Saturday, November 06, 2010

Bring the Pain!

“The very greatest things – great thoughts, discoveries, inventions – have usually been nurtured in hardship, often pondered over in sorrow, and at length with difficulty.”
Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)

Ezekiel 1:1-
1 In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
2 On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin— 3 the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was on him.
4 I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, 5 and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was human, 6 but each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. All four of them had faces and wings, 9 and the wings of one touched the wings of another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.
10 Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. They each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body. 12 Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13 The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. 14 The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.
15 As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. 16 This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. 17 As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not change direction as the creatures went. 18 Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20 Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.
22 Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked something like a vault, sparkling like crystal, and awesome. 23 Under the vault their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. 24 When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty,[b] like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
25 Then there came a voice from above the vault over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. 26 Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. 27 I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
I know…I know…you are thinking to yourself, “This kids, is why you should not do drugs.” This is how Ezekiel 1 begins. So if you are like me and think, A) How did this book survive over the past 2500 years and B) It is 2010 and what is there in this book for me as a “sophisticated modern”?
Before I get started on what I want to write about, I would like to point out to you the creature Ezekiel is describing a Cherubim, or what is known as an Angel. When we picture angels, do you picture them like 4 winged creatures with 4 faces of different animals or do you imagine a pretty woman with 2 wings and a halo? I just want to say that the image you hold of an angel is nowhere in the Bible. Your Christmas card is wrong as is all those paintings from renowned artists of the Renaissance. If you crack open your Bible a little more, you too might wonder where all these false images are created. Cherubs aren’t cute, fat little naked babies with tiny wings. Cool? Ok…I am done, just a small pet peeve of mine.
We read of a man named Ezekiel whose father is Buzi by a river somewhere who has this “sci-fi vision in 3D” and his response is he falls face down. Then there are all these fantastic over the top elements. There is a wind, a really ferocious wind, and there is lightning. It is bright and powerful. It involves the elements. It involves nature. Then there are these creatures. These creatures have 4 faces. One of them is a human face and it also has a face of an eagle. And one like an ox and one of a lion. You can try to track this in your mind with all sorts of images but it becomes really hard to see. Then my personal favorite verse in all the Bible is verse 18- “Their rims were high and awesome.” If you are like me, I know exactly what you thought of.

We know what rims are. This is how the book of Ezekiel opens. I don’t know if that is exactly what Ezekiel had in mind but for us we may see it that way. So in the middle of all this is a throne that is amazing with an unimaginably rare stone on it whose appearance flashes blinding light. All of this causes Ezekiel to fall face down and worship God. How does that work? Why did he?
As we have learned before…there is generally a story behind a story. This is why the Bible too often gets confusing to readers, or misinterpreted. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Is there some other thing going on?”
First off, in order to get at that we discover in verse 3, the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel The priest. A priest in the Hebrew Scriptures worked in the Temple which was in Jerusalem. There are many artist renderings of what the Temple would have looked like. Just Google it and you can see for yourself. First, understand that in the Jewish consciousness, spirituality was oriented around geography. For you and I as Christians, the question of where is God would have been answered very differently than a priest in Ezekiel. The Jewish consciousness in this time was that God had a geographical place where God was essentially more present. God resided in a particular place, namely the Temple. Their sense of spirituality had a sense of geography. Where is God, oh…He is in the Temple there in Jerusalem. When Ezekiel is identified as a priest, Ezekiel’s job is to run and organize and facilitate the work of the Temple which was to create a place where people could come from all over the world and make sacrifices to make peace with and be connected to God. The priest had a code, a law, and a set of rules that they were to follow.
Like the book of Leviticus that describes the regulations and commands for the burnt offering. Leviticus 1:14 14 “‘If the offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, you are to offer a dove or a young pigeon. 15 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. 16 He is to remove the crop and the feathers and throw them down east of the altar where the ashes are. 17 He shall tear it open by the wings, not dividing it completely, and then the priest shall burn it on the wood that is burning on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.

This is just one, but there are tons of them in there just like this. Read them for yourself one day. So when you hear Ezekiel is a priest, you should immediately understand the regulations that he follows are strict and precise. This is how he is commanded to run the Temple. Now if you went to the Temple one year and came back the next and wondered if it was ran the same way…you would not hear the priest say, “Well, we just thought we would spice it up a bit. We added a horn section to the band.” No! What does the priest do? The regulations. Year after year after year. To be a priest is to be about order, repetition, and symmetry. A priest is the ultimate company man. The priest has some TPS reports to fill out. The priest will do the paperwork on that one. As we get into the psychology of Ezekiel and we learn that he is a priest, we learn that a priest is somebody that did the same thing, year after year, creating a place where people could come to worship God. The world was chaotic. The world can be very dark. The world can be disorienting, and profoundly unsafe, but if you come to the Temple, there is order, stability, consistency, and this is what God is like.
In another part of Ezekiel we learn that Buzi, his father, was a priest as well. So this man is second generation Temple man. This man is a company man.
Then in Ezekiel 8:1 you read 1 In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, why do the elders sit before him? That is because he is respected and has earned a reputation. It points out that this is a man who functions well within a set system that has been established for the worship for God and even others that have the same role come to him for advice. But then, what happens to Jerusalem? A foreign empire conquers Jerusalem. Notice what happens in 2 Chronicles verse 17 17 He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians,who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. 18 He carried to Babylon (700 miles across a desert) all the articles from the Temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’s Temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. 19 They set fire to God’s Temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
When the book opens Ezekiel is by the river Kebar, the river Kebar is in Babylon. There is no Temple left. And he, along with those who survived have been enslaved and been hauled 700 miles across a desert to a foreign land. That is why the story begins by a river. Oh! And we also discover in Ezekiel Chapter 24 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. So not only has he lost his job, possessions, freedom, he also loses his wife.
When the book of Ezekiel opens, it jumps around a bit in time. This is a man who has lost everything. He is extracted from the world that he knows and is considered an authority. He has established this presence where people can come to him for wisdom, but that seems to be lost now. He has lost his family, and his Temple, his vocation, his homeland and he is now enslaved so he has also lost his freedom. This man has lost everything. It is not that he is distracted from everything that is familiar around him, it is because he is in Babylon.
The main god that is in Babylon is a goddess known as Ishtar. There was a massive Ishtar gate that when you were hauled into the city as someone who was conquered, you would be brought in through the Ishtar gate as a sort of way to say you are no longer home. You are in our house now. You are in Ishtar’s house now.
In the early 1900’s they dug up a portion of the Ishtar gates. These foreign slaves would have been dragged through it. This is a picture of the gates, it is now located in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

They would have brought them through these gates and said symbolically, “You are not in Kansas anymore. You are in Babylon. You are in the goddess Ishtar’s house.” This man Ezekiel, the company man, knows one God, his God. The God of his people in Israel. His temple has been destroyed. Where is his God now that the place his God resides no longer exists? It is not just that though, he is now in another god’s place.
A little background on Ishtar real quick. She was the divine personification of Venus, the goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. This is a quote from the Epic of Gilgamesh (which is one of the great classics) “If you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven [then] I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts”. This is like the heavy metal goddess. She is ready to rip it up. This is not a kind loving god. This is Ishtar, and this is where he finds himself. And it is here by the river where this broken man receives this unbelievably fantastic, pulsating, vibrant, creative, imaginative, sci-fi, over the top vision in which he realizes God is present. It is here where he falls face down and worships not in the Temple in Jerusalem, but 700 miles away in Babylon. Do you now see why this book has survived? It is one of the first realizations that God is no longer locked inside this Temple but is amongst us everywhere.
Now, here are a couple of insights. Sometimes, God goes around the mind and goes directly to the heart and imagination. Some pain is too hard for our minds to comprehend and so God sometimes has to go around our mind and speak directly to our hearts. What you find in this vision is Ezekiel experiences something that blows his mind but it speaks to his heart. One scholar, John Taylor, says it this way, “This is how God revealed himself to Ezekiel, not by propositions regarding his character, but in personal encounter.” He says God does not show up by the river and say is a soft sweet voice, “Do you not recall that I am A) omniscient, B) omnipotent, C) good, D) nice?” God shows up in power and explosive creativity that says, “I am here!” Sometimes God has to go directly to your heart.
There is this great moment where Jesus is interacting with his disciples and they ask Him, “Why do you speak in parables?” Ya, why does Jesus speak in parables? Because a parable has a way of going around your mind and sneaking in and grabbing hold of your heart. All of a sudden you don’t really understand what is happening but you somehow identify with others at that moment. You are at that very moment seized with this idea that I am the Pharisee with all that judgment. You see yourself as others see you because the parable allows you to relate and see things in a different perspective. Do you know what I am saying? You don’t have a cognitive thought, but at some deeper level you can relate to a character flaw you see in yourself that is told in the parable. How about some song that you hear that captures you in your heart?
Think about the things that we say when we suffer. Think about the things we say to our friends. “But it doesn’t make sense. Someone please explain to me. I just don’t understand.” How many of you heard this? IN THE FACE OF GREAT SUFFERING YOU OFTEN HEAR PEOPLE SAY, “I JUST NEED TO UNDERSTAND. I NEED MY MIND TO GET THIS” But this pain is too great. Our mind is never going to get it. God does this because He understands how we are wired, and understands that for many of us, our mind is our God. With God realizing this He knows that if He just tried to reason with you, it won’t work. He then goes around your mind and gets into your heart. He uses the parable to get into your heart to give you peace, to give you calm, to give you hope, to give you a vision of the future, and go right into your heart and give it to you there. Because if He gave it to you in your mind, you are just going to try and figure it out and you are going to screw it up. Are you following what I am writing? Do you see why this genre of literature in Ezekiel we read and think this is crazy? This is absurd. What the hell is he smoking? That is unless, you really really suffered, and then you totally get it. What happens to us is when we get spoken to; in some profound way we find there is life there. We meet somebody who is going through something that is horrible and you hear them say, “I can’t even begin to explain why it happened but all I know is there is I was given this picture of a calm body of water, and it somehow is sustaining me.” Why is that? Because, sometimes, God has to go to our imagination or go to a picture, or go to a vision, because that is where we really live from.
For Ezekiel, what easily happens by the river when you are 700 miles from home after everything has fallen apart is you make decisions about how things are going to go. It is never going to get better. It is never going to improve. It is always going to be bad and I am going to be here for the rest of my life. It is over. There is no God. Jerusalem will never be rebuilt. The God of Israel is a hoax and it is in those moments we have figured everything out and we have decided how it is going to go. But God says, “Really? I don’t think so because I am here now.”
Secondly, I would say this about Ezekiel. What you see here in chapter 1 is that some things can only be learned in exile. Before this happened, Ezekiel was at the top his game in the Temple with the elders asking him for wisdom, doing his tasks with great skill and expertise. If you would have said to Ezekiel, “You know what? The God of Israel is just as present in the Temple as He is in Babylon.” Ezekiel would respond, “What? Oh that’s BS. Come on. God is in Jerusalem. Our God dwells with us here. That is how it works.” I would assume Ezekiel would argue with you to the end. But he ends up in exile and it is there by the river he discovers the truth. To me it is as if God says to Ishtar, “I am in your house now.” God shows up in Babylon. Would Ezekiel have ever understood that until it happened? Some things you can only learn when everything falls apart.
In John 4, there is this fascinating discussion between this woman that Jesus runs into and Jesus. Our ancestors, she says, worshipped on this mountain but you Jews claim that the place that we must worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus begins to talk about her personal life and her choices in regards to this whole series of men she has slept with. Then SHE changes the subject. That is because women were totally different back then. They don’t do this anymore right? Not really…but that’s another topic. Moving along… She essentially says we worship on this mountain and you Jews worship on that mountain. Meaning, we think God is on our mountain and you think God is on your mountain. This is a huge difference, and how are you going to reconcile that? Jesus responds, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” She is like; you say God is there, we say God is here so let’s argue about it. Jesus says there is going to come a time when you’ll worship God on neither mountain. Now here is why this is so important and profound and why I would argue this has incredible implications for 2010.
There is a tendency among religious people to localize their God. “Our God resides here.” Too often people territorialize God. Too often people tame their God and fit Him into their place. This God is my God. We are terribly advanced but there are also baffling ways in which we are terribly primitive. We localize our God. What happens in the exile is God shows up in Ishtar’s house in a blazing, radiant, luminous, explosive way. Ezekiel realizes, yes I have spent my whole life in the Temple, but God apparently is just as much by the river as He is in the Temple. This God cannot be localized. Wherever you go there this God is.
This is the fear. This is the haunting fear that the action of God is somewhere else. Take whatever it is that you do each day, that haunting fear that God is somewhere else…He is not in this cubicle, or in the back room of the warehouse where we put things in boxes to send them around the country. God is not here in this bathroom cleaning the toilets with me. God is not in this classroom. He is not in this task. He is not in this apartment complex. I have been doing this job for 17 years and I will tell you, trust me, the divine action is somewhere else. There is no divine presence in this factory. There is no divine presence in the hallways of this school. No, you have got to understand, this is a dark secular place. God is over there or on Sunday morning, or in that school, or in that building, or…if I was just over there in that hospital I would be able to be closer to Him. If I was just at another base, or in another job. Sometimes we localize God in places that we aren’t. That fear that haunts us that the action is somewhere else. If anybody ever believed that, it should have been Ezekiel who is ripped from the Temple that is then destroyed and He finds himself by the river where God shows up with rims that are high and awesome. This is blowing his entire consciousness into pieces. “Ezekiel, I can show up wherever I want, whenever I want.” Can you imagine for a good company man whose company has just been burnt to the ground, a man who has done the repetition and followed the regulations every day of his life, can you imagine how this would have affected him? I would say this, for Ezekiel, God is that which comes after the Temple, after Jerusalem, after the alter, and after religion. That is what happens in Ezekiel 1. Ezekiel meets the God hanging around after Ezekiel’s “religion” has been blown into a thousand pieces. GOD IS THAT WHICH CAN SURVIVE EVEN YOUR RELIGION BEING BURNED TO THE GROUND! He had his construct, his paradigm of spiritual and religious beliefs about his God and it gets blown into a million smithereens. Who does he meet on the other end of all that but the God whose radiance shines with such beauty that he falls face down.
How does chapter 1 end? It ends with a priest falling facedown by a river in Babylon. Wow! This is not just about Ezekiel. God is that which is after our words, God is that after our theology, after our doctrine, after your view of the Bible, after Christianity as you understand that. God can survive even that. Because what will happen, and I have seen this happen hundreds of times, is that somebody was born, raised or taught, or picked up along the way a particular conception of God, Jesus, Bible, Salvation etc. and they encounter experiences and relationships in which that no longer works the way it used to. And so what immediately happens is, well maybe there is no God, maybe there is no hope, maybe there is no truth, maybe there is no grounding or center of my being. Maybe this is all just a man made lie. No…no…no…whatever it is you are taking apart, whatever doesn’t work like it used to and you are poking holes in it and you are realizing that pieces of it don’t work any longer. Whatever that process is and you find yourself on the other side; the one’s whose rims are high and awesome will be waiting for you.
There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to be concerned about. There is nothing to tremble over. The divine is just that. It is left over after everything else has failed you. We take great passion with our words. We love theology and uphold doctrines. We obviously open the Bible all at the same time and must say the scripture together out loud. For what? Knowing that if all we thought were true burns to the ground what would that mean to you? Because that is what happened to Ezekiel. He still found God on the other side holding him in His embrace. Leading us in our hearts and speaking to us with wild imagination is what we need to hear.
One last thought. The invitation in exile, this God that Ezekiel encountered doesn’t need a religion, doesn’t need an alter, doesn’t need a theological system or a statement of beliefs to show up in order for Him to have His power, glory and beauty. Our invitation is to let the pain be our teacher. Ezekiel is in great pain. He is miles from home. His whole world view has been shattered. His wife died. He is 700 miles across the desert from anything familiar. He is in Ishtar’s house. And there, in extraordinary pain he meets a God that is free from geography. That God assured him you are going to be ok. The pain of his exile becomes his teacher. The pain opens him up to all new realities about God. Is there any pain or exile you are feeling? Has anything been turned upside down? Has anything been lost or burned to the ground? Often when this happens, our temptation is to figure out how to avoid it, get around it, ignore it, or how to just get through it. But the pain can be our teacher. What we see with Ezekiel is a man that goes from deep despair to worship. Meet God by the river, in the disorientation, dislocation in the foreign land, after what you had clung so tightly to is lost. When there is no hope for you, open your eyes because God meets you there.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Don't be a fad

"Aging is not 'lost youth' but a new stage of opportunity and strength."
Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

I would like to explore a way of understanding age and particularly time and the ways in which time is connected with and is disconnected from our growth.

This is a picture of Joshua Slocum.

Joshua Slocum was a merchant sailor that traveled extensively. With the invention of the steam powered boats, his craft of sailing eventually became extinct and he was soon out of business.

In 1892 Joshua Slocum was given a sailing ship the owner did not want. The boat was called The Spray.

Here is a picture of The spray.

This boat was in horrible shape. Joshua went out to the woods with an axe, chopped down some trees and out of the trees made new planks and rebuilt this ship.
In 1895, he got in the boat harbored in Boston, and sailed around the world, 46,000 miles. He figured out how to rig it so it would sail by itself while he slept. He was often attacked by pirates. One of those stories he wrote about is once, he saw the ship preparing to attack so he himself visible to them, then ran down below deck, changed clothes, ran back up and made himself visible again. Ran back down below, changed clothes, ran back up and repeated this several times. They thought there were multiple people on the boat and decided to not attack. This was the brilliance of Joshua Slocum. Before bed, he would pour nails all over the ship so if anybody tried to board while he was sleeping they would injure themselves. He at one point had a whole family of dolphins for hundreds if not thousands of miles trailing him. One day a shark came behind the boat and was going to eat one of the dolphins. So he took an iron skillet and tied it to a rope. He knew the shark would think it was something it could eat, so when the shark got close, he held the rope with his foot and pulled out a shotgun and killed the shark. This was Joshua Slocum. There are many stories about him. He wrote am amazing book about his journeys. On the week of my birthday, I think back to it and inspired me to write about aging. The book is called "Sailing alone around the world."

When he left Boston in The Spray that he built by hand from logs he chopped down himself, he was 51. When you think about your life, do you think, wow, when I am 51 that is when the adventure is going to start? When I am 51, I am going to be in the woods chopping down trees, sailing the world, and shooting sharks with shotguns, all alone? When you think about your life, when will you peak? When does your adventure begin?

This is Sue Oldum

When she was 61, she became the oldest person to swim the English Channel. 16 hours and 3 minutes. She did it again last month, Aug 2010, at 64. When you are in your 60's is that when you say I am going to put on a swim suit and swim to a different country?

This is the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Much of his work was trying to create the most seamless integration between which humans build and what nature creates. So for him, the highest form of architecture was one that seamlessly blends into its natural surroundings. One of the places that really inspired him was on the prairies of central Wisconsin. Then, after spending years on the the open flat spaces of the Midwest, he took a group of his students to the desert in Arizona. He bought hundreds of aces of land from the government East of Scottsdale at the foot of the McDowell Mountains. This area back then was very harsh and had extreme weather. Today it is now a utopia of sub-divisions, but at his time it was not that at all. He took tools and spent hours upon hours of digging into the rocks. Think about this, back then there weren't public water fountains there. So, he had to get water in the middle of the desert. They lived in tents, and built a compound called Taliesin West. It is beautiful. One of his students is quoted as saying, "For a number of years we spent all day just digging rock." When FLW did this, he was 70. When you are 70, are you going to go out in the desert with a shovel, without little electricity and dig for years to build a compound? It now has water and a pool, electricity, and a massive dinner theatre area. When you are in your 70's, is that when you will start new adventures?

This video is of John and Polly Lewis.

They are in their 80's! Almost 90's!!! Do you think to yourself that when I am 89, that is when I will be at the top of my parenting game?

This is Georgia O'Keeffe.

She died at 98. One of America's most wonderful painters. Her friends say that up until the the weeks before her death, she was still painting at 98. Still painting at the top of her game. Have your best years gone by?

Is life a sort of explosion of youth? You hit your peak of relevance, connectivity, importance, and then from there a tapering effect occurs as you get older and older and then you die? How does the arch go?
2 Cor 4:16, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."
It may look like crap on the outside, but on the inside God is not wasting a single day and is making new life. Not a day goes by without His unfolding grace.
The phrase lose heart in the Greek language is the work KaKa. You might have learned this word in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." KaKa is a negative word. Paul is saying to the church in Corinth that there is no KaKa here. There is no losing heart here. What God is doing is renewing us every single day. This word renewing is derived from the Greek Ana Kanu. Ana means again, Kanos or Kanu means new. This is used most of the time when speaking of a freshness. So together, Ana Kanu, is used to mean God is making us new and fresh again every day. And the next day, new again. And the next day, new again. That is why there is no KaKa here. God is making us new again.
Here is why it is significant to me. In the Greek, there are two words that literally mean new. The first is neos, or neo. That word is used when referring to something about time. For instance, when you are gone for a while and you return home and want some milk, and you question is it a new carton? That is the word used there. New, neos. By this you mean how old is it? This passage does not use that type of new. Kanu is the kind of new that has nothing to do with the relation of time. Somethings can be new in relation to time, and yet be very stale right away. It can be newly created and yet it is nothing new cause we have seen that hundreds of times before. The word kanu is something else, which is very old, and yet some surprising way new in regard to the redemptive unexpected life giving of God.

I am just feeling a strong pull to go away from the things we think are new because right now, I am in a place of life where an idea that is very old, feels so fresh and new. My new goal in life is to avoid becoming a fad, and attempt to bring new, and refreshing life to friends in an old fashion sort of way. I mean the small little details of time we desire to spend with each other. The cards, the letters, the phone calls, and the small concept of listening and caring what occurs in peoples lives. Why is that people are surprised that I remember what you told me last week? That is truly what our society needs right now. The popular cheerleader aint so popular as an adult. Do you understand what I am saying? Yet, we always knew this would happen. We have to understand that our time and how we spend it with others is what makes life amazing. Stop the Kaka and show your friends that you care. Bring new life in an old way.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Bring Me A Bowl

"If you can solve your problems, then what good is worrying about them? If you cannot solve your problems, then why worry about them?"


"Worry goes down better with soup than without."

-Jewish Proverb

Have you ever read a story in the Bible and thought, “I don’t get it.”? Short and to the point. I am going to cover one of those here by one of my favorite sections of the Bible. The first 4 chapters of 2 Kings.(My first being the first 4 chapters of Galatians)

2 Kings 2:19The men of the city (the city is Jericho if you didn’t know) said to Elisha, "Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive." 20 "Bring me a new bowl," he said, "and put salt in it." So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, "This is what the LORD says: 'I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.' " 22 And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
I don’t get it. Hey, our land is unproductive because our water is bad so bring a new bowl with some salt in it. Throw in the salt…there, God says everything is taken care of. And that is the story.Here is a picture of Jericho.

As you hopefully read in a previous blog, there is always a narrative behind the narrative. There is always a story behind the story and a history behind the history. Jericho had a very complicated strange history. All this that happened with the salt, land, spring, water, Elijah, and the people is riding on top of another story. What we are going to look at is a story rooted in what I would call a pre-modern consciousness. Today, we have cars, computers, and massive technology which forces us to see ourselves as hyper sophisticated moderns. What happens when you read the Bible due to this pre-modern consciousness is that you have to realize the way they did things and how they thought can seem very strange to our modern minds. They had not yet been to the moon. So, as we go through some the history of Jericho keep that in mind and remember it is a pre-modern consciousness, which was strange and weird. Don’t try to dissolve it or make it sanctified. Just let it be weird. That may help bring some insight into this. Cool?
The history. Jericho had first off been conquered by a man named Joshua.

Joshua 6:26
At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: "Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: "At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates."
So way back in the history of Jericho, it had been conquered and the conqueror had essentially said, “Anybody who tries to rebuild this city will be cursed.” Now to us moderns, cursed is like voodoo, witchcraft sorcery crap. And the curse was specifically if anyone tries to do this, their firstborn (which is important to carry on the family name, legacy and bloodline, basically a huge problem) won’t survive. Fast forward a bit in the cities history.
In 1 Kings 16, 34 In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in acordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun.So Jericho has a history, it is a history of a curse that if you try to rebuild this city, it will not go well for you.

The idea of a curse was something these people were familiar with, as strange as it sounds to us. Now look at Deuteronomy 28 and you see how many curses and blessings come from following and obeying versus not. Things go well if you follow God. Or you turn away and things will fall apart.

1 If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: 3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

And so on…skip to verse 15. 15 However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: 16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. 17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. 18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. 20 The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. 21 The LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22 The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24 The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed. 25 The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away.

And finally in verse 29 if you don’t obey you God you will be forced to watch reality TV for life.

What I find interesting is the blessings are 14 verses and the curses just go on and on and on. But then in chapter 30 1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes.

Now it is fascinating that we read the curses and think this is just craaazy sort of pre-modern superstitious horrible stuff will happen to you but, in the end, if you read that far, at any point you return to God you will be fine. When you return everything will be restored. You walk away and there will be all sorts of consequences but at any point you return, everything is fine. Hanging in this sort of consciousness at the time of Jericho with Elijah is this history they would have carried with them about Joshua, Ahab who tried to rebuild it, first born sons and youngest sons being stricken down, blessings and curses and all this crap swirling around this town of Jericho.

Example. How many of you have went to a new job and went into someone’s office space and wondered why is this person acting like this, or that person looking like that and not talking to them or…how about a friend’s family reunion and felt something strange in the air and someone says to you, “Well, let me give you a little bit of background.” Then you realize the history and are like, ahhhh…that is messed up. There is a history floating around the place. Jericho has that sort of history floating around. Elijah charges in. He is told the water is bad and the land is unproductive, which is language from the curses of Deuteronomy, “Bring me a new bowl.” He says.

Now let’s get into it. The word new is the Hebrew word Hadash. Hadash has all sorts of meanings. Sometimes it means to renew and can be found used for renewed heart, spirit, kingdom, life, youth. Sometimes it means to rebuild. You can find it used to rebuild a city, temple, or an alter. Sometimes it’s used to repair. It refers to new songs, new covenants, and new mercies. The word has all sorts of depth and meaning to it. Somebody bring me a new bowl and put salt in it. So they brought it to him.

Salt you find again and again in the scriptures as part of their ritual and sacrificial system. Salt had symbolic value. Notice the reference in Leviticus. Do not leave salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings. What was the covenant? The covenant was, no matter how bad it gets, no matter where you find yourself, no matter how complicated things get, no matter how hard your heart was, you can always return to God. No matter how much you have screwed it up. No matter how many destructive choices you have made. No matter how seriously you have lost your way. No matter how many other gods you have worshipped. No matter the regrets you have accumulated. You could always return and He will restore you. So you screwed up, the salt is symbolic of the restoration. You can always come home. You can always turn and say oops…and God will say, “Come on back, come on back.”

In Numbers it is an everlasting covenant of salt. People back then were just like us, textile-kinesthetic. We need physical things to remind of us of far larger realities. In the ancient world among these Hebrews, salt, had this symbolic power to remind you that no matter where you found yourself, this God says, that at any point you can turn and come home. Elijah steps into this very complicated system where the land is unproductive because of disease and he simply says bring me a new bowl and put some salt in it. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt in and he said, this is what the Lord says, I have healed this water. Never again will it make the land unproductive and never again has the water been impure to this day. This is a picture of the Spring

Elijah steps in and says give me a new bowl and put some salt in it. He takes the bowl and throws it in and basically says we aren’t going to bother with that anymore. Let’s get on with it. And that’s the story.How do we begin to unfold it? First, let me give you a couple of insights. For Elijah, history does not decide, it merely describes. For Elijah, the history of the city does not decide the present or the future of the city; it just describes what happened, not what will happen. Your history describes what you’ve done, where you have been, what you’ve been involved in, who you were with at the time. It describes your past, but it does not decide your present or your future.

How many people let their history a confusing blend of describing and deciding? All this has gone on, so obviously this is where it is going to take me. Really? Well, I challenge that. I say that is not for sure. Elijah steps up says, “What? Curses? Oh come on, come on…give me that bowl and give me some salt. Game on.” Did he sit down with the city and say, tell me what your sin is. What have you been dealing with and how did you wear your clothes and how could have you been so dumb…no…it’s like he is saying, “give me some salt, come on, new day.” One scholar even says what Elijah does is simply usher in a whole new era for these people. “You are still bringing that stuff up? Come on, new day. Game on. Bring me some salt, and a new bowl. Here we go. God says everything is cean and taken care of. Let’s get on with it.”

You could perhaps look at it this way. According to Elijah, curses are meant to be broken. “I know the Bible says, but ya ya ya, come on people, no more.” What does Elijah think of Joshua’s curse? “Ahhhh whatever, bring me some salt. God’s everlasting covenant says that kind of stuff? Ahhhh *shrugs shoulders* I don’t know” New things can happen that break the patterns and cycles of the old. Can you imagine somebody being there saying, “No no no! The Bible says!” Well, actually no, God says. Or my favorite way to look at it. According to Elijah, new word can always be spoken. There is always space for a new word. You have told me situation is this? Ahhh…I think a new word can be spoken about that. You are describing things like this? I think a new word can be spoken about it. You are telling me no future is inevitable here? I think a new word can be spoken about that.

Now, when we as moderns read a story with a pre-modern consciousness about curses and people suffering their first born, there is a part of us that says ok, seriously? And for many there is the feeling like, see, this is why the Bible is ridiculous and this is why I don’t follow church sorts of things and don’t believe it. It is because we live in a new reality were these sorts of things don’t really have anything to do with our world. Unless, you think of the phrases people use…”I just can’t get a break. This kind of thing always happens to me. Just my Luck! Like I expected anything else. Always the inevitable.” How modern are we? How many people with a great sense of sophistication, enlightenment, education and a modern consciousness actually speak terribly pre-modern superstitious curse sort of language without even realizing it? How far have we come? Think about the phrase “Just MY Luck!” What? You have luck? Or you have a particular version of luck? Did you keep the receipt? Take it back! Think of the ways people are seduced into the thinking that it is just inevitable. How is it inevitable? “Well, because of what happened.” How in your mind did what has happened determine what is going to happen? This type of stuff always happens to me. It does? Is it documented? Is it tangible? You have evidence of the future? You have taken bits and pieces and selectively picked the parts out you have experienced and created a narrative based on that, but we could have just as easily picked out different parts of your story and crafted a narrative.

To what degree under the myth of objectivity is a terribly random and subjective way in which we guide things? And what Elijah does is charges in the midst of all of it and says bring me a new, “Bowl, bring me some salt, it is a new day.” And he ushers in a new era.

Perhaps you can look at it this way. What we think and believe matters. And often times with spirituality, or with communities of faith, what we believe people immediately go to big issues of doctrine and then you get into discussions, and then you end up with different churches on each corner. When you say belief, for many people immediately veers dogma sort of crap about these people are right, there people are wrong, they have their eleven statements and these folks have their 4 and they have their own pool for baptism and blah blah blah. For many of us, your exact stance on supralapsarianism isn’t something you probably think about much…but you do have narratives and scripts and patterns of thinking that actually determine the choices we make, each and every day of our lives.

When we talk about belief, the truth is we live from a very deep seed of sub-conscious belief systems that actually determine the way we live and move every day. It is those patterns, cycles, and rhythms of thought that actually determine your actions. If you have deeply viewed somewhere in your psyche “this kind of thing always happens to me” that is going to deeply shape the way you interpret events. If you believe deep in your bones, just my luck, then when things come along that is going to color and shape the way that you read the events of your life. Things that reaffirm, “see I have bad luck”, are going to get elevated at the expense of things that don’t confirm that. How you believe deeply shapes the way you interpret the world and the way that you respond. If you have decided somehow that you are unlovable then when you interact with others and are given opportunities to give and be loved by others, it will deeply shape at the everyday level how you interact with people.

Jesus comes along and he simply makes a statement by saying repent. Do you know what the Greek word for repent is? It is metanoia. Meta means change like a metamorphosis, a change of form. Metanoia means to exercise the mind. To think. To comprehend. The word has lots of nuances, but the literal word for repent in the Greek simply means to think about things in a whole new way. Phew. To think about things in a whole new way. Jesus says, leave from that, and see it in a whole new way. The first Christians took this idea and understood that they needed to take their every thought captive. They would realize what they just said when they would announce “Just my luck!” Wait! Did I just say that? What do I mean by that? Has that been shaping the way that I live?

Here is what Jesus wants to do. Jesus wants to break in to your mind. He wants to take the superstitions, the curses, that crap and those stories, and those messages you were sent, and drag them out into the light and create a whole new era where you don’t live by those thoughts and patterns. It happens in this inner dialogue that happens with us. If you were abused or were told abusive sorts of messages and that stuff is in there and it plays a role, Jesus wants to enter into that and invite you to repent, to change your thinking, in a whole new way.

Elijah charges into Jericho. The people say the land in unproductive and the water has a disease. He simply says bring me a new bowl, with some salt in it. Let me remind you of what God is like. Some of you have bought into the notion of a violent God who is just waiting to hurt you with vengeance. Some of you have bought into the God who is the God of the curse that puts spells on places. Apparently the history of this place has decided how the future is going to go. I want to get you some salt to remind you that God has said for a long long time, return to me and I will renew it. So anyways, he takes the salt in the water and says it is a new day. Enough of that. We are starting over. The water has been cleansed. Away we go. Game on. What Elijah does is a powerful message that we can always start a new cycle and that our toxic beliefs are dangerous and it is time to repent of those beliefs.

One of the gifts we do to each other as humans is interrupting one another. Sometimes that is the best thing you can do to someone. On a regular basis I meet people and loaded in their language is unbelievably destructive verbiage that they have bought into. Sometimes we need to be interrupted in the middle of our thoughts with a fresh new word that simply says no, you don’t need to live with that. You don’t need to carry that around. Sprinkle some salt in that water.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't Start The Movie Late!

"Tardiness often robs us opportunity, and the dispatch of our forces."

Niccolo Machiavelli

Lets back this thing up to a big story overview kind of thing from a bird’s eye view. Not a 10,000 or 20,000 foot view but like an 85,000 foot view. The big picture. I hope you have a profound moment and go ahhhhhh and all sorts of lights come on. There are some things that I hear people say throughout the week, especially by believers that contradicts Christianity all together. Yet it is their deepest understanding of their faith and what is believed to be correct. I hope this makes all sorts of lights go off and opens your eyes to a larger broader sense of God.
This is my central premise. Where and how you begin the story and where and how you end the story shape and determine what the story even is. If you are reading this and consider yourself a Christian you usually say just tell me the story in 2 minutes. Just give me the short version in 1 minute. Quick. Just kinda give me the overview. The points. The highlights. You will so often here Christians say “Oh, you are just telling the Jesus story.” I think we all now have a sort of “Which Jesus story?” That is because in our present culture there are various Jesus stories floating around. I am going to take a bit of time, (well a pretty long time so go grab something to eat and drink because this one might take you awhile to get through) and ask, “Where does this story begin? How does the story end? And, what are the implications for how we understand what the story even is?”
Genesis chapter 1, verse 1 is very rhythmic. It has a cadence. A flow. Some even say it is a poem. I don’t believe this to be true. I see both sides of the question but I don’t speak nor read in Hebrew minus the words I look up as I go so I cannot form a legitimate opinion. It certainly has a meter and a sort of groove to it though. If you have never read it, it is in the Bible all the way to the left. It is easy to find, don’t worry.
In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. Verse 3 and God said. Verse 6 And God said. Verse 9 And God said. Verse 14 And God said. Verse 20 And God said. Of all the ways to speak about the creation, the writer uses this unique figure of speech. He wrote about God speaking because words create worlds. They create possibilities. You hear somebody say something to you and all of a sudden a whole new world opens up. Perhaps you were sent all sorts of destructive messages about who you are and how you’re unworthy, dirty, defile, and you were violated. Then somebody spoke a fresh new clean word of “Oh no, you are beautiful. You matter.” and those words created a whole new world. The whole thing is about God speaking.
Then in chapter 2 things change in form a bit. The writer uses this figure of 7 days of creation. Remember this 7 day thing…it is important! In chapter 2 it goes from this rhythmic creation of God speaking into a story. There are significant ways were the chapter 2 story of the event is similar to chapter 1 and there are ways from which they differ. 2 different approaches to some of the same events. Chapter 2:4 is the account of Heavens and the Earth and when they were created. Then it kind of retells this rhythmic passage about the garden. It is very vivid. The garden has these rare gems and it has a river and head waters. Then verse 18 God said “It is not good for man to be alone. Somebody has to show him what to wear.” Chapter 2 involves this relationship. Verse 25, then man and his wife were both nekked and they felt no shame. Couple of key words. Notice Chapter 1:11, “Then God said let the land produce vegetation.” The word produce is sometimes translated as sprout. Creation is endowed by its creator with the ability to create life. It is not just that the creator makes a tree. The creator makes a tree that is loaded with the ability to make more trees. You could say God makes all the trees or you could say God makes the trees that make more trees which would be equally true. Built into creation is this nuclear, life-giving ability to create more. Maybe you could call this progressive generativity. It is progressing somewhere. It is going to grow and sprout. It is going to leaf and create more. You know this because of the weeds growing in the cracks of your driveway. If you take a picture of creation one day, then come back a week later and take a picture and then do it again the week after you will have 3 different pictures which show the growth. If you are standing perfectly still in the midst of creation it will not look the same tomorrow. If you abandoned the house you live in and came back 20 years later you will say things like “It is overgrown.” It is loaded with the ability to create more. Creation is going somewhere. It is a dynamic reality, not a static one. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! The Garden of Eden is not perfect. We often import our understandings of things that aren’t there. The word is not perfect. The word is good. “God says it is GOOD!” By perfect I simply mean static and unchanging. When we say perfect what many of us mean is static and unchanging. It is frozen in its perfection and it will not change. In Genesis 1 and 2 it is going to change because it is going to grow and sprout and change. These people are placed in the midst of it and given work to do. Go to Genesis 1:26, Then God said “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea.” Verse 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. God gives these people responsibility and stewardship. God places these folks in the midst of the creation that is going somewhere and says take care of it. Do something with it. Make things. I just made all of this and now I am putting you in there to co-create with me. Let’s do something with it.
Those of you who are compulsive landscapers or designers and always have a shovel in hand, doing something with it are great examples of this. Those of you in music who want to take the chords and melodies and want to do something with them are as well. Those of you who love shape clay. Those of you who love words. Those of you who have an impulse within you to arrange it. To guide it. To massage it. To support it. To come along side of it. To nurse it. It is all there in Genesis 1 and 2. We were made to take it somewhere. There is a harmony here, and this is huge within hierarchy. God creates these people; these people are then given responsibility over creation. There is a strict hierarchy and everything knowing its proper place within the hierarchy is where the peace and harmony comes from. If these people begin to worship the creation instead of the creator then it is out of whack with the proper life giving hierarchy. If these people decide they are going to play God, and do not submit to a higher being then they are essentially messing with the hierarchy.
An addiction, in particularly of a substance is looking to that which comes from the earth to satisfy a deep need of the soul that can only fully be satisfied by the creator. A substance abuse is not a proper harmony within hierarchy. That is where the peace, or shalom comes from. Notice verse 28, God blessed them. These people are co-created and partnering with God proper stewardship in healthy relationships with each other and submission to God, this God blesses. Working with wood, God blesses. Growing crops and making sure everybody has enough food, God blesses. He said this, this is good. This is what I intended. Yes. Well done. God smiles and celebrates.
Watch this…Now; soil and spirit here are united. There aren’t 2 realms. A realm of the physical everyday sort of stuff and then somewhere out there a realm of the spiritual heavenly kind of stuff. Everything is deeply interwoven and connected. Soil and spirit are connected. Another way to think about it is that Heaven and Earth is the same place. In Genesis 1 and 2 Heaven and Earth is the same place. There isn’t somewhere else that we go when we die. A) Because there is no somewhere else and B) Because we don’t die. Are you with me? Stay here a moment. In Genesis 1 and 2 the goal is not to escape from here to some other more spiritual realm where God is. God is here. There is no higher realm. There is just the realm. Heaven is the realm to which God intends them to be in Genesis 1 and 2.
Pull back a second…let’s go to a higher bird’s eye view. Whatever it is that we love about life and taps into your sense of this is why I am here…"Oh I could do this forever”...and calls out deep into your spirit, “I was made for this.When I do this or observe this or appreciate this or interact with this it pulls out of me this sense of what life is all about." Whatever that is for you can be found in Genesis 1 and 2. Ascetics. Beauty. The appreciation of form. All in there. The food on the tree was pleasing to the eye. It’s beautiful. It’s not “It is beautiful so that…” No, it is just beautiful. It is stunning to gaze upon and that is its point. There is no larger point other than it just is. Ascetics. Making things. Take creation for instance, it is going somewhere, do something with it. Perhaps you have a woodshop in your garage and you have to go out there after work because you just have this joy when you carve stuff and make doorstops or whatever wood shop people make. Oh yea, pencil holders and stuff. If that is what you do then great! That is Genesis 1 and 2. Perhaps for you it is kids. You just love kids. Educating kids. Shaping young minds. All Genesis 1 and 2. Relationship, partnership, worship, exploration, organizing, naming, learning, responsibility. Maybe you are the kind of person who if we were to see your sock drawer it would be frighteningly organized. Or how about that drawer in the house near the back door that has things like duck tape and jumper cables and passports and markers and rubber bands and staples and paper clips and computer speakers, super glue, tweezers, a mouse trap, and a ruler. In everybody else’s house it is that drawer of junk that you have to shuffle things around just to get it to close but yours somehow is perfectly organized and labeled. That impulse to organize, to sift and sort, is all Genesis 1 and 2. That is you Mona. You are in Genesis 1 and 2. If you instinctively in every situation think how can I bring order to this? It is in there too. Maybe you are the kind that thinks don’t put me out front, I don’t want any attention drawn to myself…just give me a task where I can help plan the details. Let me do that and that is what I love. What is it? A Genesis 1 and 2 instinct. Obviously things like painting, drawing, art, and the common good are Genesis 1 and 2. Maybe you have a profound sense of justice. How about you want make sure everybody on Earth has enough food. 1 billion people don’t have enough drinking water in the world and you want to do something about it. Where does that impulse come from? Proper organizing and stewardship of creation is where. Whatever you love and makes you feel alive. Whatever makes you think you are tapped into something bigger, I guarantee can be traced back to its fundamental essence in Genesis 1 and 2. A story starts here. If someone says to you what is the Jesus story, the Bible story, the Christian story, it starts here in Genesis 1. Again, it is located all the way to the left in your Bible.

Now on to the end of the story, Revelations 21. It is all the way to the right in your Bible. The story ends here. Let’s ask a similar set of questions about the end of the Bible. Revelation 21 and 22.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
So if heaven is the place where things are as God intends them to be the story ends. It ends with Heaven essentially crashing into Earth and God now dwelling in the midst of people. Notice Chapter 22. The heading in my Bible says Eden restored.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
See! San Antonio is in the Bible! A city with a river flowing in the middle! Amazing huh?! Ok, that’s ridiculous. Verse 5. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign *BTW the Greek word for reign means to participate with* with God for ever and ever.
We will participate with God forever and ever! How cool is that?! River, cities, trees, fruit. The healing of the nations. Proper healed relationship participating with God in ordering, stewarding and guiding creation. Sound familiar? The story starts there and ends here in the same way. Hmmmm. Just a side not, cause I love those…if you were to take sin out the Bible you would have 4 short chapters. Genesis 1 and 2 and Rev. 21 and 22. Quick read right?
Chapter 1 and 2 is about a garden, and Rev. 21 and 22 is about a city. If you took sin out of a city you get a large collection of gardens. You would still have a progression. A movement. If you have a garden and it keeps growing and it is properly cared for, eventually there will be enough gardens connected to each other to make a city.
Go back to the left of the Bible in Genesis 3. This chapter introduces something else to the story. We find the first people. The story is told that these people have an experience in which they violate the boundaries God has made for them. The way that it is told is a picture of a tree that if they eat from this tree it will be exploring outside the boundaries God has created them for. They eat from this tree. And they experience a disruption in the peace, shalom and harmony of Chapters 1 and 2.
Genesis 3:8-Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"
Does the creator of the universe have a difficult time finding 2 nekked people in a garden? “I have no idea where you are?” No! Where are those naked people running around? I can’t find you crazy kids. Marco….Polo…Marco….Polo…No. Well, you could read it that way if you wanted to…but no. Perhaps you could also read it like God is saying, “Where are ya?” “Where are ya now?” “You have violated our relationship. You weren’t satisfied with the world I placed you in and decided to create a reality outside of the one I created you for. You weren’t ok with the hierarchy. You didn’t like me on top. You wanted to be on top. So you chose to explore outside the boundaries you were created for. Where did that get you? Where are you? How is that working out for ya? How are things now? Where are you? Where did you end up with that decision? Is that what you wanted? Are you pleased?” You can read it sorts of ways.

How do you understand Geneses 3? Often times it is referred to as the fall of man. Are there ways to explore what sin is and the fall that might be a bit more helpful and obviously Biblical?
First off, sin is a disruption. One definition is simply the disruption of shalom. God created us to have peace with our maker, with each other, with the earth and with ourselves. Sin would be any way in which I have acted to disrupt shalom. Is this the shalom God intends for everything? Is this true to the beautiful picture God intends us to have and do or have I violated hierarchy and boundaries? Disruption. Sometimes it is defined as rebellion. I don’t like this setup with Him on top. I am rebelling against the order of things. I am rebelling against the world I have been brought to and God who made it, or, participation in the old order and way of death. Remember, Genesis 1 and 2 is active and dynamic…not static. It is moving so sin is a way in which I am taking it in an improper direction.

Here is an example. Tonight roughly 800,000,000 people will go to bed hungry. Right now in our world. That should shock and offend you. What experts are saying is that there actually is enough food in the world to feed everybody in the world. 6,000,000,00+ inhabitants of the world and there is currently enough food to feed everybody. Almost 1/6th of those people will not eat today not because there isn’t enough food to feed everybody but because the food hasn’t been properly distributed. The earth has produced but we have not properly ordered, managed, and stewarded creation so that everybody’s needs are met. We have disrupted the shalom God has intended for everyone. We have rebelled against the hierarchy and participated with creation in a way that is not the way God intended for us to participate. Sometimes the word Het translated from Hebrew is an archery term that means missing the mark. Genesis 3 introduces sin by showing us how we missed the mark.

You could perhaps say it this way, Genesis 3 is not how the story begins and Genesis 3 is not how the story ends. When people talk about sin, or you sinner!!! “TURN OR BURN!” wait wait wait…the story doesn’t begin with Genesis 3 and it doesn’t end with Genesis 3. When we tell the story we need to be very careful that all of the points in the story and the plotline are the plotline of the actual story. A few thoughts then on our participation in this realm.
1. Confession
It is a Hebrew word you should have learned from Seinfeld. Yadi yadah. It means our recognition, admission, our declaration and our agreement that we have participated in the other way. We have participated in the old world order and furthered the death and not the life that God intends for us. Confession is my realization that I have been caught up in, participated with and suckered by and I needed to see that and call it what it was.
2. Repentance
Confession is followed often by repentance not far behind. The Hebrew for that is Teshuvah. It means to turn or return. Confession is when we are brought to our senses and I now want to return to the true way. The way that I was made for that restores peace.
What then is the Jesus story? Let’s go to Matthew 19 and find out. At the center of orthodox, historic, Christian, faith has been telling the Jesus story how it begins one way and ends one way and in between there is this massive disruption in it, this could bring some depth, texture and body to the Jesus story.

Notice in chapter 19:28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the RENEWAL of all things, when the Son of Man sits on the throne.” So Jesus speaks about a renewal of all things. Turn to Acts 3 you have on one of the first Christians giving a speech. His name is Pedro. He is Spanish. Joking…it is not really his name. He is speaking to a crowd about the Messiah and how he has come. He believes Jesus is Messiah and has been appointed to rescue people from the old order and way of death. Acts 3:21 Heaven must receive Him until the time comes when God RESTORES. Jesus spoke of it as the renewal of all things and Peter here talks about God restoring everything. Colossians 1. Another one of the first Christians…a dude named Paul speaks of the cross and what exactly was going on up there on that cross. For him the cross is far larger than a good Jewish Rabbi being executed for subversion. For him there is a cosmic dimension to the cross. It extends as wide as the universe. He says in Verse 19, For God was pleased to have all of His fullness dwell in Him. (In Jesus). And through him to RECONCILE to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. He speaks of the cross as a massive universal wide movement. All things in Heaven and on Earth pretty much sums it up. A peacemaking act on God’s part to reconcile to Himself all things. Jesus speaks of the renewal of all things. Peter speaks of the restoration of all things. Paul speaks of the reconciliation of all things.

The Jesus story is then about the God who wants to put it all back together. This has HUGE implications for the story we are telling. If you begin the story in Genesis 3 then the primary issue becomes the removal of sin. People are sinners, how are we going to get rid of the sin problem. How are we going to get this out of the picture because it really messes things up? The dominant story begins with the how do we get rid of sin; well Jesus gets rid of sin. There. Done. You can see the bumper sticker “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” That’s it? Once we are forgiven then what? Is that all Jesus is capable of? Get you forgiven? If you begin the story in Genesis 3 then that is what you are left with. This is what Jesus does…He gets rid of the problem. But! If you start telling the story in Genesis 1, it becomes about the restoration of shalom. This obviously includes the removal of sin but also extends to the very ends of the cosmos. Are you with me now? Ok…get ready because I am going to dump it all out on you now. First, take a bite of the food I told you to get before you started. I need you brain working for this. Thinking caps on.

If the story begins in Genesis 3 then the fundamental posture towards people is to make sure they know what they aren’t. You aren’t good enough. Holy enough. Not reading the good book enough. You aint sanctified! Amen! You aren’t trying hard enough. If you begin the story late then you may be telling people what they aren’t. If you begin in Genesis 1, you will tell people what they are. YOU ARE A DAUGHTER, YOU ARE A SON OF A LOVING HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME THIS FATHER HAS HAD UNCONDITIONAL, ALL EMBRACING LOVE FOR ALL OF CREATION. This God is a creator who makes things and says Awwww that is good! ONE OF THE THINGS GOD MADE THAT HE SAID IS GOOD, IS YOU! You are made in the image of this God and you contain the divine spark. You are created to be a co-creator. To be a partner with God in moving creation forward in ever increasing dimensions of shalom. You know this deep in your bones. You have participated in the way of death. You have rebelled. You have disrupted shalom and now your loving, heavenly father is standing in the driveway on His tippie-toes, arms wide open saying “I am inviting you to return home.”

It is fundamentally different. How do you tell people the story? A Genesis 3 type of person always has the chance that your posture may become I need to go up to strangers on the street and I need to convince them how wretched, depraved and sinful they are. If I can get them feeling bad enough about themselves I may be able to whip out a pamphlet and get them in. We wonder why it is hard to keep those converts. Maybe it is easier to understand the story when we start in the beginning because then it is more helpful to understand how we got where we are. If your story begins in Genesis 3 it is very easy to become about disembodied evacuation. It is about how to get somewhere else. It becomes an evacuation theology. Here is what you need in order to get out of this place so that some glad morning you too can fly away. It then locates the center of God’s redemptive activity somewhere else. What can then sink in is that the real point of this story is somewhere else. Then we have to use words like relevant to try and have it make sense now. It is very easy to sink in to the subtle belief that the real action is someplace else. If you begin the story in Genesis 1 it becomes about co-creating participation. God is looking for partners to help repair and restore the world. People who are so overwhelmed with the gift of rescue freely given in Christ that we can’t imagine anything but partnering with God to do our humble bit to see that through and come into existence.

It would be interesting to survey people, especially Christians about heaven. My experience has been when people are in a safe place they can be honest about their religion and you can really push them with questions on what they really think about Heaven. To them it sounds a bit boring. They don’t hold pitch real well singing. Maybe you feel this way. I can’t sing for crap. How am I going to sing in Heaven with the angels? Do you know how lame Heaven would be for the listeners? Perhaps it is you that when you truly truly think about Heaven, one of your questions is that you don’t know what it is going to be like in Heaven and what we will do for eternity. It actually sounds a bit boring. Well if your story is rooted in Genesis 3 and the goal of it is disembodied evacuation then it is a flawed view of heaven. I don’t know we will be in clouds strumming harps. I have no experience with harps. But if the story is about Heaven and Earth becoming one again and ends here then Heaven starts to make a lot more sense.

What are those moments now that I am most alive? Who is it that when you are with them, you feel like you would rather be right there than anywhere else in the world? When you lose track of time. When my soul flourishes and soars like ahhhh I could do this forever. Sometimes I find people who are really really passionate about a particular thing and because of their faith they feel guilty about it. “I just love to be out in the woods and I know it is not very spiritual.” But what is Genesis 1 and 2 and what is Heaven and the Earth other than the exploration of the world that God has created and declared it is good? Therefore sometimes it is possible for religion to actually produce in people this sort of guilt complex with the very things in which they can most find their creator. They somehow feel bad about it. Follow? Does the story begin in Genesis 1 or Genesis 3?

Is there a way to talk about this that transcends some of the stale categories that perhaps we have picked up over the years? We can go to the Bible and find out. How do the writers who first told the Jesus story talk about all of this. Let me show you something that when you see it will ping your head a bit.
I am going to get into in one second but let me first mention I have been studying a great deal lately on how to interpret the Bible. The main thing I learned from this is you can’t take the Bible only for what it says. You should try to understand the culture, the background, the people, the point, the language, the words used and many other things to fully get the point and context of its meaning. I am not saying that inspiration and the Holy Spirit can’t really hit that spot needed at that moment, but that is a different essence of the Bible. This has drastically helped me get a much deeper than surface level of how amazing God is and the word of God too.

A little background on Jewish writers. They would often write on multiple levels. They would tell a story and plant within that story very subtle and delicately clever language. Unless you were paying keen attention you would miss it but if you were paying attention you would notice they were telling a story stacked on top of another story with a hint of another story. It was a very prized Jewish ability to be able to tell a story and at the same time tell all these other stories just around the edges.

John 2. Pay very very close and precise attention to the words John uses. Jesus as His first miracle changes water into wine. If you are going to start somewhere that is a really great place to do it. Verse 11. What Jesus did here in Cana from Galilee was the first of the signs. (keyword in John’s Gospel, he loves this word signs) It was the first time to reveal His glory and His disciples put their faith in Him. Water into wine, not bad. The prophets spoke of wine as a symbol not only of God’s new world but of the blessing and favor of God. Wine for a Jewish reader would have triggered “that is like new creation…new Heaven and Earth sort of stuff and this is the also blessing and favor of God.” Jesus produces wine. See why understanding culture helps make the picture in a bird’s eye view so much more profound? It is not Jesus just doing a nice thing to help the ceremony not get spoiled.
Notice in John 4:44, Jesus heals the royal officials son . In verse 54 John adds, This was the 2nd sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. I hope when you read this you notice a trend. I would hope that you are instantly thinking and racing to find out what the 3rd sign is. What is he doing here? Why is John numbering things?

The 2 things that he has numbered we might call miracles. A healing is a demonstration of how things are supposed to be in God’s world. If Heaven is the realm where things are as God intends them to be and God does not intend for sickness and disease, then what Jesus is doing in a healing is not demonstrating some sort of freaky new condition for this kid. He is displaying how things always were and how things will be. If you take this word signs you start to wonder what else you can find. Chapter 5 begins with a healing at the pool. He healed the paralytic which is the 3rd sign and then in Chapter 6 you have a couple of speeches and he feeds 5,000 men. You may have studied this before that in crowds, men are the ones who were counted. That is not including the women and children. Who knows how many truly ate from 5 loaves of bread. Not bad, because people should have enough food to eat. 4th sign. Then verse 16 Jesus walks on water and demonstrates a sort of command of creation. Well done. 5th sign. Then you have a speech. Then you have people visiting Him. Then He goes to a feast. Then He teaches. Then there is some division. Then there is the unbelief. Then there is the dispute. Then there is another dispute. Then He claims some things about Himself. The next sign or miracle happens in Chapter 9. What is the heading in chapter 9? Jesus heals the man born blind. He heals. Then the big one in chapter 11 there is a guy named Lazarus that dies. In verse 43, When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus! Come out!” The dead man came out, his hands wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them “Dang fool! You stink dude! Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Wait wait. 1,2,3,4,5,6. Raising a man from the dead is the 7th sign. You take the 7 signs that start with wine (a new creation and blessing from God), which is a pretty cool party trick and by the 7th sign people are rising from the dead. It is sort of a climax. People rising from the dead. After that in chapter 12 there are no signs. 13 nada. 14. Nope. 15. Guessed it…nope…16, 17, nothing. 18 arrested, put on trial, convicted, crucified, killed. Apparently once He has raised somebody from the dead, if you don’t believe now, then there is not much more He can do. More wine isn’t going to help. Maybe, but probably not.
It is interesting when you take a story like that and zoom out so you can see a higher altitude of the story it opens perspective up. Hopefully by now something happened for you when the signs were being counted. How many signs were there? 7. In Jewish consciousness is there anywhere in the story where the number 7 is kind of big? Genesis 1. It begins with the giant number 7 because in the creation 7 played heavily in to it. What might John be saying? Raising Lazarus from the dead is not really the last sign or miracle because at the end of the book John tells you about Jesus doing what? Resurrection. What might John be saying? Jesus does a miracle or sign for each day of the first creation and then the 8th sign which would make it "Sunday" of the 2nd week He resurrects from the dead, inaugurated, not an old creation but a "Monday", the first day of a new creation. Amazing!
What is John saying? He is telling this epic story as a way of saying resurrection is the start of a whole new creation. Let’s walk this through.
1. The story is about Jesus resurrecting and beginning a new creation right here in the midst of this one.
2. The story of the resurrection is about God restoring goodness of creation. God does not beam people up like Scotty to some other realm. God comes down in the midst of this creation, takes all of the death, destruction, and disruption upon himself to the grave, leaves it there and announces I am making all things new. This world was good when I made it and it is still good.

Let's make sure we make this distinction clear. There is a distinction between materiality and rebellion. This is HUGE especially if you grew up around religion. Materiality refers to the material realm. Physical things. Nowhere in the story is the material realm declared bad. The story is about human rebellion. Human rebellion is a different issue than trees, rocks, and wine. What has happened for many people is their tradition confused rebellion with materiality and said because humans have rebelled all of creation is in some way fallen, depraved, dark and bad. What this creates is physical bad, spiritual good. Do you know what I am writing about? The work is to separate those two. Scriptures speak of human rebellion that has deeply affected creation. In fact it is in a sort of bondage. The writer Paul speaks of it by saying it is a sort of pangs of childbirth, the redemption of all things. But nevertheless, for many people rocks and soil and whatever got imprinted in their brain to them that this Earth is bad but if we can just get out of here we will be ok. The resurrection is about Jesus reaffirming the goodness of creation. The story is about anticipating when Heaven and Earth are one again. Right now the realms are split. Earth and then there is a realm where things are the way God intends them to be. There are moments when the 2 seem awfully close. They interlock, and dance and hold hands and kiss but that isn't a good realm. The story, the resurrection, is the anticipation when God makes dwelling on Earth and Heaven the same place again like they were at the start of the story. Are you with me now?!
Moving to logical and practical uses…let’s get into business, art, and justice.

1. Business

If Genesis 1 is about the proper ordering of creation and making sure everybody has what they need, it is proper stewardship. If Genesis 1 and 2 is about making sure the earth produces food and is distributed in a way that everybody is not hungry it is proper stewardship. If it is about proper hierarchy and harmony, then what do you think business is? Business provides a good or service at a fair price so that people can take and consume or use that good or service and have their needs met. It is the exchange of goods and services for the betterment for the common good. That is what business is. It is taking what the earth is creating and properly organizing it and distributing it at a fair price so that people can have what they need. Business is a very Genesis 1 and 2 occupation. That impulse is right there. If your story begins in Genesis 3 and how people aren’t saved and begins with disembodied evacuation then what can happen is business people in that story are made to feel second class. "Well, ya know, I am not a pastor. I am just a business person but I can make a lot of money and give it to spiritual things." If you start the story in Genesis 1 and 2, your task is already sacred, holy and profound. We need you to do your work in a Genesis 1 and 2 way. Your work is not 2nd class and there plenty of other spiritual people who have been called to help get the message (or wrong message) out so they can evacuate someday. Your work is already holy. It is a divine calling like any other divine calling to properly work for the common good. A lot of destructive messages have been sent to business people. All you do is make money. Wait wait wait. The fair and proper exchange for goods and services is only about making money? We need that. We need you.

2. Art

Couple thoughts. If creation is producing, sprouting, and growing it is only natural then that we would creatively organize it. We would shape it and bring form to it. We would appreciate line, curve, and dimension. Art then is capturing those creations in a way that reflects the infinite creativity of the creator. Co-creators created by a creator who create. Art in Genesis 1 and 2 is declared good and God blessed them. This impulse is already blessed. Obviously you can create things that aren’t a reflection of the peace, healing and shalom of God. Obviously it is possible to make things that steer the project in a destructive direction. But the fundamental primal impulse God blessed. This is why black and white, overly simplistic classifications of art and asking whether it is Christian or not will always fail. When we need a Christian label to validate something we are trying to validate and bless something God already blessed. Let God do it, God is better at it. This is why for a lot of people, including me, a Christian sub-culture with Christian music or movies and Christian books and Christian coffee cups and Christian stickers produce a deeply confusing concept. No matter how things are labeled, you can endlessly find things in the non-Christian category that are humming with life and Godliness and Holiness. You can also find things with the Christian label that are TERRIBLE. Don’t get me started. Don’t feed the bears because this is my most touchy and biggest pet peeve about Christians. If it is a wonderful song and evokes a great sense of love, inspiration, joy, and happiness then there is not one single thing wrong with playing it in church. A lot of this work and effort and discussion about are they a Christian or is so and so a Christian band is rooted in a misunderstanding of Genesis. Those questions come out Genesis 3. You start the movie late and a bunch of stuff is not going to make sense. Don’t start the movie late! You start at the beginning of the movie you might get it.

3. Justice

Last one. This profound sense we all have. Again. 1,000,000,000 people in the world don’t have drinking water. That is not right. Illiteracy rates in the San Antonio are horrific. How many 6th graders can’t read? 9th graders? Seniors in high school? Here is a scary thing I just learned. 67% of black students are dropping out and the trend is now with the kids just entering school this year that 9 out of 10 black students will drop out. We have to do something about it. That sense of that isn’t right, that holy anger that rises within you when you think that is not right, the sense when you know people are deprived, oppressed, and somebody needs to help them…that sense of justice is Genesis 1 and 2. It is the proper ordering of God’s world. When people don’t have enough to eat it is not the proper ordering of God’s world. When basic education hasn’t been given to people it is not the proper ordering of God’s world. Your longing for justice is all right there in the beginning.
There are endless debates within the Christian community about is our message what we say or is it what we do? Is our message bringing people water or is it talking to people about forgiveness? Is our message rescuing people from slavery or talking to them about the state of their soul? When you find that sort of debate and discussion going on, after a while you find yourself thinking this is so old and so stupid, confusing and stale. When the question is it this or is it this. Maybe the answer is a great big hug with both hands. When you find people in the endless debate about the Gospel to either announce God's forgiveness through Christ or the Gospel bringing people water in Jesus’ name, I say group hug. Group hug. Everybody together. One giant group hug. When the question is, is it this or this you could think maybe, Jesus’ embrace is big enough for the whole discussion.
A couple more thoughts and then I am finished. A Christian can then continually insist that through the resurrection of Jesus a whole new world is bursting forth right here in the midst of this one and everybody, everywhere can be a part of it. Everybody everywhere! A Christian then is learning more and more how to see this new creation with their own eyes. I didn’t see it before. I was sleeping but now I am waking up. There are these people that I would have discounted but all of a sudden now I am planting within them the seeds of new creation. This is a situation where before I would have been angry, bitter, and would have filled me with despair but now I am waiting because I know that somewhere within all that cement, a flower is going to sprout. I am going to see it and I am going to call it what it is. Before I would have jumped all over that person and I would have said how dare you be so mean! Now I know to be a little patient. Show a little grace because a new creation may burst forth right here. A Christian then has hope not in escape but in engagement. The word hope. People can be talking about hope and they may mean waaaay different kinds of hope. Some say, "Well I have hope." What they may mean is that I have hope, because I have a ticket to Heaven and will get out of here at some point. My type of hope is rooted in engagement were God invites us into the muck and dirt and filth because in it we will find God working as God always is for a new creation right here in the midst of the old one. Our hope is rooted not in escape but in engagement. Not in evacuation but reclamation. It is not about getting out of here but about reclaiming it. Not in leaving but in staying and overcoming because through Jesus’ resurrection God is affirming the goodness of creation. Last thing. A Christian then is never surprised when grace, beauty, meaning, order, compassion, truth and love show up in all sorts of unexpected people, places and things because it always has been God’s world. It is God’s world and it always will be God’s world.