• God’s Ways Have a Power All Their Own

    God’s ways do not rely on the goodness of men (or women) to work. They have a power all their own. Thus, all through the Old Testament, we see God relying, not on good men, but on people who were prone to abuse, violence, weakness, arrogance and all manner of human sin to enact his plans. To put a finer point on it, any idea about how things work which relies on the goodness of humans to work, is self-evidently not from God.

    To see the difference in action, consider the difference between the fruit from the teaching of the unique subordination of women vs full equality and mutual submission between men and women. Despite having been tried all over the world, the unique subordination of women has never produced a human society where peace, justice and freedom were widely enjoyed. (Anyone who says pre-1960s America gets slapped – slavery?) The explanation for this is always the same – it requires good, Godly men. This teaching is like communism, a great idea that’s just never been properly executed.

    On the other hand, women in the early church served in all areas of the church. They enjoyed rights in their marriages and as daughters not allowed or expected in the prevailing culture. That all faded away after the first few hundred years, but the remnants of this teaching carried such power that the places in the world where women first gained (pretty much) full equality and are considered the most free, most respected and most empowered are places where Christianity has deep roots. Once God’s ways are introduced into the system of humanity, they will face more and less opposition, but over the course of time, they will persist and bear good fruit.

  • The Spirit In You Knows the Truth

    That hopeful feeling you experience when someone tells you that God is better than you’ve been taught is the Holy Spirit moving. I know a lot of churches tell you to ignore it. To settle for a God who isn’t really good enough. But listen when your heart leaps with hope, joy or peace. That’s the Spirit in you.

  • The Mystery of Faith

    “Go that way! Towards the sun.”

    I always wondered about faith.  Evangelicals say that you have to choose to have it.  Calvinists say that you are predestined to either have it or not.  It’s a free gift that you cannot earn.  But you have to nurture and hang onto it.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians practice it with rituals.  So many contradictory ideas.

    What I have learned is that faith is the little voice that pops up when you are discouraged or even despairing and points you back to God.  It tells you something true. sometimes what is true is not what you want to hear.  But it’s true and you can choose to embrace it and continue walking by faith or you can reject it and try to find your own way forward.   When times are hard, you have to really listen for it.  You have to really hold onto what you hear.  Because soon enough something will come and wash that little piece of comfort away.

    Why do I say that these words and their amazing power to sustain us are faith?  Scriptures describe Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  In the beginning there was the word and the word was God and the word was with God.  Listen and you will hear words pointing you back to God.

    A couple of months ago, I read in a devotional: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?”  And regularly when I have been ready to consign myself to a life of permanent misery, those words: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?” would drift into my mind.  And I had a choice.  I could believe these words pointing me back towards God or would I continue embracing the darkness.  The darkness seems so reasonable and safe.  It’s real.  I can think of 100 reasons to just let go of what I have put my faith in until now and give myself up to misery and call it my fate.  But every time I am quiet, every time I cannot hold onto being miserable anymore, the words of faith keep coming back.

    For years I heard them, read them, sang them, prayed them, studied them – these words that are truth pointing me back to truth.  And now, they come back to me.  They are songs running through my head when I wake up in the morning.  They are words I have planted in my children repeated in their own voices for their own reasons.  They are the words that come to the surface every time I pause my recital of the litany of reasons I just cannot and will not continue.  And consistently they point me back to God when hitchhiking to Vegas starts to seem like my only hope for survival.

    This is how faith works: what you allow in, will come back to you when you need it. It’s not magic; it’s a free gift we all have thanks to these amazing brains we have been given.  Our brains will take the smallest good thing we give it and when we most need it, spit it back out at us.  I cannot tell you how often when I have been quiet and just listened, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant will come to mind and that’s just the little boost I need for the moment.

    This is God teaching me to see and be nourished by even the tiniest things and the smallest drops of water so that I can survive in a desert place.  This is Jesus authoring the words which point me in the direction I need to go on the path that leads to God.  Faith is a tiny mustard seed sprouting and pointing towards the sun, however dim and distant it may be.  Go that way.  Towards the son.  There’s love there.  S o you hope that God is as good as he says he is and hold onto the light for as long as you can, letting it strengthen you to endure the darkness from the next wave threatening to rip this little bit of comfort away.  And somehow, it’s always enough.

    *First published 12/2011

  • What’s the Deal With Prophecy?

    In the bible, a prophet doesn’t predict the far-off future. Instead, their gift is an ability to see and explain the reality of what they see happening all around them. These are the people who have heard the voices of those who are being silenced. They see through the agreed upon lies and narratives for why things are the way they are. They are able to look at their present with spiritual eyes and recognize what others are blind to. Further, they understand God and his ways well enough to easily see where it’s all heading.

    Which is not to say that they have nothing at all to say about the future. The ancient Hebrews viewed time as circular. What has happened before, will happened again. When a prophet shares a vision, it is a symbolic description of what they see happening in the spiritual realm. It’s purpose is to illuminate of the archetypal patterns at work in their world. That way, when a time cycles back and a time such as the prophet’s comes around again, we might better understand the spiritual reality of what we are seeing.

    This is why bible prophecies which clearly refer to a specific person or set of events in the past continue to inform us about what we see going on around us today. For example, the whore of Babylon in Revelation obviously refers to the Roman Empire. And also bears a striking resemblance to the corrupt Roman Catholic Church of the late middle ages. And is arguably a good illustration of a certain super power at work in the world today. It’s an archetype of empire at work in the world. So long as empires which rely on violence, greed, fear, idolatry and control continue to arise, the whore of Babylon will also continue to arise.

    Of course, the prophets didn’t leave these odd descriptions behind just for entertainment and speculation. The intention, I believe, is two fold. First, as I said, the hope is that when a time such as theirs comes around again, we will recognize what is happening. And second, when we see it happening and we are properly equipped, we will be able to align ourselves with God in order to interrupt the cycle once and for all.

    According to Revelation, when that happens, the age of the new heaven and new earth will begin. The “ages of the ages*” as the bible puts it. Remember, the prophet both sees what is happening and, because of their relationship with God, is able to understand how God will act going forward.

    From the post Let’s Talk Prophecy and The End Times.

  • I Probably Shouldn’t Say This . . .

    OK, I just want to say at the outset that what I am about to say is not in anyway meant to insult Jesus. I would swear it to you, but Jesus says not to swear on anything. But you should know that that’s how much I mean it when I say that I’m not insulting Jesus. So don’t go taking this all the wrong way . . . But . . .

    Did you know that pretty much everything Jesus said could totally come out the mouth of the sort of drunken, bitter man who yells at people at the bar?* Before you get mad, just stop and think of something Jesus said that you can remember off the top of your head. Go ahead. Do it. Think of something else he said. It’s true, isn’t it? I mean, I haven’t done an intense reading of the gospels with this idea in mind, but I’m still pretty sure this is a thing.

    Now, I’m not at all saying that Jesus was a drunken bitter man who yelled at people at bars. But isn’t it interesting that you could put the entire Sermon on the Mount into the mouth of some drunk, embittered wise man in a bar and it would totally be believable. You couldn’t put those words in the mouth of Herod or a congressman and get anyone to believe they meant it.

    Or maybe Jesus was a bit of a comedian. Maybe he said, “blessed are the poor” and the crowd roared with laughter.

    Maybe he was a specialist in the absurd. He could tell stories about a woman throwing a party because she found her coin and people would laugh knowingly at the irony of it.

    In my head and in the movies and at church, Jesus words are always spoken in a flat, peaceful sort of way with an edge of what was suppose to be authority. But that’s not how people speak. And Jesus was a real, live people. But we’ve lost the tone. The words go flat and lose their power. We hear words of revolution and comfort and bitterness and humor and they all come out just the same. We can rely on scholars to help us tell one from the other.

    But what we really need to do, I suspect, is to imagine the words coming out of a drunk guy. Or a smart ass. Or a person smiling as they die.

    Imagine that Jesus’ words were your words. Could you really say with conviction that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied without being bitter or angry or mocking?

    When you give Jesus’ words personality, you start to discover that after all this time, they still have power after all. They bring you up short with the power of “I never saw it like that before”. They take you to a place where you could understand why the drunk man is so bitter and why the people laugh and encourage him to keep sharing his thoughts. For entertainment if nothing else.

    It starts to dawn on you that Jesus couldn’t just say these things without understanding at a deep level what they mean. Because they aren’t easy things to say honestly when you’re not drunk or bitter or cynical or asleep or laughing. But Jesus said them and meant them.

    In fact, it turns out that after 2000 years, his words can still change a person and how they see the world. Or at least that’s how it’s been for me. Maybe you’re too hung up on me conflating Jesus with an angry drunk guy to find out for yourself. ;)

    *I did not come up with this pseudo-blasphemous idea of Jesus as a bitter drunk guy, btw. Someone else pointed it out to me but I can’t remember who for the life of me. But they were right – it does work!

  • Salvation – It’s Not What You’ve Been Taught VIDEO

    Is salvation really about avoiding hell when you die? Yes, that’s the popular teaching we’ve all heard, but in this video I explain why this is a misunderstanding and what the truth of salvation actually is. (Hint – it’s better than you’ve been told!) Enjoy!

    Here’s the link for those of you reading via email. See – I do catch on eventually! ;)

  • The Christmas Bird

    Instead of doing my Christmas shopping, I made this for y’all. Grab a cuppa whatever suits you best and listen to the dulcet sound of my voice sharing a heartwarming Christmas story about a farmer, a bird and a little boy. It will be the best 11 minutes of your day. :)

  • Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?

    Over the years I’ve forgiven some rather unforgivable things. I hope you have as well. . . Wait – that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you’re one of those rare birds who have never had anything particularly unforgivable happen to you. But if you have had someone do something unforgivable, I hope that you have been able to forgive them.*

    One of the problems that people commonly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is the issue of the restoration of relationships. Can you really say you’ve forgiven someone if you are unwilling to be in relationship with them? Does forgiveness demand that your relationship be restored? Or can you forgive but refuse to engage in relationship with the person who wronged you?

    Part of why I am such a big fan of forgiveness is that it’s a very empowering act. I cannot often control the way other people behave towards me, but I can control how I respond to it. Forgiving allows me to take back my power from someone who has injected pain, suffering and turmoil into my life against my will. I get to declare in the heavenlies when a person is bound or loosed from their sins. And forgiveness also props opens the door to healing from harm done.

    On the other hand, insisting that forgiveness must be accompanied by restoration of a relationship is just the opposite; it’s dis-empowering. It doesn’t allow for choice. It doesn’t allow for self-love or self-protection. It makes my own pain and struggle and needs completely irrelevant. And all too often, this insistence that forgiveness must go hand in hand with restoration of relationship is a tool of control which gets used against people who are already in a weak position.

    Being in relationship with other people always opens us up to being hurt. And if we refuse relationship with anyone who is dysfunctional or hurtful, we will be lonely indeed. Most acts of forgiveness should not be accompanied by a reconsideration of the relationship as a whole. Generally, we ought to forgive and move on freely. But there are those times when what is being forgiven does call the entire relationship into question. So how can we maintain our default openness for relationship while also being realistic about which relationships are simply too dangerous, unhealthy or dysfunctional to continue? Continue reading

  • The Sacrifice of Isaac . . . Or Provincial Much?*

    Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~ Micah 6:7-8

    In the pantheon of weird stories in the bible, the Sacrifice (or Binding) of Abraham is often treated as the most inexplicable or as the clearest evidence of how capricious the God of the Old Testament is. However, it seems to me that these conclusions simply demonstrate our poor understanding of history, God’s ways and human nature.  In context and with a decent concept of human nature as well as a proper understanding of what God is about, the story and it’s moral aren’t so hard to understand.

    The reality is that infanticide has always been part of human behavior. It’s been practiced everywhere and through all time periods. Including during the time of Abraham. In fact, there is evidence from both ancient writings and from archaeology of wide-spread infanticide and ritual child sacrifice in the Ancient Near East continuing into Greco-Roman times. Continue reading

  • Being Passive is a Discipline

    Passivity is a discipline. In fact, sometimes I think it is the hardest discipline – particularly in a culture like ours. We humans like to DO things. We like to build. We like to invent. We like to build relationships and parse them out when they breakdown. We like to plant and grow and make. We like to talk and write and sing. We like to be masters of our fate, captains of our ships, directors of our plays. We seek, we strive, we fight, we climb mountains simply because they are there. We admire those who do it well and follow those who champion the cause of doing. Which is good and well. It is as it should be in most ways. And yet . . .

    Here in the great Northern Tundra of the Upper Midwestern United States, there will be a reduced apple harvest this year, although fortunately it’s not as bad as some had feared. You see, as in much of the country, winter was mild and warm weather showed up early. The apple trees woke early from their winter doze and sent out their blossoms into the warmth. However, March and April had merely traded places. The warmth of March that tricked the trees into releasing their blossoms too soon gave way to frosts of April that threatened the delicate apple blossoms before they had time to set fruit. So now, this fall when the trees produce the fruit of a long summer of growing in warmth and rain, their harvest will be inferior. All because the trees were tricked into think their passive winter wait was over and their time to shine and begin the work of making fruit was at hand. But the conditions that made them think their time had come were not sustainable.

    We humans are not trees. We don’t have to be tricked into acting outside of our proper time. But it requires great discipline to refrain from action when conditions seem ripe even when we know it’s not sustainable. We tell ourselves we’ll work it out later. But this is a lesson to learn. To be passive. To wait. And most of all to allow God time enough to work in us and on us. Continue reading