Supernatural Selection

So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.  Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.” (Judges 6:17-18 NASB)

Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” (Judges 6:36-37 NASB)

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.”  God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. (Judges 6:39-40 NASB)

Why do we think God thinks like we do?  Don’t we?  Don’t we fall into the default of believing that God will do the expected?  He will choose the strongest, smartest, tallest, best looking, anyone but me (or you).  He will choose the others, the others our culture claims are the best of the best.  Or even those of stronger faith, the righteous, He’ll choose those, but not us.

Or, maybe, as Scripture teaches, He’ll chose people like us instead.  Remember us, the ones with the altars in the front yard about which we are in denial?  Us, the ones who judge others but not ourselves.  We are the ones failing our Jesus as we selfishly seek whatever we want in our days.  It’s possible that this choice our Master makes is rigged in favor of the weak ones, like us.

Here’s an excellent specimen.  Gideon, a coward threshing wheat in a wine press, is hailed as a mighty warrior.  He has God’s favor.  And God is with him, even though he lies about the status of his family, has an altar to a pagan god in his front yard, and seems completely disinterested in national covenant obedience.  That’s right, let’s choose this guy, because at least he has faith, right?  Well, no.  He doesn’t seem to have that either.

Okay, if it is You calling, let me test you with an offering.  Okay, if it is you let me put out a fleece…twice.  Let me test You, let me test You, and once more, let me test You.  And then I’ll create an idol after I’m done.  Leave it to Yahweh to pick a real winner.  But isn’t it cool that He does pick such people?

Think about it.  Jesus picks Simon the Zealot (i.e. “terrorist”), and Matthew the tax collector (professional cheat).  Wouldn’t you think there would be room for us among such persons?  It seems I’m perfect for the job.  I’m not a terrorist, but I’ve cheated.  I’ve tested God, on several occasions.  I’ve acted faithlessly, ignored Him and His calling, walked away from faith (as far as He let me go anyway).  I’m perfect for Him!

The list of things that our enemy brings against as accusations are actually the things that should drive us to Jesus.  Bring them on!  List them off!  Guilty as charged, but redeemed!  He chooses me, not because I don’t have such a list, but because of the list.  He looks at me as an opportunity to display His grace and mercy.  Because we forget that those are the qualities He wants His human creatures to know about Him.

Think about the accusations leveled at the church and “God” by detractors.  Don’t they all seem to fall on character?  How many attempt to undermine the qualities of grace and mercy?  In fact, a good case can be made that the “wrath of God”, so often pointed out in the Hebrew Scriptures, is only there to highlight the grace and mercy also found there so often.  Yeah, I’m a mess.  And that’s perfect for Him.  And so are you.

So, here’s a challenge, stop reading the Bible to be a good person.  Just stop it.  Stop praying to make God happy.  Just don’t.  He’s happy.  You’ll never be good enough to impress God.  It won’t happen, stop trying.

Instead, let’s read the Bible so we won’t miss a word He says to us.  Let’s pray to spend time with Him.  Let’s do that.  Make that our priority.  Because doing those things for those reasons brings them into relationship with our Creator, and makes Him the priority, not ourselves.  Let’s do that.  I mean, if He’ll spend so much time on Gideon, we have a pretty good chance He’ll choose us too.

That’s my view this morning.  What do you see of our Master through the fence?

Grace In The Picking

The LORD looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”  He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”  But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”  So Gideon said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.” (Judges 6:14-17 NASB)

When confronted by God, the first thing Gideon does is show off his ignorance.  He is in a culture completely unaware they live in violation of their covenant with God.  And yet, God doesn’t say to Gideon, “What’s wrong with you people?”  We say that as we read, but God’s response is different.  He drags this guy back into a covenant relationship with Him.

There are some interesting details given about God’s interaction with Gideon.  For instance, the Angel of Yahweh sits under the oak in Ophrah, and then appears to him.  The language is specific that Gideon couldn’t see Him until after He sat under the oak.  And now, we have the description that Yahweh looks directly at Gideon.  Gideon has His full attention, a dangerous thing of Yahweh’s to have.

These details may not seem like much, but they provide some insight into God’s character.  And it’s His character here that I think is so important.  Gideon gives one excuse after the other, and Yahweh patiently ignores and sweeps them aside.  First, Gideon is a “valiant warrior” with whom Yahweh hangs out, but Gideon asks the insulting question of where is this Yahweh.  Then Yahweh ignores the response, stares at him and tells him to go “in this your strength” and defeat Midian.

The fact that Yahweh doesn’t debate the first question, nor accept the falsely humble statements of Gideon about his family, and then waits around for the first “test”, all indicate that Yahweh is patient.  When He sends the prophet with the scathing rebuke, we think Him harsh.  But we forget that Yahweh didn’t wait around for their repentance.  In fact, there’s no real indication that the people truly repented.

God’s grace in this story is truly grace.  It’s not conditional on the objects of His favor, it didn’t wait around for some criteria other than the people calling out for God.  He just wanted to be acknowledged.  Clearly they didn’t understand their covenant relationship with Him.  Obviously they didn’t change their ways, they try to worship the stupid gold pendant Gideon has made at the end.

The point of this story, for the author and for us, is that God’s mercy is always available.  It may not look like we want.  It may not involve the people we would choose.  It may not be the most comfortable thing to receive.  But it’s always available, and available for he asking.  We may be amazed at how much we can survive, but we’ll survive.  It may be we only see the sheer amount of mercy He shows when we are before Him in heaven.

The thing is, God is merciful to the idiot, the ignorant, and the bonehead.  He is faithful to the unfaithful.  So, what are we?  Do we have all the answers?  Do we “get it”?  Are we faithful?  Don’t we have altars to other gods in our front yards?  Don’t we demonstrate the same level of ineptitude that Gideon showed?  Sure we do.  Daily, we display our ignorance and arrogance before God and everybody.  And yet, He continues to show His love for us.

The truth is that we are as dependent upon our Master as any believer in a third-world country.  In some ways we’re probably worse off.  And yet, as bad off as we may be, or may get, the love of God for us is as strong as His love for those more faithful followers in other countries.  He doesn’t wait for us to “get it”, to understand Him more, or even to repent.  Repenting is good, but God doesn’t wait for us to be faithful to Him, He simply is to us regardless.

Even repentance is a response to the love and faithfulness of God.  Even falling before Him in anguish over our sinful ignorance and boneheadedness is a response to His mercy.  We worship because He already loves us.  We honor Him because we’re already accepted.  We serve because we have already received His blessing.

I suppose the question for today is, what will you do in response to Him today?

That’s my view through the knothole.  What’s your view of God this morning?

What’s the Problem?

So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD.  Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery.  ‘I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.”‘” (Judges 6:6-10 NASB)

Before we even get to the discussion between Yahweh and Gideon, we have this setup by the author of Judges.  It’s important to know, not only what God does for His people, but the condition they are in before He helps them.  It’s a big part of the author’s point to his audience.

So, what is the condition of God’s people?  They cry out to Yahweh because of the oppression of the nomads, and He sends a prophet with a scathing message.  The word from Yahweh to His people that He has kept His side of the covenant by bringing them out of Egypt and into the land, but they have not kept their part of the covenant by not fearing the local deities.  That wasn’t the only part of the covenant, but it was a key, repeated, element of it.

So, you would expect repentance.  You would think at this point, if they’re crying out to Yahweh, they would also put away the other gods, idols, altars, practices, and what not?  You would think they would change their minds and hearts to agree with God’s mind, search out His heart.  And yet, no.  In fact, they seem confused by the prophet.  Yahweh has done all this stuff, and told them to not fear the gods of the Amorites.  But they did.

See, you’d think the prophet would even wake them up, wouldn’t you?  Sure they cry out, but don’t get exactly what they’re doing wrong.  In that case they wouldn’t know how to repent.  But when the prophet delivers his message, they still seem baffled.  If you keep this part in your mind as you read the rest of the chapter, the heart condition of these people is nearly unfathomable.  It’s so wrong it’s baffling, it can’t possibly be that bad.

This setting for the rest of Gideon’s story is critical to the author’s point.  After all, if you’re going to make a point that God is, and has always been, gracious, wouldn’t a drastic contrast between His goodness and the people’s rebellion be a good illustration?  The author doesn’t use the term “grace”.  Instead, he shows Yahweh, the God of the Sons of Israel, being gracious.

This chapter especially, is the Creator of the universe rescuing this ridiculous people of His in spite of themselves.  They are so far gone, they don’t even know they’re gone.  They have no concept of their wayward, rebellious, and adulterous ways.  They are confused by why Yahweh would be upset with them in the first place.  They are blind to their sin, completely ignorant of the problem.

And, so are we.  We don’t really believe that the Bible should be taken seriously.  We don’t.  Don’t even try to act innocent.  I spend hours weekly sifting minutia in the original texts, and I don’t really take it seriously.  It’s not about how much we know or don’t know.  It’s not about what church we attend or translation of the Bible we use.

It’s about, when we read the Beatitudes, whether we truly put such attitudes ahead of our cultural attitudes Monday through Saturday.  It’s about whether, when we read about the cost of discipleship, whether we pay it or not.  It’s about whether we truly love God, the One having already sacrificed His only Son for us, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  We don’t.  I know I don’t.  My behavior is evidence enough of that.

So, before we characterize these unfathomable clueless people as aberrant, perhaps we should stop, and see where we stand.  Let’s ask ourselves some tough questions, like, “Do I really believe the Bible?”, “Do I live like Jesus is first in my life?”, and perhaps ask our Master for that prophet to point out in us that blind spot in our relationship with Him.

Because here’s the thing, we will always have one more thing to work on in our relationship with Him.  But, His grace to us is evidenced in that, while we wander cluelessly, He preserves our relationship with Him.  This isn’t about being good enough for Him, it’s about clinging to the One having already loved us unfathomably.

How ridiculously obtuse is it of us to consider anything of the stuff of this earth to be of any value compared to our relationship with Him?  And yet we let our relationship with Him languish, while we pursue one more thing of this world.  Silly people, let’s put things back in proper order.  Let’s do it, not because He will punish us if we don’t, but because He has already rescued us from punishment.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

Passion Week XIXd

“You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30 NASB)

I can only assume that Judas has left by this time.  Luke never tells us that.  In fact, none of the Gospels, except John, tells us when Judas leaves to get the soldiers.  These guys were just squabbling about which one was the greatest, and then Jesus tells them they will judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  Without the detail about when Judas leaves, it might cause one to wonder if Judas would also be a judge.  Probably not.

This statement of Jesus is full of surprise.  These are the guys who have stood by Jesus in His trials.  Although they’re getting ready to jet later that evening.  There is some translation “wiggle room” in verse 29.  The ESV has “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.” The problem is that “kingdom” is the direct object, but of which verb. It can be paired with Jesus’ granting the disciples, or with the Father granting Jesus.  It occurs at the end of the phrase, so its position in the sentence leaves some ambiguity.  The Greek texts have no spaces nor punctuation, so that sort of thing is left up to translators.  As you can see, they disagree somewhat about whether the disciples get a kingdom or not.  An additional issue is that verse 30 begins with a subordinating conjunction denoting purpose (“hinna” clause).  So the ambiguity continues with the context supporting either Jesus’ receipt of a kingdom enabling the disciples to eat at His table, or that the receipt of a kingdom by the disciples enables them to also/therefore eat at His table.  If your eyes haven’t crossed or you haven’t moved on to another blog, then you’ve survived the technical portion of today’s entry.

I think it makes more sense for the disciples to receive a kingdom because the following comment about them judging the tribes of Israel.  If it weren’t for that, I’d go with just the dining experience, but I think there’s more to it because of the role of judge.  Having said that, the meal with Jesus also means something.  We think of “kingdoms” in a way like an autonomous ruler having total control over the “kingdom”.  When I believe Jesus has the cultural understanding of a subordinate kingdom, like the one Herod had under the Roman governor of Judea.  I get this from the use of the word “grant” or “appoint” that Jesus (or Luke) uses here.  But it also comes from the close relational implication of sharing a “table”.  The type of kingdom and the way in which they administer such a kingdom implies a close subordinate role under Jesus.

Now, consider that in less that 30 verses Jesus will be betrayed, alone, and in chains.  And Jesus knows this.  Here He tells these guys who are about to desert Him that because they have stood by Him in His trials, He will grant/appoint/bestow a kingdom.  They are already forgiven for their fearful desertion of their Master.  Think that through.  Jesus doesn’t wait for them to come back around before telling them about a kingdom waiting for them.  He doesn’t wait for them to earn it in any way whatsoever.  We think of grace because of Jesus’ death, or His resurrection, or because He intercedes for us from the right hand of the Father to where He ascended.  But grace is a fact even in the past because of what Jesus would do in the near future.

How much more so for us?  Consider where you may be in your relationship with Jesus.  What you see is nothing compared to what Jesus sees.  Where we see failure and disaster, Jesus sees princes, princesses, kings, and queens.  Where we see impoverished faith, our Master in heaven sees riches beyond imagination, where gold is the cheap stuff we use to pave streets.  Redemption is now a reality because of what Jesus has done.  We may not feel it, see it, taste it, or even hear it; but we are redeemed right now.  Struggle with Jesus.  Wrestle with the Almighty!  Rage against the rebel within!  Obedience and faith are won on the spiritual battlefield, fighting the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms.  We can fight side-by-side, together in the ugliness of war.  Together we will then eventually see the light of victory before the throne of Jesus.  The point is to continue the struggle.  It only looks like we’re losing right now.  Eventually a kingdom waits for us (not one of our own necessarily), where we will experience the salvation of the presence of our Savior, Redeemer, and King. To help us see this, Jesus speaks of the end as if it’s already a reality; which it is.

We can’t see it ourselves, but it’s a done deal even so.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

So You Want To See Jesus…

“He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow?  Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’  And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’  ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.  But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:22-27 NASB)

Why is it that we seem to forget the Bible, the whole Bible, prophets and all?  Why we do we find it so easy to create this cardboard version of Jesus who is so two dimensional? Why do we forget that He came to fulfill the law not abolish it?  Why is it so easy to forget that He came to divide not unify humanity?  The truth of Scripture is that Jesus is God, not a god, not some new god, and certainly not “God Transformed”.  He is God!

God, the One putting up with Israel’s wayward ways for 400 years while He sends prophets, is the One wiping them out with the pagan empire of Assyria.  And then, a hundred years later, Judah goes down by the pagan Babylonians.  Flash forward 400 more years, and Jesus becomes the same One pronouncing woes of judgement on Galilean cities and Jerusalem itself.  It’s as if the judgement of old was returning again, this time at His say so.

And then we have this parable.  Luke seems to intertwine a parable of a king, possibly using the ascension of Herod’s son Archaleus, with the parable of slaves use of money.  The point of the slaves with money is being enterprising with the resources God provides us until He returns.  The point of the king ascending a throne is opposing him does not go unpunished.

If Jesus is the king and master of the servants, then this picture of Jesus ought to make us uneasy.  Then we are to be responsible with what has been entrusted to us while He is away, making more of what was given.  Being industrious is rewarded, not doing anything with it is punished.  We have to agree to be ruled, to submit to the reign of Jesus over us.  That means agree to who He is not who we imagine Him to be.

And this isn’t meant to take away the love Jesus has for us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus any more before His throne than it can now, or could before He ministered in person.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  But that doesn’t then change the personality of God into something other than what we read elsewhere in Scripture.  It’s both.  And that’s probably where we fail most often to our greatest detriment.

God did not have a personality break between the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  He didn’t switch from wrath and anger to mercy and love.  He has always been all of that and more.  There has always been vast oceans of grace in the Hebrew Scriptures.  There has always been wrath in the Christian Scriptures.  So our challenge is read both and let God define for Himself who He is and how He will relate to us.  It’s tough, and it should be frightening to us.  But then again, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom after all.

So, what do you see through your knothole this morning?  I hope I didn’t bring you down, but I do hope I sobered you up!  You may need sobering after last night…but that’s fodder for another post.

Last Words of a Theological Genius

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”  (Luke 23:39-43 NASB)

When this passage is discussed, it seems most of the conversation has to do with whether or not Jesus and the thief really went to heaven that day.  Seriously?  With a ridiculous understanding of the views of afterlife in that day, this really wouldn’t be a problem.  But I can’t find anyone asking how the thief knew that Jesus’ “Kingdom” came after the cross?

There are a lot of assumptions in the thief’s request.  First, that Jesus was a King, because His circumstances didn’t really bear that out.  Second, that Jesus’ Kingdom lay beyond the cross.  Jesus had told His disciples that, but how did this guy know?  And even the disciples He told didn’t get it, yet this thief, without having been told, gets it.

Perhaps, again, a basic understanding of what people believed about afterlife in that day would help.  But think about this, how was the word, “kingdom” used for Jesus throughout all of the Gospels?  Remember that those reading/hearing this live outside of Palestine.  So, what would they have thought from the word choice of Luke?  Would they have thought of Jesus going to “heaven”?

What I don’t have right now is access to apostolic fathers’ writings on this passage.  I’d like to know what they thought of it.  Chances are good that in the process of just trying to survive and combat the various heresies of their day, this issue didn’t really come up.  So, I’m not sure this would be found.

The reason I found this so fascinating is because this thief seemed to know so much, yet made such serious mistakes, and was then able to be redeemed.  Think about that. You may not, but I often really struggle with shame in knowing but not doing the good I know to do.  It’s not that I’m brilliant and others aren’t.  It’s more that I’m a total idiot because I refuse to let the deeper meaning of what little I do know have the affect on my behavior that it should.

I see in this character the genius to connect dots beyond what he could see in front of him, and conclude that this dying Religious Rebel wasn’t done.  How did he do that?  And beyond that, how, knowing that this man knowingly committed such crimes, could Jesus permit him access?  I know who Jesus is, and yet I make choices that contradict what I know.  I live as if Jesus is not my Lord and Savior and Master and Creator.  How then can this Jesus accept me?  How can this Holy One of Israel permit me to spend time with Him, even invite me into His presence?  That’s what’s crazy.  Not that the thief knew who Jesus was, that’s merely amazing.  That this thief, knowing, sinning, and having asked, is then accepted by Jesus is what is so crazy.

Can grace really be that vast?

What’s your view through the knothole?

(By the way, if you want my view of whether or not the thief and Jesus really went to “paradise” ask in and comment, and I’ll comment my answer – but you won’t really like my answer.  It’s too simple.)

What Do You Have To Share?

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NASB)

My dad, a computer geek back from the early transistor days, loved the adage, “Garbage In, Garbage Out!”  Now it’s a cliche, but he used it when it was still new, working on guided missiles in the late sixties and early seventies.  Weapons he worked on are still in use today, back when we made them right!  There was a lot of good “garbage” going in in his day.

Continue reading What Do You Have To Share?