Tag Archives: Scripture

After The Smoke Clears

So I’d like to begin a short blog series today, that’ll go for the next few weeks on Judging and Judgmental Christians…and why we need them.

A few years ago, I sat down with someone who I loved a whole lot, they knew I loved them, and they loved me. We had been friends for years, we had laughed, cried and lived life together. But over the course of the past few weeks and months I had noticed that my friend had been making choices that were becoming more and more destructive and refusing to take responsibility for the outcomes. He was headed down a path that almost everyone who loved him knew was going somewhere toxic…the only problem was he couldn’t see it.

So I prayed about it for a while, probably not as long as I should have, then sat down with my friend over dinner and told him my concerns and why I was a little bothered by his actions for the past few weeks. I tried to be vulnerable myself, and give examples of how I’d been struggling and was struggling with my own junk, I tried to be as non-threatening and gentle but still as direct as possible. I tried to love and be a good friend.

And it went terrible.

This has actually happened dozens of times in my life. I’ve been on both the receiving and the giving end of this. And chances are, if you are a Jesus follower, or just a good friend, you’ve had an experience like this before. You’ve tried to gently correct your brother or sister and had it blow up in your face. You’ve walked away wondering how you could have done it better. If you’re like me, relationships mean a lot, and the idea of having a broken relationship hurts like nothing else, especially when you feel like the one who damaged it. And the temptation is to stop being the kind of friend who speaks into (and allows them to speak into) the lives of the people we love around us.

In the book of 1st Samuel King David has hit a kind of lull in his career. He’s done the whole rags to riches thing. He’s gone from shepherd boy bringing the cheese, to the King of Israel. He’s the Commander in Chief and so when the time of years come when the armies go off to defend the borders of their nations, David feels like he’s paid his dues, and he doesn’t go.

You’ve probably heard this story, David sees a woman named Bathsheba late at night taking a bath on her roof, and he is smitten. Even though he finds out that she’s married, he sends for her. Which is a Hebrew metaphor for Bow-Chik-a-wow-wow. She get’s pregnant, and Kings then like Kings today know how to cover up there mistakes. David dives deeper and deeper into scandal. And what started as a 1 night stand eventually became murder.

But David got away with it all.  Continue reading After The Smoke Clears

More Than a Fish

So I love this version of Jonah!  This girls got some fire in her bones, and a little Shirley Temple. The whole thing is 8 minutes, She embellishes the story a quite a bit, Jonah has a collection of farm animals, and as you might see she does voices for Jonah’s inner dialogue. It’s brilliant, but my favorite embellishment if you watched it to the conclusion, is how she ended it.

I just finished a series on Jonah at Highland, and it’s one of the most surprising series I’ve ever done. We’ve developed all these ways to keep Jonah at arms length, we pretend that it’s a story about a guy and a whale, and try to reduce Jonah to some Veggietales story, but it’s not. It’s a story about national idolatry, and racism, and arrogance, and unforgiveness, and a story about people who speak for God but don’t really like God.

And if you read Jonah, you’ll find that he’s the most unlikable character in the entire book. He’s the jerk of the book, who whines and complains and runs from God and refuses to pass on forgiveness that God had just given him. But the truth is while we might not like Jonah, I realized that I was a lot more like Jonah than I cared to admit.

And that’s what so problematic about Jonah, Jonah’s ending stinks. Like so many of the Bible stories, the ending comes way to fast. Jonah is having an argument with God, and like always God gets the last word, but the word is a question. God asks Jonah:

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

And that’s it. No pretty bow, or resolution. Jonah fades to black with this little question just floating in the air.

But maybe it would be helpful to remember that Jonah is written to the religious people of the day. It was written to God’s people, and that’s our place in the story. Which means, if you are a Christian, this question is directed at us. Should God not forgive them just because you don’t like them?  Continue reading More Than a Fish

The Testimony of Weakness

It was 2 weeks ago to the day, the 5 of us Americans were sitting in a safe house in Nepal, designed to be a immediate refuge for girls who had been saved being trafficked into a life of sexual slavery in India. We had been traveling and working all day, it was hot, and we were tired. But here we were at yet another Safe House, to visit with another group of gathered miracles, and (speaking for myself) it was really hard to see what was happening right in front of us.

Until…

After we met the girls and visited for a bit, one of the women suggested that we have a fellowship, which is what they call a devotional time, or very basic church service. We were all sitting around in a circle singing and sharing, and at least one cranky American was ready to go to bed. And then it happened. In all my short term international trips there have only been a few times that I’ve seen the cultural barriers that are way too think and concrete come down due to an activity of the Holy Spirit, but this was one of them.

Maybe you could say it was because they sang some songs that we knew, or that the girls decided to pray the same LORD’s prayer, or maybe you could say that the Living God showed up, but whatever it was, suddenly we were more than just strangers sitting in a room together. We were the global, unstoppable, Hell-charging, Heaven bringing Church.

And then one of the girls started to tell their story.

She told about how she had been seduced by a man who had promised to love her forever, he had asked her to run away with him from her family, and then right when the eloping had been almost complete she had learned the devastating truth about the man who she had fallen in love with. Now we had been there for a few days and we knew that this wasn’t par for the course. Because of the Nepalese culture, and the nature of the crime committed against them, these girls were not this transparent, especially in front of American strangers that they had just met. But against all expectations, one by one each girl began to share her story.

Of course we had a translator helping us. And while the language barrier can be incredibly frustrating, there are times when not speaking the same language can be a real blessing. Because since Adam and Eve, humans have been struggling to name things. And sometimes cultures other than our own, help us to see things from a different vantage point by giving it another name.

So before all this broke loose, with the girls telling the stories, before the first girl shared her painful experience, she said something in Nepalese, and our translator repeated it in English. He said, “She wants to share her weakness.” Then he caught himself, and said, “She wants to share her testimony.”

I was once in a room where someone asked a group of people to stand up if their lives had been directly affected by cancer. As each person stood, there was a palpable change in the room. These people who were previously strangers were immediately bonded together by a common thread. Their weakness.  Continue reading The Testimony of Weakness

The Great Affair

When I was first starting full time ministry, Leslie and I were mentoring a handful of young adults just a few years younger than us. We met a couple of times a week to pray and just talk through life together, it was one of those things that you take for granted but realize later what a holy moment you are being prepared for. After about a year of this, we got a call from one of these young adults. They had just found out that their father had been cheating on their mother…a lot. He had thrown away a marriage of 25+ years for a few passing moments. Paul says the wages of sin are death, and it was in the next few hours that I got a glimpse into what that meant.

I remember vividly the next few hours, sitting in a room with this little betrayed family, hearing moans that can only come by the worst kinds of hurt. I remember the confusion and pain and groans that came over the next days and weeks. And I remember thinking about how much more sense Scripture was making in light of all this.

The way that Bible primarily talks about sin, is quite different than the way we talk about it. We use metaphors like gulfs and bridges, but the Bible doesn’t talk about sin in terms of location that much, instead it talks about sin in terms of relationship. That is, sin, for the people of God, is like adultery. In fact, some of the most provocative language in the entire Bible is from the prophets trying to make sure we know just how seriously God sees this, and how offensive our adultery really is.

So when we first started looking at the book of Revelation, we noticed that one of the things that Jesus was saying to the churches was that they had forgotten their first love. From the outside looking in, they were successful, faithful churches. They were doing and saying all the right things, maybe they had just forgotten who they were doing it for. Continue reading The Great Affair

The Song of Moses

So last time we were in Revelation we were talking about the War in Heaven, the war that operates different than the wars of earth. Because this is a war that wins not by taking lives, but by laying down lives. And it is the only war that works.

Now, what’s especially interesting about Revelation is that this book uses the Exodus story as much as any book in the New Testament. It talks a lot about the Exodus story and God’s delivering the Israelites from slavery. But it talks about it in both the future and the present tense. As if the story of the Exodus was not just something that has happened, but is happening. And it will happen, not just for Israel, but for the entire world.

I’ve talked before about how significant the plagues of the Exodus were. How they were God undoing creation on the Pharaoh.

But what is really interesting about Revelation is that it doesn’t refer to the 10 plagues, it only refers to 7. And that’s not a new thing. From the time of the Psalmist, the Israelites started referring to the plagues of the Exodus as 7 (remember to a Jewish person a number is a symbol as well) and this was the way they were saying that God’s judgment on the evil systems of Egypt was perfect.

So John, in his gospel, actually picks up on this theme. He tells the story of Jesus with an agenda. He even admits at the end of his book that Jesus had done many more things, and that if they were all written down the world couldn’t contain them. So John is just going to tell us what we need to know for life with Jesus. He’s only going to tell us certain things that Jesus did. Signs, things that point backward and forward.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus does 7 miracles. And John is very careful that we know in the first few chapters that He is counting them. But what’s interesting is the signs that  John uses to tell us about. Just like the plagues there are 7, and according to some scholars they are eerily similar to the Plagues of the Exodus story.

So John starts off with Jesus turning water not into blood, but wine. Continue reading The Song of Moses

The War in Heaven

So the last time we talked about Revelation, we were in Chapter 11 and talking about the way God triumphs over the Beast, but then in the very next chapter we find out that there is a war in Heaven itself…between Michael the Angel, and the Dragon.

Now it’s at this point that you would think that Keana Reeves would show up. But the story gets more bizarre than a Hollywood script could cover.

We read about how the Dragon is faced off with not just Michael but with a woman great with child. And right as this woman is about to give birth the Dragon goes into for the kill. Now on a lot of levels, I think that this is the Christmas story, just on a Cosmic level. The woman is going to give birth to a great ruler, he’s going to face immediate danger and he’s going to have to run away to the wilderness to escape.

But remember John is also using the Exodus story as a backdrop for a lot of what he’s doing in Revelation. And that’s a story that has a very similar plot to the Christmas story, just with a whole lot more people. God brings His people out of slavery in Egypt and saves them through the Wilderness. But he doesn’t just save them so they can sit around and talk about how great it is to not have to build pyramids anymore. He saves them to partner with him in the world. He doesn’t just save them from slavery…He saves them for service. Continue reading The War in Heaven

The Wounds of Triumph

So in the first chapter of the book of Job, the main character of the book (Job) loses everything. His family is killed, his crops and resources and houses are destroyed, it’s the worst chapter of loss in the whole Bible. And then along comes Job’s friends. They have a certain view of God that may sound familiar to some of us. God blesses those who are good, and curses those who are bad. Everyone knows that…so Job ‘s friend want him to fess up. What exactly have you been doing to deserve this?

But God will have none of it. He let’s the so called friends talk trash for a while, but in the end He has the final word and it is nothing like those who pretended to speak on his behalf.

So we’ve been talking about Revelation for a few blog posts, and last week Revelation was talking about the surprising Lamb of God bringing victory. But that’s only half the surprise. The other side of it is how the Lamb does it.

In Revelation 11, there is a series of bizarre symbols that John sees. He’s told to go measure the Temple in Heaven, as if John in the Bob Vila of the Apocalypse. And while John is busy working on renovations he sees the outer courts of the Temple, and 2 witnesses. They are protected by Heaven, and no one can mess with them while they are preaching about God’s power. God will send plagues and fire from heaven on their behalf. He will turn waters into blood at their commands.

And then God doesn’t protect them anymore.

They are attacked by the beast (in a time when beast meant something to Christians…think Roman Coliseum) They are killed gruesomely and their bodies lay in the public square for everyone to see. They will be a spectacle for everyone to see and to mock. These fools thought that God could protect them, but they turned about do dead wrong. But then…

God gives new life to their very dead bodes. It says, “The breath of life from God entered them and they stood on their feet and terror struck those who saw them.”

I love that image. Here are the bullies standing over their victims. This is what happens when you mess with Rome, or try to change the status quo. You pick on someone with a bigger stick and their bound to use it on you. That’s the way that the world works. Or at least the way it used to. Because now it seems the tables have turned. Because they are struck with terror and the martyrs are struck with resurrection.

And then the very next thing Revelation talks about is this:  Continue reading The Wounds of Triumph

What Plagues Us All

When I was in college, I got the chance to go to the Cairo Musuem in Egypt for a few days. In the back, of the museum, for a few extra dollars, I was able to go back and see the mummified remains of Pharaoh Ramsees II. The same Pharaoh who many scholars think was in charge in the days of Moses. He’s the guy who met Moses, and Moses met God. Another way of scything this is that I’m two handshakes away from God.

At the time of Ramses II, The Egyptian world was being told that Pharaoh was a god. He was said to maintain Ma’at, or balance. You can imagine how important balance would be if all of life was centered around the Nile river. If the river goes up people die, if it goes down people die. So what was needed was Ma’at, and Pharaoh was said to be able to give it to them. Now there is some more fascinating stuff here (like how Pharaoh was said to have 9 bows of power to keep Ma’at and God’s plagues on Pharaoh were a direct war on these 9 bows), but the point I want to make today is that when God sent the plagues to Egypt they had a very specific purpose:

God was undoing creation on Pharaoh.

Pharaoh is telling everyone that he is God, and so God is saying to Pharaoh, “If you’re me, than just try holding all this together.” And one by one, God systemically dismantles Creation on the guy who was telling people he was in charge of it.

Which brings us to the book of Revelation. Because eventually John sees God doing something on the earth that most of his readers would have thought sounded familiar. In Revelation 9, the Angels start blowing trumpets, and eventually God responds to the trumpets by sending plagues. Remember this book is written to a group of churches in the first century. These churches are filled with Christians being persecuted for their faith in God. They are asking God questions like Why? and How Long? Why won’t you do something, and it seems there were no answers they could understand. But plagues, now that’s something they get.

And not just any plagues either. The first one released was the plague of locusts. Remember Revelation is deeply symbolic. The plague of Locusts is what happens when one part of creation oversteps it’s bounds and destroys entire other parts of creation. That’s exactly what Caesar was doing and about to do to this little band of Christians. So the plagues were a mirror, on a cosmic level, of what was happening in their day to day lives. Now most of the time I hear this passage talked about, it’s by people who immediately try to talk about Apache helicopters in Iraq. But that is to try and domesticate this whole story. This is a story of subversive resistance (to the point of death) for this little band of Jesus followers. They are about to be required to bow a knee to Caesar and they are going to have say yes, or say goodbye to their heads. This isn’t about  21st century problems in the Middle East.

At least not in the way we think. Continue reading What Plagues Us All

The Anger of the Lamb

So last week we talked about how Revelation really starts picking up steam. John finds a scroll, and find that it contains the the plans for God’s redemption of the world. But no one is worthy to open it…until the Lamb appears. The Lamb is the only one worthy of carrying out God’s total redemption project, so it sounds like things are turning around. Evil has met it’s match. The Lamb opens the scroll to read the redemptive plans of God. But….

Things get worse before they get better.

Once the scroll is opened a series of horses begin to start riding by. Which is not what we expected. One scholar says that the difference between Revelation and other books in the New Testament, is like the difference between reading words and reading music. We have to realize that this is a different kind of communication, and that the audience would have been able to read the sheet music. These horses stand for something. They are the symbols of the world’s oppression, violence and injustice and tyranny. The horses are white and red and black.

Which explains all those weird Skittle commercials.

And these principalities and powers wreak havoc on the world. The world is falling apart, and the things that have caused suffering from Genesis 3 on seem to run loose unchecked.

So the Saints in Heaven ask the question that is on all of our lips, even if we don’t know it. They ask, “How Long O LORD?” How long are things going to be like this? How long will Hell wreak havoc on the world? How long will babies die of AIDS, or the young of cancer? How long will war and death and tyranny carry the day? How long will the resources that can feed the many, be hoarded by the few?

If you’ve got any kind of heart, these questions have probably crossed your mind as well. They should. They are the question of Heaven.

And the answer, of course, is not the one we want. Like 2 Peter before, Jesus’ answer in Revelation is that God is patient. He knows that the ultimate enemy isn’t one with flesh and blood, and so he patiently waits and hopes to redeem the tyrant as well as the tyrannized. But there’s one more thing that Revelation tells us.

In Verse 16, we find out that the evil of the world finally beings to realize what will happen, and  they are terrified of the Anger of the Lamb.

I love that phrase. The Anger of the Lamb. Continue reading The Anger of the Lamb

Who is Worthy?

When I was a kid, my dad took me to a “men’s business meeting” at the church that we were attending. At one point, my dad had proposed that we help a widow who was needing some assistance with her utilities. Sounds like standard churchy stuff to do right? But one of the other men at this meeting had some beef with this widow. And he started to become visibly agitated by the suggestion. Anyone paying attention could have picked up on the obvious social cues. Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t paying attention.

After a few minutes of dad rehashing the reasoning, this guy stood up and took off his jacket and said, “You wanna fight Cletis? (yes, that’s my dad’s name) Because’ I was golden glove in high school, and I reckon I could still take you.”

So in the book of Revelation, after Jesus writes to the 7 churches, John turns his attention to the vision he had given about what life was like in the Heavens. He sees a throne and a scroll, and a sea of glass. Now, sea in the Bible and specifically in the book of Revelation is the symbol for evil. The Jewish world knew the sea was the abyss, that was after all the place where the beasts came out in the book of Daniel.The sea was  But despite the presence of evil, God is on the throne and His purposes have not been undone. That’s what the sea means.  But what about the scroll?

N.T. Wright thinks that the best guess is that the scroll contains God’s secret mysterious plan to undo and overthrow the evil in the world. Somebody’s got to do something about the sea (cancer, AIDS, poverty, injustice). But who is worthy to do that?

In other words, John’s problem is our problem? Continue reading Who is Worthy?