A Little Context For Me

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hearing the Word Anew!

Over the past several months I have been doing a word by word break down of Genesis one, taking it back to the original Hebrew, looking at each word in the pictographs that proceeded the alphabet we currently use, seeing what is foreshadowed in this inaugural passage of our sacred text, and trying to understand what these words would have sounded like to those who heard it for the first time. To say the least, it has been an eye opening experience to study these verses that were presented to me in flannel graphs and the colorful picture books of Sunday school.

Something happens to our understanding of the Bible when you grow up with it being doled out in pretty little bite size pieces. When the stories all stand alone without any historical moorings to hold them in place or to give you perspective. We lose sight of the fact that these events happened to real people in a real world with a very real socio-economic-political-religious context that would have colored every word and phrase in a way that is all but lost on the modern reader.

To put it another way, Genesis was not dropped on a people whose minds and hearts were a blank slate. They were not automatons simply waiting for their programing to be downloaded. Just like us, they heard the news of creation with buttload of baggage and preconceived notions that had to be confronted, rooted out, and brought into alignment with this new revelation. (And yes, buttload is a proper and precise theological term – well, in my world anyways.)

So we ask the obvious questions:  Who wrote Genesis? When was it written? And to whom was it written?  

The first one is easy enough. The answer is Moses. Jesus even said so in Luke 24:44, and then Paul gives us a little more insight in Acts 7. This also answers the second and third questions. It was written after the Exodus and to the Children of Israel after they had been freed from slavery.

It is easy to brush by all that with a nod of acceptance, but we have got to stop flying through our Bible and acting as if reading the words is enough to understand what we are being shown. Think about this with me.

Moses who Paul says was “educated in all the wisdom of the Pharaohs” takes this bunch of refugees out into the desert. Refugees who had lived their whole lives in fear, who had all hope for the future snuffed out under a slave master’s whip, whose sole purpose was to toil for a people who viewed them as so sub-human that with a simple decree their children were ripped out of their arms and slaughtered. Can you imagine degradation they had endured? The sheer worthlessness that had been ingrained so deeply into their heads that they would one day beg to return to this condition because the comfort of the known held much more appeal than the rigors of the desert before them?

As we read the accounts in our comfy arm chairs, in rooms heated and cooled to our preference, and munching on our Cheetos, it is easy to proclaim that we would have never spurned God’s promises the way they did. We would never turn our backs on him after having experienced the awesome terror of the plagues or the grand wonder of the parting of the sea. How smug we can be! And yet how many of us can’t even bother with being polite to the checkout girl. Tell me again how easy it would be for a Christian today to make this walk of faith.

And yet, here they are. In a desert, carrying the only possessions they have, and wondering what is going to happen to them and their children when the food runs out. If this was not terrifying enough, there is another thought process running in the backgrounds of their minds – they may have just brought the entire world to an end.

The land they had just left was a land of cycles. Cycles of the sun personified by Ra who made his daily circuit through the sky, eaten each night by Set, and delivered from Set’s belly each morning, governing the ebb and flow of all life. Cycles of the Nile with its seasonal flooding that washed in the fertile silt and watered the crops that most of the known world depended upon for food at one point or another in history. Cycles of life, a 3000 year process of life, death, and reincarnation that only the most worthy could hope to escape. Cycles guarded and upheld by Pharaoh, the man they had just watched drown in the collapsing walls of the sea. The god-man entrusted with putting down political coups and slave uprisings so that the cycles could continue unbroken and unhindered lest the mighty Nun, the god of chaos, rise up from his watery prison and consume the world once more.

Did they not just witness the chaotic waters destroy the one charged with holding back Nun’s power? Did they not just rise up in defiance against the one the only culture they knew proclaimed to be their guardian and savior? What had they done? Was it a mistake? Could they be forgiven? Freedom? What did freedom mean to dead men?

Certainly they had experienced the fierce power of this God that Moses had claimed to follow, but hadn’t this God failed them before?  What of all the years they had languished as slaves, crying out for a savior and none was given? Hadn’t they watched their own parents, grandparents, and even their children die as this God ignored their cries? What was to say that this time would be different? And Moses, where was he? It seemed like so long ago that he had left them here in this barren waste and disappeared into the clouds that surrounded Sinai. Perhaps he had brought them here to die.

So many questions, so much fear, and so little to cling to as they waited their fates.

Then one day they seem him as he walks down the mountains, still radiant from his time with God. Moses who carries back the tablets of stone, the laws by which they are to live, but he carries back something more – the stories of a time only dimly remembered, the time of their forefathers, and the times of creation.

And the story begins with these life changing words – IN THE BEGINNING!

No more cycles to be defended or guarded. No more endless loops of time imprisoning humanity in never ending toil and hardships. No more wheels crushing them into oblivion. No! There was a beginning!  A point where it all started, a point where God acted, and a God did not conquer the chaos – he redeemed it! Fashioning and shaping it according to his desires, not reliant on a man, even a god-man to defend his cycles of life. He stood above it all.

And with the declaration of beginning came the promise of an end. Hope, purpose, and meaning! For now all of humanity would take part in the culmination of time so that the glory of God might be revealed to all men and women who walked this earth. A God who stood in power and glory above the chaos of this world, not with the need to conquer but with the desire to redeem.

I can only imagine the wonder that filled them as they heard this word we brush past. I can only imagine how the pillars of the world they knew shook and crumbled under the weight of this new revelation as they rose again. This time not as runaway slaves, but as a nation, holy, set apart, with a mission and purpose decreed by the God who defied every truth they had been trained to hold dear.

Can it mean any less for us? Even in our comfy chairs? Is the word any less vital or true for us? How many times have you felt like a rat on wheel, that life had no purpose, no meaning? That the chaos of this world had overwhelmed you, consuming all that you gave security and peace? The world does not have to be as we have been trained to see it. It does not have to be limited by the truths that everyone wants us to hold dear. For we are not slaves to this world, we have been freed so that we to might be a holy nation, set apart, with a mission, and with a purpose. We – you and I, not some person on a pedestal, not some spiritual guru, we have been set apart holy unto him! And he still the God who redeems all of creation to himself, we just need to hear the words anew.

Reader’s Question: Why do you believe in a spiritual realm?

Reader’s Question: Why do you believe in a spiritual realm? Hasn’t science proven that all the stuff that they thought were demons and spirits are really diseases or mental disorders? Aren’t you just being superstitious?

This is one of those questions where I have to ask myself, where do I begin? The second question I ask myself, is there anything I can say that would truly convince anyone that my answer is right and true? The honest answer is probably not. And third question I ask myself, how crazy do you want to look when you reply – particularly since you know that your answer probably doesn’t matter?

Well, I have never done anything half way in my entire life (with the exception of keeping house). So I may as well keep up the tradition.

If I wanted to play it safe, I would give you a list of Bible verses that confirm the existence of a spiritual realm, but as the person who asked this does not view the Bible as an authoritative source that is rather pointless. And to be entirely honest, it was not the Bible that convinced me to believe in a spiritual realm. It was only after a number of experiences that I realized that this was a reality that I could not escape, and I learned how to cope with my experiences through the teachings of the Bible.

So instead of offering up that list, allow me to answer with a story.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine decided to help a homeless man. She invited him into her house, fed him, gave him a few useful things, and then at his request brought him to the park where my husband and I are hosts. Camping is free here, and she knew that we would offer any help that we could.

After his first night here, he came up to our camper, knocked on our door, and asked if I would give him a cup of coffee. If you know me, then you already know that coffee is never in short supply. So I invited him, poured him a cup, and listened to his story. Which if you know me, you will also know that one of my favorite things in this world is learning other people’s stories.

He told me about his divorce, how he had lost everything, and how afterwards he just started walking. He caught a Grey Hound in Virginia, rode into Texarkana, and from there started his journey on foot once more. He explained how he was looking for some place quiet, and how he needed to clear his head of all the noises.

So I asked him, “What type of noises are rumbling about in your head?”

He studied his cup for a long time before answering. “I hear voices, all the time voices, telling me what to do. I get a government check for being schizophrenic. Does that scare you?”

I reassured him that it didn’t, and explained that I was bipolar so he was in good company. He laughed a little, but started studying his cup once more, in a way that told me that he wanted to say more but was unsure of how to begin. I waited in silence, giving him a chance to collect his thoughts and gather his courage.

“Your friend said you know a lot about the Bible and stuff,” he finally said. “Do you know about Ra and Nun?”

If I was interested in the man before, he had my full attention now. Just the day before, I had been studying these ancient Egyptian gods. I told him I knew a little, and then asked him what he wanted to know, and why he was asking.

“I hear them,” he told me. “I don’t know who they are or why they are talking to me, but they I know their names because they argue in my head, telling me to do bad things, like kill animals and such. They sent me here. Are they in the Bible? They sound like they could be in the Bible.”

I explained to him that they were not in the Bible, at least not directly mentioned in the Bible. I told him how they were worshipped in ancient Egypt, and how they were gods – one a sun god and one the god of chaos. I told him that believed they were connected to the Nephilim and Sons of God mentioned in Genesis 6, and I how they masqueraded as gods in an effort to fool the people into worshipping them instead of the true God.

As I was speaking, he began to get agitated. His entire manner changed, and he cut me off. He began telling me how he wanted to kill something, a bird, a squirrel, or anything he could overpower.

Abruptly, his mannerism changed again, and he began asking me if I believed that there were spirits who could give us higher knowledge and power.

I told him that there is only one true source of power and knowledge, the God of the Bible, God incarnate in the person of Jesus, and how it was through his blood that we can come to know God’s love and mercy for us. He slammed the coffee cup down on the table and walked out the door. I followed him, and by the time we were outside, he had calmed down again.

“I wish I had more time to study the Bible,” he said not looking at me. “Do you have one I can have?”

I assured him that I would get him one and bring it to him later. He returned to his campsite, and I called Ty and asked him to pick up a Bible on his way home. Later that day, I took the Bible and some food to the spot by the lake where he was set up. He accepted it all less than enthusiastically and began to talk about killing again. As I listened, I studied his campsite and saw that he had cooked various plants over the fires in empty cans, he had more plants drying on the table, and I asked him what that was about. He said he was doing some experiments that voices had told him to do. I didn’t press any further.

As I was leaving, he asked me if I would give him my dog. I smiled and told him, “Hell, no.” He shrugged and pushed the Bible to the far side of the table away from him.

The next day he left. He told me it was too quiet that he couldn’t stay here because the voices got too loud here. He needed to go someplace he felt more comfortable and familiar with, and he walked out of the park.

On the surface, this seems like a random encounter with a mentally ill man, and I am in no way discounting that he had a very real medical condition. Nor am I belittling him for it. After all, I have one too. However, there are two things that make me believe this was a spiritually motivated encounter.

First of all, this is just one of many events that has happened since I started writing my latest book. The list of coincidences could easily be the basis for another book entirely, but I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that everything has a reason and a purpose. The fact that just the day before I had been researching the very gods he named, supposedly gods that he knew nothing about, confirms to me that this encounter was not accidental. Additionally, many of these encounters seemed to have been engineered to engender one response within me – fear.

Secondly, this was not the first stranger to knock on my door since I began writing this book. The first man approached asking me if my bus was for sale. When I told him no, he walked off muttering some sort of sing-song chant. I watched him as he snuck through the woods to get a better look at the bus, and called the sheriff. When the deputy sheriff picked him, he told me that the man kept muttering that he had to “stop the gypsy.” In case you didn’t know, everyone calls my bus the Gypsy Bus.

Ty and I have been here for over a year and both of these occurrences happened within weeks of each other. Never before have any of the campers here so much as given me a creepy vibe. Most of the folks are good people just looking for some time on the lake to fish, and they have been encouraging supportive of the work we are doing here. Yet, within a matter of weeks, we have two men here whose presence was disconcerting and concerning. And why did they appear at these times? It was when I started the book that led me to research Ra, Nun, and a whole host of other ancient gods and their myths.

I no way expect anyone to believe in a spiritual realm because I had these experiences. With enough effort, anyone could reason them away into nothing more than random events. I realize that and accept it, but I cannot dismiss the sheer number of things that have occurred in my world since the inception of this book. These are but a part of a larger story that stands as but a chapter in my own life. To me it is a manifestation of the activities of the spiritual realm, but you alone can determine what it means to you.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Some Thoughts On Turning Forty

This morning I woke up to over one hundred notifications on my phone from friends and family who paused for a moment to wish me happy birthday from all over the world. Oh, the wonders of technology. I spent the morning reading through them and pondering what this year would bring, but honestly, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the number. Forty. Wow. Forty.

Every year, I pick out a theme for myself. Something that I wish to accomplish within my heart and mind, new behaviors to adopt, new thoughts I wish to entertain, new challenges that I am ready to take on. One year I decided it was my year to be uncensored, and that was highly entertaining for me at least. I am not so sure about my friends. Last year, I determined to be more honest with and about myself. That wasn’t much fun for anyone. This year life has been throwing me curve balls so I had not really stopped to think about what the theme for this milestone of life was going to be. So I spent the morning thinking about the oh-so-significant number that is forty.

The Bible talks a lot about the number forty. It was the length of time it rained in the great flood of Noah’s day. Forty was the number of years that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness.  For forty days Jonah prophesied to Nineveh about its impending judgement. Elijah spent forty days eating roadkill delivered by ravens when he fled from Jezebel. Moses spent forty years in Egypt and another forty in tending sheep before God spoke to him at the burning bush, and for forty days he remained on Mt. Sinai as he received the Torah. Forty was also the number of days that Jesus faced temptation before embarking on his earthly ministry.

Testing, trials, and temptation are all aspects of forty, but in the middle of all that fun stuff it is easy to overlook the positive aspects – at the end of forty, be it days, weeks, or years, that is when the good stuff starting happening. Sure the forty leading up to the good stuff was awful, but once it was over, that is when God really kicked things off. The rain stopped, they got to go into the promise land, Nineveh repented, Elijah got to go eat real food, Moses got to have a sit down with God, and Jesus emerged from the desert and shook the whole word up.

This doesn’t mean that everything became smooth sailing, not by a long shot. It meant that all the stuff that had happened before either equipped, empowered, or validated the right of these people to do the real work God had called them to do. Noah didn’t emerge the ark to sit on his rump. He had to rebuild civilization. The entry into the promise land meant full on war with the giants who lived there. Nineveh had to give up its evil ways and act on the words of the prophet. Jezebel didn’t evaporate while Elijah was hiding out, she was still there and he had to face her and her prophets again. Every time Moses got to talk to God, it wasn’t so he could sip some tea and share some gossip about the neighbors. He was being given the tools to build a nation out of a bunch of rag tag slaves who didn’t have a clue about how to become the people God declared them to be. And Jesus? His temptation is what allowed the writer of Hebrews to say what he did. Look it up yourself, and rejoice – Hebrews 4:15. But we all know that was just the beginning of what he would endure.

In Hebrew the number forty is represented by the letter mem. The mem denotes power, might, chaos, spirit, the womb, and water. Water because it is the first letter of the ma’yim the Hebrew word for water and the original pictograph that the Hebrew letter is based on is a three pointed wave. The connection the womb is found in the forty weeks of pregnancy, and the fact that the mem has two forms – open and closed, portraying that there is a season for enclosure and protection and a season to go out into the world when one has properly matured. In creation, we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters and calling forth life from the deep or from the chaos the proceeded the manifestation of his will for this earth. Within the mem we see this overwhelming picture of change from chaos to order, from potential to being, from thought into action, all in the proper time and manner.

No matter how I turn this number around in my head, one thing keeps repeating. Forty is the beginning point. The place from which one emerges into the world mature enough and wise enough to take action, and to begin the process of actively working towards one’s God given calling. I wished there were room and time to permit all the ways that God has been pointing me to this idea over the past few months, and all the ways that I have been trying to escape it. So as I chose this year’s theme for my life, it isn’t based on some mystical interpretation of a number, but instead I am seeing confirmation of a direction he has in store for me. Time to emerge from the season of testing, trials, and temptation and move into a season of actively shaping the world I inhabit in accordance with all things I have learned thus far.

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Of Prophets - We will worry about the kings later

Last night, I did something new. I watched the new television series “Of Kings and Prophets” while following the buzz on Twitter. It was interesting to see people’s reactions in real time as they protested the Biblical inaccuracies, the artistic license to spice up the story line, but most of all, I was intrigued by the reactions to Samuel. To be sure the rather enigmatic and ever so slightly spooky prophet who rips the arms off of hired assassins is not completely in line with the perceptions that most modern audience have of prophets. We like to think of them as leaders, and our ideas of leaders tend to be ones of men and women who exemplify the best, the most noble, and desirable of our society.

However, our ideas about prophets and the reality as presented within the Bible do not always line up. The prophet of the Bible was not a pretty character. He was bold, raw, and often offensive. His language was not soft or genteel, but rather what most of us would consider straight up vulgar. He lived on the outskirts of society. Yes, he was often present in the courts of kings, but not as one of the fawning masses. Instead, he stood apart as someone to be feared, and sometimes that fear was not out of respect. Many times that fear was based in disdain and expressed in ridicule. These men had the power to depose kings, elevate the poorest to position of authority, and generally upend the status quo at any given moment. They dangerous not only to those in leadership but to all who desired to that standards and mores of their culture be maintained by propriety and proper observance of established convention. Thus his presence was not always welcome or celebrated.

Of all the descriptions written of the Biblical prophet, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s is by far my favorite:

“A strange, one sided, unbearable extremist…His words are shocking and often offensive to the more genteel of society. Dignity is cast aside in favor of emotion and he does not flinch from offending his audience…He lacks refinement and the passion with which he reveals God’s message seems wildly out of control to the masses but to the one inspired the means barely capture the intensity of passion.” From his book The Prophets.

 J. Lindblom describes being a prophet as a “condition”, and he supports this view by noting the taunting note in 1 Samuel 10:11:

“Is Saul among the prophets?”

Lindblom explains that question demonstrates that role and office of prophet was considered to be beneath one from a good family. No one of status would desire to become of these wild eyed individuals whose inexplicable behavior did not conform to society’s expectations. This was not position of honor as the cost was too great, causing those chosen to walk in this role to move away from societal standards and moved deeper into the truth revealed to them by God.

The level of conflict in their lives was epic. Jeremiah describes himself as “a man of strife and contention to the whole land.” (Jeremiah 15:10). Not only did he confront the king, he stood in direct conflict with the false prophets of his day – the prophets whom the people affirmed for the smooth words and happy predictions for the future of their land. He denounced the religious elite and the condemned the masses for offering God only empty forms of worship without engaging him with their hearts. His message was warning that not only would Israel as nation be subjugated to foreign powers for their disobedience, but that the symbols and means through they worshipped God would be stripped away because institutionalized observances of faith were a lie that God would no longer tolerate.

And Jeremiah was not the only one who quite literally danced with death almost every time God commanded him to speak. Nathan calls David out for committing adultery and murder, Samuel condemns Saul and declares that he will lose his throne, Moses demands that Pharaoh release his labor force, and Jesus damns the religious elites for their hypocrisy. How else would you classify such people, other than mad?

Nor were the extreme elements of their nature limited to their prophet announcements. Isaiah was commanded to preach naked for three years, Hosea was told to marry a prostitute, Ezekiel shaved his head with sword and then did various symbolic acts with the hair, and John the Baptist ate locusts and honey exemplifying the voice of one from a wilderness. It is to read these accounts and accept them as part of the Biblical narrative to which we have become accustom, but if we stop and think of what it would be like to witness these events, to actually be in the presence of the prophets as they fulfilled God’s command to live out their message, would we still be able to blithely accept them as part of God’s plan?

I do not think so. In fact, I think most of us would be even more shocked and offended than their original audiences. I think we would see their bizarre behavior as vindication of our right to deny them the authority and wisdom that God bestowed upon them. There God had command protection for those he placed in this office. God knew that everything in us would resist paying heed to one so far removed from societal and cultural norms, and we should not make the mistake of believing that the Biblical prophets were normal for their day and the only reason they seem so strange to us is due to the years that stand between us.

Nor should we be shocked that one who walks so closely with a Holy God who defies our definitions and boundaries would also be radically different than his contemporaries. For how does encounter a God whose ways are not our ways and thoughts are not our thoughts without being radically changed? We often forget that the prophet was not simply a telephone, or some other mechanical devise, to be used as tool. The prophet was flesh and blood, sensitive and response to their environment, and when environment has been infused by the very presence of God – you are never going to be normal again.

So maybe it is time we acknowledge a difficult and distasteful truth, prophets were not meant to be normal. They don’t often popularity contests, and they don’t usually don’t experience what this world defines as success except perhaps through the lens of history. They set people on edge with messages divinely designed and ordained to upset the status quo. The comfort they offer only follows obedience and repentance. They are hard individuals demanding hard things from their audience, rejecting pretty lies in favor of ugly truth so that we may find the beauty in a God who redeems. For how else could they find the strength and courage to live a life so far removed from the expected, unless they had fallen so deeply in love with the Lord that all of their being was at odds with a fallen creation? What else could cause them to give up their lives, their hopes for a future, except for a God inspired desire to see their Creator design manifest in the lives of a people they learned to love as he loved them?

And maybe, just maybe, it is time we held the self-appointed prophets of this day to the Biblical standard. Truth before comfort, radical boldness before conformity, and terrifying obedience before self-indulgent justification. For the prophets who spoke peace and prosperity were exposed as frauds as their soothing words did nothing to move the people closer to the God they claimed to serve and plunged them deeper into forms of religion without heart, conscience, or moral obligation to God or their community. Maybe it is time we stopped buying the hype, stopped worshipping at the alter of nice or proper, and recognize that God’s message to the world is greater than anything we hold dear including our dignity and worthless prestige.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Financial Sense and Bad Attitudes - A Confession

Years ago, back when I was single mom, I realized that my financial situation was always going to be one of constant jeopardy. I was raising my kids on less than $10,000 a year, the ex had (and has) forgotten that child support would be nice gesture, and let’s face it, none of my degrees lend themselves to lucrative careers. In fact, I read in one article that if you didn’t want make any money with your college degree, get degrees in the arts, psychology, and religious studies – guess what I have degrees in? The correct answer is all three! I’ve always been an overachiever like that.

Despite all this, I was pretty okay with where I was. Sure the numbers didn’t makes sense, and the fact that we never starved or lived on the streets was due in large part to my family who helped with things like childcare while I worked or went to school, an expense that devastates almost every single mom’s budget. Food was pretty much whatever the tribe was giving out in commodities, what we grew in the family garden, and ramen noodles, but overall, we were happy.

I figured out how to not dwell on our money matters, live within our budget, and to do without things we did not absolutely need. So there weren’t a lot of extras like cable TV, gaming systems, manicures, or trips to the zoo. We just made the best of what we had. It wasn’t always easy and a minor catastrophe like needing new tires or a hot water heater could set us back for months, but somehow things always worked out.

Then I got married. Now, this was a good thing, and I was delighted to have married a hard-working man who was willing to take on the financial risks and responsibilities of me and my two kids. After years of debating on whether or not new socks were really necessary or could be afforded at that particular time, it was liberating to just go to the store and buy socks whenever dang well pleased.

But something happened to me in the past five years, something I didn’t realize until recently.

Somewhere in the midst of being able to buy socks and not having to wonder if fresh oranges were an extravagance, I forgot that my security did not lie in the size of my husband’s pay check.

Now God has a way of getting your attention, and well, he’s been working overtime on me since the first of the year. Ty and I were slammed with several things that sapped our money. Some avoidable with better planning and self-discipline, and some so completely out of our control that I had to wonder if God had sadistic streak. This meant that several of our plans for things we were going to do this year had to be ditched, and I am not talking trips to Tahiti, I am talking about things most people take for granted as part of being a functioning adult in our society. (Which really shows you how much I lost sight of the goal – since when did I ever want to be a function adult?)

To make matters even more poignant, there was about a six week spell in there when I was contacted almost every day by someone celebrating a blessing in their lives. And not just any old run of the mill blessing. No, they were happy because they had received – often unexpectedly or by almost supernatural providence – things that I had specifically expressed a desire for. Seriously, if I said I wanted purple wigwaddle but had recognized it as an unnecessary expense or completely outside my budget for the foreseeable future, one of my friends would suddenly come into possession of a purple wigwaddle. And as part of being a real friend is to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, I did my best to do my part. But let me tell you, after about six weeks of this, I was starting to lose my cool. Not with my friends, they typically had no idea that they were rubbing salt wounds and would have avoided doing so if they had a clue. No, I was losing my cool with God.

After all, HE knew I wanted a wigwaddle and he could have zapped one into my front yard at any given time if he had so desired. But nooooo, he gave it to someone who has absolutely no idea how to properly appreciate a wigwaddle, let alone the proper care and grooming of one.  And as if that wasn’t enough, he was requiring that I be a good sport about it if I were to properly live out my faith. I am not going to lie this is where I demonstrated some pretty awesome acting skills, but inside I was starting to seethe.

Then along comes my child who decides to spend an evening around the fire talking about the days when we had nothing, but when our house was open to everyone, when people showed up unannounced to sit and talk. When our lives were too full to worry about money, and the amazing experiences they allowed us to know as they shared their stories, asked their questions, and wrestled through the hard issues of life on a worn out couch or by an open fire. When people we had just met showed up with bags of groceries to prepare a feast in our home as way to repay for us for the kindness of opening our home to them.

In those days, money was an issue but it was rarely a worry. I knew in my gut that we were going to be alright and nothing could touch us that didn’t pass through the Father’s hand. Times were tough, and God always likes to wait for the last minute before providing an answer, but I had figured out how to rest, to be expectant, and how to deny dread a place in my heart. Perhaps it was because I was more spiritual back then, or maybe it was the only way to survive the uncertainty without going crazy. I don’t know, but I do know that I wasn’t upset about my friends getting the things I wanted. I was genuinely happy for them and their success. Sure sometimes, I had to press through to get there, but I did it with an ease and grace I seemed to have forgotten lately.

And frankly, I don’t like that. I don’t like being a petty person who is so wrapped up in my own angst that I forgot how to rejoice with my friends. So this week I started over. That’s the beautiful thing about this faith we call Christianity, we get to do that. I talked things over with God, let him know how I was feeling, and told him I was going to need some help because some rebellious part of me likes the self-righteous anger I had been entertaining. I told him that despite that I know that is not the truest part of who I am or who I want to be, and that I was sorry for putting my wants ahead of him and what he was trying to do in my life.

I am not going to tell you that since I got my attitude right God is going to send me a $200,000 check in the mail. I mean he might, but if that was the only reason I confronted this ugly bit of me then I sorta missed the point. In fact, that type of expectation would just show that I was still hoping money was going to solve all my problems, not God. See, he’s far more creative in his solutions than any methodologies I would prescribe, and I need to be okay with that. It is part of walking in faith, and even more importantly, it is part of letting God be God without imposing my rules upon him. Because if I were real honest, I have to admit that when I let him do his thing and get out of his way, his methods blow my mind and leave me in awe. I simply do not have the depth of imagination or scope of knowledge to dream up the wondrous things he brings into being, and those are the things I truly want to experience in my life.

So until he does whatever it is he is going to do, I am going to do three things: I am going to faithful with what he has given me. I am going to see every blessing my friends experience as proof that God is still able and willing to bring good things into the lives of those who love him. And I am going to keep my heart and eyes open in expectation for the mind blowing and awe inspiring things I certain he has in store for me, my family, and my friends.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Stirring the Pot - A response to the objections on yesterday's post

Well, it seems that yesterday’s post caused as bit of a stir. Not that you would know it by the comments, for it seems that most of those who objected to what I had to say preferred to do so in phone calls and private messages. And since all the objections were pretty much in the same vein, I decided against individual responses and to address them here.

The objection went like this:

Corrective prophetic words have no place in the New Testament Church. They are restricted to the Old Testament.

The funny thing is that no one, not a single person offered up any Scriptural support for this idea. I was told that they had received a different message from leadership, books, and other believers – but did I mention that no one offered me a single passage? In case you didn’t guess, that’s kind of a big deal to me.

So not being above reproach or correction, I decided to do a little research. I mean I would really love for this to be right. Do you know how much weight it would take off my shoulders? How much responsibility I would be absolved of? There is nothing but good things in it for me if this is true. All I needed was one passage confirming what has become a popular notion in today’s church.

Here is what I found:

1 Corinthian 12, 13, and 14

I read through the passages carefully, trying to find where and how the use of corrective words in the New Testament church was forbidden. I read them again. And again. I even stop typing, right here > < to read them yet again, because if you know me, you will know that I hate being wrong. This doesn’t mean that I am never wrong. It just means I will avoid it at all costs.

The only verse that I can see that might be interpreted as a prohibition against corrective words is 1 Corinthians 14: 3 –

One the other hand the one who prophesies speaks to the people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 

Alright, let’s look at the words here, but let’s do it backwards.

Consolation is defined as comfort received by a person after a loss or disappointment by the writers of the Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster says pretty much the same thing, something that makes a person feel less sadness, disappointment, etc. Encouragement is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. Merriam Webster gets a little more generous in its definition - the act of making something more appealing or more likely to happen; something that makes someone more determined, hopeful, or confident; and something that makes someone more likely to do something.

So far this all falls in line with what I have been told by concerned reader, but here is where things get interesting. Upbuilding is usually translated as edification or strengthening. Merriam Webster defines edification as teaching someone in way that builds strength or character. Oxford defines it as the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually. This is where we put on our thinking caps and consider the fact that teaching and instruction are corrective by nature. The fact that Paul chose to include this word in addition to the words we see as kind and gentle, tells us that he intended for us to have a balanced view of prophecy that functions within the tension of discipline and grace.

Now, I know that no sound theological argument hinges on a single verse or word, and it was pointed out to me that all of my examples from yesterday’s post were from the Old Testament. So allow me to present two examples of corrective, even harsh prophetic words from the New Testament:

Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.  And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Acts 8:22-24 ESV)

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4 ESV) Emphasis added.

In each of these cases, Paul and Peter speak what the Holy Spirit has revealed to them in the hearts and minds of these men. Each instance is a demonstration of a prophetic word given that was not kind or gentle but corrective and, dare I say, a pronouncement of judgment.

We should also not overlook the fact that by relegating corrective words of prophecy to the Old Testament we are invalidating the writing of the New Testament. Revelation is blatantly a prophetic word and full of correction. Paul’s letter also full of correction, warning, and frequently describing consequences of persistent sin in the life of a believer – consequences that should be enacted within the church and consequences that will be enacted by God.

Furthermore, the distinction between Old and New Testament is flawed because it is not merely a distinction between one set of texts and another, it is distinction that we have tried to impose upon God. Declaring God to be changing and capricious in his dealing with humanity as the God of the Old Testament is all judgment and wrath, while Jesus is love and kindness, and when taken to an extreme this leads us to deny Jesus declaration that he and the Father are one. The New Testament is not a new covenant, but rather a continuation and manifestation of the original covenant given to Abraham, renewed at Sinai, confirmed in Acts, and celebrated by Peter that Abraham’s children would become a blessing to the world and priests to all nations. (Genesis 12:1-3, Exodus 19:5-6, Acts 1:8, 1 Peter 2:9).

Correction is part of being in this family faith – giving it and receiving it. There is just no way around it. I wish there were. I would love to be able to tell everyone who felt so obligated to correct me, either for yesterday’s post or for other legitimate reasons, to go jump the lake. I wish I could avoid the responsibility for acting when called, but no serious study of the prophets, be it Old Testament or New, allows us the luxury of believing that this is a matter of choice or personal desire. It is not a position of power but one of humility and perfect awareness of one’s own weakness. Moses declares, Jeremiah laments, Jonah ran from it, and Paul wrote of it – each one decrying the necessity of confrontation even as they walked towards it. They knew that leaving sin unaddressed and unchecked would only cripple the individual believer and ultimately the body as a whole.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Cake, Field Surgeons, and Prophecy

I had to give a prophetic word last night. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t glamorous. In fact, it was rather painful, and I felt rather sick the whole time I was speaking.

In our Christian culture, the gift of prophecy is highly coveted. It’s like the icing on the Christian cake for most people. After all, who wouldn’t want the prestige that comes with being the person in the know?

The answer is the person who is really in the know. The one who sees past the facades and understands the prophecy isn’t about giving people the warm fuzzies, making empty promises of health, wealth, and prosperity, or even the promise that all things work together for good in your life, so hang in there. Now, I know that somewhere along the way you were told that the gift of prophecy was given for encouragement and exhortation, that negative or judgmental words have no place in a New Testament church, and if it isn’t building you up then the prophetic word given is invalid.

The thing is, I read all through my Bible, and I can’t find that anywhere. And if I take Paul’s word about all Scripture being profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), and keep in mind that Paul had to be speaking of the Hebrew Scriptures because the Christian Bible did not yet exist, I am faced with the very real responsibility to measure the prophetic in accordance to the examples within what we call the Old Testament. I am also forced to take Paul’s own words into account – teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Not uplifting, not positive, not motivational, and certainly nothing about warm fuzzies.

Is this carte blanche permission for people who operate in the prophetic be jerks? Of course not, but you have to admit that the majority of the prophetic words recorded – even the prophetic words of Jesus - aren’t all sunshine and glitter. They were designed to confront sin, and they were designed to jar us from our complacency and passive justification of sinful actions in our own lives. Is there hope and promise to be found within prophetic words? Yes, but only after repentance, only after obedience, and only after we bow our hearts to the Lordship and authority of our God.

And what happens when you confront sin in someone’s life? They go stupid on you. Well, most of the time anyways. They deny that you have a right to speak, they condemn you for judging, and they hate you for your lack of compassion. At this point, all sorts of wonderful and amazing things can transpire for the one operating in a prophetic role, they can lose friends, they can family, they can be physically or verbally attacked by the ones they love, and they can be ostracized from the community that once valued their presence. Don’t believe me, look it up. Read the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him to slavery because he dared speak the prophetic vision God gave him. Read the accounts of Jeremiah who feared for his life and was left to rot in a cistern. Read about Elijah who hid in fear from the rage of queen.

None of this happened because they were promising warm fuzzies and financial success to the ones that God commanded them to go to. It happened because they dared to speak an uncomfortable truth. Truth that struck at the core of the listeners’ sense of self and security. Truth that would no longer allow the listener to walk in ignorance and forced them to move forward either in brokenness for their sin or in willful rebellion against God. No one wants to face that, I don’t even like facing that, and I hold no illusion about how painful it is to have to stand before another stripped bare of your own hypocrisy. It hurts, and it is humiliating in the beginning. I know, I’ve been on the receiving end more than once and every bit of selfish pride rose up in protest at being called out on my own sin.

What is hard for us to understand is that when someone is operating in an authentic gifting of the prophetic, there is no sense of superiority in it. There is only brokenness and pain on behalf the one to whom we speak. We are moved forward not because we wish to wound. We do so because we feel the outright misery of the broken relationship they have with Father, and everything within us yearns for their restoration. We move with compassion that must sometimes be brutal in order to be heard and so that message is not watered down or compromised. In my mind, it something akin to being a field surgeon, knowing that the procedure needed to save the patient inflicts more pain than the original wound, but must be done if they are to survive. So you close your ears to the screams and you pack that bloody wound with truth until the flow is staunched. Because mercy that brings death to another, physically or spiritually, is not mercy to anyone but yourself.  

For me that is the hardest part, knowing that my words will hurt and knowing that once the truth has been revealed I have relinquished all perceived and delusional ideas of control in the situation. From there it is up to the one to whom I sent to respond, to reject or to receive, to act or to deny. For me that is often the darkest time, because I know that they are now responsible for a truth that can no longer be rejected out of ignorance. I have to fight my tendency to worry that my words were too harsh or too heavy, and it is why I often hesitate when I should have been quick to obedience. And why I can point to list of moments when I was the broken one or they were further injured because I allowed fear of consequence for myself and others to keep me silent.

No, operating in the prophetic is not sweet or pretty. It never was, and I don’t believe it ever will be. Certainly, there are moments when you are allowed to participate in breakthrough and revelation that will change a person’s life, but those are rare and easily forgotten. For one who truly walks in the prophetic perceives the effects of sin as few others do, and their hearts break for the world around them. Yes, we hear from God but when you have been confronted by the light of holiness, the darkness that surrounds us only deepens. And when you have tasted the perfection of his presence, the brokenness of the world is only more tragic.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Deep Theological Ponderings Or How to Avoid Embarrassing Situations at the Coffeehouse

Recently, I wrote about the the cost of dreaming big. The response to that post was overwhelming. Friends from literally all over the world checked in on me, others wrote to tell me what a relief it was to discover that they are not alone, and a few just sat down in the ashes a lamented life with me. In the midst of all the love and support, one question kept emerging – how do you trust God when it seems like everything in this world is out to get you?

Now this is the type of question that inspires two distinct reactions:

1: Maniacal laughter that will not only get you strange looks, but asked to leave the coffee shop by some fearful eyed teenager clutching a cell phone which I am pretty sure had 911 already cued up. (If you encounter this situation, do not, I repeat, DO NOT giggle and say, “It’s alright. I just forgot to take my meds.” Just leave and save everyone some awkward moments.)

2. Deep theological ponderings.

Either reaction can occur independently, in succession, or concurrently depending on a number of factors not excluding barometric pressure and the strength of the US dollar.

And since I cannot take all of you to the coffee shop for a demonstration of the first reaction, I shall resign myself to sharing some of those deep theological ponderings. You can decide what they are worth.

Like most questions, I believe the answer is in the question, and it is quite simple. The world is out to get you.

But did you catch that? The WORLD is out to get you. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating paranoia or launching a counter attack. I am just stating fact as I see it, but first we have to define what do we mean by the word “world”? Obviously, I am not referring to the planet earth, and I am not talking about millions of people in China actively plotting your demise. Heck, I am not even talking about that idiot who cut you off in traffic this morning. Don’t kid yourself, he wasn’t thinking about you and he couldn’t have cared less about who you are. His concern was his life and his life alone, you just happened to be in his way.

So what do I mean by the world?

Not to get too deep, but I mean the powers that rule this world. You don’t have to go very far into the Bible to figure out that when Adam and Eve decided to have a little snack, they also relinquished dominion over this realm to the one who served up that tasty little morsel. (John 12:31, John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2, and 1 John 5:19). And if you haven’t been paying attention to the news, it might come as a bit of a shock that people do not like outsiders living in their land. In fact, folks can get down hostile towards immigrants and foreigners particularly if they have any level of success in a region where natural born citizens are struggling to survive. So guess where that puts our popularity levels as Christians?

But there is another factor at play here, and one we tend to forget until it smacks us in the face – spiritual forces are manifest through physical beings.

Oh, sure, we get this concept when it is the guy on TV ripping into our faith, we understand it when we are attacked by a stranger on social media, and we are not surprised when our crazy uncle starts going on about religion being the opiate of the masses at Sunday dinner. We expect it, these people don’t share our faith, and it’s a pretty hard thing to wrap your brain around unless you have experienced the awe of it. So you let it go, or maybe you make a comment, but in the end you just accept it as a part of the world we live in and go on because it’s not personal.

But then there are times when things do get personal, when the people you love and depend go stupid and you begin to question the legitimacy of their faith. Evil is no longer an impersonal force, and you know this because you are living with it! The rebellious teen, the thoughtless spouse, the overbearing parent, or the unreliable roommate – any one of them at any time can become a pawn of Satan hell-bent on ruining your life. To make it worse, these were the same people you considered to be conduits of God’s love to you, and somehow our twisted little human brains begin to interpret this as God must have forgotten his obligation to demonstrating his love for you by smiting these sinners.

Now this is the part of being a Christian that can really suck. (Yeah, I said it.) The reason being is that requires somethings called self-discipline, self-awareness, and that other thing that always trips me up, self-control. No one likes to do these things, no one is born naturally good at these things, and no one ever gave another human being an award for practicing these things – matter how hard you had to work it. Even worse? The better you get at doing these things the less people realize how much effort you put into them.

As if that wasn’t enough, there is  only one way you really get to practice the skills need to become proficient at being self-disciplined, self-aware, and self-controlled, and it is having people do everything  in their power to knock you over – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and yeah, sometimes even physically. It’s called training. It’s learning how to differentiate between the person you love and the behavior that hurt you. Its learning how distinguish between a violation of your preference and principle. It’s realizing that you aren’t the center of the world and the people are often dealing with their own demons, demons that don’t mind taking you out too.

So you have choice, to stop loving, to stop being open, to stop caring enough about others to give the power to hurt you, or to believe that God is bigger than anyone or anything that comes against you. You get to choose to walk in grace and mercy trusting that God can and will bring you through, or to hide your heart and all that you have been given behind the defenses that keep you safe. The thing is if you chose to hide, you are never going to be able to share the love that has been so freely given to you and you will never be able to help anyone walk in freedom while keeping your own heart imprisoned by your fear.

Running From Demons, or The Fine of Art of Hurting Yourself

I have spent a large portion of my life running, mostly from and occasionally to this thing I could not or did not want to define. I have always been afraid that if I truly embraced all that I know to be true I would only alienate those around me, after all when you spend your childhood knowing things that you should not know, being chastised for having an over active imagination, and doing your best just to fit in, you learn that there are parts of who you are that frighten the adults – you know, the rational folks who rule your world. Things didn’t get better when I supposedly joined the ranks of adults even though I was doing my best to follow the rules of proper behavior and belief.

I got married my final year of junior college, mostly because if you are good Christian girl in Oklahoma that’s what you do. He looked good on paper, ticked off all the little boxes on my checklist of things I wanted in husband that youth directors encourage us to make so that we can be objective in our decisions on who we are to marry. What I wasn’t prepared for was the battlefield being married to him would become, and I am not talking about our epic fights that often left me with bruises or the screaming matches that ended with threats to end one or both our lives, I am talking about the sheer presence of evil in our home.

For most people, evil is an abstract concept. It is something that you define and then you simply do not do that particular thing. It is something that exists but only as a principle or violation of principle, but for me it was real. And this is where I will lose a large part of you who will be convinced that I have lost my ever-lovin mind. When I say evil is real, I am talking about every stupid ploy used on horror movies multiplied by nine and then subdued by the lack of a soundtrack. Pots and pans flying about in your kitchen? Yup. Windows opening and closing on their own? Yup. Footsteps up and down the hallway? Been there done that. How about the radio, TV, and other electronics turning on and off, flipping stations, and emitting garbled noises when they aren’t even plugged in? Seen it. Fireplaces billowing with smoke when they haven’t held a fire in decades? Sure, it happened. The darks shadowy voids would prance about the edges of the room, like a person who moves just out of the corner of your eye, daring you to look at them. That was an everyday event.

My favorite? When they wake you up from a dead sleep to tell you something. My least favorite? When they contort the face of someone you love until they are no longer recognizable, and the spit curses at you in a voice that you have never heard before.

Even in the midst of all this, I was told I was the one losing my mind. I was told that my particular denomination did not have to deal with demons because we didn’t pay them any attention. You know that sounds all well and good, but I have to tell you, it is awful hard not to pay attention to them when they keep jerking the covers off your bed.

Over the years, I have developed a few theories. How right or wrong they are I am still willing to question, but overall they have held up. The first is that any demon that is desperate enough to use direct manifestation as its way to control a person isn’t much of a demon. In fact, I look at them in much the same way I look at mice. Now, ask yourself, how many people have you known who have been hurt by a killer attack mouse? Yeah, me neither. On the other hand, I have met a ton of people who have hurt themselves trying to get away from those fearsome beasts, and that is how most folks seem to get themselves hurt by demons – running away from them.

This is not to say that you don’t do anything. That is stupid. After all, if there is a mouse in your house you set traps, buy poison, call an exterminator because we all know that with mice there is filth and disease, and they will ruin everything they can by chewing it up or defecating on it. It is the same thing with demons, you get them out of your house before they destroy it.

Now most of us have been taught how to pray and how to stand on our authority as believers. We have the right to demand that they leave by the authority given to us in the name of Jesus. The Bible declares this, and quite frankly, most of us haven’t been using it. And I hear from so many who did that things just got worse, so they end up just hoping they will go away – hahahahahaha!!!

Not a chance. These things hide in walls, under furniture, and in your underwear drawer. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there. You have to take a step further.

All of nature abhors a vacuum, and before we started defining nature as this physical realm, nature was strictly spiritual. So it abides by many of same principles. I would go so far as to say that most of things you see in nature are reflection of how the spiritual realm works. This means that you have to fill the void left by their departure or they will just grab seven of their buddies and come back. This is where most people get stumped because they have never learned how to fill that void.

The good news is like all things of our faith, enacting the solution is easy – so easy that you might miss it. You fill that void with God. And where is God enthroned? On the praise of his people. You have to invite him, create a throne in your home, in your heart, and in your life. Too many of us are claiming to be his subjects but have never bothered to create a place in our lives from which he can rule. It is not enough to do lip service and never put this knowledge in action because when we fail to do so we are leaving a giant void in our lives just crying out to be filled and since demons, unlike God, don’t wait for invitation, guess who is going to rush right in?

This is by no means a comprehensive battle plan. It is just a taste of some of things I am learning not to run away from in my life, and I doing a lesson review for myself as much as for you. To learn more, I strongly recommend Victory Over the Darkness by Neil Anderson and I also recommend that you surround yourself with people who seeking God more than they are worried about what is slipping around in the darkness. Because there is an inherent risk when we focus on these thing too long and too closely, we can become mesmerized by their power and the mystery of it all. We can be overwhelmed by the sheer force of evil that we now realizes surrounds us and become fearful and defeated. But God wants us to know that he is bigger, greater, more powerful, and more awe inspiring than any of the petty displays the demonic enacts on this earth. He wants our hearts to comforted and emboldened to not only seek him but to demonstrate the world the glory of his love in our lives, and we cannot do that if we have been seduced or terrified by beings who have already been defeated at the cross.

So we learn to walk with knowledge and discernment. We seek our Lord so that we may know truth. We strive for balance, somewhere between ignorance and obsession, so that we are properly equipped to face our enemy while never being distracted from our King.