Wednesday, January 31, 2007

He who made the Pleiades and Orion
And changes deep darkness into morning 

Genesis 27:30-28:5 - Esau said to his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father."

On the one hand, Esau wants the blessing. On the other, he thinks it easily coined.

Like Esau, i'm puzzled that Isaac treats blessing as a zero-sum game. Perhaps a really effective blessing—like a really effective curse—requires a decent use of imagination.

If i try to ask God to intervene in my life without using the word bless, i suddenly find that imagination is exactly what i'm at a loss for. i suspect i've been using the word to beg God with ambiguity, so that i don't have to humble myself, or admit what i need, or look like a whiner.

Or think about what ails me.

Romans 10:11-21 - So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

The content of the blessing matters. The context of my faith matters as well.

Amos 5 - "Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

And it's not just words.

John 12:20-36 - "Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered....

But even when He speaks, and the context is clear, and the blessing comes, some of us just don't believe our own ears.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Meeting Your Maker 

Genesis 27:1-29 - "Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death."

Romans 10:1-10 - ...if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved....

Amos 4:4-15 - "...Yet you have not returned to Me," declares the LORD.

John 12:12-19 - "You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him."

He meets us where we are. If we run, He stays close behind, so that we turn around and find Him right behind us.

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
-- John Milton

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride 

Genesis 26:1-6, 18-31 - "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you."

God, asking us to not panic, to stay the course. Sure things look tight, the tension's rising. But don't flinch. It's all going to work out.

Romans 9:19-33 - "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?"

And yet, if He can harden or soften our hearts, if He is willing to exert His will against ours, how can we be autonomous? And why doesn't He exert His will so that my courage, my good intention, my faith, never falters?

Amos 3:1-4:3 - A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?

He's so much more than we are. We're so small by comparison. His voice, in any manner that we hear it, doesn't just advise us. It changes who we are. It gives us bearings, so that we know where to flee to. Or from.

He overwhelms us. If God spoke to me as He did to Isaac, could i choose otherwise?

And yet i do.

John 12:1-13 - Jesus... came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

But when Someone who can raise you from the dead tells you not to panic, the only reason for not staying from the course is because you don't trust Him.

It's not our unbelief that hinders us. It's our lack of faith. They aren't the same.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Conditional Clauses 

1 Kings 18:1, 17-39 - "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him...."

Mark 1:32-45 - "If You are willing, You can make me clean."

Numbers 22:1-35 - "If the men have come to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do."

Matthew 23:16-26 - "And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. "

My Utmost for His Highest - If God were human, how sick and tired He would be of the constant requests we make for our salvation and for our sanctification.

It all depends on the premises i accept. If i think there's a God, then i need to think of Him as God, not a more powerful me. If i think that He made the world i live in, then i must assume He has the ability to exert His influence in it. If i think there's a Heaven, then i should assume that it's at least as interesting as this varied and fascinating world.

If i take offense at injustice, i should assume that He feels even more strongly about it. If i'm the cause of His offense, i should make things right. If i don't have the wherewhithal to make reparations, i should be prepared to take the consequences.

If He offers me grace, i should take it.

Premises, premises. George Barna keeps track of what we're thinking, Godwise. And apparently we're not carrying our assumptions to their logical conclusions.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

One Thing Leads to Another 

Genesis 25:7-11, 19-21, 27-34 - But Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." Esau said, "Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?"

Romans 9:1-18 - So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

Amos 2:4-16 - Thus says the LORD, "For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for money And the needy for a pair of sandals."

John 11:45-57 - "...it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish."

One man has to die for everyone else's crimes?

And look there: God won't let up on His people. They didn't ask to be His people, did they? And how can He punish ALL of them: women, children, men? Surely not everyone is equally to blame. And even then, His punishment is too great to bear. He's God and they (we) are just fragile human beings, so easily broken in so many ways.

He has mercy on whomever He wishes and hardens others. Indiscriminate! Not fair!

(i do. i believe that it's not fair. And of course, the Dad-voice in my head sardonically replies, "Life's not fair." And the teenager in me replies, "Well, it should be and whose fault is it if it's not?")

And yet, look at the exchange between Jacob and Esau. It's hard to say which is the more graceless.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Don't Hold Me Back 

Genesis 24:53-67 - "Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way."

Romans 8:26-39 - Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Amos 1:1-2:3 - "The LORD roars from Zion And from Jerusalem He utters His voice...."

John 11:17-44 - Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

This is Martha: "Please, Lord. I know You've made blind men see, unstopped deaf ears, and fed five thousand people with two loaves of bread and five fish. Peter even says You can walk on water. But please don't do anything crazy."

You can tell me that You love me, or correct me in front of my friends, or whatever you want. But please, Lord, don't do anything crazy, even if crazy is what it takes grant me my dearest wish, to make me happy, to relieve this pounding grief that threatens to unstop my face and let my howl loose.

Just don't embarrass me.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?

Only ourselves, cringing at the roar out of Zion. Does it have to be so loud?

Someone might notice.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hope That Disappoints 

Genesis 24:29-52 - "Here is Rebekah before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken."


That was easy.

Romans 8:11-25 - ...hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?

Hope is crazy.

It's all we have. But if we didn't have it, if everything were solved, we'd take no joy in life, we'd look forward to nothing, we'd stop planning. We'd live hand to mouth.

We'd be animals.

2 Kings 14:23-29 - For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel.

They were hopeless, so He turned His heart toward them again.

John 11:1-16 - This He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep."

But He and we don't see eye to eye on what constitutes grounds for hopelessness.

If dead isn't dead, then perhaps we give up too easily.

And perhaps we hope too cheaply.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Practice Makes Perfect 

Genesis 24:1-28 - "O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham."

Romans 8:1-11 - ...the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace....

Jonah 3, 4 - "...let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish."

John 10:22-42 - "I and the Father are one."

For some reason, today's readings put me in mind of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French Carmelite who decided to start acting as if God were always present in the room with him. The "practice" changes his demeanor, his manner of relating to others, his manner of relating to God.

Acting as if God were omnipresent makes formal prayer almost seems like a mechanism for corraling God. Or an exercise in showmanship.

On the other hand, "practicing God's presence" seems like the kind of thing bound to get a "that's-nice-dear" from your Significant Other. It sounds nice in theory. But if you actually start putting it into... er... practice, it suddenly seems like crazy talk.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

That would be... 

Genesis 23 - "I am a stranger and a sojourner among you...."


Romans 7:13-25 - For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.


Jonah 1:1-16 - "How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish."


John 10:1-21 - "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd."


So to sum up my spiritual resume: homeless, corrupt, apathetic, Gentile.

Monday, January 22, 2007

i probably would have punched the angel right inna nose, which may explain why i've never been nominated for Patriarch. 

Genesis 22:1-19 - Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."

After my younger son's open heart surgery at four months of age, this passage resonates with me. i continue to struggle with it.

But these days, i tend to read it as an outline for worship (working much as Isaiah's vision does). It begins with a call to an impossible task, the promise of the breaking of a promise, seques into step-by-step obedience, and results in a last-second deus-ex-machina, a vision, a promise re-promised.

Abraham may have lived by faith. But i can't tell whether, as he returned home, he found his faith more resilient or more brittle.

Romans 7:1-12 - But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

Obedience isn't about following rules. It's about being true to the true relationship we have with God.

2 Kings 13 - So the man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times."

Hmph. Hardly seems fair. Tell a man the rules of the game before you start playing.

John 9:24-41 - The man answered and said to them, "Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes."

Here's the thing in a nutshell: all the things that Jesus did can't be explained by what you want to think of Him.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you as yet but knock...." 

1 Samuel 3:1-18 - "In that day I will carry out against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end."

Our relationships with God aren't simple. They're at least as complicated as any other relationship we have. It's Eli who discerns that Samuel is hearing God's voice. But Eli is to be reproached for his past negligences.

So it's not an either-or proposition. It's a relationship, colored by the same complexities you might find in the relationship you might have with a friend that you trust to babysit your children, but not to drive your car.

And those are Eli's negligences: It's us as complicates things.

Mark 10:13-16, 35-45 - "...whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all."

The complications come with age, perhaps? God keeps trying, but we keep getting old and our selfishness will out some way or another. Samuel is a fresh slate. And an exception: he stays fresh throughout his life. Compare his adult life with that of his protege Saul. Saul always tries to complicate things, in order to do what he wants.

And look at James and John, complicating things by requesting to sit on Jesus' left and right hand. That's not a terribly childlike request, is it?

Samuel and Eli. The childen and the disciples. Maybe it's age that complicates things. But maybe it's just trying to get what we want instead of being grateful for what He gives us.

Jonah 3, 4 - "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?"

Presumably Jonah wrote this book about himself. For me, the most gratifying thing about it is to think that, sooner or later, he eventually developed the maturity to look back on this episode in his life with a large degree of self-deprecating irony.

So there's hope for the rest of us too. Maybe selfishness can be undone.

Or forgiven.

Acts 10:1-35, 44-48 - "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."

Eli thinks that his offerings on behalf of his sons will allow God to overlook their gross indiscretions. James and John think that their proximity to Jesus will earn them rank. Jonah thinks that obeying God in deed (if not in heart) will give him a front row seat to a localized apocalypse. And Peter...?

At least Peter gets it. But he still has to be softened up before he's ready to meet Cornelius.

All of these Adults are trying to follow rules. But it's a relationship that we have with God, and it's organic. It doesn't work by ritual or by rote. He has His own intentions, and we are supposed to follow Him, not the other way 'round.

No deals.


Except that if that's the only way we'll listen, He'll let us make deals, won't He? Because there aren't any rules about relationships. There are courtesies and negotiations and kindnesses and shared sorrows and giddy moments and boundaries. But not rules, not a system.

So He meets us where we are.

Oswald Chambers says, "We plan and figure and predict that this or that will happen, but we forget to make room for God to come in as He chooses."

But we don't make room. We fit Him in the spare spaces, if we leave space at all. And when He does meet us, everything seems complicated because we try to squeeze Him in here and there.

And it makes us eligible to become Eli, able to recognize His voice, but unable to Make Things Right with Him.

We have to give over, or as John Donne puts it, become enthralled.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

So i tore down the building, erected a large pile of rocks, and planted trees in a circle around it. 

Genesis 21:22-34 - Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.

Romans 6:15-23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2 Kings 10:18-36 - They also broke down the sacred pillar of Baal and broke down the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.

John 9:1-23 - "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him."

When A— and i first married, we knew we wanted to go back overseas to teach in a mission school or be dorm parents, but we also thought we needed to wait at least a year before we went anywhere; we needed to get to know each other, that sort of thing. But we got a call, and then another call, and we asked around for advice, and one thing led to another. Pretty soon we were making plans, getting visas, packing our belongings into five large cardboard boxes. We knew God was leading us through an Open Door.

Or at least we thought we did.

The schedule was getting tight. i had to be in Quito to start my teaching job on August 10. But on the 5th, i had to be in Arkansas to take the first part of the written exam to qualify for my Master's degree. On the 6th, i had to take the second part. On the 7th, a Sunday, we had some church obligations and needed to finish up packing. On the 8th we were to make the 9-hour drive from Arkansas to Houston. On the 9th we had to catch our flight from Houston to Quito.

In July, we had taken a trip to Washington, DC. While there, we'd visited the Ecuadorian embassy, had a nice chat with the Guayaquileña administrator, and discovered that we didn't have all the paperwork we needed to get our visas: we hadn't anything to prove we had medical clearance. She told us that all we needed to do was get a form signed by our doctors. We didn't worry—we still had several weeks to go, and she told us that she could turn the paperwork around in plenty of time.

Plenty of time.

And we believed her.

We had our checkups, sent in the paperwork, and... waited.

But by the time i was taking my exams, the visas still hadn't arrived. Friday's mail came, nothing. Saturday, i drove by the Post Office twice—once just a bit early, the second time late in the day. Still no visa. And of course, the Post Office was closed on Sunday.

We were stuck. There was no point in leaving on Monday without the visas. But if we didn't, chances were we wouldn't make our flight on Tuesday. Neither of us felt like panicking, but we saw all of these seeming coincidences that had brought us to this point coming to nothing.

Coming to a string of coincidences.

We went to church on Sunday morning. We asked our Sunday School class to pray for us. We sat through the service, anticipating an afternoon of pointless packing.

On the way home, i decided to stop at the post office One More Time. Just In Case. A— reminded me that this was Sunday, and that our town, after all, was pretty small. i said that maybe the postal workers were up late on Saturday night. She just looked at me and almost managed not to roll her eyes.

i walked into the post office, went to the box, spun in the combination. i could already see through the occluded window that there wasn't anything in it, but i opened it anyway.

A hand came out holding a manila envelope and a voice said, "Here you go!"

Think what you like.

It wasn't your visa.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mistaking One Thing for Another 

Genesis 21:1-21 - "And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant."

Romans 6:1-14 - ...he who has died is freed from sin.

Something else to look forward to, eh?

2 Kings 9:1-7, 11-37 - "What have you to do with peace? Turn behind me."

John 8:31-59 - "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

When He says things like this, it's hard to mistake Jesus for just a Really Good Guy.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's for grazing cows. 

Genesis 19:1-3, 12-29 - Now Abraham arose early... and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace.

Here you are, thinking you are God's friend and then He goes and does something either completely embarrassing or incriminatingly despicable. You're caught between back-pedaling and defending Someone who would firestorm an entire city.

Until you realize that He's not really your "friend."

The relationship we have with God is unique. My insight into Him seems clearer when i think of Him as Father, but He's not that either. He's the Creator, and that role gives Him privileges that i can't gainsay. We can compare it to other relationships, but in the end, it's not like that at all.

Romans 5:12-21 - ...through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned....

The real question is this: If He's willing to firestorm a city, why not firestorm us all?

i know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "If I were God, I'd do things differently."

Yeah, yeah. If you were king, right?

2 Kings 8:1-15 - Hazael said, "Why does my lord weep?" Then he answered, "Because I know the evil that you will do to the sons of Israel...."

You'd find homes for all the orphans and make sure all of the poor people got fed.


John 8:12-32 - "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

Then what are you waiting for?

Grace: True justice is about making things right, restoring order to someone's world. That's what the International Justice Mission is about.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

While We Were Yet Sinners 

Genesis 18:16-33 - "For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice...."

Romans 5:1-11 - ...we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint....

2 Kings 6:24-25, 7:1-20 - "Behold, if the LORD should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?"

Cynicism is just another name for unbelief, isn't it? God doesn't have much patience with it, apparently.

John 8:1-11 - "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."

This moment, where Jesus sends the adulterous woman on her way, and that in Genesis, where we hear the Lord's aside regarding his intentions for Abraham, are similar in one respect in particular. They don't really contain commandments for us to follow, but they reveal what God values. And experience suggests that we should take those values to heart.

In the one case, it's that we intentionally train our children to keep His ways. The end goal isn't to teach them Bible stories or have them learn memory verses. It's to do righteousness and justice.

In the other case, it's that we do our best to give up our old lives, give up our rebel hearts, give up our sin. Jesus doesn't have to lecture her about her wicked ways. He knows it. She knows it. Close call. You escaped. Do better next time.

And there will be a next time.

Given that we are hard-hearted, fickle, and cynical, it's amazing that God doesn't make us sign on the dotted line ("I promise that I will be Good forever and ever") before He'll even give us the time of day. But we often find Him treating us as though we were Real People, long before it becomes a fact.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Okay, look. Just try it, will you? Ask God to show you where He is working. Then keep your eyes open for one day. 

Genesis 18:1-15 - "Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son."

Romans 4:14-25 - Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

2 Kings 6:1-23 - Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see." And the LORD opened the servant's eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

He's at work, whether i can see it or not.

John 7:31-53 - "When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?"

But once i see it, does it make a difference? If Christ helps my unbelief, does that create an obligation on me to set it aside?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Story and History 

Genesis 17:1-9, 15-22 - For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

Although Abraham would have been happy enough to take them one at a time, it seems.

Romans 4:1-13 - "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered."

2 Kings 5 - "My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?"

John 7:1-30 - "If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?"

The suggestion is that celebrating the Sabbath has less to do with curtailing our actions than aggrandizing them.

So much emphasis on what we do or did: History over mere Story. Abraham must have a son before he can father nations. Our lawless deeds must be forgiven, not merely ignored. We must be obedient in both small things and great. The man must be made well, not merely wished well.

And yet it is the lawless doers who are blessed. It is the sick man who is healed. There is hope yet.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sometimes a burning bush is just a burning bush. 

Exodus 3:1-15 - "I AM WHO I AM"

And that's why we call Him God, instead of Zeus or Apollo or Jupiter or Wodin.

Puts me in mind of a short story that a friend sent to me: "The Shades, A Phantasy" by Vladimir Korolenko. In it Socrates dies from his poisoning, and traverses the paths of the dead in the company of a fellow former citizen. The latter fears what judgement they shall meet at the hands of the gods, while Socrates comes to the conclusion that those gods can't be the person they answer to. After all, those gods are less moral than most decent men. So a little thought on the matter leads him to conclude that there is Someone else to look forward to.

"With your sunbeam you touched my dust-laden soul, Unknown One, whose name is mystery! I sought for you, because you are Truth; I strove to attain to you, because you are Justice; I loved you, because you are Love; I died for you, because you are the Source of Life. Will you reject me, O Unknown? My torturing doubts, my passionate search for truth, my difficult life, my voluntary death—accept them as a bloodless offering, as a prayer, as a sigh! Absorb them as the immeasurable ether absorbs the evaporating mists! Take them, you whose name I do not know, let not the ghosts of the night I have traversed bar the way to you, to eternal light!... To this conclusion have I come, I, Socrates, who sought to fathom all things. Rise, dead mists, I go my way to Him whom I have sought all my life long!"

Far as i know, the only English version of the story appeared in Best Russian Short Stories originally published by the Modern Library in 1917.

Mark 9:2-13 - They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.

The irony is pretty funny, if you don't think too hard about the fact that it didn't "mean" anything. If we look for too much symbolism in Jesus' words (or worse, in His Person), we end up saying things like, "We are ALL sons of God."

Yeah. You want to laugh at these guys over-talking everything. You just have to forget about the beating that Jesus took when His words came true.

That wasn't metaphorical either.

Nehemiah 2:1-11 - "Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?"

There's this tendency in many Christians i know (e.g., me) to spiritualize everything. And to put aside the things and places and people we long for as being too worldly.

But these these losses do sadden us. And we should grieve them. These griefs are what He gives me to remind me that i loved those things i've lost—those snowcaps, or that camaraderie, or the solitude of early morning on the river.

Acts 5:17-32 - "We must obey God rather than men."

There's only one guarantee about obeying God: He'll tell you to do something you weren't planning on doing. See, otherwise, He wouldn't have had to tell you.

And there are a lot of men who won't like it when you do it. Because there's nothing metaphorical about it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The trick is to throw yourself at the ground and miss. 

Genesis 16 - Moreover, the angel of the LORD said to her, "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count."

i wonder how the world would be different if no one could trace their lineage back any further than, say, five generations.

Romans 3:19-31 - ...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God....

We've fallen so short, in fact, that we don't even know what the phrase "glory of God" means.

2 Kings 4:8-37 - Then she said, "Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, 'Do not deceive me'?"

Some things happen that just shouldn't. The wrong people die. And there are these moments we cross in our lives when we do, in fact, turn back to God and say, entirely correctly, "This shouldn't have happened! This is wrong!"

The best authorities suggest that He is just as heart-broken as we are.

John 6:51-71 - "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?"

As i say: Some things happen that just shouldn't.

The wrong people die.

And yet— and yet—

Out of it the Creator—Someone who could have made us and walked away—brings about grace after grace on our behalf.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Be Careful What You Wish For 

Genesis 15:1-18 - a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him.

Abram asks for a sign, and look at what he gets.

Romans 3:1-18 - The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

We want justice, right?

But could you bear the weight of a justice meted out by Someone who knows everything about you?

2 Kings 3:1-24 - "'You shall not see wind nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, both you and your cattle and your beasts. This is but a slight thing in the sight of the LORD; He will also give the Moabites into your hand.'"

The King of Israel complains that there's no water. Next thing you know, it's water, water, everywhere.

John 6:40-51 - "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever...."

The people wanted Jesus to feed them, but when He offers to make them unhungry forever, they start grumbling.

This is how God makes His case against us: We ask Him for something, and He gives it to us, gives us more than we ask for, more than we can imagine. He brings us face to face with Him.

And what do we do?

Every. Single. Time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Order of Melchizedek 

Genesis 14:1-5, 8-24 - And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.

Romans 2:17-29 - But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

2 Kings 2:1-22 - And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.

John 6:22-39 - "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

Melchizedek's status and Elijah's rapture are both strange evidence that there are things at work in the world that God doesn't really bother telling us about. As though they were none of our business.

And yet we aren't excused from approaching God on the terms that He provides: "So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?"

Okay, so God isn't less moral than we are. He presents us with His Son. We have to deal with His Son. We can't excuse ourselves and go chasing other stuff without dealing with Jesus first. Doesn't work that way.

If God decides to give the guys who never hear about Jesus a bye, it doesn't follow that i get one too.

Because, look. There's Melchizedek. He never heard of Jesus. And look how he turned out. How he got there is none of our business.

Besides, Melchizedek comes into that story too. So we still have to figure out this Jesus thing.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Use Your Imagination 

Genesis 13 - Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere.... So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward.

One condemns oneself.

Romans 2:1-16 - Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself....

All it takes is a little inconsideration. Or internalizing some slight offered, perhaps unintentional. Next thing you know, you're pointing fingers, making snide remarks, telling a friend how you can't stand intolerant people.

And it happens because your imagination is too small. You have to stop and use that willful muscle to see things from someone else's perspective.

From God's perspective.

1 Kings 22:41-53; 2 Kings 1:1-18 - "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty."

It's hard to imagine now. We have all these fantastic stories handed down to us, and we're story-eaters, so we're jaded. But here's Elijah. And he's using his imagination. i mean really. Put yourself in his place, with his context. What would have made you imagine fire coming down from heaven to consume the whole group? Or even made you imagine that it would actually happen just because you said it?

John 6:1-21 - Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?" This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.

Jesus challenges the collective imagination of his disciples with a dilemma. One is unable to exercise his, and the best that any of them can do is simply not try to offer the solution, merely what's at hand.

Which is probably the best any of us can do. God is not only more moral than we are, He's more creative. If He isn't, He's not a god worth bothering over.

So i bet we should be careful about any preconceptions we have regarding either heaven or hell. Anything we can imagine is likely to be exactly not what we'll find.

Imagination and condemnation both require structure: a prophecy, a dream, a story. i've been reading Story by Robert McKee. McKee's book has helped me better understand the structure not only of film, but of fiction in general.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Courtesy or Urgency? 

Genesis 12:10-20 - Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?"

It's too tempting for the believer to step outside of the normal courtesies that humans are obligated to abide by. It's easy to assume that someone without your point of view has no sense of propriety, and in self-defense, you abandon your own.

But that only happens when you are embarrassed about your own point of view, when you lose your respect for it.

Or if you stop believing that God is present everywhere you go.

Romans 1:14-25 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes....

So say you're perfectly convinced that hell is coming, and that the only way to get out of its way is to subscribe to a relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth.

Say you see the formation of that hell rising everywhere around you: in how parents treat their children, in how husbands treat their wives, in crime and slavery and war. Hunger and poverty and disease, not by happenstance, but by the pitting of one man's will against another. But then you met a fellow who quelled darkness and healed deformity and brought smiles. Someone who changed your own heart, you own manner of thinking, who helped you feel like a new person.

Tell me.

What would you say to the next person you met?

1 Kings 22:29-40 - They washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood....

God keeps His promises. All of them.

And hell is coming.

John 5:23-47 - "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment."

Something wonderful has happened on our planet, and hell is coming. What should i say to the next person i meet?

Silence may be courteous. But is it kind?

Monday, January 08, 2007

What You Want to Hear 

Genesis 11:27-12:9 - The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land."

i'm tempted to think of Abram as the first American. Americans all seem to have this sense of having a destiny, of having been chosen, of having a great opportunity ahead of them, if only they will leave everything behind.

Of course, Abram has promises where Americans have optimism. Abram has an epiphany where Americans have self-reliance.

And Abram places value (one infers) on his descendants and their well-being. Americans might think to the next generation, but of course they are destined to be disappointed, because of the great likelihood that their descendants will also be Americans. So Americans are pretty much interested in their own immediate well-being.

Being American, i find it hard to place great value on the promise made to Abram. i wonder if Abram's great value of his progeny prompts God to make the promise, or if Abram learns to value the promise because of the Person Who made it.

Romans 1:1-13 - ...Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles....

Obedience of faith is an curious phrase. Gonna have to think about that one. i don't generally think of faith as something i need to be obedient about. i've always thought of it as a character quality.

Now that sounds wrong.

1 Kings 22:1-28 - Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, "How did the Spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?"

This is the kind of thing that people who don't want to listen to God use to excuse themselves, this unhappy in-fighting among the various people claiming to speak for God.

A couple of points:

First, one of these guys will turn out to be right, and all the rest will turn out to be wrong.

Second, in the story, it's pretty evident from the reaction of the kings to the various parties involved, which one isn't going to tell them what they want to hear, just because that's what they want to hear.

Turns out it's the same guy both times.

John 5:1-24 - He said to him, "Do you wish to get well?"

Strange question, right?

Doesn't matter what you think about the question. Just make sure you answer it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Distance Between Heaven and Earth 

Genesis 28:10-22 - He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Is Jacob's dream true? Is it representational? What does he dream? If it's true, that bit about the angels, what does it tell us? That God's angels are in constant traffic with our planet? that Heaven and Earth are THAT close? that God isn't a watchmaker, but has operations always in play?

Matthew 2:1-11 - ...the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.

Like, maybe, that one?

1 Samuel 2:1-11, 26 - "He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap To make them sit with nobles, And inherit a seat of honor; For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, And He set the world on them."

A baby born, a promise kept, will make even the most quiet heart shout with eloquence.

Matthew 18:1-5, 10-14 - If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?

Aren't we funny that way? Our best instincts completely ignore the bottom line. And God somehow feels the same way about us?

Here's a question: do i feel that way about anyone? My family, yes. But after that?

And why not?

Grace on the screen: i loved Spirited Away. In it, a young girl, unhappy and resentful, finds herself in a strange, wonderful, and demanding world.

Sounds familiar, no?

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Isaiah 60 - "For behold, darkness will cover the earth And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you And His glory will appear upon you."

Matthew 3:13-17 - ...and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased."

Isaiah 49:1-13 - "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

John 2:1-11 - And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."

This is the twelfth day of Christmas. You get your twelve drummers drumming. You get your wise men worshipping Jesus. You get no more excuses to procrastinate putting away the Christmas decorations. Tomorrow it's time to move on.

But today, it's Epiphany:
You see some odd things at Epiphany. You see rich old men staring at a tradesman's toddler, bringing birthday gifts from far-off lands. You see a young man solemnly dunk another young man in the river. You see a Jewish mother nagging her bachelor son at a wedding because the host hasn't made the proper preparations.

But when you look again, you see some wonderful things (by which i mean "things full of wonder"—shame to have to clarify) at Epiphany. You see wise men worshipping a child king. You hear a voice like thunder out of heaven. You taste wine instead of water.

Epiphany should really mean "turning point." All the events in the story lead up to this moment, and all those that follow are denouement. When the moment happens, you look back at all that has come before and see a pattern. And from then on, you examine every event as an effect of it.

Epiphanies don't come by accident. You have to watch for them. You have to put yourself in the way of them. You have to get on the camel and ride. You have to go down to the river. You have to serve at the wedding.

You have to watch.

And epiphanies have real consequences: Babies die, and guests are served, and new careers are begun.

And God turns out to have been right-in-freaking-front-of-you, all this time....

Friday, January 05, 2007

"O Wind! If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" 

Isaiah 35 - Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not."

1 John 5 - These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Numbers 24:15-24 - "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near...."

Matthew 28:16-20 - "...I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

If i remember that Jesus Christ was born, i should recall that He died.
If i remember that He died, i should recall that He lives.
If i remember that He lives, i should recall that He will return.

And i should keep my hopes up. i can't see Him, but He promised His presence "to the end of the age." It's been a long time, but the end of the age pretty much puts the kibosh on any excuses i might make for having waited long enough.

Tomorrow is Epiphany. It's not customary to anticipate epiphanies. Usually they catch you by surprise.

This one is a welcome exception.

Grace in winter: Percy Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The End of Irony 

Isaiah 32:1-8, 16-18 - No longer will the fool be called noble, Or the rogue be spoken of as generous.

1 John 4:7-21 - If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar....

Jeremiah 30:15-22 - "'Why do you cry out over your injury? Your pain is incurable. Because your iniquity is great And your sins are numerous, I have done these things to you.'"

John 1:29-51 - "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"

i constantly pretend to be one thing and act as though i'm another. i'd like to be noble, but the incident record points more to fool. i say i love God, but there are some triggers i would pull. i disobey God, then complain when He disciplines me.

i have a sense of irony where my sense of humor should be, i'm afraid. It's something that causes me to laugh at all the Wrong Things.

But irony and joy don't really know each other. In the kingdom of God, will there be any more use for irony?

No matter. i'm sure i could learn to live without it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"It's not a book! It's a person!" 

Isaiah 29:9-19 - Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, "He did not make me"...?

1 John 3:18-4:6 - Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God....

Jeremiah 30:1-11 - "'It shall come about on that day,' declares the LORD of hosts, 'that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves.'"

John 1:1-28 - And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us....

Potter and clay. Word and flesh.

i wish there were some way to explain my relationship with Christ besides the constant combination of metaphors.

Of course, i have the same problem with any relationship, don't i? If i try to explain my relationship with my wife, i have to rely on simile and metaphor: "We are like two peas in a pod" or "we fight like cats and dogs" (neither of which is actually true, by the way).

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

Here we have the Law in opposition to grace. In my head, i have the Curse in opposition to grace. So i can't help but connect the Law and the Curse. Is that what the Law is? The description of the Curse written longhand?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Why indeed? 

Isaiah 28:9-22 - "To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message?"

1 John 3:1-18 - But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

Jeremiah 23:1-6 - "...they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing...."

Luke 2:41-51 - "Why is it that you were looking for Me?"

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Names 

Exodus 6:2-8 - "I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them."

Matthew 1:18- "...you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

Genesis 32:22-30 - "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."

Revelation 19:11-16 - And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."


i live in a culture that puts no credence in one's name. Where they might have been prophetic, or obligated one to a certain station, in the United States they are simply used as identifiers. It must be difficult for first-generation immigrants to name their children "Merciful Vision of God" only to have grandchildren presented to them as "Steve."

At the same time, our names are still important to us. When i was teaching, occasionally some student would grumble about why spelling had to be Such a Big Deal. I would turn and write their name on the board, but misspell it. This inevitably resulted in some form of protest

My own name is—let's not mince words—silly. As a child, i heard all the pickle jokes (in fact, i had a whole book of them), all the peanut butter jokes, even the kangaroo jokes. i remember complaining to my dad about it, and he said, "At least i didn't name you Sue." But i've kept it. At least it's memorable. That's something. And it does give me one more thing to look forward to.

If God renamed you, it would change you, change who you are. Do you suppose He has already renamed us? What does He call me?

All right. So i handed you a straight line. Make the most of it.

Time for new resolutions.

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