Archive for February, 2012

[Note: I am slowly working my way back into the blog world and this post marks the first in a series of posts I will be doing called "Curiosity". All I hope to accomplish is to provoke conversation about Jesus and the Scripture and discipleship.--jerry]

I am curious about a great many things that are found in the Bible. I find myself more and more curious about them the older and older I get. And the more and more I become detached from American Churchianity and become more and more attached to the Jesus of the Bible, the more I find myself curious about this Jesus I read of in the Bible. He was strange and did things that were very un-Christian-like—well, at least if American Christianity is any sort of guide as to what it means to be Jesus.

It’s an old cliché, but I’m sure if Jesus applied to be the pastor of a local church he wouldn’t even get the courtesy of a rejection letter. The good church folk would take one look at his cover letter, read something like, “Oh, and I think it is the essence of Christianity that the people of God take part in the practice of holiness…and participate in bringing healing to the sick and afflicted.” Or, “Someday you will reign with me and partake of the tree of life—whose leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2, 5). Oh, the wise old elders would have a field day with that—and once the old ladies got a hold of it, well….I choose not to think of Jesus’ resume in the hands of old ladies considering that I know what some of them have done to Jesus himself.

So this is my curiosity for today: Revelation 22 clearly pictures a time when things are not the same as they are now—at least not entirely. It clearly pictures a time when we—or someone—has re-entered the garden of Eden and are living in the presence of God. But something is strange about what is going on in that land of bliss: “And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.” Well, I don’t understand. If Revelation 21 says there is a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain for the old order has passed away (21:1-4), and Revelation 22 says there is no more night, no more curse and that someone (we?) is living in the presence of God (22:1-5), then what does this sentence mean, “And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.”

What nations? What needs healed? I mean, if God is ‘making everything new’ (21:5), then what healing remains that can be, should be, will be cured by the leaves on the tree of life?  I am curious as to what this might mean—and please spare me the ready-made, wrapped with a bow, answers from commentaries or the Left Behind books. I’m serious. After God makes all things new are we to expect that there might still be work to do in this new heavens and new earth? What do you think? Who exactly are these nations that need healing in this place God has created where ‘there is no more death’? And what role will we play?

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…the way Christ loves the church.

Don’t you just hate those controversial titles that sound absolutely shocking and horrible and then you go to see what it’s all about and it’s nothing? I sure do, but I usually pay attention anyway. Why? The same reason writers write them. It’s a good hook, an easy way to draw in a reader. We want to know what’s behind the statement and in the end we are often disappointed because there was nothing to it (which is probably why the shock value is added in the first place). But the thing about my statement above is that it should be shocking even with the rest of the statement. We like to show ourselves grace by saying that we aren’t perfect and God doesn’t really expect us to actually be able to do these things He commands in Scripture. We’re wrong when we do that. God gives us grace and helps us to show grace to others, but He also expects us to grow, to mature, and to transform into the likeness of His son.

And for husbands, that means sacrificing of ourselves so that we can provide for, take care of, and even better our wives. “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. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:25-28

Our leadership at home can have a tremendous impact on the well being of our spouses. Unfortunately, far too often I expect my wife to be available for my needs and wishes. I expect her to give up of her own desires and to sacrifice of herself so that I can have more time for fun, better food, freedom for work and for projects, and rest. This dynamic has a negative impact on her spiritual development. Although every person is responsible for their own faith, husbands are responsible to provide for the spiritual development of their wives. This means that you consider her needs, her growth, her holiness, her transformation into the likeness of Christ and you make adjustments to your schedule and your priorities. Not because Valentine’s Day is coming, but because Christ set the example and we are called to follow.

I need to also say this: Despite my shortcomings, when my wife loves, supports, encourages, and even follows my leading during these times, I am a better father, husband, and friend because of her.

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Lost in the furor over hell (primarily) and heaven (secondarily) in last year’s Love Wins, by Rob Bell, (and its excellent companion volume) was the underlying thesis about God’s love, and its primary quality evident in man: libertarian free will.  What differentiated man from the angels, and the primary evidence of God’s love for man in His creation of him was the true gift of free will: the permission/ability given to man by God to choose whether or not to accept or reject Him.

As Paul writes:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Throughout the Christian Scriptures, Jesus and his Apostles make clear the fundamental difference between the Law and the Spirit.  Jesus’ primary beef with the Pharisee party was that it had built up a series of regulations, or “hedges”, around the law to prevent anyone from possibly breaking it.  Yet, in doing so, even though they followed the letter of the law, their hearts were not changed.  The Law, itself, was not evil, but it could not change the hearts of men.  Jesus’ teaching on the importance of loving God with all of oneself, and loving their neighbor was one of freedom, not coercion.  Later, Paul noted that what we eat does not make us sinful, but if we abuse our freedom in a way that hurts others, we are sinning – not against a law, but against God’s desire.

And so, we have freedom – liberty.

It is God’s desire that we should love Him, but we can also reject Him.

It is God’s desire that we should care for the poor, but we can insulate ourselves and never even meet them – or, at best, send them a check.

It is God’s desire that we should be generous, but we can keep our blessings for ourselves.

It is God’s desire that we should have joy and contentment in Him, but we can be dissatisfied with what we have and covet.

It is God’s desire that we should be open and honest, but we can be insular, closed and secret.

It is God’s desire that we should care for our earthly bodies, but we can abuse them, to our own detriment.

It is God’s desire that we should love our neighbor, but we can despise them because they are different that we are.

The aim of God’s desire cannot be legislated, because the heart cannot be changed by a law.  Compliance is not acceptance.

America the Free?

For all of the things they got wrong, the founders of America got at least one primary concept right – an underlying principle that eventually eroded the most glaring error of those fathers: the allowance of slavery

That principle was this: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty

The only rights held by men were those given by God, not the government.  The purpose of the government was to protect those rights, not to grant them.  Those rights, given by God, would allow free men to choose whether to do good or to do ill.   The laws of the land only existed to prevent people from depriving other people of those God given rights:

Freedom of expression – whether in support of God or against Him.

Freedom to worship God – or to reject Him.

Freedom to associate with anyone else – or to reject them.

Freedom to own property – whether or not one was a godly steward with it.

Freedom to live and to work – or to be lazy and die.  The freedom to succeed, or to fail.

These freedoms, given by God, as we all should know from our own experience, do not guarantee outcomes.  An evil person may prosper and a good person may suffer.  Even so, it is the freedom, itself, that is a gift and is a reflection of the Spirit of the Lord.

Pharisee Nation

Recently, I’ve read The Tragedy of American Compassion, by Marvin Olasky, which traces the roots of charity in America and its drifting from its original purpose (to help those in poverty to help themselves in escaping those conditions) to its present manifestation (which actually enslaves those it desires to “help”).  Olasky points out that charity is shared, personal, one-to-one suffering with those who are in need, not blind handouts, and that for almost a century and a half, the church managed the care for the poor far more effectively that the government could do, or has done since.

One of the things most clear to me, in reading it, is that many of us have shifted our reliance on God as the source of rights to reliance on the government to secure our rights.  While the Spirit of the Lord only guarantees us freedom, government seeks to guarantee our success and to outlaw failure.  In doing so, it has enslaved many – even in the church – and is doomed to fail, in the name of “compassion”.

We have taken the words of the Psalmist:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

And we have altered them to be:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from Washington, the righter of wrongs.

And we now suffer for it.

The church used to care for the poor and the sick and the needy.  (How many hospitals are named after various Saints?)  Now we don’t need to, because Washington has it taken care of.

The church used to care for widows and orphans, but now the government has it taken care of.

The church used to care for the elderly (and to instruct families to care for their parents and grandparents), but now we’ve got Social Security and Medicare to take care of that for us.

The church used to help those who suffered from failure.  Now we have Uncle Sam to bail us out:

Banks fail, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

Car companies fail because they churn out crap cars with overpriced labor governed by byzantine rules, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

People who bought houses they couldn’t afford with money they didn’t have go bankrupt, and we cry out to Washington to bail them out, as well.

All in the name of “compassion”.

But really, now, let’s get a clue.  There is absolutely no such thing as government “charity” – Charity is something freely given in direct accordance and relationship with the person receiving it.  Taking money from Peter, under coercion, for the sake of “compassion” on Paul is an abomination that sets up the agent of “compassion” as the true god of those who support it.  At that point, God is no longer the guarantor of rights.  He is now absent from the transaction.

And we all suffer for it.

But the church can’t handle the need is a cop out and an utter lack of faith in a God who parted the seas, ruptured the grave, fed the masses and rescued the lost.  It is the voice of despair from the acolytes of the church of man in support of a system that is doomed to failure.  “But the church can’t handle the need” is the cry of the Baal worshiper in the face of Elijah.   It is a story nearly as old as the Bible, like the prophet of God, Balaam, who sold out to His enemies because he thought he was choosing the winning side.

We have become a Pharisee nation, where we feel we must regulate the hearts of men, lest they make a bad decision.

Smoking is bad for you, so we must ban you from smoking.

Trans-fat is bad for you, so we must ban you from eating it.

Wearing a seat belt is good for you, so we must require you to do it.

Health insurance is good for you, so we must require you to buy it.

And on and on.

The only help the church and the people of America need from Washington is for it to become utterly inconsequential in their lives.  Allow the church to become the church and stop trying to regulate away failure and legislate the hears of men.  It won’t work, so stop trying.

I don’t believe that God chose you, and blessed you so that you could heap those blessings up upon yourself. I believe God chose you, and you, and you, and every one of you others because He wants to make a difference in this world. And you know what? what I think is scary about God is He didn’t come up with any ‘Plan B.’ That He left the Church here, and the Church is the only group of people, and the Church is the only institution in the world that can bring about a change. This government cannot do it, so stop depending on the government. Educational systems cannot do it, so stop trusting educational systems. The Church was chosen by God to make a difference. – Rich Mullins

Amen.

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On Febraury 11, 2010, the Rapture Ready bulletin board banned me for two years (apparently for dragging God into a conversation) and informed me that I am not saved.

If you’re reading this, that means that the world has not ended yet, and I am over there renewing my membership and finding out from those gracious people how to be saved before I’m eternally damned.

And if you believe that last line, when I return from RR, I want to talk to you about a bridge in New York that I can sell you for a really good price.

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I wrote a post about parenting. I’ve been having a lot of conversations about it lately. I thought I’d pass the fun.

Here’s the thing: Parenting isn’t about the parents. I know this post is going to get me in trouble. I know it’s going to have people angry with me at this point, let alone after they read what’s coming. I know people are going to de-friend me and gnash their teeth at me. I even know that some people are going to decide to not come see me as a counselor, which will cost me money.I do not care. This is too important.Parenting is about the kids. It is about what is best for the kids. It’s not about the parents happiness. It’s not about the parents social life, or how fulfilled they feel. It doesn’t matter that most of our life someone has lied to us and told us a lie that we can do whatever we want and that having a kid greatly limits that.Now hear me out, please. It is important that parents take care of themselves. It is important that parents be well developed and emotionally mature people. So that they can model that for their children.

You can read the rest here.

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In Christianity Today, Eric O. Jacobsen writes about how we understand the new creation

A key to this significant paradigm shift has been a reconsideration of the provocative text in the second half of 2 Peter 3:10. As the King James Version has it, “The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” One common way to understand this text is that the earth and sky (heaven) will be completely annihilated, then later replaced with a brand new heaven and earth.

However, another possibility—and the one that some of the more contemporary translations use—is that the earth and everything on it will be disclosed or laid bare. That is to say, the fire will not annihilate the entire earth, but will refine it by burning away everything that is unworthy (Malachi 3:2-3). This newer translation seems to fit the context better, as the author had just made a parallel reference to the destruction of the Flood, which wreaked havoc on creation but didn’t annihilate everything.

We’ve talked about and argued about this with each other and our readers in the past. We’ve all been up in arms over various doctrines that we are passionate about. And while I believe that our doctrine shapes and defines how we live our lives, I have a hard time believing that we’ve got it all together. Or that those of us who have argued for a refiners fire have let that belief shape us enough. We look at the evil around us with sadness but do nothing to participate in God’s redeeming work. Well, I don’t really think that. I’m sure you do something to that end, but when I see stories like this -

I wonder about the work that the church is participating in. I live an hour away from Indianapolis. Sex trafficking has been on my radar as a problem the church in the U.S. needs to be aware of and working on. We’ve done nothing. 11 Catholic churches worked on this effort. A lot of our churches are invested in a lot of good and Godly work around this world and in their communities. I get that. I encourage that. But this isn’t another tax seminar, or specialized conference, or study series, or the latest book that can be ignored because there is something better to do with our time. This is mercy for the hurting, justice for the abused, humility for the proud.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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