The Shepherds…

We lose a lot in translation. I am not complaining about having English (or other language) translations of the bible. They make God accessible to all of us. But sometimes there are some things that don’t translate very well and we have to make do with an approximation.

For example, there are a lot of shepherding references in the bible. That is to be expected since the audience was much closer to the land than most of us are. We have famous passages like Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd….” and john 10:11 where Jesus says “I am the good shepherd…”.  But there is (at least one) reference to shepherds that is not talked about much.

The book of Judges covers an unsettled time in history. The stories of the judges that God raised up are as varied as humans can be. The only things they had in common were that they were called by God and they were people. Since they were people they had their share of faults. The bible doesn’t sugar coat any of the background or failings of the judges. They are written about in such detail that sometime we wonder “why is that even written down?”.

In Judges 11 there is a man named Jephthah who had a troubled childhood. What family he had rejected him and kicked him off their land but when they were attacked they went to find Jephthah and make him their commander and eventually leader. Understandably, Jephthah is skeptical but finally takes their offer after they persist. When it is time for the Israelites to fight Jephthah makes a vow that some of you may remember. He vows to sacrifice, as a burnt offering, the first thing that comes out of his house to meet him when he comes back victorious.

Well, to make a long story short, he defeats the enemy and when he returns home his daughter Mizpah, comes out of the house to meet him. Jephthah decides that he must keep his vow, but first he allows Mizpah to go into the hills for two months with her friends to weep.

Talk about a confusing story for us. We are left with a very unsatisfying ending. This sounds more like a Greek tragedy than anything else. Was it stubbornness that made him keep his vow? Was it pride? Couldn’t he have found a loophole? We don’t know. But back to my original point, can you spot the “shepherd” in the text? I didn’t leave it out in my very short version of the story.

Can’t find it? That’s because one word is not translated as “shepherd” here even though it is translated that way practically everywhere else in the bible. Here’s a clue, it could be translated “shepherdesses”. Mizpah went into the hills for two months with her “shepherdesses”.

Why should this matter? What do we lose by this translation? I think quite a bit. When we talk about God and Jesus being our shepherds we typically go to the protection view of a shepherd. The shepherd guides his sheep to green pastures, finds them water,  protects them from enemies. But here is a shepherd view that is different but still so valuable.

The shepherd is a companion and friend when the world is ending for us. When life is so unfair that we can’t even breathe. When everything that you have known and cared for has turned out to be worth nothing or worse than nothing, the very instrument of your end. When you have done nothing to deserve what is happening to you. When you have no control over the outcome. When you could easily hate what is happening. During those times we have shepherds that cry with us. Just cry. No miraculous intervention, no changing of hearts, no sudden insights to change minds. Just cry. With us.

See, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Mizpah came back and Jephthah kept his vow and we are left wondering “why?”. Just like today, many lives don’t have happy endings. Life is unfair, what we care about can be what kills us, we have no control, we could easily hate life and everything and everyone around us. But we can choose to be with our shepherds.

And they will cry with us.


God, Jesus, I am crying for the unfairness in the world, for hate, for racism, for murder, for injustice, for inequality. Please be with me as my shepherds.


 

 

 

 

 

My favorite idol…

I have a favorite idol. I don’t mean one made out of wood or stone but something that is coming between me and God and keeping me from growing like I should. Well, here it is, my favorite idol is … “Rational Thought“!

Does that seem weird? Think about it a minute, our western culture is based on “Rational Thought“. All the way from the Greeks to us we have been taught to cherish logic and clear thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, that is not the same thing as agreeing with everything or accusing someone else of having irrational thoughts when their conclusions are different than mine. In most discussions (or argument, or shouting matches) my “Rational Thought” process is obviously better than anyone else’s. I am referring to the placing of “Rational Thought” above all else. This leads to being able to make an idol of just about anything we can apply logic to.  For example, the Bible itself.

I have expressed this idea in our small group before and gotten a wide range of reactions. At first I am met with a blank stare, like i have lost what little marbles I have left. Then there comes either agreement or rejection of the statement. I believe it is a true statement and I have been guilty of it in the past. I have made the Bible my idol. Applying my logical “Rational Thought” processes to the scriptures and then using those oh so very logical conclusions to win arguments or put down others. I am ashamed of acting like that. It is the height of pride on my part to think that my “Rational Thought” is better than anyone else’s and even worse, to think that “Rational Thought” is really what God wants from me.

I have come to see that there is more to God than I can possibly explain. That sounds really obvious, but I was too busy explaining the scriptures exact meaning through “Rational Thought” and not allowing God’s spirit to work inside me. Just the opposite was actually happening, if there was an occurrence in my life outside the normal western cultural mind set, I would either explain it away with facts and figures or I would simply ignore it and see if it would go away through sheer willpower.

Let me share something that I have never (at least I don’t remember) shared before. When I was back in college mumble-mumble years ago, I had a prophetic moment. It was pretty simple, I was at school one day and I suddenly had a vision of someone (that I did not know) walking up the stairs and dropping a thermos on the second floor with what sounded like an explosion. Well, I immediately applied “Rational Thought” to that whole vision thing, I didn’t believe in that! No way was that going to happen where I was! About 5 minutes later I was coming down the hall on the second floor and about 100 feet ahead was the person I had seen in my vision and they dropped their thermos and it exploded (they were made of glass in those days).

Want to know what happened next? Nothing! I really mean nothing. My “Rational Thought” was so strong that I completely tuned out that it even happened. “Rational Thought” was my idol and I was going to keep it there. I stuffed that incident down so deep that I thought it would never see the light of day again. Until now.

Sometime later I may tell of other things that “Rational Thought” cannot explain that have happened to me (visions, healing, prophecy, teaching). Right now I am filled with too many regrets. Regrets about what I have missed seeing by not accepting a non-rational thought. Regrets about the growth that I have missed. Regrets about losing those opportunities to strengthen my faith. Regrets about not being able to use those gifts for God.  I will stop there, I don’t want “Regret” to become an idol too.

So what am I doing with my favorite idol? I need to follow the example I have in the Bible. When the Israelites were getting ready to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 4:28-29), Moses prophecies to them:

There, in a foreign land, you will worship idols made from wood and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.”

While it is not made of wood or stone, “Rational Thought” is a god that neither sees, nor hears, nor eats, nor smells. So I think that it fits the definition. And so, at the risk of being perfectly logical (yes, I see the irony here), what follows can apply to me also. Just search with all my heart and soul and I will find him.

I can make “Rational Thought” become “searching questions” for my God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be like Him…

Did you ever wonder what it really means to be more like God? I mean, I say and sing that I want to be moImage result for purposere like him but what does that look like? He is so big and beyond understanding, Is my change just something that happens to me as I worship or live my life or study?

While studying Psalm 139 (I think this was the 4th time this week) I was thinking about the first 5 verses. In those verses David talks about what God does.

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.

What came to me is that in these verses God is active. He has examined, He watches, He knows, He sees, He goes ahead, He blesses.

So if I want to be more like God I need to act in the ways that he acts. What happens  if I put myself in these verses? After all, I am one of God’s followers here and I want to act like him.

My family, (and friends, and strangers, and enemies), I have examined your hearts and I know everything I can about you. I know when you sit down or stand up. I know your thoughts even when you are far away. I see you when you travel and when you rest at home. I know everything you do. I know what you are going to say even before you say it. I go before you and follow you.

Can we do all those the same way God does? No, not really, I can’t read minds or see through walls, but I can do the same sorts of things. If I want to know peoples hearts and thoughts I can talk to them. If I pay attention I can see when they need to sit or stand or see some other need they have. I can try to anticipate their needs.  I can be there for people even when I am not in my own comfortable box at home. I can try to be a blessing to everyone I meet.

So, yes I can act like God acts. I can think as God thinks. I can have that same purposeful action in my life that I see in God. I can be like Him.

Keeping it real

I love the Psalms. They are so beautiful and so gritty all at the same time. But sometimes those qualities makes them hard to understand. I was reading Psalm 139 this week and it begins beautifully and progresses beautifully and then it gets just a bit ugly. After wonderful thoughts about God watching over us and caring for us and seeing us in the womb, David goes into a rant about destroying and hating. That bothered me, a lot. Is that really how I am supposed to feel and act? It seems so out of place with Jesus’ teaching to love your enemies (Matthew 5).

So what is going on?  What I think is going on is that this Psalm is showing me how I really relate to God!

The first part is a “You” section, where David is talking about how great God is and that we can’t really understand everything about him. That certainly fits the bill for me and the way I view God. Off to a good start, I love to talk like that.

David follows with an “I” section, where he talks about never being able to be separated from God. Again, that is how I like to view God and want to relate to him. I want to feel that God is there with me no matter where I go or what happens. Better and better, that is a wonderful thought.

Then another “You” section, the worthiness of God is once more told in beautiful language. This is fantastic, I love to sing songs about this myself. Telling of God’s greatness.

Then reality hits…. Another “I” section, this one full of bitterness and anger and hatred. David puts it on the line here and he wishes God Image result for destroy enemieswould act in a certain way and if he doesn’t, then David will take matters into his own hands and act for him. Looking at myself, I have to admit that I certainly could act the same way. And to be totally honest, I act like this more than I want to admit. I want God to do something to someone else, to change their lives, to punish them, to make them see reason and common sense. And if God doesn’t act then I should be able to take matters into my own hands and act on God’s behalf! But in a “nice” way of course, I am a Christian here after all.

Wow, talk about a rapid turn around in thinking.Image result for u turn I go from glorifying God to destroying others in about 2 seconds or less. So is that really what I am supposed to learn from this Psalm? Fortunately the ending is more promising and in many ways makes more sense to me now. David responds to God’s greatness and goodness with something other than anger and hatred. He asks for help from God. These two verses (23 and 24) are some of the most wonderful ever written, a heartfelt plea to help him change: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

So what am I to make of this for my life? I know that I have the capacity to speak and act like David (both the beautiful and the ugly) and that is what makes the Psalms so appealing. It doesn’t sugar coat anything. Inside me is the same battle that David (and countless others) face: how do I reconcile God’s wonderful power with the terrible things I see in the world. I want God to act and act now and act in the way I want him to act. Well, guess what? He doesn’t. He knows better. And that is the promise of the end of this Psalm. God knows my heart, he knows how I want things to be better, he knows how I worry. But If I open myself to him and listen, he will show me what I am doing that I should change and He will lead me.

So that is my prayer for this weekImage result for surrender. That I can honestly say to God: “Search my heart”, “Test me”, “Know my anxious thoughts”, “Show me where I am offending” and “lead me”!

I have to surrender my “I” to let that happen.

 

Habits…

At one time I worked for an airline and was traveling a lot. Being an employee I was able to look at the flights standby list (which was how we had to travel) and see who else was travelling from the airline. One time I noticed that there was a “check rider” on the flight and as luck would have it I got to sit next to him on the flight.

If you don’t know a “check rider” is a person who works for an airline and their job is to occasionally fly, observe and report how flight attendants do their job. Don’t think of this as a spying assignment or hidden in any way. Since all the flight attendants also look at the standby list in advance they all knew that he was there, what his name was and which seat he was in.

I asked him how he could do his job properly if they all knew he was there and of course they would all be on their best behavior. His response has stayed with me for all these years. He said “You can’t hide bad habits”.

What a simple phrase and yet so true. Even when on your best behavior your actions will inevitably show some sign of how you would have acted. For example, think about how smoothly you can move when something is a habit. You develop muscle memory and your actions go into auto-pilot. When you try to act differently there is a hesitation and jerkiness about the actions. A trained observer notices those things.

And how true that is with God as well. I was reading Psalms 139 tonight and in verses 11 and 12 it says this: “I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you theImage result for hiding habits night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.” . There are of course other passages and stories about trying to hide from God (think Jonah) but they all come back to this same thought, God knows us even when we try to hide our sins, even when we try to pretend, even when we try to fake our love.

So shouldn’t this be a cause for fear? We can’t hide, we can’t fake it, we can’t pretend? Where is our punishment? The answer may be surprising, No, we don’t need to be afraid. In fact, in the last two verses of Psalms 139 we find David asking God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you,  and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

What jumps out at me is that even when we fear and have anxious thoughts, God will lead us. Think about that, He is going in front of us. He has been where we are going. He has already found the places that are rough, the things that go bump in the night have already bumped up against him, He has seen where our feet are going to land. This isn’t a God that is punishing us, forcing us along, pushing us in front where we will trip and then laugh at us. He is doing his best to lead us along the path. I don’t know about you but I find that comforting.

But notice, he doesn’t necessarily smooth out the rough places, or keep the things that go bump from bumping us also or stop our feet from landing in a slippery place. That is where faith comes in. The faith that God has been there before us and knows what will happen even when our (or others) free will causes stumbles and fear. When our old habits we are trying to hide makes us step in the muck and fall. He will be with us right in front of us and right beside us, traveling with us, sharing his Spirit with us, teaching us that he has taken away the things that make us afraid and helping us set new habits as we clean up all that muck on us.

I will leave one more thing to think about, just like you can’t hide bad habits, you can’t hide good habits either.

 

 

What is God thinking?

I had an interesting thought, It started this way: Why is God such a mystery to us?

I know and have professed many times that God is greater than any box we could ever think up for him. Every time I think I have God figure out he blows out the virtual box I have put him in (or even worse, voluntarily stays in the box I put him in) and I sternly tell myself not to make another box. Then what happens? You guessed it, I build another box.

But the thought of why God is a mystery is a bit different. In I Corinthians 12,verses 10 through 16, I think Paul starts explaining why. His argument goes like this:  God reveals things by his Spirit, His spirit shows God’s deep secrets, No one can know God’s thoughts except his Spirit, we have received his Spirit so we can know these things also. Obviously I shortened his explanation by quite a bit but you get the idea.

So I think the thought is valid. Why is God such a mystery to us? We have the Spirit and should thus have knowledge of the wonders of God. So why are there so may different ideas and thoughts about what God and his messages to us? I mean, at the end of this section in verse 16, Paul says straight up that we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ. What things? From verse 15, the Lord’s thoughts.

And so we get to the rest of my Image result for brain thoughts“interesting thought”. It was “we can understand the Lord’s thoughts“. Just think about that a second, “we can understand the Lord’s thoughts“. Don’t just pass it by, really think about what it means: “we can understand the Lord’s thoughts“.

The same Lord who created the world and everything in it, who created a master plan and then sent his son to bring it to completeness. “We can understand” his thoughts. So why don’t we? Why is God such a mystery? Paul covers that too, in verse 14, …people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it. So how do we do that?

I think the answer is both simple and hard at the same time. This goes along with a lot of messages that have been put in my life in the last couple of months. If all we see is here on the earth (the physical) and we aren’t looking at life through the lens of heaven (the spiritual) we simply will not be able to understand God’s thoughts. Tammy calls it the dual mind, being aware of the physical moment and the spiritual picture at the same time. I don’t have a name for it myself so I will use hers.  I like the concept.

But I think there is one more concept at work here. We may each know God’s thoughts but the way they are expressed by us in the world can be different. How do I come to that conclusion? Same text, verse 15, those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. My understanding of God’s thoughts as explained to me by the Spirit cannot be evaluated by others. That tells me that I, as unique persons, can understand and express God’s thoughts as an individual. This doesn’t take away from my desire for unity with all others in Christ but it does say that that unity does not come at the price of unthinking sameness. If my understanding of God’s thoughts is acted on with honesty then I can and should be able to deal with anyone else who is also acting on God’s thoughts as the Spirit gives them their own understanding.

So to circle back, why is God such a mystery to us? I would have to say that to me it is because even though I can understand his thoughts, I can’t grasp how that understanding can be different in so many ways and so many people.

The good news is that I don’t have to grasp it. I don’t have to put God in my box of understanding and take away the mystery. It is enough if I can understand even some of his thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Agent of Change…

I am continually being changed by re-reading Bible scriptures that I have read before. It seems that no matter how thoroughly I understand something there is always one more insight, one more thought, one more bit of wisdom that I get. Sometimes it jumps out at me, sometimes it sneaks up on me, sometimes I find it on my own and sometimes (many times) I get it through discussions with others.

The season of insight that I am receiving now is what I would call the “bigger” picture. In the past I would try to dissect a verse and extract meaning from it. This approach did lead to insights and deeper understanding but I was still missing something. In the last two years I have been led to pull back my vision from a super detailed look at scripture to a more broad view of the teachings and how they fit together.

I will share one example, in Matthew 13 there are a lot of parables Image result for Looking through Magnifying Glasstaught about the Kingdom of Heaven. In the recent past I would have gone into great detail about each one and tried to suck the meaning (and maybe the life) out of them. But now I am seeing them as parts that can deliver a bigger message, just look at how they start:

In verse 24, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer…

In verse 31, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed…

In verse 33, the Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast…

In verse 44, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure…

In verse 45, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant…

In verse 47, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net…

So what is the bigger message?

This week we were defining the word “influence” and what it means to be influential. My definition was “something that causes a change in your behavior”. It could be a voluntary or involuntary change but there is still a change. When looking at these parables It appears to me that the Kingdom of Heaven is a change agent. There can be agents that are attractive that cause us to want to change (like treasure) or,  in most of these parables the agent is active, farming, growing, searching, gathering and working a change in us. The Kingdom is not passive! The Kingdom is aImage result for see the bigger picturen active living thing, not passive and waiting. In reality the Kingdom is constantly working to influence us, not the other way around. That is different than I had been taught before. I was taught that I should be the one searching out the Kingdom. In hind sight it is  clear in so many scriptures that God is actively working to bring us back to him. Not passively sitting in one place with a fishing pole waiting for us to bite on a lure that we happen across.

So why this change in me and my perceptions of scripture? I do view it as seasons of learning that come from the Kingdom influencing me. You see there is another verse in Matthew 13 that is speaking to me right now. It is verse 52. Jesus says “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”.  I was a teacher of religious law. There aren’t any ways to sugar coat that. I have said things in the name of religion that I am now ashamed of. This verse is my hope verse. What I learned before in the dissection of the word is still truth but now I have new truth (insight through love and grace) to bring out of my storeroom. I can accept what I was because God accepted me where I was and still accepts me where I am.

I fully expect to be in another season of learning in the future. I have no idea what that season will be called. I only know that I have the word of Christ that in my storeroom I will have new gems of truth as well as old. And that, my friends, is good enough for me.