faith, Jesus, Light

Alignments

Apparently I blew some minds Sunday morning; completely blew the doors off the place.

That’s what one of the congregants texted our out-of-town pastor after the service:

Well…the way the preacher completely blew the doors off the place talking about todays reading in Genesis is firm proof women should be preaching.

Another commented:

She blew minds.

I don’t know whether he received any negative feedback, but it’s real nice that he shared the positive.  It’s kind of a relief after you’ve blown some minds.

One of the members, who was late to church, told me he was sorry he missed my sermon.  I told him I’d post it for him.

So here it is:

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Sunday closest to June 8 (track 2):

Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Whenever I walked past my parents’ library as a kid – the room off the front entrance that had shelves and shelves of books – a certain spine would always catch my eye:  Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm.

Why would anyone want to escape from freedom?, my inquisitive young mind would wonder.  

I finally asked my mom about it.  She explained that the author – a psychologist – theorized that people don’t really want to be free.  It’s too scary for them.  So they escape freedom by putting themselves under the authority of another. That way they no longer have to take responsibility for their lives.  Fromm said individuals do it and whole nations do it.

Ancient Israel did it.

Israel had always been led by prophets and judges.  Samuel, who was both a prophet and a judge, was getting old and ready to retire.  His sons, who would inherit his leadership position, were lame.  So the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, “You are old and your sons don’t follow your ways; we want you to appoint a king to govern us, like other nations have.” 

Samuel was bummed and a little hurt, but even so he took their request to God.  “Listen to what the people want and don’t be bummed,” God said, “they haven’t rejected you, they’ve rejected me from being king over them, just as they have from the day I brought them up out of Egypt. Listen to them and let them have what they want, but solemnly warn them. Tell them what it will be like to live under an earthly king.”

So Samuel told them they could have a king if they really wanted one, but, he warned, “He will reign over you and make you do his bidding: he will make your sons run in front of his chariots and many of them will be crushed; he will force some to be commanders, he will use some to work his fields and make his weapons. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his cronies. He’ll take one-tenth of your grain and wine and give that to his cronies, too. Basically, he’ll make you his slaves. And when he does, you’ll cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord is not going to listen to you. You will have to lie in the bed you made.”

The people didn’t care, they wanted what they wanted. They were determined to be like other nations – with a king to govern them and fight their battles.

So Saul was appointed king.

And all that Samuel warned would happen, did happen.

The lesson:  Be careful what you wish for.  Be careful what you stubbornly insist upon. And trust God to fight your battles.

That passage from 1 Samuel 8 was the track 1 lectionary reading for today.  I thought it was the one we were doing until the June schedule showed up in my inbox last week.  But it’s okay because the story in 1 Samuel 8 ties in nicely with Genesis 3, especially if we read to the end of the chapter.

Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening and they hid. The Lord called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid.” 

The knowledge they thought they wanted, the knowledge they thought was going to make them more like God, the knowledge they had to disobey God to get, didn’t turn out to be so great.  All it did was make them afraid – an emotion they had never felt before.

“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 

Now listen carefully to what the man said in reply, “The woman you gave me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 

Did you hear how Adam blamed God for his sin and threw Eve under the bus?

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Eve blamed the serpent. 

And because Eve called the serpent out, there is – to this day – enmity between the him and the woman, just as God said there would be.

“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this, (God and Eve were in agreement on who was to blame)
upon your belly you shall go,
and eat dust
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;’”

The Septuagint uses “hatred” rather than “enmity”.  

“I will put hatred between you and the woman…”

Given the current sex slave industry and the long history of abuses against women, I think hatred is pretty accurate.  The enemy hates women. He is holding an insidiously long and bitter grudge against us. 

Because Eve aligned herself with God by blaming the serpent and Adam aligned himself with the serpent by accusing God, God did something that often gets overlooked:  

(I’m about to blow some minds here. I’m about to say the sort of thing that got Jesus in trouble in today’s gospel reading. Ready?)

He booted Adam from the garden, but He may not have booted Eve.

Listen closely to the rest of the chapter and see if you agree:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Let me read that again because the actual reading of Scripture might be challenging what you’ve always been taught:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them (plural pronoun.) And the Lord God said, “The man [singular noun] has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He [singular pronoun – not “they”] must not be allowed to reach out his hand [singular – his hand, not their hands] and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him [singular] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man [singular] out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

See what I mean? The man was booted, the woman was not. 

Which means she left voluntarily,

and that sheds light on what God said would be her consequences:

“To the woman He said,
‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

Some use this passage to teach that God commanded man to rule over woman.

But God wasn’t talking to the man, he was talking to the woman.

And He wasn’t giving a command, He was giving a warning.

The word translated desire is t@shuwqah (tesh-oo-kaw’), which originally means “to stretch out after” or “to turn to”

God was saying, “If you stretch out your arms after your husband, if you turn to him and away from me, if you align yourself with him, if you make him your king, he will rule over you.

If you make man your king he will rule over you.

It was a prophetic warning, not a punitive command. 

It’s like the prophetic warning Samuel gave the Israelites: If you insist on a king other than God, you’re going to be miserable.

Perhaps Eve wanted a companion with skin on, or perhaps she wanted to escape the responsibility of taking care of herself or perhaps she just wanted a husband.   Whatever the reason, she voluntarily escaped paradise to chase after her man. And she certainly suffered pains in childbearing.

Child-bearing and child-rearing, because her pains extended way beyond labor.

One of her kids took after her and yielded to God and one took after his dad and rebelled against God and in the very next chapter Cain murdered Abel.  

Child-rearing doesn’t get more painful than that.                                                                              

So let’s recap, Adam aligned himself with the serpent and got himself booted, Eve aligned herself with Adam and she was out, too.

The lesson: As long as man tries to rule over woman and woman tries to make man her king, relationships will never be what God intended them to be.

It’s all about alignments.  

Which brings us to our gospel reading:

Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.

When His people heard about the stir He was creating, they went to take custody of Him saying He had lost His senses.

The temple leadership even came from Jerusalem and declared, “He has aligned Himself with Beelzebul.” 

Jesus replied by saying, “That doesn’t even make sense, “How can Satan drive out Satan?”

“Truly I tell you,” He continued, “people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” 

We all know that blaspheme against the Spirit is the only unforgivable sin, but have you ever thought through why?

Strong’s definition of blaspheme is:  “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, make false and defamatory statements about…”.

When Jesus was on trial, and while he was on the cross, people mocked Him and hurled all kinds of abuse at Him.  And He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)  

You can hurl insults at Jesus out of ignorance and then, when you come to your senses, you can humbly ask for forgiveness, confessing that you did not know what you were talking about.  And you will be forgiven.

But you can’t make false and defamatory statements against the Holy Spirit and be forgiven.  

Here’s why:  

When Jesus lived among us, He limited Himself to doing only what we can do.  Because He limited His power, it is understandable that people might not have understood who He was.  But, when the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us, He does so with the full, unlimited power of heaven.  He is quite capable of making Himself clear.  Therefore, anyone who rails against the Holy Spirit knows what they are doing.  Their blaspheme is not out of ignorance, it is out of pride.   And pride is the one sin that cannot be forgiven because forgiveness requires the humility to ask for it and pride won’t ask.

So the religious leaders came and blasphemed the Spirit and then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived on the scene. 

Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.

A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

It’s all about alignments.

You can put your trust in politicians or you can make God your king.

You can continue to walk with God in the cool of the evening and wait for a man after His own heart, or you can flee paradise in pursuit of the only man in sight.

You can align yourself with the religious establishment, keep them happy by toeing the doctrinal line, you can keep your mouth shut about God and keep your family and friends happy, or you can align yourself with those who do God’s will. 

The Israelites aligned themselves with a secular, political king and ended up exploited and enslaved.

Eve aligned herself with the only man in town and ended up living east of Eden, forever unequally yoked.

Jesus aligned Himself with His Father, His mission and with those who are not ashamed of the gospel and saved our sorry souls.

Today’s Scriptures beg some questions we can all ask ourselves:

To what or whom am I looking for security?

Whom/what am I chasing?

With whom am I most closely aligned?

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; 
in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, 
more than watchmen for the morning.

Amen.

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Jesus, Light

Jesus Christ Superstar

I didn’t watch the live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar last night, did you?

I planned on watching it but when the time came I just wasn’t feeling it, watched a movie instead.  At one point I switched over, hoping to catch Sara Bareilles singing, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” because I LOVED that song as a young teenager back in the 70’s, when the album came out – sang it over and over again.

But Sara wasn’t singing, Alice was singing and the song sounded like a circus tune, so I switched back to the movie.

I’ve been thinking about the musical, though, about how it was banned in some places back in the 70’s, about how Christians protested it.

Because they didn’t get it.

They didn’t get that it wasn’t meant to be a Biblically accurate portrayal of the passion of Christ.

It was meant to be the passion told from Judas’s point of view.

And his view was skewed.

The hub and I were invited to watch a production of it in the home of one of his friends, back when we were first married.  The production was well done.

If you’ve never seen it, it ends with Jesus on the cross.  Dead.

During the discussion that followed I may have offended the host and hostess by commenting, “They left out the best part – they left out the resurrection.”

I didn’t get it back then either.

I didn’t get that from Judas’s point of view that’s how the story would have ended, had he been alive to see the end.

Scripture doesn’t tell us when Judas started following Jesus, but my guess is that he was among the great crowds who began to follow Him in response to the miracles He performed.

Judas saw the miracles, saw the opportunity and jumped on Jesus’s coattails, hoping to ride them all the way to the top.

Fame and fortune.

Perhaps Judas thought Jesus was a brilliant con man and he wanted in on the con.

But the con wasn’t playing out as one would expect.

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand?
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned…

… Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar,
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

Was Judas beginning to fear that the whole thing wasn’t a con, that Jesus actually believed His own press?

A con artist had coattails he could ride, but a lunatic who actually believed what He was selling?

That wasn’t going to get him anywhere.

Or perhaps the betrayal was as simple as money.  The love of money is, after all, the deep-seated root of every devious deed.

I started a ministry and asked a like-minded friend to serve on its board.

She did.  Happily, peacefully for several years.

And then the ministry received a large grant.

Little by little she no longer served happily, peacefully.

Discontent took root and grew.

While we had all been content to serve without compensation, she began saying, “You’ll have to pay me for that…”

I didn’t.

The grant wasn’t for salaries.

Her unrest hacked away at my strength, my soul, my faith in my fellow humans.

Or at least in my fellow Christians.

And then one day she resigned, to my great relief.

The chronology of Scripture puts Judas’s plot right after a scuffle about money:

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Jesus told Judas to leave Mary alone.  She was doing the right thing.

So he left and sought out the chief priests.

He was going to make money one way or another.

But it turns out he had a conscience.

When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

He hanged himself before the end of the story, before the resurrection.

The passion from his point of view ended with Jesus hanging dead, because he hung himself dead.

Had he waited a few days, had he wept bitterly – as Peter did – and then carried on, had he not been completely blinded by his own agenda and preconceived notions, he would have understood that Jesus was all about restoration and forgiveness.

Had he waited, he would have encountered Mercy.

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Tragically, restoration and forgiveness were too far off his radar.

We sang joyful songs in church yesterday:

Hear the bells ringing they’re singing that you can be
healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing
Christ, He will reveal it now…

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

Jesus Christ Superstar ends with Jesus dead on a cross.

Such a shame, Judas leaving the theatre before the radiant final song.

#radiant

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Jesus

Longing

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that I used to teach the Bible to children on Monday nights.

If you’ve ever been a Children’s Leader in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), you know how it works:  At some point during the summer break the age group you will teach the following school year is selected for you. Then, at the Leader’s Workshop in late August, you are given your assignment.  You can make your age-group preference known, but you likely won’t get it.

One of the reasons I stepped down from teaching this year is because I didn’t want to risk being assigned the first and second graders, the third and fourth graders, or even the fifth and sixth graders.

The only level I could remotely imagine teaching this year is Level 5 – the senior high students.

Why?

Because we’re studying the book of Romans and I’ve taught it before, to youngsters, in BSF.

BSF is well structured, organized and uniform – which is a good thing in the adult program – but it’s too much of a good thing in the Children’s program.

For instance, the leaders in every level – whether they are teaching 6-year-olds or 18-year-olds – are given the same outline from which to teach.  They have the freedom to make the illustrations and applications age-appropriate, but the aim and the principles must be stated exactly as written.  It can be awkward in any study to be teaching in your own voice and then have to abruptly switch to the the writer of the principle’s voice to deliver it exactly as written.  And in the case of Romans, it’s not just awkward, it’s HARD.

Or, more accurately, it’s HARSH.  The principles can be very harsh, causing the youngsters to appear browbeaten by week 6.

Because Paul – or at least the way his letter is presented – wants to make sure they know that they are horrible sinners.

“But hang on,” we tell them, “good news is coming.”

But what if we framed it differently (and no less accurately) right from the start?

Here’s what I mean.

Wrath.

Paul begins his letter by stating that he is a minister of the gospel and then, in verse 18, he abruptly switches from gospel to wrath.

And I say, “What?”

So I look up the Greek word translated “wrath” and I learn that the word is orgē, pronounced or-gā’.

And I see that the KJV translates the word in various places as wrath, anger, vengeance, indignation.

And then I read Strong’s definition: properly, desire (as a reaching forth or excitement of the mind), i.e. (by analogy), violent passion (ire, or (justifiable) abhorrence); by implication punishment:—anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath.

Strong’s definition is taken from the root word for orgē, oregō – which means “to stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.”

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines orgē this way:

ὀργή, ὀργῆς, (from ὀργάω to teem, denoting an internal motion, especially that of plants and fruits swelling with juice (Curtius, § 152); cf. Latinturgerealicui forirascialicui in Plautus Cas. 2, 5, 17; Most. 3, 2, 10; cf. German arg, Aerger), in Greek writings from Hesiod down “the natural disposition, temper, character; movement or agitation of soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion,” but especially (and chiefly in Attic*) anger. In Biblical Greek anger, wrath, indignation… (bold added)

So the original Greek word could be translated as a ripening desire; a longing; reaching out for something.

And then, beginning with the writings of a poet named Hesiod, an element of anger was attached to the desire/movement of the soul.

Did you notice that last bit of Thayer’s defintion? I hope so because I emboldened it for you. In Biblical Greek, orgē is translated as anger, wrath, indignation.

Why? And what is Biblical Greek anyway?

Why isn’t it translated as longing, desire, a movement of the soul, as it was originally used?

At what point did God’s longing for us become a browbeating?

Did Paul intend that the word be interpreted that way? Was his intention to browbeat the Christians in Rome to whom he was writing  – Christians whom he had just commended for having world-famous faith? Did he want them to fully appreciate just how good the good news is by reminding them of their wretchedness? Why spoil the good news by rubbing their noses in their past? Or was he addressing any Pharisees who might get their hands on his letter thus blurring his audience? (I ask that because in several places throughout his letter he seems to be presenting an argument to those who think like he used to think, i.e. Pharisees.)

If Paul was indeed trying to lay out his (already saved) audience’s need for a Savior, Isaiah did it so much better. And faster.

In just one chapter Isaiah laid out the tangled condition of the world. Click here to read it.

And then, at the dawn of the next glorious chapter, he told the world what God’s longing/desire was going to do about it.

He left His throne and stepped into our darkness.

To redeem us.

And that’s how I’d be teaching Romans this year, if I were teaching it.

I’d define wrath as God’s longing for us, as His desire, the movement of His soul toward redemption. Any anger associated with the word is directed at the tangled mess we’ve made of things, at the mess we and His enemy have made of things, not at us, whom He loves. Paul said so himself in chapter 5: “While we were still [a tangled mess], Christ died for us.”

God’s longing is for us, His wrath is against that which entangles us.

If I could put the principles in my own words, I’d write them with God’s longing in mind. I wouldn’t alter any facts, I’d just sift each one through the good news: God knows how to untangle the mess.

*Attic is a dialect of Greek.

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P.S.  Please don’t take this post as a dis of BSF, I love BSF and I’m studying Romans with them as a general class member – but this time around I’m going to take a look at the book with fresh eyes.  I’ll probably show you the stuff I see.

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life, the friends

Big Love & Fruit that Lasts

I’ve been teaching the book of John to a group of third and fourth graders every Monday night since September.  Half the class is nice and quiet – just the way I like it – and the other half is rowdy.  Last night they were extra rowdy – pouts, tears, an injury, two kids under the table – all in the first 15 minutes.

We were in chapter 15 and I was explaining what Jesus meant by, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  I told them the Holy Spirit is like the sap that flows from the vine out to the tip of the branches to produce fruit.  As long as we stay attached to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will flow through us, producing good and exciting things.

Things that last.

Then we got to the part where Jesus told His disciples – and us – to love the way He loves.

And that brought us to verse 13.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I wanted to illustrate what that looks like in everyday life.

So I told them about Tuscany. I told them that the hub and I have been saving money to take a trip there as soon as he retires. We want to see the countryside and eat good food and take a cooking class.

I also told them that we have spent A LOT of money on emergency vet bills in the last few years.  (Over $40,000 the hub tells me but I didn’t tell the youngsters that.)

“And now today,” I said, “the beagle we adopted 4 weeks ago had surgery. And it’s expensive. So we’ll take more money out of our Tuscany fund to pay for it.

And we probably won’t get to go on our trip.

But that’s okay.

Because greater love has no one than this: to lay down your Tuscany for your beagle.”

The rowdy ones, who didn’t appear to be listening, their interest quickened by the example, gave a hearty laugh.

P.S. The hospital just called. Dixie did very well overnight.  She’s comfortable, bright, alert, responsive and she’s coming home this evening.  I’ll keep you posted.

#quickened

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Jesus

Beyond Good

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My daughter was telling me why she didn’t like a certain Bible teacher, summing it up with this story:

“She and her husband went to an office Christmas party – of course she wouldn’t say whose – and after overhearing the ungodly conversations of the ungodly co-workers, they vowed never to go to an office Christmas party again.”

“I would have been way more inspired,” she continued, “if the woman had told a story about going to the party, learning something about the co-workers’ lives and entering in – perhaps visiting one in rehab or the hospital, meeting a need.”

In other words, a story about bringing Jesus into the midst of their ungodly lives rather than fleeing from them.

“Don’t be too quick to write that teacher off, she just isn’t there yet,”  I said.

“Not there yet? She’s in her fifties!  And she’s a Bible teacher.”

Lot’s of Bible teachers aren’t there yet.

Where is There?

It’s beyond the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are all about behavior. The first four dictate our behavior toward God and the following six dictate our behavior toward one another:  Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie about one another, don’t commit adultery against one another, don’t covet one another’s stuff, don’t give your parents grief.

Lots of Bible teachers live in that list – mastering it, teaching it, warning against disobeying it.

And then Jesus comes along and says, “A new command I give you: Love one another.” John 13:34a NIV [italics added]

Beyond good behavior is love.

Beyond not harming anyone is actually loving them.

The Pharisees were all about perfecting their own behavior and judging the ungodliness of everyone else.  They piled on the rules, they raised the bars.

And to that Jesus said, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

Don’t flee from them, lift a finger to help them. Maybe even lay down your pristine, unpolluted life (James 1:27) to get to know them.

Jesus went on to say, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34b [italics added again]

As I have loved you. That’s big love.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 NIV

And that brings me to Silence.

A few days later my daughter saw the movie Silence and our conversation continued.

In the movie, after much angst and suffering, a Jesuit priest apostatized – not to save himself, but to save the Japanese Christians among whom he was a missionary.

He went beyond good behavior to love.

He laid down his Jesuit reputation to save his friends.

And he stomped on Jesus.

Some might gasp.

And quote Jesus:

“But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:33

And conclude that he is doomed.

But in the movie, after much prayer, Jesus told Father Rodrigues to step on His image.

And that might be the ultimate There:  To lay down one’s eternal life for one’s friends.

I don’t believe that Father Rodrigues lost his eternal life, but he was willing to take that gamble.

I read an article about the movie which shed a little light:

A Jesuit spiritual tradition may also be helpful here. In the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius speaks of three levels, or “degrees,” of humility. The first level is when one does nothing morally wrong. In other words, one leads a good life. The second level is when a person who, when presented with the choice of riches or poverty, honor or disgrace, is free of the need for either. In other words, the person is free to accept whatever God desires, not being “attached” to one state or the other.
The third level of humility, the highest, is when a person is able to choose something dishonorable because it brings him or her closer to Christ. “I desire to be regarded as a useless fool for Christ, who before me was regarded as such,” in the words of the Spiritual Exercises. A person accepts being misunderstood, perhaps by everyone, just as Christ was.
This is what Father Rodrigues chooses, confusing as it may be to Christian Europe, to his Jesuit superiors—and even to modern-day filmgoers.   – America, the Jesuit Review

Right now that Bible teacher is trying real hard not to do anything morally wrong and to keep herself from being polluted by the world.  Good for her. She’s setting a “good” example.

And some day she’ll risk her reputation among her fellow unpolluted Bible teachers to set an even better example – one that inspires.

She’ll get There. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to get her There.

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life

Clean Water & Broken Cisterns

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Solomon told us to remember our Creator while we are young – before the days of trouble come.

“Remember Him,” he wrote, while you can still see and hear.

Remember Him while your spirit is still attached to your body,
while you can still offer up prayer
and your body can still hold the Holy Spirit.
Remember Him while you still have the strength to draw Living Water.
Remember Him before you are dust.

Of course, he put it poetically:

“Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”  Ecclesiastes 12

Today I was reading John 14 and I understood a few of Jesus’ words in a new way.  Thanks to Solomon and Jeremiah.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

Here’s what Jesus said that I think I finally get:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  John 14:12

What can be greater than raising Lazarus from the dead? Feeding multitudes with a few fish and loaves? Healing leprosy, blindness, crippling physical and mental diseases with just a touch or a word? Forgiving sins?

I can’t do any of those things.  Except forgive sins. I can forgive sins that are committed against me. But only if God works it out in me.

And that’s the point.

Jesus said that He only said what He heard the Father saying and He only did what he saw His Father doing.

So it’s not that I’ll do greater things than Jesus did, it’s that the things God does through me are much more impressive than the things He did through Jesus because Jesus was perfect and I am not.

I am a broken cistern, barely able to keep the Holy Spirit from leaking completely out. Actually, I’m more like a clogged pipe – full of debris that hinders the flow of the Spirit.

When the Father worked through Jesus He was working through the perfect human being. When He works through us He’s using damaged tools, dull blades, dim bulbs and clogged pipes.

And even so He is able to create masterpieces of love and good deeds.

Kinda’ makes me want to give Him ALL the glory.

#clean

 

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Jesus, Light

First You Have to Sit Down

I’m preparing to teach the first 24 verses of the 6th chapter of John to approximately sixteen 3rd and 4th graders Monday night, at least three of whom are rambunctious.

The chapter begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand.

And guess what?

Before He feeds anyone He says, “Have the people sit down.”

Because it’s hard to pass out bread and fish when people are milling about.

He sees the crowd approach.

He knows they are hungry. (Because He is omniscient – our attribute this week.)

He gathers the available resources. (Thanks to a boy’s willingness to share.)

He has the people sit down.

He looks up to heaven and gives thanks. (Because gratitude turns what we have into enough.)

He distributes the food to those who are seated. (I’m going to draw the children’s attention to that detail because it’s hard to pass out spiritual food when children are milling about.)

Finally He gathers up the leftovers so as not to waste God’s provision. (If I were teaching the senior level again this year I might be tempted to say something about the wasting of our tax dollars, but these are third and fourth graders.)

He distributes the food to those who are seated.

God blesses obedience.

That’s not a popular statement in current Christianity, where obedience doesn’t matter because Love Wins.

Love does win, and Love told the people to sit down and then distributed the food to those who did as he instructed.

What’s Christianity if we ignore Jesus?

What’s Christianity if we aren’t going to actually do what Christ says?

Or care to know what He says?

That part isn’t for the youngsters on Monday night, it’s for us.

Leadership skills + full bellies.

The five thousand were impressed. They had it in mind to make Jesus their king.

By force if necessary.

The adoration and the earthly kingdom were a bit tempting, so He scrammed out of there, got alone to talk with His Father, refocused on the heavenly kingdom He was aiming to establish.

Prayer is essential in the face of temptation.

So is a little help.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”

I might tell the students the true story I told you last December: And She Heard God Say No. (Leaving out the part about adultery.)

John said the disciples got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum.

Mark’s gospel says that before Jesus went off to pray, He made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to Bethsaida.

Capernaum and Bethsaida were both, according to my Bible study tools, on the eastern shore of Lake Gennesaret, not far from where the Jordan empties into it.

So I’m thinking they were twin cities – kind of like Minneapolis/Saint Paul. You might say you are heading to St. Paul, I might say I’m heading to Minneapolis and we’re both landing at the same airport.

I’m not going to mention any of that to the kids, either. That’s just for the trolls who love to jump on discrepancies, wow me with their brilliance, evangelize me away from my faith.

Anyway.

The point is that Mark said He made them get in the boat and He sent them across to the other side. And that’s an important detail.

Because after they had been rowing for three or four miles, and they were worn out, and it was now dark, and the wind was blowing and the water was getting rough, and He had still not joined them, they may have been tempted to wonder what the heck. Without Mark’s detail, they may have started to wonder whether the trip to the Twin Cities was their idea; whether, perhaps, they had misunderstood the mission.

But there it is, in black and white and read all over – Jesus made them get into the boat. It was His idea.

And, as Beth Moore once said, “He didn’t send them to the bottom of the lake, He sent them across the lake.” I love that. I’ve remembered that in my own “what the heck” moments.

His idea + His destination = guaranteed success. He knows how to get me where He’s going.

I think I’ll tell that part to the youngsters- it’ll come in handy when they find their own exhausted, rowing little selves in a wave-tossed boat wondering if they’ll make it to the other side.

You Bible scholars already know that Jesus did show up.

He walked right across the water. For three or four miles?

The disciples, their night vision not that great, were, of course, freaked.

Until they realized who it was.

As soon as they were willing to let Him in the boat, they immediately reached their destination.

Immediately.

Let Him in the boat, guys, you’ll get there a whole lot faster.

Well there you go, I think I’m prepared.

Happy Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leprosy & a Vibrant Discussion

I felt a bit like a leper yesterday. For a minute or two.

I received a text from the BSF Children’s Supervisor asking me about the shingles… how I feel, am I still contagious?

I am teaching third and fourth graders on Monday nights this year. Would I be out another week?

According to the discharge sheet I was given at Urgent Care, shingles is only contagious when the rash is present. The virus is spread via contact with the oozing blisters.

My rash is almost completely faded and it never did develop blisters. So my guess is that I am NOT contagious.  But, in an abundance of caution – to avoid the slightest chance of an epidemic of Chicken Pox running through the school program – it was decided that I should stay home until I get the all-clear from my doc on Tuesday.

“We’ll welcome you back October 8,” were the specific words that made me feel leprous.

The upside of being deemed “unclean” is that I got to sleep in this morning.

While my co-leaders were gathering at 6:30 am to prepare for Monday night, I was still snoozing. I awoke at 7:30 to the sound of the garage door opening. And I smiled.

I smiled big. The hub is truly a great man.

Late last night I reminded the hub that tomorrow was October 1st and October is Donut Month.

“I think we should have donuts in the morning. I think you should go to Avon first thing and bring some home.”

Avon is a bit of a drive so I figured his words of affirmation were insincere.

But then I heard the garage door open, smiled, stretched and slid out of bed.

I smelled coffee as I descended the stairs.

There in the dimmed lights of the kitchen I spotted the box.

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Looks like the hub already took one.

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While the clean among us were gathered for leaders’ meeting, I was curled up on the sofa sipping good, hot coffee, eating half of this donut and then half of that, watching the Premier League.

The downside of being deemed unclean is that I missed the vibrant discussion in the leaders’ circle.

But it’s okay. The Holy Spirit and I had a vibrant discussion of our own as I worked on my lesson yesterday.

I was reading the part in John 2 where Jesus cleared the temple of commerce, of money-changers, of disrespect.

“Who gave you the authority?,” the people asked.

The study questions suggested I look at Hebrews 8-10.

Our vibrant discussion began in Hebrews 10:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He [quoted Psalm 40:6-8]:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’”

First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. [italics added by me]

The Spirit pointed out that they were offered in accordance with the lower-case-l law.

The Spirit is brilliant.

I named some of the things we, the church, offer in accordance with the lower-case-l law that God does not desire, with which He is not pleased.

Things like forbidding women to teach men.

Really silly things like requiring a man to be onstage when a woman leads worship…

Things that Jesus never said or required, neither did the capital L Law nor the Prophets.

I doubt anyone at leaders’ meeting this morning had an insight as brilliant as the Spirit’s.

I started to think about the ever-present fellowship of the Spirit. With Her (I’m not trying to get all feminist here but since mankind is made in God’s image and since 50% of mankind is female, I’m guessing at least 1/3 of God is female. Plus, ever notice that Jesus never assigned a gender to the Holy Spirit – never used a pronoun; ever notice that the female pronoun is used for Wisdom in Proverbs?) anyway, with Her a believer is never alone. She walks right in, ignoring the quarantine.

And that reminded me of the movie Ben Hur. Remember when Judah Ben Hur’s mother and sister were in the leper camp? Such a lonely, desolate place.

The kind of place Jesus went then.

The kind of place the Holy Spirit goes now.

I wish the movie had shown Jesus in those caves having vibrant discussions with those lepers.

‘Cuz you know He did.

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Found these organic beauties at the Farmers Market today.  Had to do something to walk off the donuts.

full of grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Need Some Cooks in this Editorial Kitchen

I’ve been struggling with the intro to my Bible study. I didn’t love it so I rewrote it. But now I’m thinking maybe I should have left well-enough (but not great) alone.

The intro has two sections – a prologue and instructions on getting started. Will some of you kind souls put on your editor visors, read both choices and HELP ME? Please!

Prologue: This?

In late November 1997, I spoke at a lovely Advent by Candlelight gathering.  At the end of the evening one of the event organizers pressed a book into my hands in a way that told me I was supposed to have it.  The title of the book was Fashioned for Intimacy, by Jane Hansen and Marie Powers.  Since I was not married at the time and since I did not feel compelled to read it, I took it home and stuck it on a shelf.

In March 2002 I drove home from a sexual abstinence conference, my head spinning with information on human papilloma virus, cervical cancer, cervical dysplasia and all the STDs that are epidemic among teenagers.  I gulped at the thought of friends who had cervical dysplasia and had no idea it was associated with HPV and cancer.  I thought about all my young clients at the pregnancy help center who were putting themselves at risk for grave diseases and didn’t know it.  Statistically, many already had them.  The reality of it suddenly overwhelmed me and I started to cry.  Through tears I pleaded, “Lord, you have to warn them!”  In that moment I knew that He was planning to do just that, and He was going to use me to do it, and it wasn’t going to be easy.  I left my position as the executive director of a pregnancy help center and started a ministry of speaking to teens and their parents about making healthy choices.

In May 2009 I spoke at a Christian school, where I had been speaking annually for several years. That year, as one of the teachers walked me to my car on the fourth and final day of presentations, she expressed dismay over two graduates who had gotten pregnant just out of high school.  As I drove home, I wondered why, when it comes to dating, so many Christian kids go the way of the world.  Why the divorce rate among Christian marriages is almost identical to that of the general population. Why Christian young women – who know they are treasured by God – chase after defilement.  Why do they hear and not heed? Why is the church so ineffective in preparing our youth for healthy, lasting marriages?  Why, when we have such a big and able God, are so many relationships a mess?

As soon as I got home I fell to my knees and asked God those very questions.  I asked Him to please explain to me what our purity programs are missing.

He did.

He took me right back to the beginning of Scripture, showed me what went wrong and how it still plays out today.  He compelled me to read the book that had been pressed into my hands twelve years earlier.  Through that book, He introduced me to Dr. Katharine C. Bushnell’s 100 year old book, God’s Word to Women, which He used to get this ball rolling.

Or This?

It was a course fraught with danger and I was running scared – hurdling razor-sharp wires, dodging swinging pendulums, carefully and precisely maneuvering through intricate laser webs.  I moved with focused intensity and the terrifying expectation that I would make a fatal mistake.  As I approached each obstacle I braced myself for the big “Game Over.”

When I finally made it to the end I was mentally exhausted yet exhilarated over having survived with only a few cuts and burns. I wanted to do it again.  Once I knew it was possible to survive the maze, I wanted to see if I could come out completely unscathed.

But a knowing told me I couldn’t.  It told me that everyone gets only one turn.   I could, however, go back and cheer others on; talk them through it; warn them of impending dangers.

That somewhat prophetic dream pretty well sums up what I’ve been doing these last fifteen years – talking teens and parents through the minefields of adolescence and dating, cheering them on in hopes of getting them through unscathed. And yet with all of the genius that I and others impart, why, I wondered, do so many young people continue to rush toward defilement?  Why is the divorce rate among Christian couples almost identical to the divorce rate at large? Why, when we have such a big and able God, are so many relationships such a mess?

I seriously wanted to know, so I got down on my knees and asked. I begged God to show me what our purity programs are missing and He did.  He took me right back to the beginning of the Scriptures and showed me where the church has gotten some things wrong.  He shed a radically new light on my old understanding.   Now I am extending that light to you.

Which prologue do you like better? Does either one pique your interest in the study?

Getting Started: This?

This Bible study is my attempt to share what God taught me.  My prayer is that as you embark on this study you will set your mind to understanding and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all Truth.  We are going to dig deep so put on your thinking cap.

Some of the lessons are going to be a bit heavy.  On those days, grab the hand of the One who loves you.

Some lessons will challenge what you may have previously been taught.  If so, don’t be afraid.  Genuine faith isn’t so fragile that it will fall apart if you take a fresh look at Scripture and even question a few things.  Jesus often challenged the understanding of the religious leaders of His day and opposed the status quo.  Sadly, fear and/or love of the system of belief they had established did not allow them to consider new Truth.   Be brave.  Open your mind and let God shed fresh light on the Scriptures.  And please don’t just take my word for it.  Be a Berean (Acts 17:11).

Search the Scriptures and see for yourself.  My aim is not to convince you to think what I think. My aim is to set you in the Scriptures to seek what God thinks.  The last thing we need is more man-made doctrine.

I hope you will come each week ready to share what God has said to you through your study.  The Lord bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you as you begin this journey. Heaven esteems you when you set your mind to understanding.

Or This?

This is no fluffy, feel-good Bible study, though I hope parts of it will make you feel good.  Parts of it might make you mad.  It will definitely challenge you spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  If you are young, I hope it will greatly improve your future.  If you are older, I hope it will bring healing to your past – and greatly impact the futures of the young people in your life. My prayer is that as you embark on this study you will set your mind to understanding and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all Truth.

We are going to dig deep so put on your thinking cap.  Some of the lessons are going to be a bit heavy.  On those days, grab the hand of the One who loves you.  Some lessons will challenge what you may have previously been taught.  If so, don’t be afraid.  Genuine faith isn’t so fragile that it will fall apart if you take a fresh look at Scripture and even question a few things.  Jesus often opposed the status quo and challenged the understanding of the religious leaders of His day. Be brave.  Open your mind and let God shed fresh light on the Scriptures.  And please don’t take my word for anything.  Be a Berean (Acts 17:11).

Search the Scriptures and see for yourself.  My aim is not to convince you to think what I think. The last thing we need is more man-made doctrine. My aim is to lead you through the Scriptures to discover a more accurate understanding of what God thinks.

I’ve led enough groups through this study to know that it’s going to be a really tough task. We Christians have a very strong tendency to hold the Scriptures up to our understanding rather than holding our understanding up to them.  When we read a new interpretation of them our knee-jerk reaction is to declare, “That’s not what I’ve been taught!” And then we dismiss the new interpretation, or worse yet, we hate it.

The aim of this Bible study is to rethink some of the things we have been taught; to hold our preconceived notions up to the light to see how well they actually match Scripture.  The goal is not to hold this Bible study up to see how well it confirms our preconceived notions.  Did you hear me? The aim of this study is to rethink some of the things we’ve been taught! If that is out of the question for you at this stage in your Christian walk, then put the study aside until the Spirit nudges you to pick it up again.

As you proceed, ask the Holy Spirit to show you heaven’s perspective.  It’s His job to guide you into all Truth.

I hope you will do this study with a small group and share what God says to you. Each chapter is broken up into five sections, that way you can do one section per day and still have two days for catch up if life gets busy and you get behind.

The Lord bless you as you begin this journey. Heaven esteems you, dear scholar, when you set your mind to understanding.

I wrote the second “Getting Started” after I led a few groups through the study and realized just how hard it is for people to rethink. Is the rewrite too harsh?

Does either “getting started” pique your interest in the study?

I’m hoping the choices are obvious to you because they aren’t obvious to me – which makes me wonder whether I should go with option 3: neither.

Be kind, be gentle and be HONEST! And if you can’t be kind, gentle and honest then just be honest.

Thank you and God bless you for reading all 1780 words!

#notobvious

 

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Jesus, Light

Never, Ever Bored

Alaska

Just as I was about to head over to the farmers market before it closes, someone pointed out on a friend’s Facebook post that Jesus called Peter “Satan.”

I paused to type a quick comment in reply: “I’m not sure Jesus was actually calling Peter “Satan.” I think He was recognizing the one who was behind Peter’s words and helping Peter see it, too.”

And then I started thinking.

And now my sunny stroll through the market, my purchase of coleus if they still have it, will have to wait until Thursday.

‘Cuz I have something to say.

Remember back in Matthew chapter 4 when Satan tempted Jesus?

It was that third temptation that Jesus recognized in Peter’s words:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.

The offer was certainly tempting: Just sell your soul to me and you can bypass the agony of the cross.

But Jesus’s mission was not to win an earthly kingdom for Himself, His mission was to win a heavenly kingdom for us.  And that mission was going to be tough.  There was no way around it.

Tough or not, Jesus was sticking with it. So He said, “Away from me, Satan!”

See what I mean about the one whose words were behind Peter’s words?

Jesus told His disciples about His upcoming death.

Peter pulled Him aside and exclaimed, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

And right away Jesus recognized that voice and He flashed back to that very high mountain and to the temptation to win an earthly kingdom full of faithful followers.

And He said no.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

See how similar “Away from me!” is to “Get behind me!”

You are a stumbling block to me.

Satan couldn’t get Jesus to abort His mission directly – way back in Matthew 4, at the dawn of His ministry –  so he tried the back door at dusk, indirectly, using a loyal friend.

Because who can resist the loyalty of a friend?

But Jesus was way too smart for that.

Peter didn’t understand the magnitude of what Jesus was accomplishing. Peter didn’t understand that he was being used as a pawn in the enemy’s game. He didn’t recognize the enemy’s voice coming from his lips, but Jesus did.

Jesus addressed the one to whom He was speaking when He said, “Get behind me!,” and it wasn’t Peter.

Now that my mission to the market has been aborted, I think I’ll hang with the Holy Spirit – my best and most loyal companion  – and vacuum the furniture.

#favoritecompanion

#neverbored

 

 

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