Archive for December 6th, 2010

In the opening verses of Joshua 22 the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh are commissioned by Joshua and sent on their way.  They have chosen to live on the opposite side of the Jordon from the rest of Israel.  So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the LORD through Moses (v. 9).  When they returned to their land they built an imposing altar there by the Jordan (v.10).

This did not sit well with the remaining tribes.  In fact, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them (v. 12).  OK, they didn’t like this – but war?  Was this really offensive enough to kill a brother?  Apparently it was, since altars were used to worship pagan gods and any worship of the God of Israel must be done in the tabernacle (cf. Lev. 17).

But before attacking them and leveling out justice, some decided to question them.  They sent a guy named Phinehas and a few leaders and  asked them how could they could break faith with the God of Israel like this?  How could they turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? (v.13).  Legitimate questions – no doubt.

They responded quite definitively:

21Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account.

24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD.

26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the LORD.’

28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the LORD’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’

29 “Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.”

When Phinehas and the leaders of the community heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased (v 30).  They were glad to hear the report and praised God.  And they talked no more about going to war against them.(v. 33).

Now, let us imagine what this would look like if Phinehas and the leaders each had a blog.  And let’s assume each were self-appointed watchman set on pointing out any way in which the tribes of Israel strayed from the fold – whether or not the straying violated God’s Law – or just their cultural preferences.

If that were the case, Phinehas may have indeed believed the Reuben, Gad and Manasseh and even reported this to the Israelites and praised God.  But the others were not so sure. They would blog and comment on each others blogs saying:

I do not believe they are being honest about their comments.

I do not deny they are still faithful, but I want to see fruit before I believe them.

I asked them about pagan altars, and they dodged my question with postmodern jargon like “For us it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow…” – Why can’t they give a straight answer?

Others would chide  and mock Phinehas for meeting with them… saying only those with something to hide meet with enemies of Israel.

And so, even after the answers were given and the truth proclaimed… even after the issue should have been settled… it would fester in their watchful minds.

Why?  Because it is always easier and certainly more self-rewarding to assume the worst about people.  To point at other and say “They are different, therefore they are inferior” or “I want proof… proof based on my criteria.”  Or maybe just to say: “I do not like them, therefore I do not believe they are being honest.”

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“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a  radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27).

I think it is fair to say that I have had my issues with the church. Maybe my issues are a wee bit different given that I have been on both sides of the proverbial aisle—as a lay person and a professional person. Maybe those are the wrong categories too.

It was not just professional failure that caused a lot of my criticism. I had some especially irritating youth leaders when I was a younger man. They thought they knew so much with all their ‘you shouldn’t do this’s’ and ‘you shouldn’t do that’s’. Ugh. Being a teenager was such a drag with all those hypocritical youth leaders whose own children grew up worse and who, inevitably, ended up divorced or worse. Sheesh.*

But hypocrisy is something I am well acquainted with now that I am adult. You’ve heard the old saying that there was a certain fourteen year old couldn’t believe how dumb his father was and who later, when he became a twenty-one year old, couldn’t believe how much his father had learned in a mere seven years? I now believe in the utter genius of all those terrifically, wonderfully, hypocritical youth leaders who loved me so ceaselessly when I was a teenager. Now that I am older man with children of my own who have never experienced that for a minute in their lives, I realize just how blessed I was. How I wish my own sons had some hypocritical, problem-laden adult youth leaders cramming all that morality and Jesus talk down their throats.

Who knows the depths of self-destruction that might have plagued me had they not been there, hounding me, loving me, restraining me. As I look back, I think I was actually compelled by their sometimes confrontational nature. I enjoyed arguing; they were more than happy to give me reasons to argue. I wanted to be loved; they did so generously, carelessly, and devotedly.

I have read a couple of articles in the past week that I believe were placed in my path by one of those old youth leaders or perhaps the Holy Spirit had something to do with it. Either way, they were special articles that I thought I’d share with you.

The first is from Books & Culture and was written by Philip Yancey. It’s from a couple of months old issue of the journal, but I’m a bit behind my journal reading. In the essay, Yancey is recapping an aspect of his writing career that has dealt, primarily, with his criticism of a certain Bible College he attended as a young man. Near the end of the essay Life in a Bubble he writes:

Through the grace of God, and also the grace of the college administration, I managed to survive through graduation. I now reflect on my time at Bible college with some shame but much gratitude: for the biblical knowledge I acquired there, for the personal disciplines that I resented at the time but learned to appreciate, and for the essential part that school played in grounding my faith. Ever since, we have had an ambivalent relationship, the school and I. They gave me a Distinguished Alumnus award—and nearly asked for it back after I wrote about the school in What’s So Amazing About Grace?

This is an especially good article Yancey wrote. He took some flak for it in a later edition of Books & Culture in the Letters to the Editor section, but I appreciate his honesty.

A second article I read is from the November 14, 2010 issue of Christian Standard. In the article Stop Bashing the Bride, Mike Baker wrote, rather beautifully I might add, the following:

Here’s something else to consider: God knew the church would be imperfect! I’ve always been amazed that God established two crucial institutions in the world—the family and the church, and he put weak-willed, imperfect, prone-to-sin, messed-up people in charge of both. Did it ever occur to anyone that this is a part of God’s great design to show his strength in our weakness?

I’m not saying we should go on being imperfect losers so that God’s strength may abound. But I am saying God knew the people of his church would be imperfect; in fact, imperfection is one thing that has been universally consistent about the people who make up the church from the first century to the 21st century!

But the church is humanly imperfect. Spiritually speaking, she is beautiful and without flaw. God made her that way through his extreme love in dying for her. I believe it’s time for leaders in the church to stop pointing out her spots, wrinkles, and blemishes because Christ has made her radiant. Have you noticed her beauty lately? God has.

I encourage you to read both essays in their entirety.

Since venturing into this world, the world of blogging, I have met some of the most wonderful people on the face of Darwin’s earth. I realize that even though I am not currently supported by the church, any church, it was the church that supported me and my wife through many toils, trials and snares. Cancer. Hemolytic anemia. Three children. Bible College. Through all this and more it was the church—‘imperfectly perfect’ as Mike Baker calls her—that has loved me, loved Renee, loved my sons. There is, to be sure, a lot of ugliness in the church. No one denies that. But there is, more so, a boundless and unmitigated beauty in her too.

And I, for one, have, in my gross exaggerations of suffering at her hands, missed this beauty. Sometimes so eager to justify my own points of view or sin, I have been a downright arrogant prig when it comes to the church. My demands have been, at times, more than the Lord Jesus has asked of her. Unfortunate as that is, it is the truth.

Now I find myself in a strange way missing the church that has loved me so relentlessly.

I need a new trajectory for dealing with the church and her imperfections. It is only my awareness of my own conceit that keeps me from seeing the church as Christ sees her—His bride, His Love, the One He died for. He died for the church—the very church that I, and others, have taken such a delight in bashing and criticizing. Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips and I blog among a people with unclean keyboards.

Eugene Peterson wrote in his book Practice Resurrection that the church is somehow different, somehow beautiful, and that in the church we learn something we cannot learn anywhere else on earth: we learn how to love.

The church is the primary place we have for learning this language of love. The conditions here in the church, unlike the conditions in the world, are propitious—not the endless variations on eroticized fornication and adultery posing as love in the world, nor, to take a de-eroticized alternative, a classroom with a distinguished professor giving lectures on love, assigning papers, our desks strewn with grammars and concordances and dictionaries. Rather, in church we find a gathering of people who are committed to learning the language in the company of the Trinity and in company with one another. We don’t learn it out of a book. (216)

This is a long way to saying something along these lines: I love the church because she first loved me. I have been far more accepted in the church than I have been rejected. After all, I cannot let a few professional terminations along the way determine how I feel about those who have done nothing but open their arms and welcome me back anytime I happen to decide I’m sick of the pig-pen.

Maybe if we saw the church in terms of the Bride that Christ Jesus loves, instead of the place where we have been run over, then we will not be so anxious to hurl our criticisms at her. Perhaps if we are quicker to see the church as the Bride Jesus has healed with his own blood then we will not be so quick to point out that there may be places where she is not entirely healed just yet. Perhaps if we are wise enough to see how patient Jesus has been with the church then we will be a little slower to become angry with her ourselves.

Perhaps if we took a minute to see how much Jesus loves His Bride then…then…we will speak more tenderly to her, of her, about her, and around her. After all, if someone speaks ill of my bride, I’m going to take offense and deal with those words accordingly.

Perhaps we need to all take a minute and consider how Jesus feels when we talk about his Bride.

We are talking about Christ’s bride here. Shouldn’t we be a little more careful about how we flippantly describe Jesus’ wife as irrelevant, corrupt, hypocritical, and ineffective? Indulge me just a little as I defend the church I have come to love and am falling in love with more and more every day. (Mike Baker)

*I’m being a little sarcastic here.

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