A Little Context For Me

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reader's Question: What Are Your Thoughts On Déjà Vu? Or A Glitch In The Matrix

Reader's Question: What are your thoughts on déjà vu?

First of all, let’s establish this up front – there is no direct Biblical teaching for us to refer to on this topic. The term déjà vu is a French term meaning “already seen”, so pulling out your concordance will not help you on this one as the Bible was written well before the French language was even a thing. However, that does not mean that the Bible has nothing to say about it. It just means that we have to dig a little to find it. So grab hold as we explore this little glitch in the matrix because this is the longest answer to a question I have given yet.

Second, we need to distinguish between the three types of déjà vu that people are often referencing when they talk about this phenomena, or more precisely, we need to distinguish between the sources cited for the experience.

The first source people often credit is neural misfiring. They dismiss it as a glitch of the brain due to stress, fatigue, or some random event among neurons, which is one possible legitimate reason. The brain is highly complex and perfect functioning is reliant on many factors that can be thrown out of whack for a host of reasons. Personally, I have seem to have far more occurrences of déjà vu when I am overly tired, and I tend to attribute the majority of these during times of stress to this cause. However, that is not to say that I believe this is the only cause for it.

The second source many people cite is reincarnation, particularly when visiting place of historic significance either to themselves personally or in a grander scheme of things.  Many of the people I have talked to who have ascribed to a belief in reincarnation have told me that it was a déjà vu experience that first prompted first their curiosity in reincarnation and eventual acceptance of it as fact after investigating what they deemed to be corroborating accounts.

We need to be perfectly clear on this – there is no place for reincarnation within Christian theology. This is an issue that the Bible addresses with total clarity.

And just as it is appointed for man to die once,
 and after that comes judgement. 
Hebrew 9:27

However, this does not mean that we should dismiss anyone’s experience with déjà vu. When you think about it once you are out of high school, this is a rather weird thing to try and fake. To even admit that this occurs to you on a somewhat regular and reliable basis can be seen as admission of total weirdness, being out of touch with reality, and delusion. That, and I think it is rather rude to invalidate anyone’s experience as a lie or to deny the impact it has had on their lives.

Before we jump to the third reason, we need to examine what are some of the possible reasons why this occurs that do not affirm reincarnation. One theory is that somewhere inside of what is sometimes referred to as “junk DNA” the memories of our ancestors have been encoded and passed on to us, and that we somehow have a cellular memory of certain places. I do not know if this is correct or even possible, but I am open to the possibility. This theory violates no Scriptural teachings and is a rather cool reminder that God has an infinite imagination that we are just catching the merest glimpse of in this life.

A second theory is a little more sinister, and one that I believe does happen as I have experienced it. As I have mentioned before, I believe in a spiritual realm wherein both angels and demons reside. I believe in a cosmic battle for the hearts and minds of humanity. I believe that evil does not fight fair and it does not show itself in the light lest it be identified and rejected. The easiest way to describe this theory is simply to share my story.

I once lived in house that was built in 1840-something. The events that happened there would take up far more space than allotted for this blog post, but there was no denying that something spiritual was taking place and they were witnessed by more than just me. One of the events was the reoccurring sound of music, specifically a cello, violin, and piano. Guess who lived there before I did? If you guessed musicians who played these instruments and died long before I ever set foot on the property, you would be correct. Along with the music were many of what I call pseudo-memories, for lack of a better term, and when I would mention them, others who knew the family history of this house would confirm what I knew to be accurate.

During a trip back to Oklahoma, a friend showed up at my doorstep one morning telling me that he had a message for me that could not wait. He told me about how demons had been around since the dawn of time, how they had lived side by side with humans, watching our every move, listening in to our conversations, and collecting memories of their own. He then asked one very pointed question that I had never considered, “What if they are trying to pass off their memories as our memories, trying to get us to believe that we were the ones who experienced these things, and not them?”

Instantly, I knew that he had hit upon a truth. As if to further confirm the point, from that day forward every non-human thing that lived in that house turned hostile towards me, but those events are a tale for another day. As you may guess, this has led me to approach all experiences with déjà vu with caution and a healthy dose of skepticism concerning its origin which I think is a right and fitting response to any event of a spiritual nature.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, 
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, 
for many false prophets have gone into our world. 
By this you know the Spirit of God; 
every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 
and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. 
This is the spirit of the antichrist, 
which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already. 
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, 
for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 
They are from the world, therefore they speak from the world, 
and the world listens to them. We are from God. 
Who knows God listens to us; 
whoever is not from God does not listen to us. 
By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 
1 John 4:1-6

The third source for déjà vu is little trickier, but something I think we need to make room for in our consideration. It is not infrequent for me to have dreams about an upcoming event or conversation. I am not sharing this out of any sense of pride or privilege, because it is not always an easy thing to grapple with nor was it something I sought out. I will also find myself have what I consider rather innocuous conversations with people I know and trust about sensitive but random issues. In the course of these conversations, I often find myself blurting out a new idea or perspective that I had not known was lying about the recesses of my mind, and I am stunned at having articulated it so well. (I would be remiss if I did not pause to acknowledge that I consider these moments nothing less than the guidance of the Holy Spirit because I am daily confronted with the fact that I am not that smart.)

I can usually set a clock by what will happen next – I will encounter a bizarre situation that there was no humanly possible way to prepare for, but I will know what to do because I have already experienced it on some level, either in dream or in that supposedly random conversation. Having been prepared for that moment, I can respond with wisdom and compassion for others that was the direct result of the dreams and conversations, and I have had the privilege of being able to speak the words that aided in their healing and growth. Something I would not have been able to do without preparation that moved me beyond my own concerns.

I want you to notice the difference here between these events. In the first event, at the haunted/possessed house, the emphasis was on me and what I perceived in the situation. The goal was for me to ponder what I knew, what special abilities I possessed, and what may have happened in my life. When I failed to accept the fraud as good or right, the result was a full out assault designed to produce fear in my heart and mind.  In the second event, it is not about me. In fact, it has almost absolutely nothing to do with me other than I was willing to move on what I had been shown in a previous instance. The outgrowth of those moments was to move the attention away from me and back to the Father who desires the best for his children, a Father who desires that we be whole and maturing individuals, and a Father who is willing to do the incredible on our behalf. It is just as likely and easier for him to utilize the talents of an ass as it is for him to include me in this moment. (Numbers 22).

In those times I have been reluctant to use what he has shared with me, I do not feel fear or intimidation. Instead, I am grieved that I missed out on a chance to be a part of what he is doing because that is my ultimate desire – to be where he is and doing what he is doing. It really is that simple, and please, do not ask me to give you a “prophetic word” or to tell your fortune. That is not how this works, and God’s revelations are not parlor tricks for anyone’s amusement or self-aggrandizement. Instead, I urge you to be seeking him for yourself, and be open to those times when he chooses to speak into your life.

There is a legitimate place in our faith for supernatural revelation and insight, but it is never anything to be taken lightly. And I do not believe that it is something anyone should seek out. Instead, we are to be seeking him. Not the glitz and the glamour that is often associated with the prophetic ministries, but him – Our God, Our Father, Our Redeemer, Our Jesus, and if you are only looking for what he can give you, you have missed the boat.

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, 
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, 
and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall see dreams; 
Act 2:17

But back to our discussion on déjà vu, I do not think that it is any accident that enemy tries to counterfeit what God is doing. I believe it is by design. What would be a more effective way to derail people in the search for God than to appeal to their sense of uniqueness and pride in their abilities? What greater tool does the enemy have then our own senses that can be turned against us, that can be used to distract us from the truth of God’s Word and love? Demonically inspired déjà vu is used for that purpose, and that purpose alone, to entice us to look for answers and meanings outside of Father’s desire for us. There is no hope, no vision for the future in it. It is locked in a dead past, and designed to keep our hearts and thoughts captive there – a time and place that we can never have any effect upon - so that we will never be effective ministers of God in this moment.

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, 
but blessed is he who keeps the law. 
Proverbs 29:18

For I know the plans the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, 
plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 
Jeremiah 29:11

And that is why we have to be willing to test the spirits and we need to be immersing ourselves in God’s Word. God is never offended when we do as he commanded, when we step back and search out confirmation on these things from within the Scripture. That is precisely what he wants us to do, and I believe that he rejoices when we are obedient in handling these revelations with the care and respect that he has decreed we should have. His Word is the litmus test against which all spiritual events should be measured. For how else are we going to be able to tell the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of error?  And this is something we really need to get right.

Friday, December 18, 2015

One Of Those Days

So it is going to be one of those days. You know the days where all the reality that you have been shoving aside in order to keep functioning comes rushing past the dam you have so carefully constructed in your mind and heart? Yeah, one of those days.

Bills have come crashing in, people you thought you could count on fail you, and even the stupid computer won’t let me get through a single blog post without wanting to update despite the fact I have limited time to get this done. Oh, the agony of being me! Excuse me while I go rail against the world for a bit, while I lose sight of all the miraculous things that have happened over the past few weeks and months, while I forget all the monsters slain and moldering because there is a fresh wave on the horizon, and I don’t feel like picking up my sword one more time. Instead, I think I will look for a rock to climb under, if I can find one big enough and one not threatening to topple over and crush me.

On days like this I used to tell people that I should have stayed in bed, but with my luck the ceiling fan would fall on me. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when one day the ceiling fan did, in fact, fall. Thankfully, it happened on day I did get out of bed so the damage was limited to a cloud of dust that covered my room. (And by the way, just to be honest, that “thankfully” was obligatory rather than heartfelt. I was rather irritated about the whole affair.)

I try to have the proper attitude. I really do. I suppose I must succeed on some level because people are always telling me how positive and encouraging I am. You’re welcome, glad to help, and that is wonderful. And I do mean it. I want to be an encourager. I make very intentional and carefully weighed decisions about what I say and what I share because encouraging one another is something I think we should all be actively striving to do. How could I expect less of myself than I would of others? So I put effort into being positive.

But sometimes, if we aren’t careful, that turns into hypocrisy. We become those people whose lives seem to scream, “Look at me! See me! I have it all together, why don’t you?” When the truth of the matter is they are falling apart inside and too scared to admit that today they just aren’t feeling it. Today, they just want the freedom to be down and frustrated with this life.

So today, I am frustrated. I am down. I am worn out and done in. Life is too big to be whooped, and I am the one taking a beating. And that is okay.

Notice that I didn’t say it is fun. I didn’t start doing a hallelujah dance or brush it off as inconsequential. My emotions matter. They have a purpose and value. God did not give them to me and then expect me to deny that they are real. He didn’t tell me that path to holiness is in denial of anything that isn’t all rainbow fuzzies and unicorn farts, and he didn’t say that I am sinful to acknowledging how I feel. And most importantly, he didn’t say that I was being unfaithful in feeling this way.

In an age of pop preachers and carefully coiffed TV evangelists who make their living with the promise of happiness, too many of us have started thinking that feeling anything other than a desire to give a gleaming smile to the world is nothing short of sin. It’s time that we get it straight – our sadness and frustration is not a betrayal of God, it is a demonstration of the fact that their shallow theology just won’t cut it in the real world.

But, but, but, we should rejoice in the Lord always! That is what it says in the Bible! You sow happiness and joy so that you can reap happiness and joy! Change your stinking thinking and your emotions will fall into line – oh, the protests I can hear as I type!

I have but one thing to say to all of that: “Jesus wept.

Now, tell me this, just how sinful was he being in that moment? Be very careful in how you answer that lest you be guilty of blaspheme.

We could dive deeper and read some of his biting remarks to the Pharisees and his disciples. We could stop and consider the Garden of Gethsemane. We could consider Isaiah 53:3.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. 

Emotions, even the big bad ugly ones, are not evil. They are not sinful. They just are. You don’t get to legislate them, and you don’t get to turn them off by becoming some spiritual creature who is above such things. Jesus didn’t, why do we think that we should have it better than him? To think such a thing is arrogance, and that is one emotion that the Bible does call sin.

So you own them. You look them in the eye, and see them for what they are. They are real. They are powerful, and they are tools for understanding ourselves and this world we inhabit. They do not define us, they do not get to rule us, but that does not mean they are without value or purpose. Acknowledging how we feel is the first step to authenticity and is an act of integrity and strength. When we gather them all up, take them to Father, and declare the truth of our experience, we are walking in faith and exhibiting hope in the knowledge that he is greater than anything that has hurt our hearts, but we cannot give to Father what we do not own.

For me, today stinks. I don’t want to feel all of this, and I don’t want to deal with all the things that are frustrating me. I just don’t, and that is the truth as plainly as I know how to put it short of a few colorful metaphors. Eventually, I will get past it. I will be able to remember some of the greater truths of my life, and I will find the will to celebrate the good things Father has given me. I will be able to rest in the hope of his promises to me, but not right now. Not in this moment, because it would be a lie and a denial of how he created me. So I will throw my little pity party, I’ll invite Father over and serve him a cup of coffee if he likes, and whine a bit. He will listen, and he won’t patronize or toss Scripture at me. He will acknowledge my pain as valid, and invite me to give it all to him. And in that moment, I will begin to feel the joy of anticipation as I wonder what grand and marvelous thing he will create from my painful honesty.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Psalms 107 – Beating My Head Against A Wall

Oh, give thanks to the LORD for He is good, for his lovingkindness is everlasting. Psalm 107:2

It has taken me awhile to get this next post up because, wow, I have never encountered a word whose definition was so incredibly abstract that no one seems to know the definitive definition. The word in Hebrew is חֶסֶד translated above as “lovingkindness.” However, a quick look at how it is translated in other versions or even just different places in the same version of the Bible, you are going to find that the translators offer several different translations of the word: lovingkindness, enduring love, mercy, and faithfulness – I think that just about covers it.

Now, before anyone flies into a panic, let me just say that these are all good translations of the word. They are all valid, and they convey an aspect of the Hebrew word that is right and correct. The problem I was having with the word is the fact every time it has been translated into English we make this jump from a concrete action, the basis for Hebraic thought, into the abstract, and what can possibly be more abstract than love? Or kindness? Or even faithfulness, for that matter?

I have spent hours and days exhausting every Bible commentary, Hebrew dictionary, and tool I had in my personal library. I broke it down into the paleo-Hebrew components. I read pretty much every verse in the Bible where this word is used, and eventually, I turned to Google. From there I read article after article, some that pretty good, most fairly shallow, and even stumbled into a few that I am certain were nothing more than recipes for witchcraft. It was at this point that I had to admit, I was beating my head against the wall, and I did what any good Bible scholar does when they are stumped. I went to sleep.

As I was drifting off, I prayed the most righteous of prayers – “A little help would be nice.”

Ok, so maybe more of prayer with a touch of an attitude, but God knows my heart and I don’t have to worry about making it all pretty for him.

I had this really cool dream, which I can’t remember most of, but I do remember thinking I need to remember this because it is cool. The one thing I do remember is using tweezers to put pale blue stones into settings on a golden garment that was flung over His shoulder. (I told you it was cool.) The second thing I remember was that as I woke up and my feet hit the floor, I was mumbling to myself without being fully aware of what I was saying. When my yet-to-be-caffeinated mind finally grabbed onto the words, I heard myself saying, “It is all about keeping the right things in, and the wrong things out.”

This sent me scurrying to my notes, because Rule Number 32 of Biblical translation says, “Personal revelation never trumps what is written.” If you ever want to screw your theology up to the point that you need seven and a half miracles to straighten yourself out, start relying on the things you think God is telling you more than this Word he has given you.

So I went back to the verses where we can find this word.

And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.” Genesis 24:12

This was the prayer of Abraham’s servant as he searched for a bride for Isaac, Abraham’s son. So far so good, this prayer is all about keeping the right things in and the wrong things out. In other words, the definition given to me works, but once is never enough, so I moved on.

If I am alive, show me steadfast love of the LORD, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth. 1 Samuel 20: 14, 15

Here it was used between Jonathan and David as they worked to preserve their friendship in the face of Saul’s wrath towards David. Again, the definition works. Jonathan knows that David would only be doing what was expected of him if he chose to kill all of Saul’s heirs as they had a perceived claim to the throne God had promised David. Jonathan asks that life be protected and death be denied entrance into their friendship.

When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But with a voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to you what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD. Jonah 2:7-9

This is the prayer of Jonah, and his capitulation to God’s call on his life. The statement he makes about how those who “pay regard to false idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” is interesting. Can we forsake the hope that the right things will be kept in and the wrongs things be kept out if we fail to remain faithful to our God? It certainly had to look that way to man who was on the verge of becoming fish vomit, but he is acknowledging that God is still there, responsive to his prayer, and God still has the power to act on his behalf, to save him.

Jeremiah speaks of God’s “everlasting love” in chapter 31 as he describes how God will change their mourning into joy, and again we see how even in the punishment of exile, God is protecting and purifying his people. In other words, he is keeping the right things in and forcing the wrong things out. Ezra identifies God’s “steadfast love” as the reason the king allowed him to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city. He specifically states that God “put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD God.” Did you get that? God put the right thing in the king’s heart to accomplish his purposes, and Ezra identifies the cause as God’s steadfast love. We could spend months going over the Psalms and all the ways the word is used there, but let’s just look at the one at hand.

In Psalm 107 alone, the writer uses the word חֶסֶד six times in verses 1, 8, 15, 21, 31, and 43. Four of those times it is used in a refrain:

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works for the children of man!

The only variation of its usage occurs in verse one and in the final verse which states:

Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things, let them consider the steadfast love the LORD. 

If you go through Psalm 107 you will find that is a list of various examples of God’s steadfast love. Notice how concrete they are, and how they extend over every aspect of human existence. The examples pull from physical circumstance, the oppression of others, things we do to ourselves, the risks in work life, natural disasters, and spiritual battles. All of it pointing to God’s direct action to protect, to educate, to provide, and to deliver.

This is not a word that denotes some type of detached benevolence.  This is God stepping into the pages of history, in the realm of our existence so that we might know his love, so that we might experience his personal care. It is a picture of him surrounding us with a love that only allows the right things in and is actively working to keep the wrong things out. We are being shown that we are participants with him, receiving his faithfulness to move on our behalf as we respond in kind. There is nothing abstract about this concept, and nothing passive in his love. It is a vital force that inspires and empowers us to join with him in removing those things in our lives that do not honor him. We operate in חֶסֶד when embody God’s love through acts of kindness and mercy. When we invest of ourselves, become active participants in alleviating and suffering, when aid in another’s deliverance, and when we are willing to get our hands dirty so that another might know our Lord, we are helping expel the wrong things in this world and inviting in the right things in the form of God’s lovingkindness.

And his lovingkindness endures forever! It is everlasting! He will never cease to be the one standing between us and the world, us and our enemies, even when that enemy is ourselves. He was, is, and always will be that wall of protection around us, and he is inviting us to play a part in what he is doing in this world. For he desires that all may know him and experience his love, and what better way than for those of us who have received it to demonstrate its redeeming power than following the example of his work in our lives? In doing so we proclaim that his love will never run out, never be used up, and never wear thin, it is abundant and everlasting, overflowing out of our lives into the world as proof of its enduring nature. What more do need to be inspired to thank him?

To get in at the beginning of our look at Psalm 107 start here: O, Give Thanks To the LORD. The second in the series is Digging Deeper Psalm 107, third What's In A Name?, and fourth For He Is Good

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reader’s Question: Should I Get A Divorce?

First of all, let me say, I hate getting this question. It ranks right up there with the second most dreaded question: should I marry this person? There is just too much responsibility involved! How am I supposed to know these things? Sure, I have an opinion. I have an opinion on literally everything, but whether or not you should listen to it, that’s another question entirely. Whether or not you should use it to plot out your life? I am not even certain I should be using it to plot out mine. So with all of that laid out on the table and kept clearly in mind, I will try to answer the question.

Obviously, I know a little more about this particular situation than I am sharing, because it really isn’t any of your business. Also while the particulars vary every time I am asked this one, my answer is always pretty much the same.

I am big believer in the “Three A’s” when it comes to reasons for Christians to divorce. If you are not familiar, they are adultery, abuse, and abandonment. On the surface these all seem like well-defined terms without much need for elaboration. However, it really isn’t as simple as it seems.

Adultery can encompass emotional affairs, addictions, pornography, and just about anything else where the one’s affection has been transferred to something else. Abuse does not have to involve physical violence, but can also include emotional, mental, spiritual, and sexual abuse. Abandonment can be more than one person physically leaving the marriage, and can also refer to those situations where one spouse has emotionally and mentally checked out of the marriage. Space does not allow me to be more specific, but I go into all of this in greater detail in Scandalous.

I am also a big believer that while these are perfectly legitimate reasons to seek a divorce, they do not require you to get a divorce. More than one marriage has not only survived infidelity, but has gone on to thrive as the two people committed to work through the issues that led to the act. I have also known those who have been abandoned who waited faithfully for God to restore their marriage to have their spouses return to them more in love and committed than ever before. I have also witnessed many in abusive situations that did not include physical or sexual violence stay and work with their spouse to save their marriages.

Now, let me be perfectly clear on this, no one should ever stay in a violent situation. We are called to be good stewards of what we have been given, this includes ourselves, and allowing abuse that puts you or your children in danger is not being a good steward. If you are experiencing this, get out and get out now. Once you are safe, if you still believe that there is hope for your marriage, seek the help of professionals to guide you through a reconciliation process that should include repentance on the part of the abuser, accountability for both parties, and a sustained demonstration of change. Do not think that you can do this on your own, or that one tearful apology means that everything is fine now. You need outside, objective help. Do not return until you both seek and receive it.

 So if all of these things are reasons you can get a divorce but do not mean you don’t have to get a divorce, then we still need an answer to the question and therein lies the rub. I don’t know. Your best friend doesn’t know, you parents don’t know, and even your pastor doesn’t know. The only person with that type of knowledge is you.

Here is what I do know:

Divorce isn’t a sin. God designed marriage as the perfect union between two people, a way in which we could combine strengths and overcome weakness within an environment dedicated to helping us mature in him. However, he also recognized that we aren’t perfect and the people we marry aren’t perfect. He knew that not everyone could withstand the rigors of marriage, and there are some who will actively destroy the gift he has given to them in the love of another person. So he designed an escape hatch that we call divorce.

Someone is screaming at their computer, but God hates divorce. Yes, yes, he does, but go back and read that passage you are shouting. It is found in Malachi 2:16. Notice what he does not say in that passage, he does not call it a sin. He says that the problem lies in the lack of love, in the failure to guard ones spirit, and in being faithless. All of these things are a problem with God no matter where they are manifest in our lives, but that is the key – our lives. We cannot control the decisions of another person including our spouse, and if they choose to dishonor the promise they made to us then we have no responsibility in that. We can only choose to control our response, and sometimes the best response is to get out of the way and give God a clean shot.

And while you have your Bibles out, you should also look up Jeremiah 3. Pay close attention to verse 8.

I also know divorce changes you. I know because I have been there. There is nothing pretty about it, even when you are getting out of a horrific situation. No matter how good freedom might be, you are still going to grieve. A dream is dying, there is no way to avoid it, and when our dreams die a part of who we are dies.

 The only real advice I can offer you is this:

Search your heart, know why you are contemplating this decision. If it is just because you think you will be happier free of your marriage, you are buying into a lie. If you are doing it because they changed, you need to realize that so did you, it is called life, and part of marriage is learning to navigate the changes together. If it is because you feel dissatisfied or discontent, then you need to take responsibility for your own emotions and stop placing unrealistic expectations on someone else.

Determine what you can live with – not today, but ten years down the road. Can you leave now and feel like you did everything in your power to heal your marriage? Will you be able to look back and say, I did my best and it was all I could do, and say it with a clean conscience? Because you will, even after my ex wrapped his hands around my throat and tried to strangle the life out of me, I asked myself that question knowing that divorce was the only option I had left.

Refuse to make any decision until you have peace. Notice what I did not say, I did not say happiness because the two are entirely different critters. Peace is that quiet assurance that wells up in our souls that allows us to rest. Happiness is fleeting and easily destroyed. Peace can look past the tears and know that despite the pain the decision is one that leads you to wholeness and healing.

No one can answer these questions, only you can do that, but until you know the answers I can love you, I can pray for you, and I can support you in the search. That is what real friends do, we don’t make the decision for you. We simply offer the tools and the safe place to use them.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

For He Is Good - Psalm 107

Well, I haven’t totally forgotten our study of Psalms 107. If you are just joining us or if you need to refresh your memory, here are the links to the past three posts: Oh, Give Thanks To The LORDDigging Deeper Psalm 107, and What's In A Name?

Oh, give thanks to the LORD for He is good, for his lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the LORD says so, whom he has redeemed from the hand of the enemy say so. Psalms 107:1, 2

Today, we are going to take a part the phrase “for He is good.” The first thing you want to do when making a serious study of anything is to define your terms, and let’s face it, good is a rather subjective term. Often we tend define “good” as anything we like and bad is anything we don’t like, but when we are studying Bible we need to define our terms according to how they are used within the Bible. We do this by finding other passages of the Bible where the same word is used.

The easiest way to do this with your English translations is to look up the word good in a Strong’s Concordance. If you do not have one, don’t worry it is available for free online, but if you are going to do any amount of serious Bible study I recommend you grab one for your library. When you do this, remember our rule of first mention, and go to the first verse where we find this word. You should be turning to Genesis 1:4.

“And God saw that the light was good.”

Obviously, we are in the creation account. God is going to continue creating the universe and after each creation he is going to see that it is good. From the dry land and the creatures that inhabit to waters and the skies and beasts that will live there, all of it will be seen and all of it will be found good. Then we get to the creation of man, (Genesis 1:26 – 31), and you see that there is no declaration that man is good.

This leads to an interesting question, why is everything else God created good but man isn’t?

Really, stop there and think about the question. Consider the possible answers. When you encounter something like this in the Bible don’t just rush by it and say, “That’s just the way it is.” Remember this book is crafted with the intent and purpose to hold as much truth as possible in very finite space, everything in here was included to teach us something. While you are rolling that around in your mind, let’s skip ahead a millennium or more, or few books as it may be, to the story of Jesus and the
Rich Young Ruler found in Luke 18: 18--30. As always, go look it up and make sure I am not ripping anything out of context because I am only including the key verse here.

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Did you catch that? “No one is God except God alone.” Go on and read the rest, and you find that Jesus is making a point about what is required to follow him. Sure there are some rules like honoring your mother and father, and not bearing false witness against your neighbor, but the it all boils down to one final step – you have to follow him. Nothing in this world must come between you and being in his presence for when you are in his presence you are in the presence of God, (John 1:1-7, John 14).

Jump on over to see one instance of how Paul uses this word good:

And we know that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brothers. Romans 8:28, 29

We could go on with other examples, but for the sake of time, space, and the average adult attention span, let’s just put together the pieces we have collected so far.

God calls his creation good, with the exception of man, but why is it good? To answer that question we have to look at the purpose of creation. God did not need an earth. We did. Everything he placed within this grand creation we inhabit was perfectly designed to house, feed, and shelter us. Everything he called into existence fulfilled its purpose perfectly and without flaw.

Man, on the other hand, is created with potential and that potential lies dormant within each of us until we choose to activate it by become conformed to the image of his son. And we don’t do this by works, we do it through relationship, by coming to know him, and through a process of renewing our minds through the words of truth. The earth was given to us as place to walk through this process and deeper into this relationship, even in its fallen state it still serves this purpose.

God’s greatest desire is to be known by humanity. The wonders that he done so that we might know span throughout history and continue today. Jesus declares that no one is good except God, and when we look at the things that God calls good we see that they are the very things that facilitate our ability to know him.

When I realized this a few years back, I tried to redefine my understanding of good. I came up with this working definition:

Anything that draws me closer to God is good. Anything that drives me from his presence is evil.

This radically changed my perspective of everything. Because when I step back and look at this world, I see how so many of the things we call good are driving people away from God. Money, health, relationships, family, technology, work, and leisure have lured people away from him. At the same time, how many times has disease, heartbreak, and hardship driven us to our knees to seek him? I realized that I have the authority determine what is good and evil in my life by my choice to draw nearer to him or to reject him, and in making that decision, I am also defining my intentions to be good or evil.

The only thing outside of my ability to redefine by this choice is God. For his intent is always that I draw nearer to him, he never changes, and he never waivers in that desire. Everything he has done or will do is for the singular purpose of knowing him. In this he proves that he is always good, and for that reason, giving thanks is the appropriate response in all things.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Importance of Shame

Yesterday, I shared an interview that Charisma Magazine did with my friend Dennis Jernigan. Not that I was too fond of the way Charisma decided to twist his words into a click bait headline, or that they did a pretty hard cut and paste of what Dennis said within the article itself, but rather because I know Dennis and I believe that there are people who need to hear his story.

As I expected, there was an immediate reaction, and most of it was negative. There were several comments, but most of them revolved around the concept of shame. The idea being that even in telling his story he was and is, and if I know Dennis, will continue to heap shame upon others by declaring his victory over homosexuality.

All of this got me to thinking, which is always dangerous, when did shame become a bad thing?

Seriously, why do we automatically reject anything to do with shame? I know that there are times when shame is unhealthy and damaging. I know that it is always painful and that it can drive people to do some really awful things in their lives, but does that mean that shame should be avoided at all costs?

There is a part of me that would love to think that shame is a horrible emotion that we should just outright rejected in our lives. I never liked being ashamed and shame was what kept me from seeking help when I was in the middle of an abusive marriage. The weight of it all left me self-destructive and suicidal, and I only learned how to speak up when I managed to free myself from those feelings. Part of what I do now is help other women to free themselves of the shame that has kept them quiet so that they can walk towards healing and with confidence of God’s love for them. There really would have never been any need for my book Scandalous if so many women had not been bullied into silence by the destructive power of shame. So, yeah, I am not a big fan of that particular emotion.

But there is another story, one that I haven’t told all that often – probably because I have been, well, ashamed.

Sometime after my divorce, I found someone who made me happy. There are no words to describe how complete I felt with this person or how they eased all the wounds I carried since leaving the warzone of my marriage, but there was one problem. This person was unwilling to commit to loving only me. I knew I could never be happy hanging out on the fringes of their life. I wanted to be the center of their world, just like they had become the center of mine. So I did everything in my power to facilitate that. I began bending and twisting the rules, reinterpreting the decrees of my faith to make allowances for my lust, and justifying my actions under the guise of love.

God is the God of love, I told myself, and so he must want this for me. God would never allow me to feel such passion for something he did not bless. He would have never created me this way if he knew it would cause me to sin in his eyes, so I must not be sinning to do what was so incredibly natural for me. This was his design, everyone knows this, and only a fool would say that it is evil to experience the bliss I felt only with this person.

Looking back, I can see the flaws in my logic. I know now that what comes natural to humanity is very often the very things that God does call sin. He has no use for my happiness when it comes at the expense of who he declared me to be, and his greatest desire is that I would love him above all others. If that means putting aside my own desires as a demonstration of that love, I need to do it, and if I am allowing my happiness to be pervert his word to serve me then I am declaring that my happiness, not God, is the one I am worshipping.

I won’t lie to you. It wasn’t easy turning loose. I can’t tell you how devastated I was when I finally walked away, and what was worse, I had no clue as to who or what I was walking towards. Sure, I knew I was chasing Father, but what that looked like this side of eternity, I didn’t know. And the idea of living my life alone terrified me as few other things ever had. I had become so enmeshed in my dream of being with this person and finding my fulfillment in a life with them that I did not even know how to define who I was or who I could be without them because every image of the future I possessed had them at my side.

How did I do it? How did I find the courage to finally make that cut? Well, it didn’t start out as courage. It started out as shame. Big, ugly, nauseating shame. The type of shame that makes you doubt if you are worthy of life. The type of shame that rubs salt into the wounds of loss by demanding that you admit how stupid you had been, how you had let yourself be played, and how you had sold out everything you believe to be true so that you could have a few moments of fun that left you utterly unfulfilled and tormented.

But shame becomes something amazing when presented to Father. Shame stops being that ugly worm that gnaws at your guts and finds wings as it transformed into repentance, and finds its true form in faith. I think this is the step so many of us are unwilling to take, and why shame paralyzes us or propels us to do horrible things to ourselves, we don’t trust the process of repentance. We buy into the lie that if our walk to Father begins in pain that it will continue in pain. So we recoil before he can lead us through the process. All we can focus on is what we are losing, and when we shift our gaze to him we see our sins laid bare before a God who loved us so much he withstood the shame of the cross on our behalf. Knowing that so much ugliness was heaped upon one so perfect makes your soul bleed. Everywhere we turn is nothing but pain! Giving up seems to be the only option where we don’t have to hurt.

Having faith means that we learn how to trust the process, and sometimes the process means embracing the pain. I think there is reason for this, and I don’t think it is because is some celestial sadist. I think he wants us to know the depth of the wounds we carry within us. I think he wants us to feel our sickness has invaded every part of our being and how it has warped us into something that he never desired us to be. I think he wants us to learn how to hate our sin, but more importantly, I think he wants us to know our sin does not define us. For how will we ever celebrate the grandeur of his love and forgiveness if we are unable to acknowledge the depths of the healing?

No, shame is not a bad thing. It is a necessary thing, but something should only last for season – a tool to be picked up and then cast aside as we celebrate God’s redeeming love that was given when we were still lost in our sin.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Readers' Questions: Why Wasn't The Book Of Enoch Included In The Bible?

My Study Tools

Readers’ question: Why wasn’t the Book of Enoch included in the Bible?

I don’t know if you caught it in the sentence above, but several of you have asked me to answer this question. It seems that lately the Book of Enoch, otherwise known as Enoch 1, has been getting a lot of attention. I cannot begin to count the number of YouTube videos and articles that have flooded the internet either praising this book as prophecy or condemning it as blasphemy, and the controversy over it seems to be heating up as experts on all sides are chiming.  And since this is the internet, a lot of non-experts have been happy to join in too!

The question, as most of you presented it to me, is easy to answer. “Why wasn’t the Book of Enoch included in the Bible?”  One of the Jewish tests for canonicity (read that worthy of being included in the Bible) is that a book had to be written to all generations. Now if, we read the first two verses of Enoch, we will find:

The words of the blessing of Enoch according to which he blessed the chosen and the righteous who must be present on the day of distress which is appointed for the removal of all the wicked and impious. And Enoch answered and said, “There was a righteous man whose eyes were opened by the Lord and he saw a holy vision in the heavens which the angels showed me. And I heard everything from them and I understood what I saw, but not for this generation, but for a distant generation which will come.”

So pretty much, the Book of Enoch excludes itself as it was not written for all generation, “but for a distant generation which will come.” But I don’t think that this is really what y’all wanted to know, so I am going to answer the question I think you meant to ask: Should we, as Bible believing Christians, be reading the Book of Enoch?

Hold on to your seats, this is where it starts to get a little more complex.

We know from other writings that the Book of Enoch was a pretty big deal. Ancient writers often referred to it in their work, and when I say ancient writers I am talking about some pretty big names in Church history. Names like: Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, and Ambrose. However, times were changing, and not unlike today, the main attack centered on the supernatural elements within the Bible. “Why were grown men reciting fairy tales, and believing in ghost stories? Hadn’t they figured out that this was modern age and that we needed to be rational and stop putting credence in such outdated texts?” If any of that sounds familiar, it is because it is the same arguments running around the internet today. It seems that in over 2000 years of existence, the opposition to the Christian faith has yet to come up with any better arguments either, but moving on.

So in an effort to tone down the more fantastical elements of the Bible certain stories were explained away, and the main one is found in Genesis 6.

When man had begun to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men of old, the men of renown.

If you continue reading, you will see that we are looking the events leading up to the flood. When we study this passage in the church, we often skim by it and talk about how evil people were being at this time and that is why God had to flood the earth, or you are told that the “sons of God” were the sons of Seth and the “daughters of men” were the daughters of that wretched murderer Cain.

Well, uh, yeah, about that? That isn’t what the text says.

A rule that every serious student of the Bible should follow is “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This simply means that when a word or phrase is used in one passage and it has an ambiguous meaning, you should look at other passages where the same word or phrase is used to determine what it means. When we encounter the phrase “sons of God” in other parts of the Bible, we find that is always refers to angels. Now, go back and reread that passage, but this time use the word “angel” instead of “sons of God”. See why it is so disturbing? And why some might want to tone it down?

Cut back to Enoch. The book of Enoch contains what is essentially a retelling of the Flood narrative with greater detail, and he doesn’t pull any punches. He plainly states that the “sons of God” were angels. He recounts conversations that he had with both angels who remained in service to God and with the fallen angels. He records the fallen angels’ punishment, and how he relayed messages between them and God. To be honest, it’s some pretty out there stuff that will blow your mind if you believe that the “sons of God” were really the sons of Seth.

Accepting what was then a new view of Scripture, and the flood in particular, people stopped reading the Book of Enoch, reading it was eventually banned by the church, and for awhile, it seemed to have been lost altogether. Enter James Bruce, and explorer in Africa, who made his way into Ethiopia. The history of the Ethiopian church is fascinating, but for now all we need to know is that they developed essentially without any outside influences after the fifth century AD. This meant they didn’t get the memo that they should do away with the Book of Enoch. During his time there, Bruce managed to secure three copies of the Book of Enoch. All of this went down in 1773, but it would take almost fifty years for the first translation to be made.

Since that time there have been many who claim that the Book of Enoch must have been written by Christian due to all the typically Christian references that are in the book. Others claim that it was, in fact, originally a Hebrew text but that Christians had inserted various passages in order to make it appear more Christian and less Jewish. However, some of this controversy is dying down as at least ten fragments from the Book of Enoch were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls verifying those passages as authentic to the original text.

I know, great history lesson, but that still doesn’t answer the question: Should we, as Bible believing Christians, be reading the Book of Enoch?

My answer is yes, but with caution. Here is why.

If you read the book of Jude, that single page book right before you get to Revelation, you will find this:

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes down with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgement on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds and ungodliness that they have committed, in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Nowhere else in the Bible to learn that Enoch prophesied. In fact if you read his story in Genesis 5:21-23, you are going to find one of the shortest and most amazing stories recorded of man. He lived, had a son, walked with God, and then “he was not for God took him.” What crazy, but utterly fascinating way to be remembered!

But here in Jude, we do see that he prophesied, and we have reason to believe that his prophesies were credible and respected. If that is not enough for you flip back a few pages 2 Peter 2:4, 5:

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them down into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until judgement, if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;

Nowhere else in the Bible do you find anything close to this, but you do find it in the Book of Enoch. Some scholars believe that these verses are just the tip of the iceberg that proves that the Book of Enoch is a valid record of a supernatural revelation given to Enoch.

But before we jump to that conclusion, let’s consider a few things. Throughout this piece I have used various expressions common to our time and culture. You skimmed right by them because you are familiar with these expression, because they are everywhere, and they did not signify any type of connection to another writing. Why would we suppose that every time an ancient writer used the same words as his contemporaries he was doing more than I? So I think we should use restraint when using similar words to prove a connection between Enoch and the Bible. That being said, neither should we dismiss almost exact quotes of any significant length. It’s called balance, and that is always a good thing.

The second thing we should consider is the fact that the Book of Enoch did not enjoy the same protection that the canonical books of the Bible did. The text may well have been tampered with. For if the original story was an actual account of what Enoch said, then his account is thousands upon thousands of years old, and even our oldest manuscripts do not come close to the time of authorship.

The third thing to consider, if knowing Enoch was necessary for the practices of faith and salvation, it would have been included in the Bible. So in reality, it has little bearing on Christianity today.

So back to the question: Should we, as Bible believing Christians, be reading the Book of Enoch?
Yes, but with caution.

My personal beliefs are that the text we have today is based on an earlier work. I believe that Enoch did prophesy, and I think his words carried weight and authority as attested to by Jude. I believe that by studying this book we learn much about the culture preceding and during the time of Christ’s life. I think it shows how willing the ancient audience was to accept the supernatural and divine intervention in this life, and I think we can learn from that. After all, our God is supernatural, our salvation is supernatural, and our entry into his eternal presence will be amazingly supernatural, why would we deny that it can be seen in this world?

I urge caution because, honestly, I haven’t taken the time to pick the book apart or to thoroughly examine it for ideas or beliefs counter to the teachings within the Bible – the book that we have been commanded to honor and obey as God’s holy word. I urge caution because we should never put an extra-biblical text above the Bible. I also urge caution because most of you need to dive deeper into the Book you can trust before you start tampering with something that may not be fully trustworthy – for how will you know a lie if you don’t first know the truth?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

So What If You Were Not Called To Seminary?

A few posts back, I shared with you that many of our seminaries are cutting their language requirements in many of their degree plans and why they have chosen to do so. I also briefly addressed why the knowledge of these languages is important to understanding our faith.

As I said at the end of that post, not everyone is called to spend their lives dissecting these languages. We all have different gifts, aptitudes, and callings that should be honored. For instance, I cannot begin to convey how grateful I am for those of you who staff church nurseries, because if it were left to me…well, let’s just say it isn’t my calling nor do I have the aptitude for it. We need everyone to play their part to have a functioning body, and a good elbow makes a horrible foot. (Trying to envision that, aren’t you?)

However, just because you haven’t been called to study dusty old texts doesn’t mean you can’t help keep them alive. Here is a practical list of things you can do to encourage and support those who have been called. Trust me, we need it!

1. The obvious – money. I hate to start out sounding crass, but this is just a reality. To learn this stuff you almost have to go to a private school, and private schools are expensive. Most students end up with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of student loan debt, and to complicate things further, with the amount of time required for study even a part time job isn’t really an option. And if you have a family, forget it.

And I know what I am talking about on this one, I managed a semester and half of juggling work, school, and family before my body rebelled and I wound up in the ER. In the end, I lost my job because I was unavailable to work the required hours, and I was forced to take out more loans.

So consider sponsoring a seminary student, you have no idea what the price of a tank of gas could do for them. Or a roll of quarters, so they don’t have stare wistfully at the vending machine or they can experience the luxury of a turnpike! (For me, getting to take the turnpike meant thirty more minutes of sleep! Priceless!)

2. Speaking of sleep – if they have kids, babysitting so they can study or sleep is a blessing beyond compare. So often people think that if you aren’t in class then you must be lounging around at home, but the truth is you are *supposed* to study three hours for everyone hour in class. Of course, no one actually does this, but when you are wrestling with Greek verbs you are probably doing more so it evens out.

And if you have kids, when do you study? If you guessed when they are sleeping, you win. Prime study time for me was 9 pm to 3 am, and then it was up at 5 to be on the road by 5:30. God grants sleep to those he loves (Psalms 127:2), so share some of his love.

My mom says she deserves part of my degree as she watched my kids so often, but in reality if she hadn’t I would have never have made it through.

3. Food. Please notice I did not say ingredients. Things ready to eat, no prep, and preferably eaten with one hand so you can hold a book with the other. Carrot sticks, pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower, or prepackaged salads, and of course, chocolate!

Gift cards to restaurants close to their school are also a great choice, or stuff they can toss in a lunch bag and eat in the car like granola bars and trail mix.

4. And travel mugs? Yes, please! They may have a couple, but odds are they are in the car with yesterday’s cold coffee. They can always use another one.

5. Haircuts and manicures are another way you might be able to use your gift to help a seminary student. As I said money is tight, but everyone there is trying to make a good impression. Recruiters are constantly roaming the halls, and who knows which one of these people might wind up being your boss? But guess what the last thing a serious student is going to spend money on?

And work them in an appointment on Sunday afternoon, or 9 o’clock at night – they will love you forever.

6. Mow their yard. Seriously. I eventually just gave up on mine. My uncle wound up baling it.

7. A massage! I know this sounds decadent, but after hours slumped over a computer, the ache begins to wear at you. And a hand massage – dear, sweet, baby Jesus, I will still take one and I am not in seminary. Hands throb after hours of typing.

8. If you do any type of medical/dental/optical services, donating those to a student can make a huge difference in their lives. I don’t remember how many students I saw with throbbing teeth they didn’t have the money to fix, in need of new glasses, or walking around with sinus infections they couldn’t shake and with no money to get any of it taken care of.

9. If you want to be specific in meeting a financial need, commit to buying books for one or more of their classes. However, I should warn you a lot of these books can cost over $100 apiece and you may need three or more for a single class.

Don't have that much to give? A ream of paper, a pack of post-it notes, highlighters, notebooks, or their favorite pens says you care and is a major blessing! And we always need another printer cartridge.

Want to go big? A church collection for a laptop or printer can be the difference between staying in school or not.

10. Offer to type up papers for them. I always wrote mine long hand first and then typed them. A friend of mine typed up many of my papers for me during my years of college. I never would have graduated without her.

11. Good at English? A writer can always use another set of eyes, offer to proof read their work. You get a chance to learn something new, and you might save their grade.

12. Ask us to share what we are learning/have learned. Remind us of why we are doing this, and give us a taste of what it is like to share all this amazing stuff with someone new. It is easy to get discouraged, and a lot students drop out when faced with how hard it really is. There are days when you know that you are attempting the impossible, but then someone comes along, asks  about something you just learned, and you realize that you love it too much to give up. And that's how we get through it, because looking back, you will wonder how many miracles God did just so you could survive.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What Scares Me More Than ISIS

You would have to be hiding under a rock not to know that there is a war brewing. The lines have been drawn, declarations of each sides’ agenda have been made, and shots are being fired.

No, I am not talking about the events in the Middle East or Europe. I am talking about the war that is being waged across the United States and throughout our world, a war that is threatening to rip apart our country, our homes, and our churches apart if we do not find a third option.

I am sure you have seen the rhetoric from both sides. It is plastered across the internet on every social media site you visit.

Everyone is screaming for you to take a side. If you are not in support of accepting the Syrian refugees, you are a cold-hearted monster, unfit to be called a Christian. If you do support accepting the Syrian refugees, then you are an ignorant, bleeding heart, fool just asking for terrorist to invade this country also unworthy to be called a Christian.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the verses that are being used to bolster each sides’ position.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it. Hebrews 13:2

When the stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as a native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:33, 34

Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; Stretch out your hand from on high; rescue me and deliver me from the many waters, from the hand of the foreigners, who mouths speak lies and whose right hand is the right hand of falsehood. 
Psalms 144:1, 7

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for the members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8

I could go on, and anyone with an ounce of intelligence could make an effective counterargument to either position. Both sides can demonstrate from a Biblical perspective why their side is right and why you are wrong.

So which is it? What is the real Christian position in all of this? Who right and who is wrong? My side, their side, your side?  Well, allow me to make everyone mad. Both sides are right and both sides are wrong. And I say this not based on my personal emotional reaction to this crises, I am saying it after spending hours studying new story after new story, and Scripture after Scripture. There simply is not a clear cut Biblical answer – if we accept the “either/or” narrative of our culture, a culture that has rejected every shred of Biblical authority in making public policy until it could use our Holy Text to manipulate us into viciously attacking our brothers and sisters.

So what do we do when there is no clear cut answer to be found in Scripture? I would ask you to consider that we are looking at the problem from the wrong direction, and we seek a new one. For there is nothing that ever was or ever will be that God’s Word does not address, and we should rise above the conflicting voices of our world and listen to his voice, so that we might see his perspective.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I in you they may be in us so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me that they may become perfectly one so the world may know that you sent me and them even as you loved me.  John 17:20-23

The truth is we need each other, now more than ever. We are a body, a unit that only functions with truth and power when we are whole. Lopping off our arms as we demand security, and severing our feet as scream for compassion, serve no one but an enemy who wants us torn to bits – for who is easier to overcome than a wounded adversary?

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16

These are the words of Jesus to his apostles, as he released them into a world where they would meet with bloody deaths. They would sacrifice everything, even their lives, to share what he had given them, but he did not ask them to go blindly or foolishly into the fight. He commanded them to arm themselves, to buy a sword, and be aware of the dangers they faced. Does he ask any less of us? Does he require more? Or is his command eternal, sufficient even for this day?

Those of my family calling for the acceptance of the Syrian refugee, thank you, for reminding us that we are to have a heart and that we are to move with compassion towards those in need. For my brothers and sisters who urge us to be aware of the danger, thank you, for reminding us that we must be alert and wise in our decisions. We need to be operating all aspects of who we are as believers and followers of Christ. One without the other will destroy us by killing our hearts or taking our lives. I urge you not to forget that we are to be unified, respecting the strengths of the other, learning from their perspective, and heeding their counsel. It is how we stay strong and how we stay true to the decree of our King.

You see, ISIS does not scare me. Terrorist do not terrify me.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both our body and soul. Matthew 10:28

However, I am afraid of church torn apart. I am afraid of friendships destroyed and relationships lost as we grew embittered over a situation that no one individual can control, but even more than that I am afraid failing to believe the words my God have given me. Right now, I don’t know what the answer is in dealing with Syrian Refugees, but I do know that we are to be unified in love. I know that we should stand against division, and I know that God does have an answer to every question we could ask. So maybe if we stopped screaming at each other we could all walk towards him, believing that he will guide and protect us as we draw near to him.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Unless You Read Hebrew and Greek"

“There are so many translations of the Bible you really can’t know what it says unless you read Hebrew and Greek.”

And there it was, the conversational hand grenade designed to shut down any further dicussion. I don’t know how many times I had been blasted with it, but I was getting tired of picking shrapnel out of my skin. So I did the obvious, I went to seminary and I learned Hebrew and Greek.

Going to seminary was not the smart decision. The hours were long, and I was dividing my time between classes, work, two kids, and a 19 hour a week commute. Sleep was something I got to do in my car between classes, food was whatever the vending machine offered, and I got really good at studying vocabulary flash cards as I sped down the highway at 65 mph. As if the personal sacrifice was not enough, I was (and am) getting to pay for the privilege to the tune of over $100,000 dollars in student loan debt. Additionally, I got to do it all without one single hint of a clue as to what I was going to do with my degree once I finished.

Unlike most seminary students, I did not go with any hopes or intentions of pastoring a church. I never felt that calling, and frankly, I am glad as I have seen so many of my former classmates grow embittered when they were unable to find work in the field they studied so hard to enter. I had one goal – learn the Biblical languages.

Most churches today are not looking for full time pastors, and that is especially true in places like rural Oklahoma. Churches want someone who preach a sermon that will attract new members without offending the old ones. They want someone they can call at two in the morning because grandma is in the hospital, do the janitorial work, and building maintenance while holding down a full time job that actually pays their bills. In the meantime churches throw mere pittance to their bi-vocational pastors so they feel they have the right to grumble about how lazy their pastor is when the men’s toilets are leaking. And amazingly enough, so many of the men and women behind the pulpit still manage to actually love the people who put all these unrealistic demands on another human being. (Starting to see why I am glad I have never felt called to a *real* ministry position?)

The idea that ministers get a fancy degree so that they can live a life of luxury is one of the silliest myths ever foisted on the American public. Most of the men and women I know serving our body are working hard to provide for a family, spiritual and biological, while attempting to pay back all the student loans they took out so that they could teach with knowledge and integrity.

And I would be willing to wager that 98% of those glitzy preachers you see on TV have never darkened the doors of a seminary other than as a guest speaker. One of the sad truths of our day is people are more than willing to throw money at anyone who is willing to tickle their ears with unfounded promises passed off as Biblical. Charisma and blindingly white teeth gets you far more followers today than solid teaching. Boys and girls, that should scare and sadden you because that type of pseudo-Christianity always crumbles under the burdens of real life and that is all the world is going to remember about these charlatans when their day of reckoning comes – not that these men and women taught a false gospel, but that gospel is false.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one who knows that American church looking for slick packaging. The leaders of the second biggest money making Christian enterprise do too. Seminaries know that many of their perspective students want one thing, a degree that legitimizes their place behind a pulpit. They, like their students, know that hanging a diploma on one’s wall is all the validation most congregations will look for. So the answer? Cut the hard programs. Cut the subjects that require the most dedication and time to master. Offer classes that teach their students how to run the business of church, marketing courses, and retain just enough Bible classes to still warrant the title of Christian. Those are degrees that people will pay for, and that is what will allow seminaries to keep the doors open.

On the surface, it seems like a good plan. Seminaries are struggling to stay alive, and survival is only going to become more difficult when religious institutions lose their tax exempt status. By offering easier course material, they can attract more students. Cutting the hours required for a degree makes seminary an option for those unwilling or unable to devote years and thousands of dollars in getting an education. Lightening the educational load would save future pastors thousands of dollars and make entering the ministry less cumbersome, at least in the financial realm. Pastors might actually be able to make it on a pastor's salary if they didn't have to pay back a mountain of student loans, and going to school while pastoring a church might be an option if it didn't take up so much time. In some ways, it seems like dumbing down the curriculum is the lesser of two evils – people still get a Biblical education even if it is of a lesser quality than the education of previous generations and it beats shutting down all together. 

However, this is short sighted at best and fraudulent at worst. We need men and women who are willing to commit to doing whatever it takes to learn more about this amazing revelation of God we call the Bible. We need people who are willing to wrestle through the intricacies of Greek and try to pin down the abstractions of Hebrew. We need people who will stand against those who pervert God’s word for personal gain, and we need people who know a lie when they hear it because they have been so immersed in the text that any twisted message sends shivers down their spines like cat claws on a chalk board. But most of all, we need people who love the Word and want to share that love the Word with the world.

Sadly, by cutting the language requirements and offerings in seminary we deny these men and women the chance to learn and, in turn, teach about their passion. And this is not merely the problem of perspective students, this is problem that will ripple throughout the church as leaders are allowed to lead in ignorance while professing to have knowledge, congregations will not have access to the informed teaching. Perversion of Scripture will go unchecked, and there will be no one to hold the leaders of tomorrow’s church accountable for their handling of the Word. Christianity will simply continue its downward slide into pop psychology and arm chair philosophy, as we love only those whose teachings bring them pleasure.

And what happens one day, in the very near future, when someone spouts off, “Unless you know the Hebrew and Greek you have no idea what the Bible really says”? Will we just keep picking shrapnel out of our skin? Or will we have someone in our midst who can stand up and say, “I do. I know those languages, and I can testify to the integrity of God's Word”? 

*Not everyone is called to devote their lives to this type of study, but you can help those who are. I will be sharing some ideas in an upcoming post on how you can be a part of persevering our heritage of faith.

Photo from Photopin

What's in a name? Psalm 107

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD for he is good.” Psalms 107:1a

In the past two posts, we have looked at the background for this Psalm and the first word.. In this one we are going to look at the next key word in the verse, “LORD.”

Now, there have been volumes and libraries written on this particular name of God, and there is no way that I could begin to share everything this name has to teach us about the nature and person of God. However, we can get a glimpse into the significance of its use here, and in doing so, we can establish some principles for understanding when we encounter it in other passages.
Before we go any further, I would ask you to take the time to grab your Bible and to simply read this verse. As you do look for anything that you might consider strange.

Do you see it?

If you have a newer translation of the Bible, you probably noticed that the word LORD is in all caps. Did you ever wonder why the translators chose to do that? After all, none of the other names for God get this treatment, so why this one? To find the answer you have to dig back into the Hebrew, or know someone who will do it for you. (You’re welcome.)

If you were to read this in the Hebrew the name you would find is יהוה, sometimes referred to as the Tetragrammaton or the unspeakable name of God. So what do you do if something is unspeakable? You come up with a code word, a substitution, and the substitution in Hebrew is Adonai. So when you read the text in Hebrew, you see the name of God written out as יהוה but when reading it out loud you simply say Adonai in its place. The reader is fully aware of which name is being used, but it is just not spoken.

This posed a bit of a problem for English translations. How do you convey what is in the original text while still honoring the command that would Hebrew readers would have followed, not to speak this name? Translating it as Adonai would not work since adonai is a rather a generic term of respect that simply means lord. We find it used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: Abraham is called lord, there are Philistine lords, and Jael even called Sisera lord - right before she pounds a tent peg through his skull. So there is no guarantee that when we see this word in the English that the Bible is talking about God. The solution? Translate adonai as lord, but when the Tetragrammaton is used write LORD in all caps so that the English readers would know the real name being used.

Now, back to our text, and we begin with a question: Why did the Psalmist use this term for God? There are a multiplicity of names that he could have chosen from. Elohim, for instance, is the name Moses used for God when he wrote Genesis, so why not chose that name? You know, one were allowed to say or sing in this case? This is a song lyric after all.

In Biblical theology there are rules for interpretation, and one of these is known as the “Law of First Mention.” Basically, it boils down to the way are to understand a word, term, idea, or even the letters of the Hebrew alphabet is to look at when it was first mentioned or appears in the text. Elohim, for example, is first mentioned in Genesis 1:1 when God is creating the heavens and the earth. So when we see this name we are to think of Creator God, and if we were to look at every passage where this name of God is used we would find that is somehow connected with the concept of creation.

In contrast, we do not encounter the Tetragrammaton until Exodus 3 when Moses encounters God at the Burning Bush. Think about what is going on at that time. God’s people are trapped in slavery.
There is no hope for them aside from his direct intervention. They need a miracle that will change not just the circumstances of their life. They need a new identity, or more accurately, they need to be returned to the identity God had given them so long ago as the children of Abraham and live as people of promise once more. To use a theological term, they needed to be redeemed, and it all begins here with God revealing himself to Moses with name יהוה, “I am that I am” or more precisely, “I will be what I will be.” And as the story unfolds, we see God revealed as redeemer and king. A God who can change realities and give identity and purpose. A God who changes slaves into a nation, and the oppressed into the means of deliverance for the whole world in the person of Jesus.

So what is the Psalmist trying to tell us? He wants us to think of God in the context of redemption. He wants us to remember that burning bush and the revelation of God’s loving response to his people. He is asking us to recall how God fought on behalf of his chosen one, and how through his love they became something so much greater than who they were. He is uniting us to a history that testifies of God’s goodness. He is reminding us that this history is our history, and we serve the same God as those who witnessed the plagues of Egypt and the miracles in the desert.

I think that we could all stand to be reminded of this truth. I know I have days when I am standing somewhere between the Red Sea and armies of Pharaoh that try to destroy my life, terrified there is no way out, and that is when I need the reminder. The God who split the Red Sea is the same God I serve. He did not change. He is still in the business of deliverance and redemption. He is just waiting for me to call out, to confess that I need him in my world and circumstance, and allow him some room to work. The history of Israel’s redemption is the story of my redemption, and it is the stories of others that we are encouraged to believe there is redemption for all who seek him.

I, too, am nothing more than a runaway slave. Each and every time, I make my escape it chases after me trying to drag me back to a place where I am defined by sins decrees. I need a God who will who will part the waters and make a way for me into the wilderness, a place where I become something new in his presence, and do what only the free can do – sing the praises of the LORD whose lovingkindness is everlasting.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Digging Deeper Psalm 107

Well, I bet you thought I was done writing about Psalms 107:1, 2, but yesterday's post barely scratched the surface. One of the really amazing things about the Bible is that has been so perfectly crafted that each and every part ties in with every other part. How deep and far you go with a Bible study is determined only by your strength of character and will. I can honestly say that I have never fully exhausted the significance or beauty of a single verse no matter how many times I have dissected it. There is always something marvelous to discover.

Let’s begin with the first words, “give thanks”.  In the Hebrew this is a single word, הֹדוּ, which conveniently enough means “give thanks”, but one the things you quickly learn about Hebrew is that is rarely that simple. It is a language of pictures and images that take us beyond the abstract and move us into realm of action.

Allow me to demonstrate. If I were simply to list the definitions provided in the Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB), you would find that the root of this word means to throw or to cast, confess, or to shoot an arrow as well as to give thanks. When you find such a diverse definition you have to fight off our rather English speaking tendency to focus simply on one while ignoring the rest. For someone who grew up speaking Hebrew all of these images would have been brought to mind even as they understood the primary meaning intended by the speaker or writer. It was in the multiplicity of images that the nuances that escape the translators grasp that the original audience would have understood the directive within this word.

To cast or to throw and to shoot an arrow are terms of warfare and precision. Remember that this song was commissioned by David, and what is he best known for? I believe it had something to do with a stone cast at a giant. Do you think it was an accident that a Psalm written at his behest included this term? Neither do I. We could pause here and consider the Hebrew word for sin, חׇטׇן, which includes a definition of “missing the goal or way”. Is there the implication that giving thanks is how we strive to hit the mark? Maybe. I think a case could be made, but I will let you ponder that while we move on.

Confess, now there is an interesting definition. As a reader, we should ask how this fits into the theme of the verse. If read further, we find that “the redeemed of the Lord (should) say so.” When you start putting the pieces together you begin to see that thanksgiving requires an acknowledgment of what has been done, and in this case God has been in the business of redeeming what was lost – the Ark of the Covenant and his people. So what did they have to confess? That they had been lost, that in a symbolic way they had lost him and his presence, that they needed redemption, and without that component they have nothing to be thankful for because God would have had nothing to do.  

If we do some more digging, we find that this word is used again in the Proverbs. (And who wrote Proverbs? Solomon, David’s son. Do I detect another connection?) Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who covers his faults will never succeed. He who confesses (הֹדוּ) and gives them up to the LORD will be shown compassion.” Compassion, lovingkindness…I think I beginning to see a theme.  

And all of these things would have been communicated with that single word! To anyone who grew up speaking this amazing language, and they would have never needed all the two hundred and seventy six study guides I have my shelves or the five years I spent in seminary to figure it out.

Now if you still think you aren’t digging deep enough, let’s look at the letters for a moment. Remember Hebrew was not always written the way we see it today. It originated in pictographs and each letter has not only picture that is associated with it, it also has a concept embodied by that picture.

Let’s take the first letter of the word, ה. (Oh, and you should know that with Hebrew, we read right to left.) It is pronounced “hey”. To explain how we get to this letter’s meaning, we would have to make two trips around Katy’s barn and one to Egypt, so I’ll just let you look that up if you are so inclined, but it means revelation or breath – both concepts bound up tightly together throughout the Bible.

The second letter in our word is the ד, and it represents a door. Doors are places of entry, and the guest that we would desire to enter into this life and world is God. We invite him in through our actions and prayers.

The final letter is the ו, pronounced vav. It is a hook. Some say it is a peg or a nail, but the principle is the same. It is used to join things together.

Now that you know what each letter symbolizes, you can put them all together. God reveals (or manifests) himself, to enter into our lives and world, so that we might be joined with him.

(This is where I totally geek out.)

What else has the power to move a person to give thanks than God’s manifest presence? What could be more natural than to be thankful that he has enter our world? Could there be a more compelling reason to sing our thanksgiving than God joining with us? What else could drive us to confess our need of him than a revelation of our redeemer and king, and do so not in abject despair but in joyful thankfulness?  

But it is not a one way street, for intrinsic to the design is God’s response to our thanksgiving and confession. For as we move towards him, he is moving towards us. The lovingkindness that we had only glimpsed from afar, perhaps a vague memory of time before our birth, floods into this world as he enthrones himself on our praise. The goodness that had been a mere shadow before now manifest in dazzling splendor as he joins with us to redeem us as his own. As our outpouring of love pierces his heart like an arrow, he responds according to his nature causing us to delight in presence ever more deeply.

All the opposing, complimentary, completing, and balancing concepts bound up so tightly in a single word! Everything affirming that God’s ultimate desire is to live among us, to move and be moved by those who love him. At once, he gives us the action and result so that we can know they are but two sides of the same coin, concurrent and indivisible is his presence and our thankful confession of his love.

*There is so much more to go with these two verses. If you are interested in more of what I am learning in this homework assignment, let me know in the comments so I will know to keep sharing.