Mwallette's Weblog
Pondering faith and such.

Feb
20

There is a very disturbing verse in the Bible in Genesis 6:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them."

If you are anything like me, this verse has probably really confused and bothered you. If God is good, why would He destroy the world? How can a good and loving God ever wish He hadn’t made the world and all the people in it? I’ve posted on this blog before about "the Hebrew Idiom of Permission" and I still maintain that that is the real answer to this question. But that answer doesn’t completely satisfy me. I mean, if my daughter (she’s ten) was standing in the middle of a busy road, I wouldn’t just warn her that she could be injured if she stayed there; I would do everything in power to get her to move, including picking her up and moving her out of the road. If God is our good, kind, loving Father, then even if He didn’t send the Flood Himself, how could He just allow the world (except Noah and his family) to die?

I got a bit of a revelation in the form of a URL in an e-mail from my wife. She is a big pro-life person — right-to-life is her big soapbox just like TSA is mine. While browsing pro-life web sites, she found the story of a Chinese woman who testified before a human rights commission in 2009 about how the Chinese government forced her to have an abortion against her will because she did not have a permit to have a child. If you can stomach the story — it’s not easy to read, and my heart broke reading about it — here it is.

After reading the story, I got it. My initial thought after reading this story was, "How can God be so patient that we still exist when we allow **** like this to happen?" And suddenly, I got it. God didn’t want the Flood…but man had become so evil, so vile, so…inHUMANe…that He couldn’t stand it anymore.

So here’s my appeal. Will you speak for the speechless? Will you stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves? Will you stand in the gap between God and the world?

I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.

Nov
01

Interesting discussion on Slashdot today:

And don’t <expletive deleted> hang yourself, you idiot. You think that will end anything?

I am pretty sure it will end your life…

The biochemical machinery that we recognize as clinical vital signs, yes. The abstract nature that is a human being … not so much. Suicide means that [sic] gets stuck in a really awful place to be, plus the clarity to recognize how foolish it was to waste one’s life on a relationship like that. Some would call it hell but it doesn’t need little red guys with pitchforks, that’s just religious fantasy designed to scare you into obedience, as if anything enlightened was done from a place of fear.

Considering that every seven years or so, each individual molecule in the human body is replaced by another, that means we’re not really so material. We’re as material as a wave that is waving through water. Only we’re waving through water and solid matter. There is an abstract nature to this. Not only could you not escape it, I have no idea why you would want to. It’s a beautiful thing.

Even if you are so steeped in logical positivism that you simply cannot bring yourself to entertain this notion, namely because you have a tool (logic) that is quite useful for some things but now you think everything is a nail because you only have a hammer … even if that is who you are and you think death is nothing more than a dirt-nap, a “lights out” with no consciousness remaining … consider it from the angle of those he leaves behind. How selfish one must be to not care about the pain and heartache and long-lasting emotional scars that suicide would put his friends and family through.

So yes, come up with some little trivial one-liner in response to a serious issue. You are uncomfortable with this theme and that’s your way of smoothing it over. I get it. Just understand what you are trivializing.

This was a most insightful comment. Whether or not you believe in a devil and Hell, this guy posted an incredibly poetic view of life, and with an eloquence to which I can only aspire, silenced those who would display the humanist/atheist tendency to disregard matters of spirituality. I particularly appreciated his comment, "…because you have a tool (logic) that is quite useful for some things but now you think everything is a nail because you only have a hammer…" YES!!! Logic is a powerful and useful tool, but because it is easy to see the power and use of this tool, we have a tendency to think it is the only tool available to us when it most certainly is not.

Unfortunately, because we have put logic in the driver’s seat and allowed our other tools (like intuition, faith and spirituality) to atrophy, we think that what we see and feel with our physical bodies is all that is real. As C.S. Lewis once said,

Aug
22

Several months after reading Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”, the Christian Community is still up in arms over this book. From the responses to the book that I have read, objections mainly fall into two camps: first, that Jesus is the only way to God (““I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”, John 14:6); and second, a need for justice, based upon the belief that God is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. The first argument contains a grain of truth, but in my opinion, completely misses the point. The second argument is very common, but it’s also flat-out wrong. Allow me to explain.

I’ll start with the first argument, that there is no way to God but through Jesus. This is, by far, the best argument against Bell’s position in “Love Wins” that I have yet found. It is based on Scripture, albeit a misinterpretation of Scripture. People often suffer from a common fallacy of logic, that the way they interpreted a phrase is the only way to interpret a phrase. Unfortunately, oftentimes what we hear is not really what the speaker (or writer) intended to say. I cannot count the number of times that I have said one thing, but what someone else heard was radically different. I believe John 14:6 is one of those phrases that everyone has heard and that everyone thinks they understand…but I am not quite sure that most of us really do. Most Christians that I have spoken with take Jesus’ words in this passage to mean, “Unless you come to me, you will not come to the Father.” But is that what He actually said? Jesus spoke these words to His disciples immediately before going to the garden where He was betrayed and crucified. In the context of this passage, He was preparing His disciples for the pain and shock they were about to experience. In my opinion, Jesus was telling His disciples that His death on the cross was necessary for mankind to be reconciled to God; not that only those who “hear, believe, repent and are baptized” will be reconciled! Yes, the only way to God is through Jesus…because only Jesus could atone for our sins! Buddha won’t save you (even though one may find some degree of wisdom in Buddhism), nor will Mohammed (ditto) nor any other religious leader. Only Jesus could pay the price, only through His death could we be reconciled with the Father, and only through His resurrection do we have a hope in eternal life. This, I believe, is what Jesus was really saying in John 14:6.

The second argument is even more insidious and more evil, because it seems right to us. “God has given us His laws, and those who break His laws will face His wrath on the day of judgment!”

Yeah…be careful there. Romans 2 says some very interesting things about God’s judgment. verse 7 says that “To those who by persistence in doing good…He will give eternal life.[emphasis mine]” Did you catch that? Those who “declare their faith in Jesus and…” Wait…no, that’s not what it said. It says, “to those who by persistence doing good…”

“Yeah! Those who hear, believe, repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus are those who are doing good!” one might argue.

And one would be wrong:

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles…do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) [emphasis mine](Romans 2:13-15)

Wait…Even the Gentiles, who do not have the law, still follow the law because God has written it on their hearts? Yep. That’s what Paul said. Kind of deflates the argument that God only loves believers, doesn’t it?

This second argument is evil because it claims that God, who is holy and just and in all ways perfect, condemns men to Hell simply because they have never heard the Gospel and therefore have never pronounced faith in Jesus…whom they have never heard of. And we like that because it makes us, the Christians, feel good because we think we are better than everyone else because we do a better job of following God’s law than those who have never heard the Gospel. And we use that to justify ourselves, even though we know we have fallen short of perfection, because at least we are better than those heathens! “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers…” Ugh…If that is what is in our hearts, then we will be justified in exactly the same way that Pharisee was.

A young man in my youth group was moved to tears one day while talking about his grandparents. They weren’t evil. They went to church every Sunday, but they didn’t get involved in ministry. They had their spot on the pew in church, and after church, they went home and lived life like normal. A few years ago they died. And this young man was positive they were in Hell, because they weren’t “real Christians”.

In this young man’s theology, God separates us into the lukewarm and the hot, the sinners and the believers, the evil and the righteous, the lost and the saved. He spends his entire life trying to make sure he is on the hot, believer, righteous, saved list, not out of love for who God is but out of fear that he will end up in Hell. Like his grandparents.

I nearly cried when I was talking to him, because he SO missed the point of the Gospel. Do you really think it is “Good News” that your ancestors are in Hell, but if you follow Jesus, you can escape their fate? Do you think it is “Good News” that “…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”?

I don’t.

Fortunately, I don’t have to, because that isn’t who God is. That is a lie of the devil, and that is the lie that Bell is arguing against. God, who IS just and holy and all that, doesn’t judge us based on a standard that is impossible to meet.

In fact, I don’t think He judges us at all. Revelation 12:10-11 tells us that the accuser has been hurled down, overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. But wait…if the accuser has been hurled down, then God can’t be the one accusing us. And if God isn’t accusing us, then of what is He going to judge us? How can you judge someone with no charges levied against them? Have you ever seen a court room where the judge pronounces the sentence “Guilty!” when there was no prosecutor to accuse the defendant? Does that even make sense?

“I declare you guilty, even though there are no charges against you because there is no one here to accuse you!”

I don’t think so.

It never ceases to amaze me that the very same people who are proclaiming God’s wrath and judgment against the lost of the world can recite 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Yet fear of punishment is what motivates many of those same people to follow Jesus! How does that make sense? How can you claim that “God is love” (1 John 4:8 and 1 John 4:16) and “perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment” while still proclaiming a message of hellfire and damnation? Is that not fear of punishment?

Thank you, no. I believe “Love Wins” because God is love, God is sovereign, and “God works all things for good…” (Romans 8:28). And I defy you to find any way that Hell is good.

Apr
04

A couple of years ago, a friend of a friend introduced me to a series of videos created by a pastor in…Michigan, I think…named Rob Bell. I’ve watched a few of the videos and they were quite good, particularly "Lump" and "Noise". Bell has a way of re-presenting Biblical concepts in ways I had never thought of before. He brings a fresh perspective to theology, challenging my ways of thinking, and, I believe, bringing me closer to what God really was trying to say. Consequently, when my friend told me about a new book Rob Bell had just published called "Love Wins" the other day, I knew I had to read it. As soon as I watched the trailer for the book, I was hooked. I downloaded the book onto my cell phone (ya gotta love technology, sometimes!), and, well, I couldn’t put it down.

I read the entire book in something like five hours.

I’m still digesting the book, and I strongly suspect I will have to read it at least one more time before it really starts to sink in, but I think Bell was onto something. You see, we modern, western Christians sometimes look an awful lot like the Pharisees. We divide the world into "us" and "them", "saved" and "unsaved", "believers" and "unbelievers". Hmmm…Didn’t Jesus tell a story like that once? For us, Church has become our religious duty, something we do to make sure we are part of the "in" crowd.

But is it, as Bell says, "all just a massive exercise in completely missing the point?" He thinks so, and honestly, so do I. For example, in "Love Wins", Bell tells about the literal meaning of the Hebrew word "Gehenna", which is often translated as "Hell" in English Bibles. Gehenna, he says, was a literal place in the days of Jesus. It was a valley just outside the city of Jerusalem that was used as the town garbage dump. In the valley of Gehenna, a fire burned 24×7, reducing the waste of jerusalem into ash, and wild dogs and other scavengers skulked around the edges of the dump, picking at refuse. It was, quite literally, a place of eternal fire, filled with the sound of the gnashing teeth of scavengers. To the Jewish people to whom Jesus was talking, the word "Gehenna" painted a vivid picture of the effluvium of the city of God.

Interesting…

Paul said, "[The work of men] will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." At first, this sounds very much like what orthodox Western Christianity tells us: if we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, then we will be saved — maybe just by the skin of our teeth ("as one escaping through the flames"), but we will be saved. We’ll be "in" (hallelujah!). Otherwise, "depart, i knew you not."

But is there another way to interpret this verse? Is that really what Paul was trying to tell the Corinthians?

The writer of Hebrews tells us that, "The Word of God is…sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit…" Harold Eberle, another Christian pastor, teacher and writer who has greatly influenced my theology, gives a different interpretation of this verse than what is commonly believed. Rather than separating soul FROM spirit, Eberle teaches, the Word of God separates the Godly part of our soul AND spirit from that which was ungodly. The Word of God does not cleave my body and soul from my spirit; rather it carves out the unwholesome parts of the spirit, the body and the soul from that which is good, wholesome and pure.

Now look at 1 Corinthians 3 in light of this view of Hebrews 4: if my works and my heart have been good overall, but I have also built fleshly, unwholesome works as well — say, I was active in my church, but neglected to feed the poor or stand up for the oppressed — after the Word of God has separated what was good in me from that which was not, there may not be much left. I would have escaped, but "as one who escaped through fire." The unwholesome would be burned off, I would be refined by fire, but like a small nugget of gold encased in a mound of ice, what remains after passing through the fire is merely a remnant of what I was before. And the Word of God is to cleave that which was not wholesome from that which is pure, what then happens to the dross? Why, it is thrown into the dump — cast off into Gehenna, the lake of fire!

You see, you and I were not meant for Hell! You and I were meant to walk in the Garden with God. Hell is only for the impurities, the works and heart and attitudes in our life that are not worthy of the Kingdom!

I grew up worrying, "what if I’m not good enough? What if I didn’t get it right? What if I only score an ‘F’ on God’s final exam? What if I don’t make the grade?" And I’m beginning to think I completely missed the point. I can’t earn my way to salvation; in fact, salvation wasn’t even a question for Jesus. As Peter said, "The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." Now THAT is Good News, indeed!

But wait a minute…Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Obviously everyone doesn’t make it into Heaven, right? Only those who have accepted Jesus!

Well, maybe…but I really don’t think so. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross redeemed me from the law of sin and death. My sin means I can never attain salvation on my own merit. I didn’t pass the final exam; I missed the mark. And nothing I can ever do will ever atone for my mistakes. But Jesus took the penalty for my sin upon Himself, and in doing so, redeemed me back into the Kingdom. So let me ask you another question, in return. Is unbelief a sin? Is unbelief a worse sin than, say, lying? Drunkenness? Adultery? Homosexuality? Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin are death. But what sin? Are my sins okay because I call myself a Christian, but your sins not because you wear a different badge? At what point are my sins forgiven, and at what point, if at all, can they be heaped back upon me? Does Jesus’ death on the cross require action on my part to work? If so, then by accepting Jesus am I not doing a work that earns my way to Heaven?

But I’m not saved by works! Romans 5:8 says, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." If the penalty for sin is death, and if Jesus overcame death at his resurrection, then the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus paid the penalty for ALL MY SIN! Grace is the extra-credit points I need to make the bar, and it doesn’t matter if I need only one point more on the final or a thousand — Jesus earned my grade for me!

Paul alluded to this in Romans 2, although this verse is often neglected by many Christians: "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." Wait — you mean even the Gentiles (unbelievers) have the law of God, even if they have never heard of Jesus? Well, yeah, it kind of looks that way.

I have long been uncomfortable with some aspects of my theology because I have always been taught that "…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Now, I still believe this is true, but again, not in the way I ever heard it preached.

A few years ago, my wife watched a movie called "What Dreams May Come." Yes, I know…it’s dangerous to base theology on Hollywood, but sometimes even Hollywood gets an idea that is inspired :) After watching this movie, my wife had an epiphany, and it’s a good one: we build our Hell right here, right now, on earth! This isn’t wrath that’s stored up for later. This is literal torment right now. If jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, right here, right now, then is not the devil’s kingdom here, too? Go look in the eyes of a child whose parents were just killed by a drunk driver and tell me that child is not in torment. Talk to a rape victim and tell me they are not in Hell. Bell talks about traveling in Africa years ago and seeing mutilated teenagers because the warlords would take a machete and lop off the arms, legs and hands of the children of those who dared oppose them. No lake of fire can be any worse than the depravity and hatred that we can spew here on earth. We make our Hell every day through the consequences of our disobedience to God. I know for myself, the burning in my conscience when I know that I have let someone else down, that I have betrayed the faith someone else placed in me is indeed a fiery torment. No one can beat me up worse than I can beat up myself sometimes. I truly believe that this guilt and shame is the thorn in the flesh that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 12. Fortunately, the solution is given in the very next verse: "But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’"

"Love Wins" is drawing some heavy criticism in the church. Many Christians are now calling Bell a Universalist, saying that what he says in his book is, at best, misguided, and at worst, flat out blasphemous. Many Christians argue that the Bible teaches that Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, pagans and others — anyone but Christians — will find themselves burning in Hell after they die. With all due respect, I would caution such people to be very careful about casting such judgments upon any others, for Matthew 7:1-2 warns about the danger of judging others. Judgment is for God alone, and unlike us, He judges both justly and (fortunately!) mercifully.

When my time here on earth is done, I expect to meet many people that don’t look quite like what we think Christians typically look like. I fully expect to hobnob with Socrates (Greek pagan) and to spend some time talking with Mohatma Ghandi (Hindu). Why? Because love wins. It’s not about keeping a list, even if that list only includes the single item of confessing Jesus. It’s all about your heart, perhaps even if you don’t completely understand what it is you are doing. Because of His great love for us, and while we were yet sinners, Jesus paid the price, and ultimately, that’s all that really matters.

Apr
03

There is a verse in the Bible that really bugs me. In Matthew 7:22-23, Jesus tells the story of men pleading their case before the throne of judgment:

"Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name, did we not cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.‘"

These verses really bug me because the people Jesus is describing sound like they should be rock stars. I mean, look at the fruit they are producing: prophecy, casting out demons, performing miracles…These are the people who Get It. Yet Jesus says He never knew them. What gives?

The answer hit me while I was putting gas in my truck today. There are two things wrong with their answer. First, they are reciting a list of works they have performed, but Jesus didn’t call us to be slaves, or even employees. He called us to have a relationship with Him. What does he say in His answer? "I never knew you." Second, these men were trusting in their own accomplishments to earn their way to salvation. But grace is a gift. It is not by my power or holiness that I am made righteous, but only by the blood of Jesus, given freely by His love that I can stand unafraid before the throne of Jehovah.

Feb
20

Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived with his father in a cabin in the woods. The boy had no brothers or sisters because his mother had died while giving birth to him, and his father had never remarried. The father loved his son very, very much, and of course, this love was returned by the boy. Even though the father missed his wife, and the boy missed having a mother or brothers and sisters, they lived a happy life in the woods. The father taught the boy how to canoe, how to find his way in the woods, how to live off the land. The boy, of course, cherished the time with his dad, and tried to be just like his father.

Every morning, the father would wake up his son, make breakfast for him, and send him off to school. School was about a mile away, and the boy was old enough to walk to and from school by himself. He and his father had walked the path through the woods, across the meadow and into town to the small school for years, so the boy knew the way. The town was very small, and everyone knew everyone else, so the father wasn’t worried about the boy’s safety, either.

One afternoon, however, the father noticed that his son was much later than usual getting home. At first, the father thought the boy must have stopped at the creek to catch a fish, or perhaps he became distracted following a deer through the woods. As the hour grew later and later, however, and as the evening shadows grew longer and longer, the father grew more and more worried about his son. Eventually, the father could no longer deny that something was wrong. He grabbed his hardwood walking stick, put on his heavy work boots, donned his canvas jacket, and set out into the woods to search for his son.

For hours, he walked through the woods, calling out his son’s name. The sun had long since set, and the father had all but given up hope, when he heard his son’s voice, weakly calling back to him. He raced to his son’s side, and a terrible rage filled him. His son lay on the ground, one eye blackened, his nose bloody, his coat, boots and backpack stolen. “Son, what happened to you?” he asked.

“I met a man in the woods,” his son replied, “who told me that he knew a different path home. I followed him, and when we were deep in the woods, he beat me up and stole my things,” the boy replied, feeling very ashamed at having been tricked, and at having been beaten up. “I don’t deserve to be your son. You wouldn’t have been fooled, and you could have beat up the man if he had tried to rob you.”

—————————————————————————————————————-

This story is an allegory. The father, of course, is God. The man in the woods, of course, is the devil, and all of who have ever lived in this world are, equally of course, the boy.

My question, therefore is this: if in this story, you were the father, and this had happened to your children, how would you react? Would you drag your child home by the ear and beat him for his foolishness and weakness, or would you take your son home, tend to his wounds, call a dear friend or family member to look after him, and set off into the woods to find the man who harmed your child and bring him to justice? I can’t answer for anyone but myself, but I would be filled with compassion for my child, and rage towards the person who had hurt my child. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” In other words, earthly mothers and fathers, even though we often are guided by fear, jealousy, anger or other passions that are not of God, are still good and loving to our children, and since that is the case, should we not expect God, who is entirely holy and good, to treat His own children – us – even better than we treat our own children? Of course we should!

Yet many Christians view God as the punisher with the big stick who is waiting for us to slip out of line so He can beat us back into submission. I maintain that this view of God is not Biblical, nor is it an accurate representation of Him. 2nd Peter 3:9 says, “…[the Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentence” (emphasis mine). God’s desire is not to punish His children but rather to be reconciled with them! This is echoed in what is arguably the most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but should have everlasting life.”

Bill Johnson tells the story of having someone speak to him after service one Sunday, and asking, “Bill, haven’t you heard of the wrath of God?” to which he replied, “Sure! I’m just glad He isn’t mad at me!” This is a really big deal. GOD ISN’T MAD AT ME!, and He isn’t mad at YOU, either!

In the story above, the father isn’t mad at the son. He is mad at the man who tricked, beat and robbed his son. God isn’t mad at you because the devil has tricked you and beaten you up. He’s mad at the devil for abusing you in that way. God is love, and God is good – all the time. If you’ve ever violated God’s covenant, pick yourself back up. Repent – which literally means “turn away”, so turn away from the path that led to your fall, and GET ON A BETTER PATH! – and return to God. He isn’t mad at you; He is jealous for you, because He knows what the devil wants to do to you if you follow his path instead of God’s path. He will bring you back into His house, because He loves you, more than you will ever know.

———————————————————————————————–
Picking the boy up in his arms, the father carried the boy to his uncle’s house, where the father, the uncle and the uncle’s family treated the boy’s wounds and put him to bed. After the boy fell asleep, the father and the uncle then set out into the woods, determined to find the man who had abused the boy. It took an hour, but they eventually found the thief, hiding in a cave next to a camp fire. The father and the uncle overpowered the thief, dragged him out of the cave, through the woods and back to the small town, where the sheriff threw the wretch into the smallest, coldest, darkest cell in the jail. The father then returned to the uncle’s house, laid on the floor next to the boy’s bed and slept there until much later the next morning when the boy awoke. Seeing all of his possessions on the floor near the bed, the boy asked how they had been returned. The father just smiled, but the uncle’s wife, the boy’s aunt told how the father and the uncle had caught the thief and hauled him to jail.

Never again did the boy doubt the father’s love for him.

Dec
21

I have been spending a lot of time in the Prophets recently, especially Ezekiel and Amos. Two chapters, in particular, stand out to me: Ezekiel 22 and Amos 5. For those of you who are not familiar with Amos 5, this is the chapter where the Lord declares, "I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps." In my mind, this is one of the saddest verses in all of scripture. What could possibly upset God so much that He no longer wants to join in celebration with His children? The answer is given in Amos 5:7 and Amos 5:10-12: "There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground…10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. 11 You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts." This outrage is echoed in Ezekiel 22:6-7 and 12-13: "See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. 7 In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow…12 In you are people who accept bribes to shed blood; you take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbors. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD. 13 I will surely strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst." It is clear from these chapters that God hates injustice. His heart breaks when the powerful oppress the powerless.

I recently heard an outstanding message from Cindy Jacobs, in which she asked "Where is the Lord’s ‘Justice League’? Where are those who will stand up for the oppressed, and who will go into battle against the powers of darkness in the world?" Something stirred inside me when I heard her speak, although at the time, I didn’t understand why. Now, four months or so later, I think I may have a clue. Another man I greatly admire, Harold Eberle, told of the difference between the way people in Africa think and the way Western Europeans and Americans think. In Africa, he says, there is no divide between the physical and the spiritual. Both interact with and are intimately related to each other. In Western culture, we have a strict division between the spiritual and the physical. If that is so, and if my understanding of God’s nature revealed in Ezekiel 22 and Amos 5 is correct, then political battles regarding justice and oppression are spiritual battles as well. However, some Westerners may have trouble breaking through the physical/spiritual divide in our culture. To that end, I have launched a new blog, IHeartTSA.blogspot.com where I intend to discuss what I feel is a great ethical, moral and legal battle in the U.S. It is currently, my biggest "soapbox" issue. Despite the fact that I believe Eberle is right to say that there is really no division between the physical and the spiritual, I understand that there may be Christians who disagree with my point of view, just as there are non-Christians who may agree with my point of view, but aren’t interested in my theology. Therefore, in an effort to not create a stumbling block for others, I will try to keep this site dedicated to theology and the "IHeartTSA" site dedicated to what I feel is an unconscionable abuse by the U.S. government on the flying public. Regardless of what you believe in this debate, may God be with you and bless you.

Sep
07

If you have ever read much from the Bible, one thing that you will notice is that it is a book full of dreams. In Genesis chapter 12, God gives a dream to a rich man living in the country of Ur, "Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." The man, of course, was Abram, later called Abraham, and that was a pretty big dream that God gave him. It came at a cost, because, as I said, Abram was a rich man, so leaving his country, his people, and his father’s household to go to a new land to establish God’s chosen nation of Israel wasn’t a simple matter. Abram couldn’t exactly rent a U-Haul, load up a truck full of his belongings and drive across the county line to his new home. Furthermore, the fulfillment of this dream occurred a long, long time after Abram/Abraham’s death with the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah on the third day.

Abraham wasn’t the only dreamer in the Bible. Joseph also had a dream. Like Abraham, Joseph had to wait a long time for his dream to be fulfilled, and there were times when I image Joseph must have really wondered if his dream would ever come true. I mean, think about it: sold into slavery, falsely accused of committing a crime, locked in a dungeon in a foreign land…and he was going to become a ruler over his people one day?

And don’t forget about David. David was anointed to become king of Israel, but before that came true, David spent years hiding in caves, running from Saul, who was trying to kill him and working for the Philistines, the mortal enemies of Israel. Not a very promising start for the future king of Israel! But that dream came true, and then David dreamed another one: to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. Again, this dream was not immediately fulfilled. In fact, God sent Nathan, a prophet, to tell David that he was not to build the temple; he was to design the temple, and his son Solomon would build the temple.

Finally, I believe that God Himself is a dreamer. Does the account of the creation in Genesis sound like an accident? No, of course not! God had a dream that His people would walk with Him in the shade of the Garden (see Genesis 3:8), and after the fall of Eve, when He pronounces the curse that Adam and Eve’s sin brought upon them, He alludes to the fact that He already had a plan to restore them to right relation with Him.

This morning, I was reading from ElijahList.com when I read something interesting: We are in a season of deliverance from barrenness, famine, lack, poverty and spiritual orphanhood. If your dreams seem dead, God is about to pour out fresh rain of His Spirit to revive them. If your hopes deferred have made you sick, God is healing your broken heart today. These words stopped me dead in my tracks as I read them this morning. I’ve had a lot of dreams, and like a lot of people, I’ve given up on a lot of dreams.

During my senior year of high school, my zoology teacher passed out a piece of paper to everyone on the class. One of the questions on the page was a question that had been on all of our minds a lot as we prepared to go to college and/or enter the "real world": What do you want to do after you graduate? I answered honestly, listing the three things that I most wanted to do:

  1. I wanted to be a guitarist in a band;
  2. I wanted to be a pilot; and
  3. I wanted to be a computer programmer.

Now, twenty-two years later, I look back at that list, and am amazed at how prescient I was at 17. I earned my pilot’s license in 1991, went on to get my instrument rating, my commercial pilot’s certificate, and in 1998, my flight instructor certificate. I have twice held part time jobs as a flight instructor. Pilot? Check. In 2005, the church I attended started a new worship service based upon more modern music, along the lines of David Crowder Band, Todd Agnew, Jeff Deyo and the Newsboys. I volunteered to play bass guitar in the worship band. By November of that year, I was leading worship, and playing lead guitar, and I remained in that role until the service was discontinued in 2008. Guitarist in a performing band? Check. In 1999, I was hired by one of the two biggest phone companies in Alaska (I now work for the other one…) as a computer operator. In three years, I had been promoted to Internet system administrator, where I was part of the team responsible for building and troubleshooting Internet networks, servers and services. I wasn’t exactly a computer programmer, but I was learning everything I could about the Internet and computers, so close enough…check.

But as I checked off these career goals, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that God had something more in mind for me. As I was leading worship at the church service, I began to think it would be very, very cool to write Christian music from my own heart and to perform that in front of more than just the handful of people that attended the church service I was at. You see, in high school, I didn’t just dream of being in a no-name garage band that only my next door neighbors heard of; I dreamed of filling arenas, and hearing my music on the radio. And flight instructing…yeah, that was a fun way to make a few extra dollars, but in truth, I was spending a lot of time away from my family, logging "flight" time while someone else got to handle the controls. A 2006 or 2007 issue of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s monthly magazine showed me something even better than sitting in the right seat while teaching others to fly: flying missions in third world countries like Afghanistan. I no longer just wanted to fly; I began dreaming of being a missionary pilot somewhere overseas, where an airplane flight could quite literally be life and death for a sick person in need of medical care, of getting the supplies a remote village needed in order to survive the winter or of getting a missionary evangelist to a group of people who had never heard the Gospel before. By this time, working with computers had become rather boring, as well. By late 2009, I had developed a new dream, as well. Shortly after the Fourth of July, I earned my motorcycle license and started commuting to work on an ’83 Honda Nighthawk 550. That was the most freedom I had ever felt since I learned to fly 18 years earlier. Also earlier that year, I encountered the writings of Art Matthias, of Wellspring Ministries (who, in the interests of disclosure, is now my boss in my role as Youth Pastor at Wellspring Church). Suddenly, I had a new dream, of riding my motorcycle across the country, teaching Wellspring seminars at other churches, hungry for revival.

And that’s what sometimes happens with dreams. As we begin to dream, new interests and revelations begin to push old dreams out of the way. Sometimes, that’s just because as our hearts align more with God’s heart, our dreams become more about Him and less about us. But sometimes, it’s because as we get older and time passes, we stop pushing for the big, bold, adventurous "Fear not, for I am with you" dreams, and start pushing for the simple, attainable, I-don’t-need-faith-or-God-to-reach-this-one dreams. That’s a tragedy, because God didn’t put us here on earth to dream of a crackling fire, a warm blanket and cup of hot cocoa. He put us here to dream big, impossible, there’s-no-way-I-can-do-it-alone-but-You-are-with-me dreams. Fortunately, the old dreams don’t die; they linger in the dark corners in the back of our minds until something jars them loose again. I’ve never given up on leading worship at a huge conference with thousands of people in attendance, like Jake Hamilton, Kim Walker-Smith or Chris Quilala do. I’ve never given up on flying missions overseas. And riding across the country on my new motorcycle (a bigger, more reliable, more-suitable-for-touring Suzuki V-Strom — R.I.P., Nighthawk!) teaching the Word of God to people seeking a fresh revelation of the blessings of God is still on the top of my list.

So, while I don’t know much about Mahesh and Bonnie Chavda (I’ve heard their names, but I’m really not familiar with their ministry), I agree with the word they spoke on ElijahList.com. God, give us back our biggest, wildest, craziest dreams. Bring a fresh rain of Your Spirit to reawaken us to the dreams that you have placed within us. And watch out, world, because when God’s people align their dreams with the Holy Spirit, the whole earth will be shaken!

Sep
01

There is one less in God’s army today.

A man I know died yesterday morning, after a 5+ month battle with cancer. The world is diminished by his passing, and my prayers go out to his family. I’ve been there — my dad died in 2006 — so I have some idea of what it’s like. Fortunately, he and all of his family are Christian, so they know who he is with, and that they will see him again, and that certainly helps.

But I have to admit, I am struggling with his death, even though I didn’t know him all that well, and, as I said, I have already faced the death of my own father.

When my mom came back up to Alaska this summer, and told me that her friend had terminal cancer, I felt led to go pray for him. That’s a subtle, not-quite-so-whacko way of saying, I believe God said to me, "Go pray for him." When I found out there was already a group from the church he and my mom attend who was going to his house every week to pray for his healing, that cinched the deal. I’m going to be brutally honest here, because if I am not willing to be honest about what has been going on in my head for the last ten weeks, I might as well not bother even writing this blog entry. It won’t help anyone else when they are facing a crisis in their faith, and it won’t help me in mine, unless I tell the whole truth. So here goes…

At 15, I walked away from the Church of Christ (not "…of Latter Day Saints" — we weren’t Mormon) because I felt it was a powerless religion. Every church I had gone to believed that, yes, Jesus performed miracles because He was the Son of God. They believed that Peter and John and Paul and the other Apostles and Disciples performed miracles because Jesus had imparted that anointing into them. But they didn’t believe that we could perform miracles now.

My world was shaken a bit at 29 when my girlfriend (now my wife) invited me to her Assemblies of God church. As I walked into the building, I felt something — an energy — that had never, ever been present in any church I had gone to. For the next six years my wife and I attended that church off and on (but mostly off, to be honest), and my beliefs began to change. At 35, I had an encounter with God that wrecked my theology. For the next three years, I was one of the worship leaders at that church, and went from being a luke-warm (at best) Christian to desperately pursuing God…but I still didn’t really believe in miracles. Then at 38, I watched a video that changed my entire theology. A friend of my wife’s loaned her a DVD called Finger of God. As I watched this DVD, faith began to rise. Was it really possible that Christians today could — and in fact, are expected to — perform the same kinds of miracles that Jesus, James, John, Peter and Paul performed? I dived into the Bible with a vengeance, and concluded that, yes, we can and should be healing the sick, raising the dead and setting the captive free (see Mark 3:13-15, John 14:12-14 and James 5:14-15).

As a result of this journey of faith, much of which is chronicled here in my blog, when I heard that a man from the Church of Christ was dying of cancer, I felt I should step out in faith, join the group praying for his healing, and watch the miracle happen. In the nine weeks that I was there with the group praying for him, I was often frustrated by what I perceived as a lack of faith in that prayer group — so much "if it’s your will, God, we’d really like to see him healed." I’ve confessed to my pastor, my wife, and a group of close friends that I’m often preaching my theology of miracles as much as praying for this man’s healing when I’m there, because if Jesus sometimes couldn’t bring healing to people because of their lack of faith, what hope did I have, unless faith increased?

In other words, I was praying with an agenda, and as God put on my heart Sunday night, when we are praying for a miracle, we need to have a single purpose: to demonstrate the love of God to His people. I mean, my agenda wasn’t bad, but I was sidetracked by things that shouldn’t have mattered to me. And, I was judging those who were also their to intercede on this man’s behalf, and that certainly is not my job. God, forgive me.

So today, I am reeling from the news that my attempts to bring healing to a sick man, to bring the joy and peace of Heaven to his family, and to bring a revelation of the power and authority that we wield as believers in Jesus to that church, have failed. I am really struggling to keep in mind, what Chris Gore, an amazing pastor at the Bethel Church in Redding, California, said: "When I pray for healing, and it happens, I don’t take the glory. It belongs to God. So why, when I pray for healing, and it doesn’t happen, would I accept the burden?" He’s right, but emotions, by definition, aren’t logical and can’t be swayed by logical argument. I’m struggling with the cognitive dissonance between what the Bible says — "pray and they will be healed" and "He who believes in Me will do the works that I do, and even greater"– and what just happened. I prayed, but he wasn’t healed. I believed, but didn’t do the works that Jesus did. How do I reconcile my experience with what I believe?

In the end, all I can do is focus on what God has done. I wrote a text message to my mom Monday afternoon, laying out why I thought this man would be healed: "C’mon…look at what has already happened. In April, the doctors gave him 4-6 weeks to live…5 months ago! Three weeks ago, they gave him 2-3 weeks to live. Two weeks ago, an ER nurse gave him two days. And last Tuesday, he looked better than he has since I started going to his house to pray for him." So, thank you, God, for more time than the doctors expected him to have. Thank you, God, for a good last week of his life. Thank you, God, that his family got to experience Your people rallying around them during their time of need. And thank you, God, for the hope that I will see him — and my dad, my grandfather, my sister-in-law, and so many others — again one day when you call me home to You, too.

And until that day, I pray that you increase my faith to the point, where I am like Peter in Acts 5, where people brought the sick to line the streets where Peter walked, and just his shadow passing over them made them well. But there’s another story about Peter, too, when he was reeling — like me — from things he didn’t quite understand: "So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ 68Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.’" All I can do is cling to Him; He alone has the words of eternal life.

Jul
22

"…My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge…”

For the last four weeks, I have been meeting with a group of very good, very dedicated, very passionate Christians who are praying that Kevin (not his real name), one of their brothers in Christ, be healed of pancreatic cancer. On the one hand, it is very encouraging and uplifting to me to see the body of Christ coming together to pray for healing. On the other hand — and I have to be careful here because I want to speak with honor of these people with what I write, but what I am about to say could easily be misinterpreted as criticism of their beliefs — I often come away heartbroken with the mindset behind some of what they pray.

Allow me to give an example. Last night, I joined these brothers and sisters in Christ, and after we had prayed, I gave a testimony of what I am convinced was a miraculous healing of my mother-in-law last Monday after she had a stroke. I finished the testimony by saying, "God healed my mother-in-law. And if he can heal her, he can heal Kevin." To this, Kevin’s wife answered, "As long as it is His will. That’s what we have to remember."

I almost cried.

With two sentences, fear and unbelief crept in, masquerading as piousness, as the enemy of our souls attempted to stop the flow of faith that leads to miracles. Inwardly, I screamed in frustration, as I thought to myself, "You bear the name of Christ! Don’t you know the will of God?"

Don’t get me wrong. Kevin’s wife is a wonderful person, and I have no doubt that in her heart, she was only trying to be humble before God. But I also firmly believe that her words, though spoken with good intent, were not of God, just as Peter’s rebuke to Jesus was not of God.

When Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by the devil, the devil used scripture in his arguments with Jesus. While the devil is a crafty foe, he is not particularly original. He uses the same strategy against us today. I am convinced that when we don’t take the leap of faith, using the excuse of "God’s will", our reasoning comes the verse where Jesus prayed in the garden: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." The devil uses this verse to mislead us into thinking that Jesus was asking for something, but humbly letting God decide, so we then do likewise. Unfortunately, that is not what was happening in this verse. Did Jesus not know the will of His Father? Of course He did! Rather, He was expressing two things: His natural reluctance for what He knew was about to happen (would you want to be beaten, mocked and nailed to a cross until you died of suffocation and exposure, even if you knew you would be raised from the dead three days later?) and His submission to what He knew was the will of God! He wasn’t searching for what God desired of Him; He knew it already. "Not my will but Yours," was Jesus committing to be obedient to God’s will! But the devil has lied to us, and convinced us that we can rationalize our lack of faith by calling it acceptance of God’s will. If we are going to be all that God is calling us to be, we cannot, as my pastor says, dumb down our faith to the level of our experience. We have to raise our faith to the level of the testimonies given in God’s word! Otherwise, we risk being the man (or woman) described in James 1:6-8: "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."

If we are to avoid that trap, we must know and understand God’s will. But this begs the question: what then is God’s will?

To answer this question, we need look no farther than the example Jesus gave for us while He walked on the earth:

Okay, you’re still not convinced. After all, this was Jesus, the Son of God, not just one of us mere mortals, right? Wrong. The book of Acts is filled with the miracles performed by Peter, Paul and the other Apostles. For example, "As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed." [emphasis mine] Peter, a man just like you and me, didn’t even have to do anything but walk past, and ALL that were sick were healed! In one of my favorite verses in the Bible, John 14:12-14, Jesus tells us that we can — and should expect to — do the works that He did, and even greater! "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." [emphasis mine]

In any of those examples, did you see a single case where Jesus or the disciples prayed, "God, if it is Your will, heal this person."? No? Neither did I. Why? Because it is ALWAYS God’s will to bring healing to the sick and deliverance to the oppressed!

In fact, Jesus even commanded His disciples (and if you believe in Him, you are a disciple!) to do this in Luke 9 and 10: "And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. 2And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing…1Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come…8″Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; 9and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”"

I would even go so far as to say that if we don’t see miraculous healings, we should be more than a little nervous. Mark 16:17-18 tells us, "And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. [emphasis mine]. Did you get that? If we believe in Him, then when we place our hands on the sick, they WILL get well. Not "might get well," not "should get well,", not "sometimes get well, as long as it is the will of God, and who am I to question."

While reading the Scriptures, I have come across only one place where Jesus was unable to perform miracles: "And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ 58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief." (Matthew 13:57-58) This tells me that there is only one thing that can ever prevent us from performing miracles of deliverance and healing: the unbelief of those for whom we are praying.

In Luke 1:13,18-20, God seals Zechariah’s lips after announcing that his wife will bear him a son (John the Baptist) until the time of John’s birth. Why? Was God punishing Zechariah for questioning Gabriel? No! His lips were sealed so that his unbelief could not prevent that which the angel Gabriel had prophesied over him, his wife and his son. Likewise, we must guard our hearts and our lips so that our fear and unbelief cannot hold back the blessings that God wishes to give to us. That is why I almost cried last night after giving a testimony to Kevin’s wife. When she said, "As long as it is God’s will," she voiced her fear and unbelief that maybe God wouldn’t perform a healing miracle for her husband, and that is the only thing that can interfere with the healing miracle we were praying for.

Father God, it is the cry of my heart that You would fill Your people with Your spirit, and displace the fear and unbelief we have in our hearts. Just as the darkness flees before the light, I command this fear and unbelief to flee before Your presence as You pour out Your anointing upon the faithful. May signs and wonders, miracles and healings follow us all the days of our lives. Amen.

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