“Nothing Personal” Can Be Very Personal

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

One thing that struck me about my father’s response to having his adultery found out was that he didn’t mean anything personal by it. I suspect he would say that he never meant to hurt anyone. He didn’t want anyone to be negatively affected by what he was doing. It may be true that he had no intention to cause anyone harm.

One of the last texts he sent me, perhaps the last one, went something like this: “I am very sorry that I have hurt you and your mother and your siblings by what I have done.” The crazy part of the text is that at the time he sent it he was on his way to go spend time with another woman and her family. At the very moment he was apologizing for hurting me, he was also abandoning me. He regretted the pain his actions caused, but he did not regret the actions he took.

Even though I didn’t know at the time he was running away, I still saw the text for what it was and called him out on this half apology, but I think what he did say was true. I think he was careful to phrase it so that it was true. He really didn’t want anyone to be hurt by what he did. He didn’t like hurting people. He just wanted to think lustfully about other women who were not his wife and have sex with them. He just wanted to be free from the pressures of being in a committed family.

I suspect it is true that he didn’t want to hurt anyone because my experience of him has never been that he has ill will toward others or a masochistic desire to hurt them. However, he has often leaned toward selfishness. He has frequently existed in a self-centered world where he cannot see past his own desires. His adultery was him choosing to enclose himself completely in a world where only he exists. The only reality that exists to him, the only reality that matters to him, is how he feels and what he wants. He did not care that his actions would hurt others. He apologized simply because he didn’t like feeling bad that he hurt others.

He didn’t have a personal vendetta against me, but that doesn’t make his actions impersonal. He hurt me just as bad as he would have if he would tried to. He never meant to hurt me, but he didn’t care enough not to. An odd part of me almost wishes he was angry with me. I wish he had something against me. I wish he was trying to hurt me with his actions, at least then I would be important enough to him that he had some sort of negative feelings toward me. I would have mattered in some way, even a negative one.

One of the most frustrating things about seeing him existing in this self-centered world where he doesn’t see or care about others is that I sometimes am self-focused in the same way he is. I can live as no one else exists. I can curl up in my little cocoon where I am the only person I can see and my desires and feelings and wants are the only things that matter to me. I can sometimes do things that hurt others that I never intend to hurt others. I was just being selfish and didn’t care enough to think about the effect that my actions have on other people

Sometimes, you probably are too. There are many reasons we might live selfishly. Sometimes we are hurting so bad we can’t see past our own pain. Sometimes we want things so bad we go after them regardless of consequences. Sometimes we don’t believe that we matter enough to actually be able to hurt other people. We think we are so unimportant that no one really cares what we do, and if we are inconsequential to them, then our actions can’t hurt them.

The way out is to live in light of the truth. The truth is we all matter. The truth is we have all been given choices that have great power to impact those around us. The truth is that a self-centered world is a very small and dark world. The truth is that we won’t get over our hurt without focusing on others and building relationship with them. The truth is that the selfish things we want that will hurt others are empty and destructive to both others and to ourselves. Those things will never give us what we want, because what we really want, what will really bring fulfillment to our heart is intimacy with God and others. A selfish life only brings more emptiness and loneliness.

Sin and Separation

October 17, 2014 2 comments

As I continue on in my emotional processing, some more details are relevant.

After I confronted my father about some stuff I found out about him, he talked around it and downplayed everything. I kept trying to bring him back to what was actually going on, and he kept sidestepping. He said a lot of things that were designed to avoid the issue. He was even saying things about wanting to help single mothers because they are kind of like orphans and widows in distress. He was committing adultery and trying to put a positive spin on it. He looked like a deer in the headlights that didn’t know which way to run, so he ran in circles.

I was looking for some emotion of sorrow. I was looking for regret. I was looking for a contrite heart. I continued to try to bring him back to his sin so he would see it for what it was. He didn’t. He just ran in circles.

A deer in the headlights is understandably frightened because it is probably going to be hit by a car. He was a deer in the headlights, but my car wasn’t moving. I had already hit the brakes. He did not need to fear the headlights or the car behind them. The headlights were an invitation for him to come to me, exposed by the light, and hop into the car with me.

He didn’t. He wouldn’t come toward me. After running in circles, he ran off into the woods.

A couple of days after I confronted him, he sent me a few texts. I sent him a few texts back. He never responded. I found out that he had ran off hundreds of miles away. I sent him more texts over the coming weeks. I called a few times too. I even drove and spent a day and a half looking for him and waiting for him. I never saw him. He never responded. I think that was a couple of months ago. I still haven’t heard anything.

Sin separates us from God. It also separates us from others. There are lot of reasons this might happen. Sometimes when you sin against someone they don’t want to be around you. Sometimes when you sin against someone you don’t want to be around them because you feel guilty about how you wronged them. Sometimes people feel ashamed and guilty about their sin, so they want to distance themselves from everyone because they feel ashamed being around people who might expose their shame.

There is another way sin distances us from God and others. When we sin, we are acting in a way we were never designed to be. We are acting in a way that is contrary to who we actually are. When we are acting in a way that is incongruent with who God made us to be, we are not really being ourselves. When we are not really ourselves, people can only connect with the false self we put forth.

Sin creates an internal divide between who we really are and how are we are behaving. The internal divide sin creates disconnects us from ourselves. When we are disconnected from ourselves we can’t connect to others. When we can’t connect to others, we are apart from them, even when we are in the same room. A life of sin, a life devoted to sin, leads to a life of distance from other people, full of false representations and fake conversations. Sin separates us from God, ourselves, and others.

This separation does not have to be permanent. Repentance, changing our ways and what we are devoted to, changes our circumstances. Turning from our sin and toward Jesus immediately reunites us with God, which progressively unites us with ourselves, which enables us to be united with others by connecting to them with our true selves. If you want real relationship, if you want real intimacy, run away from the sin which causes you to run away, and fall into the embrace of a gracious God.

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Halting My Creativity

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Hey ya’ll. I haven’t been blogging much because at any time I am working on 2-3 different projects that involve writing. These projects are more important to me, so usually, when I consider blogging I think I should spend that time working on the other theological stuff I have to work on.

However, creating has not been easy lately. I often sit down to write and am distracted, sometimes overcome, by thoughts and emotions that aren’t directly related to, say, writing a Bible study or a sermon. My heart and mind are frequently distracted by a wounded soul full of pain, frustration, anger, regret, and confusion. It is tough to think creatively with these internal distractions.

My hope is that I will be able to use my blog to help release some of these thoughts and feelings as they come, that I might be released to work on some of the projects my heart is passionate about. I may be able to process things in such a way as to say something insightful. We will see. Enjoy.

I do not feel these negative emotions because I am a melancholic person (although, that’s usually not an unfair description). I actually feel these things because of the very specific actions of another person. Here’s some of what happened (I think I will share more later):

A couple of months ago, I found out that my father was going on Craigslist and trying to have affairs on his wife, and my mother, of 30 years. That’s the gist of beginning. At some point, I’m unclear as to whether this point is before or after I found out about his crap and confronted him about it, and it doesn’t matter, he did successfully cheat on his wife.

Now, I’m not sure how much information is appropriate to share. Here is what is actually going on in my head, “I’m not sure how much he would want me to share.” Of course, I can share whatever I want to. If he did not want people knowing he is an adulterer who abandons his family, then he probably shouldn’t commit adultery or abandon his family. It’s a funny thing we do as people sometimes, I’m assuming I’m not alone in this. Sometimes we try to protect the perpetrator.

I’m not sure why, but it may be because we are all perpetrators in some way and we would want others to protect us. I suppose in this context, protecting is really about hiding someone’s sin from others. If we put someone else’s sin out there, then perhaps another will put ours out there. I suppose that is scary. Fearing the exposure of our evil may keep us from exposing the evil of others.

Perhaps some foolish boasting will help. I have wronged everyone I’ve ever met. At one point or another, I have hid my sin from everyone I’ve met. I have hurt thousands of people in my life. I will hurt more. I have been blessed with a beautiful understanding of God’s word, but I certainly haven’t let that understanding stop me from crucifying Jesus. I have been given every advantage but been spiritually destitute all the same. I am the worst person I have ever met, and I have met some very evil people.

But still, I am loved. More than that, I am forgiven for all my wrongs. Still more, I have been cleansed of the innumerable sins I have committed. And even more, by grace I have been given the power to live set free from the chains of the sin of my past. Through Jesus, I am doing just that, and being set more and more free everyday.

I am both the worst sinner I know and loved with an efficacious love. I believe that if we all can hold onto both of these truths we will be more likely to call out evil in the world. If we know we are evil, then we do not need to be afraid of someone calling out the evil in us because they will not be shocking us with their tales. If we know we are loved, we do not need to be afraid of someone calling out the evil in us because we know we are accepted despite our evil.

Call out evil in the world. Perhaps people will be less inclined to go through with destructive behavior if they know those close to them will call them on it. Perhaps not. At the least, to call out evil is to speak truth about something people are probably lying to themselves about. To call out evil is to be a light in dark places. There is no need to be afraid of letting that light shine on you too.

Jeremiah 28: God will reveal what’s true

May 13, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been a while. Instead of blogging I’ve been working on other writing projects, or at least opening up the documents and staring at them blankly. I need my brain to do something else for a while I hope. Blog posts are kind of nice because they are self-contained units of thought and I don’t have to be concerned about what I want to write a hundred pages from now. Alright. Ramble over.

Jeremiah 28.2-4
Hananiah speaking -
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house… I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Jeremiah 28.6-9

and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

So, as I’m sure you’ll remember from 10 months ago, in the last chapter Jeremiah put a wooden yoke around his neck to represent the Babylonian takeover and exile of the Israelites. A yoke is used on people and cattle so that they labor more efficiently, specifically for the purpose of carrying a heavy weight. The implication of the yoke is that Israel will be subjected to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon and he will be their ruler, making them to bear his burdens and labor to his benefit. Hananiah says that God declares that this yoke will be broken in a couple years while Jeremiah has been saying that if things stay the same, Israel will be subjected to the yoke of Babylon for 70 years.

Hananiah is working against Jeremiah with his prophecies. Hananiah is countering Jeremiah’s message of the coming wrath of God through Babylon by telling the people of Israel not to be overly concerned because it won’t last long. Throughout Jeremiah’s prophetic career, he has been warning of the coming takeover and exile by foreign powers because of the sin of Israel and has been met with opposition from others who claim that everything will be fine. Hananiah is just another example among many in the book of Jeremiah of a respected person in Israel who will tell Israel what they want to hear rather than what is true.

Jeremiah knows that Israel needs to hear the truth and believe that the sin of Judah has removed God’s hand of protection from them, and as a result Babylon’s intentions of taking over Israel will be successful. At first, it was important for the people in Jerusalem to believe this so they could turn from their sinful ways so that God would turn back toward His people and save them from the encroaching armies. Then, after the point of no return, it was important for Israel to believe the message of Jeremiah so they could prepare for their exile, understand how they were to live during the period of their exile, and have hope for a return to their land. Obviously being exiled is not desirable and therefore difficult to convince people of, especially when there are others who are trying to convince people that everything is fine.

It must be incredibly frustrating for Jeremiah when Hananiah comes in and contradicts his message. Given the frustrating circumstance, Jeremiah’s response is surprising. He doesn’t argue with Hananiah. He doesn’t yell at him or debate the point. Jeremiah doesn’t even reaffirm his own prophesies. Quite the opposite. He basically says, “I hope you’re right. I hope God does what you say He is going to do. God will make it clear whether your words are true or false soon enough.” Jeremiah doesn’t need to prove that Hananiah is a false prophet.

God does that for him. Later on in the chapter, God declares that since Hananiah declared the people of Judah will be back in two years, not only will that not come to pass, but Hananiah will be dead before the end of one year. Hananiah won’t even be around to see whether he was right. Then Hananiah died.

Jeremiah didn’t have to prove to everyone he heard from God. Jeremiah was not required to act out against those who were undermining his ministry. Jeremiah wasn’t required to counter every argument those who disagreed with him put forth. Jeremiah was given God’s words and asked to speak them. It was God’s job to reveal the truth of His word. And God did, ironically using a false prophet who was spreading lies to substantiate the truthfulness of the prophet Jeremiah.

How the Promise Plays Out in Scripture

August 21, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been working on self-guided lessons for my church designed to walk people through some of the seminal moments in Scripture to help others acquire a stronger understanding of the big story of the Bible. I started the process of writing some lessons on the promise of God to Abraham and His descendants, then realized I didn’t really have much of a grasp on how that played itself out from Genesis 12 through Malachi.

God’s promise to Abraham, which is the promise God is still fulfilling through us, is as follows:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and youth father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who curse you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

With this promise in mind, I skimmed through the Bible from Genesis 12-Malachi, looking for reiterations of this promise, examples of this theme, and how this promise plays out in Scripture. I skipped Job because it predates the promise. I skipped Psalms because I suspected it had more variations on God revealing Himself to nations and Israel being a blessing than I wanted  to write down. One assumption I brought to the text is that revealing God to other nations is in itself a blessing to those nations. I’m sure I missed many examples of the playing out of the promise in Scripture, but here are some things I saw along the way.

Outsiders to Israel recognize YHWH and his power because of His blessing of Israel. Abimelech recognizes God’s blessing of Abraham and his son Isaac, becoming afraid of both, asking for treaties and asking them to leave the area because God’s blessing has made them a potential threat. Jethro sees Israel has been freed from Egypt and declares YHWH is greater than all gods and sacrifices to Him. Deuteronomy mentions that Israel is blessed beyond all nations and that other nations will see this blessing by God. The Queen of Sheba sees the kingdom of Israel God blessed Solomon with and blesses YHWH the Lord of Israel.

Sometimes God’s people put on display God’s power over creation in a way that outsiders see God. The Egyptian magicians, when they see what God does through Moses say that it must be the finger of God. Elijah blesses a widow with food that doesn’t run out and the saving of her son and the widow discovers YHWH is God. Naaman the Syrian is healed of leprosy and states that YHWH is God.

One way other nations recognize the power of Israel’s God is through YHWH’s destruction of Israel for their disobedience. I only found one reference to this in Jeremiah 22.8-9. I suspect there are more I didn’t see in my skim-through, but one is enough.

After Israel’s destruction, Isaiah makes the point multiple times that other nations will recognize YHWH as Lord when He restores Israel. They will see God’s holiness by bringing back the kingdom of His people. Both the destruction and the restoration are a part of God’s covenant keeping. His covenant faithfulness put on display will be His vindication to the outsiders of Israel. Moses’ makes two appeals to God to keep His promise to Israel in order that other nations might see God’s covenant keeping.

In Exodus 19 Israel is consecrated as a kingdom of priests. I don’t recall seeing this language used to describe Israel after this point. Thinking through it, a priest is a person who does the work of God to bring others to God. Israel had separate priests to bring them to God. Presumably, for Israel to function as a kingdom of priests they would be bringing people to God who were not priests – other nations. The way Israel was to do this includes, at least: worshipping YHWH alone, following their law which was distinct from other laws and so reflecting YHWH, inviting foreigners to participate in their worship of their God, proclaiming God’s freedom, and by putting God’s blessing on display.

There are a lot of stories in Scripture about Israel and people of Israel blessing other nations and people from other nations. I already mentioned a few of these above. Joseph blesses Potiphar of Egypt and the Pharoah with a dream interpretation. Joseph then goes on to bless many nations surrounding Egypt by storing up food and keeping them from starvation during a time of famine. Daniel interprets a dream to Nebuchadnezzar, saves the wise men in doing so, and the result is Nebuchadnezzar’s blessing of YHWH.

One part of the original promise is that those who bless Israel will themselves be blessed. We see this in the story of the widow and Elijah, the widow blesses Elijah with a meal and the widow is blessed with food and the life of her son. Ruth blesses her mother in  law with her presence and so is blessed with husband, child, and becoming a full member of the people of God. Rahab blesses Israel by keeping its spies secret and is blessed with being saved from death and integration into Israelite nation. Ebed-Malech the Ethiopian saves the prophet Jeremiah and is himself saved from the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

The ESV phrasing of the promise is interesting, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” I don’t know Hebrew, so I don’t know whether it should be translated “in” or “through” or something else. Regardless, one way the descendants of Abraham bless the families of the earth is by integrating them into their community. Stories of people who became a part of Israel pop up all over the Old Testament (Ruth, Uriah, Moses’ wife). Many of the commands to read the Law together and share in the Passover supper include a clause about foreigners in Israel participating in the reading of the Law and the meal. In doing so, these foreigners are integrated into the community and become a part of the nation God is blessing. People from all families of the earth become an Israelite and so are blessed by being “in” Israel.

The prophets contain one of the strongest discussions of how all the families of the earth will be blessed through Israel. This is the message of the future kingdom of Israel. These men speak about how: all flesh will know God, all nations will see salvation, ends of earth will bow before God, the proclamation of God’s freedom to the ends of the earth, all flesh will know God as savior, righteousness and praise sprouting among nations, etc. Truly the greatest way Israel could bless other nations is by bringing them salvation into a worshipful relationship with the one true God. As we know, this blessing to all nations is fulfilled in and is being fulfilled in Jesus.

If you’re interested in glancing at my list, that can be found here.

Jeremiah 27: Seeking Those Who Lie

July 12, 2013 Leave a comment

“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”

Even as Israel insists upon its own rebellion and the armies of Babylon loom outside the gates, YHWH gives Israel a way out. YHWH pleads with Israel to take the way out. There’s no need to die. There’s no need to suffer the destruction of the city and the the destruction of people. Bend to Babylon and live. Certainly this isn’t a pleasant way out. Submitting to a foreign ruler isn’t a great way to live, but it is the way to live. Israel refuses to accept it.

They don’t have to accept, because everyone else they look to, prophets, diviners, dreamers, fortune-tellers, and sorcerers, tells them its not true. They seek for another opinion from a different presumed authority on the matter, and they find people willing to tell them what they want to hear. The truth of impending destruction is too distasteful, so they look for others to tell them lies which are more palatable. Their refusal to trust YHWH’s difficult truth is their undoing.

Telling people unpleasant truth is neither a fun business nor a profitable one. It’s not fun hearing it either. Telling people lies they want to hear is a much more enjoyable experience and lots of people, even in churches, are willing to pay to hear it. People want to hear lies when the truth is irksome and will look for others to confirm their sweet deception.

The problem is lies don’t do any good. Living in a pleasant false reality is fine for a moment but will bring destruction in the end. Surround yourself with those who speak the truth, even, maybe especially, the truths that are tough to swallow. Those who telling you only what you want to hear are leading you into darkness and destruction. Those who speak truth will guide you into light and life.

Oooh Jeremiah: YHWH is the Jesus I Know

June 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Then the priests and prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore, mend your ways and deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you. But as for me, behold, I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

- Jeremiah 26:11-15

We’ve been through this again and again, and we will continue to, because it is beautiful. The people of Israel, as a whole, are doing some very destructive things. They are worshipping wood and stone. They are treating the poor with contempt. They are falsely accusing the innocent and letting the guilty go unpunished. They are in a constant state of hypocrisy by trying to follow the conflicting  rules and rituals of multitudinous religions. They engage in killing each other, and sometimes sacrifice their own children to idols.

YHWH still won’t give up on them. God still longs to bless them. When Jeremiah is facing potential capital punishment for speaking against these heinous behaviors, God doesn’t use this time to speak a final curse upon Israel. God uses Jeremiah to speak of repentance. YHWH speaks words of forgiveness for the past if His people would stop destroying their relationship with God and others. YHWH speaks of protecting Israel from the violent destruction they are on the cusp of.

The reason God’s patience is so striking is because YHWH has no need for Israel. God was never in need of humanity at all, and He certainly didn’t need one small tribe in the middle east. YHWH certainly could have found another group of people to accomplish His purposes in the world. He had no debt to Israel. He owed them nothing and He needed nothing from them, but He wanted to relent, He wanted to bless them, because YHWH loved them so much. So so much.

I too infrequently discover Jesus in the God of the Old Testament. But in passages like these, I see Messiah Jesus. I see a YHWH whose arms are constantly outstretched toward humanity even when their backs are turned. I see a God who refuses to stop caring no matter how much He is ignored. YHWH humbles Himself to humiliation in His pleas for relationship. YHWH will do all He can to draw His children into a restored relationship with Himself and with each other. YHWH is the Jesus I know.

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