Sunday, May 31, 2009

You Got Your Peanut Butter God in My Chocolate God!

As is my normal Sunday morning routine, I read the comics. Something just jumped out at me when reading Doonesbury. Now, if you know me, you know I don't fit very well into the stereotype that evangelical Christians are conservative Republicans. So, I'm not especially bothered by quips at the expense of the previous administration. But, it does irk me when someone continues a misconception about Scripture.
Whenever you read from the Old Testament, God is always crabby and snarky to everyone... but the New Testament isn't about anger at all -- it's about love.
Now I know the point of this was to make a (rather amusing) jab at the banking industry, so I excuse them (especially since they never claim to be knowledgeable on the Bible). But to show how wrong they are, here are a few passage of Scripture, for you to guess OT or NT:
Doom to you, Chorazin! Doom, Bethsaida! If Tyre and Sidon had seen half of the powerful miracles you have seen, they would have been on their knees in a minute. At Judgment Day they'll get off easy compared to you.
Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It's on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse. You can't squirm out of this: Every drop of righteous blood ever spilled on this earth, beginning with the blood of that good man Abel right down to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah's son, whom you murdered at his prayers, is on your head. All this, I'm telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.
I'll sing a ballad to the one I love, a love ballad about his vineyard: The one I love had a vineyard, a fine, well-placed vineyard. He hoed the soil and pulled the weeds, and planted the very best vines. He built a lookout, built a winepress, a vineyard to be proud of. He looked for a vintage yield of grapes, but for all his pains he got junk grapes.
And now, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to start all over again. I'm taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date, and I'll court her. I'll give her bouquets of roses. I'll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope. She'll respond like she did as a young girl, those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.
And then I'll marry you for good—forever! I'll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness. Yes, I'll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go. You'll know me, God, for who I really am.
So, as you probably guessed, the fire-and-brimstone quotes are from Jesus himself (Matthew 11:23-24, Matthew 23:33-36) and the love passages are from Old Testament prophets speaking for God (Isaiah 5:1-2, Hosea 2:14-15, 19-20). [All from The Message translation, so us NIV readers won't instinctively know who's saying it.]

So, what's up with this anger-and-love God? Does he have a split personality? Is it a good cop-bad cop ploy to get us to follow him? Yeah, maybe. But I think the real answer is he isn't a God who spreads a sanitized love around. He's a passionate God who wants to be our Lover. So, he does try to woo us, but he also does rightly get upset when we:
  1. Cheat on him with other loves, be it golden calves or other primary interests.
  2. Treat other parts of his bride (i.e. other people) with contempt.
  3. Try to keep his bride from finding him.
As a husband, I know I'm be ready to explode if any of those things happened in my marriage. And I'm sure my wife would feel the same way. But in our culture that sees God as distant, it's easy to forget how intimate He wants to be with us.

I just discovered a hilarious and ironic twist to this comic. The quote they start with to make the point:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
Well, that's actually Romans 1:18, from the New Testament.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hope against hope

God is love. -- I John 4:8
[Love] always hopes -- I Corinthians 13:7
But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. -- Romans 8:24b-25
Wait, what? Does that say what I think it says? If God is love, and love always hopes, then I guess God always hopes. But hope is by definition for something that is not seen. So, God must not see something in order for him to hope for it? Is that right?

It's certainly possible that hope means something different for the one omniscient Being in the universe. It's clear that God waits patiently for us, and you could make the argument that until we accept him as our Savior, he doesn't "have" us yet. It might also be that since God isn't constrained by time, hope means something entirely different. And there may be some subtlety in the phrasing that gets us out of this scenario.

But maybe, just maybe, it is true that God hopes for us, and in doing so has to somehow forget that he knows the future. While it may be figurative, God does claim to stop remembering our sins. And Jesus was able to give up traits of his deity to become man. Jesus (at least while on earth) stated there were things the Father knows and he doesn't.

So maybe, just maybe, while the Father stays sovereign and omniscient, the Son continues to give away and "forget" just enough of his foreknowledge so he can hope. He can time and time again come and show us his grace and mercy. And each time, he can think to himself: Maybe, just maybe, they'll choose Me this time.

Friday, May 22, 2009

How to Found a Kingdom on Earth in 12 Easy Steps

by Jehovah Elohim

1. Foundation
Choose a 75-year old childless couple as the base of your kingdom. Don't give them a child for another 25 years. Bonus: Convince the father to sacrifice the child once born.

2. Growth Plan
Send one member of your clan to slavery and/or prison; send a famine on the other members.

3. Independence
Choose a timid, word-fumbling murderer as your spokesman, to demand from the head of the greatest military that he should disband his free labor force. Bonus: When your group leaves, send them towards a large body of water.

4. Conquest
Attack the most protected city first. Do this by marching around it once a day for a week, blowing trumpets on the last day. Bonus: Get your intelligence from a prostitute.

5. Military Strategy
Before attacking a large army, whittle your forces down to 300. Bonus: Arm them with torches, jars, and trumpets.

6. Leadership
Go to a small town and choose a young man known especially for talents in music and animal husbandry. Bonus: Have him challenge the mightiest warrior of your enemy. Extra bonus: Have a death warrant placed on his head by the current government.

7. Defense
When an army of roughly 185,000 men come at your capital city, taunting you, whatever you do, don't rally your people's army in defense.

8. Advertising
Send your best speaker to a city doing everything they can against what you want. Bonus: nearly drown your speaker on the way.

9. Transition
Introduce your chosen leader in a small town, preferably in filthy living conditions. Bonus: Have him live in obscurity for the first 30 years of his life.

10. Executive Team
Choose only the best people to surround your leader, like uneducated fishermen and hated tax collectors. Bonus: Also take someone who will undermine your entire effort at a critical point.

11. Final Establishment
At the height of your leader's popularity, get him executed as a criminal. Hopefully his executive team will respond accordingly by hiding and denying they know him. Bonus: Choose a known killer of your followers to spread your message.

12. The Real Plan
Be the God of the Universe, full of Love and Grace, and turn the whole world upside-down with Your unconventional (i.e. miraculous) wonders.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I've been struggling for a while in my connection with God. It seems like He's distant, uncommunicative, and frankly boring. But I was challenged today with changing that, mainly by truly seeking God, not simply asking for stuff. I spent time rolling that around in my head, practicing the points of the message on the message itself. (Is that some sort of meta-devotional?) After some time of mentally chewing on it, God showed me the similarities between seeking after Him and one of my other favorite activities: stargazing. Like the universe, I know God is immensely complex and interesting, so it's similar to my going outside and seeing just a few stars. Here are the pointers on what's necessary to get the most out of the heavens, which will hopefully help get the most out of Heaven:
  • Go outside. What a no-brainer for stargazing, but how often do I complain about my lack of intimacy with God when all-the-while I'm not even giving him a second thought. I need to put myself in a place where it's possible to see God.
  • Get away. For those who have lived their lives in cities or brightly lit suburbs, counting the stars in the sky seems like a pretty trivial task. Get out where it's dark and you'll see the thousands you're missing (hundreds of thousands if you count the Milky Way band). It's also tough to see God when there's so much else going on drowning him out. Riches, worries and pleasures (Luke 8:14) and the busyness of life and our thoughts keep us from seeing more than a shallow view of God.
  • Allow time to adjust. If you go outside from a bright room, you'll see very little at first; you have to wait for your eyes to adjust and gain your night vision before you can see the faint objects. We need time for our souls to adjust as well, to get all the distractions out of us before we can see God clearly and deeply.
  • Use quality equipment. Your eyes can see a lot on a dark night, but adding even a low-powered telescope can add so much more. Moons of Jupiter, rings of Saturn, phases of Venus, shadows on the Moon, and even some of the brighter nebulae and galaxies are visible with just a little help. So too should we lean on the Bible, commentaries, devotionals, and the like to see deeper.
  • Clean the lens. If your lens is foggy or dusty, then there is no option but to see blurry and faded images. If your soul is dirtied with unconfessed sin, you can't see God for who He truly is. Get it clean, ASAP.
  • Focus. The analogy has already been made. You must focus a telescope before you can see through it. Mentally focusing on God is also necessary before you can see His glory.
  • Use long exposure times. Some objects are just too dim to see with what the eye can absorb. Setting a camera with an exposure time of minutes will take in enough light to make that object visible. Just remember that the camera must "follow" the object, to account for the Earth's rotation. Similarly, we must take the time to sit and absorb what God is telling us. A quick snapshot will often leave us in the dark. And God often wants to take us on a journey (He did that with me today), so be patient and follow Him.
  • Get a good guide. A lot of space is just that: space. You point a telescope at it and see black. Or maybe a few stars that are no different than those you can see on your own. Being able to have a guide (a person or book) that tells you exactly where the interesting stuff is and how to find it. When seeking God, our Guide needs to be the Holy Spirit. Invite him to guide you in your time.
  • Be prepared for uncomfortable times. Clear skies bring cold weather. Some celestial objects don't rise until quite late. If you want to see them, you need to get uncomfortable. There are times as well where God will want to show you something at an inconvenient time, in an inconvenient way. Set aside your discomfort and your own plans and turn to Him; let Him show you something wonderful.
  • Accept that some days are cloudy. You may have everything planned out. You may be completely prepared. You show up and see nothing, because it's all gray. You did nothing wrong. God sometimes makes my time with Him cloudy. I'm truly seeking after Him, and I get nothing in return. But just as the heavens are still stunning and majestic, God is still awesome and beautiful. And there will be a clear day coming. Wait for it. Hunger for it.
My telescope is packed away in my daughter's closet. I haven't broken it out in a couple years because it seems like it's always too much of a hassle. I can't let that be the case with my seeking after God. Our corner of the universe may not be worth the time and effort to explore, but the One who created it all with His thoughts sure is.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Live Long and Prosper

I've been a fan of Star Trek for quite some time, and am excited to see the latest movie. One of the intriguing aspects proposed by the series is whether Earth as a whole could join together and be at peace within itself. It's a great ideal, and some psychologists believe we can get there.

So, can we as a human species free ourselves from the horrors of war? Unfortunately, my vote is no, at least apart from Christ's reign.

First, Scripture indicates somewhat clearly that wars will continue to come. In the context of the "end times", Jesus says:
When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away." Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
Also, the second Rider in Revelation is "given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other."

But let's say for the sake of argument that a temporary but long-lasting peace could occur beforehand. At what scale would this peace occur? That is, in what sized groups would the fighting stop?

I can imagine that the combination of a global, interconnected economy and the growth of tolerance in the belief sets would make it possible, one day, for no nation to want to cause harm to any other nation. This might meet the technical definition of world peace, but not the spirit of it. After all, though the nations may try to stop it, groups of varying sizes (from dozens to thousands) will still exist for the purpose of causing harm. That means terrorist cells, organized crime syndicates, and gangs will not disappear. So, sure, India and Pakistan may call a truce, and somehow Israel and the rest of the Middle East could come to terms, but I can't see terrorist attacks or turf wars becoming historical oddities.

Why the pessimism? Because it's in our nature. We're all inherently selfish. Our natural reaction when we feel disenfranchised is to fight back if we can. And the most effective way of fighting back is to find others also willing to fight back. And why will there be those who feel disenfranchised? Because we as human beings do a pretty miserable job of following the simplest of rules Jesus laid down for us: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

If every human being aimed to follow this Golden Rule, we may not eliminate all conflict, but we'd sure be a whole lot closer to Star Trek than we are right now.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Who is my neighbor?

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 5:43-45a
Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." -- Matthew 22:37-38
"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." -- Luke 10:36-37
"The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey." ... "White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it." -- CNN survey
Why does it seem at times like the body of Jesus is missing the heart of Jesus?