Life Outside of Time?

Time is uneven, if linear, for mere mortals.  We do not experience it with the regularity of a stopwatch.  We all remember summer days that seemed to last forever, bittersweet goodbyes that did not last long enough, or your life flashing before your eyes of your last car accident.  In moments like these, the subjectivity of time peeks through. 

God is outside of time.  If He created time, why should His experience and perception of time be as linear and constrained as it (usually) is for us?

If the God you follow is outside of time, could He ever bend the “rules” for you?  The idea is this: God blesses us when we do not deserve it, but he also loves to be generous to us in the ways that we are generous toward Him and to others.  If we give freely of our resources (money, time, service, care), should we not expect Him to give freely of His?

I think of God’s admonition to His people to bring true sacrifice in Malachi.   “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse– the whole nation of you– because you are robbing me.   Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.   Malachi 3:8-10 

I think of Christ’s promise to His disciples.  Instead of running after food, drink, and clothing — what your body needs — “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:33 

In this passage, God does not promise free food and clothes.  Do not quit your job.  Be a responsible worker, but remember that those responsibilities come second.  You are more than your job.  Seek first the Kingdom of God.  Live in light of your love of Him and of your neighbor, by His grace. 

We can be courageous in sacrificing time and energy in order to serve others and to pray, even if it means that we won’t be putting in twelve hour days at the office.  But don’t be surprised if God blesses you even more abundantly with what you truly need than if you had spent a month of twelve hour days. 

And we must be wise, knowing that some days we should love God and other by putting in those extra hours.  But we cannot make the mistake of depending on a lifestyle of long hours and our own efforts as the source of blessing.   

You may end up with more time than you think you had.  Joshua tells us (10:13):  the sun stood still for him over Gibeon. 

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Treetop Prayer

Lord, where will I meet you?

On bridge of steel

or bridge of stone

or in the water

that binds life to life?

On a blank page

in the autumn air

up in the branches of a tree?

You are more

than everything

and not

any thing

but everywhere

I see

You.

best climbing tree ever

Published in: on September 18, 2007 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Be a Blessing!

God’s original promise to Abraham was to make him the father of all nations, “so that through you all nations might be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Orthodox Jews want to fulfill that promise, but the believe that they must bring all Jews back to God first.

Why wait?

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

I hear a lot about Christians going around and cursing people: not “cussing them out” cursing, but “calling down fire and brimstone” cursing.  I don’t think that Jesus leaves us any room for that.

Why pray for riches for yourself, which do not satisfy, when you can pray: “God, make me a blessing to others!”?  Your co-workers.  Your spouse.  Your children.  Your parents.  Random dude on the street.  Use your imagination.

The world is changed by such simple, small prayers as these.  You might not make any headlines, but you will make someone’s day, if not someone’s eternity.  What could be more satisfying than that?

“God Loves Me, So I Can Do Whatever I Want…”

The Problem With Catchy Slogans

I have a friend named “Joe.”  While he would claim to be a Christian, Joe thinks that he can do whatever he wants.  Anything.  He life lacks any sort of responsibility or accountability.  His response: “Once saved, always saved” and “God loves me the way I am.”

Catchy slogans are useful, because they can express truth in memorable ways.  But the problem is that, taken in isolation, they can represent falsehoods.  Joe’s slogans are derived from the Bible, but without the Bible they are misleading, just as freedom of speech does not function apart our other legal rights and responsibilities:  you cannot say whatever you want whenever you want (shout “fire!” in a crowded movie theater, etc.).

I do believe that the Bible teaches that God will protect his own until the very end (John 17;  Romans 8:38).  Calvinists call this the “perseverance of the saints,” although many other groups hold to similar beliefs.  But how can you know that you are “saved” if your life does not reflect your professed faith?

God loves you, he really does.  But his is not the love of a dismissive and permissive parent (Deism?).  His is the love of an actively involved father, working in the lives of his children, calling them to himself.  His is the love of an artist, wooing his creation ever more into his own image. 

I think of the prophet Hosea, called by God to marry the prostitute named Gomer (what a name!) to be an example of the kind of love God has for his wayward people.  “I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one. ‘I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ”You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.'”” Hosea 2:23Yet we want something for nothing.  The offer of grace, of God’s forgiveness, is free.  It costs nothing to grasp hold of it.  But it costs everything to keep hold of it.  The better slogan is “God loves you the way you are, but he is not content to leave you that way.” 

Bonhoeffer called the cop-out “cheap grace.”   It is “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance,… grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ” (The Cost of Discipleship).  Cheap grace is not grace.

Lazy faith is not faith.

Dear God, WTF?!

An Open Letter to God

Dear God,

Heard from a friend today, who reminded me of everything wrong in the world.  Children in sex slavery in Cambodia.  Where the hell are you?  And where were you when the Holocaust happened?  Or slavery?  Or the Taliban?  Or the crusades?  Where?

So I sit, waiting for you to split the sky and come down, burning to a crisp every twisted bastard among us.  I sit, weeping, rocking gently in my chair.  I breath in the air-conditioned coolness.  I look up at the white ceiling of my new house, waiting for you to tear off the roof.  I fume with anger, and then I remember: I had forgotten.

I have known for the years about the child sex trade.  A friend in college did recon and sting operations with the International Justice Mission.  But I forgot.  I became comfortable, distracted, self-centered.  I was so busy being so excited about how many hits my blog got today.  Screwed-up bastard that I am, I forgot to care.

If you’re waiting for me to be ready, God, before you come down… if that’s what’s holding you up, thanks, I guess.

If you’re waiting for me to take action, God, if that’s what these children need… help me!  Help them!  Help me help them!

We need you.  I don’t know how much longer we can wait.

Biblical Profanity!?!

The Debate Continues

This is a response to previous comments.  This deserves book-length treatment and if anyone (i.e., me) gets into trouble on this one, it will because of brevity.  

If you think that cussing is wrong and you struggle with cussing, in spite of strong convictions, please do not read further.  I do not want to cause you to stumble.  This post is rated R for language.

If you think that cussing is wrong and you struggle with judging others who cuss, you might not want to keep reading.  This is going to offend you.  Come back later for my post on freedom, because you will be my target audience then.

If you are not a Christian, I hope that what follows will be educational, or at least interesting, if a bit wierd. 

Regardless, even if you’re not in it for the grammar and the Biblical exegesis (interpretation), then stay around for the four-letter words and for an honest attempt at  sane living.

Before discussing the ethics of profanity, we must ask:  What is Biblical? And what is profanity? 

By “Biblical,” I mean both the specific guidelines which the Bible gives us and the principles we can arrive at based on the entirety of its teaching.

By “profanity” I accept the definition: “abusive, vulgar, or irreverent language.”  However, I have observed that we define profanity by its specifics and by its uses.  There is a finite list of words, most of which we all now know by heart, even if we don’t use them, which are on this “forbidden list.”  But the list in the U.S. is far graver than it is in most of the world.  Germans have relatively few words and topics, which poses a huge dilemma for teens trying to be cool, leading to the importation of the “f-bomb” into everyday speech.  But in our culture, due to “Puritanism,” which probably has more to do with Victorianism and the 1950s, we have quite a few. 

What use do these forbidden words serve in American English?

1. To express extreme positive or negative emotion.  “Damn!  What a shot!”

2.  To intensify a word or phrase, usually, but not always, for emotional effect.  “That was a damn good dinner!”  See also the suffix “-ass.”

3.  To insult someone.  “You bitch!”  *It is interesting to note that no male equivalent of this term exists.  Even “bastard” primarily serves to call into question a man’s parentage, esp. the marital status of his mother.  See also “son of a bitch.”

4.  To insult God, a.k.a. blasphemy.  “God, damn it!”

5.  To add filler.  “So I was fucking going to the fucking store, man.”  See also “like.”

6.  To be sexually explicit.

These uses often occur concurrently.  “You stupid-ass son of a bitch!” covers 1, 2, and 3, for example.

Now, rather than premeturely ruling out words simply because they appear on “the list” — which would be foolish since none of them actually appears in the Bible, nor is there any precedent in Hebrew or Hellenistic-Christian culture for the forbidden word list — we can make an informed decision in light of what the Bible teaches regarding these 5 uses of “profane” language. 

1.  Expressing extreme emotions before God is encouraged in the Bible, so long as it is an  honest expression.  Words by themselves are neither holy nor unholy; they are a means of expressing what is in our hearts, and it is for our hearts that we will be held accountable (Matthew 12:34-35).  Entire books of the Old Testament represent the out-pourings of the deepest longings, yearnings, and doubts of people’s souls: Psalms, Lamentations, and most of the prophets.  I see nothing wrong with using “profanity” to express extreme emotion in prayer, especially if you use such language to express extreme emotion anyway.  (“Damn, Lord!  What the hell happened?”)  Nor is there anything inherently wrong in expressing extreme emotions to each other, although we should be careful, especially if those emotions include anger (Proverbs 15:18, 16:32; Ephesians 4:26).  Jesus encourages the disciples to pray to God as to their Father and the only kinds of prayers that he criticizes are too long and showy (Matthew 6).  One of my favorite prayers: “God, I’m fucked-up.  Help me!”

2.  Intensifying words and phrases for effect can be equally problematic.  I know many people who are “extreme talkers,” who use superlatives (“the most ____,” “the biggest ____ “) for everything.  If you make everything extreme, then nothing is extreme, and when it comes time to praise God as “awesome,” your words lack weight.  Extreme talking is simply irresponsible use of language.  One of the primary thrusts of Proverbs is that we must be careful with our language.  In our cultural context, you need to know your audience.  Careful use of language needs to be simple and straightforward, but G-rated?  I don’t think so.  Jesus has invited us into a life of great freedom and great responsibility.  Because we’re forgiven and His Spririt lives in those of us who are His, wee have the freedom to discern for ourselves and within our own communities that which is appropriate in matters on which He himself is silent. 

 3.  Jesus is not silent about insulting someone.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

4.  Neither is the Bible silent about insulting God.  One of the earliest of the ten commandments: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).  When I begin to doubt the importance of the Old Testament, I remember  that Jesus Himself believed that this was the Word of God.

5.  Filler is irresponsible, but not morally offensive, for the same reasons as “extreme talking” (see #2).  However, we should take great care not to judge those whose filler is less PC than our own, since this reflects more on their socio-economic-educational-geo-cultural background than it does on their moral worth.

6.  Sexually frank speech and speech about bodily functions should not be a problem in the right context.  The Evangelical sub-culture can be intensely prissy and there isn’t anything Biblical about that.  I’ve had Southern friends tell me that “Ladies don’t poop.”  Bullshit!  However, sexually explicit speech, jokes, etc. are a problem.  Why?  Because sex is so precious and important, such a blessing when held in its proper place (marriage) that to speak of sex jokingly or graphically deprives it of its purpose as something intimate (Ephesians 5:3-4).  Plus, such talk can easily lead us to lust in our hearts, which is as bad as adultery (Matthew 5:32).

In all of this, the root issue is not clean words vs. dirty words.  The root issue is careless words spoken by careless people.  James 3 offers a stern rebuke, but Jesus’ is sterner:  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).

How are we to live and speak in light of all of this?  We are committed to a Person, not to a set of rules, and to the community of all who follow Him.  We should use language that best honors Him and uplifts our brothers and sisters.  Such language is always honest and loving; sometimes it is soft, gentle, and appropriate for my grandmother; sometimes it is not.  When offering a stern but loving rebuke, you might need to drop an f-bomb or two in order to get your brother’s attention.

If you are tempted to cuss in front of a legalist, it is probably unwise, becausee they will stop listening and start judging.  More importantly, if you are going to offend someone and cause them to want to violate their own conscience by doing so, be careful!  If he thinks its a sin, then it is a sin for him in this case, just as in the debate over unclean food and holidays in Romans 14, for this is fundamentally a matter of opinion.  Do not cause a brother or sister to sin… but neither trample on their freedom!

Psalm 3

(An African-American Vernacular English translation from the original Hebrew)

From when David ran off from his son, Absolom.  

Damn LORD! 

Check it: all peeps be rollin’ up on me!    Mugs be all up in my grill. They be sayin’, “God ain’t got yo’ back.”  Sheeeih…. 

Nah, man!  O LORD, You got my back: You too much, and all that, an’ Ya’ hold my head high. 

I holla’d to the LORD, an’ He holla’d back at me from His holy mount.  Sheeeih….

I laid down and slept;

then I got up, ‘cause God got my back.

Got no fear of all y’all fools around me,

tryin’ to keep me in check.

 

Get up, O LORD! 

Save my sassafrass, O my God!

For you smack my enemies up side da’ head.

You bust them in the tooth.

Salvation!  Whose’s dat?  The LORD!

Blessing!  Whose’s dat?  His people!

Sheeeih….

Cussing at God

A Case for Holy Profanity

Gone are the days when talking to God was like talking to Aunt Judy at a tea party.  God has always been ready for the uncut and unedited version of the outpourings of your heart.  It is your duty and your privilege to give Him all you’ve got.

Most of our English translations of the Bible water down the raw nature of the original language, but some fun examples:

“Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8) is more precisely “Why this hell?” or, my preference, “What the hell?”  The disciples here are talking like the redneck fishermen they are, questioning a woman’s apparent waste of high-end pefume on Jesus, rather than selling it to the poor.  Jesus rebukes their hard-heartedness and short-sightedness, not their language.

Paul considers everything “rubbish” compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).  But the word translated “rubbish” has some more precise, if more offense, possibilities.  Skubalon is “that which is given forth from the bowels, or dung, as it were something thrown to dogs, or thrown out” (Etymologicum Gudianum, cf. Leithart).  It is the possible root of our s-word and is at least as strong as “crap,” although “bullshit” works especially well in this context.  But that won’t fly at any Bible publisher I know of.

Most importantly, there is an entire category of psalms known as “impreccatory psalms,” or, as I like to call them, “cussing psalms.”  These psalms express frustration at the psalmists’ human enemies.  I find it difficult to understand these psalms outside of a context of extreme language (see Psalm 3 post).

We use profanity in English do to a number of things.  Some are God-sanctioned, some are not.  On the plus side: expressions of extreme emotion and semantic intensity.  On the minus side: intense insults, sexually explicity references, and blasphemy.  American English’s broad, PG-13 umbrella covers far more ground than it does in most other languages, and restrains us in ways that it should not, especially in our interactions with the Almighty.

You already use profanity in your heart, even if you cover it up with euphemism (“shoot!” “dang!” “dag-nab-it!”).  Isn’t it time you started using profanity in your prayers?

Published in: on July 6, 2007 at 8:39 am  Comments (6)