20061213

Grace In The Garden

I was listening to a friend’s sermon the other day and it caused me to reflect on the grace of God. Specifically, I was reminded of the grace that God displayed in the Garden of Eden and especially when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Though it seems to be rarely preached, that whole episode just drips with grace and mercy. I’m indebted to Dr. Gerry Breshears for many of these insights.

First, I think it is real important to understand the nature of the Garden. It was a ‘dispensation’ that was marked, if by any description at all, by the word “freedom.” The Garden, was full of wonderful things: “The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; .... Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food;” The landscape was lush and pleasing, the garden was a source of four rivers, and God told Adam, eat whatever you want; there was only one exception. But, in our weird pathological way, we focus on the exception rather than the overwhelming provision and freedom that God gave Adam.

God was pretty clear about that exception – if you eat it, you will die. Now most preaching gets this part pretty wrong. Most preaching seems to put these words in God’s mouth: “If you eat this, I’ll kill you!” This makes God a vengeful person waiting to squash people. This is wildly inconsistent with God’s own description of himself in Exodus 34:6-7. By the way, did you know that passage is the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible? This statement of consequences should be stated this way: “Don’t eat that fruit or you’ll suicide.” It was a warning; very akin to Grandpa saying to his five year old grandson, “Don’t try to use that power saw in the garage or you’ll hurt yourself!”

Well, we all know what happens next. Lucifer, in the form of a ‘serpent,’ manages to get Eve’s attention and both Adam and Eve sin. Let’s not forget that Adam clearly knew the deal about that fruit and still chose to eat it.

After Adam and Eve sinned by exercising faithless autonomy in the eating of the prohibited fruit, God exercised grace in several ways.

Speculatively, we can say that God did not destroy them (including the serpent) immediately. He generously allowed all of them to draw another breath and their hearts to continue beating.

First in the text, we read that God came to them (Gen. 3:8). He did not force them to come to Him; He initiated contact with his now-sinful children. God didn’t make a power play, God came to people. As we think about Christmas, shouldn’t this echo in our ears? God with us – “Emmanuel.”

Second, we read that God called out to them (Gen. 3:9). He did not immediately declare punishment; but He sought communication with them. He asked where they were. He asked for an explanation. He patiently interviewed all the parties that he was interested in.
Well, it was obvious that Adam and Eve had disobeyed and there were consequences. God had three curses to hand out. He began with the serpent.

The third point of grace is that God can’t even get through the first curse without holding out the prophetic hope that humans would get their – well, 'revenge' would not be too strong a word (Gen. 3:15b). God promises that humans, though bruised on the heel, would strike back at the head of the serpent. This is amazingly hopeful! Women are cursed with painful childbirth and strained relationships with their husbands. Men are cursed with work that is toil and knowlege that they will physically die and disintegrate.

The fourth point of grace is that God sees the shame they feel regarding nakedness and provides coverings (Gen. 3:21). This is significant in that innocent animals had to die for these coverings. God shows grace by his provision, even though his kids had really wrecked everything.

Lastly, God protects Adam and Eve from the Garden by hiding it from them. They are in a state of spiritual death and need to be protected from the Tree of Life. Think of it, if they were allowed to continue eating from the Tree of Life while in a constant state of spiritual separation from God, it would be unthinkable in its spiritual horror that Adam and Eve, and all their descendants would continue to biologically live in some sort of zombie-like state. We can only speculate at the real terror of that. In any case, God protects them from something awful, maybe some sort of sacrilege, by hiding the Tree of Life. But, not to worry, the Tree of Life shows up again at a time when we will be better able to metabolize it. Look at Revelation 22:1-2.

So all of this tells me that God’s grace was pervasive even in the midst of “The Curse.”

20061026

Second Testimonies

So I’m taking a break from studies this week and attending the A2 conference hosted by Willow Creek near Chicago.

This is the first time I’ve been to the Willow Creek campus and it is impressive. It shows what can be done when a church decides to impact their community with excellence. Much more can be said, but as a conference attendee, I am having a positive experience.

The most impactful session of the day was the first given by Bill Hybels. Hybels seemed to be suffering under some low-level bug (is this the same one from August?), but he rallied well and spoke on leadership. Charging that pastors are just like industry managers, they will take ideas from conferences (such as this) and decide that those ideas need to be implemented whole cloth into their own ministry back home. They will do all of this without the hard work of determining what their real needs are, what God has given them, and if this solution really fits at all. But the biggest problem is because the ministry leader isn’t really leading out of who they are. They are attempting to lead out of the results of someone else.

Hybels discussed the concept of a “second conversion;” that is, that once saved, a leader can be powerfully impacted by a subsequent encounter with God that may break apart his world and cause him to change his ministry because of it. Hybels used the Biblical example of Peter in Acts 10: the dream and then ministry to the gentile house of Conelius.

It is these “second conversions,” or “second testimonies” that Hybels says marks every leader who has had a powerful and innovative ministry.

The question that is begged is: are ministry leaders willing to allow God to break them apart so that he can put in a vision for the new thing? Of course, my question is: will I let God break me so that I can hear from him?

20061004

Deacon of Mental Health? A Proposal.

So I’m taking a Pastoral Counseling course in seminary. Dudes and Dudettes, I am not wired by God to do well in a pastoral counseling situation, nor am I wired by God to really even care. So this course is a challenge, which I welcome.

I welcome the challenge because I know that the reasons for pastoral counseling are profound. People hurt. In our time, most of the people I’ll ever meet are not hungry, or threatened with immediate violence, but they are – having been fully engaged in our fragmented culture – broken, confused, hopeless, and betrayed. If postmodernism emphasizes relational authority, it will be the broken relationships that are endemic to humanness that will plague both those in and out of the body of Christ in the next decades. Broken relationships are just one cause of broken emotional disease that requires healing.

While we are all broken and need the healing which God offers, some of us are so broken that it overtly interferes with our ability to function. We need help. Without getting into the “validity of Christian Counseling” debate; let me just affirm that I believe “Christian counseling” is viable, appropriate, and part of how the body of Christ can bear each member up.

So where does that put the church; especially the local church?? As evangelicals, we like to rightly use the Bible to search for the timeless truths of “faith and life.” This is good! Even more so, we especially like to go to the book of Acts and see the very early (“primitive”) church as a model for how church ought to go for us 2,000 years later.

So, today, I see a need for the church to provide help for people. The church has ALWAYS been about providing help for people. One of the early church’s bright moments was that they were the only group who were, for example, willing to go into a plague-infested city and take out plague-orphaned children and the sick to care for them. The church has, historically, shined brightest when it addresses real needs while it affirms real truth. Need I go into all the history of the church’s battles with dark spiritual forces of superstition and more overt counterfeit spirituality?

We find ourselves today facing plague (AIDS) and famine (general poverty) and the church, after being distracted by attacks on its worldview (world: "Your worldview isn't rationalistic, mechanistic, and control-oriented: Why not?!!" church: "[sigh] OK, here's why our world view isn't IRrational, unpredictable, or sloppy..."), getting back to its business. I am grateful to see the church return, in this way, to its roots.

However, I wonder if there is yet another need that the church can provide. Can the church look out among the emotionally and mentally broken people and see a need; even see that need within its own? I hope so.

How can the church meet such a need? Well, I go back to the book of Acts. How did the very early church meet needs of members? Look at the sixth chapter of Acts. It first affirmed the need: food was not being made available. The church then affirmed that the role of the apostles-elders were to devote themselves to prayer and the word. The church then looked for seven guys, noted for their character, spiritual maturity, and discernment; and then had them look after the needs of the hungry. These, who we now call “deacons,” are the precursors of our care-giving ministries for all the churches we have today.

Hmmm. So we have a new need; we have an old pattern; can we put them together? I suggest that churches might be able to do real good by creating the function of a “Mental Health Deacon.” Is there not a man of discernment, qualified as a deacon, that can facilitate the referral of emotionally or mentally broken members and seekers to Christian counselors and therapists? If not involved with actual referrals, then is able to build bridges of trust between counselors and the church?

For those who are significantly influenced by the teaching ministry of a certain church located in the northeast portion of the San Fernando Valley of California, you won’t even buy into the validity of “Christian counseling.” Reaction to lawsuits aside; that is exactly the point. Most pastors shouldn’t be burdened with a significant counseling ministry. After three to six sessions of about an hour each, if someone needs more counseling, they really need to be referred to a professional. This is so if for no other reason than that of avoiding liability.

But let's not think only of counseling, but of all the aspects of mental health brokenness: "Celebrate Recovery," local chapter of A.A., various support and recovery groups, and all those ways that we can use our theology of general revelation and common grace to help heal broken hearts. Let's not captitulate the care of souls to those who don't theologically "get it."

So my proposal is to recognize the need for mental health care, to be proactive about it, and build referral networks that are under the care and guidance of the pastor and deacon functions.

20060920

Rocked My World

I have just finished reading an assignment that has rocked my world a bit.

The reading was from a couple of sections of Alister McGrath’s book, “A Passion For Truth.” Specifically, the Introduction and chapter 4 (“Evangelicalism and Postmodernism”). In the Introduction, McGrath states that Evangelicalism – especially in North America - has steered a course away from “Academic Theology” (a theology whose agenda is dictated by the values and goals of the academy). For those evangelicals that have tasted of Academic Theology, the response is probably: “Duh – of course!” McGrath says it is because of a fundamentalist heritage, a pragmatic orientation, the secularism of the academy (which has lost touch with theology’s prophetic role), and the elitism of academic theology (it has lost touch with its pastoral role).

McGrath’s observations and conclusions are very helpful – and not surprising to any evangelical who has dipped a bit into the murky waters of “academic theology.” However, the interesting bit (for me) came in chapter four where McGrath challenges evangelicals to re-consider their unspoken (and unconscious) assumptions in the face of a new societal hermeneutic – the infamous “postmodernism.” Oh, yes! Postmodernism clearly has a meta-narrative.

The Enlightenment and Modernity (consider those terms synonymous) are based on the notion that reason was able to accomplish anything. What is troubling is that, generally, evangelicals have uncritically bought into that notion for three hundred years. As modernity has influenced great theologians of evangelicals, it has influenced – for the worse – evangelicals understanding of several key areas:

* The nature of scripture – ignoring the clearly emotive and narrative nature of most of scripture, evangelicals have been sucked into looking only for propositional truth
* Spirituality – having ignored the emotive characteristic of scripture, evangelicals have tended to purge emotions from their culture
* Apologetics – evangelicals have assumed there is a universal rationality and ignored the observable facts that Christianity is not purely rational and that not everyone interacts with their world in the same manner
* Evangelism – a misunderstanding of Biblical truth; “Truth” has been assumed to be propositional in nature and all truths of scripture are “logically consistent” with each other; yet this is not itself consistent with the evidence (N.B. the irony). Biblical “Truth” is more related to “trustworthiness” and is very personal: Jesus *is* truth

This is not to deny that there are rational and cognitive elements within the Christian faith, it is merely to note that we can appreciate postmodernism for its help in freeing the faith from a foreign worldview.

As a thoroughly indoctrinated modernist, much of postmodernism is disrupting to me, of course. However, in facing my own mental filters, it is this transition into a postmodern world which facilitates my better understanding – and greater commitment to – a Biblical Christianity.

I note that in a postmodern world, Christianity is clearly relevant. It is relevant to our fundamental questions: Why do we and the world exist? Why are things this way and not another? The question for a postmodern looking at Christianity is not just is Christianity true for the writer of this blog; but is it true also for the reader?

Evangelicals don't need to adopt postmodernism - there is plenty in that framework that is hostile to Biblical thought - but postmodernism can help Evangelicals to strip off the incompatible accoutrements of the Enlightenment.

20060909

An Atheist's Rage

Man, I was annoyed. Friday night my daughter Irene came into the room in tears because of an email she’d just received. Now Irene is a pretty tough gal and so it takes a lot to get her rattled. So what was the email about? Some catty girls dissing on her, some terrible news tragedy? No, it was one of her school ‘friends’ decided to rant on Christians. Hmmm. The previous version said that the guy was angry because his parents were fighting and needed to ‘rant.’ The revised blog can be found here.

Now my first reaction was that “this punk is gonna feel some PAIN: he made my girl cry, he’s gonna pay!” That feeling, BTW, was still floating around and was inevitably expressed here. The next reaction was to read the email for content and ignore all the flaming language. Once analyzed, I could coach my daughter into refuting the arguments presented with objective facts and conclusions. That would make me feel better because it would confirm that I’m smart and this punk (there I go again) is really rather stupid, uninformed, or both. But that would be rather infantile of me. The third reaction is to note a teenager in great pain: he feels alone (copy that), alienated, and his parents (the two most important people in his life) are in conflict. It was a long time ago, but I remember how I felt when my folks were fighting – it was not a “happy place.”

First, let’s dispense with the Father’s Rage part: if you’ll notice, Irene has shown herself to be a ‘contagious Christian’ in that this guy admits that she’s one of the few self-reporting Christians who seems to actually be Jesus-like. As a father, I’m rather proud of my little girl for that.

Second, let’s dispense with the arguments that young Mr. Punk has advanced. There are plenty of atheists on MySpace and the general blogsphere. Even more to the point, there are plenty of Christian-haters out here. But why are all the Christians proclaiming from the rooftops: “I’m a Christian and I’m not afraid to show it?” Well, there’s the implied fear from showing oneself as being a Christian. Why? Because emails and blogs like young Mr. Punk’s come out and trash on them! People say that Christians are intolerant – well intolerance is sure not limited to Christians. It’s a pretty natural reaction to get defensive in the face of an attack. Why are Christians “afraid?” Why, it’s because of people like you, young Mr. Punk: you rant on them, and intimidate them, and attack them.

But why are Christians so big on telling people that they’re Jesus-people? Well, in spite of the attacks they receive, Christians really believe that they have – from Jesus himself – The Message that will transform your life like it has theirs. They’ve experienced something … wonderful! … that defies what we usually see in our world. They are trying to get that news out. They are so excited about the overwhelmingly positive consequences of this information that they’re willing to go out on a blogspace limb and say: “Lookit, lookit! See what I’ve found!!”

In my opinion, it takes more courage to stand in the blogsphere and declare: “I have a message that you won’t agree with or want to hear. But it’s so important that I’m willing to get the inevitable flaming emails (like this) that will result.” On the other hand, there’s no courage in going with the flow: “smoking, drinking, and f***ing,” as Mr. Punk says his friends are doing.

The other thing to remember, young Mr. Punk, is that Jesus himself was pretty clear that not everyone who self-reports to be a “Christian” really is one. For you Bible-people out there, I remind you of Matthew 25:31-46. In fact, Christians are told they must examine themselves (though never told to examine others) to see if they are really born-again fully-devoted followers of Jesus (check out the little book of 1 John).

As to young Mr. Punk’s conclusion that our fear of the unknown after death compels us to do good; I think Mr. Punk is right. That God has arranged life so that death is an unknown is a powerful motivator for people to search and grope for him. Looking at death, we see some powerful truths: “I am not ready. Not only that, I’m sure I’ll never be ready. After death, there’s God waiting and it’s clear from what I see in this world that God is holy and has standards that I’ve not met.”

I need help. As Mr. Punk has rightly pointed out; I need a crutch. What The Message says is that Jesus died as a substitute for the spiritual consequences of my inability to meet the standards. Jesus then brought himself back to life to confirm his claims. If I rely on Jesus to pay for those lapses, then God will say (since he set it up in the first place), “Good, you’re seeing things from my perspective now. Come with me and let’s get started on some other good things.” God doesn’t promise prosperity, popularity, or that those dearest to you will get along – though that often happens. He does offer you new life in a community of fellow travelers. But let me repeat this very clearly for you, Mr. Punk: I definitely need a crutch. And that crutch’s name is Jesus.

Mr. Punk, God has arranged the world along a fine balance. There’s just enough information to compel a good mind to see and accept God and there are seemingly good reasons to reject that God is there. It is so finely balanced that God has left it up to your choice. And God will give you your desires. If you desire to be with him, he will receive you with open, welcoming arms. He will put you into a ‘forever family’ of people who really will be able to say, “Amen!” You’ll have no need to fear death because your position with God is secure because of what Jesus did for us.

But if you choose to reject God, then God will give you your desires: If you don’t want to have anything to do with God, then after you die you will have nothing to do with God. Do you remember what we call a place where there is no God? Sure you do. This is what we call that place: “Hell.” That’s the other thing: God doesn’t put people in hell, people choose to go there.

Finally, I am so sorry that your parents were fighting. I’m getting a bit misty-eyed even as I’m writing this. I wish I could give you assurance that everything will be OK. In reality, I can’t; because I don’t have the power to change your parents. But this is what I read in your pain-filled email: “I’m hurt and there are people out there who tell me that there’s an answer, a treatment, a way that will be better. But most of them are really messed up, just like me. How can I trust them?” I find it significant that in your pain, you turn your anger on Christians. I wonder … are you angry at Christians because they are somehow responsible for your pain? Or are you angry at Christians because you’re a lot closer to them: in our agony we frequently strike out at the ones who are closest to us.

What if God, who desperately loves you and has been trying to get through to you, is banging on the door of your life to get your attention? Is it possible that God might have used your parents’ argument to compel you to come a little closer to the people with The Message that you need to hear? I’m not suggesting that God caused the argument, but just that he is nudging on your heart because of that event. There are people in your life – you’ve already identified them – who want to help you make a good choice.

God does not want you to chose to reject him. The results are catastrophic.

Choose well.

20060830

Vacation'06

We took a mini-vacation the last few days. As much as I really enjoyed the two-week driving all over the country vacations that my parents took me and my sister on in our childhood, I feel I've not been able to provide the same experience with my own kids. Still, we have been able to do week-long trips every other year.

This year, we took four of our five (wife Barb, daughter Marian, son Theo, and myself) on a mini-road trip. We live in Washington state and are still new here only moving in two years ago. So we've been throughout the state and into Canada a few times. Last year we did a loop through lower B.C. and Alberta, then Montana and Idaho. That was fun and ambitious.

This year was smaller scale. We did a loop through some scenic southern B.C. We left Sunday afternoon, stopped and walked a while through Chinatown in Seattle. Then drove up to the boarder to Peace Arch Park, a favorite of mine. We then crossed the boarder without incident and overnighted in Vancouver.

Monday, we did a loop through Stanley Park (another favorite) and then went north to Horseshoe Bay. There was a lot of road construction and a reminder about how rugged this terrain is. We then started our climb up the mountains to Squamish (lunch), Pemberton, and Whistler (Starbucks and walking around break). We pressed on and, at the recommendation of a local, stopped by and hiked to see the Nairn Falls -worth the walk: spectacular.

We then pressed on and tested our little engine on the mountain roads and came through Lillooet and finally to Cache Creek, our destination for the night.

Tuesday, we headed down by the North Thompson River and then met the mighty Fraser River and travelled down the Fraser River Valley. We had a nice late breakfast in Hope and then headed back west on the Trans-Canada Highway. We made a required stop at Tim Hortons for a snack and then west on Highway 1A and reentered the states north of Lynden, WA.

I enjoy Canada very much and B.C. is a great place to visit. Parts of our trip reminded me of the road trips we took as children through the back roads of California. A bit of adventure, a bit of uncertainty, and a lot of beautiful scenery.

It was only a couple of days, but it was a nice break before getting back into the school grind.

20060822

Summer Coursework Reflections

Happy August! Traditionally, this is vacation month. I remember when we lived in England that August was the month that all of Europe shut down: everyone was on “holiday.” Of course, the word “holiday” comes from the phrase “holy day;” but that meaning has long been lost. Do you think that’s happening here in the U.S.?

Well, the course work is done for the summer semester. I delivered my last requirement for the Old Testament DVD survey course last Friday: an exegetical paper on Numbers 16:1-7. If any of you are interested in reading it as a late-night sleep aid, just let me know and I’ll forward you a copy.

I have appreciated the Old Testament survey course more in reflection upon it. There are some very powerful lessons in the narrative of God’s people. What is especially striking, in my reading, was the inevitable rebellion or forgetting of God among the people. They would turn away from Yahweh, “follow after” other gods, and then bad things would happen to them.

I wonder if they fell into a pattern of thinking like this: “Sure, that God-stuff was a big deal 40 years ago. But this is now; things are different; times have changed; sure there are a couple old nut-cases floating around screaming, ‘repent, repent!’ but – come on! – I have to deal with real life.” Having forgotten who God is, they had no foundation to obey God’s rules. When they didn’t obey God’s rules, they reaped the resulting harvest.

So… as you go on your vacation this month, give a thought to the fact that you are living out a Sabbath principle. Have fun with your family! Play! Eat fun food! Celebrate your year! And give a thought to Yahweh who gave you strength and prosperity this year that you might enjoy your “holyday.”

20060816

Leadership Summit: Day Three

Day Three was somewhat disorienting. It started with Wayne Cordeiro. Now Cordeiro comes bouncing up on the stage, spends significant time kidding with Hybels and then – almost incongruously – speaks of his bout with an emotional breakdown. Now I get that: “I’ve suffered from major depression and now I’m all better” is the message.

The message was powerful and a fearful warning for ministry people who may be closer to the edge than they know. He discussed symptoms of ministry burnout; the positive things that can come out of only suffering; and then some practical thoughts on how to avoid or recover from breakdown.

Bill Hybels finished up the conference and his talk had two parts. This contributed to my sense of disorientation. The talk was entitled, “The Power of Clarity;” and, knowing Hybels, you might expect a the-stakes-are-too-high-to-not-be-clear-about-your-vision-for-without-vision-the-people-perish thing. But that was not to be. He began by talking about how something recently caused him to change his mind about what he’d talk about today. OK, that’s got my curiosity up, right there. Now I'm disoriented. What happened? What’s the catalyst for the change? Then he used the title to make a clear and strong statement about the place of the theology of Substitutionary Atonement.

Now Hybels said some great things about this, and I appreciated his stand. Far too many in certain segments of the “Emerging Church” movement have – wrongly – stated that Substitutionary Atonement has no rightful place in Christian theology, doctrine, or belief. This ranges from Brian McLaren’s rather lukewarm acknowledgement of even the existence of the term to some more rabid bloggers who deny the validity of the doctrine. In the hurry to affirm the true-at-the-same-time other models of the Atonement, several have decided to jettison Substitutionary Atonement. This is wrong, of course.

So it gets me back to wondering what event cause Hybels to change his talk to become an affirmation of Substitutionary Atonement. Hmmmm.

20060731

Jack and The Washer

I ride motorcycles. I have two bikes and my wife has one.

I'm a member of the Christian Motorcyclists Association ("CMA" http://www.cmausa.org/). My local chapter, the Olympia Lightriders (http://www.olylightriders.org/), participated with the state-wide rally called, "The Classic" on July 15th, 2006. All the chapters meet locally and then ride to a central location. Our chapter met at the Hawkes Prairie restaurant at Marvin Road and I-5. We're in Washington state so all the state chapters from west and east come to Packwood on US 12 for an afternoon.

I didn't ride with my local chapter but rode with friends, Scott & Joni Wheeler, and we took off early to get to our stops early to see if help was needed. Once we got to the park at Packwood and saw that things were good (especially that the BBQ lunch was on target - yes!), the group from my local chapter rolls in. It was good to see familiar faces and I went over to say howdy and small-talk about the ride, bikes, and such. As I was making the rounds, I noticed one of our members, Jack, was hovering over his ride.

Now Jack Veggin is one of our more "colorful" members. His ride that day was a tricycle. It has a VW backend and a motorcycle frontend. So Jack sits on a single rider motorcycle seat and there is a back bench for two other riders on the rear end. Jack had a gal, T.J., as a passenger that day.

Jack was saying that his clutch was binding something awful ever since the group had started off from the restaurant. There were a couple of other guys around standing around like myself as Jack tells us what's wrong. Jack decides he's going to tear into it right there. So he starts disassembling the back bench and looking at the clutch linkage. We look at this and that and finally, as Jack is working the clutch pedal, he notices that the linkage is binding at a particular point. It is a cobble. The actual part that is used for the VW isn't there. The problem is that there is a nut swiveling against a cupped flange - but it isn't moving smoothly.

I don't know who mentioned it; Jack, one of the other "supervisors," or myself; but I remember saying that what Jack needed was a wide and stout washer that would allow that nut to move more smoothly.

That got Jack's attention. He started patting down his vest and pants muttering something about 'where is that thing??' I though the heat had gotten to him! He said that he'd found a washer that would probably do him just right. When did he come across this washer? Would he still have it on his person? Would it be the right size? This was getting more absurd the more I watched.

But then Jack clarified it: that morning, while he was waiting for everyone to show up at the restaurant, he'd just happened across a washer laying in the parking lot. Like picking up a penny, Jack just stuck it into his pants pocket and commented AT THE TIME (confirmed by T.J. who'd now joined us): "This might be useful someday."

So he tells us that story and then he finally located the washer - a little rusty but still very sound - in his pants pocket and proceded to see if it fit.
It did.
Exactly.
And the clutch now worked properly.

The lesson we learned was that God provided the solution for a problem THAT DIDN'T EVEN EXIST YET.

Jack picked up the washer (the solution) in the parking lot of the Hawkes Prairie Restaurant. He didn't notice the clutch binding (the problem) until he got on the road. The solution to that problem was in his pants pocket all that time.

Now this is just one of those everyday little miracles of providence, but it's pretty cool to remember that God can provide for even the smallest of needs.

Restoration

I have a passion for restoring churches. No, that doesn't mean the "Extreme Makeover" or "Decorating on a Dime" types of restoration. Rather I mean working with a church that has experienced severe stress or stagnation that now threatens its survival. Christ-centered churches, when they are working right, can be a powerful force for God-energized good in our society as well as God's Kingdom.

I am always on the lookout for biblical accounts of restoration to see what they can teach me.

One of the Big Ideas of restoring a church to health and vitality is that the church's leaders need to be restored. In my studies, I came across a real interesting mini-biography that helped me understand this a little bit more. I'm indebted to Dr. Carl Laney for some of these insights.
The Biblical book of 2Kings is pretty depressing. The book records the rise of Solomon as the king over Israel. He is very smart, has a clear mandate to rule, and prospers as is fitting for a great man and a great nation. However, as the rest of the book reveals, even Solomon falls into idolatry and begins to forget Yahweh. From there, it is mostly downhill. Solomon's son takes bad advice, most of the tribes of the kingdom succeed, and thus begins the inevitable downward spiral that will lead to captivity, exile, and dispersion.

It has been pointed out that in the Northern Kingdom (commonly referred to as "Israel"), there is not a single good King to be found. All of them forget God of the Exodus. They are conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed, never to return en-mass to the Promised Land.

Among the Southern Kingdom (commonly referred to as "Judah"), there are occasional good Kings. However, there are more evil ones. A good King was Hezekiah. He got rid of the terrible and gruesome religious cults that had insiuated themselves into the people. BTW, there was nothing "earth friendly" or "noble" about these religions - they were wicked, murderous, oppressive, filled with hate and fear. Hezekiah got rid of their various "high places," phallic monuments, and other icons of creatures that were being worshipped rather than the Creator. Hezekiah was a good guy, a reformer, and he brought prosperity and success in his efforts because "he clung to the Lord" - like I said, a good guy.

However, his son was a different matter. Hezekiah died in battle due to an unwise action and his son, Manasseh, took the throne. He did evil - for reasons that escape me, after watching all that his father had been able to accomplish, Manasseh decides to go in exactly the opposite direction. He deliberately undoes all of the obvious progress that his father had worked to achieve and - is this predictable or what? - he suffers. I can't imagine the pain that must go through a person to reject the good, the faithful, the prosperous, the pragmatic, and embrace hopelessness, fear, death, and worthless sacrifice. I can't blame it on his dad - there's no indication that Hezekiah was anything but a good guy.

Manasseh continues down this road and "misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom" God had already punished! Manasseh is captured by the forces of Assyria and taken away in "hooks, bound in bronze chains" to exile. This wasn't a nice exile being kept in comfort - he was "in distress." 2Chron.33.

Yet, only then did Manasseh come to his senses. He finally did business with God and humbled himself "greatly." Manasseh had earned the reputation of being one of the most evil Kings in his country's history and after a lifetime of intentional wickedness comes to God - maybe for the first time - and repents. It is recorded that God heard Manasseh's prayer and then was moved to rescue Manasseh from captivity. Manasseh returned to his old Kingdom, his old capitol, and instituted several reforms that renounced his former ways.

So what this shows me is that God is very sensitive to a repentant heart.

What is sad is that while God allowed Manasseh to come back and try to put things back right, there were still consequences to Manasseh's former life. Manasseh apparently couldn't get through to his son, Ammon. Ammon turned out to be another evil king, carrying on in the ways of his dad's early career. Sadly, Ammon ruled for only two years and was assassinated when he was only 24 years old (2Chron. 33:21-24).

The happy ending to Manasseh's story is that while his son Ammon was a loss, it looks as though Manasseh got to his little grandson, Josiah. Josiah was only six when Manasseh died and Ammon became king, but the impressions that little Josiah got from listening to the stories from his grandpa must have been very powerful. For it was Josiah who became one of the most powerful reformers of the Northern Kingdom.

The lesson I learned from Manasseh was that while there may be painful consequences to a life poorly led, yet God can redeem and restore based merely on repentance. Churches and church leaders willing to repent can see restoration as God works through them.

20060717

Review of the FiveBooks

In my study of the first five books of the Bible I've noticed how harsh God's judgment can seem to me. Why would that be?

God tells us that he is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and overflowing in kindness and truth (Ex 34:6). Yet there he is sending plagues, having the earth swallow up the rebellious, and so forth. Is there an inconsistancy there?

I say no.

What I'm learning is that God places a special premium of responsibility to those who have seen him work directly. These people were the very eyeballs that saw the cloud by day and the fire by night every waking moment of their day. The saw - repeatedly - the miraculous working of God and the repeated confirmation of Moses as his prophet. And yet several still didn't want to get it. That's what I get out of the judments I see: God saying (I'm speculating here): if you don't believe me after all of what you've seen, you just never will.

I think specifically of the guy named Korah who claimed Moses was lording it over the people. Moses actually listened to this, gave Korah the night to think it over, and then Korah continued to resist the inevitable conclusion of all the years of Moses' prophetic role with Israel in the wilderness. Korah was judged and his life taken from him.

Yet, in these same books, I see that God is as he says he is: compassionate and forgiving. One might think that Korah's name would be blotted out forever in the history and culture of Israel. But the contrary is the case: it is the "Sons of Korah" who contributed 12 Psalms to scripture. Later generations of Korah's family pressed in so close to God that their poetry was recognized as God's Word.

I think that today, when we see God work directly, is there not as terrible a responsibility to live according to what we've seen?

I also see God's working on Abaraham, even though Abe made terrible choices early in our biography of him. Abe's family was plauged with "dysfunction," yet God was faithful and kept his promise to them. I think of Moses - God continuing to work in Moses' life as a leader even though Moses wasn't going make it to the Promised Land.

That gives me hope! If God can take Abe and Moses from "zeros" to "heros," perhaps he can work in my life, too.