Tag Archives: Theology

Names #6: Changing Names

CT PreachingThis is the last post in this short series about names in the book of Genesis. I know that whole idea might sound strange, but it’s something I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a while, because I’m convinced that our names matter more than we think they do. I think our language to describe the world and ourselves matter a lot to God.

That why Genesis talks a lot about names. Because a name is a story, and if we don’t name well, we might not tell the story we are wanting to tell.

For example…

Did you ever wonder why God changes people’s names?  Does this strike anybody else as bizarre? And it happens all the time in the Bible, especially in Genesis. Like when God comes to Abram and Sarai, these people who’ve had their names for 70 years, and he’s like “Let’s add an H” in there.

Or what about Jacob? God comes to this guy who is one of the worst heroes in ancient literature (He’s kind of a jerk, he’s selfish and he’s always trying to get ahead) and God tells him that he’s going to change his name to Israel.

To which I would say, can’t we go with something that sounds more normal like…Gary or Robert?

But I’ll come back to this.

One of my very good preaching friends is a guy named Charlton. Charlton is a young preacher and one of the best ministers I know. He and his family are some dear friends of ours, and I trust him implicitly. A year and a half ago, Charlton was serving at a large church that we both care about, when he had a moral failure that hurt him, his family, and the church that he was serving.

It’s something that we all know we are very capable of, but Charlton had the misfortune of being a very public figure when his life imploded. Meet my friend Charlton:

My name is Charlton. I spent most of my life investing in, upgrading, and polishing my name. In high school, my efforts were awarded with the title, “Mr. Integrity.” I continued to build on my reputation in college with the “Mr. LCU” crown. A few years later, my alma mater invited me back for the cherry on top: the “Young Alumni Award.” The constant attention I paid to my name was paying off, so no one was surprised when I devoted my life to full-time ministry. I was the “type” of person you would expect to do ministry. I could hear them in my head, “Charlton is perfect for ministry!” I had worked hard to be.

As my years in ministry increased, people became more aware of the cracks in my name, so I worked harder to seal them – an exhausting and futile exercise. Eventually I gave up and let all the secret dark places of my heart rise to the surface. I made a series of sinful choices with a blast radius that affected hundreds of good people. The explosion left those closest to me emotionally dismembered. In that moment the “Charlton brand” went bankrupt.  All the effort, energy, time…meaningless. This launched me on a three-month journey to utter brokenness. I had shattered my life and was helpless to put the pieces back together. Continue reading Names #6: Changing Names

Names #4: Curses and Poetry

So this is a short series about names in Genesis, and more specifically about why the Bible seems to make such a big deal about names and the language we use. It’s why names matter more than we think they do.

The other day I was talking with another preacher friend of mine, who is a minster in another state, and we were talking about church work and about the different ways that church volunteers serve.  And ultimately the conversation turned to how bad preachers are at getting people to volunteer. Not that we can’t get people to volunteer, that part is easy, but that preachers aren’t that good at getting people to volunteer in ways that help the volunteers just as much as the people they are serving.

The temptation of preachers, or bosses, or anyone who cares about a certain project is to use people. 

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little church leadership secret.  If you have pride…I can get you do almost anything. But it will almost never turn out well.

Let me explain:

One of the more interesting things about the book of Genesis is how it starts. If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, then you probably know that Genesis chapter 1 is the story of God creating the world. But what you might not know is that Genesis 1 is written as a poem. It’s got a rhythm, it’s got beat and a cadence.

Genesis 1 is about God doing the work of creation, but he does it with a song.

He makes the universe like he’s writing a poem.

And then the crescendo, the climax of this song is when he makes Adam and Eve. God passes on to them things that he doesn’t give the other parts of his creation, he asks them to name and create with him. In other words, he let’s them sing along.

Now if you are familiar with this story, you know that this doesn’t last long. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden and they are given permission to do anything they want, the only prohibition God gives them is that they can’t eat from one tree. They can do anything, and remember they’re naked at this point, it’s like God is making it easy on them to think about other stuff. But they do the one thing we probably all would do, they disobey, they fail to trust God.

And this is the story that we’ve been living out ever since.

But what’s really interesting about this chapter, is that after Adam and Eve disobey God comes to them and curses them. But some of the Rabbi’s don’t refer to this section as curses, they say that God is now observing the way that reality has now changed. If you haven’t read this chapter recently go back and take a look. Because it’s pretty fascinating what God actually tells Eve and Adam.

To Eve, he tells her that her desire will be for her husband.  A few years ago, I had someone point out to me that this word desire is the same word we might translate as “lust.” Which changes that sentence I think. Because to lust is to want something out of someone that they can’t give you. And now Eve will want something from Adam that he isn’t able to give her.

This is the Rabbi’s point. Adam and Eve used to know who they were. They were, after all, actually named by God in just the previous chapter. In other words, He used to tell them who they were. They used to get their identity from the one who made them. But now that the relationship has been broken, they’re just naturally going to look somewhere else. And Eve is going to look to her relationships.

God isn’t cursing them…he’s just telling them where they are going to try and get their names. Continue reading Names #4: Curses and Poetry

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 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

The Victory of the Lamb

One of the surprising things about the book of Revelation is what doesn’t surprise us. Maybe it’s because we have been too busy paying attention the cryptic numbers, or the dragons and the locusts, but one of the things that is central to the book of Revelation is the thing that should actually shock us the most. And we just read over it like it doesn’t matter.

This is what I’m talking about.

All through Revelation, John talks about victory. Now the word victory for the little churches that he’s writing would have been a loaded term. It was after all more than just a result or an idea. It was a god. Literally, they god’s name was the Roman god Nike. The Romans worshipped victory. She was portrayed as a winged goddess, and her image was on the shield of Roman soldiers. There were statues of Nike with her foot on the globe (a symbol of total world domination). Her image was often on coins reminding people in the marketplace that Rome was victorious.

On the arch of Titus, from 81 A.D., gives us a look into how they used Nike to tell their story. It was right after the Romans had crushed the Jewish people and for their propaganda they set up an Arch (which makes us rethink St. Louis). On one side, it showed the battle that they won, and on the other side of the arch, it showed the goddess Nike putting a triumphal wreath around Titus’ head. They had a theology of military victory (that everyone would have known about), that was reinforced with every victory parade, every time you bought or sold with Roman money, or whenever you went into town. You would see Nike.

Nike was a winged symbol that showed everyone who saw her that Romans always win.

Take that Michael Jordan.  Continue reading The Victory of the Lamb

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