Category Archives: Reflections

The things that rattle around in my brain.

Serving Sucks

As believers, we’re supposed to love and serve.

But serving sucks.

I mean, honestly, doesn’t it?

When all I really want to do is listen to a good audio book while puttering around my house, working on pet projects, I resent the intrusion of hostessing obligations or social functions into my schedule.

Or if I want to relax, sip a cup of coffee, and edit photos, it’s frustrating and irritating when my kids need something from me. I might respond like the loving, faithful mommy I think I should be, but inside I feel like the wicked witch of the west.

I’m not saying I shouldn’t rest, have space to be creative, or indulge in a little time to myself. Those things can be good.

But when I live for those things, my heart gets all out of whack.

If the goal of my day is to take care of duty so I can get to what I really want to do (things for myself), I will resent anything that gets in the way of that goal. And guess what? Things will get in the way. That’s just life—life with people, life in a family, life in ministry, life in Christ.

I can maintain the facade of the sweet mother and pastor’s wife, but inside I become a resentful, ungrateful, pouting version of myself.

I may serve anyway when I need to. And that’s good. People may still be blessed by it. That’s good too. But the people closest to me will feel it. And I will be robbed. There will be no joy in serving, and probably very little satisfaction. I will be ungrateful for the times of refreshing and rest I am blessed with, because I will be operating under a thwarted entitlement mentality.

On the other hand, it has been my experience that if I make it my honest to goodness intentional endeavor each day to love, serve, and build up the people in my life, those same obligations and interruptions feel like opportunities.

They don’t necessarily feel easy. They aren’t necessarily what I most feel like doing. But they definitely feel like opportunities to do what it is I am really trying to accomplish. And since I’m not trying to get pesky obligations out of the way so I can get to my own things, I have no cause to feel put upon or inconvenienced. Rather, I feel satisfied. Loving, serving, and sacrificing was what I meant to do.

This doesn’t mean sorrows and burdens go away. In fact, they may just increase. If I serve faithfully, God will trust me with more responsibilities, more hurting people, and more broken situations. But this is honoring. It is good, hard, meaningful work. It is partnering with God.

While I believe (perhaps controversially to some) that God uses the promise of future, heavenly rewards to motivate us to good works, I’m thinking here more of the immediate, cause-and-effect satisfaction of having intentionally given of myself for something that pleases God and edifies others. It’s both a right and a rich way to live. And though I’m not much of a resolution sort of person, it seems like awareness and intentionality in this area is a good goal for 2015.

Happy New Year!

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”   – Matthew 16:25

To prove I’m not against enjoying good things when they’re given to me, I’ve included a few images of an unexpected time of fun and rest our family was blessed with this year. 😉

Sunset over the snow
Sunrise over the snow
Beautiful wintry day in eastern Oregon
Beautiful wintry day in eastern Oregon
Hot-tubbing in the snow
Hot-tubbing in the snow
Mountain in the sky.
Mountain in the sky.
Snowball fight!
Snowball fight!

What’s in a Word: Why Opening Our Mouths Should Be A Little Scary

I happen to love words. I’m forever curious about their history, their morphing nuances, and how they’ve arrived at their modern usage. Words have good stories.

Plus, they make for powerful art. My spine stiffens a little at that ridiculous adage, a picture is worth a thousand words. That is likely true—sometimes. But any honest analysis of that “truth” must allow that a whole lot depends upon the picture and the words in question.

I admit, I may be somewhat defensive for these little bits of syntax that are a source of joy and fascination, and a cherished means of expression for me, but I feel that words are unfairly picked on.

Words fail.                                                                                                                          Words are finite.                                                                                         Words are meaningless.                                                                                                    Words are inadequate.                                                                                                 Words cannot express.

In the worst attacks, they are portrayed as second-rate, foggy, and muddled attempts at expressing flawed perceptions of ultimately unknowable reality.

Did we ever consider that maybe it’s a case of user error and not the fault of words at all? When we blame words, I don’t think we know what we are attacking.

If what we mean by a word is the particular set of sounds we use to communicate an idea, then sure, this is a culturally-based, transitory thing. People in different places use different patterns of sound to express the same ideas. And even within a single people group, language changes over time. This makes words sort of a passing fancy of little consequence.

And if sound is the main component of a word, then I must hang my head in shame anyway—because I think almost all other English speakers speak it prettier than we do here in America. I love my country, but it seems to me that our version of this lovely language is comparatively lazy and mumbley sounding.

But is the sound, and associated written form really what a word amounts to?

Dictionary.com offers this definition:

Word                                                                                                            noun                                                                                                                1. a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.

It’s that last bit that should earn words a little more respect. Words bear meaning. 

Words are profound. Words connect and resonate with the human soul. Even to the point of producing a physical response. For good or for bad. Haven’t we all read lines so beautiful, exciting, or true—that they actually made us feel exhilarated, alive, and energized? And conversely, haven’t each of us heard words spoken that broke our heart, and made us sick and weary?

Why is this?

I believe it is because the meat of a word is the idea, concept, reality, or truth that it represents and communicates.

If you reject the existence of knowable reality or the possibility of propositional truth, you may want to stop reading here. There is nothing I can do for you in this space, and everything following will be irrelevant to you.

If, however, you believe reality is there to be known, that it exists because God exists, that it flows out of who he is, and that he created us with the ability to meaningfully experience, discover, and interact with it—please read on.

A word (whether it is thought, spoken, or written) is an interaction with eternal reality. Our words affirm, celebrate, perpetuate, explore, question, resist, deny, or blaspheme what is.

And what is is what it is because God is who he is.

When we understand this, we understand that no matter what phonetic combinations we happen to use, our words are very weighty.

Have you noticed that the one who says he is the truth also says,

“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” Matt 12:36

All things considered, this makes a whole lot of sense.

 

 

 

Wild Week

How was your week?

Ours included a seedy hotel, taxidermied wildlife, squid-throwing, mosquito bites, baseball bats and watermelons, body humor, zip-lines, climbing walls, a slip-n-slide slingshot, and the presidential election for the Mythical Creatures Association.

The Rodlis went to Wild Week Camp!

Jesse was the speaker, and the rest of us were invited to come along. Our 11-year-old participated as a camper, while the seven-year-old and I ran amok on the campground, basically doing whatever we wanted.

Aside from being a whole lot of fun, the camp is designed to provide a safe environment for both churched and non-churched teens to explore major life questions and the fundamentals of the Christian faith.  Because of this, the speaking portions of the “club” sessions are evangelism / discipleship oriented. And I have to say, Jesse did a fantastic job, as usual.

Listening to him talk the kids through the process of learning about God through creation and reality, wrestling with the problem of sin and evil, reckoning with our need to seek God, rejoicing in his heart for us, and weighing what it means to forsake the world and follow Christ, I realized how far I’ve moved away from a view that evangelism and discipleship are separate and distinct from one another.

The model I was initiated into as a new Christian was a two-step evangelism/conversion-followed-by-discipleship model. But, if a person doesn’t have a good understanding of the significance and the cost of a decision to live for Jesus, are they really “converted” in the first place?

Doesn’t discipleship have to occur in order to bring a person to a place where they have a grasp of the gospel and are ready to make a commitment to God? And shouldn’t discipleship continue unbroken from that point forward?

I see it as more of a single process with milestones along the way, not isolated events that happen to belong to the same faith system.

Any thoughts?

While you think about, here are some pictures of our week:

S on the obstacle course.
S on the obstacle course.
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Pretty little river on the campground. S and I spent a lot of time here.
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Kid’s getting worried while watching a rigged game that made it appear Jesse was going to get his head accidentally bashed in by a camper with a baseball bat. Fortunately, Jesse’s head was switched out with a watermelon at the last minute, filling the campers first with horror, then with relief as he emerged from under his hiding place, casually munching on a piece of the smashed watermelon. Notice how our son in the back row is delighted, not worried at all.
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S doing a little fishing.
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S on the zip-line.
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S on the climbing wall.
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S on the climbing wall.
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M on the climbing wall.
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M on the climbing wall.
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S on the sling shot slip n slide.
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M in a four-legged race.
The open air pavilion, where "club" happened.
The open air pavilion, where “club” happened.

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Babylon the Great: In or Out?

This final post from Revelation is inspired by God’s haunting call in chapter 18.

“Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” Rev 18:4

Leaving aside any arguments about how literally the events of  John’s vision were or are to be fulfilled, or whether the events belong to first century, the whole of human history, or some future time, I want to distill this plea down to what I believe it communicates about God. And about the people of God.

Whether Babylon the great is a symbolic name for Rome or for some current or future empire, this Babylon is unquestionably a dominant, decadently wealthy, degraded, and corrupt society.

From this point on, I will be assuming that we all agree that this is precisely the sort of situation we have in the west today.

With that in mind, I have two observations about the relationship between this type of society and the people of God:

1. God’s people can be “in” Babylon the great.

2. God doesn’t want them to be.

I’m not going to make a fiery pronouncement that the contemporary western church is “within the harlot, Babylon the great,” but I do feel bold enough to say that I don’t see us doing much to avoid being in such a position, either.

It’s like we don’t think it’s possible to find ourselves there. Which, interestingly, is exactly what the unfortunate Babylon thinks about herself.

“…she says in her heart, ‘ I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning. ‘ Rev 18:7

We all know that’s not what happens…

I believe that at least part of the problem is that (much like our view of false prophets) we imagine “worldly Christians” to be of a very different sort than ourselves. They wake each morning intending to be selfish. Their compromises are all premeditated. They shamelessly and blatantly chase after extravagant wealth, ease, and comfort, fully conscious of, but wholly unmoved by their willingness to sacrifice their relationship with God for the sake of their worldly goals.

Unless we wake one day to find ourselves being intentionally and unapologetically wicked and greedy, we feel we’ve got nothing to worry about.

Why on earth, then, are there so many warnings to believers to avoid the snare of loving the world?

This danger is a huge concern in scripture. The following is just a small sampling of passages that sound the alarm most succinctly.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:16-17

“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

Were early believers so much more susceptible to the lure of worldliness than we are? If we believe that, we can be sure that we’ve at least got the market cornered on arrogance.

I’m guessing it happened pretty much the same way back then as it does today. The world is always talking—shouting, really. Telling us what we need. Which car, house, appliances, clothes, toys, vacations, schools, or connections will prove that we are a success. It tells us which lifestyle promises the most health and fulfillment. It tells us what to value, and how we should raise our children.

It will sing us a soothing lullaby or publically chastise us. Whatever works. Whatever keeps the spirit-filled, powerful, unstoppable people of God tame and docile. Manageable and unthreatening.

Of course, we’re all influenced to one degree or another, often without our even knowing it. But why is the voice of the world allowed to blast its message through a megaphone straight into the church? Why do we let it soothe us or shame us into submission? Why do we seem to not even know it is happening?

One major contributing factor is our biblical ignorance. We know the memory verses and have a lifetime of Sunday school theology, but remain unaware of fundamental Biblical themes.  We think we’ve got it down, so instead of saturating ourselves in the word of God to set the standard of how we are going to live, we look to others in order to justify ourselves. We either assume / hope that whatever everyone else is doing is the acceptable Christian standard and we copy it, or we pursue the world a little less than our neighbors, feel good about the comparison, and continue basically living for ourselves.

Believers are to be in the world, but not of the world.

It’s a good saying. A succinct summary of a biblical concept (1 Cor 5:9-10).

I like it.

But from where I sit, it doesn’t appear we give much thought to what this would actually look like.

Or worse, we have the nerve to act like it is confusing.

We aren’t embarrassed to philosophize with each other about this. With our best wide-eyed, furrow-browed, Christian-thinker faces, we ask,

“What does “in the world, but not of the world” mean… really?”

Oh, come on.

We’re not confused.

We know that not being of the world means that we don’t live the way the world does. We don’t value what it values. We don’t think like it thinks. We don’t pursue what it pursues. We live for the things that are important to God. We base our worldview on HIS word. We invest our lives, ourselves, and our resources in eternal things. We put our treasure in heaven, so our hearts will be there too.  We don’t live for our own comfort. We don’t live as though our emotional satisfaction and the optimal health of our physical bodies are the greatest good, or anything like our highest priorities. We assume that blessings come our way in order to be poured back out into others. We don’t amass stuff and wealth for our own pleasure and security.(And by the way, anyone with a comfortable home, a working vehicle, and plenty of food and clothing is wealthy.) We hold what we do have loosely.  We take risks—physically, financially, emotionally, and otherwise—for the kingdom, and for the sake of love.

Like Jesus did.

The more we are not of the world, the less we need Babylon The Great. Her demise isn’t our demise, because we were never really a part of her system. We didn’t invest in her and we didn’t bet on her.

I’m not talking about pulling all our money from the bank and burying it, or investing it all in gold. Neither am I suggesting that anyone should fill their basement with millet and bottled water, or build a fallout shelter.

It’s more about why we do what we do. If we define success as having engaged in an honest pursuit of God’s heart, and having endeavored to sacrificially give of ourselves and our resources for the furtherance of the kingdom of God, then there is nothing that can stop us from being successful. The world may insult us, mock us, fight us, and hate us, but it cannot stop us. Babylon has no power to destroy our work or take away our reward.

If, however, success in this life is determined by the arbitrary standards of our profession, our academy, our peer group, or our neighbors and family, we are constantly threatened by failure. And if the primary motive for our choices in life is attaining to a certain level of affluence, notoriety, or security, we will suffer loss. Even if our efforts produce the desired effect, these small and fleeting pleasures will be all the reward we get, and all we have to show for our lives. And should these conventions betray us or themselves be destroyed, we have nothing at all.  We’re of the world and we will suffer it’s fate.

It seems like, inevitably, our dishonest hearts want to avoid wrestling with the obvious and the doable, and justify ourselves with the theoretical and potentially impossible. Instead of asking, “what can I do now with what I have in order to repent and begin investing in the kingdom more?,” we want to ask, “Does Jesus really want me to sell everything I have and give the money to the poor?” Or, “Am I really not supposed to care at all about food and clothing?”

If you really wonder, by all means, ask away, but please let’s not use those questions as a pause button for repentance. While we’re figuring it out, there’s plenty we know to do, and plenty at our disposal with which to do it.

My husband has this great question he’s been asking during a recent sermon series on Isaiah 58. He lists the things that make up our lives (time, money, possessions, interests, hobbies, life goals, education, relationships, etc.) Then he asks us to consider,

Do I see these things as a means to themselves?

Or

Do I see these things as a means to invest in the kingdom of God?

By asking this simple question of myself, I become increasingly aware of how much I’ve swallowed the Kool-Aid and allowed the world to influence what I live for.

So, I understand.

I get how hard it is to even admit that I’ve had unbiblical, anti-kingdom habits and perspectives my whole adult life.  I understand that it’s even harder to muster the courage to take practical steps toward repentance.  And I know it’s harder still to persevere in those lifestyle changes long enough to establish new habits and see fruit.  But since when is difficulty or trepidation a good reason to hide from our own purpose and drug ourselves with the world?

Allowing an intimidating ideal to rivet us in place is, at best, illogical and unproductive. At worst, it’s a diabolically dishonest attempt to justify our own unwillingness to let go of our love and pursuit of the world.

It has been said that religion is the opiate of the masses.

I think worldliness is the opiate of the floundering, unfruitful religious.

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”  John 15:19

So what if the world doesn’t hate you? I don’t think the world hates me very much. They probably would if they knew what I believed. But they don’t. My life doesn’t confront the world enough for it to take any notice of what I believe, because my life looks too much like the world. Frankly, the same can be said for my church. And the church down the road.

Certainly, there are individuals, groups, and churches who intentionally opt out of Babylon, offering themselves and their resources for Christ and his kingdom. They make sacrifices and they take hits for their faithfulness.

You know how we see them?

Sometimes we see them as superheroes of the faith. Sometimes we see them as good-hearted, but misguided zealots who should slow down before they get burned out and become emotionally unhealthy.

You know how I think we should see them?

As normal Christians.

They don’t have a special calling. They have the same one as the rest of us.

They’re just doing it.

You know why?

I’m inclined to think it is because they really believe that investing in the kingdom has better returns than investing in worldly successes and temporary pleasures.

What could we be if we all really believed that enough to live like it was true?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mom Can Brag on Her Blog, Right?

I’m just going to own up front that this post is nothing but a proud mom taking advantage of a digital world. The following video is of my 10-year-old son giving a toast at my daughter’s recent wedding.  He wrote it himself (with a very little final editing help from me), and shocked us all with his smooth, confident delivery.

So, while I am biased and bursting proud of both the happy couple and the kid, I believe this will make you smile, and if you’re sentimental, maybe even swipe at a couple tears.

Enjoy!

 

What God Thinks About the Church

Greetings! Today is a glorious day in our corner of northwest Oregon!

After taking a few weeks break, the infamous Delve and I are beginning the last leg of our prophets project. After going through Isaiah and Ezekiel, we are now moving on to Revelation. This book is always fascinating, frustrating, and uncomfortable for me. So much good stuff, too much I can’t pin down, and a heavy dose of the overwhelmingly passionate heart of God.

I really don’t have much to say today. I’m just going to let the first three chapters of Revelation speak for themselves. These chapters are the words of Christ to actual, historical churches, made up of real people struggling to live out the gospel in a hostile world.

Such a treasure of insight into how God feels about the church. Talk about an authoritative resource for those in church leadership!

I decide to make lists. I listed all the things that God commends about the churches, and then all the things God condemns. I looked for repetition, patterns, and themes. Then, of course, I compared these with what I see in the church today.

Here’s what I saw:

What Jesus appreciates / acknowledges

  • Deeds (2:2, 19)
  • Growth (doing more than you did at first) (2:19)
  • Work/service (2:2, 19)
  • Perseverance (2:2, 3, 19)
  • Not grow weary (2:3)
  • Cannot tolerate evil men (2:2)
  • Test and recognize false apostles / teachers (2:2)
  • Hate the deeds that he hates (2:6)
  • Did not deny his name (2:13; 3:8)
  • Love (2:19)
  • Faith (2:19)
  • A Few who have not soiled their garments ((3:4)
  • Have a little power (3:8)
  • Have kept his word / the word of his perseverance (3:8, 10)

 

Things Jesus does not appreciate:

  • Left your first love (2:4)
  • Have tolerated / not dealt with false teachers and prophets (2:14, 15, 20)
  • Have a name that you are alive, but are really dead (3:1)
  • Incomplete deeds (3:2)
  • Asleep (3:2, 3)
  • Lukewarm (3:15-16)
  • Proud, wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked (3:17)

There is so much here.

The theme that struck me most, though, was that of the church’s relationship to false apostles/prophets. This one shows up in both the likes and the dislikes.

The church in Ephesus is commended for not tolerating evil men, for testing false apostles and finding them to be false, and for hating the things God hates (2:2, 6).

The church at Pergamum is called to repent of keeping those in their midst who hold to false teaching that lead others into sin (2:14-15).

The church at Thyatira, also, is chastised for tolerating false teaching that is enticing members to sin (2:20).

Admittedly, my window is pretty small, but from my angle, I really don’t see much guarding against theologies, philosophies, and worldviews that are antagonistic to Kingdom-centered living. Me-centered, wealth-amassing, compromising, sin-excusing, powerless Christianity is the going commodity, and if we recognize it at all, we don’t seem to care much as long as we’re comfortable with where we’re at in “our own walk”.

We may or may not embrace or preach these views ourselves, but could it be said that we “do not tolerate” them? Do we do anything to repent of them being active in our midst? If we had “evil men” or “false prophets” in our church, would we ever even call them that, much less do anything about it?

That’s not to say we don’t get bent out of shape and rowdy about each other’s views. We do; it just doesn’t usually seem to be motivated by a desire to eradicate teachings that promote and validate sin. Our discussions are about leadership methodologies, atonement theories, and the western church’s relationship to a pluralistic society. They are about muddy details…not about how our lifestyles do or don’t line up with the clear life and teachings of Jesus.

But I said I wasn’t going to say much. So, what do you see God saying to the church in the first three chapters of Revelation? What likes / dislikes stand out to you? How do you think we compare?

 

 

 

 

A Shadow of the Glory to Come

These were a frustrating couple of weeks in Ezekiel for me. Frankly, I didn’t understand what I was reading. I don’t know why the measuring of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision is so detailed and takes up so much time and space. I don’t know why Ezekiel is given instructions for service in a temple that he only has access to in a vision.

But my frustration doesn’t really come from not understanding.

It comes from thinking I ought to be able to. I believe these visions were given, recorded, and passed down to us for a reason. I don’t want to dismiss them as irrelevant and move on. I don’t want to miss out. But trying to see what I’m supposed to see makes me feel stupid and small. Grrr.

I just don’t feel like I get it.

I have my leanings, but I don’t have any kind of well-developed millennial view or eschatological timeline. Detailed dispensational timelines and symbolic amillennial  interpretations seem equally arrogant and often unfounded to me.

Maybe that’s because those aren’t the kind of things I’m supposed to be looking for. Maybe I need to back up from the details and just try to hear the message.

Then he brought me back to the bank of the river. Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river there were very many trees on the one side and on the other. Then he said to me, “These waters go out toward the eastern region and go down into the Arabah; then they go toward the sea, being made to flow into the sea, and the waters of the sea become fresh. It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.  And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from Engedi to Eneglaim there will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be according to their kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea, very many. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh ; they will be left for salt. By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.” Ezekiel 37:6-12

And again, in Revelation:

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month ; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse ; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.” Rev 22:1-4

The vision is given to two very different prophets, separated by hundreds of intervening years, but in both cases, this is a part of God’s offer of hope to a people ravaged by sin, death, judgment, and destruction.

And what is offered?

Well, things that have always been good and lovely and desirable to people. Rivers and fishing, trees and fruit, beauty and creativity, life and relationships, intimacy with God. Glory.

He offers the things every human heart has longed for—things he made for us, and things he made us for.

He already gave them to us, but they have been corrupted by the curse of sin and death. We experience them now as a shadow of what is intended for us.

Nature is beautiful, unfathomably creative, glorious, and intricate. But it’s a shadow of the garden, landscape, and wildlife of the vision.

With our God-given creativity, we can make some pretty cool stuff. But it’s a shadow of the art and architecture God describes.

We love and are loved, but we don’t even have a frame of reference for what it will be like to have open, secure, unafraid, and unhindered relationships with each other and with God.

Yet, that is what is offered.

Even though I’m sure I don’t understand all that is being communicated, I can’t help but notice that God’s picture of his plan for us looks like the fulfillment of universal human longings and desires—in a very literal way.

This was important enough for him to repeat. If he meant something else, couldn’t he have said so? And isn’t it most likely that he would have?

In any case, I thought this would be a good excuse to share some of our favorite shadow of glory moments from this last year. Enjoy.

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Giant bubbles and a giant smile.
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Son and son-in-law having a drink and a chat in our favorite coffee shop.
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Simple joys.
Redwoods 924
This is a shadowy glory?
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Wonder.
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So tiny.
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Three generations.
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Creativity.

 

 

 

Spiritual Prostitution

I like flattery. Not the super-obviously-empty kind of flattery, of course. That just feels insulting.

But I do like to be flattered.

Tell me something neat, exceptional, interesting, and wonderful about me, and I’m all ears. As long as it’s somewhat believable, I will take that precious bit of compliment home with me, admire it, pet it, and cuddle it close. Then, I’ll enjoy a nice, long soak in the validation while I meditate on what it means about the greatness of me.

Unfortunately, it never lasts.

I do live with me, after all.

There’s plenty of opportunity to see how great I’m not. And then there’s always someone better at that thing I was recently feeling so flattered about. The satisfaction of that last morsel of affirmation quickly fades, and I need more.

The only thing to do then is exploit my strengths, offer them to whomever or whatever will pay the highest dividends in success and validation.

This is spiritual prostitution.

A person who chooses a life of prostitution has decided that her body is the best way to get what she needs or wants.  She offers something precious to someone unworthy. Do you see the parallel?

It’s a graphic illustration, but it’s not mine—it’s God’s.

It can be found in Ezekiel chapter 16. Israel is a baby girl born into mean and humble circumstances. She is vulnerable and has nothing until God takes a special interest in her and adopts her as his own. He clothes her, provides for her, and makes her into a thing of beauty and splendor. At some point, the attention she receives from the surrounding nations goes to her head. She begins to trust in her beauty and forget that it all came from God. She depends on her strengths as though they could be credited to her, and will be at her disposal unconditionally and indefinitely. This beautiful, cherished young nation gives in to insecurity and greed, and begins to court the affections of the nations around her. She flaunts and exploits the splendors that have been so tenderly and generously lavished on her by the one who loves her—and she offers them to unworthy lovers who only want to use her.   

“But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing.” Ezekiel 16:15

Horrifying that I’m doing anything that strikes God this way. But I surely do. It looks like this: 

My ability to be hospitable becomes a way to impress people instead of serve them.

My intelligence and insight are vehicles for recognition, rather than a tool to encourage or bless others.

Wealth (of any kind) is a means to comfort and elitism rather than a way to invest in God’s kingdom.

I could go on, but it is the same with any ability, resource, or opportunity. When we offer the precious things God has given us to something unworthy, it looks to him like prostitution.

It boils down to a question of what we trust in and live for.

 “When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered ; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die.” Ezekiel 33:13 13

Because we started out with good motives, doesn’t mean we’re still operating with those same motives.

Can’t trust in that.

 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act…” Ezekiel 36:22

Success isn’t necessarily a stamp of God’s approval.

Can’t trust in that.

To Israel’s enemies, God says,

“As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel because it was desolate, so I will do to you. You will be a desolation.”  Ezekiel 35:15

The downfall of those in opposition to us does not mean that we are in the right.

Can’t trust in that. 

Nothing we’ve believed or done in the past will save us…if we don’t continue in the right direction. No amount of success  or resources will make us valid. God’s love makes us valid. There is no status we can attain that will keep us satisfied. There is no good work or ideology that exempts us from the unending struggle to understand what God cares about, and be a part of what he is doing now.

We want to trust in other things because we feel that they will give us a place to stop and rest. Something to anchor ourselves to. And end our toil. But the approval of the world is a treacherous and ever-changing sea. There is no rest there. It only traps us in prostitution.

This may seem like a very negative post. It kind of is. It’s taken from a portion of scripture where God is grieved and angered by a people who have stubbornly and unrepentantly applied themselves to this vain pursuit.

But there is a flip side.

When I am grateful. When I am in love with my savior. When I thrive on the pleasure of God. When I rest in his love and trust in his character.

When I offer myself to the one who has proved he is worthy of my love. When I live for the one whose faithfulness I never have to doubt. When I trust my heart to him who knows all and loves still. When I put my hand to the plow with the one whose strength never fails.

Life will still be an adventure, and it will still be scary sometimes. But I will be safe. I will be free to use all the rich blessings of God for their intended purpose.

The more I pursue God, the less tempting those unfaithful and unworthy lovers will be.  I do not have to follow in the footsteps of Israel.

After all—gifts, abilities, and resources can be misused, abused, exploited, or even taken away. It is our character that remains. It is our character that determines how we use what we have been given, and who we offer it to. If we are desperate for, and fight for godly character, there is nothing that can stop us from being who we are meant to be and glorifying God with our lives.

Who is the modern-day false prophet?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “false prophet?” For my part, any one of three different images comes to mind. I have an Old Testament false prophet; he’s a cult-compromised, greasy, grasping, fellow who knows he’s making stuff up, but will say anything to flatter and pacify the current ruler, in order to gain power and favor for himself.

Then I have my New Testament false prophet. He’s an opportunist who’s jealous of Paul. He travels around with the twofold aim of destroying the reputation of the apostles, and gaining a foothold in the fledgling church so he can use it for his own means.

And last, but not least, my modern-day false prophet: He’s got too-white teeth, a loud hairdo that was never in style anywhere with anyone, and has a fondness for bling, especially gold. He’s got his own tv show and he’s all about the money. He’s a prosperity peddler in the extreme, and he’s utterly godless.

Or, he might be dressed in the costume of a middle aged proto-hipster—in which case he propagates an ear-tickling, humanist, post-modern, syncretistic, subjective, social gospel Christianity. He wants everyone to know he’s above the fundamentalist fray…and hopefully to make a few bucks off his latest controversial book. 

All of these guys have one thing in common. They are liars and they know it…or at least strongly suspect it. Religion is primarily a tool for manipulating the faithful and acquiring security, prestige, or self-validation. The false prophet seems exceptionally and inexplicably willing to tread on dangerous ground for relatively small and temporary gains.

But Ezekiel offers an insight that makes the phenomenon of the false prophet more understandable…and more spooky.

 …say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration…“Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing…They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, The Lord declares,’ when the Lord has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word.” 13:2, 6

They hope for the fulfillment of their word?

Well, I don’t think you can do that unless your message at least has the appearance of fitting into your own belief system. In some sense, the false prophet has to believe that what he is saying could be true.

We have all had the experience of wanting something to be true so badly that we find ways to convince ourselves that it is. Is this also the experience of the false prophet?

They speak a vision of their own imagination. Jeremiah 23:16

…these prophets of the deception of their own heart. Jeremiah 23:26

…set your face against the daughters of your people who are prophesying from their own inspiration. Prophesy against them.  Ezekiel 13:17

Without exception, when the above passages talk about the source of the message, it is the prophet’s own leb (לֵב). This is the self, the inner man—the thoughts, motives, will, and emotions. (For more on this concept, see my post, Mind, Heart, and Soul: What is the difference?)

Certainly there are false teachers who have no fear of God whatsoever. But that doesn’t seem to be the norm, and it doesn’t even mean that this minority started out that way. Godlessness seems to me a likely and logical outcome of unrepentant self-deception and compromise.

My point?

False teachers are not some class of super-villains with a potency of wickedness that us average Christians are immune from. You and I absolutely have the immediate potential to be false teachers and false prophets—and probably have been.

Have you ever told a Christian brother or sister that you’re sure they are doing the right thing or that you know their motives are good, when you actually have no idea if that’s true…or when you’re pretty sure it isn’t true?

It’s tempting.

We don’t want to sound judgmental. We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to risk a friendship. We don’t want to be perceived as…whatever.

We’re willing (for the sake of self-preservation) to possibly (or certainly) say what is false, lead someone astray, or affirm them in their sin—and we justify it with some unfounded, imagined thread of hope that, besides being expedient, maybe our words are also somehow true.

This, by the way, is the repeated message of the false prophet throughout Scripture, No worries. You’re good. God’s not mad. Everything is going to be just fine. You’re his child, after all. He accepts you just the way you are. You just keep doing what you’re doing, and trust God.

It’s easy to do because it’s what people want.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires. 2 Tim 4:3

You know, the whole “peace, peace when there is no peace” thing.

It is definitely because they have misled My people by saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace. And when anyone builds a wall, behold, they plaster it over with whitewash. Ezekiel 13:10

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.  Jeremiah 6:14

They have healed my people superficially.” Isn’t that interesting?

And then there’s the false teacher/heresy aspect of things, which might seem like a different category, but it’s not. I think it’s really based on the same motives, just with a more overtly theological focus. How many of us have been guilty of recklessly embracing and propagating teachings that make us feel comfortable, look enlightened/relevant,  or otherwise boost our self-image or promote our pet agendas?

We are motivated to believe the things that we know will impress others and advance our popularity and influence in our chosen sphere of Christianity. It doesn’t matter if that sphere is existentialism, universalism, fundamentalism, pentecostalism, dispensationalism, Calvinism, post-conservativism, post-modernism, post-post-modernism (whatever that is), or any other ism, leaning, or sympathy. The principle is the same.  We really hope the teaching is true, but we do not diligently search it out, and we do stubbornly ignore or explain away evidence to the contrary.

It became plain to me through my Ezekiel reading this week (and related passages) that the infamous false prophet/teacher has and does play with the same deck of cards that we do.  He or she has always been tempted by the same basic motives that we are.

Whether or not we belong to that category, or how entrenched we become in it, depends on the level of care we take with our thoughts and words, and the level of integrity we use in assessing our own motives for what we believe and say.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Tim 2:15

There is a reason this instruction is given to believers (in this case a godly man who has been mentored and placed in leadership by Paul): becoming a false prophet is a real danger. It requires effort to reject the enticing morsels that lead us down that path. Self deception is the default setting of the flesh. We must GUARD against it. Diligence, integrity, and righteousness do not happen by accident.

So anyway, I hope you’re thoroughly intimidated.

I am.

Of course, there’s always the little matter of the self-existent, all-powerful God promising to back us when we pursue righteousness. I guess we can take a little comfort in that.

Any thoughts?

Pacific Northwest weather and the profaning of the holy

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Snow in Portland

Last week, the city of Portland was all but shut down due to several inches of snow…followed by freezing rain.

This, of course, seems silly to folks who live in places where real winter comes every year. But here, we typically only get one or two pathetic dustings of that cold, white stuff per year. When this happens, everyone desperately hopes it will stick long enough for school and work to be cancelled for the day.

And if we get a half inch to stay on the ground for an hour or so, those snow-day dreams will likely come true. In this event, we all stay home, dress like we’re on expedition at the north pole, and make dirty snowmen, which consist of as much grass and debris as they do snow. Those few souls who feel compelled to get in their cars and drive somewhere, creep along at 3 mph, slide all over the road, and get into wrecks with other people who are doing the same thing—because here in the Pacific Northwest, none of us has any idea how to drive in the snow. It’s great fun, and we eagerly look forward to the next year when we can do it all again!

As sad as this reality may seem, I like it. Having spent many of my growing up years on a mountain in north-central Washington, and several more of those years in Alaska, I know that the novelty of snow, real snow, lasts for a couple of weeks, tops. After that, the freezing temperatures and useless, crusty snow inconveniently hang around for another five or six months, serving no other purpose than to remind us that spring is really a much more pleasant season than winter.

So, our mild, wet, indistinct seasons suit me just fine.

But however inimical my attitude toward distinctions in the weather may be, I have been reminded of late that as far as spirituality is concerned, distinctions are good, necessary, even vital.

Isn’t that how God describes himself? Holy. Different. Other. Set apart. Distinct.

And isn’t that how he expects us to be?

My Jesse preached a sermon a few weeks ago, demonstrating how much more seriously God takes the use or misuse of something once it has been made holy. He pointed out how the message of the gospel is often spun as though the cross cured God of his holiness problem, giving him Jesus-colored glasses so that our sins don’t bother him as much anymore. As he talked about it, I realized just how appropriate that assessment is. This is often our evangelistic message, and this is how we like to comfort ourselves concerning our often utterly indistinct and unholy lives. How on earth did we get there from a gospel that clearly invites us into holiness?

In his message, Jesse used the example of the articles in the tabernacle. A pot, or a perfume might be used any way one pleased if they were simply every day, household items. But if that pot or that type of perfume was dedicated and set apart for God’s special purposes, it must be used exactly and only in the manner prescribed by God. And if it wasn’t, the punishment was either death (sometimes rather instant and dramatic) or permanent banishment from God’s people. Contrast that with the comparatively mild restitutionary consequences of various felonies under the Mosaic law, and you get an idea of how seriously God takes the profaning of something he has declared holy.

Delve and I have moved on in our Prophets Project reading from Isaiah to Ezekiel. This concept of how offended God is by the profaning of something he has made holy is shouted in the first few chapters in Ezekiel.

Considering Leviticus 20:26, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine,” listen to what God says through Ezekiel:

 “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘This is Jerusalem ; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her. ‘But she has rebelled against My ordinances more wickedly than the nations and against My statutes more than the lands which surround her…you have not walked in My statutes, nor observed My ordinances, nor observed the ordinances of the nations which surround you…therefore…I, even I, am against you, and I will execute judgments among you in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations, I will do among you what I have not done, and the like of which I will never do again…I will make you a desolation and a reproach among the nations which surround you, in the sight of all who pass by. ‘So it will be a reproach, a reviling, a warning and an object of horror to the nations who surround you when I execute judgments against you in anger, wrath and raging rebukes.” 4:5-15

The people whom God has set his name upon and made his dwelling place among have horribly misrepresented him. There is no distinction between them and the Godless nations around them—except that Israel is even more wicked than they are.

Fast forward to us.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

God did not offer us mercy so we could rest comfortably in our “humanity” (by which we usually mean our sins and compromises). Redemption does not mean God cares less about what we do with our lives and with ourselves. It means he cares more. We now wear his name and he now dwells within us. We have now been set apart as a special representation of him. This means we can live holy and it means we must live holy.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” Matt 5:13

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20

“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:15

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Eph 5:1

“…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord ; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth ), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;” Eph 5:8-11

Obviously this is all over the NT as well as the OT. It’s not a one side of coin pet topic of some particular author. It is pervasive, throughout the whole of scripture.

I noticed in Chapters 7-9 of Ezekiel, God repeatedly reveals his motive for the manner in which he will judge Israel. That they (Israel, as well as the surrounding nations) will know that I am the Lord. He will correct the gross misrepresentation of himself. 

Understanding this part of God’s character (and how plainly it is spelled out to us) and our relationship to him, how/why do you think we have managed to make the Christian life into almost the opposite of a passionate, dedicated, unceasing effort to love him and be like him in every particular? How has it become the reason “sin is no big deal”?

One final observation in regard to Ezekiel and holiness: In chapter 9, when a special mark is to be put on those who will  be spared massacre, it is interesting that the individuals chosen are those who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its [the city’s] midst, not simply those who refuse to participate. Is this a distinction between those who don’t participate but have grown comfortable with wickeness, and those who recognize and grieve over the evil being done around them?