A Little Zooeyness Goes a Long Way

I’m late, I know. The contest ended 8 days ago. That’s okay, I don’t really want any Vegan muffins I invented this word 25 years ago. Wait, that makes you late. Oh, well, better Nate than lever late than never.

College students have it made, but they don’t realize it. I did not know this until 6-months into a secretarial job when I was late for work and felt the daggers coming out of my boss’s eyes, threatening silently to fire me for my first 10-second infraction.

Complaining about 8 a.m. classes, 3-hour lectures given in monotone, and 50-page papers are par for the college course and provide my favorite example of the truism “youth is wasted on the young.” The college years tend to be marked by rebellion free thinking. That must have been what I was doing when I invented the word zooey, ‘thinking freely’. (At least that’s what I tell myself. I was probably thinking about how the guy I had a crush on really looked like a baboon since he was ignoring me. Baboons live in zoos. He probably did too.)

But you didn’t stop by my blog to hear about my disastrous college love life. You came here to find out if I was capable of putting words together into coherent sentences inventing a word. Here goes:

Zooey (adjective) \ˈzü-ē\ 1) General craziness; 2) The giggling insanity you feel when your life is completely out of control; 3) What it would feel like if you found yourself trapped in the orangutan lion’s den at your local zoo.

RELIEF! I finally have a concrete definition for a word I have had to explain for the past 25 years every time I’ve used it in a sentence! (That would be twice, post college.) The burden has been lifted – free at last, I’m free at last!!

Which is more than I can say for you if ever you try to use my word in a blog coherent sentence (sans my permission, of course). I guarantee you will awaken the next day to find

in your bedroom. Which may be a plus for some of you (I’ve read your blogs and this is my conclusion).

My second conclusion (after running a Google search to make certain my word has not been entered into the dictionary yet) would, of course, be that although

her name

(pron.: /ˈz.i) may be spelled the same, Deschanel is completely unrelated to orangutans.

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Goodness or Power

Occasionally I see something on a TV show that makes me think. That happened to me tonight about midway through an episode of Once Upon a Time.

That’s Snow White (Mary Catherine) and Prince Charming (David) up there arguing with Regina (Snow White’s evil stepmother). Mary Catherine is holding the dagger that can control Rumplestilskin (or kill him, giving the murderer his power). Cora, (Regina’s mother, not shown in the photo), supposedly wants nothing more than for her daughter to be queen. The truth is, Cora wants nothing less than ultimate power. She will do anything to get it.

Further along in the scene, Regina holds the heart of one of Mary Catherine’s childhood servants in her hand, threatening to kill her if Snow refuses to give up the knife. David tells her to give them the knife to save her servant (now friend), and that they will find another way to defeat Regina and Cora. Cora mocks Mary Catherine and her determination to choose the good (always choosing to do what is good) at any cost. In the midst of the argument Regina venomously spits at Snow White:

goodness doesn’t win, power does.

Snow White’s goodness won out and she gave up the dagger in order to save her servant/friend, only to watch Cora push her through the clock tower window to her death. In that one small encounter, power won out over goodness, and Mary Catherine knew it. That got Snow White to thinking… it got me to thinking too.

Struggling with what just happened, Mary Catherine tells David that being good has not been worth the cost. She wonders if expecting evil to change to good was naive and that maybe all along she has been the one who needed to change. She is ready for their happy ending to come, even if through evil means. She determines to suffer no more losses at the hands of those who embrace evil. Thus begins her plan to murder Cora.

I turned 49 yesterday and perhaps staring 50 hard in the face is making me do a bit of thinking about life and death. Some questions have been wandering through my brain as a result. Why does a serial killer escape while a friend’s 9-yr. old daughter is having surgery on a brain tumor? Why do gang leaders ensnare a hurting, lonely youth while a mother of 6 is killed in a highway collision? Why do the stars of Hollywood bask in their imagined fame while a sinkhole steals away a man’s brother as he climbs into bed at the end of a long day? Why does a mother lose 2 sons and a husband while a woman in her 20’s finds out she has breast cancer? Why does one evil leader get called to task while another nation performs ethnic cleansing unchallenged? The list goes on and on and on.

My conclusion in the face of these quandaries? A resounding, “I DON’T GET IT.” Yeah, that was my answer: no clue. It just doesn’t make any sense. Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? or some such question of why evil exists. But that’s not really it. I get that we live in a fallen world, I get that sin has touched everything from nature to our genetic code. I guess my problem is the lack of rhyme or reason to it all. It just doesn’t make any sense. Kind of like Snow White wanting her pursuit of goodness to produce the happy ending she expects; that evil continues to thrive and wantonly take the ‘good’ (not ‘good’ in the sense of moral uprightness, but ‘good’ in the sense of life, love, and justice) out of the world isn’t making any sense to her right now. Me either.

Power should not win over goodness.

Yet more often than not, it does. Having been steeped in 30+ years of Evangelical thought, it’s difficult for me to think about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, power and weakness without some reference to the Christian God. And I cannot think of God without thinking of the church. I begin to hear whispered memories of Christian friends of mine supporting America’s assertion of power around the globe, as if God sanctions war when America wages it (against the ‘lost’ or the Muslim or the evil dictator). I can hear preachers talking about God torturing the wicked in a never-ending fire … warnings (or encouragement) to parents that what they teach (or fail to teach) their children will come to fruition ‘one day’ … gloom and doom prophecies of a coming apocalypse through a world power called ‘Antichrist’ … a painting of Jesus riding a white horse through storm clouds while a flaming sword of death and judgment issues from his mouth.

But, is that how God wins over evil … through ultimate power? Does God win because His power trumps everything? Really? Apparently that is what one preacher I heard recently believes. To him it all boiled down to God’s holiness – defined as the perfection of God that destroys (or at least severely punishes) imperfection. He would tell you to fear God because He’s holy and His holiness makes Him more powerful than anything else, somehow giving Him the right to punish those of His children who fail Him in some way. In that paradigm, fear gives you the ability to obey, and thus avoid the otherwise inevitable consequences of your sins.

Huh. Really? I don’t know. I don’t think Regina and Cora are right. I don’t think that power wins. Something deep inside me and something fundamentally communicated through Jesus’ death have convinced me that it’s not about raw power. At least not power as we understand it. Not the power to conquer through fear and torment. Not the power to rule over others by the strong trumping the weak. Not the power resulting from one’s ability to take life. That is the power of the tormentor, the abuser, truly the power of evil itself.

In many ways isn’t this the image of God the Christian church has painted for us for millennia: a conquering King who is going to force everyone who has ever lived to bow the knee to Him through fear and torment? Oh, sure, He offers pardon through some sort of belief in His Son, but even that is coercion borne of fear. Sounds more like a ‘benevolent’ dictator to me than a Creator-God of love.

The same pastor who believed the only pertinent part of God’s character we need consider was His holiness (moral perfection) also stated, and I quote:

Love doesn’t win, God wins.

Wow. Sounds an awful lot like Regina telling Mary Catherine that good doesn’t win, power does. Hm. It’s a good thing I was listening to this man over the internet instead of in person. I would have been carried out by the church leaders when I stood up and shouted:

GOD IS LOVE!!

I fear the church has forgotten what real power, Biblical power looks like. So focused on recognition, visibility, numbers in attendance, financial prosperity, moral agendas, self-protection and even vengeance … I find it hard to tell the church from any run-of-the-mill modern-day corporation. Where are the characteristics of humility and meekness Jesus spoke about in Matthew 5? Who is issuing the corporate call to lay down our lives in love for those around us? Who is reminding anyone in the churches today that the Kingdom we are building is not of this world, and neither are the weapons we use?

You know, I hear the argument a lot that Jesus came the first time to save, He will come the second time to judge. Really? Last I checked God does not change. Throughout history God the Father has been dismantling man’s idea of power and success. He continually chose the marginalized, the outcast, the weak of the world to carry out His plan and purpose. His Son submitted to death at the hand of His very creation to live out His example to us of what true power looks like. If you think He’s going to suddenly change into that mean-spirited, angry, judgmental, punishing God you’ve heard about all your life, you are sadly mistaken.

I hope Snow White comes to her senses. I hope she listens to Prince Charming again and realizes that good always trumps evil. It’s hard to see it in the midst of the struggle, but that’s what the message of resurrection is all about. Just when we think it’s really the end, just when we think evil has won, just when we decide the body has started to decay … that’s when Love says, “arise!” Evil cannot win against a God who IS love. Not on your life. Not on HIS life.

I hope the church comes to her senses. I hope she starts listening to Jesus and realizes that God is good, God is love, and His love never fails. Unbeknownst to us, love is the greatest power in the universe. And I’m here to tell you (over and over again if I have to) …

Evil doesn’t win, Love does!

The only thing to fear …

Daily Prompt: 1984

by michelle w. on January 9, 2013

You’re locked in a room with your greatest fear. Describe what’s in the room.

That’s easy. Since I grew up feeling like I was locked in a room with them – all the time. At night I used to see one in my mind’s eye sitting on the topmost stairs outside my bedroom door. It never looked at me … until I dared to close my eyes. Somehow the covers provided safety. Never mind that I couldn’t breathe while hiding under them. I could hardly breathe from fear anyway. What was a little blanket compared to those monsters? How could a blanket overcome my terror??

It’s nighttime. I’m dreaming the same old dream. I find myself in the middle of the street (what am I doing outside??), in front of my house, barefoot, in a nightgown. I can feel the rocks cutting into my skin. The darkness is a presence closing in on me. No sound escapes my lips … they might hear! They come towards me barking, snarling; as hard as I run I never move. I can’t get away.

It’s daytime. A waking nightmare. I’m walking in the sunshine on the boardwalk with a friend. As the leashed shepherd passes his head turns completely around to watch me. He senses my terror.

It’s nighttime again, only I’m awake. I’m supposed to pick up a book from my friend but somehow my feet will not move me to the front door. My brother keeps yelling at me to go, but I stand frozen to the spot; his voice sounds like it’s far away, echoing back at me from the inside of a well. I can’t see it but the sound of it barking as it lunges for the fence leaves me shaking and sweating in terror despite the cool night air.

Jump forward 5 years. Asleep in my dorm room, I’m dreaming. It’s a friend’s house and the dog is penned. Not the usual rottweiler, shepherd, or doberman, but a beautiful Irish setter. As I leave the dog gets loose. I’m running again, this time over the leafy carpet path of some woods, terrified. Suddenly I stop. This has got to stop. Turning, I become the attacker. The poor animal has no chance to escape from the years of pent-up rage inside me toward him and his kind. Awake again, I realize for the first time in my young life, I’m FREE! The fear remains but the mindless terror is gone. The room has been unlocked, the monster chased away – by me!

The story was that at a young age a dog jumped me. Playing, of course. But apparently someone freaked out and taught me to fear. I have no memory of this. At least not on a conscious level. Funny how the things underneath our awareness creep out as irrational fears.

I heard once that there are 365 instances in which the Bible exhorts us: “fear not”. One for every day of the year. One for every night of terror. My fear was scarier than the imagined threat the dogs posed. It was so powerful – exerting a numbing force over me, able to control my emotions and my body. People would tell me, “Don’t be afraid. My dog won’t hurt you.” It wasn’t the dogs – terror itself tormented me in the locked room of my mind.

I have never been bitten by a dog. I have been bitten by fear. Fear comes in many forms: animals, finances, health issues, Interstate traffic, even other people can cause terror – the crippling kind that leaves you sweating and breathless, reminding you that ultimately, you are not in control of your environment.

It takes a serious amount of discipline to train the mind not to dwell on the things of our nightmares. I have found that telling someone not to think about something only makes the thing bigger, more real. The only hope is a substitute. That’s how the mind works. You can only consciously think about – focus on – one thing at a time. When you find your fears overwhelming you find something else to think about. Better yet, find someone else to think about. Slowly the fear will lose its power over you until you can unlock that door and walk out for good.

It’s a dangerous world we live in. But only one thing stands in the way of you moving forward: your own fears. Scream into that terrorized room that you will find the key to unlock its door. Turn around and beat your fear to a pulp. Walk out the door free from fear’s hold on you. Walk out knowing you are loved. Walk out and find someone else to love.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

God in Christ, Reconciling the World to Himself

Daily Prompt: Quote Me

by michelle w. on January 4, 2013

Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

I don’t memorize Scripture very well. There. I said it. I mean, I can usually find a verse by searching a few of the words I remember. You know, the gist? And then there’s remembering the ‘address’. Yeah. I can usually get close … let’s see, like “I know it’s in the Old Testament…”

The title of this post is the small portion of the section below which I can actually remember. Here’s the whole thing:

2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I spent almost 30 years in what I call Evangelical World. In this world there is one goal and one goal only: Get everyone saved. This proved to be a very frustrating goal for me, as it turns out. Early on I found that I wasn’t very good and convincing people that they need saving. Apparently, I wasn’t very good at ‘praying people in’ to the Kingdom, either.

And then something really amazing happened: God blew up my theological box! What’s a theological box, you ask? Well, everyone has one. It’s the framework you have in your mind that forms your understanding of who God is (or is not). Even if you are an atheist, you have this box. Your box just happens to support the thought that there is no God. This is a theological box none-the-less.

So I haven’t quite gotten to why this verse moves me. It’s simple, really. In Evangelical World only a select few get in to God’s Kingdom. Only a select few will make the ‘right’ choice and find their way into God’s family. And in that world view penal substitutionary atonement is the prevailing (usually only) understanding of the atonement. As you can see from some of my other blogs about the atonement, this view basically says that our sin made God really mad (Evangelical World refers to this as ‘God’s wrath’). It also teaches that God is morally perfect and because we have sinned (missed the mark of perfection), God requires some sort of payment. They believe that Jesus paid God off by dying in our place. But these few verses turn that idea entirely on its head.

In them we see God’s real plan – the reconciliation of the world (as opposed to a select few). We also see that instead of the idea that God is mad and Jesus is loving (kind of like God the Father is wanting to spank us in a serious way – snuff us out – because of our sins, but Jesus stands in between God and us saying, “Don’t hurt them, Father, punish me instead!”), we see here that the Father and the Son are united in their quest to reconcile everything (and thus, everyone) to them. I mean, you cannot get any more intimate than to be ‘in’ someone, can you?

God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.

This moves me because it speaks a word of hope – something Evangelical World has completely neglected, even lost. As long as the Gospel remains available only to a select few, the world (Greek word ‘cosmos’ – the entire creation!) will be left out of the equation. As long as Evangelical World understands the Gospel in terms of the Law rather than Grace, they will have no hope to give.

Our God is a God of hope, love, peace, joy, and, above all, reconciliation. He Himself reconciled us (not because He was angry and needed a sacrifice, but because we didn’t believe He loved us). When man sinned, God did not change, we did. In Christ He showed us that absolutely nothing we do can turn aside His love for us, for His creation, for His beloved children.

That’s why this quote moves me. I hope it has spoken a word of hope to you as well.

Flirting with Danger while Coming of Age

Daily Prompt: Use It or Lose It

by michelle w. on December 31, 2012
~                ~               ~               ~

July 9, 2005, a banner day in our family. What better way to celebrate my eldest daughter’s upcoming 16th Birthday than a Mother-Daughter hike up the Kolekole Pass? So, with lunch cooler and camera gear in hand, off we went. The day promised memorable adventures, but who would have thought when that clear Saturday dawned that we would have the adventure of a lifetime? Everything started out ordinarily enough…

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The hike wasn’t a difficult one, and as we began we walked with ease, chatting happily while admiring the scenery along the way. The wide trail soon narrowed, winding through trees, becoming root-strewn and steeper as we went. We could see blue skies through the needle-laden limbs of the little pine forest we passed. The landscape surprised us by opening suddenly into a wide, grassy clearing where we decided to rest and eat our lunch.

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Filled to the full with food, water, and the beauty of our surroundings, we continued our hike. We had the trail to ourselves as we forged ahead. Slowly the path became steeper and rockier until we had to use the tree roots for secure footing. Ahead I spied the steepest incline yet and above it a rope that resembled a hand-rail. Below us were innumerable trees descending a treacherous slope.

The rope ran horizontally between two of the smaller trees. Leaves obscured the path ahead, but we doggedly pressed on. One of the things I adore most about my eldest daughter is her unflagging cheerfulness. Quick to laugh, she never seems to be without a smile. She also possesses the grace of a ballet dancer, clearly seen in the way she skipped across the rope-bordered path. Supported by the tree on the other end, she waited for me to take my turn across. 

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After about 3 steps I knew I was in trouble. The ground was literally slipping away beneath me! Knowing instinctively that my only hope was to lower my center of gravity, I quickly sat down to stop the downward slide my feet were taking. Trapped in the middle of the path, unable to go either forward or back (any small movement started the landslide all over again), I had a flash of memory.

Stationed in Hawaii the summer of 2003, I never thought I could love a place as much as I did the balmy island we then called home. I knew it was a temporary (3-yr.) duty station, and we had recently learned the Army would take us from there 6 months earlier than expected. At that time, I had been saying, “I could be buried here” simply meaning I’d love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life on this island paradise. But that day, celebrating 16 years with my daughter, struggling to hang onto a melting path, looking over a precipice I knew I’d never survive, I laughingly prayed, “This isn’t what I meant, Lord.”

Survival mode kicked in. Putting the camera bag on the ground beside me to provide even more stability, I instructed my daughter to sit down next to the rope and follow me back to the other side (I still wonder how she had managed to skip across the nonexistent path in the first place). She obediently complied and very slowly we inched our way to the first tree, breathing a sigh of relief when we finally had firm ground to stand on. The time spent on that path felt like hours, but, while likely only moments, it is still firmly etched in my memory some 7 years later.

Looking at my daughter, alive and well, I apologized for celebrating her Birthday by almost bringing about her death. The climb back down was uneventful except for the laughter that accompanied our banter. We were very happy to be alive and unharmed from our recent ordeal. Back home we smiled as we told the story animatedly, but the truth is I thought we’d never come back from that one! In spite of the dangerous circumstances we were in, we will always be able to say we remember well how we celebrated my daughter’s coming of age.

What’s Your Story?

Isn’t just looking upon this world already something of an invention? The world isn’t just the way it is, it is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story? … You want words that reflect reality? ‘Yes.’ Words that do not contradict reality.  ‘Exactly.’ … 

I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you, that will confirm what you already know, that won’t make you see higher, or further, or differently. You want a flat story, an immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.

Excerpt from The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I just finished listening to the audio book, The Life of Pi. In it, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel tells his remarkable survival story. Everyone has a survival story. In fact, everyone tells themselves a story in order to survive. Our story helps us cope. It is a way of interpreting the events of our lives, of making sense of those events, ourselves, and the people around us. It’s kind of like another way of seeing something I’ve always known was true: people interpret life’s events, others’ words, even their own actions through a belief system I call a grid. Grids are the human way of understanding the world, and we all have one – one major worldview that helps us make sense of our lives.

We begin to construct our grids at a very young age using a combination of what we are taught and how we react to the world as a result of our own individual personalities. We live in a broken, messed up world and have to learn quickly how to cope. Perhaps the person who takes his own life does so because he or she no longer possesses the tools to interpret his life in a way that makes sense.

This happened to a dear relative of mine a few years ago. He completely lost touch with reality for a couple of years. Those around him who were trying to help had many different speculations as to what was happening: a chemical imbalance in the brain, schizophrenia, mis-prescribed medications, and others. I think he just lost his ability to explain the world around him and the world inside him.

That’s the other piece I took from the book: there’s an entire universe inside each of us. Dreams, ideas, and inventions, thoughts we cannot control, habits we cannot break, feelings we cannot find a cause or an outlet for, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Despite our desire for connection, our propensity for community, we are still alone in the end. Who can begin to understand my story? So much chaos whirling around inside these little heads of ours. Add to that our attempts to understand the words, actions, and emotions of others and you have the definition of OVERWHELMED.

I think that’s why we compartmentalize. Our grid serves as a way to sort through the various aspects of our world into separate compartments that we find manageable. Probably the number one way we in the West understand the world around us is dualistically. The Life of Pi ‘preached’ against dualism more than any of other philosophy. From Piscine’s determination to find God through three contradictory religions (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam), to his almost symbiotic relationship with a deadly Bengal tiger aboard a lifeboat, Yann Martel said over and over again in a hundred different ways that dualism is a poor way to deal with life’s complications. He makes it clear that even lost at sea in a lifeboat he shared with Richard Parker, there are many ways to look at life’s circumstances – not everything can be interpreted as either black or white.

In the end, we all believe the story we tell ourselves is the ‘truth’, factual, the real thing, the only story. Yann Martel makes a strong case for the question of whether or not any of us know the ‘real’ story (maybe we can’t know it), and he asks that we take note when someone we come into contact with has a story which contradicts ours. How often do we sacrifice relationship and growth in our determination to make our story ‘right’? We stubbornly hang on to our own construct – an illusion of safety – often at the expense of those around us. Maybe the problem isn’t that we believe the ‘wrong’ story, maybe it’s just that we are unwilling to truly hear anyone else’s. What if, in the end, everyone’s story is ‘wrong’ and the real point of life was learning to love in spite of it all?

2000 years ago a group of Pharisees resorted to murder to protect the story they told themselves. Throughout the centuries the church has continued to do this as if more violence is the solution to violence. Jesus showed us another way. He told a different story to the violence we use to understand and control our world. I wonder to what lengths I would go in order to protect the story that makes sense of my life? To what extent have I sacrificed relationship in my determination to be ‘right’?

Maybe this is exactly why Jesus told parables. Parables, unlike any other story, can be interpreted in so many different ways. Filled with multiple applications, they are designed to both enlighten and confuse. Maybe Jesus’ very use of the parable is proof that knowing the ‘right’ story was never the point. And maybe, just maybe, the Word of Life is the only one able to ‘correctly’ interpret each of our stories. That’s what I believe ‘judgment day’ will be all about: helping me understand my story.

In the meantime, I want to learn to listen to other peoples’ stories, fully aware that I hear through my own grid, somehow finding a way to love in spite of my misunderstanding and contradictory construct. Jesus didn’t promise that people would know Him by how right we are; He promised people would recognize Him by how well we love one another. In the end, only grace signifies, and love really will win.

QUOTE: God Needs No Defense

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God. As if ultimate reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy, begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street and think, “Business as usual.” But, if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening. 

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves, for evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open battlefield of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush. 

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

 Matthew 25

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

.  .  .

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

… For What?

The idea of time keeps messin’ with my head. I woke up yesterday morning (2:30 a.m. … 3:45 a.m. … finally at 4:25 a.m) with the sensation of holding my breath. Like I was waiting for something. But what?

No clue what. Thought about it all day. The saying, ‘Life happens while you’re making plans’ came to mind. But I’m not planning anything. At least not consciously. The closest I come to a plan these days is packing my lunch the night before I go to work, or looking at the tennis schedule to see if I’m on this week, or putting in for time off to go home for Christmas. Still, life is happening … and me with the sensation that it’s happening around me, almost like I imagine an out of body experience might be.

Baited breath. Anticipation. Waiting. That knot in my throat keeping me from swallowing or taking a deep breath. Did you know there’s a sign on the cork board in front of my desk instructing me to ‘breathe deep’? I put it there 6 months ago.

It occurred to me that I’ve lived this way for a long time. The experience is not new but the awareness of it is. Interesting. Why the recognition now? Probably because that time thing has been messin’ with me. My daughter reminded me yesterday afternoon about living in the moment. I reminded her of the impossibility of that venture – as soon as you are ‘in a moment’ that moment is gone. So instead of living ‘in the moment’ we are forced to live moment by moment. We do that whether we are aware of it or not.

We spend so much of our lives waiting. As children we wait to grow up … young adults wait to meet their mate … adults wait for their children to arrive … grow up … come home for a visit. People wait for the perfect job to come along, or whatever circumstance they are in to change. We wait for planes, packages, people, and events. We spend our lives waiting … to die. That’s what time does. It’s killing us one second at a time.

wait

verb (used without object)

1. to remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens (often followed by for, till,  or until): to wait for the bus to arrive.
2. (of things) to be available or in readiness: A letter is waiting for you.
3. to remain neglected for a time: a matter that can wait.
4. to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed: We waited a week and then bought the house. Your vacation will have to wait until next month.
5. to look forward to eagerly: I’m just waiting for the day somebody knocks him down.

So what am I waiting for? ‘Your next life, maybe, who knows’ (the Oracle to Neo in The Matrix). My next life? Yes. Absolutely I am waiting for that. I eagerly await an end to time as well … an end to waiting. But that’s not where the knot’s coming from.

What are you waiting for? Your next promotion … your spouse to change … your kids to be old enough to go to school … the cure to an illness … retirement? I once heard someone say, “My favorite verse in the Bible is ‘it came to pass’ … and everything comes to pass.” True. Perhaps everything comes to those who wait as well. I wonder if I have to know what I’m waiting for to see it come? It’s coming whether I know what it is or not. I just hope I don’t miss it before it passes. It’d be nice to live knot-free.

Quote: “We considered him stricken by God, but …

Daily Prompt: Imitation/Flattery

by michelle w. on November 30, 2012

Write a post about anything you’d like — in the style of your favorite blogger. (Be sure to link to them!)

Did God really pour out his wrath against sin on his Son to satisfy his own need for justice? Or did God-in-Christ forgive the world even as it unleashed its wrath against him? Was Christ’s sacrifice the ultimate fulfillment of God’s demand for redemptive bloodshed Or was the cross God’s great “No” to that whole system?” Back Cover, Stricken by God? Edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin

Thanks, JS for the idea!

Daily Prompt – Audience of One

Daily Prompt: Audience of One

Picture the one person in the world you really wish were reading your blog. Write her or him a letter.

Dear _______________,

Look at that. I don’t even know what to call you anymore. You have become for me a nameless, faceless entity, grown out of control and out of reach. Your strength remains, yet too often is used to wound instead of heal.

So many things I want to say. Too many words rolling around to make coherent sense. Impossible to ‘boil it down’. Overwhelming to think of saying it all. But if this were my last chance to say what needs to be said, what would it be?

God has not lied to you.

He means what He says. He will never be too small to do beyond what any of us dare to imagine. He is everywhere, in everything. I know it’s hard to see that when you look around you. Maybe if you looked inside with honesty you would see that you are but a microcosm, a mere reflection of what you choose to vilify outside yourself.

Paul has not lied to you.

You think you teach grace, but spend all your words applying law. The letter really does kill. Only grace signifies. You focus on judgment, not seeing how that leads you into the very things you say you hate. Would that your eyes would focus on mercy. Would that you could see the living Word as the only lens through which you can interpret the written word. Bereft of grace you follow your fathers, eating from the tree of judgment – toward those who are different, those who are outside, anyone who does not hold to your dogma. Jesus does not believe your dogma, why should anyone else? Would you recognize the Lord of grace if He stood inside you? Or would you denounce the One you name Lord when you saw His refusal to adhere to your pet teachings?

It’s not about ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Really. It’s not. As long as you believe you have the only truth, you will never be able to reach anyone outside yourself. Not really. Not with anything that matters. Not with love. Not as long as you cling to your agenda. You know what I’m talking about. That ‘hidden’ agenda behind every relationship you make. The agenda to save. But you do not seek to save, only recruit. After all, someone has to fund the machine, I get it. What if everyone finally saw you for what you really are? What if God finally decided He’d had enough of your corporate machine? What will you do when He says, ‘No’? It’s coming. I’ve been hearing it for a long time. Your days are numbered … at least in your present state.

Hell is not a place, it’s a condition.

By making it into a place you cripple the ones around you already ‘there’, leaving them with no way out and no hope for the future. That you are a slave to it by your own fear is the saddest part of all. Fear is crippling your message, leaving you bereft of any joy to give to anyone, even yourself. You believe the opposite of hell is heaven, but Jesus said the opposite of hell is abundant life.

Abundant life is not a place, it’s a condition.

My heart breaks when I see what you have become … even more when I see what must happen for you to become. I have seen your death. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone.’ A chrysalis awaits to transform you into the bride you will be. You won’t see it that way when you face it. It will crush you to dust until you submit.

I have felt your loneliness. The utter disconnect overwhelms me at your gatherings. You meet together all the time, but face one direction (never one another). You force yourself to perform, else others would know the devastating emptiness inside you. Refusing connection within, fearing connection without, you content yourself with loneliness, assuring yourself that being right is what matters.

I have seen your pride. You can’t connect with anyone from the prison of your self-satisfied beliefs. The idea that your law-keeping, or Bible thumping, or finger-wagging secures God’s love breaks my heart. God is near to the contrite, the broken, the humble. He does not need your rod of correction for anyone. He needs you to open your heart to grace, forgiveness, hope, and love. Your pride divides, delineates, denominates. So certain that your belief, your prayer, your works have saved you from punishment, you never realize that your form has bound you to a lifeless corpse – a form of godliness, denying the power of His grace. Ultimately, you have boiled your message down to one miserable word: Believe in Jesus in order to avoid God’s wrath. But really I must believe in your version of the Gospel in order to be saved. Huh.

Still, I have heard His voice calling, calling even you. His patience will never run out. His heart will never let go. His love will overcome everything – sin and self-righteousness alike. He’s like that, you know. Relentless. You cannot escape His love, no matter how deep you run to hide in the recesses of your structure. He has torn it all down, removed every nook and cranny where you cringe in fear of His coming. But I have seen it. I have seen you – exposed.

You are beautiful beyond imagining!

Stranded in Time

Time is a funny thing. At any given moment I may feel like it’s standing still, like I have “all the time in the world.” Other times I can almost see time zooming by like the landscape outside my car window running past at 80 mph on a 14-hour trip home. I can’t imagine a more apropos image of time than sand moving through the middle of an hour glass. Like sand moving under ocean waves … utterly impossible to hold on to. Immediately upon our awareness of a moment, it is gone.

Looking hard at turning 50 means a lot of time has passed in front of my eyes, be they wide open or slammed shut. 50 years = 438,300 hours, 26,298,000 minutes, 1,577,880,000 seconds. Of course, the immensity of the number of seconds, minutes, even the 400k+ hours just makes my eyes cross. I’m not even sure how that kind of time translates into a life of days, months, and years.

And while I don’t think I’ve gone through life with my eyes closed, inattentive to its lessons, with 50 just around the corner, I begin to wonder. Where has all that time gone? What, if anything, have I managed to produce? What have I learned and have the lessons changed the way I live – who I am? Or as the saying goes, ‘What do I have to show for all that time?’ What about the time I have left? What exactly am I supposed to be using that for? What about today? Was the activity packed into the last 24 hours worth anything? Wonder what ocean all that sand is buried under.

StrandedInTime

Most of my life has been defined by my relationships; and, in a very real way, time itself has defined me. In my younger days I would have balked at such a statement. The very idea that anyone’s ‘stage’ in life defined them would have offended my determination to define myself apart from any constrictions like time or place or even other people. Age has taught me differently. And while I would like to believe that I have allowed my faith to define me, even that has become as elusive as the outgoing tide.

Truth be told, it all started with family, brothers, sister, and parents, that morphed into peers, then friends, then almost-as-close-as-family college relationships. Marriage and kids opened a whole new realm from in-laws to the people I met because our kids played together.

As much as I hate to admit it, forces outside myself have always managed to define me, for good or ill, making my current situation bewildering at best, terrifying at worst. You see, for the first time in my life, I can say that I feel truly alone, cut off from others in any tangible defining way. The sense of being lost has never been so real to me as it has the past 3 years. Not ‘lost’ in a Christian sense as in losing faith – my faith in God has never been stronger. More like ‘lost’ in terms of my place in the world, my purpose for living. This feeling, wondering what I’m doing ‘here’ has left me with a kind of hopelessness born out of a loneliness for real connectedness in some ways almost too painful to describe.

Moving 25 times has not helped matters. Certainly in early years my ability to quickly establish deep friendships sustained me through times of loss as I left family and friends behind. But all the moving has also taken its toll on my ability to find and establish deep relationships in the first place. Bottom line? I’m tired. Wore slap out, as we used to say down South. How does one go deep, tear apart, and then do it all over and over again, at the same time managing the guilt associated with having to let go in order to move on? The pain sometimes feels like an accumulation of sand at the bottom of the hour glass, heavy and oppressive. Makes me want to shut down to avoid going through the process again. But loneliness is its own kind of oppression for an extrovert who has been defined by relationships all of her life.

I find that my ‘stage’ also has a lot to do with the difficulty I’m having establishing new friendships. My eldest (girls) are grown and gone from home and my teenage son has no interest in any kind of deep relationship with his not-really-very-cool mother. Moving at almost-50 into a small community has left me wondering if there is anyone around me who isn’t already over-burdened with their own years of accumulated relationships – too burdened to want to invest in a new one with me. At the same time hearing my spouse say, “We still aren’t settled,” implying yet another move, does not endear me to the idea of putting in any roots now, knowing the pain that comes with the uprooting.

Having to work full-time for the first time in 23 years has opened my eyes to the difficulty of establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships amidst the demands of work, commuting, and continuing household chores. There are literally days when I wish I could find a way to stop – everything – even time itself. Other days time feels like a prison cell, and I can almost see myself hemmed in to a little box running inexorably on a time-line which I can’t for the life of me escape.

Finally, having spent the first 40 years of my life steeped in religion, I never knew how very difficult it is to find meaningful relationships outside the 4 walls of the structure we call church. For me there is no going back to that arena. It took me a long time to see the machine-like quality, the distance-keeping business as usual of that structure, but now that I can see it, it’s all I can see. No amount of loneliness could drive me back into the dry bones of that dying institution.

So where does all this leave me? Looking hard at 50, thinking about the confines of time itself, sometimes grieving the loss of it, sometimes grinding my teeth at the speed of it. Recently, I’ve begun to see forward, linear time as the true curse we have been given over to. All of life’s ills from sickness to sadness to death itself spring from the well of forward linear time. I often imagine what life would be like if we could go back and relive an experience. I’m not the only one. Pictures, video recordings, movies about time travel, even the fast pace of our technological connectedness all testify to the human desire to overcome time’s limitations.

Strangely enough, that truth – that we are ‘stuck’ in forward, linear time – has given me hope. The very fact that I understand time to be the ultimate restriction to who we are as God’s image-bearers tells me I was made for a life without it. If thirst proves the existence of water, then our desire to control time proves that there is an existence beyond its limits.

I read a book of fiction this year that has impacted my life probably more profoundly than any other book save the Bible. Written by Jonathan Safran Foer, the book explores the idea that true redemption means everything running backwards, thereby putting all to rights. I cannot over stress the impact this idea has made in my mind. When one of the characters imagined the full extent of this possibility – beginning with the plane moving backwards out of the World Trade Center building, culminating in Eve “unpicking” the fruit from the tree – I couldn’t stop crying. I have come to believe that this is what true justice – true redemption – looks like.

Think about it. In forward linear time …

… a raped teen can never have her virginity back;
… a bereaved parent can never receive his child back;
… a harsh word can never be taken back, while the scars of our hurts remain indelibly etched on our hearts for all time. No amount of forgiveness or repentance can ever completely undo a wrong.

But what if redemption is the actual rolling back of time? What if we are going to see our pain, all the world’s suffering, in reverse – being UNdone? While it boggles the mind, I also know in my bones it must be true. When the prison doors that keep us locked in time are finally opened, the possibilities are endless! Why not this one? Why not the restoration of every broken relationship? Why not the healing of every loved one? Why not the complete redemption of the kosmos? Why not?

Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
 
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Returning the Favor

The other day I read this Facebook post:

May you truly know that you are loved and salvation is being saved from God by God Himself.

Really? The first word that came to mind when I read that was “schizophrenic.” The second was “split personality.” I don’t think the Scripture supports the idea that God has to save us from Himself. Somehow I don’t think that Scripture portrays God as conflicted toward His creation. I also don’t think I could interpret this kind of dichotomous behavior as anything close to love. How could I “know I was loved” by a God who has to save me from Himself? Who’s to say the angry side of God won’t trump the love side at my first slip-up?

If God never changes, and God is love … if the primary goal of God is the praise of the glory of His grace … how has anger and wrath become the focus of our belief system? Sounds more like the way men behave than God to me.

Baxter Kruger once quoted another teacher:

On the sixth day God created man in His own image … and we have been returning the favor ever since.

Have you driven on an interstate highway lately? Road rage is rampant. Have you read the news this week? More and more teens are running away from abusive homes. War is everywhere – people rising up and killing one another all over the world out of racial and religious hatred. People are angry. Our mental institutions are chock full of split personalities and our homes are rife with divorced parents raising confused children. This is us, not God.

How about this one:

I read a post on a friend’s wall about a dad in the middle east somewhere who killed his three daughters under sharia law and said he would do it again. It sickens me that he believes that is what his god requires.

It sickens me that my friend believes this is what Jesus requires. My friend doesn’t see the inconsistency. They believe that their heavenly Father will kill His children for failure to obey His laws – only God plans to do this for all of eternity. (In my friend’s mind the opposite of eternal life is eternal death.) To me, the Evangelical assertion that hell is eternal makes our God much worse than these Middle-Eastern fathers. At the very least, these men don’t know any better than what they have been taught by their misguided forefathers (and I realize this to be my friend’s plight as well), whereas God is all-wise and all knowing; and in their case, the pain they caused their daughters had an end, whereas God plans to punish His children without end.

It amazes me how people cannot see the illogical nature of vilifying people who kill their fellow men while glorifying a God who kills (punishes in tortuous fire) people for all of eternity after a mere 80 years of sin. They call this justice? If it’s wrong for an earthly father to kill his daughters for disobeying the Law, then it is infinitely more wrong for an infinite God to kill the children He created for disobeying His law … for all eternity – without even the hope of an end. In other words, it was horribly wrong for Hitler to torture and experiment on hundreds, maybe millions of Jews, but at least there was an end to their suffering – death. Has it ever occurred to you that most Christians believe God is punishing Hitler in hell alongside all those Jews Hitler tortured and murdered who didn’t believe in Jesus as their Messiah? Sure. Makes perfect sense to me… IN WHAT UNIVERSE COULD THIS POSSIBLY MAKE SENSE?

You are probably saying to yourself what I used to tell myself: “But God’s Law is different. God is holy, so He has to punish sin. Anyway, God is different. He’s God. He can do what He wants.” Really? You don’t believe that. Your God is too small. This is what God wants:

2 Corinthians 5: 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Romans 5: 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood [not our belief], we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son [not our belief], much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life [not our belief]. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation … 18 So then as through one transgression [Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [Jesus] there resulted justification of life to all men. (Don’t tell anyone, but all means all.)

Colossians 1: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.


Help  me here … which part of “all things” did He not reconcile to Himself?

Romans 11: 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

Philippians 2: 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Romans 10: 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

1 Timothy 4: 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

Over and over again in a hundred different ways the New Testament writers talk about a great reversal – a reconciliation of all things back to God’s way, back to peace, wholeness, and righteousness. There cannot be complete reconciliation where anyone remains unreconciled. There is no end to sadness or any hope of fullness of joy as long as God is determined to vent His wrath rather than to heal. There is no glory in a God who must be appeased for the shortcomings of His creation. The maintaining of a ‘place’ or condition we call hell simply is not in the Bible, and beyond that, it does not portray justice.

Biblically, justice means making all things right.

People have redefined ‘justice’ to mean ‘retribution.’

I heard a great story recently about this. The speaker told about a girl who died as a teenager. Just before her death a friend invited her to church. After the service the friend asked her if she had accepted Jesus as her personal savior. The girl replied no, that she didn’t believe in God – she claimed to be an atheist. Her friend proceeded to share the Gospel with the girl, telling her that Jesus had died for her sins and she must accept this or God would punish her in hell forever. The girl continued to refuse God. The next day she was raped and murdered.

When the police caught the murderer, he was convicted and sentenced to death. During the trial the judge asked him if he was sorry for what he had done. Far from it. He reveled in his sin and bragged about the girl’s screams to her devastated parents. Throughout his life he railed against God and his fellow inmates. He was one of the most hated and feared men in the prison, and he spent most of his time in solitary confinement due to his violent behavior.

Three nights before his execution he received a visit from a pastor. He heard the truth about Jesus and the forgiveness God offers us for the very first time. Overcome by grief for what he had done, he fell to his knees and prayed to God for forgiveness. Two days later he was executed. Imagine his surprise when he woke up in God’s presence while the young teenage girl he tortured and murdered continued to suffer in hell because she didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer before she met her untimely death. How can anyone interpret this as justice? Where is justice for this girl whose life was literally taken from her? How can it be justice for a rapist to suffer a few years in prison and die a humane death by execution when she not only suffered a violent death in this life, but continues to suffer for all of eternity in fire? How can this even come close to what John promised:

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the [cosmos].

… puts to right all wrongs in all of creation. What else could this mean?

The creation, the ‘cosmos’ doesn’t sin. People sin. The cosmos – world – is inanimate – it can only be affected by peoples’ sin. Maybe if John had used the Greek word ‘Anthropos’ or ‘Ethnos’ I would suspect he was talking about taking away peoples’ sins (as in not counting their sins against them). But no, he makes the work of Christ much bigger than just forgiving the sins of individual people. John promises a great reversal to the world-wide effects of sin. When he talks about taking away the sin of the Cosmos, he promises that Jesus is going to turn the world upside down – make everything right.

But wait. Wasn’t this young teen’s sin (unbelief) part of the cosmos? Then why do we think Jesus didn’t take it away with the sins of the man who murdered her? Because the killer said a few words in prayer before the end of his life? Seriously?

I believe that it’s time we start taking God at His word and recognize when we have made God into our own image. Just because I may want to punish (murder) someone out of anger (and retribution), that doesn’t mean God is this way. Just because I respond to my environment with violence doesn’t mean that God does too. Jesus on the cross showed us the way of God – nonviolence. Jesus’ behavior was the very opposite of the people who murdered Him – Jesus was never schizophrenic, He consistently loved, even His killers. By His eternal Word, I believe He still prays,

“Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”

… believing … teaching … saying.

Isn’t it time we stop returning the favor?

Living Someone Else’s Life

One morning last week around 4:00 a.m., groggy-eyed and avoiding the treadmill, I spent a little time reading through my FB news feed and ran across the following:

I came to the realization yesterday that I am living somebody else’s life, not my own. At least that’s how I feel. I need to change some things.

My first thought was, “We’re all living ‘somebody else’s’ life!” I think John would agree.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are … Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
1 John 3:1-3

I’ve been saying it this way for awhile now: “I don’t belong here.” Apparently, I’m not the only one …

Sometimes it feels like I’m watching from the outside
Sometimes it feels like I’m breathing but am I alive
I won’t keep searching for answers that aren’t here to find

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

When the earth shakes I wanna be found in You
When the lights fade I wanna be found in You

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong
[x2]

Where I belong, where I belong
Where I belong, where I belong

Well, it’s not just that we aren’t ‘home’ yet, we aren’t ‘me’ yet. C.S. Lewis wrote:

It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…

But it has not yet become apparent – visible, known – who I am becoming. I read another post on FB today by a dear friend who commented that a particular photo of her was ‘terrible.’ I thought to myself that if we understood what Lewis is talking about -really understood and believed – we would not be concerned in the least by what we see here, now, on the outside. This shell of a body will be left behind, and although we will one day be reunited with it, it will not be what we see and know now. I think Lewis is right in this sense: We are being changed into something that for us right now would be entirely unrecognizable.

Think about it this way, what does an acorn have in common with an oak tree? Can you by looking at an acorn even come close to perceiving what it will become (had you not seen the tree, of course)? No. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul put it this way:

1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.

The tent Paul is referring to is the body we are ‘trapped’ in (although I think it’s even more than that – we are trapped in forward, linear time, our memories can trap us, even our sins trap us and in that way we are bound by our very selves to something we often hate – a habit, a pattern, an addiction, so much that can keep us bound up). But like my friend, Paul experienced this groaning, this deep desire to become, to experience who and what he really is in Christ. I have felt this – seriously felt it, and more so as I grow older.

And yet, just the fact that I feel this disconnectedness with my true self – the mere fact that I so often hear “I don’t belong here” coming out of my mouth – assures me that there really is something out there, something so much more, something completely beyond my imagination! Else I would create it right here and now! It is out of my reach. And out of yours. But never out of God’s. In fact, this very thought often takes me past whatever is bothering me in the moment to the wonder of knowing the hope beyond hope we have waiting for us.

My friend, don’t change a thing, don’t try to change a thing! He is at work. The fact that you feel like you are living someone else’s life is proof that He is making you into something magnificent, spectacular, amazing beyond anything you can imagine or even desire! We think we know ourselves, but we couldn’t be more wrong. We have no clue.

The worst movie I’ve seen in the past 5 years had one of the best lines in it I could imagine. It was a movie about vampires who were seeking a cure. In the midst of one of the conversations, one of the characters remarked,

Life’s a bitch, and then you don’t die.

I literally laughed out loud! I thought how true that was – my worst nightmare would be if this life is all there is.

Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ – therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:22-24

Lest you have fallen for the lie that God kicked man from the Garden of Eden as punishment, I am here to tell you the Truth: Sending man from the Garden was the ultimate GRACE – protection against being stuck in our sin for all of eternity. Mercy, God-style. 🙂 If you aren’t tired of yourself and the constant battle in your mind and life, you won’t understand anything I am talking about. But if you are like me, sick to death of your body of death, then you are looking forward with joyful anticipation to seeing what you will become! John went so far as to say that the hope itself purifies us – makes us like Him.

Hope in the Bible does not have the meaning we use today. When we say ‘hope’ in our day, we could easily substitute the word ‘wish.’ But when the writers of the Bible wrote the word ‘hope’ they were talking about something secure to stand on, something you could actually hold on to, something very real and not a wish at all. But holding on to hope requires discipline. Serious mental discipline. It would be so much easier to let go of hope and sink into the mire of our present ‘reality.’ After all, what does an acorn know of becoming an oak? Absolutely nothing. Wait, maybe the acorn does know something about becoming an oak: it hurts like hell.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

There’s only one thing the acorn has to do to become an oak: fall to the ground and die. In our case too, death is required. So the next time you are frustrated with your situation, the next time you feel like your life is slipping through your fingers out of your control, the next time you cry out in frustration because that thing you used to do just showed up again – turn to your hope and hang on for dear life: It has not yet become apparent who we will become…

… but just as it is written, “ THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Lightning and Vultures and Corpses – OH, MY!

It’s Sunday and still early. Armed with nothing more than a lightweight throw and a steaming cup of coffee, I venture out onto my back porch to enjoy the sunrise. I marvel first at the stillness, broken occasionally by 5 or 6 different bird calls and a nearby rooster’s crow. A quiet ‘moo’ interjects itself every so often. Splashes of color begin to paint the back forty off my deck. If a leaf is disturbed, it is by the rare squirrel scampering through the tree limbs. An odd experience, Fairview without wind. For one of the few times in my life I live on a plateau. Every road into Fairview goes up, consequently, it’s one of the windiest places I’ve lived, making the morning stillness that much more exceptional.

I marvel at the peace I find myself wrapped in. Peace in the midst of a world gone mad. The most annoying sound I hear these days is television news – almost exclusively devoted to politics. The debates pierce my ear like the unwelcome call of the crow amidst the other, more pleasing bird songs in my back woods. Here’s a little tidbit I’ve learned about Fairview: there are large colonies of carrion birds living here – significantly more than other areas like it. I guess it’s a good place for them since I am assaulted by the musky smell of dead skunk on a weekly basis. One day a friend and I were out walking and happened upon a flock of vultures feeding on something in the road. Big enough to feed a flock of that size, it must have been a deer, although we didn’t get close enough to see. Without discussion, we simply backed up until we felt safe enough to turn around and retrace our path outta there. Upside is, the dead stuff doesn’t hang around long enough to really get in the way.

All this talk of vultures reminds me of a puzzling Scripture passage I am just beginning to unravel. (A woodpecker is beating out its song on a tree, like a knocking wake-up call, only more rhythmic. I’m reminded of the syncopated beat skills of my daughter on her djembe: a drummer with a different beat…) Most people make the assumption that Matthew 24 is about the ‘end times’, but even a cursory reading of the chapter reveals that Jesus was talking about lots of times – some of His ‘predictions’ would happen not 40 years after he spoke them, while some had happened long before Jesus graced the sod and would continue on long after He left it. Catastrophic events like earthquakes, war, and famine were nothing new to history or the disciples He was teaching. But maybe that was His point – life will go on until the end of the Age, just as it has since the beginning of creation. I think that is one of the central messages Jesus came to give us: Even though our hearts have been changed from within, the chaos without goes on. The heart-change doesn’t stop the chaos, but it does give us an ability to live differently in the midst of it. Kind of like my peaceful back forty in the midst of wall-street riots and the screams of politicians continually vying for power. Maybe my back yard is a picture of the human heart at rest in Christ in the midst of a dog-eat-dog world.

Matthew 24: 23-31: Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gatherBut immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

So I got to thinking about this section, specifically vs. 28. The meaning of the vivid picture of carrion feeding on corpses has long eluded me. As I gaze through the trees, a couple of things start making sense. Clearly Jesus is contrasting His coming with the rise of false leaders. We’ve turned “Jesus Christ” into a name, but “Christ” wasn’t a name. The word “Christ” means Messiah and Messiah simply means ‘anointed.’ The Hebrew people understood the word anointed to indicate a redeemer – one who would rescue Israel from her oppressors. So the first warning Jesus gives is that fake (often self-proclaimed) Messiahs – redeemers, anointed ones, ones ‘chosen by God’ – were going to come. In fact, that had been happening since before Jesus was born. Many of the disciples were former Zealots, a sect of Jews dedicated to ending Roman oppression. They were constantly looking for a Messiah, an anointed one, a Christ – a leader who would deliver them politically and give the Jews back their earthly kingdom. It was Judas’s misguided belief that Jesus was going to do exactly that which led to his betrayal. Anyway, many such leaders rose and fell in those days. It’s interesting to note that Matthew began this chapter with Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say about Zealots and the Temple’s destruction:

According to Josephus, the Zealots followed John of Gischala, who had fought the Romans in Galilee, escaped, came to Jerusalem, and then inspired the locals to a fanatical position that led to the Temple’s destruction.  Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zealotry

Did you get that? False leaders – Messiahs, Christsled to the destruction of the Temple. Their terrorist ways were such a threat to the Roman Empire in that region that the only solution was to take away the center of their devotion – the Temple. The real problem with Zealots is they are looking for freedom without. Jesus came to bring us freedom within.

According to Him, the mantra of the followers of these false messiahs was, “We’ve found the christ – he’s here or he’s there. In the wilderness, in the inner room, we have found him, come and see.” Now look at the contrast of Jesus’ coming: “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” Here’s what I know about lightning: 1. You can see it for yourself; and if you miss the flash, you’re gonna hear the thunder soon enough. 2. Lightning cannot be contained. Look at how Jesus described this lightning flash: “from the east … even to the west.” In other words, His coming, His presence, will be out in the open and it will reach around the globe. This contrasts the claim, only here (in this church), or only there (if you believe this way), implying we have to go where these supposed messiahs/christs reside. Jesus is bigger than buildings, programs, and even our limited belief systems; in fact. He’s WAY bigger. Last I checked, He came to us, met us at our point of need (thus the word ‘incarnation’). Jesus didn’t command the sinners and tax collectors to high-tail it into the synagogues (you know, the religious structures they were banned from entering), no, He went to them, to marketplaces and bars, to parties, homes, and the streets where they lived out their exile. Jesus experienced their world – but more than that, He met them there. 3. Lightning cannot be controlled. C.S. Lewis said it best, “He’s not a tame lion.” Far from it – He’s out of control!! Out of our control, anyway. I don’t know about you, but when I see lightning strikes coming closer, I run for cover. Isn’t it interesting that He compared His coming to lightning – one of the scariest and most volatile of nature’s wonders? The real marvel is that we try and box that lightning in. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic.

With that as background, I’d like to bring it back to the vultures and corpses that have been puzzling me all these years. It seems to me that Jesus is saying people can be like vultures.

Vultures gather in packs where they can feed, and what they eat is dead.

I’ve been walking with Jesus for going on 33 years now and I have literally seen it all. Well, all that Western Christianity has to offer. I’ve seen more so-called ‘anointed’ men than you can shake a stick at, and for the most part the message they bring is Law. Maybe they haven’t heard, the letter of the Law kills. What they are offering is already dead. Being in Christian leadership has given me perhaps a different perspective than some of my readers. What you may not know is that the politics of the church aren’t all that different from the republicans slinging mud at the democrats and vice versa (John Piper’s response to Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, is a good example of that kind of nonsense). In fact, I’ve said for many years now, “No one can hurt you like the church.” Being chewed up and spit out by sheep and wolves alike has kind of become our family’s M.O., and it feels a whole lot like death. For me, no more. Funny thing is, it wasn’t bitterness that led me out the door, but pure weariness. I exhausted myself and my resources running to and fro following this and that move of God (“in the wilderness … in the inner room”), where, in the end, I found only death. This morning in my wooded back yard, I discovered a shiny rainbow of leaves in the midst of the peaceful Presence of the Holy Spirit, free from the clamor of men telling me what and how I should believe. If only they understood the mystery of diversity that God built into the fabric of the universe itself, maybe they would realize the arrogance of their claims to Truth, to being ‘anointed’, to knowing ‘the way’. Maybe one day the false will realize their falseness and all will become well with the world, at peace, like my back yard.

Until that day, I don’t know about you, but I’m weary of the self-proclaimed messiahs, promising me health, wealth, and happiness (focused on the outer man, not the inner one where real change happens – the hidden spaces of the human heart – where only love signifies). I’m tired of being told I should be under a pastor’s authority, when Jesus clearly said, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:8-9) According to Jesus, no man on earth has claim to any authority over me, and His words teach me that the hierarchical structure of the church (laity vs. clergy) is not His will, for all that powerful men claim otherwise. In Matthew 20 Jesus went so far as to blast apart our idea of pastoral church authority altogether:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

As usual the traditions of men trump the words of Jesus.

To the sheep John had this to say in I John 2:27: “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” I can still hear the call of the carrion crows: “The worship in this church is anointed … or: we know the way of salvation – come follow us!” The still, small voice I hear inside the vastness of my eternal self tells me a very different story… all about lightning and vultures and corpses.

Love Grown Cold

     Song of Solomon 8:6

6 For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.

What is love like? The bible compares it to the fire of God’s holiness. Fire in Scripture is almost always used in reference to refining, cleansing, or making whole. Solomon goes on to say love burns so hot that no amount of water can put it out. Can you imagine a love like that? In a culture where couples ‘fall in and out of love’ monthly, where divorce has become the norm rather than the exception, and self-love is king, it’s hard to imagine the kind of passionate commitment this poet is talking about.

     Matthew 24

     Signs of Christ’s Return

1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.

12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

I came to follow Christ in 1979 at age 15. The Christian church seemed to be thriving. Later I became part of several college ministries that sought to counter what was becoming an epidemic: the eroding of morality in America. The church became more and more legalistic as a result. Apologetics became the new evangelism and the Moral Majority decided an emphasis on the Law of God was the way to fight this new tide.

As I watched our culture react to the legalism born out of the 20th century church by launching a campaign against any kind of moral absolute, I also saw many Christians seek “freedom” from the church-made boundaries of right and wrong. But instead of fleeing into grace – the power that can bring forth freedom through a godly life – they instead fled into a kind of gray morality, making happiness and self-fulfillment their god. A cursory look at the titles on Christian bookshelves will bear this out. Self-help has become our new Jesus. And since Jesus hung out with sinners, then our sin can’t really be that bad, can it? Surely ‘sin’ is just a minor flaw which a nice platitude or two can deliver us from? As a result of this kind of humanistic thinking, today most denominations have mistaken acceptance of everything for love. In fact, the ‘legalism’ of the 21st century insists that there are no moral absolutes. Anyone claiming differently is denounced as unloving, a homophobe, or worse, a modern-day pharisee.

But acceptance of any and every lifestyle and choice is not love at all. In fact, the worst consequence for sin – death – was God’s idea of love. Remember the Garden of Eden? When Adam and Eve began to look for self-fulfillment apart from God (a pretty Biblical definition of sin, I think), God’s response was to send them out of the Garden. Why? As punishment? No. As mercy. An angel with a flaming sword was placed at the entrance of the Garden to guard the way in so that no one in that sinful state would be able to eat from the Tree of Life and so condemn themselves to an eternity of brokenness. Now death – the ultimate consequence for sin – lovingly sets us free from ourselves. It is the ultimate boundary and it represents every other boundary to sin. The severity of the consequence should tell us something about the seriousness of sin and what love will do in the face of it.

Love sets boundaries. Love says to the toddler playing in the road: You can’t play in such a dangerous place because you are precious to me. Love says to the addict: I won’t sanction your habit because it is destroying your very life – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Love says to the abuser: I won’t let you keep hurting me without consequence because that would require me letting you stay drunk on the power you feel when you use pain to control others. Love says to the prostitute, what you are doing is wrong because you are not property to be used up for someone else’s pleasure. Love says to the homosexual, it’s not okay for you to settle for a relationship with someone just like yourself, without learning to love that which is fundamentally different from you, thereby rejecting the picture of God’s love for His Bride, the people of God on earth. Love says no. It has to. Because ‘jealousy is as severe as hell.’ Deuteronomy 4:24: For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

But what happens when the so-called ambassadors of the God who is Love abandon all boundaries, all jealousy for godly character in the Bride of Christ? What happens when the church itself begins to call evil good and good evil? When you refuse to name a sin for what it is and thereby remove all of the consequences of the behavior, sin is left to reign unchecked. Sin is pleasant for a season and extremely deceptive. Often its effects are not experienced until years later. Sin is insidious. Like lying, one sin often leads to other more dangerous or devastating sins (the way petty thieves often morph into murderers because the thrill seeker needs something more and more thrilling to feed the hunger). One of my former pastors used to say (rightly so): ‘Your sin is not done with you when you are done with it.’ Unchecked sin has the ability to bind you to itself – sin is addictive and habitual. Unfortunately, accepting sin as okay, normal, even good has its own consequence: Boundaries disappear. And, according to Jesus, so does love … ‘because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.’

More and more I find my own love growing cold out of sheer frustration at what I am seeing happen around me. No one wants to listen anymore to deep Truth, theology, or even be told there is right and wrong. No one dares preach Biblical Truth for fear of losing their position, their popularity, and their pension. People are much more concerned with their own happiness than their own godliness. Not many can even agree on what constitutes a godly life, and the church has bought the lie that personality is more important than character. The more I am told I have to accept certain sins as okay, the colder my love grows toward so-called followers of Christ who have no moral character. The more I see people I care about slip into sin while the ‘christians’ around them condone their behavior, the colder my love grows towards a God who is silent in the face of evil. And according to Jesus, I’m in the majority not the minority: ‘most people.’ His words, not mine.

I imagine this condition broke the heart of Jesus. As He experienced the hatred of His own people for exposing God’s love in practical, unpopular ways – to the rich man: ‘sell what you have and give to the poor’, to the prostitute: ‘ go and sin no more’, to the pharisees: ‘ learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice’ – He paid the ultimate price for exposing God’s boundaries and God’s grace hand in hand. I certainly do not believe that Jesus expects or requires perfection according to the Law from any of us. But I do believe that He expects us to believe Him when Scripture calls something a sin. I don’t think it’s okay to accept everything as okay. Loving people often means not accepting their behavior as okay (I would hope that it’s love that makes it illegal to murder). The real question is what should our response to sin be?

Love, of course. Love that says no. Love that sets boundaries. And love that lives according to God’s Kingdom as revealed in the Book of Revelation:

21:23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed …  22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

The boundary (gate) is set, but the door is never closed to those who are on the outside who choose to repent. Grace is not a refusal to call a sin a sin, it is not a removal of all boundaries so that ‘everyone who loves and practices lying’ can come freely into the city of God without being cleansed. No, grace is simply willingness to accept the repentant. Last I checked we are all in the category of ‘sinner.’ The door stands open to enter by His grace. But the boundary stands firm against those who continue in sin without acknowledgement of it and repentance from it. We who love sin – who call it okay, accept it, and even make it ‘good’ – remain outside the gate, outside His city, outside of the boundaries of grace. Without sin there can be no grace. Without boundaries there can be no love.

God, help us to love the way you loved – unto death. The death of relationships, the death of reputation, even physical death by persecution if that’s what it takes to stand on the Truth of Your word, to call sin ‘sin’, fully aware of and proclaiming its insidious dangers, and to announce the grace given to all through Christ. Thank You that the gates to Your presence and grace will never be closed. Open our eyes to see the sins we ‘love’ and expose the consequences sin has wrought in our own hearts, separating us from intimacy with You. Forgive us for mistaking a rejection of moral absolutes for love. The ultimate Moral Absolute, Jesus, is Love Personified. Help us see Him so we may be like Him.

1 John 1: 5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

1 John 3: 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Praying to Make God Laugh

WARNING: What you are about to read will probably offend you, so my best advice is to STOP NOW and find another blog!

Save yourself!!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For the rest of you brave enough to stick around, I have a story to share. My 12-yr. old and I have been studying through the Proverbs this year. After tonight’s review lesson I asked my son to pray out loud with me. This was a bit of a divergence from the norm since usually I do all of the “out loud praying.” At first he refused. I got one of the usual excuses: “I don’t like to pray out loud, I pray silently.” Okay. But I pushed a little harder and got, “I don’t have anything to pray for because I already have everything I want.” Better. 🙂 So I said, “Then thank Him.” Without hesitation my son began to pray. It went something like this:

“Dear God, thank you for the TV shows I can watch that are ruining my eyes; and thank you for the video games I have to play that are turning my brain into mush; and thanks for the food I get to eat that will one day make me fat!”

Huh? Now, before I tell you what happened next, I want to tell you my reaction. I felt offended. Seriously. Offended for God. I was thinking, “What kind of prayer is that?!” In my mind I started scrambling to find the right thing to say to help him understand that praying is serious business. Trying to control my ‘righteous’ indignation, I inquired, “Why did you pray that, honey?” I don’t think I could have been more astounded at an answer than I was in that moment – or more completely disarmed! He said, “I wanted to make God laugh,” like it was obvious. And you know what? It was obvious. I can’t believe I missed it.

For 12 years I have been telling stories about my son, things he has done or said, or ways he has that absolutely crack me up. The greatest delight of my life has been the joy he has brought to our family. There has not been any other time in my adult life when I have laughed so much as I have since he was born. My boy loves to laugh and he loves to make others do it too. He knows it is an absolute gift. And in that moment he was even more of a gift than I had ever known. His heart was to give God the best gift he could think of – laughter! In the process he unwittingly revealed a deep seed of seriousness in me towards God. I began to wonder how much of that awful spiritual seriousness I had passed on to my girls and others in my life (or had tried to).

Unless you have faith like a little child …

And what do children do? They laugh! They have no concept of God as the serious (angry? disapproving?) grandfather we have been taught to ‘see’ when we pray. Remember the old chant “God is in His holy temple … let all the earth keep silent”? That’s not what Scripture says! The Psalms tell us to shout, laugh, cry, dance, express ourselves through our emotions to God. But how many of us (me included) see God as too serious to laugh with, to have fun with?

The Lord sits in heaven and laughs …

I think we imagine God to be serious because we take ourselves too seriously (little children are rarely even aware of themselves). Twice in the Psalms (chapters 2 and 37) we are told that God is laughing at the folly of man. In one instance mankind wants freedom from God’s rule, and in the other freedom from the restraints of His Law. Yet for the child who cannot imagine – indeed has no desire to imagine – this kind of ‘freedom’, there is only trust. Trust that they are being well cared for. Trust that they can be themselves and still know the loving touch of their Father. Trust that nothing is impossible with God. Trust that He is in control and that’s a good thing, a safe thing.

Thank you, son, for teaching me something tonight: I take myself and my ‘spiritual’ life way too seriously. Once again I can hear that still, small voice assuring me, “I’ve got this. In fact, I’ve got it all.” So I can relax, be myself, and maybe even chance to endeavor to pray to make Him laugh.

Apocatastasis

This has been a week of controversy. Whether you love him or hate him, Rob Bell has stirred the pot of modern evangelicalism and brought into sharp focus the topic of heaven and hell – specifically, who’s in and who’s out. I can hardly believe it’s been 7 years since I started my own journey through this difficult subject.

Yesterday a dear friend of mine told me I should change my middle name to “controversy.” I told her I’d rather change it to “makes people think outside the box”, but, of course, that’s too long for a usable middle name. I guess what I’d really like to challenge people to do is examine their beliefs in light of the implications they carry. In other words, how many of us spend the time and energy it takes to walk our beliefs all the way out to their full conclusion – to really consider what our beliefs mean? In today’s modern age, not many. Rob Bell was willing to do that, and now he’s taken on the unenviable title of ‘heretic.’ Hey, Rob, welcome to my world.

Apocatastasis: meaning either reconstitution or restitution or restoration to the original or primordial condition (according to Wikipedia). The article goes on to say:

The word, apokatastasis, only appears once in the Bible (Acts 3:21). Peter heals a handicapped beggar and then addresses the astonished onlookers. His sermon sets Jesus in the Jewish context, the fulfiller of the Abrahamic Covenant, and says:

“[Jesus] whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apocatastasis) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago”;[10] or in a less literal translation:”He [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore (apocatastasis) everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”[11]

Both these translations use “time” (singular) to translate “χρόνων” (“of times”). A strictly literal translation of the whole verse is: “whom it behoveth heaven, indeed, to receive till times of a restitution of all things, of which God spake through the mouth of all His holy prophets from the age.”

What has boggled my mind for the past 7 years is how angry Evangelicals become when I even suggest that God has it in mind to restore everything and everyone to Himself. But what makes me angry is the reasoning they use to justify it. Bar none, the most maddening argument I hear over and over again is “what’s in it for me?” In other words, “if everyone is going to get a ‘free pass’ then why am I suffering through this life?” I cannot imagine a more selfish or heartless argument. I mean, they are basically saying, “I’m giving up all of these worldly things for God, there damn well better be a reward for me in the end!” Really? Or, “I’m trying so hard not to sin that there better be some serious punishment for all the crappy people in the world like Hitler.” I guess no one is teaching anymore that deep down we’re all Hitler. I mean, the whole, “there but by the grace of God go I” must be utter nonsense, since I’m obviously so much better than those dirty rotten sinners who are gonna pay, by God! That’s exactly what I’m hearing, whether they’re meaning to say that or not. But I’m not the only one hearing it … the very ones these people claim to be trying to save are hearing it too. And that breaks my heart.

I think what’s really at the core of that argument is the feeling that God owes me something. I mean after-all, I figured out that God wants me to believe in Jesus as my personal Savior, so if I do that I deserve some sort of reward, right? And yet, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. There is no favoritism with God. Sure, we hear those words, but I’m not convinced anyone really believes them. In fact, I don’t think people believe the Bible at all anymore. Do you know how many times I’ve asked my Evangelical friends to please produce Scripture which backs their claim of an eternal torment (or separation, for that matter) for people who don’t believe in Jesus as their personal Savior? A whole bunch of times. They can’t do it (because it isn’t in there). Oh, they produce Scripture all right …

Let’s see, the most used argument would have to be the rich man and Lazarus (the story begins in Luke 16:19). I love this one. I love how so many Bible thumpers are willing to take things completely out of context when it suits them. But they turn around and take the plain text (try Romans 5:18 – oh, by the way, all means all) and rewrite it to suit their church dogma. Whatever happened to ‘reformed and always reforming’? Where is the commitment to challenge every belief of man with what the Word says, no matter what it does to your pet belief?

I digress. This particular section of Jesus’ teaching actually begins in Luke 15 and ends in the middle of chapter 17. The issue is not heaven or hell but social class and money. How do I know this? It’s called context. In the beginning of the section the Pharisees are grumbling about who Jesus is hanging out with (social class). Right in the middle of the whole section and just preceding the little parable about Lazarus we read, “14Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him” (money). Finally, the section ends with Jesus talking about the obligations of slaves (a whole other interesting topic we could delve into related to this idea of ‘I believe so I’m entitled’). The context simply does not support the idea that Jesus was giving us a literal picture of what happens after we die. I don’t really think Jesus did a lot of that in general – Jesus’ focus was much more on what happens while we’re living!

But, just in case you still believe this parable should be read as a formula for going to heaven then by all means, follow in Lazarus’ footsteps:

Be extremely poor, very sick, and beg for crumbs while you are suffering public humiliation. Um, I can’t see anything in this passage regarding Lazarus’ disciplined spiritual life. We aren’t told anything about what he believed about Jesus or if he was even a Jew. No mention of him being a righteous man (like Job), only that he was poor, sick, and starving. This was a parable, and last time I checked parables aren’t supposed to be taken literally in the first place. Meanwhile, the purpose of this parable in context was to confront the false Jewish belief that God favored the righteous with riches while the poor were suffering His judgment. Jesus was speaking to the upper-class Pharisees of His day, urging them to recognize that God does not distinguish between rich and poor in the way they thought He did. This passage is the worst justification for a belief in hell that I’ve ever heard.

Next comes Matthew 25, the story of the separation of the sheep and the goats. Oh, check it out! If you want to go to heaven, all you have to do is be a liberal Christian! Yep, just feed the poor, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, and you are good to go! No mention of faith, no mention of belief, nada. Do, do, do! Or maybe I should say, “work, earn, receive.” Clearly you guys aren’t doing enough to get in. I mean, you’re just saying people have to pray a prayer. That’s not what Jesus said! Tsk, tsk. It’s a lot more complicated than that!

And my last favorite Scripture justifying a belief in eternal, conscious torment is (drum roll, please): Mark 9:

43“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,

44[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.]

45“If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell,

46[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.]

47“If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell,

48where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.

49“For everyone will be salted with fire.

Hm. Did you know that there are 3 different words in the Bible all translated ‘hell’ by our Protestant forebears? As you would imagine each one has a different meaning. Let’s address Jesus’ favorite (actually, exclusive) one: Gehennah, the Valley of Hinnom. It was an actual location (you can even visit there today on your next tour of Israel) outside the walls of Jerusalem. Everyone in Jerusalem knew about this place – if nothing else, by the reek it produced. You see, Gehennah was the trash heap. It was where all of the refuse from the city was taken and disposed of. It was also where pagans used to burn their children in worship to their false gods.

So let’s look at this parable. What does Jesus say is the quickest way into Gehennah? Having an eye which causes you to stumble which you refuse to pluck out. Or a hand that causes you to sin which you refuse to cut off. So I’m thinkin’ there are way too many two-handed, two-eyed Christians running around today. I mean, if they don’t want to spend an eternity in hell then they better get to pluckin’ & a-choppin’. I know for a fact that any of you guys reading this have lusted this week after a pretty girl (possible in the last five minutes, and she didn’t even have to be pretty). Sounds like eye sin to me. How about you over-eaters out there? Whose hand pushed that extra bag of chips into your gluttonous face? I mean, hell is serious people. It’s time we start taking Jesus’ words to heart! (But let’s leave out verse 49, ’cause we wouldn’t want to let on that everyone is fixin’ to burn…)

This would be the extent of the utterly weak Scriptural arguments in support of hell as eternal conscious torment (or separation from God, if that’s your punishment of choice) that my Evangelical friends have been able to produce. Every one of these examples is a parable – a story told to make a point – and not one of them – if taken in context – makes the point Evangelicals try to use them to make. At the same time, my friends are not interested in the plain text (an abundance of them, actually) that teaches God’s intent to reconcile all things and everyone to Himself. These are rewritten with nonsense like, “Oh, ‘all’ obviously can’t mean ‘all’ because Matthew 25 clearly says … oh, ‘all’ means ‘all’ here, but not there. All the while what I really can’t understand is how any of you sleep! I mean, there’s a whole neighborhood outside your door getting ready to populate hell and you are wasting precious time going to yet another movie! Whatareyoukiddingme??!

So not only can you not produce any Scripture to support your belief, you can’t produce any compassion for the people around you whom you claim are going to hell in a hand-basket. From the recent conversations on FB I’m beginning to think some of you can’t wait for ‘us’ to get there! Real Christian of you, I must say. Or could it be insanity instead of Christianity?

Do any of you remember the lady a year or two ago who murdered her children claiming that she was saving them from going to hell? Guess what – she was the sanest of you all. Think about it. If it’s true that there’s an ‘age of accountability’ and prior to that moment every child gets a free pass into heaven, then why in the world aren’t you parents murdering your children before they become responsible for their own sins??! If you really believe that your own child is in danger of suffering eternal conscious torment (or just an extended stay at the Motel 6 while God is obviously inhabiting the Hawaiian Hilton), then not killing them before their ‘age of accountability’ is the ultimate hatred of your kids. I mean, you can’t leave that kind of thing to the chance of their free will! That would be madness!

The other night one of our FB friends made the comment that if everyone gets in then why not go out and do the worst sin you can think of? I mean, if God is going to forgive you anyway… I’m so glad you asked! In fact, that’s the exact question Paul’s Roman readers were asking! Hmm. Maybe Paul was sounding a lot like me. Maybe Paul understood and taught that God’s grace trumps … everything. In fact, that’s exactly what Paul taught:

Romans 5:18-21 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.  The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 11:32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

How do I know that Paul was being as radical about grace as I am? Because the question people started asking was the same question people ask me:

Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be!

Grace has never been a license to sin, but rather the power to live a new life. But because we have turned belief into a work that earns salvation we have lost the true power that grace can give us. Martin Luther understood this, which was why he could say with confidence, “Love God and do as you please.” He knew that if we understand our acceptance before the Father is not based on anything we have done or not done, what we believe or don’t believe,  but solely on what Jesus did for us, we will be free to live a life apart from the Law that will reflect the love of God and His holiness at the same time. Unfortunately, Armineanism and it’s focus on man – specifically free will – has insidiously eroded the true Gospel of grace and done irreparable damage to the Church, simply by making man’s will to choose the focus over and above God’s design. Sounds a whole lot like snakes, trees and fig leaves to me. But I’m not buying it anymore. I’m not God and I don’t wanna be. There’s simply no room left in my heart for guilt, legalism, or the belief that I can figure out who’s in and who’s out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it doesn’t matter whether you believe love wins or not, He is going to anyway.