Posts filed under 'bible'
A little side note from my update: I’m genuinely excited about helping to serve TheCall and Lou Engle. I’ll have to tell the story of how that strange, unexpected, took-me-completely-by-surprise right turn came about last fall sometime - but I am stirred by the Lord regarding this assignment. I have a zeal to build a multi-generational prayer coalition as an answer to the political coalition that has emerged to elect our President-Elect. I want to go region by region, finding friends, comrades, and brothers (and sisters) that are like-minded and longing to see a shift in the current climate of the church of America towards a radical, obsessed, wholehearted, burning with passion and zeal for the heart of God, hunger and thirst for righteousness; with a bold, unashamed pursuit of speedy justice. Yeah, I can give my time to that.
But I have to confess, the upcoming thing I am most excited about (theology dork that I be) is the new course I am teaching at IHOPU - The Kingdom of God. My plan is to systematically break down the Kingdom of God in the law, the prophets, the gospels, the epistles, and beyond to get the clearest picture I can regarding the kingdom that God desires to establish fully (and forcefully, at His return) on the earth. What will it look like when “the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ”? Oh, the joy of finding out in a way that sets my heart, my mind, and my strength on serving His purposes related to that one goal.
I say this to hint that I am sure that some of my Kingdom of God stuff will leak out onto this space. Just warning you now.
November 21st, 2008
The Unsolvable Crisis
As we have seen in the previous section, God has orchestrated an inconceivably difficult scenario for the citizens of Judah to navigate while alerting them to an insurmountable, inescapable scenario that is bearing down on them soon after. God has created (and given freedom for the emergence of) for them, then, an unsolvable problem. As I write this, I feel as if I am watching my own nation decline and descend slowly into its own insurmountable issues - the sentences above form, then, an intensely personal lens by which I view the book of Joel.
As we speak, huge mortgage brokerages have been assimilated into the federal government that is already spending and borrowing at record deficit levels. Two more major banks, paragons of Wall Street for over a century, have either collapsed or are on the verge of insolvency. Millions of babies have been and are being aborted and my nation is seriously considering electing a leader whose primary agenda is to open the doors to greater numbers of abortions in the name of “reproductive rights”. Immorality is on the rise in terms of cultural normalcy and national slumber - what was unthinkable even a decade ago is becoming accepted and normal everywhere you look.
I am running out of places that are safe for my eyes. My heart is burning and aching over the absence of ideas that represent even a sliver of wisdom and hope that there are real solutions forthcoming to turn the tide of financial ruin, political impotency, infanticide, and cultural degradation wiping out the collective conscience of a generation of unsuspecting teenagers. I can now imagine what stirred the prophet Habakkuk to cry out for justice 2600 years ago. I cannot yet imagine the dread of God’s response bearing down like the unyielding tide upon Judah under the weight of judgment.
There Are No Answers
When one surveys the political scene or turns on the continuous news and talk cycle that is now dominating our airwaves, one is confronted with a truth that can be similarly hard to bear: no one knows what to do. A cult of personality has become a happy anesthetic. I do not begrudge our candidates their current strategy - what choice do they have? Admit to the American people that no leader, no government, and no people can find a solution to the avalanche that has subtly begun - and cannot be stopped? It is easier to distract in the safest, most generic way possible than to risk ridicule in presenting useless proposals that are like scooping a spoonful of water out of a sinking ship.
Israel’s history is littered with kings from the northern and southern kingdoms that attempted in vain to apply their collective gifting and intellect to formulate a way forward out of their national trouble and crisis. Every economic and political solution was considered, every human answer was proposed. Alliances, treaties, bargains, tributes, and all manner of overt and subtle maneuvering only accelerated Israel’s decline. God had truly hemmed her in, leaving her with only two options if she dared admit the truth. One of those options, of course, was to take the prophet Jeremiah’s counsel, not fight against the inevitable, and let the wave of judgment from God’s hand run its course.
There is Only One Answer
The other option was to heed the advice of Joel: turn with weeping, fasting, and mourning in appealing to the mercy of God. The terror of this course of action is that both prophets were correct. Not even Joel would prophecy a full turning of the Lord from judgment - Jeremiah spoke the truth. The best that Joel could offer the people at the stage of decline and crisis that they fond themselves in was to accept both truths: yes, judgment was coming and was inevitable. There were no solutions. There was no way to fight their way out, no alliance or no nation that could aid them now. Thus there was one clear thing that they must do if some were to survive what was coming: repent, gather, and pray.
It was actually the kindness of the Lord to box in this proud, independent, gifted people and give them no other option but to cry out for mercy. God left them no other option but to examine themselves - how had their sin, their selfishness, and their arrogance bring them to the brink of extinction? How could they survive the coming wave of judgment at the hands of the Babylonian army? God’s answer to Habakkuk held the key: “the just shall live by faith.” In other words, regardless of the intensity of the threat against them, the promises of God would never fail.
Thus the one who stood confidently in the hope of God’s zeal for His promises would see them come to pass - even if they died before the fulfillment of those promises. Babylon could do their worst. Those who put their trust in the Lord would not be ashamed - even if God had to raise them up later on to see that trust vindicated. God is not the God of the dead - but of the living! Thus the sincere and the tender could stand with their fathers, the great patriarchs and prophets, and believe that God would prevail and that His mercy endures forever. Now, what hope wold they have as a nation? How could God’s promises for all the Israelites prevail?
Imagine the answer given today to the next President of the United States: “Mr. President, the only hope for the survival of our nation is if the people truly repent of their sins, fast, and pray in large gatherings in every state.” Imagine if that was the bill a trembling Senator presented on the floor of Congress. Imagine if the government agreed that there were no other solutions that could work but this one. And even then, who knows? What if our politicians presented this option to the people and honestly said to the people, “who knows?” God is a huge fan of political suicide for the sake of righteousness, in the hopes that some would respond and believe in the God that delights in mercy.
Joel’s Prayer for Mercy
Joel lays out for the people the importance of and the program for the national solemn assembly. It should be a consecrated (set apart) day in which the peoples fast before the Lord. Everyone should attend the assembly - the elderly, the children, even those who had planned weddings should cancel everything and gather to cry out four their future. The priests were to lead the way in weeping and mourning in front of the people. All should pray Joel’s prayer: “Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” Joel has them take the same approach as Moses had once taken in appealing to the glory of the name of God amongst the nations.
Would it work? Would God leave a blessing behind?
God was ambiguous about whether or not the peoples of that generation would be spared. It was not clear, nor was it promised, that they would see the goodness of God in that time frame. The Lord, however, gives them even more than the potential survival of their nation as the motivator for their prayers and fastings. He also defines for them what the prophet means when He speaks of potential “blessings” left behind in the kindness of the Lord. God desired to do more than spare them from judgment - it was always in His heart to bless them extravagantly. The catalyst for true and wholehearted repentance must be knit to a hunger and a yearning to lay hold of the full measure of the blessing of the Lord on our lives.
Before examining the blessing itself, however, the question hangs in the air - even today , as our national resources grow more meager and slim by the day. Do we believe that He is gracious and merciful? Do we believe that He is slow to anger, and that it has taken a while in sin and compromise to reach this point? Do we believe that He is of great kindness and desires to relent from doing harm to those whom He loves?
With no guarantees - only the invitation to turn towards Him that He might, might, turn towards us - how much do we desire His mercy and His blessing on our lives and on our nation? How much is it worth to us - how much can we give? Joel asks this in a pointed way to an agriculturally devastated people - would they gather up whatever meager heads of grain and scattered grapes remain to make a grain and drink offering to the Lord? In their lack - or something beyond even lack - could they take their last remaining scraps of food and drink and offer it before the Lord in the hopes that He might perhaps relent and bless them?
How much do we actually believe that God desires to turn and relent from doing harm?
Next: Joel 2:18-27 and the heart of the Lord to bless His people
September 16th, 2008
The Great Trip Up
In Joel 2:1-11, we find one of the greatest exegetical “trip ups” of all time. I have found that it is nearly impossible to talk the convinced out of their viewpoint of this passage, regardless of logic, context, and grammatical flow. The “trip up” comes in verse 11: “The Lord gives voice before His army…” Thus, a strange confusion settles in upon reading that phrase. The whole meaning and purpose of the passage is handed over to make the army in question the church at the end of the age. The passage must then become spiritualized to make the details fit this conclusion.
The secondary problem is that the spiritualized details subsequently do not fit any other biblical descriptives of the church at the end of the age. Yes, I fully agree that the church at the time of the Second Coming will be on the earth, moving with great authority and power, walking without spot or wrinkle, walking in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God (A few examples from the scripture include: Eph. 4:13; 5:27; Rev. 8:1-5). There will be a great harvest of souls that emerge from the great tribulation in the final years of history (Rev. 7:9-17). There is much to be stirred about when considering God’s plan for the church just before the return of His Son according to the promises of scripture.
Most prominently, however, scripture describes a time of great martyrdom and intense shaking for the church as the nations of the earth rage against God. The predominant feature of the victorious church at the end of the age is that it will be victorious in love; or according to the designation of the book of Revelation, filled with those who overcome. The greatest wave of darkness, sin, corruption, lawlessness, and rage in all of history establish the backdrop of what Paul described as “perilous times” in the final days for everyone - including the church. That the church stands in loyalty and obedience to Jesus and does not waver or falter in that time is the testimony to the power of God to answer the prayer of Jesus in John 17:26 -
“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Thus, while I agree that the church at the end of the age will be victorious, filled with grace and might in the Spirit of God, will disrupt the nations and the peoples with a message of the coming of the Son (with power, signs, and wonders that follow) - I want to state clearly that the greatest expression of victory for the overcoming church at the end of the age will be martyrdom and abandoned obedience to the Sermon on the Mount, even in the face of gross injustice. I do not foresee an army that runs over walls, breathes fire (well, except for two witnesses), makes the enemies of God turn white with fear, etc.
In other words, Israel is not commanded to “sound the alarm” because of an end-time army of believers. This makes little sense in terms of what the prophet Joel looked to communicate.
Whose army is it?
The alarm must be sounded in the land of Judah - a graver threat than the locust “army” is coming to them. The initial army of locusts was a prophetic foreshadowing of a far more fierce and bloodthirsty army that would come to make the land desolate and barren. It would emerge as the most unstoppable and destructive army of its era - or any other era prior to that time, for that matter. Never had the peoples seen an army like this one. For as relentless as the locusts were, and as impossible as they were to turn aside, so would the incoming army come down upon the nation of Judah. There was no way for Judah to bargain or think their way out of the crisis that they were facing.
Why? There were two terrifying reasons that Joel presents to the Israelites that one must grapple with. First, the crisis was inescapable because it was part of the day of the Lord for them. They had always imagined that “the day of the Lord” would be the day in which God delivered the nations into their hands. Here, they are forced to confront the idea that the day of the Lord would also be a day of reckoning for them in their sin and rage against God and His ways. Secondly, the army was inescapable because it was the Lord’s army. God Himself had raised up this wicked, demonized, bloodthirsty army to judge the nation of Judah for their sin and rejection of God and His ways.
For Joel, there is no time to wrestle with the theological implications of such a statement. There is only time to sound an alarm, blow a trumpet, and alert the peoples, and hope that they are awakened to the coming threat in time. It would be the prophet Habakkuk who would wrestle with God over this issue: how could God raise up a people more wicked and unjust than the Hebrews to be an instrument of His justice and judgment? How could this wicked army be “the Lord’s army”?
Who can endure it?
This is the great question that God wants everyone to ponder when considering the magnitude and intensity of His day. In the perfection of His leadership, He allows the sin and wickedness of man to run its course if that is the direction men choose to take. He “hands” the nations over to their own rebellious ways. He thus allows the consequences of man’s sin to overtake them until they are completely hedged in and there can be no human deliverance from the problems that compound and multiply upon the nations.
The intensity of the fruit of sin, wickedness, and the descent into lawlessness demands justice and judgment to turn the tide and establish His righteousness. As Peter would later note, “judgment begins at the house of the Lord” in 1 Peter 4:17. As the Israelites would discover, no one is exempt from the dealings of the Lord to set things right where there is disorder and disarray. He will “shake everything that can be shaken”, as the prophet Haggai would note and the writer of Hebrews would echo (Hag. 2:7; Heb. 12:27).
Thus, the reason that God raises up an “outside agency” to shake the peoples and judge the wicked is that He places everyone through the fire of His dealings to produce either voluntary love or angry rejection. Throughout history God will then judge the entity He raises up to be His instrument of judgment. No one is exempt from the dealings of God to bring the peoples into the fullness of His plan and establish righteousness on the earth. In the end-times, according to Daniel 7, God will raise up the Antichrist and his armies to do to the church and to the nations what this ancient army did to Israel and the surrounding nations. In other words, this pattern of God’s leadership is one that has been consistent throughout redemptive history - and will be expressed again before the Second Coming.
Thus all are forced to examine their lives, if they have a heart to hear and respond to the alarm of the prophet, and determine whether or not they have the internal mechanisms needed to endure what is coming from the hand of the Lord. God allows and stirs unsolvable problems and hurls them at men and women knit to His desire to drive us back to Him in the place of prayer and repentance. In these first 11 verses of the second chapter of Joel’s message, God presents an insurmountable dilemma to His people.
The dilemma is that a people are coming, great and strong - an army the likes of which no one has ever seen before. It uses a scorched earth policy to burn everything they conquer in their wake. It leaves the conquered lands a desolate wilderness - and there is no escape from them. They have seemingly unlimited resources and discipline in their destruction - and the peoples faint with fear and agony at their coming. The analogy Joel paints of their relentless, orderly advance is one of a wave of insects invading a city and swarming through every corner. This was an analogy that the Hebrews now understood intimately.
A very great (or awesome in scope), and very terrible day has dawned for the people of the southern kingdom of Judah. Who among them could endure the trauma that was coming? Who among them cold stand in the face of insurmountable, inescapable terror? Who was the wicked and mighty army that was coming down upon them, the cause of Joel’s alarm? The Lord would reveal it to the prophet Habakkuk: the Chaldeans, or, as we know them today, the Babylonian army.
How could the nation endure?
Next: Joel 2:12-27 and the Divine Solution
September 15th, 2008
The word of the Lord comes to Joel
Disaster had overtaken the peoples of Israel - a locust plague had come, unlike anything the people had ever seen before. In a “typical” locust swarm, there can be as many as 60-100 million locusts per square mile. The “cloud” of a swarm can blot out the sun for some distance as the band can run for miles. A plague of locusts, then, could number in the billions and one wave can do immeasurable, incalculable damage to crops, land, water supplies; in essence one locust plague can devastate an ecosystem in the manner in which it consumes nearly all vegetation in a matter of hours.
In this instance, four waves of locusts descended, one after another, onto the Palestinian region. Devastated from the first wave, three more followed in brutal fashion, until nothing was left for the locusts to consume. First came the “chewing” locusts, who were then followed by the “swarming” locusts; in other words, the ravenous first wave was followed later by large swarms that descended en masse upon anything that was left. It would have been beyond disheartening - until the “crawling” locusts came, and ate any random scraps left on the ground or in hidden crevasses and nooks. Any hope or glimmer of joy would have been extinguished when the final wave of “consuming” locusts completely devoured any signs of vegetation that somehow survived the first three waves.
The land had been completely stripped bare - or beyond, if that could be possible. Joel spoke about the astonishing desolation throughout the early portions of his message to Israel - the food supply consisting of wheat and barley had “perished”, the “vine” or the grapes had “dried up”, all of the trees were gone, including the figs, apples, and pomegranate, as well as the palm trees.
Complete and utter desolation
We can easily connect to the trauma and stress on a society that occurs when wheat and barley “perish”. Two critical grains that make up a significant portion of the food / bread supply were wiped out, most likely within hours. Any stray grains that might have provided hope to build on for the future were gone. Were there even any seeds left to plant? The same loss of morale and introduction of despair accompanied the loss of the “vine”, or the grapes. Wine was a critical part of the diet of those who populated the region as well as a key part of their economic health and trade.
But what about the trees? It would have been horrifying to lose all of the fig trees, as they were among the hardiest and sturdiest of trees, particularly in the desert regions. In a land that consistently found itself in a water crisis, in which the two rainy seasons dictated the health of a nation from year to year, figs were the one food that could be counted on regardless of growing conditions. They were easy to dry and preserve. They were inexpensive and highly nutritious. To witness four waves of locusts consume them all was to see jobs, livelihoods, and a critical food source in a time of drought disappear from the land.
The palm trees, of course, provided critical resource for structures and furniture, and the leaves could be woven to provide all manner of baskets, mats, brooms, beds, ropes and other kinds of furniture. The dates from the palm trees were a food source, the juices from the trees were fermented into wine. The ancient palm tree was the equivalent of a modern Wal-mart in terms of the many purposes the trees served within Mediterranean societies. Imagine every single one of these important trees wiped out in four waves - to the point where the trees were beyond barren, but stripped bare through the bark. The branches of the fig tree, for example, had been “stripped bare and thrown away; its branches made white”.
A nation of drunkards had their wine forcefully taken from them; the priests had no grain or drink to perform the offerings and no oil for the lamps. As noted earlier, even the seed had “shriveled” and wasted away. The storehouses were empty. The animals were dying from lack of food - they were “groaning” and restless, “suffering punishment”. The horrific conditions led to a terrible drought and brush fires throughout the plains and fields. The land was crippled and the agrarian society a wasteland. As Joel noted, “Surely the joy has withered away from the sons of men”. Any joy or gladness had been “cut off” from the house of their God.
The day of the Lord is at hand
Joel boldly identifies the cause of their suffering: this was “destruction from the Almighty“, or El Shaddai - the “most powerful God”. There could be no other explanation for the four waves of destruction - this was a God-ordained event. His day was at hand - what did this mean? He had humbled His own people - why? Joel does not make the reasons for the destruction clear. There are hints of what the Lord will require of them later on in his proclamation, but unlike the other Old Testament prophets, he does not give a clear description of their sin and true condition before God. Joel is only concerned with what has happened as a sign of what is coming - and he has an urgency stirring him regarding the only solution that can deliver the people from further, more comprehensive destruction.
He is calling them to action - the reasons for the destruction of the land and the greater destruction to come must have been clear to the people. In other prophetic books, such as Hosea, the prophet declares to the people why judgment is coming as most were so ignorant of the law of God that they had o sense of right or wrong. Judgment would have overtaken them, and they would have had no clue as to why such a thing would occur. With no sense of law or morality, why would God declare them to be in rebellion? Hosea answers the question to give them a context for why trouble is coming.
Again, Joel does no such thing. He simple declares that trouble has come, that the Lord has done it, and that the people must gather to the house of the Lord to fast and pray. The proclamation is so direct and urgent that, again, one must assume that the people know full well their wickedness. The second option is that, in the timing of Joel’s proclamation, the people have almost run out of time. The tidal wave of greater judgment is approaching quickly, and there is no time to persuade the people to repent - Joel must simply declare it, and hope that the people respond in trembling before the Lord who has struck them.
Thus the issue of the first chapter of Joel becomes clear: God struck the people intensely to get their attention. Does He have it? Would they take Him seriously and call a fast? Would the people turn to Him? As the proclamation unfolds, we find that their immediate, and their ultimate, future and destiny hang in the balance of their response. In the moment, however, it begins by acknowledging that God has done this terrible thing - and has done so to drive the people into His house in a spirit of fasting. He has forced them to be solemn and sober in a way that they had not been, according to the earlier description of drunkenness and carousing. Their feast and celebration has come to an end.
It was now time to confront their God - and sobriety, consecration, and solemnity were required to have the conversation that was about to unfold.
Next: Chapter 2:1-14 - the Negative, Destructive Army of Judgment is Coming
September 10th, 2008
Overview of Joel
As I stated in my last post, the format of the book of Joel is fairly straightforward and easy to follow. Even the parenthetical aside in chapter 2:18-27 isn’t that confusing; it highlights the zeal God has for HIs people to “sign up” for the only solution that matters in the face of great crisis and impending judgment. Through the prophet Joel, God is giving the divine “counterpoint” to impending judgment and trouble - not only can crisis be averted or minimized through prayer, but great blessing and abundance can come as well through God’s invitation to gather and pray.
So, to say it again, the progression for the book of Joel can be understood as follows: disaster has struck, and it is a small crisis designed to gain the attention of the nation of Israel so that they will begin to prepare for an even greater crisis to come. This crisis is a military invasion that will do more than cripple their resources and make life difficult - it will threaten to wipe them out as a people altogether. To prepare for this coming invasion, God invites them to gather together and pray in massive solemn assemblies that acknowledge their need for divine intervention - everything else should be shut down to prioritize these solemn assemblies, even weddings.
If they gather, the Lord will do more than relent from doing them harm through judgment - He might even leave a great blessing behind! That atmosphere of blessing, as I said earlier, is described in detail: He will establish them in their promised destiny and cause the land to overflow with resource that will cause them to forget any hardship from the previous natural disaster. The Lord desires to establish them in the right way through the vehicle of prayer and humility - which makes it critical that they say “yes” to the invitation He has extended.
There is an immediate turning and blessing that the Lord wants to give to them as a people - but even if they do not respond immediately, God has a plan to establish them “afterward”, or in the future. He is going to pour out His Spirit on everyone, stirring up the nations into a global conflict that repays the nations with vengeance for how they have dealt (and will deal with) Israel. He is going to stir up the nations to such a degree that they will gather against Him and declare open war! It is in that context that the Lord will ultimately bring about the “blessing” Joel had spoken about earlier and ultimately deliver and vindicate His choice of Israel.
Our Inability to Grasp the True Problem
Ultimately, when it comes to Israel and her destiny and calling, God cares about three things - that she prays and repents (does justly) with a tender, “torn” heart (loves mercy), and fasts, weeps, and mourns (walks humbly with her God). I am, of course, connecting Micah 6:8 with Joel 2:12-13. Why? There are many opinions and conversations about “justice” in our day and what it means to “walk justly”. What did God have in mind when He spoke to Judah about her corruption and oppression of the poor? Was He inviting His people to create social programs and community development projects that addressed the needs of the overlooked?
No - He called them to begin their journey into “doing justly” in a manner that loved mercy and thus walked humbly with their God. ”Loving mercy” is such an important concept to infuse into our hearts and our understanding that Jesus twice urged the Pharisees to go and learn what this phrase meant: “God desires mercy, not sacrifice.” There is a strangely messianic zeal that seems to be expressing itself throughout the body of Christ in this hour related to the subject of justice. Compassion ministries with a zeal for justice are helpful, but seem to be missing some of the really big problems that are facing the church and society at large that cannot be solved with money, time, and gifting alone.
The greatest problems our nation faces echoes the issues that plagued ancient Israel. We are bandaging the gaping wounds of our society with helpful programs that ultimately are not that helpful. While a solution is better than no solution, God’s solution is ultimately the one that ranks as the highest priority to attain. There have been many good ideas that have been advanced in the name of God, Jesus, and Christianity - yet how many have actually embraced the first commandment (“Love the Lord your God…”) as the highest and best way to lay hold of the second (“Love your neighbor as yourself“)?
Too many leaders and visionaries see the church as a resource to solve the issues of injustice and inequity that threaten the poor and the oppressed. The highest calling of the church is to exemplify and evangelize a Man and His leadership, or His ways. We preach Jesus, yet forget that with the King and His Kingdom comes a lifestyle that is a critical part of full citizenship and relationship. The church must do more than talk about Jesus - she must express the authentic life and power that comes from walking intimately with Him. To imagine that we lay hold of the understanding, mindsets, lifestyle, and power that comes with being a citizen of another kingdom automatically is the greatest of assumptions that grossly ignores our weakness and broken thinking and reasoning.
The true problem is not that men are poor, oppressed, and hungry in their need. The true problem is that men are sinners who would destroy one another without God’s mercy and grace. What solution does the church have to offer a people that would consume themselves in the depths of their wickedness?
The Simplicity of God’s Complex Plan
The layers of obstacles that hinder us from truly identifying the root issues and problems facing our nation also detract from our ability to lay hold of the only anointed solution: prayer, fasting, repentance, and humility. The issues of poverty, oppression, and injustice that stir the soul to action and demand “change” cannot be solved by any man, any group, or any church. We need wisdom from heaven that cannot be gained casually, quickly, or cavalierly. We need solutions from God that transcend our natural inclinations and exceed the boundaries of our time, money, and gifting.
Yet in our natural arrogance, we imagine that more money, time, and gifting equals more involvement, busyness, and active engagement with the problems that we face. The prophet Joel offered a radically different course for the strong: be weak. He would later juxtapose this invitation to the prideful, angry response of the nations at war with God who are weak: be strong. Church, this is not the hour to be strong. This is not the hour to flex our resource and be problem-solving, task-doing, social activists. This is the hour to be weak. To pray, to fast, to repent, and to tear our hearts and acknowledge that we are part of the problem - not the gifted, wealthy, powerful solution.
We need eye-salve.
It’s so simple, anyone can participate: simply pray. Ask God for mercy. Ask God for help. Ask God to turn the hearts of the wicked and stir them to love the poor. Ask God to turn our hearts and stir us to love the poor. The Israelites were not called to band together and start societies dedicated to feeding the poor and building homes for the homeless. They were called to repent. Imagine the oddity! Imagine a senator standing on the steps of Congress and acknowledging the tragedy of poverty and oppression that is happening in our nation - and calling the church to repentance! These are not natural “dots” to connect, and yet this is exactly what God had the prophet Joel declare to Israel all those years ago.
The simplicity is found in the response of the people to tear their hearts, repent, and pray and fast. Within the words of Joel, we find the first and best response to national crisis. The problems and the solutions are too complex for us to grasp, and too many are content to throw sad into an ocean hoping to build a bridge. God would have us stare at the ocean of wickedness that leads to injustice and national crisis and be humble. He would have us call Him into the fight - and in doing so we end up more fully joining His team rather than imagining that He would bless ours.
The complexity is found in the multiple layers by which prayer takes hold and begins to “work”. We begin to connect with more understanding to the true issues. We begin to connect with the manner in which we hinder the work of God with our own wickedness. We begin to connect with our great lack. We begin to truly mourn and long for God in a way we did not when we busied ourselves trying to affect a short-term solution with short-term impact. We begin to connect to solutions that take longer to see expressed but lead to eternal impact. True blessing, power, and glory can be released to a people that have been humbled and are humble.
The wisdom of God’s solution is found in the brilliant way He involves corrupt, broken, weak human beings in being part of the solution to a cosmically difficult problem. He does all the work to get us into the place of prayer and then intervenes in our crisis because we prayed. What could be more astonishing? What could be more loving? Surely not the faulty and sentimental notions of love that are corrupting the thinking and the planning of well meaning, but ultimately disconnected and irrelevant, leaders around the body of Christ that are trying to find every way possible out of the crisis they find their nation facing.
Every possible way but one - and the only one: massive gatherings of prayer, fasting, and repentance that turn God’s people to turn a nation.
September 8th, 2008
The Issue of Relevance
Between the elections, the issues of national decline and the hope of resurgence, international disasters, theories, and speculations, we aren’t lacking for conversation topics in America today. Yet we must never forget that the most relevant conversations must still center around the word of God. At times, the scripture frustrates belilevers because they can’t find the answers that they are looking for to the problems of today. The Mormon church capitalizes on this yearning, presenting themselves as a modern day fountain of answers for the seeker. Many Christian churches have no problem either adopting or pioneering the same approach.
The problem is that God often wants to have a different conversation with His church. We want, need, and expect God to come down to our level and address our problems from our perspective. We draw comfort from authors and speakers who deliver on that promise, making the scriptures appear to speak to the details of our life in a manner that helps us feel as if everything will be alright. All throughout the scriptures, however, the truth is that God takes a radically different approach. He consistently and persistently invites us to see things from His perspective and identify with the issues that He sees as the most relevant.
Relevance, then, is best defined in a manner that transcends cultural and personal considerations and rests in the seat and the perspective of the Most Holy One. What is most relevant are the things that are on His mind and carry His concerns. Thus, regardless of the swirl of politics, finance, nature, and life, God’s viewpoint of history and its movement forward by His hand is one that I have become obsessed and consumed with connecting to.
The Book of Joel
With that said, I want to take time to break down the book of Joel and discern its relevance and role in shaping how we live and understand our times for a few weeks. I want to focus in a particular way on the last chapter of the book of Joel, as it is often overlooked - especially in the dialogues about how the story of this age will end. Yet Joel chapter three provides one of the most vivid and spectacular glimpses into how this phase of history will come to a conclusion - and the methodology God will utilize to bring it to a close. How will God birth and ending and a beginning? In what context will He choose to do so? The book of Joel offers some insights into the answer to those questions.
Ultimately, God is unconcerned with the issue of “relevance”. His day is coming, in which He will be the most relevant figure on the planet. The day is coming in which He will not be forgotten or ignored - but He will take the most prominent place in the thoughts, conversations, and lifestyles of the peoples of the whole earth. Some will love Him, many will despise Him, all will fear Him - but none will imagine that He does not exist or that His opinions are irrelevant to their lives. The day of God’s exaltation before the return of His Son the King will be terrifying days to the earth. Thus God is patient and able to wait and watch as He leads and moves history forward to the day in which He will shake everything that can be shaken to get the attention of the peoples.
What will Happen, What to do
The glorious nature of the book of Joel is that is maps out what is to come, yet does not leave us unable to respond. Joel tells us exactly how to respond to prepare for the glory and power of God that will crash in on the nations like a tidal wave. The manner in which God shakes and arrests the attention of the peoples in mercy before He does so to greater, and more destructive measure is unto that end: that, having our full attention before He gets everyone’s attention, we can start living in a radically different way then before.
This is the simple pattern of the book of Joel - and anyone can follow along. First, something bad has happened to you as a nation - and God was the One who sent it. Second, He did so because something far worse is coming to bear down on you, and He wants you to be spared. Third, you may be spared if you passionately obey the “survival strategy” the Lord gives you related to a new and different lifestyle. Fourth, and most spectacularly, giving yourself to this new lifestyle has glorious benefits by the grace of God. Fifth, more than surviving the shaking to come, you will see what the Lord will do in conjunction with the shaking to bring great blessing.
It is the book of Joel, along with many other passages that I will explore in the days to come, that give me hope for my nation in this season of time before the great shaking begins - that a season of restraint and revival can come, and that a nation in our day can turn back to God.
That, in my mind, is of the utmost relevance and importance to the people of God.
September 5th, 2008
Yes, it’s another series. No, I haven’t forgotten the other ones. It’s just that I am captivated and tender in heart today as I think about Jesus, the Servant of all. Here are portions of my thoughts on the subject of Jesus the servant, through the lens of His incredible act of humility from John 13:3-9:
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”
7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”
8 Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”
9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:3-9)
Infinite power is yours, now go scrub some feet
First, I am stunned by the way in which John begins his account of what happened: he states, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands… rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” Or, say it this way: Jesus, knowing that…He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” In other words, Jesus knew two things about Himself in that moment, and knowing those things led to an action that, in our way of thinking, doesn’t quite match the information.
I’ll use this example. You win the lottery. It’s fifty million dollars. What is the first thought that comes to your mind? If you’re like every other human on the planet, you think about what you are going to buy, where you are going to go, or what debt you are going to cancel. It’s how we all are wired to think in our carnality - once we are handed resources (money, power, honor), the first things we are concerned with tend to be 1.) how to make our life better; 2.) how to make our circumstances change; and 3.) how to alleviate stress. I am sure that there are a few other-worldly mystics reading this that commune in the perfection of godly motives, but for the rest of us, it’s simply reflexive.
That’s what fascinates me about Jesus’ reflexive, in the moment response to His knowledge of His status, privilege, security, and power base. It’s quite unlike any man that has ever lived, and there is no chance that you are I in our current condition would have made the same choice if we received the same information. “David Sliker, the Father has just given all things into your hands!” Now, because I’m not entirely carnal and, in this stage of my life, I care about different things than I used to, I am sure that I would try to do something helpful with that new information. I am also sure I would not immediately throw a towel around my waist and decide to become my student’s servant.
Servant means more than “serving”
The problem with hearing a word over and over is that it can become culturalized and overly familiar. I am certain that this has happened in Christian culture with the concept of Jesus the Servant, by which “servant” has been reduced to a cool leadership concept, a valuable lesson, and a missions project in which we raise some money to go build a church together. Our minds simply will not allow us to embrace the concept of Jesus embracing the lowliness and the meekness of becoming a true servant for His friends, lowering Himself in His outrageous humility to a place below His students in that upper room. He did not become a “servant” according to 21st Century church culture, which again is little more than being a little helpful when someone else is in need. He became a “servant” according to 1st century Hebrew culture, in which the hired attendant helped the powerful Lord make the details of his life work.
It’s why Peter was horrified that night.
It’s hard for us to relate to Jesus the Servant. That the Messiah and King of the Earth would serve us as a Friend rather than command us to obey offends our sensibilities. Much of how we are wired and how we think is similar to Peter – when one who has greater authority than we have relates to us we have a tendency to defer, honor, and take the lower place. This is not because we are humble by nature – it is actually because of the exact opposite: it is because we would expect (and sometimes demand) that others would do the same for us when we came into our place of authority. Peter was relating to Jesus in the same manner that he expected others would relate to him when he achieved greatness, thus he had no clue what to do our how to relate to Jesus when his Master and Rabbi girded Himself with a towel and began to wash their dusty feet.
Again, this was the posture of a literal servant in the circles of power and privilege in eastern culture; Jesus was taking on the role of the lowly servant – and also elevating his disciples to the place of the privileged lord or nobleman in the process. This was unheard of in eastern culture for a famous Rabbi or spiritual leader to act in such a manner. The powerful Sanhedrin had disciples with political ambitions who were glad to serve these wealthy, powerful, well-connected influencers in the hopes of being promoted into positions of power and influence themselves. Jesus radically redefines greatness, power, and authority for us all in this one act. He genuinely, and tenderly, expressed a kingdom of heaven value and a kingdom of heaven mindset by relating to His disciples in this manner.
It’s who Jesus is not just what He did (and still does)
We imagine, in that upper room that night, Jesus the Great Teacher teaching His guys one more lesson before retiring to the Garden of Gethsemane. Our minds reel and stagger a bit when it begins to dawn on us that Jesus actually thought that way and that His behavior in that moment is consistent with how He has always viewed Himself, beyond the “lesson” He wanted to transfer. He still thinks this way, as a matter of fact. His servant-hearted posture towards us did not end at the cross. That one act of service is a window into the heart of the ultimate Servant. This point is initially offensive, yet later on exhilarating and awesome to consider. It really does change so many things when we begin to relate, with holy fear, to Jesus the Servant.
I mean, really - can we imagine the President of the United States showing up at our house, throwing a towel around his waist, and washing our car and vacuuming the floor? We would respond a bit like Peter did that night. We don’t know what to do about a God that loves to serve. We have to keep in mind that this mindset is so foreign to us that Jesus said plainly to Peter, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Those twelve young men, and subsequently, all of us, were not equipped to grasp the implications of what Jesus was doing. Yet, when it dawns on us that this is who Jesus is, it makes our hearts to tender and awestruck at His kindness and love for us.
For Jesus, in taking on the form of a bondservant…
(And, as a parenthetical insertion, here is the definition of “bondservant”:
bond.ser.vant; n. 1. A person obligated to service without wages. 2. A slave or serf. )
…or, to put it another way, , taking on the form of a slave or serf, Jesus did more than clean dirt off of dusty feet and teach a bunch of simple guys a cool lesson on humility. He actually dignified and elevated them with unspeakable honor, assigning value and worth to their lives that defies description. He was demonstrating who He is, expressing His character and nature - and, in turn, demonstrating for us that our Father in heaven thinks and acts this way towards us as well. He did something else that night, something so incredible I can hardly grasp it: by demonstrating who He is towards us, He also demonstrated who we are to Him. He bestowed a value upon us that is incomprehensible. When the President of the United States takes us under his wing to train us, that’s pretty cool. When the President comes alongside of us and calls us a friend and a comrade, that feels pretty good. Now when he comes underneath us in status and rank, committing to become our slave, our serf, or our bondservant…
“…but you will know after this.”
And so they did, as He hung from that tree.
June 18th, 2008
If anyone was qualified to write about the weakness of true discipleship, it was John Mark. As a young man, Mark received a firsthand view of the new movement that would eventually conquer the mighty Roman Empire itself. It is widely believed that it was Mark’s home that hosted the Passover meal in the upper room; it was this very upper room that would later house a night and day prayer meeting in which 120 disciples tarried until the breakthrough of Pentecost. Thus, Mark’s home would be the very one that would be a key meeting place for the early church during the imprisonment of Peter. Upon his miraculous release in Acts 12, it was the first place he went to before moving on to “another place”.
Thus, John Mark’s home was a key hub of early New Testament Christianity. He had the unique privilege of having met or interacted with, early on, every key leader of the Gospels and the book of Acts. It would soon be time for him to be summoned to the forefront of the leadership of the Holy Spirit, as it was time for the movement to begin to move westward, towards the Greek and Macedonian regions. The young eyewitness to history was about to become a part of the story in a dynamic way.
Weakness under pressure
It was John Mark’s cousin, Barnabas, who initially opened the door for him. Barnabas had been sent by the apostolic leadership of the Jerusalem Church a year earlier to Antioch to see what the Holy Spirit was doing in that city - for the reports of His activity there had traveled all the way to Jerusalem, 300 miles to the south. Thus Barnabas made the 10-15 day journey from Israel to what is now the southern tip of modern-day Turkey. Because of the astonishing revival that was taking place there, he knew that more help was needed to serve what the Lord was doing. Of course, it would be a month or more before more apostolic leadership could arrive from Jerusalem.
Thus Barnabas decided to make a shorter journey westward to Tarsus, where a young apostle named Saul had been sent by the brethren a few years earlier because of threats to his life. Barnabas himself had been a part of this process, introducing the new brother to the apostolic leadership after they had received Saul with suspicion. He became a dogged apologist for the faith, frustrating the Hellenists in Jerusalem to the point of attempted murder. Barnabas knew that this young lightning rod was only 100 miles west along the coast, so he made the ten-day trip to Tarsus and back to mobilize Saul for the revival in Antioch. After a year of successful ministry there, the two of them were sent back to Jerusalem with both prophetic information and provision for a coming famine that would strike the Roman Empire.
When the time came for the two of them to return to Antioch, they invited John Mark to go with them. Not long after they arrived, a prayer and fasting meeting preceded the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit to launch a team led by Saul and Barnabas to Cyprus and Southern Turkey, just northwest of Tarsus. Thus John Mark was appointed as their assistant. John Mark, however, had already established a history of fear and trembling under pressure. Most scholars believe that Mark was referring to himself as the naked young man that fled from the Garden of Gethsemane, leaving his expensive linen cloak behind in his terror when young men from the contingent there to arrest Jesus laid hold of him.
Thus Mark did not respond well when the missions endeavor began to move to new frontiers. There were minor challenges in Cyprus, including a “certain sorcerer” named Elymas, who opposed them vehemently. Once they reached the shores of southern Turkey and the port of Perga, the young assistant left the team and returned home, to Jerusalem. This failure to see the journey to the end would haunt Mark a few years later, when Paul and Barnabas set themselves to return to the original cities where they planted churches to strengthen and encourage them. The decision of the Jerusalem Council had been established, and after a season in Antioch it was time to establish the decree among the brethren who had been troubled by Paul’s enemies. There was one problem: Barnabas was determined to take John Mark with them again.
Thus began a conflict that became a contention “so sharp” that they parted ways with one another. Paul chose Silas as his ministry partner - probably having young Timothy in the back of his mind, knowing that he was returning to Derbe and Lystra. Barnabas, of course, took Mark and returned to the place of his previous failure: Cyprus. Whatever Barnabas did on that journey, the results were remarkable.
Finding Simon Peter
John Mark left for Cyprus not long after the Jerusalem Council, which took place sometime near 50-51 AD. What was as remarkable, if not more so, than Barnabas severing ties with Paul, was that Mark signed up again and faced the shame and the sting of his earlier failure. He wanted to press on - though he had departed early from the first missionary journey, he had not quit in relationship to his calling. Thus his next assignment from the Lord fit perfectly.
No one is sure how long Mark traveled with Barnabas, but what is clear is that, sometime over the next decade he ended up joining Simon Peter and becoming his assistant. Theirs was an ironically glorious partnership - two godly men who had struggled with failure and flight under pressure - both knowing firsthand the weakness of discipleship. It is beautiful to me that they served the Lord together. This quote from Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis in the early 2nd Century, describes their ministry together, most likely in Rome:
“And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”
I appreciate Edgar Goodspeed’s interpretation of this fragment of information:
“…it seems to bring up the picture of Peter, an old man, visiting Rome in his later years and there preaching in his native Aramaic to the Greek congregation. They must have listened with rapt attention as the old apostle told of his walks and talks with Jesus in Galilee, and of the swift tragedy of betrayal and crucifixion which had followed in Judea. Then suddenly Peter is himself snatched from them and suffers martyrdom. It was one of the most famous of all martyrdoms; St Peter’s marks the supposed spot on the Vatican Hill, and legends like the stirring “Domine, quo vadis?” have gathered about it. It must have filled the Roman congregation with grief. No more would they hear the old man uttering his inimitable reminiscences of Jesus, for with his death a priceless treasure of such memories perished from the earth.
But not entirely. For as the old man had preached, there had stood beside him, of course, now one, now another of them, who could understand his Aramaic speech and immediately translate it into Greek for his Roman hearers. He had used these memories only to illustrate and strengthen his own preaching, and from hearing some incidents over and over a number of times and putting them into Greek, a capable and alert interpreter would come to have a very definite memory of their wording. Out of such memories, Papias means to say, one of these interpreters named Mark composed his gospel.”
What a glorious and awesome ministry John Mark had stumbled into. Peter called Mark “his son” (1 Pet. 5:13). He went from weakness and failure to a key position in the early church - interpreting the stories and sayings about Jesus. Those very accounts and sermons would go on to constitute his gospel, the first such work in church history. It must have seemed to be an unbelievable, yet happy turn of events for the Apostle Paul - who would end his life counting John Mark as one of his most faithful and loyal friends. This would be true for Paul even when all others had fled and abandoned him (2 Tim. 4:11). Much like Simon becoming “the Rock” that Jesus could build upon, a steady and grounded lover of God, John Mark would end his days as one of the most faithful, trustworthy, and bold witnesses for the gospel in all the world.
One of the glorious realities of the weakness of discipleship is that His power is made perfect in the process, and the end of the story is all the more stunning as a result.
April 29th, 2008
This article that I wrote a while ago was posted on the Onething site yesterday. It articulates the cry of my heart well - it’s from the “Sermon on the Mount” series that I began a while back, focusing on the Beatitudes.
Blessings to you today as you pursue His heart,
April 29th, 2008
I’ve been working on “The Gospel of Mark, the Weakness of Discipleship, Pt. 3″ since this past Friday. This is the section in which I had planned on telling Mark’s story, which is as much fun for me as the “heart stuff” in the first two parts that introduce the series. It’s been fun researching and refreshing myself on Mark’s story - I love searching for details and nuggets through the haze of history that I can add to my own picture of the events. It’s like finding unexpected pieces of tile to add to an ever expanding mosaic - one that adds color and sharpens the image a little more than before.
One of the fun little treasures I dug up was a quote examining the fairly famous (in these kinds of theology-dork circles) quote from Papias about Mark and Simon Peter (which you’ll have to wait for part 3 to read - oh! the suspense):
“The earliest piece of external, direct evidence comes to us from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, (c. 60-130) who quotes someone he identifies as “the elder” (ho presbuteros), probably John the elder, an authoritative figure among the churches in the province of Asia (H.E. 3.39.4, 15).”
That line, for whatever reason, electrified my imagination. I’m familiar enough with the stories and traditions about John the beloved apostle late in his life. Yet, for some reason, this sentence opened a new “door” in my mind’s eye. I pictured this mysterious figure looming in the background of the late-first century church. I pictured young Christians hearing stories of the original “desert father” who wiser, older believers only referred to as “the elder.” I imagined younger believers trying to find out the identity of this mysterious elder - and why some in their midst would only tear up in deep tenderness and fondness when that designation came up.
I love a good mystery. I love imagining the journey of a young man trying to catch up with this mysterious figure as he moves mysteriously through the lives of those who populated the church of Asia Minor. Who was “the elder”? Was he a prophet, a second-generation believer who had an intimate relationship with the famous beloved disciple? Imagine the conversations and questions - and the dogged search to find out the truth about the identity of this mystical, almost mythical figure. Then imagine the day when the “elder” walks into your congregation. He seems to barely whisper the phrase, “Beloved, love one another…” before shuffling off to another place.
I love this stuff!
April 22nd, 2008