Thursday, October 29, 2009

That "Vision Thing"


I've really been stymied for the past two weeks. It's been very frustrating for me. Plus, the enemy has taken full advantage of my frustration.

Two weeks ago at my Focus of a Warrior meeting we were given the next level of assignment for our group. I had been playing "Catch-Up" with the homework for a while. (Ever since I joined this group Satan has been working over time to fill me with self-doubt and distractions. It often feels like I am wading through a swamp waste deep) I had caught up and was feeling relatively good about it all. Then we got this assignment.
"Vision is the ability to see God's preferable future," so says the manuel we are using. We are supposed to figure out our Personal Vision for our lives. Oh great! Like I can flip a switch and figure that one out in two weeks. I've been trying to figure that out for years and I keep coming up empty.
I'm going to list the questions that are supposed to help me figure this out. If any of you have any suggestions as to how I ought to answer them, please let me know. I have no problem asking for help when it comes to something like this.

#1. The people & circumstances that have most shaped my life are...

#2. When I think of ministry in the future, the area of ministry (Advancing the Kingdom of God) I would love to concentrate upon ________________. Why?

#3. The qualities of character I most admire and desire for God to shape into my life are ______________________. Why?

#4. People who know me well believe I am most used by God when I am involved in _______________________. Why? (I could really use some help with this one.)

#5. My activities that contribute most to God's kingdom are ________________. Why?

#6. From the perspective of my personal life, my activities that I feel are making the greatest contribution to God's kingdom are _________________________. Why?

#7. Though I may have dismissed the thought many times for various reasons, at times I have felt that I really should be doing _______________________. Why?

#8. When people talk about a passion for ministry, I often begin to think about giving my life to accomplishing _______________________. Why?

Just eight questions. You think that would be easy. Instead, it's virtually crippled me over the last two weeks.

I have some personality problems that I wrestle with. For starters, I have felt like an Outsider my entire life. Always an observer, never a participant. That's actually had some good benefits, but I still never feel truly connected as a result. I tend to think so far outside the box that I kind of forget what a box even looks like at times. That tends not to sit very well in a world that values conformity.
The second is that I am filled with self-doubt and have a heavy guilt complex. (Is that because I am Baptist, Scandinavian or both?) I tend not to trust much of what comes into my head. Needless to say, Satan takes full advantage of the guilt complex. He loves to whisper into my ear.

A couple of things that I do know about myself: I am extremely creative...and I mean extremely! Most of the time when I am trying to create something, it is just to see if I CAN. I also have a very high level of curiosity. That's gotten me into some trouble, but it's also served me well. Finally, I have a very high tolerance for controversy, and am not easily shocked by outrageous behavior. (This is a result of working with At-Risk kids for 3 years. Probably the best education I have ever had. I can't get over how much they taught me.)
A couple of other things that I do have a passion for: I love education and teaching. I love the intellectual give & take. I love to learn something new everyday. I also love the sovereign mystery of God, and the centrality of Jesus.
I also like teens and young adults...especially if they are the oddballs. (I used to refer to my former students as the Island of Misfit Toys.) Honestly, how can anyone not like teenagers? They are just so incredibly entertaining. No offense to any teenager that might read this, but the fact of the matter is that you are all a bunch of massive Posers! You have such amazing enthusiasm for so much in life, and yet you are virtually clueless as to how to handle it. I just can't help but enjoy watching that and working with them.

Last weekend I got a call from the mother of one of my former students. I haven't seen this kid in almost 2 years. His Mom said that he still talks about me all the time, and was wondering if we could get together. He is having some troubles in school and was wondering if I could talk to him?
(This kid is a great kid. He has massive ADHD apparently. Once, he brought brass knuckles to school by mistake...he didn't even remember where he had found them. They fell out of his pants in a classroom and he was expelled. I tried to protect him. I got in serious trouble...possibly the reason I was denied tenure. They tell you to be an Advocate for your students, but most administrators don't really mean it. This one in particular had gone out of her way to earn my DISrespect. So be it. I believed in this kid. I still do.)
So anyway, after all this time this kid still thinks about me as being the one teacher who made a connection with him. Honestly, I'm not certain why that is. I have no magic wand. I wish I did. What I do have is a very strong conviction that every person on this planet has potential to make a positive contribution in this world. Sadly, I know that many, if not most, will not live up to that potential. But I still believe it with all of my heart.
I also learned something from my Shrink many years ago. What you hold in the forefront of your mind towards another person, they WILL pick up on it and live up to it. Call is ESP, call it a Vibe you transmit, call it the Spirit World, whatever. If you think negative thoughts towards others...that they are stupid, worthless, whatever, don't be surprised that those folks fulfill your expectations. So with that in mind, I would always search for any good qualities and skills that any student of mine had. That is what I held in the forefront of my mind. It took some serious self-discipline to make that a habit, but it finally stuck. And, to be honest, it was a lot easier with some to find the good stuff than it was for others.

ANYWAY, this call from my former student's Mom was a bit of a confirmation as to where I ought to be thinking about God's vision for my life.

All of that having been said, I have developed a very blurred vision of what God might wish for me. #1. I would really like to stay in some area of education. #2. I would really like to try and combine that with ministry in some way. #3. I am good with teens and young adults...especially if they are oddballs.
I am an oddball. That is fairly obvious to anyone who knows me. Always feeling like an outsider? Well, maybe that will serve me well with whoever I have to work with and minister too. I just get a feeling that I was meant to work in a niche that most others could not fill.

What is driving me crazy is that my gut tells me that all of my present circumstances are keeping me here until I figure out this whole "Vision Thing." I've been in the holding pattern for almost two years now. I hate it. I want to get on with what God wants me to do with my life. I don't care about making a ton of money. (Although, after 2 years of living in poverty, it would be nice to get a little bump up at least) I could care less about fame. I just want to fulfill my destiny by doing what God desires and advancing the kingdom. That is really all I want. And it feels like until I can figure out this Vision Thing, I am going to be stuck here spinning in circles. All of the job enquiries, all of the applications, all of the searching mean nothing. I desperately want to know what God's desire is. I KNOW that it is there! I just beg Him to reveal it to me. (I would also like to have it confirmed by others, because as I said before, I tend not to trust my own judgement)

If any reader would like to pray about this for me, I'd sure appreciate it. I don't even care if you aren't a Believer. Pray anyway. It's hardly as if the God of the Universe is deaf!

Last Sunday at Living Waters, Pastor Scott began a series on Prayer. He spoke about how we can approach the throne of Christ in Confidence & Expectancy. When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, he ended his teaching with some stories. (Jesus loves to tell stories. I think it is hard-wired into the human brain to love a good story.) Then he encouraged his followers by saying;
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For EVERYONE who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door WILL be opened."
A caution about that; some people pray very selfishly. They pray for material things as a luxury, and things like that. I don't see how that would honor God, and I certainly do not see any reason He should answer such a thing in a positive fashion.

Pastor Scott said something that I thought was brilliant. He said that a lot of the time people honestly don't KNOW what to pray for or about. I don't think that there are too many folks at Living Waters that would want to pray in a selfish manner. But sometimes you worry about what it is right & proper to pray for. So Scott said, "Ask yourself What Would Jesus Pray For?" Would Jesus pray for a healthy & loving marriage? Would he pray for reconciliation & peace? Of course he would.
Would Jesus pray that I would know his will for my life and what the next steps are for me? I am certain of it! Would he pray that I keep on working to clean up the selfish & self-destructive areas of my life that keep me from following him fully? Yeah, I'm guessing he would.
So, I would like to pray that in confidence. I would certainly ask that you pray that for me too.
It is so strange to look back on my life thus far. More often than not, I see a perfectly straight line. A perfect road through all of the good & bad. A path that God led me down to shape me into a worker who can do a task, an assignment, that only I can do, because it was His good pleasure to show his glory & peace to a hurting world through some imperfect act of obedience on my part. But when I look forward, it always seems to be a haze.
Whenever He finally reveals His vision for me, I truly believe that the doors will be thrown wide open for my next step. Most likely, knowing my weird life, it will come straight at me and be an almost complete surprise.
Until then, I suppose my main task is to continue to wait upon His timing and just keep asking & seeking. I will not knock on the door. I will pound on it until my fists are bloody. I am sooooooooo hungry to know.

Peace

Joe.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Theology of YouTube & Why I want to be a Heretic.



     


     


Well, I was hoping to go out tonight to a comedy event with my friends.  However, I still have the tail end of this darn cold lingering.  I would feel awful if I gave it to my friends.  Plus, I have to go to the cabin tomorrow and pull in the dock for the winter.  I need to sleep and regain my strength.
     I rarely get sick, and when I do it doesn't last long or do much more than annoy me.  But this cold has been a whopper.  I never had one like it in my life.  It sucked so much energy out of me, that when I was cleaning the house today I had to lay down and take a nap for a while.  I was sweating and exhausted.  So my advice to everyone is to wash their hands and eat plenty of apples.  Since I have to take it easy, I figured I would try and do some writing.

     A friend of mine linked a blog to me today.  I liked it.  As I scrolled down I came across a recent news report about a church in North Carolina.  Take a look at it.



      So what do you think?  Another black eye for Jesus?  It certainly is a novel way to celebrate Halloween.  I like the idea of BBQ.

     Now, if you think that this is the only one like this out there on YouTube, you're kidding yourself.  There are scads of them.  Each one calling a Believer a Heretic for one reason or another.  A good deal of them have to do with someone NOT using the King James' version of the Bible.  I mean, after all it IS the Authorized version, isn't it?
     Just so you know something that most of these folks don't, or at least don't get...the Bible was not originally written in English. (Shocking, I know.) The Old Testament was written primarily in ancient Hebrew.  The New Testament was written primarily in Koine Greek. (Koine was the Common Language that was used by the people in the eastern half of the Roman Empire.  It was not the fancy, classical Greek of scholars & orators.  This makes the New Testament a one of a kind book for it's time)
     All the various translations that are out there are the attempt of Biblical scholars to put the ancient words into a modern tongue that we can understand.  Some are better than others, and most of them have distinct purposes for a particular translation.  I like the NIV myself.  If I want to study the text a bit more in depth, I will use the NAS.  Either way, I always have to take into account the Greek & Hebrew words that were used.
     I also found a newer version that pushes the numbers & chapters over to the side, which makes for a very refreshing read. (When originally written, the Bible had no chapters or verses in it, just so you know) It's called The Message, and it was translated by Eugene Peterson.  It's written in very contemporary English.  I wouldn't use it for in depth studying.  But it's a lot of fun to use as a comparison.   Here's a link to his homepage if you want to know more about him.
     
     The reason that the King James' version is called the Authorized version, is because it was the first English translation that was legal.  There had been earlier translations, but this one was actually authorized by the King of England.  Some of these folks actually think that when they see the word Authorized, it comes from God or something like that.  Talk about not doing your homework.  By the way, most historians are convinced that King James was also gay.  Whoopie!

     You can go all over the internet and find websites stating that so & so is a Heretic, and will burn in hell for it.  Every single one of these sites are filled with all manner of legalistic, man made, Pharisaic nonsense.  "You gotta do this to be saved.  You gotta jump through these hoops here.  Blah, blah, blah."  All these folks are sure that they will be the only ones in heaven. 
     In fact, one of my favorite sites is Apostasy Alert.  They have a list on one of their pages that states who is a Heretic.  This list includes Amy Grant, Bill Hybles, Bill and Gloria Gaither, (Maybe they just don't like Old-Time Gospel music.) Billy Graham?!?!, Chuck Swindoll, Gordon MacDonald, Jimmy & Rosalyn Carter, (Because obviously no Democrat can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.) John Maxwell, Joni Eareckson Tada, (Maybe they hate handicapped people too.) Madeleine L'Engle, Max Lucado, Michael Card, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Rick Warren, (Could you get more Vanilla than that?), Tony Campolo and Brennan Manning. 
     I didn't include all of the list.  It's long.  I also found myself agreeing with a couple of the names they chose.  :)
     Now, if you are unfamiliar with most of these names, it's O.K.  Trust me, these folks love Jesus deeply, and they lives their lives as a testament to their love for him.  It doesn't mean that you have to agree with every single item that they believe.  I never totally agree with any theologian on every tiny iota.  So what?  What matters to me is that they love Jesus with all their heart.

     There is a preacher out in Seattle named Mark Driscoll.  He is a bit to much of a Calvinist for me, but so what?  He has a great ministry through Mars Hill church in a city that is the least evangelized of all large American cities.  Apparently, he also cusses in the pulpit from time to time.  I find that oddly commendable.

     (Check him out on YouTube.  Once a month or so for the evening service, he will have a free-form discussion about sex.  Remember, Seattle is very un-churched, so many Seekers have very raw and blunt questions to ask.  Pastor Mark will take any & all questions completely unrehearsed and try to answer them with Scripture.  It's pretty blunt stuff.  But I find it wonderful that a Believer is willing to step up to the plate and try and tackle stuff that would make most uncomfortable.)
 
     Pastor Mark says that using the word Heretic is like using the word Rape.  You have to be extremely careful about it.  It is a very serious accusation to make.  Most often, or so it seems to me, the people who use that phrase are saying more about themselves, than they are about the people they are judging.

     That having been said, I caught Pastor Mark slipping up just a bit when he was criticizing the book, The Shack, for it's bad theology.  Now a word about The Shack.  It IS controversial, and for good reason.  Apparently quite a few people are using it to understand the concept of the Trinity.  That would be a huge mistake.  It is a work of fiction.  I loved the book, but I wouldn't use it for serious theological study anymore than I would use The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or The Lord of the Rings, even though they have deep Christian ideas interwoven through their stories.  I just recognize it for what it is, and I don't waste energy getting all hot and bothered by it.
   Take a look at his speech, particularly what Pastor Mark has to say about 2 minutes into it.


     Pastor Mark condemns the book because God the Father is portrayed as an African-American woman named Papa.  He goes on to say that it is simply wrong to portray the invisible God, who is Spirit, with any type of image.
     O.K., now watch this next sermon.  Pastor Mark is talking about the Emergent Church movement.  He goes on to question my boy, Rob Bell and a guy like Brian McLaren and their theological motives. (Indeed, some of it is justifiable to question.) Take a close look at Pastor Mark's T-shirt.



      Yes, you saw it.  His T-shirt has Jesus spinning turntables on it.  And not just any Jesus.  We're talking HONKEY JESUS!  Oops.  
     In his defense, Pastor Mark would probably say that you get a little artistic license with Jesus because he is the visible image of the invisible God.  Still, Jesus didn't look like a hippie.  And he certainly wasn't Anglo-Saxon.
     The point of all of this, for me at least, is that Believers ought to recognize each other's commonality in Christ, and rejoice with each other over it.

     Also, if it is true that Billy Graham, Rick Warren, andone of my favorite bands, the Newsboys, plus all those other folks are going to Hell, then I want to be a Heretic too.  I like those folks a lot and I want to hang out with them after this life is over.  They are going to have so many awesome stories to tell.
     Actually, if all of that is true, then Satan is really going to suffer once he finally is tossed into Hell. (No, he is not there now.  The Bible clearly states that he will be judged and sentenced to Hell on the final day of judgement.) Can you imagine him having share eternity with Billy Graham?  All of those Believers talking non-stop about Jesus while Satan has to sit there and listen.  Now that's a punishment.
     Just a thought.

     Peace

     Joe


Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's about time!

     Do you know what is great about having a massive head cold?  Well, actually not that much.  I got hit this past weekend with some strain going around (NO, not that H1N1 flu thing) that made my head feel like a balloon.  I had to skip worship at Living Waters too...which stinks, because that is my favorite time of the week.  All I want to do is sleep and get it out of my system...and it's been 5 days of it!  I actually had to work for 4 days straight with this cold, and out in some rather unpleasant weather at that.  Nope, not that much fun.  But it did give me time to dwell on stuff...especially while sitting in bed and thinking...which I did a lot. (Stupid cold)
   BTW: Have you ever noticed that when you have a Cold, even if you take any type of meds for it, if you go outside in bad weather, your nose still runs like Niagara Falls?  YUK!  Such has been my life over the past few days

SO ANYWAY...TIME

      A guy is talking to God and he asks Him a question.  "God, what is a thousand years like to you?"  God answers, "A thousand years to me is like a minute to you."  The man asks God a second question.  "God, what is a million dollars like to you?"  God answers, "A million dollars to me is a like a penny to you."  The man asks God a third question.  "God, can I have one of your pennies?"  God answers, "Sure, give me a minute." 

     Humans count a day as a 24 hour period.  That being the Earth's rotation on it's axis.  It takes the earth a bit more than 24 hours to to spin around and watch a sunrise & sunset.  It takes the earth roughly 365 days to rotate around the sun.  That's how we measure a year.  This is how humans measure time.  But try thinking about time from God's perspective for a bit.
    "In the beginning" is the opening stanza of the Bible.  If it says in the beginning, what was there before the beginning...in other words, before time began?  That's a hard thing to wrap your mind around.  Well, the answer of course is God.  Which says something about the God of the Bible that makes Him very different than all the other so-called gods out there.

     There are many people who take every word of the Bible, especially the creation stories, as being  literal.  In other words, it means exactly what it says, with no metaphor, allegory, or room for nuance.  I can assure you that if you read the Bible this way you will get yourself into all sorts of trouble theologically.  First and foremost,  you will be yanking the Bible out of it's cultural context.  If you do not read it in it's context, you are simply reading it wrong.
     I can prove that too.  If you take the first creation story as being literal, as in word for word literal, then you have to say that the God of this story needs to take a nap from time to time.  How does the story end?  God rests.  Do you really & truly believe that God actually needs to rest, or at least that he actually did rest for a whole 24 hour period?  That directly contradicts other areas of Scripture that says that God never grows weary, tired or rests.   
     
     When you read this story in it's cultural context, all sorts of amazing things pop out.  The first readers and listeners to this story would have understood instinctively all sorts of stuff that we have lost in our so-called modern age.
     First of all, it is important to understand that the first 5 books of the Bible were written under the stewardship of Moses.  He probably didn't write the whole thing himself because he was a busy guy.  But he certainly had the final edit to them.  These first 5 books are also known as the Torah (Hebrew for the Law.) Before they were written down, these were oral tales and poems told by the ancients.  It is interesting that to this day, the Beduin, who still live much like these ancient peoples in the deserts of Arabia, believe that story telling as poetry is the highest art form.
     The context in which these creation stories were written were to a people who had been enslaved for hundreds of years in Egypt.  As such, they were surrounded by pagan deities.  The Pharaoh himself was considered to be a god.  This first creation story was designed to teach the Hebrews about the one true God, and it is a direct assault on all of the other creation stories and false gods that were out there at the time.
     Check this out, both the sun and the moon were worshipped as gods.  The name of the sun god in Egypt was Ra, or even Khepri or Mut.  The name of the moon god was Khons.  All of the ancient peoples worshipped the sun & moon as gods & goddesses.  
     Now take a look at Genesis 1: 14-19.  The writer of this story says "And God said, let there be lights in the the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark the seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.  And it was so.  God made two great lights - the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.  He also made the stars."
     Do you notice what's missing?  The words Sun & Moon are absent.  Why?  Because the words for them are the names of pagan gods.  Even many of the stars were considered to be gods.  The writer wants to point out that there are no other gods other than this Elohim he is writing about.  Like I said, this story is a direct assault on the pagan worldview of the day.

     Now, something else that this story tells us about this God, He exists outside the boundary of time.  As I stated earlier, we measure time buy the 24 hour rotation of the earth...sunrise and sunset.  Did you notice that this is not created until the 4th day?  You see, we need time.  God doesn't.  He created time for our benefit.

     Think about this for a bit.  Humans are linear creatures.  But we are trapped by time, and not even in a full dimension of it.  We can only move forward in time.  We can't go backwards.  We can't go up, down, right or left in time.  We can only go forward.  So we only have a half-dimensional view of time.  Back in the day, even the pagan gods were considered by their worshippers to be trapped in time.  Some of them even got old and died.  All of them could be killed by other gods.
     What if there was a being that had a three dimensional view of time like we have of space?  Well, that would be God.  Remember the name He gave to Moses when he spoke to him from the burning bush?  God said His name was I AM.  Not I WAS, but I AM.  It is almost as if God exists in the eternal present.  
     God has at least a three dimensional view of time.  I'm not sure how many dimensions are out there, but He probably has a decent understanding of them too.  So with this in mind it is easy to see why God will refer to Himself as the Alpha & Omega, the beginning and the end.

     The comfort that I take in this is that God already knows what I will be up to tomorrow and even next week.  He knows both the sins and the victories of all my tomorrows.  He isn't surprised by anything that I do.  That is why he can extend forgiveness to me over and over again.  He already knows what dumb stuff I will get myself into down the road, even when I don't have the foggiest idea.
     I can't fully grasp any of this.  I know that I have freewill.  But at the same time, God already knows my choices.  God is completely in control, yet I am a free agent.  Funky!  God's sovereignty is really something else.
     This is why I believe that all of the things that happen to us, be it good or bad, and from choices we make or simply by random chance, are tools that God uses to teach us.  He already saw them coming.  We probably didn't.  So He uses them to help us understand and make sense of the world, ourselves and Him.

     Oh yeah, another observation from this creation story.  Apparently, one of the central themes of this story comes with the creation of these various lights.  The purpose of these lights are to serve as signs that mark the days, seasons and years.  How many days in a week?  Seven.  How many Jewish festivals were designated under Moses?  Seven. (I may be off on that, but I'm pretty sure.) Under Moses, every seventh year was to be a Year of Jubilee.  All debts were to be forgiven and such.  In Revelation, how many lamp stands are there in the throne room that represent that the spirit of God?  Seven.  How many churches in Asia did God ask John to write Revelation for?  Seven.
     Some people get a little nutty about numerology in the Bible.  But various numbers did have a particular significance to them.  Seven is considered to be the number of perfection.  Isn't it interesting that the seventh day of the week should be the sabbath.  God models for humans what that day should be like.  He creates for six days.  Then He rests.  Jesus said that the sabbath was made for man.  It's a day to stop material pursuits and just take it easy and have some fun.
     (Oh, it should be pointed out that the sabbath is actually from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown...it's not Sunday.)

     Anyway, rolling about in bed while trying to sleep this cold off gave me time to think...I wasn't able to do much else.  So all of this is what I thought about.  I certainly had the time on my hands.  And now it's time for a shower.

     Peace

     Joe
     

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yahweh


     The picture to the left is God's personal name.  Scholars mostly likely believe that it is pronounced Yah-weh.  What you see on the left is it's spelling in Hebrew.  It is read from right to left, not left to right like we English speakers do.  Something else about Hebrew, at least ancient Hebrew, there are no vowels.  In modern Hebrew they have tacked on little dots & lines beneath the letters that act as vowels.
     Ths mght nt b s cnfssng s ppl mght thnk.  Mst ppl rd qckly ngh tht thy dnt thnk bt th ndvdl lttrs nywy.

     (I used to be able to read ancient Hebrew.  I thought it was much easier to learn than Greek.  There are only three letters to the root of any Hebrew word, so once you have that figured out it's all just the other stuff that's tacked on to make it past, present or future tense, and such.  I really can't read it anymore.  There isn't much call for ancient Hebrew in Minnesota.)

     Anyway, Yahweh is God's personal name.  God is not God's name.  God is what God is.  It would be like you calling me Man.  It's what I am.  It's not my name.  I don't think that God minds being called God though.  He's probably used to it.
     Most of the time in the Old Testament when you see the word Lord, it is actually supposed be translated as Yahweh.  Down through the centuries, the Jewish scholars who would make new copies of the O.T. changed over to the use of the word "Adonai," which means Lord, instead of Yahweh.  They did it out of respect for the name.  To this day, most orthodox Jews will not even write the word God.  Instead, they will spell G-d.  Again, this is done out of respect.

     Oddly enough, God has numerous names for himself.  Often, the names that he picks for himself are descriptors of his attributes.  That makes sense, and we often do that too.  Anyone in America with a name from the Bible has a meaning to it that comes from ancient time.  For example, my name, Joseph, is actually a Hebrew participle, "Yasaf."  It means "He will add," (Specifically, "He will add Joy.") Either way it is ironic, because I am terrible at math.
     In the very first verse of the Bible, it says that "Elohim created the heavens and the earth."  Elohim is translated as God...singular, right?  However, Elohim is actually a plural word.  When ever the Bible refers to the pagan deities, it uses Elohim to describe them.  In other words, it calls them gods, as in the plural form.  So why doesn't it translate God's name into  a plural form?  Well, think about this, when it comes to the creation of humans, God says "Let US make man in OUR image."  There is only one God, but he refers to himself as plural.  Hhmm.  Perhaps the first hint of a three in oneness to the Godhead?
     Another name for God that is only used a handful of times is the one that God gives to Moses when he tells him to return to Egypt.  "God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me."  Jesus claimed that name for himself.  Once, while he was at the temple, he told a group of people questioning him, "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM!"  He had to move quickly after that because some were going to throw rocks at him for calling himself God.
     I AM is an interesting choice for a name.  Down through the centuries, Christian & Jewish scholars have debated exactly what it means.  Some say that it is a demonstration of God's infinity.  He always was and always will be.  Other say that the name connotes pure, raw existence.  Either way, it certainly demonstrates that God is very different from us.  We are stuck inside of time.  God obviously is not.  We are linear.  God is infinite. 

     Did you know that many rabbis believe that the very name of God is breathing?  The four letters that make up the name Yahweh are Yod, Hey, Va, Hey.  Ancient rabbis say that these are the sounds that people make when they are breathing.  I would like to think that this is true.  
     Richard Dawkins was being interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio many, many months ago.  He is a brilliant evolutionary biologist.  He also wrote the book, "The God Delusion."  He is a militant atheist who thinks that that parents who bring their kids to Sunday School should be imprisoned for child abuse.  As I listened to him, I thought about him speaking God's name while he inhaled and exhaled about how God did not exist.  You have to admit.  That was funny.

     The guy that can explain all of this a whole lot better than I can is Rob Bell.  Take a look at this video.  It is only a little over 10 minutes.  It's worth every minute.



     Think about how close God is to you the next time yo notice yourself taking a breath.

     Peace (Shalom)
     Joe

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Extreme" Flatulence, Obama and the Defense of Gary Eichten




















     Yeah, I have three images up.  I want you to take a good look at them, because that is what this post will be about.  But before I get to that, a couple of things:
     #1. I apologize to Andy and a couple of other readers who pestered me over the past couple of days for not getting anything up on here.  You guys sent me e-mails essentially saying "DUDE, when is the next post?"  Well, I'll explain in a moment.
     #2. ADRI, who ever you are, you are the only follower at this point that I don't know.  Would you please e-mail me so that I can get know who you are and why you would bother to find anything that I have to write the least bit interesting?
     #3. The reason that it has taken me so long to post anything is that I really wanted to do my homework on this one.  I had to do quite a bit of research to make sure that I had my facts straight.  You see, my normal area of interest is in Christian Spirituality is the U.S., but this post will deal heavily in the area of secular politics.  Going in to this I knew that this post stood the chance of being rather controversial, and that it would ruffle many feathers.  That having been said, I DID do my homework.  You might not like what I have to write, but your argument will NOT be with me.  I am going to include many, many links to the sites that I researched. (Not all of them, but a good deal of them.) If you virulently disagree with what I write, then I ask you to go to every single site that I link to and refute them with facts, NOT opinions.  All of this may be a bit touchy, but there is a reason for all of it.  I will explain why all of this relates to the church in America towards the end.
     #4. I include a video in this post that most, at least I hope, will find disgusting.  A friend of mine told me about it, so I looked it up.  I was stunned!  When you watch it, you will understand why I believe all of this relates to the church in Modern America.

So here we go.

     This past Monday I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR.  The topic was on the extreme rhetoric of politics today.  Frankly, it was very disturbing.  They asked callers to phone in and tell their stories about how this was affecting their lives.  A woman phoned in to say that she is the only liberal in her family, and that as such she tends to get dumped on by the rest of her family.  She told of how one day, in front of her 10 year old son, her mother stated that Obama (This was before he was elected President.) ought to be assassinated.  Wow!  Nice to know, Grandma.
     Here is the link to the show.  You can either read the transcripts or listen to it for yourself.

     I want to state for the record that I think of myself as fairly conservative.  I prefer limited government and lower taxes in general.  But I also recognize that there is a role for government to play in the lives of people & business.  I was a huge fan of Ronald Reagan.  That having been said, I will also say that there is a massive difference between being a Conservative and being a Right Winger.  What now passes for the Republican party would be completely unrecognizable to Reagan if he came back to life.
     What now passes for Conservative on Fox News radio and other Rightest talk shows is nothing more than lunatics stirring up masses of people unwilling to think for themselves.  And I will say the same of the Left.  As I listened to that show on NPR, they gave quotes from both the Right and the Left on various talk shows and I was amazed at the extremist rhetoric that I heard.  You have a fellow like Ed Shultz on the Left saying that "Republicans would like to see you dead.  They'd rather make money off your dead corpse."  Then they have a guy on the Right like Glen Beck saying that President Obama has an extreme hatred of white people.
     Oh, even better, Glen Beck apparently said back in the summer that Obama has asked FEMA to create temporary villages in cases of emergency disasters.  But what these really were going to be were concentration camps.  He goes on to say, "Well, I don't have any proof of this.  But that's what I'm told."  Why in the world would you say something that outrageous if you have no proof of it?  Does any of this spewing help the country move forward in any way, shape or form?
     Talk of the Nation went on to point out that MSNBC is planning to set itself up to be the Fox News of the Left.  They are filling their slots with extremist Left Wingers in hopes of boosting ratings.  They have seen what guys like Glen Beck & Rush Limbaugh can do to get viewers and listeners to tune in, and they want the money that comes with it.
     This got me thinking.  I figure that a guy like Glen Beck is either a complete idiot for vomiting out his nonsense, or maybe he is a genius.  Maybe, just maybe, Beck doesn't believe a word of what he farts out of his mouth.  Maybe Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity don't believe what they say either.  But what they do believe and know, is that they get paid millions of dollars a year for saying what they say.  There is a lot of money to be made by stirring the pot.  It is fairly clear that it doesn't help the nation move forward at all, but who cares when there is a huge chunk of change to be made?

     My dad tends to get quite a few Forwards from his friends.  Most of these are outlandish warnings of what the Evil Obama is going to do to the country.  He asked me to do some research on a few of them to verify if any of it was true. (Oh, my own thought on FWDs that deal with politics & such?  If someone Forwards you something, delete it!  If they are too lazy to not actually research and verify the items themselves, then whatever it is is simply not worth reading.  FWDs about jokes or Youtube clips in which Hitler wants Burger King are the exception.) I will state for the record that between us, my dad & I own 6 guns.  Obama has not sent out his goons to take them away.  Neither did Bill Clinton, even though I was told repeatedly that he would do so.
     ANYWAY, my dad will talk about how President Obama is spending the country into the ground.  He will show me e-mails that say that this is the case.  President Obama is directly responsible for all of the national debt that we now owe China, Japan and Belgium. (Yeah, Belgium actually owns about a third of our country now.  I guess that they are moving up from beer and chocolate)
     So I did my research.  You may not be very happy with what I have found, but again, please don't yell at me.  Prove the facts wrong.  And before I go on, I want to say for the record that I never thought that I would be defending a Democrat...

     #1. The stimulus package of President Obama cost roughly 787-790 billion dollars.  Everyone knows that and it can be easily verified.  This money is being spent of infrastructure that we all know we need like roads, bridges, schools and such. (Damn it!  We're being spent into the ground!)  And this is what people vent their spleens over.
     #2. I pointed out to my dad that the cost of the war in both Iraq & Afghanistan have already cost more than Obama's stimulus.  He didn't believe me.  Well, check it out for yourself.  Those two wars have cost the country 917 billion dollars with estimates running as high as 3 TRILLION if they ever end...which is questionable.  
     Now, that last article is from the Washington Post, which does have a liberal bias.  But facts are still facts.
     #3. The Troubled Asset Rescue Program, TARP, that was issued to rescue the banks towards the end of the Bush administration and continued under President Obama was 700 billion dollars.  Put that together with the cost of the wars and you get roughly 1.6 trillion dollars upfront in national debt...under President Bush.  Hhmmm.
     #4. And now for the best part.  Republicans had complete control of the government for 6 years.  These are people who call themselves Conservatives who want limited government, lower taxes and less spending.  Well, we got lower taxes.  However, when it came to the growth of government...PLEASE go to this site and look at it for yourself.
     So it turns out that while the Republicans claim to be the party of Reagan, the fact of the matter is that they caused the size of the Federal government to grow almost twice as much as that of Bill Clinton!
  
     So, the question is "Who is responsible for the size of the national debt?"  Is it that evil, left-wing, marxist, racist President known as Obama?  Nope.  It is the Republican party that can happily claim that prize as it's own.  But will they own up to it?  Nope.  Certainly not if you listen to Fox News.  Glen Beck will just continue his mouth farts, and make millions while doing it.
     Actually, there are a few Republicans that will own up to it.  Former Congressman Jim Ramstead says that they blew it.  So will Tom Horner, a Republican operative in Minnesota.  To his credit, Governor Pawlenty says the same thing.  But the majority will play party politics and try to blame Obama for everything. (I simply can't trust a person who will not take responsibility for their actions)

     A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the newspaper about former Senator & presidential candidate Bob Dole.  In it, he bemoaned the state of politics today.  He pointed out that back when Reagan was president, almost every Wednesday, he and Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neil, would meet for a drink and munchies and figure out what they could do together.  Reagan was very conservative.  O'Neil was very liberal.  But they understood that they were there to work for the good of the country.  So they talked WITH each other and found common ground, and made the needed compromises to move forward.
     Today, that is a complete joke.  The state of hyper-partisan politics in the nation is crippling us.  And it is only made worse by these idiots on the airwaves.  These guys like Limbaugh & Beck are not Conservatives.  David Brooks is a Conservative.  William F. Buckley was a Conservative. (And it was said of him that he could disagree without being disagreeable) Guys like Beck and Limbaugh are Ranters with massive egos, who are in it for the money.

     I listen to Public Radio.  It gets accused of having a liberal bias.  That is simply not the case.  It is true that it has some liberal oriented shows, such as Fresh Air. (I used to call it Left Air when it first came on.) This American Life could certainly be called Socially Liberal when it comes to the stories they tell.  And yes, Garrison Keillor is a proud Democrat...with an ego the length of the Mississippi. (But, boy, can he tell a story)
     However, shows like Market Place certainly are not liberal.  A show like Speaking of Faith is very pro-religious, albeit certainly not a Christian show.  How you could call shows like Car Talk or The Splendid Table political at all is beyond me.  In fact, the news programs that they have are the most unbiased of all the news programs out there.  They will give ample time for as many sides as there are on an issue to be discussed.  The reason that they can do this is because they don't have to worry about advertisers.  In fact, I highly doubt that Bethel University and Northwestern college would be sponsors of Minnesota Public Radio is they thought the station was some left-wing plot.
     I have listened to Gary Eichten on his Midday program interviewing people for years.  He has never tipped his hand as to what his personal views are.  He has been doing this since MPR first went on the air.  He has interviewed politicians, scientists, authors and such, from across the spectrum.  He will go after anyone who tries to be evasive with their answers.  I have heard callers yell at him for his "Obvious Left-Wing bias."  I have also heard callers yell at him for his "Obvious Right-Wing bias."  Hhmmm, sounds like he might be doing something right.
     
     So, why do I bring all of this up?  Well, I am convinced that many, many Believers, and others who call themselves "Christians," are being duped and used by these morons on the radio...especially on the Right.  Back in the 90's, when Clinton was President, a Believer friend of mine was convinced that the Clintons were setting up death camps for Christians.  He also bought a Dessert Eagle hand gun because the radio told him that the Clintons were going to take everyone's guns away.  All of this is happening again.
     The saddest part of this hatred of Obama that is being spewed by the radio is that the President IS a Believer.  Yes, I know that this will come as a shock to many, because we know that Obama is really the Anti-Christ in disguise. (As one of my Believer friends told me) But I have heard his testimony.  In fact, take a look at this article from U.S. News & World report.
     It turns out that two of the President's spiritual advisors are the same ones who mentored President Bush.  So if it's true that Obama loves Jesus, why would Believers buy into some of the extremist rhetoric and hate him?  It's one thing to disagree with policy and hold to your economic & social principles.  It's another thing to hate.
     I know that I am taking these verses out of context, but bare with me.  Paul told Timothy "Study, to show yourself approved."  God says "Come let us reason together."  The point being that God gave us brains.  I think He expects us to use them.  No Believer has any business being duped by secular propagandists.  This is particularly true when it comes to the way that we treat other Believers.  As I understand the Bible, Believers are supposed to love each other and bare one another's burdens.  For that matter, we are to love our enemies too...and even pray for them.  Jesus did!

     Now, if you don't think that all of this extremist rhetoric isn't a problem, then I ask you to watch this next video.  I heard an interview with some Secret Service agents on CNN.  They said that since this past August, death threats against President Obama have gone up by %400.  I'm sure that none of this has to do with him being black.  Just like that rude Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst of "You Lie," had nothing to do with the President being black. (This from a congressman who is a member of the Son's of Confederate Veterans.  Hhmmm.)



     This has got to be one of the sickest things I have ever seen or heard!  How you could call yourself a "Christian," and have something like coming out of your mouth is completely beyond me.  I don't know if I will see Pastor Steve in heaven.  Only God knows his heart.  But if I do see him there, I don't think I will want to stand next to him for too long.  I would be afraid that his gun would go off.
     Oh, here is a link to Pastor Steve's church.
     If you go to their page about the doctrines that they believe, the first is that they think the King James version of the Bible is the only version that is the true word of God.  Because we all know that Jesus had a British accent and that Paul wrote in Shakespearean English.

     I worry a lot about the state of the church in America.  And for good reason.  Jerry Falwell said that the reason that the attacks on 9/11 happened is because God is displeased that we allow Gay people to walk the streets.  A few years back, Reverend Pat Robertson said that the U.S. ought to assassinate President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  I could go on.  These are folks who call themselves "Christians."
     I worry a lot about the state of the church in America.  Now you know why.  Any thoughts on the subject?

     Peace

     Joe

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Shoving God off His Throne

     Many years ago, when I worked in the deli at the grocery store, I got into a discussion with some other employees.  I don't remember exactly what we were talking about or how it came up, but eventually we talked about gay customers that shopped at the store.  Judgmental Jamie was working that night.  When she heard us talk about gay folks, she grew livid.  She asked me in a heated voice, "You know people who are gay?"  I responded, "Yes.  Yes, I do know some gay people."
     Judgmental Jamie got so angry at my admission that she shouted at all of us, "Well, the REPUBLICAN is leaving the room!"  And with that she stormed out of the deli and into the back room. (As if I am supposed to look over someone's personal resume before I can say "Good morning" to them.)
     Judgmental Jamie made sure that everyone knew she was a "Christian."  She would be sure to tell you how you were suppose to live your life, and what was right & wrong with both the world and you.  This was during my time of rebellion against Jesus.  Everything Judgmental Jamie said only helped to confirm my belief that the average christian was at best unpleasant, and certainly not the type of person I wanted to be around.

     My very first semester of teaching, I had an American History class.  We came to the Civil Rights era of the early 60s.  I figured that I would try something fun in class and chose to pop some bubbles of stereotypes.  I wrote on the board "All White people are..., all Black people are..., All Asian people are"..., and so on.  The students were then to raise their hands and fill in the blanks.
     "All black people are"..., good at basketball, can dance, etc.  "All Asian people are"...good at math, short, etc.  I recall one African American student raising her hand and saying in a squeaky voice, "But Mr. C, I can't play ANY sports, and I suck at dancing."  And that was the point.  Stereotypes are stereotypes, they are not facts.
     I decided to move in the direction of religion.  So I wrote on the board, "All Muslims are..., all Jews are," etc.  I wrote on the board "All Christians are..."  Mind you, this was a class of 35 kids.  Every single hand that was raised to answer that particular question said "All Christians are JUDGMENTAL."  And this included even the Christian kids who raised their hands.  Ouch! (And this was when I was making my way back to a healthy relationship with Jesus.)

     In the book Un-Christian from the Barna research group, the 8th chapter deals with the perception that Outsiders have of the church in that Christians are prideful and quick to find faults in others.  In fact, almost 9 out of 10 young outsiders say that this is an accurate description of Christianity.

     True story; years ago when I was at school in Israel my roommate asked me what I thought about abortion.  Now abortion is an awful thing, to be sure.  No one I know of who has participated in one, whether male or female, has walked away unscarred.  However, the way I responded to the question said a great deal about my self-righteous state of mind.  I launched into a tirade about how evil abortion was, and I didn't spare anything.  By the time I was done, my roommate was crying.  He told me that he and his girlfriend had had one a while back.
     So I had shamed this guy.  As if he didn't already feel bad enough about it.  I sure made myself feel good about it while I was spouting off though.  Now I didn't feel so good.  Good job Joe!  What a jerk.  David Kinnaman points out that arrogance is perhaps the most socially acceptable form of sin in the church today.  Unfortunately, I think he is right.

     The irony to all of this is the way that Jesus, our primary role model for behavior in this world, judged and acted when he was around people.  Does anyone really miss the obvious that Jesus never seemed to act even remotely harshly towards people who were known as sinners?  Yet when it came to the professionally religious people he could be scathing.  How come so much of the American church can read about that, but than act the opposite?

     Jesus would say things like "Dude, pull that 2x4 out of your eye socket before you point out the saw dust in that guy's eye." (My translation) So I used to think that it was OK to judge others as long as I was not guilty of that sin.  After all, I didn't want to be a hypocrite.
     Now though, I think very differently about the whole situation.  In fact, I try not to judge anyone about anything when it comes to their personal lives.  Why?  Because the Apostle Paul taught me something.
     In Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth he starts to comment about a bad sexual situation in the church.  He wrote "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are we not to judge those inside the church?  God will judge those outside."  Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible titled The Message says it like this, "I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers?  God decides on the outsiders."
     That was when it hit me.  Every time I was passing judgement, I was shoving God off His throne and taking a seat there.  I was pushing the righteous judge to the side and usurping his powers for myself.  Talk about your bad ideas.
     God claims that He is a jealous god, and not in the sort of "Mommy, Billy stole my legos again," kind of way.  No, His jealousy is a healthy form of understanding what belongs to whom, and keeping everything in it's proper place.  And here I was making a mess at His feet.  I got the idea of just how patient God could be, because He had not given me the big squish yet for repeatedly shoving Him around.  If you came up and knocked me out of my chair I would most likely pop you one...unless you are a lot bigger than me. (Then I would go in my corner and cry.)
     
     I find it a lot easier to live as a Believer now that I figured that out.  I don't have to waste my time thinking about what sinners everyone is.  Now I can concentrate on my own problems.  And this is not to say that I don't understand what sin is...oh boy, I got that in spades in my own life.  But now, if any particular subject comes up I handle it very differently than before.  If someone asks my opinion I will give it as diplomatically as possible.  Also, I tend NOT to voice an opinion unless asked.  Now I find that I can speak much more matter-of-factly about my faith in the same way that I would about fishing or cooking.  
     A few years back I went to see one of the many Neil Young concerts a have been to.  For some odd reason, there were people holding poster boards up that said we were all going to hell for listening to Rock n Roll.  Pour Bono and Steve Taylor.  A friend of mine told me that he saw the same sort of thing at a football game.  He asked me, "How does that help anyone?" (This is particularly true because everyone knows that only Packer's fans are damned for eternity.) 

     Pastor Scott says that Believers should earn the right to witness to others.  This means building a relationship with someone.  Once you have a relationship in which they know that you genuinely care about them, then they will be open to hearing more about the Gospel.  It certainly beats sticking a tract in someone's door, or holding up placards proclaiming eternal punishment.
     So now I try to be diligent about letting God stay on His throne while I sit in my highchair.

     Here is a link to the book Un-Christian if you would like more information.

     Peace
     Joe

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Elijah

(In case this is of any interest to the readers of this blog, I stumbled upon something by accident.  If you scroll all the way down and click on the music video at the end, the song will last all most exactly as long as it takes to read this post.  Funky!  I think it makes for some great background music.  Ta da!) 


     I suffer from Depression.  Not a very serious form, but I do get it from time to time.  Usually about 2-3 times a year.  I've been in a spell since this past Sunday.  I'm finally coming out of it today.  I got it checked out a few years ago and apparently I have some type of Zinc deficiency and something else that I can't pronounce, let alone spell.
     When it hits me, it isn't all that much fun.  Some times it will be all I can do to simply get out of bed.  There is nothing rational about it.  I know in my head that what I am feeling is just plain stupid & wrong.  I know that I have plenty of good things going for me.  I have awesome parents and friends.  I also know that there are so many more awful things that could come my way, and that I ought to be thankful.  Still, when it hits me, it hits me hard.  It feels like a weight on my shoulders pushing me down.  It makes no sense at all, but like I said there is nothing rational about it.
     My dad says that he noticed it when I was a little kid.  From time to time I would just go into a funk for a few days.  I didn't really notice it until I was going to Bethel Seminary.  For about a week I was simply miserable, and I had no idea why.  About 10 years ago I had some blood work done and the medical folks explained the whole thing to me.
     (No, I don't do meds.  I watch what I eat, and when it hits me I just ride it out for a few days.   Like I said, it isn't a huge issue for me.  I have a couple of friends who really have it tough in this area.  Trust me, mine could be a whole lot worse.)
     Strange thing about depression, apparently it gives you a great sense of humor.  Most of the good comedians out there also suffer from it.  Jim Carrey & Drew Carey both have it.  Drew Carey attempted suicide once because of it, and he is incredibly funny.  I've been told that I am very funny, and I don't just mean in the way that I look.  I love a good joke and the whole art of how to tell one. (The Aristocrats is an incredibly hysterical movie, but also very vulgar.  But if you want to learn how to tell a joke, watch it.) So it's nice to know that I am in good company.  I suppose that humor is a way of dealing with depression.
     The other strange thing about depression is that you tend to listen to sad music.  The singer, Rickie Lee Jones once said that when you are feeling down you don't want to listen to happy music.  Instead, you listen to sad songs.  For some reason sad music cheers you up.  Maybe it's a way of finding some type of companionship when you struggle.
     
     I'm not suicidal, but I do have a Death Wish.  Yeah, I'll be honest about that.  I very often have that wish.  I doubt I could ever kill myself because of all of the damage it would do to my friends and family.  I think it would be a very selfish act on my part.  However, there are days where I ask God to take me home.  I nice heart attack in my sleep would be ideal.  I'm not afraid to die.  I just don't want it to be painful.  
     Pastor Scott has told me that instead of wishing for a quick & painless death, he says that I should just repeat the mantra of "Come, Lord Jesus.  Come," like John did at the end of Revelation.  So now I find myself saying that a lot...especially over the last few days.  It will be so nice when he returns and we can all get out of this, shall we say Less-than-perfect, world.  I can't wait to be in heaven and to finally be at peace and to have perfect understanding of why everything that happened had to happen.  I also want to go fishing with Jesus and have him tell me jokes until root beer shoots out of my nose.  

     In the book of First Kings there is a story about Elijah.  In it, he challenged King Ahab and the Prophets of Ba'al to a show down on Mt. Carmel.  It's an amazing story.  I won't go into it all, but you can look it up in chapter 18.  Suffice it to say that YHWH (God's personal name) delivers a knock-out blow to the false god Ba'al.  Elijah stands triumphant in front of Israel.  What is often lost in this story is what happens right after this great victory.
     When King Ahab goes back to his palace, he tells his queen what has happened and how God and Elijah defeated the Prophets of Ba'al.  Queen Jezebel puts a hit out on Elijah and tells him of it.  Elijah is so scared that he runs away to Mt. Horeb (Also known as Mt. Sinai) all the way down in the Sinai peninsula.  
     Elijah makes it all the way to Beersheba and leaves his servant there, heading off into the desert.  I've been to this area and it is very desolate.  Beersheba is the last town of any consequence in Israel.  After that, it is all sand until you get to the rocky, dry wilderness of Sinai.
     Elijah finally collapses under a little tree.  Then something interesting happens.  He prays that YHWH will kill him.  "I have had enough, Lord.  Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."  Then he lays down under the tree and falls asleep.  Elijah is suicidal!

     A lot of people don't read the Bible in it's cultural context.  They miss a lot of the beauty and truth.  They also tend to come up with some really goofy theology as a result of it.  Many other people tend to dismiss these ancient poets and authors as irrelevant because they were not as advanced and sophisticated as we are. (Yeah, because knowing how to program your I-pod makes you better than that monkey in the tree.) The truth is that the writers of the Old Testament were brilliant & gifted artists who knew how to tell a great story with many layers of complexity interwoven into it.  Sometimes, even what is left out is as important as what is put in.  As an old seminary prof once said to me "The silence can be deafening."
     At any rate, what I have always loved about the Bible, especially these stories from the O.T. is how earthy and real they are.  The writer of this story isn't afraid to point out that Elijah had a Death Wish...even after his amazing victory on Mt. Carmel.  You would think that Elijah would tell Queen Jezebel to kiss his pucker after what he had just witnessed, but instead he is frightened and now longs for death.  Hhmmm, I guess I can relate.
     I had a Psych. Prof that pointed out that King David was probably manic depressive based on the Psalms that he wrote.  The Prophet Jeremiah certainly was depressed a lot. (You don't get the nick-name, the Weeping Prophet, with out it.) The point is that the writers of the Bible were not afraid to point out the imperfections and flaws of people who longed for a healthy relationship with God.

     At any rate, back to Elijah.  

     So Elijah has a Death Wish.  He is sleeping under that little tree in the wilderness.  An angel wakes him up with dinner on the fire.  The angel doesn't judge Elijah for what he is feeling.  He just tells him to eat something.  After that, Elijah falls back to sleep.  The angel comes back in the morning with breakfast.  Again, he doesn't judge Elijah.  Instead, the angel encourages Elijah on his journey.  It should be noted that Elijah's journey is running away from the very ministry that he was called to do.  He is a coward.  He has essentially lost his faith.  He wants to die.  The angel never brings that up.
     Getting to Mt. Horeb takes Elijah over a month of walking.  I often wonder what was going on in his head during this time.  Talk about feeling lonely.  Honestly, there isn't much to look at in the area unless you really like geology.
     When Elijah gets to the mountain God comes to him.  YHWH doesn't cast any judgement on Elijah.  He simply asks him a question.  "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (As if God doesn't already know what is rolling around in Elijah's head.) I think that God does this for our benefit.  He is sovereign.  God knows the beginning from the end.  He knows everything.  I think that everything that comes our way, both good & bad, are the ways that God teaches us about ourselves, life in general and Him.  Elijah tells God that everything he has done is pointless.  He says that he is only person in Israel that still worships the one true God.  Essentially, he says "What's the point?"

     I ask myself that question a lot.

     What I have always loved about this story is the way that God responds to Elijah.  YHWH never, ever judges or condemns Elijah for his complete lack of faith.  In fact, YHWH doesn't really respond to Elijah's complaint at all.  Instead, God tells him to go stand at the mouth of the cave that Elijah is hiding in and that He would pass by it.

     "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was NOT in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was NOT in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was NOT in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

     Elijah repeats his complaint to God.  He says that everything he has done is pointless.  Once again, God never condemns or judges Elijah.  Instead, YHWH tells him to go back home and that He would take care of everything.  YHWH tells Elijah that He is still in charge and that He could be trusted.  Elijah obeys and on his way home he finds Elisha, who will soon succeed him in the ministry.

     I think that Elijah had to go through this whole adventure to gain an understanding of God that he would not have had if he had not had his Death Wish.  I love it that God displays His powers before Elijah on that mountain, but that is NOT what God is.  Instead, God comes to Elijah as that gentle whisper.  I have also heard it translated as "A still, small voice."  That is how God approaches a man in severe pain.  He does not come to awe that person in a world of hurt.  Instead, God comes quietly and gently.
     I long to hear that gentle whisper.  Some days I do hear it.  The last couple of days I have REALLY longed to hear it.  Maybe I will today.  I am slowly climbing out of this dark funk that I am in...even though it's raining outside.  It would be nice to receive a divine hug.  I could use it.

     As I said before, when you are hurting you tend to gravitate towards sad songs.  This is one that I have been listening to a lot over these past few days.  I think it is beautiful.  I also like the refrain "Soon, oh soon the light."  I want to see that light.  I want to hear that still, small voice.



"Soon oh soon the light
Pass within and soothe THIS endless night
And wait here for you
Our reason to be here

Soon oh soon the time
All we move to gain will reach and calm
Our heart is open
Our reason to be here"

     Peace...and I mean that.

     Joe