have died like that; it couldn't possibly be that we didn't water it enough or give it enough light.) 

In the same way, we don't have to set Jesus in opposition to the world. We don't have to tell them how wrong they are or why their way doesn't work. Rather, we can simply live out the kind of faith that we have, stand on truth, and the world will see that it works. What is it that the Bible teaches us? We will know things by their fruit. And fruit is irrefutable. 

So when we're tempted to chastise the world for growing weeds, to set ourselves up against the invasiveness of it, to establish ourselves as anti-weed, maybe the best path is really to just be pro-fruit. Maybe the best response to this weed-ridden world is to go out and grow fruit. The world knows the difference between a thistle and a berry; a garden full of berries is our best defense against the thistles. 

All we have to do is go out and grow it. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

To Stand Against

The truth is that we are a people who are simply inclined to set ourselves against things. And in a post-faith world, we kind of have to. 

This is about to get profoundly psychological, so I hope you can stay with me; I'll do my best to try to make this accessible to everyone (but also know I am totally nerding out - I love psychology). 

Humans have always had some degree of finitude. We are limited by things that are often out of our control. We cannot, for example, control our health, whether we get something so relatively common as asthma or potentially devastating as cancer. We can take vitamins, wash our hands, eat a balanced diet, and get vaccinated, but the truth is that there are factors in our health over which we have no control. And we know it. 

The same with the weather. We've always been a species that depends upon weather. Hunters needed favorable winds to track their prey without being tracked themselves, or even to go out hunting at all. Gatherers needed favorable growing conditions for the wild edibles they were seeking. Agrarian societies needed good weather for growing. Even recently, we have seen how one bad season can devastate an entire industry - like the citrus industry experienced a couple of years ago. The winter wasn't cold enough; the spring wasn't consistent enough; the rains were scarce. All of a sudden, we've got nothing. 

For thousands of years, man's response to these things that are out of our control has been faith. It has been trust in a god of some sort. Most of the world's gods have always been thought to have power over things like weather and fertility, the things we simply do not control and know that we don't. People have turned to the gods for favor when life has been unfavorable. 

Even the Judeo-Christian tradition has this in its history, to some degree. Ancient Israel understood good seasons and prosperity as God's blessing; they understood famine and disease as God's curse or displeasure. When Jesus walked the streets and came upon the afflicted, they believed their sin was the cause of their affliction. Favor and dis-favor have always been matters of faith. 

Then, we entered what we called "enlightenment," when we started to believe that we knew best and that we could figure everything out. We started investing ourselves more deeply in what we call "science," investigating the world and learning to control it. And all of a sudden, unfavorable conditions became indicators of our own failings. If there was something in the world we couldn't control or couldn't engineer our way out of, it was because our knowledge was not yet sufficient to conquer it. 

And that is the key to our antagonism - we have become conquerors of all things rather than petitioners of favor. 

It used to be that we would pray and we would worship and we would humble ourselves, confess our finitude, and petition the gods (in our case, the Lord) for favor. But in a world in which we are in control of all things, or at least seeking to be in control of all things, the only way we achieve a new victory, the only way we acquire favor, is by conquering. By setting ourselves against our problem and overcoming it by our own power. 

Thus, we are a people whose entire lives are built on standing against something, not for something. You can see it even in the language that we use to talk about it. When we cure an illness, we have "beaten cancer," not "restored health." We developed advanced irrigation systems to "prevail even in times of drought," not to "consistently nourish our crops." Everywhere we turn, our language reminds us that we are conquerors, and if we are conquerors, we must pit ourselves against something to be conquered. 

Thus, we are an anti-people. In a post-faith age in which we do not simply humble ourselves and seek the Lord's favor, we have to be. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Heard It Said

The anti-Christian, the person who cannot simply stand on the foundations of the Christian faith but always has to set them in opposition to themselves, will be quick to tell you that he's really not that different from Jesus. 

After all, when the Lord was teaching in Galilee and Jerusalem, we know that He said quite plainly, "You have heard it said, but I say to you...." In other words, Christ Himself was an anti-Christian. (Or anti-Jew, as the case may be.) Jesus, they say, had to tell you you were wrong before He could tell you what was right. 

But that's not an authentic reading of the Gospels, nor is it true to the heart of who Jesus was. (is.) 

It's true that Jesus said those words. It's true that He said them more than once. It's true that a chunk of His most famous sermon records those words for us over and over again. But it's not true that they mean what these anti-Christians, trying to defend themselves in self-righteousness, claim that they mean. They can only be interpreted as anti-establishment words when taken out of context.

The real context in which Jesus said these words, every time, was not one in which He set out to demolish or diminish some former teaching. It was never one in which He said that the word that you've heard is wrong. He never used these words to indicate that there was a bad or error-ridden teaching among you. 

Rather, what Jesus said every time He said these words was: what you have heard is right, but it doesn't go far enough. 

You have heard it said not to commit adultery, but I tell you - don't even lust. 

You have heard it said not to murder, but I tell you - don't even hate. 

You have heard it said not to enact the thoughts, but I tell you - don't even entertain them. 

When Jesus used these words, He used them to indicate that what you've heard is good and right, but it's the bare minimum; the standard of God is higher even than that. 

On the other hand, when He was calling out bad teaching, Jesus very plainly said, You snakes. You hypocrites. You brood. He held nothing back.  

And there are two things at work here, just as there were yesterday. 

First, Jesus isn't making a power play. He's not trying to set Himself up in opposition to anything. That wasn't His style, and it wasn't His mission. Jesus came to save the world, not to correct it. He came to love us, not to condemn us. He came to show us the heart of God, not to expose our every failure. 

Second, Jesus knows that the message He is preaching doesn't have to stand against anything; it stands on its own. The people will embrace it because of what it contains, not because of what it contends against. The people are hungry for what He is offering, thirsty for living water, more than they are hurt by whatever this world has done to them. 

So no, this anti-Christian message is not the way of Jesus. No matter how many of His words they take out of context. You may have heard it said, but I tell you - it's not even close. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

Anti-Christian

Have you met an anti-Christian? 

Perhaps a more important question is: have you been one? (Or maybe you are one now.) 

By now, you know that I follow theological sources that I both agree with and don't agree with on social media. I don't need to pretend that I have everything figured out; in fact, I would probably like to re-write many of the blogs I have posted in this space over the past 16 years. We are human. We grow. And we grow by being challenged to either re-examine or re-affirm what we think we know. 

But it's finally struck me what is so aggravating about some of the theological persons that I follow, and it's this: 

They are anti-Christian. 

Full confession: as I pondered what I might write in this space, I realize that there have been times and seasons in my life, too, when I have been an anti-Christian. 

So what is an anti-Christian? 

An anti-Christian is someone who cannot just preach or teach what he or she thinks the Bible says or believes is the important message to get across. No, the anti-Christian must first throw the rest of Christianity under the bus and proclaim how wrong and backward we've been getting it for so long. They must first make a point about how the teaching you've received prior to this is entirely wrong and not only wrong, but damaging and hurtful, and then go on to preach whatever they think the truth of the matter is. 

This attitude comes out of two places, really. The first is a place of authority. You want others to listen to you and to believe you are right, so you have to put yourself in a position of authority. You do this by getting them to question other authorities in their life. (And acknowledging those other authorities gives you bonus points because it looks like you understand.) So if you want others to listen to something "new" you're going to teach, especially something that goes against the status quo, you have to establish some kind of authority first. Hence, you explain why everyone else is stupid so that you thus declare yourself smart. 

The second place is one of passion. And this is where I'm guilty most often. I come across an idea or something gets inspired in my heart, and it's something I've never heard taught before (or not often enough), and I get excited. And I want others to get excited. I want everyone to understand how lifechanging and wonderful this idea is and how lovely and how theologically defining. I want them to share my passion. So I pull an old Jesus-based "you have heard it said, but I say to you...." and try to get the fires burning. 

The problem is that being an anti-Christian, whether for authority or passion, sets up a hatred in the heart first. It sets up a dismissal. It sets up a rejection. It pits us against everything we've known and grown up with, and that's a hard row to hoe. It's hard to get someone to fall in love with your version of Christianity if you've just thrown all other versions of Christianity under the bus. It's hard to draw a line and say, "We love this, but we hate that," especially when at the end, it's all Jesus. It just overcomplicates things and introduces a hate that isn't necessary.

The truth is...if what you're about to preach is the truth, you don't have to preface it. You don't have to get everyone to hate everything they've always been taught. You don't have to throw the way we've been doing it under the bus and call down fire from heaven on it. 

If it's the truth, it'll preach itself. If it's the truth, it will catch on. If it's the truth, those who hear it will fall in love with it as they fall deeper in love with Jesus.

So I pledge to stop being an anti-Christian. (Or, at least, to try. I'm still human.) And I challenge you to start looking for the anti-Christians around you...and in you. Those who don't think they can build up without tearing down first. This should be a red flag that something may be weird.  

Friday, May 10, 2024

Eleven Other Men

Last week, we talked about the idea that one measure of your Christian faith is not how you sit at the Table with Jesus, but how you sit at the Table with Judas. And there is some truth to that. 

But I don't love that idea all by itself. 

To me, the contrast between Jesus and Judas sets the world into hard lines of black and white. Friend and enemy. Christian and betrayer. Lover and hater. 

The world I live in is simply not that black and white; it's filled with shades of grey. And if we're looking at the Table that Jesus sat at, the truth is that it looked more like the world I live in than just the contrast between Jesus and Judas. 

There was Peter, who boldly proclaimed, "You are the Son of God," but there was also Thomas, who said, "I need to see the wounds first." 

There was John, who dared to call himself "the one Jesus loves," and what do we know about James hardly at all?

There was Phillip, who was very obviously an extrovert, always running off and freely speaking to whoever he encountered. In fact, it was Phillip who ran to invite Nathanael, who was sitting under a tree by himself, to come and see. Nathanael, by everything we know of him, was an introvert. 

There was Simon the Zealot, who believed passionately in a religious revolution and an overthrowing of the state by the faithful, and there was Matthew (Levi) who literally worked for Rome - the state. 

There was Andrew, who strongly suspected there might be something Jesus could do with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, and there was Judas, for whom thirty pieces of silver sparkled too brightly in his own eyes to ignore. 

There were two sets of brothers and, by all we can tell, their mothers were not always around. And I'm telling you as a person with brothers...siblings are different when their mom isn't around to referee. 

And let's not forget that two of these brothers were called "Sons of Thunder." And everyone just kind of tolerated that.

There's nowhere else you're going to bring together this kind of group of persons than around the Table. There's nothing else that's going to bring them together but Jesus. In real life, these guys weren't traveling together. But here they are, breaking bread. Because whatever else they were, at that moment, they were followers of Jesus. 

And here we are, at the very same table, breaking bread. Sharing a meal in all of our shades of grey.

Because whatever else we are, whoever else we are, at this Table, we are all followers of Jesus. We are all His. 

That's what makes this Table so special. 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

God's Anger

God is always angry with sin. 

I know you probably didn't want to hear that. For thousands of years, the people of God have wrestled with what we like to call God's "wrath," and the truth is that we don't have a whole lot of answers to it. 

We might say that God took His wrath out on His Son on Calvary, but to say that is to say that God killed His Son out of anger and offense when what's really truth is that God sacrificed His Son out of love. He had to show us the lengths to which He would go to love us, not what He would do to us if we kept on sinning. The Cross wasn't a threat; it was a promise. 

So the whole "wrath of God" on the Cross thing just doesn't work. At least, it doesn't work for me. 

But that still leaves us with sin and the problem of sin and the fact that God is always angry with sin, so it leaves us with God's anger with which we must wrestle. 

God's anger shows up no more prominently than in the Old Testament histories about the kings. Saul was who he was, but when David shows up, God seems to be okay with things and makes a grand promise. Then, there is a series of very human kings, kings who are sometimes faithful and sometimes not. Kings who lead Israel and Judah away from the Lord and back to Him and then away from Him again. And what we see is that God seems to have decided on a judgment for His people long before He executed it, and not even their reclaimed faithfulness can save them from it. 

It seems harsh. Doesn't God say that if we turn from our sin, He will return to us? Doesn't He say He will forgive us, not seven times, but seven times seven? Doesn't He say that forgiveness and redemption and restoration is what this is all about? How can He just get mad and stay mad? 

First, remember that God is not mad at us; He's mad at sin. He's mad at the things that the lies and the empty promises and the temptations do to us. 

Second, remember that God has said that He will be our God and we will be His children. Like any good parent, He can't just let the bad behavior go. That doesn't teach us anything. It doesn't help us to learn and grow. 

If you have a child and your child does wrong, then comes to you and admits their wrong and demonstrates that they want do to better, do you simply let them get away with whatever they've done? Of course not. Actions have consequences. The only thing they learn by absolute forgiveness is what to say when they've done wrong so that they won't be punished for it. 

But take a kid who paints graffiti on a public building and make him paint over it, and he learns the cost of his own transgression; he learns what it takes to clean up after him. This makes an impression. Take the kid who uses ugly language and make her read the thesaurus, and she learns how easy a word she's chosen and how rich and full the language actually can be. Take a kid who keeps sneaking out and ground him, and he learns what freedom really is. 

We learn from the consequences of our actions. We learn from the forgiveness of them, too - we learn something about God - but we learn our human lessons from the consequences. And that's why God can never just let sin go. If He did, we wouldn't learn anything about being human. And we'd only learn questionable things about God. 

So when we see God's anger burning in the OT against Israel's repeated sin, even in the face of their repentance, the question we have to ask ourselves is: what is God hoping His people will learn? 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

God of Light

In the beginning, everything was formless and void. And into the darkness, God spoke. 

Let there be light

But darkness doesn't go away just like that. 

We know that much from living in a fallen world. We know that from wrestling with ourselves, with the same sin that keeps creeping up again and again in our lives. We know that because we can't ever seem to truly shake the darkness, whether it is an addiction we can't break, a habit we can't shake, a lie we can't get out from under. Whatever it is, we know that the darkness simply pursues us. 

One of the questions that has plagued Christianity - and Christians - for thousands of years is, why doesn't God just wipe out the darkness? And of course, we know that He has promised that one day, He will do just that. But we don't live in one day; we live in this one. 

And what's cool about this day is that even if today isn't the day God defeats the darkness, it is still a day that He's controlling the darkness by controlling the light. 

There's a story in 2 Kings about a time when Hezekiah is looking for an assurance from the Lord, and the assurance is offered through darkness and light. At a dark time in Hezekiah's life, God says to him, I will prove it to you by moving the shadows. And we know that the only way to move shadows is to move the light. So God moves the light and the shadows move back and Hezekiah is assured that what the Lord has said is true. 

That's the same thing He's doing with us every day of our lives. 

God has given us His promise - His promise that includes that one day, He will defeat the darkness. And we? We're always looking for evidence of that promise, for some kind of sign, for some signal that God is still in control and that what He says He is doing, He actually is doing. In the darkest times of our lives, we cry out for some kind of proof. And God says, watch; I will move the shadows

And then, He moves the shadows by using the light. By putting good things in front of us. By sending friends and family to love on us. By giving us good gifts. By surprising us with the unexpected. By filling us with peace that passes understanding. By being God. 

By still speaking into what seems formless and void. 

Let there be light. 




God controls the darkness by controlling the light. (2 Kings 20:11) 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

God Owns the Land

When ancient kings conquered ancient peoples, they would send those peoples into exile and then send peoples from other lands to inhabit the newly-conquered territory. This was a way to throw these peoples off-balance and separate them from all the things that they knew so that they couldn't regroup, gather themselves, and wage a counterattack to try to get their independence back. 

So it was no shock when the king of Assyria sent foreigners to inhabit Israel after he conquered the kingdom of God's people. 

What was shocking was that these peoples found the Promised Land wholly unwelcoming. It wasn't a good land for them. It wasn't a land flowing with milk and honey. They weren't thriving there, as they had in their own land. And the only thing they could come up with to explain why was because they didn't understand the Lord or how to worship Him. They must be doing something wrong in His land. 

Remember, at this time, gods were strongly connected to the land. There was no concept, outside of Israel, of a god of all creation. So these other peoples considered the Lord simply the little-g god of Israel and thought that the key to success in His land was learning to worship Him properly.

On one hand, we know that God doesn't work that way. He doesn't operate the way the gods of the nations operate. He is not a god who is tied to the land, as we've seen in previous stories about Him. He is God of all creation, Lord of everything. 

On the other hand, He did have a special connection to the land of Canaan, to the Promised Land, to Israel. This was a land that He selected all the way back in the early chapters of Israel, in the time of Abram, to give to His people. This was a land He led them out of slavery to inhabit. This was a land He fought with them for to gain possession. This was the land flowing with milk and honey, with all the good things He promised to His people and prepared for them for generations before they even pitched their first tent there. 

God had a claim to the land of Israel, and He never gives up a claim He stakes...even when His people are exiled and there are strangers living there. (God has never met a stranger, by the way.) 

The good news about this for us, for you and me, is that the same is true for every heart to which God has staked His claim, as well. Come what may, come destruction or ruin, come trial or trouble, come exile or wandering, God never gives up a claim that He has staked. 

And that means that when He says we are His, we are His. Forever. (Which is also, by the way, what He said.) So....good news. 

Monday, May 6, 2024

God of Steadfast Love

One of the criticisms of God is that He seems fickle, especially in the Old Testament.

He invested His holy energies in creating the world and specially creating man, only to flood everything and start over just a few chapters later. He promised Israel that He would give them Canaan, but He makes them wander in the wilderness for 40 years first and threatens to abandon them and let them all die again. They finally get to Canaan, to the Promised Land, and a few generations later, He's exiling them to Babylon and away from the Promise. 

Then He sends His Son to die for us and says He's always loved us. But...not all of this looks like love. 

Maybe it's tough love. 

Anyone who has ever been a parent or who has ever cared deeply about another human being understands this concept. When your child is addicted to drugs, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to kick them out of your house. When your spouse is entangled in a love affair with someone else, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to cut them off from your love, even if your heart keeps on loving them and wanting them back. 

And like anyone who loves anyone, sometimes the way we love grows and changes as we have more experience with a person. Sometimes, we look at a situation and think that we know what it calls for, but when we are in a relationship with that person for longer, we understand that what the situation requires may not be what the person or the relationship requires, so we adjust what we're doing to fit the specifics of what we're dealing with. 

I think we see this same kind of steadfast, learning, growing love in God. We see Him trying to be steadfast, trying to keep loving, exercising tough love. But we also see Him growing in how He loves us. 

At first, yes, it's easy to flood the world and start over. And for awhile, it seems to become God's go-to, even though He never does it a second time. He keeps threatening in the wilderness, but He never follows through on that (based largely on the petitions of Moses and the reminders that that's not who God is). Eventually, He comes to the place where He just sends His people away for awhile, to let them deal with the consequences of their own choices. Until finally, His love wins out and He sends His Son. 

Some may bristle at such a human comparison to God, but remember - we are created in His image and relationships are dynamic. God is who He is. Always has been, always will be. But relationships, especially relationships with truly fickle human beings, are dynamic. They are constantly changing, always requiring adaptation, always requiring flexibility and response. And if God were not dynamic with us in this regard, no relationship would be possible. 

But let us be clear - we are the fickle ones; not Him. His love is steadfast and sure. And He shows it again and again by the way that He loves us. 

Even when we're tough to love. 

Friday, May 3, 2024

Jesus and Judas

Many years ago, I heard it said (and I have heard it a few times since) that the measure of your Christian faith is not how you sit at the table with Jesus, but how you sit at the table with Judas. 

The question is meant to create a polarizing choice - the Lover and the betrayer; the Friend and the enemy. The faithful who are gathered all around you and the one who will turn their back on all of it. 

But there's more to Judas than just his betrayal of Jesus. 

Yes, the betrayal of Jesus stung the other disciples, who had given up so much to follow the Rabbi and who had put their lives on the line and staked it all that this was the Messiah. This Rabbi, who was now hanging on a tree (even though, remember, He kept telling them that this was going to happen). Certainly, that would be enough. 

But we have stories about Judas that aren't about just his betrayal of Jesus, and that's important to think about when we consider this question, too. 

Judas was a man who was always more concerned about what he could get than what he could give. He was always looking out for himself. He was the disciple who managed the money bags, and when he saw an expensive gift being "wasted" on Jesus, he grumbled under-his-breath-out-loud so that everyone could hear him, and the Bible plainly tells us - he wasn't upset about the gift; he was upset that there was no way that he could cash in on it. 

He was also the kind of guy who would rather go out into a field and commit suicide than confess that he was wrong about something and try to make amends for it. He was a guy who didn't believe anyone cared enough about him to forgive him, that anyone would care if he was dead because no one was willing to welcome him back. Not even the guys he'd spent three years with and who had taken to heart Jesus's teaching on forgiveness - not seven times, but seven times seven times! If anyone is willing to forgive Judas, it has to be the guys who saw Jesus wash his feet, right? The ones who saw Jesus break bread and give it even to him? But no, Judas was the kind of guy who would rather die than be humbled. 

Know anyone like Judas?

See, it wasn't just that Judas was a betrayer. That would have been enough. The contrast between Jesus and Judas is that Judas could not be more unlike Jesus if he tried. He could not be more opposite what Jesus stood for if he was trying to be. 

So the question when it comes to Jesus and Judas is not just how do you sit not only with your Lover, but also with a betrayer? The question is also...how do you sit with the One who is so hung up on you that He gave up Himself, and how do you sit with the one who is so hung up on himself that he gives you up? 

Thursday, May 2, 2024

God of the Few

God makes many promises, especially in the Old Testament. And some of those promises seem like the same one: He will make a nation more numerous than the sands on the sea or the stars in the sky, they will be His special possession, and through them, the whole world will be blessed. 

That was His goal - that His people would be a blessing to the world. So many of His promises rest on the idea that the many will be blessed by the faithfulness of the few, that a faithful life ripples through the world like a stone in a pond until every square inch of water is affected. 

But then, sin. 

But then, disobedience.

But then, unfaithfulness. 

And then, things get a little bit tricky. 

God started by drawing a really large circle, with Israel at the center and the nations all around. But the nations are unfaithful to the Lord, so the circle gets a little bit smaller. Eventually, it's only Israel left in the circle. Or so they think. 

But Israel isn't a homogenous body; there are lots of different persons and personalities in Israel, and it doesn't take long before those who seem on the edges of Israel also break their faithfulness and all of a sudden, the circle gets smaller still. 

This is what's happening when God breaks Israel into two kingdoms - Israel and Judah. The unfaithfulness in Israel means the people who get to inherit that particular promise become fewer. God's not going to break His promise; if He did, He wouldn't be God any more, and He knows that. He'd put His entire reputation to waste if He broke even one single promise. So He's not going to break His promise. 

But He does make the number of persons who benefit from it smaller. 

No longer is Israel Israel. The whole world was supposed to be blessed by Israel, but Israel failed and now, even Israel can't have the full blessing of the Lord. So now, Israel is Israel and Judah, with Judah being the nucleus of the more faithful people. So now, Judah becomes a blessing to Israel and to its legacy and to its promise. 

Then, independently, both Israel and Judah start to fail, and we see God draw the circle even smaller. If you read through Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, this is what you see happening, all the way to the exile. All the way until there is just a small remnant of poor Israelites left in the land, and a few in exile who can't stop dreaming of the Temple in all its glory and Canaan and Promise and a place called Home. 

And then, the story becomes that God blesses these few, and these few bless a few more, and because of them, Jerusalem is blessed, and because of Jerusalem, Israel is blessed and then, hopefully, one day down the road, the promise expands again and all the world is blessed (after Jesus). 

So pay attention to how 1) God never breaks His promises. Never. Not once. but 2) the circles that those promises encompass are not always the same size. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

God is Good

You've probably heard the beloved church saying, God is good; all the time. (You can probably fill in the next part: and all the time....yup, God is good.) 

You've probably heard some kind of misquote of the Scripture that says God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. Or maybe you just know what that Scripture actually says. 

The message is: God is good. 

The truth is: it doesn't always feel that way. 

During the time of Elisha, there was a great famine in the land. The famine was so severe that women were eating their own babies...and refusing to share the meat with others. The Bible actually records an argument between two women who agreed to eat their own children, then one reneged on the deal and stashed her baby away because she didn't really want anyone to eat him. That's how severe the famine was, and how torn the population was between survival and love. 

And it didn't look like things were going to get any better. It didn't look like Israel was learning anything about their sin from the famine, and it didn't seem that any relief was coming. The land was parched. Everything was stripped bare. There were no more storerooms to raid or amounts set aside for a rainy day. The rainy day had come and passed and now, there was just barrenness. 

Then, a messenger shows up to capture and kill the prophet because the king doesn't like the famine and blames Elisha for having spoken God's truth (as the kings liked to do). But Elisha says, just wait. By this time tomorrow, not only will the famine have broken, but there will be such abundance that what you have available will be extremely cheap. 

You'll be able to buy it with the scraps that you have left after trying to survive for so long. 

It's laughable to everyone in the room. You can't just go from famine to abundance in the blink of an eye like that. A prolonged drought and emptiness doesn't just fix itself in a day. Things don't just turn around that fast. 

But Elisha knows that God's been in control of this the whole time. He's been working on it since the very last bit of the last crop was harvested. God, who is good, has been planning good for this very moment, this most desperate moment that seems the most lost. 

God, who is good, is always coming, even when it seems He must be so far off. 

And that's the reminder for us. In those times when God doesn't seem good, when we can't wrap our heads around how things might ever actually change, when the land is parched and the shelves are bare and it doesn't seem like things could ever be good again, God is still good. 

And by this time tomorrow, the God who is good, who is always coming, might just finally be here. 

Just hold on. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

God of Prophets

There is no shortage of prophets in the Bible - men and women of God tasked with carrying and speaking His truth in some of Israel's most trying times. But have you ever paid attention to whom the prophets are speaking?

Some of the prophets are sent to Israel's leaders - to the kings. They spend their times encountering the kings in throne rooms and courtyards and battlefields, helping the kings to assure Israel's victory or condemning the kings to defeat on account of their unfaithfulness. They continually call the kings to repentance and to restore the kingdom to proper worship, to restore the people of God to their Lord. This is an important function. 

There are other prophets who speak directly to the people of Israel. They bring God's message and cry out for repentance. They seek to restore the people to proper worship, to remind them of the goodness of God and how faithful He has been throughout their travels and trials and troubles. They call the people to account and remind them that they will have to answer for their unfaithfulness - or perhaps, they are already answering for their unfaithfulness. This is also an important function.

It's easy to read the prophets and read what they have to say about God and learn what we can about God and move on, but it's important to pause and look at who is the audience for the prophet's message.

There are some truths of God that are meant for the leaders. These truths are about being in charge, about being the one who sets the tone for everyone else, about the calling to be a shepherd. These are truths about what it takes to be responsible for others, to take control of the big scheme things, and to lead with integrity. 

There are other truths of God that are meant for anyone and everyone. These truths are about what it means to live a faithful life, how to navigate the challenges of a broken world, how to stand up to the temptations to stray, how to repent and turn back to God when you've wandered off, about God's intimate, personal love for you. 

That's why it's important that we pay attention not just to the Word we're reading, but to who was meant to hear it. If it's a word for leaders, it has a different application in your life than a word for everyone. If it's a word for everyone, it should not be confused for something only the leaders need to concern themselves with. And isn't that one of our greatest temptations? Thinking that God's Word is for someone else? Someone in a different position, someone in a different place, someone with more or less power or responsibility or whatever. 

It's not for someone else, though. Not always. That's why we have to read not only to know what is spoken, but to see who was meant to hear. Because very often, the Word of God is for us

Monday, April 29, 2024

God of Provision

If you're at all like me, you've spent a lot of your life working very hard to have what seems like very little. In fact, it was just yesterday that I saw someone post a meme on social media talking about how quickly the paycheck seems to disappear, with plenty of "likes" to affirm its message. 

We are living in an age of inflation, where the price of everything seems to be going up except for the price of the labor market, where wages are stagnating. We are, as we have in past times in America, working harder for less, stretching to make ends meet, and still often coming up short. Requests for assistance, need for aid, pleas for the basic necessities are rising. 

But God. 

There's a story in 2 Kings where the kings are afraid of Moab, they're prepping for battle as best they can, they are worried about providing for their livelihood. Everyone is thirsty. And God says to them, through the prophet Elisha, "Watch."

Watch, and the valley will fill up with water. There won't be rain. There won't even be a hint of wind. But the valley will fill up with so much water that you, your livestock, everyone you know, and their livestock will have enough water to drink to satisfy them. And then come those words that make this whole verse so powerful: 

And that's not all! It is indeed a small thing for the Lord

Enough water to quench the thirst of every living thing in the region is "a small thing" for God. And He promises He's going to do the bigger thing, too. 

Our God, the God who created everything out of the formless and void, who spoke into the darkness and created the light, who by a single utterance planted grass and trees and flowers in the ground, who carved out the rivers and dug out the oceans and piled up the mountains, who bent down and played in the dirt and then breathed the breath of life into it....our God is a God of provision. He is a God who provides our every need. 

He is a God for whom this kind of provision is, indeed, a small thing. It's so easy. And He loves to do it. 

Honey in the rock, manna on the ground, water in the valley...all of it. 

If you're hungry, cry out to Him. If you're weary, cry out to Him. If you're thirsty, cry out to Him. And then watch the valley you're in fill up with holy water.

Friday, April 26, 2024

An Event

"Are you hosting an event?" 

That is the question that Facebook asks me every Friday when I post my Communion reflections from this space. I enter a few words about a table, about some food, about fellowship, and whatever it is in AI's brain that is always trying to be helpful (but is far less helpful than it thinks it is) comes up with its brilliant interpretation - I must be hosting an event! And, thus, it would like to help me invite others to attend. 

Most of the time, I'm mildly annoyed by this little pop-up. I have been writing in this space for somewhere around 16 years and sharing links to these posts on Facebook for nearly as long, always in the same format: title, quick synopsis, link. Just like millions of other bloggers/writers/creators around the world. So it's frustrating to me when Facebook doesn't simply recognize that I'm doing the same thing that I have done for literally thousands of days prior...without ever hosting a single event. 

But as I reflect on this minor nuisance, there's something inside of me that can't help but think that maybe that's the point. 

I joined a Communion-celebrating church 24 years ago. Every week for 24 years, I have fellowshipped with a church that takes time out of its Sunday morning service to reflect on the Upper Room, on the Cross, on the body and the blood, the bread and the juice, and to pass the plates and partake of this remembrance. Every week. We never skip a week. 

And then someone inevitably comes along (confession: it's usually me) and emphasizes all over again the nature of this remembrance as an event, as something we're invited to, as more than just a quiet, solemn moment between three songs and the sermon. Someone comes along and tries to remind everyone that this thing that we do every week is bigger than just being a thing that we do every week. 

Sometimes, that reminder is successful; sometimes, it falls on weary ears; sometimes, it doesn't even register at all. Such is the nature of being interconnected with human beings with all of their own experiences, circumstances, challenges...everyone brings their own energy and their own week with them to Sunday worship, so you don't hit everyone on every Sunday. 

But now, I'm thinking about this mild annoyance that I feel when Facebook asks me if I'm hosting an event and my first inclination is to say...don't you get it? Isn't your AI any better than that? I'm not hosting an event! I'm doing exactly the same thing I've been doing for days and weeks and years before now. Can't you see that? 

Can't you, indeed.... 

Because this is the reaction I think some of us have to the Table. And I'll be the first one to confess that sometimes, this is me, too. We come to the Table, we see the bread, we see the juice, we hear the words, but...it's not really anything. I mean, it's not really anything big. We miss the meaningfulness of it. There's something inside us that says this is just what we do. This is what we do every week, just like we've been doing it every week, just like we'll do it again next week and the week after that, and doesn't everyone just get this? This is just what we do. 

But what if it wasn't? 

What if...just for fun...we went ahead and clicked that box and said, you know what? It is an event. We are doing a thing. 

Go ahead. Invite everyone I know to this grand event I'm having. 

There is, after all, space at the Table for all of them. Every. single. one. 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

God Knows You

While the sinful king Ahab ruled in Israel, Jehoshaphat sat on the throne in Judah, and occasionally, the divorced northern and southern kingdoms of God's people found a reason to come together. 

Battle was one such reason. 

Ahab asks Jehoshaphat if he will go into battle with him, and the southern king agrees, but he says they have to talk to a prophet first. Ahab calls together all of the prophets that he has, all of the men who call themselves men of God, but Jehoshaphat wisely looks around and says, "Isn't there a prophet of the Lord we can ask?" 

In other words, isn't there a real man of God here? 

So they find Micaiah, who Ahab knows but doesn't really care for, and the real prophet comes. When he gives a message that is contrary to what the other prophets have said, Ahab is like, "See? This is why I don't like him." Then, the king asks how the message came to be so different and why the other prophets said something else. 

Micaiah responds simply, "God's spirit agreed to come into those other prophets in order to deceive you because He knew you would listen to what they were saying."

Now, this story gets complicated by the judgment God has put on Ahab's life and the plans that are already in motion to end his reign; God is already working toward Ahab's defeat and death, so it raises some questions for us theologically, but those questions are not the point of today's reflection. 

Today, it's just important that we recognize that God knows who we will listen to. God knows which voices we've given the authority to speak into our lives. God knows where He can put a message and know that we'll hear it. God knows how to speak, individually, to us. 

That message through the fake men of God who were more people-pleasers than prophets is a message that Jehoshaphat didn't bother with, but Ahab bought hook, line, and sinker. God sent Micaiah because he was the messenger that Jehoshaphat needed, but He used the prophets to help further His judgment plan against Ahab because He knew those were the voices Ahab would heed. 

And He knows which voices you're listening to. 

I don't know about you, but sometimes, I spend a lot of time wondering if I would ever really know if I heard from God, if I would recognize His voice if I heard it, if I would be confident in what I was hearing. But stories like this remind me that God knows how I'm listening, and He knows how to get me to hear. And He will send the right voice at the right time to further His plan for my life, whatever it happens to be in any season. 

So as long as I'm listening, I can trust the Lord who speaks to help me hear. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

God is Clear

In the ancient world, every peoples had their own god, and their god was tied directly to their daily experience. So the god in Egypt was presumed to be a sun god because the sun guided their existence. The gods in other areas similarly reflected the areas in which their peoples lived and the things they depended on. And those things were the only things those gods were responsible for or had control over. Egypt's "sun god" only controlled the sun. Nothing else. 

So when the Arameans encountered Israel in the mountains and were soundly defeated, it only made sense to them to deduce that the Lord must be a god of the mountains. Thus, if they were to change the battlefield and draw the Israelites out of the mountains, their God would become powerless to help them and the Arameans would earn a decisive victory. 

Now, keep in mind that at the time, Israel (which indicates only the northern kingdom, as the two had long ago split) had a wicked king - Ahab. God wasn't particularly impressed with Ahab and was not exactly delighting in what Ahab was doing. God was already planning judgment against Ahab. 

But you do not just make presumptions that the God of the Universe, Lord of all Creation, is a little-g god only of the mountains. 

So God sends word to Ahab through the prophet and says, "Look. The Arameans said I'm only a god of the mountains, so I'm going to let you beat them and beat them badly in the flat lands, just so they get that I Am....God of the Universe."

In other words, God says - let Me be clear

And clear, He is. 

It's this kind of clarity that can give us confidence to believe the things we think we know about God. The things that we've been taught or have discovered through His Word. Sometimes, it's hard for us to hold on too tightly to these things because we have lingering questions or they're bigger than we can wrap our brains around or we're not sure they're exactly correct (and these hesitations are not completely unfounded - our understanding is limited by our finite human nature). 

But we need not worry about such things. Because as this story demonstrates, if we've got something wrong about God, He'll correct us. If we've made God too small, He'll correct us. If we have somehow turned God into a little-g god of limited domain, He'll correct us. And He'll be very clear about it. 

Israel didn't gain just a little victory over the Arameans on the flat land; they got a sound defeat and a full surrender. Why? 

Because the Lord our God is not some little-g god of the mountains. And He was out to make that one thing very clear. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

God of Life

There is a story in the Old Testament about a widow living in Zarephath, to whom the prophet Elijah is sent for provision during a prolonged famine. When the prophet meets the widow, she is preparing to make one last little small bit of bread to feed her and her son, then prepare them both to die. 

Elijah speaks from the Lord to the widow and God provides an abundance of flour and oil that lasts them through a very long period without any other food. Until one day, the widow's son died. 

She cried out to God and called out to Elijah and asked, "Why?" Why did this happen? Is God punishing me for some kind of past sin? 

If we were to use her approach today, we might cry out to God and ask, "Did this bad thing happen because of that little white lie I told in 2007?" This is what the widow was asking. 

It was common in those times that persons looked at tragedy, trial, and calamity as the judgment of God. It was common for them to understand that bad things happen to you because you did bad things. Sinners get what sinners deserve. So it was only natural, when this son died at too young an age (after, we must remember, her husband had also died - she was, after all, a widow), she started to wonder...is it because I'm a sinner?

But then, she didn't have the Cross.

This is the difference between Old Testament law and New Testament grace. Back then, the widow couldn't imagine any other reason for death than sin (even though 1 out of every 1 persons will die). Today, we understand that God does not remind us of our past sin through death; Jesus already took care of that. And He would not dream of using death to condemn you. Not when He's already defeated it. 

So if you're looking at that bad thing that's happened in your life and wondering if it's God's way of punishing you for that thing you did that one time (or even that many times or even just five minutes ago), remember: that's pre-Calvary theology. On this side of the Cross, God is not punishing you for that thing you did. 

He's too busy loving you through it. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

God of Direct Communication

In 1 Kings, there's the story of two men of God. At least, that's who we're told they are.

The first goes to Judah to talk with the leadership, but he says very plainly what God has asked him to do. God has told him to go, speak the message, not dilly-dally, and leave a different way than he came. The instructions are clear. The direction is precise. Go, speak, leave. And the man of God says plainly what God has told him, not only the message, but the method. When invited to stay, he says he cannot; God told him not to stay, but to leave.

On his way out of town, he encounters the servant of another man of God who has been sent to track him down. This servant says that the other man of God has been told that the first man of God should come to his place - back in the city he just left - and have a meal. 

So we have one guy who knows what God has said to him and seems perfectly clear on that, but then we have a second guy come in and say that he knows what God has said to him, and it's an entirely different message. 

If you know this story, you know how it ends - the first man of God goes back because the second man of God claimed a divine revelation telling him to do so, he is cursed and killed for disobeying God, and the second man of God (who confesses that he lied) buries him in his own tomb. 

Man, that's a lot of third-person pronouns. Did you follow that?

This story always gets me because the first man seemed so sure. How was he so easily persuaded by the second man? Where did all of his surety go? How was he so certain when speaking boldly to those with human authority and then so easily fooled by another man?

Yet, we do this all the time. We're sure that we know where God is leading us, what He wants from us, that He loves us, that He's redeeming and restoring us...whatever it is that we know about God, but then someone else comes along and says something about us that they believe, tacks God's name onto it, and all of a sudden, we question what we knew. "Well, gosh, if God is telling this other person this other thing, then do I really know God at all? Would I recognize His voice if He spoke to me?" 

Then, we get ripped apart. 

Friends, I want to tell you this, and I want to be perfectly clear: God will reveal Himself directly to you. When you get that feeling in the depth of your spirit that feels strangely warm and tingles and dances and you know that you've heard from God, He will never go tell someone else something different. He will never have someone else bring you a different message from Him that contradicts the one He's already given you. He is never gossiping, speaking more about your life to someone who isn't you than He is to you directly. 

And let's be honest - why would He? He wants a relationship with you. And anyone who has time to manage anyone else's relationship with God...is a liar. I know because I know how much energy it takes to manage my own relationship with God; sorry, I don't have anything left to be responsible for yours, too. 

So do what God calls you to do. Be firm in what He's spoken to you. And don't listen to anyone who invites you to turn back and do something you already know God spoke against.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Servants of God

Have you seen the painting of the Last Supper? Of course, you know it's not realistic.

The painting depicts Jesus and the disciples gathered on one side of a very long table in a very big room, the food all spread out in front of them and everyone sort of picking at whatever happens to be set in front of them. 

If we're not thinking of the painting at this Table, we're thinking maybe of a more realistic picture, where the disciples are reclining at a table with Jesus, as they would have been in that time in history, laying on their side and nibbling on the food as they celebrate the Passover, perhaps with some servants milling around to refill things or clean things up. 

This is where it gets complicated. 

On one hand, we know that the meal didn't just magically appear on the Table. We know that Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him into the city to find the Upper Room and prepare the meal and the space ahead of time. And we would be foolish to assume that the plates and dishes just magically refilled themselves during the meal. Of course, there were servants. 

And of course, we know that in that time, it would have been socially taboo for the men to get up and serve themselves or refill their own glasses. That's what servants and women were for. 

Still on another hand, we know that Jesus had women among His disciples, that women traveled with Him and supported His ministry. 

Yet, we also have to confess that we know that God treated servants in Israel the same, largely, as the rest of the house. They were included in worship, and they were allowed to eat the Passover. So would we be talking, then, about two Passover meals - one for the family and one for the servants afterward? That seems unlikely; we would be talking about one Passover meal in which the servants would be invited to partake, as it was a meal holy unto the Lord and for the people. 

As someone who has spent more than a decade "passing the plate" in my local congregation, I think about things like this. I think about the servants who must have been in that Upper Room, about how it's so easy for us to forget about them, about how we can only wonder at what their role really would have been, about who these servants were and how they fit into the Table. About who was serving who and how the plates were passed and how the cups were filled and how the dynamics in the room were established. 

Then, I also remember that at one point, Jesus stood up, tied a towel around His waist, knelt on the ground, and became the servant to all of them. 

That is the social dynamic of this Table.  

Thursday, April 18, 2024

God of Many Promises

Israel rebelled. Israel always rebelled. If you've read the Old Testament, it's kind of a theme, at least of the human thread that runs through the story. And yet, when we read the story of Israel's rebellions, we also read the story of an incredible God. 

It would be enough to talk about God's faithfulness, about the way that He remains true even in the face of repeated rebellion. About how He continues to love and bless His people, even when they are foolish and sinful. About how we can count on God not to turn His back on us the way we turn our backs on Him. That would be enough. 

But what I love is what we learn about God when the rebellion finally becomes too much and He splits apart the kingdom of His people into more than one. 

Solomon is king, but Solomon (despite all his wisdom) is blowing it. He's married a bunch of foreign women, has all kinds of perverse worship sites on all the hills, is turning away from exclusive worship of the Lord. Things are starting to go south. 

Still, God has a promise to keep. He promised David that his throne would be secure forever. He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that this is what He was doing for this people all along. He promised at the Temple that anyone who would pray and seek His name...He has promises to keep. 

That doesn't mean, though, that those are the only promises He can keep. 

God is always able to make new promises. 

And that's what He does. 

When humans make it hard to keep His promises, God doesn't renege on those promises; He goes out and makes more of them. 

He'll keep the promise He made to David, and to Solomon, but He's making a new promise with ten of the tribes of Israel and their new king, too. He'll keep the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but instead of their being one people, now, there are two. Two parts of one whole - one promise still kept, one new promise made. Another promise that He will keep. 

Isn't that cool? Most of us would just change what we're doing when our promise becomes too hard, or impossible, to keep. Most of us would make excuses. 

But not God.

He makes more promises. 

And then, He keeps them all. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

God of Word and Deed

At the dedication of the Temple, years after Israel has settled into the Promised Land and when they are already on their third king (Solomon), Solomon prays a long prayer for what the Temple means and what it will forever mean and what it offers to those who will seek the Lord there. 

Near the beginning of the prayer, Solomon talks about all of the promises of God that the Lord kept all the way through the history of His people, right up to Solomon's own father, David. And the promises that He will keep on keeping. And how now, by the work of God's hands and His very physical provision for His people, they have come to this place. 

What Solomon's prayer essentially says, what it recognizes, is that what God starts with His words (His promises), He finishes with His hands (His provision). 

And isn't that the most beautiful image of the bigger story of God? 

God started everything with His words. Into the formless and void, Genesis 1 tells us, God spoke. And there was light. And there was night. And there was day. And there was land. And there was sea. And there was man. And all of this by the word alone of the incredible God who spoke it. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was very good. Everything God had made was very good. It was just the way that He wanted it to be, and He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day with man created in His own image and not only was all very good, but all was well. 

And then, well....

Then there was sin. Then there was rebellion. Then there was this little inkling in man's soul that perhaps, without even speaking, he could become somehow like God, knowing good and evil and living, perhaps, forever. Then there was a piece of fruit, probably a fig. Then there was shame. Then there was a curse. Then there was an exile.

Then...there was a Cross. 

And in the Cross, what God started with His words - all the way back in Genesis 1 - He finished with His hands. His carpenter-calloused, dirt-covered, nail-pierced hands. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

God of Science

Solomon was a king who was known for his wisdom. Early in his reign, he dreamt a prayer for wisdom, and God granted it in his waking hours, and then, persons and leaders from all over the world came just to hear his wisdom. 

He is responsible for many proverbs, for many songs, for many pieces of worship. We're told that his wisdom was greater even than Ethan and Heman, two persons we know wrote some of the psalms. We remember the story of the Queen of Sheba, who traveled a very long distance to come and hear his wisdom, and when she heard it, she gave him every single piece of the elaborate gift she had brought with her and declared his wisdom was greater even than this. 

Yes, Solomon was a man of great wisdom. 

So it's interesting that in 1 Kings 4, the Bible tells us that some of the things he reflected on in wisdom were...the trees. Animals. Birds. Reptiles. Fish. 

In other words, nature. 

This is important for us because we're living in a world torn, it seems, between science and faith. (And for what it's worth, I don't understand what all the tearing is about; the two are largely compatible. But I digress.) The world tells us that it is science that is able to tell us about all of these things, that it is science that gives us understanding of them. We have taken these things into the labs and torn them apart, carefully cutting through to see what we can discover and compiling great troves of books that document all of the things that we learn. And then, when we have a question about something in the natural world or there's something we want to know more about, we turn to these books. Because the world tells us that it is science that holds the answers we seek. 

But the Bible says...not so fast. It's not just science that speaks to the natural world; it's also wisdom. And wisdom comes from the Wise One Himself, God. 

Because when God granted Solomon wisdom, it wouldn't have had to be about science. It wouldn't have had to be about nature. He could have stuck to the things that we consider wisdom today, in our multifaceted culture. He could have stuck to interpersonal relations or math problems or whatever else you want to say that wisdom impacts, but He didn't. We are told that in all his wisdom, Solomon spent his time reflecting on...nature. 

And of course he did. Because nature itself is the product of the spoken word of the Creator Himself, who is wisdom personified. God is wisdom, so His creation obviously is also wisdom.

We don't call it wisdom. We call it knowledge. But...it's wisdom. 

Which maybe shows just how little we actually know sometimes. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

God's Faithfulness

The stories of the kings of Israel and Judah, as recorded in Kings and Chronicles, get...a little messy, as God's history with His people sometimes is. He has made promises to David, as He made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and those promises reach down to David's son, Solomon. But...kind of.

Because in his dying breaths, when David is telling Solomon about God's promise, there are two points of information that are extremely important. 

First, David tells Solomon that God will keep His promise to David throughout Solomon's life. That is, God's faithfulness, and His promise, extend into the next generation because of the faithfulness of David during his lifetime. 

But the other half of that sentence is that Solomon, in turn, must be faithful to the Lord the way that David was in order for God's promise to David to continue being fulfilled. 

So God is faithful to Solomon because of the life of David, and God is faithful to David on account of the life of Solomon. 

And, well, doesn't it seem to us that God ought to be faithful to us on account of...our own lives? 

I have heard it said fairly often by persons in management that one of the most frustrating things about being a supervisor is that all of a sudden, your performance review is not based only on the work that you do, but on the work that those you are supervising do. In other words, you're not responsible for your own failure or success any more; other humans contribute into that.

At the same time, though, those other persons, the ones on your team, are no longer responsible only for themselves, either. Their work directly impacts your performance as a supervisor. So it creates a sort of interdependence between leadership and team members. 

And I think that's what God is going for in this little vignette that David gives us. Your faithfulness is good, and God is faithful to you on account of that. But He is also faithful to others on account of your faithfulness...and faithful to you on account of theirs. 

We are not individuals, no matter what our culture tells us. We are interdependent. We are interconnected. Our lives are nestled into one another in a way that absolutely matters, whether we believe that and try to live it or not. 

So whose life is a blessing to you today? And whose life are you blessing? 

Or better put, whose life is God using yours to bless today? And whose life is God blessing you through today?

Friday, April 12, 2024

Swapping Stories

Communion is a solemn event in many of our churches. It's a quiet moment, when we take time to "reflect" on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We grab our cracker and our little bit of juice (or wine), we bow our heads, we block out everything, and we sip. (In some churches, I know, one walks forward to a communal place and partakes, but individually.) 

So I think when we think about what it must have been like in the Upper Room, we get a sense that it was somewhat like this: solemn. We picture that when Jesus took hold of the bread and started reaching for the cup, He cleared His throat and made things...awkward. And the entire room of disciples sat quietly, with bated breath, waiting to hear what He would have to say next. 

It was a holy moment. And we assume that means it was a solemn moment. 

But the Passover was a time for telling stories. It started with the story of how God performed a series of miracles in Egypt...well, miracles in Goshen and plagues in Egypt...and how He led His people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. That's not a solemn story; that's a joyous story. That's a fun story.

And if you're anything like me, one story turns into another story pretty quickly. You hear one detail in the story someone is telling, and that reminds you of a time when.... So you start telling another story. And then someone else hears a word that ticks off their memory, so they start telling another story. And before you know it, you're sitting around telling stories like old friends who went to war together. Remembering. Reminiscing. Laughing. 

The disciples had a lot of stories. Remember what John said? If he wrote them all down, there's not a library in the world that could have contained them. They had stories. And I imagine that once they got settled into that room, around that table, talking about the incredible things God had done for His people, they probably started throwing in some other stories, too. 

Remembering. Reminiscing. Laughing. 

Yes, laughing. Telling those stories about the times they've shared together, stories they would all remember but somehow, also, have perhaps forgotten. "Remember that time when...?" Yeah, I remember that time. Do you remember that time when....? And on and on and on it goes through a whole Passover, through a whole evening. Even if Jesus made it awkward for a minute or two. By that point, the disciples just probably stared at Him for a second, then busted up laughing again and went back to sharing stories. 

Communion is a time to reflect, yes, but it is also a time to remember. And there is no better remembering than the stories that we share and that we tell to one another. There's no better remembering than taking this moment to talk, really talk, and recognize all of the things you've been part of in God's great scheme of things.

There's no better remembering than the kind that we do together. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Darkness

Like millions of others, I watched the total solar eclipse this week. My town happened to fall in the path of totality, with my little neck of the woods nestled in the direct path of totality, giving me a little over four solid minutes of midday darkness. 

To properly, and safely, view a solar eclipse, one must acquire a set of specially-made sunglasses, which are infinitely darker than regular sunglasses. These allow you to look directly at the sun without damaging your eyes. (There are other ways to view the eclipse, as well - pinhole viewers, welding shields, etc. - but this illustration depends upon the super-dark sunglasses, which were the overwhelmingly most popular choice. Probably because they were free most places.) 

It was actually really cool. With the glasses on, you can't see anything EXCEPT the sun. They are so dark, they block out literally every other speck of light except for the sun itself. So you can watch as the moon starts to block out the sun little by little, and it's very cool. 

And then, as the moon moves fully into place, your glasses go dark again. BAM. Just like that. All light is gone. That last little sliver is covered, and there's nothing but total darkness. At that point, it's safe to take your glasses off and look straight at the sun.

I highly recommend that you do. 

It was breathtaking. 

From total darkness behind these glasses to one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen in the heavens. Okay, the most incredible sight I've ever seen. The moon is totally in front of the sun, and the sun glows in this bright white ring around it. The stars and planets come out. The beautiful colors that normally indicate sunrise in the east and sunset in the west are all around you in 360-degree coverage, this beautiful orange just hovering near the horizon all around. It takes your breath away, and it is impossible not to be in awe. 

In my backyard, a mile away from the nearest gathering, I could hear the crowds gasping in awe. It's a powerful experience. 

And I have been thinking how much a reflection of faith this experience is. 

So many persons spend so much of their lives looking through dark glasses. Jaded by their experiences of this broken world. Clinging to whatever light they can through the dimness that seems to block their view. It's depression, yes, but it's also sometimes just a natural reaction to living in a fallen world. If you're looking through a dark lens, the light just always seems to be slipping away. Until...there is none at all. Gone. Finito.  Finished. 

This is the moment of despair. This is the time when defeat sets in. This is when we start to believe there's nothing going on in this world but darkness, and it's time for us to quit. To stop trying. In tragic cases, to stop living. 

But take those dark glasses off, my friend, and look at what the heavens are doing. Look at the way that the light you thought was gone bursts out from behind the darkness. Look at the beautiful colors clinging to the horizon all around. Look at the way the stars are dancing, right in the middle of the day. See the other planets start to show up. 

You are not alone. The heavens declare the glory of God, God who created the heavens in their stunning beauty and created you, too. Because He loves you. 

And the darkness is never as dark as it seems. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Left Behind

There's been a lot of talk about the Rapture this week, with certain celestial events taking place in the sky. Yesterday, we talked about how we somehow have this idea in the depths of our spirit that thinks we're going to be taken naked when Jesus returns (and the theological truths that may be behind that). But what really strikes me when we start talking, even in jest, about the Rapture is the number of Christians - faithful, believing, earnest Christians - who wonder if they will be left behind. 

Even if we offer an awkward chuckle when we say it, there's something inside so many of us that wonders if, when the resurrection really happens, we will really be resurrected. 

And that breaks my heart. 

I mean, Jesus said it, didn't He? He said He was going to prepare a place for us and that when He comes back, He will take us to the place that He is preparing. He said that if we believe, we will have eternal life. The most famous verse in all of Scripture - John 3:16 - promises that whosoever believes will not perish. 

Yet, here we are, wondering what's going to happen to us when Jesus comes back. 

This comes from a couple of places. First, it comes from the teaching in some branches of Christianity that not everyone will be saved. That there are the believers, and then, there are the elect. That God has set aside before time began the numbers of who He will save, and He already knows who they are by name. Even if you don't worship in this branch of Christianity, you've probably heard this idea floating around if you've been a Christian for any length of time or have read any popular Christian living books. Because it's out there, and it's so firmly rooted out there that Christianity as a whole can't ignore it. 

The idea comes from Revelation, where it is written that something like 144,000 (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes) are marked for eternal salvation/redemption/resurrection. Over the years, scholars have attempted to comfort the worried by explaining this as one of those "perfect numbers" that the Bible, we're told, likes to use - numbers that mean more than their numerical value and are meant to be all-encompassing. But that's a lot of math for most of us, and a lot of questions for the rest of us. How are we supposed to know when the Bible means, for example, three or when it means an infinity? Too complicated. I don't like it. 

It's much easier for me to believe that a God who created everything from nothingness with a simple word has a heart for everything He's created. That a God who knows the number of hairs on your head isn't counting to see if you might be in the 144,000. The truth is, there are a lot of problems with Christianity if we think about the idea that there are currently 8 billion persons on the earth, not including thousands of years of previous civilization, and we want to believe God only wants to save 144,000 of them? Christianity, then, would have worse odds than the lottery. 

That just doesn't gel with what we know about God. 

The other place our hesitation comes from is our understanding that, well, we aren't as good at living this faith thing as we think we are...or as we want to be. We're faltering. We're failing. We're sinning, even after the whole sacrifice on the Cross thing and the promise of eternal love and abundant life. So we wonder if we're living a good enough life to be "ready" for when Jesus comes back, and we fear in our hearts that if we're not, we're going to be left behind. 

But says Jesus to the thief, with nothing at all in this world to redeem him except this one profession of belief - today you will be with Me in paradise. 

From this, we can - and must - take comfort. For if the thief had nothing more than a profession of faith, then we, who have made that profession and continue to make it with our broken, messed-up, faltering lives, have the same promise. 

Friends, if you are a lover of Jesus and beloved of God, you need not worry that when He comes back, He's not coming for you. He is. You're going. He has prepared a place for you, and He intends to take you there. Period. 

There is no such thing as a believer left behind. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Raptured

Are you still here this morning? Me, too, apparently. So...shucks. 

There was some chatter across the internet that with the big solar eclipse deciding to come through so many of our neighborhoods this time - and especially through so many towns named after wicked biblical towns (like Nineveh) - then, surely, this was the Rapture. (And I realize that if it was, nothing I write from here after matters all that much.) 

We love to talk about the Rapture. Even secular Americans get caught up in this idea of the sudden end of civilization and the world as we know it. (They call it Armageddon a lot, but if you look in the Bible, Armageddon is a place, not an event. Anyway....) There are a couple of ideas about the Rapture that are popular in culture, even in Christian culture, that are honestly kind of confusing. So I thought, given all the memes and proclamations and yes, jokes, that have been flying around, why not talk about it? 

One of the things that always jumps out to me is the ongoing joke, whenever a rapture-like event comes along, that we should lay some clothes on the ground and then hide. 

First of all, every human being who has ever lived with laundry is not going to think anything about your clothes lying on the ground. The same is true in probably the majority of American households; there are always clothes lying on the ground. We just step over them and move on. It's not going to register in the brain the way you want your raptured joke to register in the brain. 

Second, where did we get the idea that we're going to be raptured naked?

This has seemed to be a common belief for awhile. It's interesting to think about. On the one hand, we live most of our lives in clothes. Overwhelmingly, in clothes. When we bury our dead, we bury them in clothes. We have something in us that doesn't want them to be naked for all eternity, that can't even really entertain the thought that they might be. 

Yet, we also know that we came into this world naked. So there's something in us that makes us think we might go out, eventually, the same way. 

It's also connected to this idea that we have that the resurrection will not be a physical event, that it will be a soul sort of thing with our bodies left behind. But if that's the case, then it wouldn't be just your clothes lying on the ground; your dead and discarded body would be there, too. That's a little more morbid, don't you think? But if you believe that the Rapture is an event of the disembodied soul, then you have to believe your physical body would still be in your clothes if they are left behind. 

For the record, we will have physical bodies in heaven. We will have glorified, heavenly, perfect physical bodies the way we were intended to have them, but we will have a physical dimension to this thing called our "self" when Jesus comes back for us. The Bible tells us so. 

But there is still good reason to believe that if there is a rapture in our lifetime, we will go naked, and that is the very creation story in Genesis. Remember, when Adam and Eve were created, they were naked. In fact, they were naked right up until sin filled them with shame about it. Then, they went diving for the bushes, fashioned some clothes, then were clothed even better by the Lord, who offered the first animal sacrifice to obtain hides for, well...for the hiders. 

So if the Rapture is the start of the restoration of all things to their original state, to the way that God intended them, then it's quite plausible that we're all going naked and that, hear this, we won't be ashamed of it. Shame will be gone. It will be the Garden in the cool of the day all over again. 

Maybe, then, yes, leave your clothes lying around for a good Rapture prank, which might reveal more of our understanding than we are even conscious of, but also, refer back to #1 - don't be surprised if we just mistake it for dirty laundry. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Heavens Declare

Depending on where you are in the world, you may have heard something about a total solar eclipse happening today. If you're close to where I am - in the direct center of the "path of totality" - then you have heard a lot about a total solar eclipse happening today. You might even already have a T-shirt proclaiming such a thing. 

This event is bringing together persons from all walks of life, who will be standing outside and staring up at the heavens...whatever they believe about them. 

Which brings us to an interesting conversation about, at the very least, "science." There are so many persons who believe only in "science" who are super-excited about this event because they know it will be once in a lifetime for them (unless they choose, as many do, to travel around and chase these things because honestly, they aren't as rare as they seem unless you spend your whole life in one spot). 

They will marvel at how cool it is and dig deep into the science of it, and then they lean on the math to tell you that this isn't going to happen again, at least not here, until the year...whatever year it is. And the very fact that they can say that betrays the very foundations of their faith in science. 

See, "science" as a general belief system says that all the matter in the universe always existed and things got started off somehow (the most widely-accepted theory is some sort of "big bang") and all this mass of matter, out of chaos, has organized itself over billions of years to become the things that we live in today. Even we, as human beings, have evolved to come here. Because the entire universe is constantly expanding, rapidly (relatively) changing, always growing. Things are always morphing into other things. 

And yet, somehow, we come to have something so solidly, mathematically predictable as when the next solar eclipse is going to happen in a certain location. 

So they'll tell you that things have settled into a certain rhythm, even as they continue to evolve and expand and press outward, but...can both of those things be true? 

As I've said before with other aspects of the faith of "science," they really can't. We can observe, maybe, how the universe has expanded for the last hundred years or maybe two, as we've developed the equipment, but that doesn't mean that it's always been expanding. It could be perhaps expanding and contracting, just at such a length of time that we haven't observed a contraction yet (and some scientists are waiting on contraction as a sign of inevitable collapse, but again...would that necessarily be the case if we see some contraction?). In other words, maybe the universe isn't constantly expanding; maybe it's wobbling. We don't have enough data to know. 

Which leaves us with two things that are possible. Either 1) we don't have enough information to accurately say that in 412 years or whatever, another eclipse will pass through here because we may not know for sure what exactly will happen in a time span longer than we've been scientifically observing space...or 2) the world has a rhythm about it that really is predictable and knowable. And if the latter is the case, we have to ask how it got here. 

Because it wouldn't be from chaos. If the world is chaos organizing itself and it has come to rest sufficiently to be predictable, then it has to have come to rest in something, for some reason. Think of a marble rolling around and then finally finding a groove. The groove gives it stability, but where did the groove come from? We are back to the question of a Creator. "Science" always leads us back to the question of a Creator. 

So either, we're still ignorant or we're back to the question of a Creator. And this conundrum is illustrated no better than a moment like today, when we will all be standing outside staring up at the sky as the moon passes between the earth and the sun and casts a rare mid-day moment of darkness and stillness and night and...

...and as the heavens declare His glory. Indisputably.