Really Weird Bible Stories That They Didn’t Tell You About In Sunday School.

When I was growing up, I heard a ton of Bible stories. The Creation of the World, Adam and Eve and The Fall, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph and his coat of many colors… But I’ve recently discovered a few that I never really heard in church, Sunday School, or anywhere. They’re weird. Really weird. And they’re hard to stamp a moral on. I’ve never heard them preached on. Not once. So without further ado, I present…

Episode I: Wives For The Benjaminites (Judges 19-21)

Here’s the setting: It’s the time of the judges. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are long off the scene. Moses has been buried by God. Joshua has led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, given his speech about “As for me and my house, we will serve YHWH.” All the cool judges you know about, like Ehud (kills a fat guy with a long sword in a quiet room), Gideon, Jephtha, Barack and Debra… they’re off the scene. Samson has crashed a Philistine party for the last time. We’ll skip (for now) the particularly weird story about a dude named Micah who makes a god and hires a priest but has the Danites swipe both from him and tell him “Shut up and go home.” But we’re skipping that. For now.

Scripture honestly says it best.

In those days Israel had no king. There was a Levite living temporarily in the remote region of the Ephraimite hill country. He acquired a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. However, she got angry at him and went home to her father’s house in Bethlehem in Judah. When she had been there four months, her husband came after her, hoping he could convince her to return.

Weird, right? Why’d he wait four months? Scripture doesn’t bother to mention it. Maybe he missed her after all that time.

It gets weirder. Continue reading “Really Weird Bible Stories That They Didn’t Tell You About In Sunday School.”

Pottery

Kristen suggested I submit this to a literary magazine. I looked it up, and while cleaning it up some, I realized that it really answered well the questions that I had posed in Questions. But in a completely different way.

Constructing clay is patient work
Not too little or too much pressure
on the earthy wet
And you cannot rush
Else your work will collapse.

Carry clay with caution
lest it break
or lest it crumble.

Fragile clay are we
Patient, gentle hands has He. Continue reading “Pottery”

Fire

You just can’t sit still, can you?

I was taking off my shoes in my apartment when this thought hit me.

There are some people who just can’t sit still. There’s this fire deep inside them, something that refuses to sit down and shut up. They can go do stuff they don’t care about for a while, but eventually the fire will burn a hole in them if they don’t do something they care about. It’ll move them to leave jobs to go do something “important,” and then leave the something important because there’s something more important. Everything is an emergency, everything is priority. These people give themselves 200% when they care, and 50% when they don’t. Feed that fire, and they will be the best workers you’ve ever seen; ignore it, and they will eventually leave. I am one of those people.

If I don’t think what I’m doing will matter for eternity, I get restless. I have to have a God-project, something that I think God wants to have done. I had a long, passionate conversation with one of my friends about that – kept him up ’till about 1:30 one night figuring it out.

I came into my apartment and took off my shoes, and as I did, that thought materialized in my mind.

You just can’t sit still, can you? You always have to have some project, a something burning in your soul. Something central. That fire is meant for Me, not for any of your goals.

It was true. Whether it was God talking or me imagining what He’d say, it was true. So I wrote it down in my prayer journal and hopped in the shower, where the thought continued.

You haven’t been given a mission because you can’t handle a mission. You would worship the mission and not Me.

Busted. Every time I get something that looks like a mission, I turn that fire in my soul on it. I let it take over my life. I might even destroy it, or myself, or others, for the sake of the mission. I let myself run to the point of exhaustion. The fire is meant for Me. I realized that sometimes I let my mission take priority over loving others. I know it. In letting the mission take center stage of my life, I let God slide off center stage. And that’s a dangerous place to be.

God is the only safe containment field for that fire. He is the only safe fuel. The fire was meant for passionate love for Him.
It was not meant for accomplishing His goals.
It was not meant for completing His missions.
It was meant for Him, and Him alone.

That’s my explanation.

What’s yours?

Questions

i come still broken and a bit confused
How many times does the road we’re on
wander through the valley of the shadow of death?
Can we trust You to give us less
than trials and tribulations?
You only promised You’d be with us,
not that where you’d be with us
wouldn’t be hell.

I used to think that being with You
would always be heaven
even if it was in hell
but it seems the times we need You most
You seem so far away
and it’s only later,
when life seems better,
that we know You carried us
that You were there the whole time

almost like You
inserted Yourself
after the fact.

Why do You love us enough
to let us do things You know will hurt us?
I sometimes wish I could trust You
for a lesser love.

I find You not to be safe
but good
though I wish I could find You safe.

But You insist on surgery
to remove our idols
when we insist upon
keeping them
because You really do love us after all
and because You want us
all of us
eventually

So do the ends justify Your means?
Do You care about the ways You lead us
and abolish those things we hurt ourselves with?
or just the doing?

Lord, have mercy
let me not go
to places where i will hurt myself

and yet I thank You for the pain
that leads my broken cries
to You.

O for a way to You not covered by thorns
Come rescue me.

if You ever gave up on me

If You ever gave up on me
decided my fragile sinner’s heart
wasn’t worth the effort
that the diamond underneath
was really only dirt
and finally ran out of endless grace
if one day my sins hit four-nine-one
if one day your endless grace was gone
and You told me it was too late,
I could never again find redemption, well
…welcome to hell.

It would kill me; I would die
I’d quit on life
’cause I couldn’t be alive
or I’d wander the streets
weeping redemption
telling them not to take Your grace
so loosely
like I did
before it’s too late for them too.

It’s the prophets with the end ripped out Continue reading “if You ever gave up on me”

Preach

I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.

I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.

I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great Omission” because every Christian was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.

I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.

Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.

So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):

  1. Maybe I don’t have to go out and sell everyone on what I was raised to believe was “the gospel” (that everyone was bad and going to hell and Jesus came and died so they wouldn’t have to).
  2. Maybe God is more gracious than I first thought.
  3. Maybe there is indeed something about Christianity that is worth sharing that isn’t guilt, condemnation, and fear of hell.

The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.

If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.

I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.

There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more effectual, rather than less!

But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:

What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?

Because I really don’t know what I would do.

I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.

But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.

And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.

And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?

A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”

…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.

What would you do?

“Enjoy.”

Illustration: http://etc.usf.edu/clipart

I was in the Dining Commons the other day when I overheard one person ask another, “Did you enjoy your meal?” The phrase struck me weird, and I thought about it.

We can like something without enjoying it. Food can taste good, and we can fail to enjoy it. We can spend time with our friends, and not enjoy it. We can walk outside on a gorgeous sunny day… and not enjoy it. In this context, our good friends Merriam and Webster define “enjoy” thus:

enjoy en·joy (verb) in-ˈjȯi To take pleasure or satisfaction in.

It is possible to be in a thoroughly enjoyable situation and not enjoy it. I do this all the time! I’ll be with some of the most awesome people in the world, in a nice warm heated room at a college where I’m learning to do something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid… and be completely apathetic.

A guy named Clive Staples Lewis wrote a handy book called The Screwtape Letters, fictitious letters of advice to a “junior tempter” named Wormwood from his uncle Screwtape, a more skilled tempter. It’s basically the Christian equivalent of the CIA intercepting a bunch of letters from the KGB giving advice on how to best trick Americans into losing the Cold War. Anyway, about halfway through letter 15, Screwtape gives Wormwood this advice:

We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every gift which is offered them in the present.

Screwtape ends the letter, “And anyway, why should the creature be happy?” Continue reading ““Enjoy.””

God & Smiling

“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.” -Julian of Norwich, c. 1342 – 1416

I was reading a book last night called The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, and I came upon that quote. The book was excellent reading, and messing with me in some very good ways, and that quote was quite good. Then I ran into this quotation, a rephrasing of Julian of Norwich’s original statement:

What God most wants
is to see you smile
because you know
how much God loves you.

I stopped and reread that sentence. My eyes flew uncomprehendingly back and forth across it, my heart hardly daring to believe the words my eyes were seeing. God? Wanted to see ME smile???

Rewind about four years Continue reading “God & Smiling”

Creation Groans

I woke up this morning from a dream about being at Jumonville. Summer Staff 2011. And I realized that, come summer 2011, most of the people that I knew and loved from Summer 2009 won’t be there. The Beattys, Ree, Craig, Ashley Crago, and maybe David Orr will still be there… but Kristen will be gone (sort of)… Nate, Tyler, Brittany, Sara, Rob, Mike Nuss, Will, Carrie, James, Caitlin (both of the Caitlins)… and it stung. I could feel their absence at Jumonville already. I could see its emptiness without them there, and hear their voices and laughter in its silence. Even some of the friends I made during summer 2010 will be gone come next year. I think Nate’s gonna hurt the most, though, because he was more than a supervisor. He was the big brother I never had. I’m gonna miss him, especially while I’m making schedules and figuring out how to fix stuff… this time I’m going to be the improviser. We worked together all the time. …At least I’ll have another adventure staff I already know and love: Margo. And that’s a relief.

Then I remembered how it felt this year. I didn’t feel people’s absence as much because I was around other people I loved. And I don’t feel their absence so much now that I’m around still other people I love, here at school. And I realized that loving the people you’re with is really the only way around the holes left in your heart by the people you love who are now in the rear-view mirror. “New people” can never fill the holes created by those in the rear-view. They just create new holes. But in their presence, you forget the holes left by those in the rear-view. To love someone else is deeply is the only way to feel less hurt from the holes left by those who are gone. But it’s hard. Cynicism takes you hostage and lies to you.

Cynicism is one of the ugliest perversions of Imago Dei. We are made to love and be loved, but we grow instead to despise those made, like us, in His image and likeness, thinking that the ones we meet now aren’t as good as those we knew then. But everything changes. And in change, there is both the bad of sin’s corruption and the good holiness with which the world was made. Imago Dei and “very good” mesh together with fall and curse and sin. And the body and blood of Jesus is kneaded into the whole mix, generating hope – hope for a day when our glorious King will return in power and majesty and finally set all things right. But until that day comes, all creation groans with longing. The heavens and earth declare God’s glory, and at the same time the earth cries out for the return of the King.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Communion

Lord, search me through and through
See the sin i hide from me and You
And make it clean; cleanse my heart.

Clean this house,
the smaller idols
and the bigger ones.

Medicine bites, wound cleaning stings
With hesitation, fearfully i
request that You remove
the splinters of sin
from this heart You first made holy.

Let the blood of Jesus wash me,
Let me not take it lightly. Continue reading “Communion”