Friday, October 31, 2008

What if Adam had not eaten?

She had watched the tree closely after her last conversation with the snake. The birds and other animals sought the fruit of the tree—often there were no ripe ones left. They did not die.

And the tree was beautiful, not just the forbidden fruit—how could it kill? The woman and Adam carefully avoided the fruit because of the Lord God's prohibition—but now with the prospect of wisdom she found herself drawn to it.

Life was pleasant. There was food, companionship and love with Adam, beauty to admire, and work. The days flowed easily and probably endlessly had it not been for the others.

The Lord God visited the garden often—mostly it was easy to be with him. But when he commanded, nothing else existed. She was attracted to him—in a different way than Adam. When she looked into his eyes she saw the moonless sky.

The snake was different. He wasn't like the Lord God—his eyes held slashes of darkness. She was surprised when he first spoke—none of the other creatures knew words. Even more surprising, he didn't agree with what the Lord God had said—how could that be? He talked about the tree and how its fruit would make her like the Lord God. More than anything she wanted that. As far as good and evil went, they were just names—she didn't care about them, but to be like the Lord God was a hunger that the snake kindled and it grew within her.

Adam stood by the tree with his wife. They had talked about the fruit and what the snake had said, and he was also drawn to the tree. Death was a scary thing, but they decided they needed wisdom. The woman reached out, plucked, and took a bite. She didn't die. She paused, and gave him the fruit. The commandment of the Lord God came back to him and he hesitated.

Adam looked into her eyes and he was alone again. How could he bear that? He took a bite.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Miracle at Cana

Jesus and six of his disciples attended a wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11 ). When the feast ran out of wine his mother suggested he fix the problem. Jesus balked saying, "My hour has not yet come." Mary wasn't deterred, she instructed the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” The wedding gained at least 120 gallons of wine—more than 50 cases worth. Some thoughts:


Mary didn’t ask Jesus for anything, she just stated the facts: “They have no wine.” Perhaps she just expected him to go out and buy some—after all he and his six extra guests helped create the shortfall. More likely Mary knew her son's capabilities and after 30 years thought he should get started.

When she spoke with her relative Elizabeth, just after Jesus was conceived, Mary quoted a phrase out of Psalm 107: “He has filled the hungry with good things.” Perhaps that day in Cana she was thinking of the phrase right before that one: “For He has satisfied the thirsty soul.” (NASB)

The water

Jesus asked the servants to fill six jars with water—this seems odd. Filling the jars took a lot of water; this was a major task for servants already tired from servicing a wine guzzling party. Instead of giving the servants extra work why didn’t Jesus fill the jars with wine and be done with it?

This preparatory task accomplished at least two things: the servants became knowledgeable witnesses, and they became part of the miracle. The servants knew more than the master of the wedding and they knew Jesus had not played some parlor trick—they hauled the water. There are exceptions, but most of Jesus’ miracles involved cooperation: donating a few fishes and loaves, reaching out to be healed, a touch, or even removing the grave clothes from Lazarus. Even when raising the dead Jesus involved others.

The wine

You wouldn’t expect Jesus to create bad wine, but did he create the best wine that ever existed? No, that would be showing off and would shift the focus away from the newlyweds. The master of the wedding said the wine was good—he didn’t say it was great.

Did Jesus “borrow” this wine from someone's inventory, or did he transform the water into wine? Transformation seems more likely. Why bother filling the jars with water if you are just going to transport in wine from somewhere else?

Those without insider knowledge drank the wine assuming it was made from grapes—grown, harvested, pressed, the juice fermented, and aged. If this wine just snapped into existence, then it was created with the appearance of age—no grapes required. Some might argue that this was a deception, but I don’t think so. There were no labels on the jars stating vineyard and vintage.

The wine told no lies. It was good, it was needed, and it was without history.

And Mary was right—Jesus’ hour had come.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Truth in the Church

For the last month I have struggled with truth. Specifically, what truth will God reveal to the community of believers. A review for the book “Paradigms on Pilgrimage ” triggered this internal debate. Among other things the reviewer states:

"Let us assume God did use evolution to create the world. Why does he allow so many Christians to think he didn't?"

This question, and its generalization struck a nerve in my psyche. Christian friends whose walk I trust are on both sides of the evolution issue. Is one side or the other in disobedience to God on this topic? I don’t think so—but then I must face the logical conclusion—that God knows what He did and He chooses to not reveal this truth in general to His Church.

This debate, and others like it are repetitions of earlier controversies. Forty years ago believers fought about rock music, five hundred years ago believers argued about whether the sun moved around the earth or vice versa, nineteen hundred years ago there was dissension on whether the new Gentile converts should be subject to circumcision, and other aspects of Mosaic law.

This first century debate, chronicled in Acts 15 included elders of the Jerusalem church, the apostles Peter, Paul, and James; Barnabas, the prophets Barsabbas and Silas, as well as a group of believers that were Pharisees. This account makes a couple of things clear:

· There was a respected group of believers involved—the leadership of the Church

· There was much debate on the subject

· They respectfully listened to evidence (e.g. Paul and Silas relating God’s signs and wonders among the Gentiles)

· God did not supernaturally reveal the answer

In the end they adopted a position, validated by the Holy Spirit:

"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

The writer of Hebrews refers to this period as “the time of reformation.” [chap 9:10] It was the beginning of a new covenant where some regulations imposed by God were cancelled. Some sins became not sin. But the transition in community was gradual. Even Paul, no enemy of the absolute, writes in Romans: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” and “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

But this was not the end of it. Paul in Romans 15, 1 Cor 8, and Colossians 2 makes it clear that the final solution is that no thing is unclean in itself, and that idols have no impact on the true suitability of food. The statement adopted by the group in Jerusalem was transitional—eventually almost all Christians accepted Paul's later position on the matter, and today most of these issues seem quaint.

As individuals we are called to love, freedom, and confidence in our walk with God. But when it comes to truth in the Church, God does not call us to proofs of knowledge, unanimity, or judgment of other believers. Instead we are to "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding"—truth in that context can wait.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Grocery Carts and Scripture

Nowadays after I lock my car at the grocery store I scan the parking lot for a wayward cart. If one is around I retrieve it and wheel it into the store. For the last few months God has nudged me to do this. I don’t know why. It has a humbling effect on me–it’s not my job, and I feel stupid doing it. But I know better than to ignore that nudge.

There are no verses regarding grocery carts–the scriptures are silent on the subject. I act because it’s Jesus showing me the path I should walk today. In the course of a day there are seldom clear biblical mandates on the decisions we need to make. Of course over time there are some that apply, for example prohibitions against sexual immorality, divorce, and commands to love our neighbors. But when it comes to ordinary stuff: the financial decisions, what church to attend, the right course in disciplining our children we don't get explicit biblical direction.

It’s not through lack of trying. I know I spend time trying to understand the Bible–reading books, talking to people, meditating on scriptural passages. We want clarity, but God usually offers mystery. To cope with this mystery Christians invest large amounts of energy creating summaries of biblically supported truths. We generate creeds, confessions, statements of faith, core beliefs, doctrinal statements, etc. to codify what we believe is important. Typically these are heavily driven by scripture–but ultimately these are human creations–not the inspired word of God.

We look to the scriptures to tell us what is right and wrong, as we should. But do we look too much? No one argues with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." That is clear. But not much else is free from debate. The Bible provides direction for living our lives, but it's an outline, not a spell checker. We want the Bible to be a rulebook, but more often what we need is a conversation with God.

P.S. When I got to the grocery store today, the parking lot was strewn with abandoned carts–at least eight. Was I supposed to roll in one or all of them? God has a sense of humor...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Modern Day Miracles

Recently I was in the Seattle airport with time to kill so I wandered through the Borders bookstore in the concourse. I usually check to see if the most recent books from my favorite authors are out in paperback—so I can go home and buy them on-line. I was happy to see C.J. Cherryh's latest book "Deliverer" available in paperback. I made a mental note to check its price online and left the store.

For the next hour and a half, I was busy using my laptop, but the thought kept intruding that I should buy Cherryh's book—now. Likely this was instant gratification talking, but could God be trying to get my attention? My boarding time was drawing near when the thought popped up again—time for action.

Often I will flip a coin with these sorts of decisions—I trust God's ability to control the spin of the coin more than my ability to determine the right thing to do. [Prov 16:13] This time I decided to make the "buy it now" option tougher than 50-50. I quickly settled on picking the last digit of pi that displayed on the engineering calculator on my laptop. Yes, I am a geek. If the last digit shown was five, I would buy the book. This was the result:

For this “coin flip” the odds were 10% that my choice would be correct—not a miracle. Most people would judge it a coincidence. However, I’m convinced that God wanted me to buy that book before I boarded—I don't know why. Perhaps to motivate me to write this post...

I was over Greenland on a flight back from Europe when I experienced another coincidence. I was reading, without headphones on, when I felt the distinct mental nudge to look up at the TV. The next thing that came on was an interview with my friend Stan Ebel on his Llama ranch. Stan lives about 15 miles from me in Colorado. I had no idea he had even done an interview. The odds of this happening seem below 10%—but again, most people would judge it a coincidence.

I wish God would do astonishing "fire from heaven" sorts of miracles today. I would love to see loaves of bread and fish multiplied to feed a crowd of thousands. Apparently, God chooses to not do big miracles today, at least not in places where they can be captured by scientific instruments, cell phone cameras, or network news crews. Why is that?

Are miracles missing because science has managed to turn everything into probabilities and processes? Quantum physics tells us that a loaf of bread in Jerusalem can spontaneously transport to the shores of the Sea of Galilee—it’s just very unlikely. Scientists invoke random processes to explain the mind-boggling successes of DNA and photosynthesis—with natural selection weeding out the failures. A tumor disappearing is not a miracle, it's just the body’s defense mechanisms finally discovering and annihilating the enemy.

Perhaps God is skipping miracles because of our unbelief. Jesus did many miracles to validate who he was, but many eyewitnesses did not believe. In some regions he did fewer miracles because of their unbelief.

Even though we don't seem to get the capital "M" miracles anymore, God still interacts with us. If we are paying attention and obedient He uses "coincidences" to show us that He is present in our lives, He is in control, and He is showing us the way. These are modern day miracles.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Slogans

This Easter my 4 year old granddaughter went to church with her parents and little sister. Hailey agreed to go to Sunday school and afterwards Kendra, my daughter, asked her what they had done. Hailey said that they had let some balloons go into the sky while they were all saying three words. Kendra asked what the three words were. Hailey thought a moment and said: "He's In Prison."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

What is Truth?

I used to view myself as having a pretty good grasp of reality. This picture disabused me of that.

Original Website:

I didn’t believe its claim that the squares marked A and B are the same shade of gray. I printed out the image. I still didn’t believe it. I cut out the A and B squares and brought them together—they match.

Below are the two squares cut out with Microsoft paint

Since my perceptions are clearly wrong with a simple image, I don’t think I should be confident that my perceptions on other things (like people) are accurate. Clearly, when senses and human frailties are involved truth can be elusive.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bible Meme

I was recently tagged by Stephen over at Undeception for the Bible Meme. I highly recommend his series of posts on inspiration, inerrancy, and hermeneutics

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

I generally don't worry too much about translations--I know I can consult with the Authors (I AM writing assignment) on tough problems. I am impressed with the ESV website --it's fast and smart. The advanced search allows restricting the search to portions of the Bible (e.g. the gospels).

I do like the way the ESV handles Samuel 13:1 --it makes it really clear what's in the source documents and what's not:

Saul Fights the Philistines

13:1 Saul was . . . [1] years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two [2] years over Israel.


[1] 13:1 The number is lacking in Hebrew and Septuagint
[2] 13:1 Two may not be the entire number; something may have dropped out

2. Old or New Testament?

For years I rarely read the Old Testament except for Proverbs, however a couple of years ago I started meditating, sometimes for months, on Old Testament passages. Specifically:

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

  • Proverbs--all 31 chapters are interesting and if I'm in doubt on where to read I can always read the chapter that matches the day of the month.

4. Favorite Chapter?

It must be Genesis 3 based on the number of posts that I have written on it:

5. Favorite Verse?

  • "What does the Lord desire of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before the Lord."

6. Bible character you think you're most like?

  • Zechariah (John the Baptist's father). In spite of being visited by an angel at the temple within the Holy of Hollies he still wants to know "How can I be sure of this?"

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you? Only one thing? How about two:

  • Genesis 11:5-6 "And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them"

8. Moses or Paul?

I must admit to being somewhat annoyed with Paul right now. Generally I love his stuff, but the occasional passages cause no end of trouble (e.g. prohibition against women teaching, long hair, etc.)

Moses' humility is very impressive. When confronted by discontents his first response is often to "fall on his face" in dismay.

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don't get?

In some ways I wish Genesis 1-3 didn't exist. The world would definitely be a different place if the Bible started after the garden. I love these passages, yet they cause so much controversy--controversy that appears to detract, and distract from the message of Christ.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?

Epaphroditus--Just rolls off your tongue

I am only going to tag one blog: zj7t, authored by mysterious blogger 7t, with this meme. I would love to see what he (or she) would have to say.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Gap and Flow

Two great threats to God's way are the temptations of gap and flow. Living only in the gap is a life of abstraction. Gaps are the mysteries, paradoxes, and disagreements that lure us away from the present to places that never have nor never will exist. It is the unbridgeable distance between the created and the creatorand the impossible quest to know all there is. With the gap our intellect is challenged and our emotions are enflamed, but in the end not much happens. No one feels loved, no needs are met, and nothing but knowledge grows. Yes, books and blogs are written, endless discussions transacted on-line, but no-one’s mind is changed. Only statements of position are exchanged, and arguments probed for weakness. There is no relationship.

Living only in flow embraces the present with abandon. No sensation, feeling, or experience is denied. Everything in the universe is linked together; there are no boundaries. If we aren’t careful flow will take time and even our consciousness as its victims. Without consciousness there is no real choice—just instinct. The instinct to avoid pain and seek pleasure—without regard to consequence. Others may be involved, but they aren’t people—they're the props necessary to support our wants. There is no relationship. Then we wake up one morning and years have gone by—we know they've been wasted.

When a person is lost in gap or flow the people around them suffer. The sufferers know they don’t matter and eventually move away, at least emotionally, maybe physically. They hope to protect themselves and they hunger for the touch of someone that recognizes they exist and cares...

How can the traps of gap and flow be avoided? The danger is not in the exercise, but in the excess. Intellectual pursuits and the examination of mystery enrich our lives, but must be tempered with relationship and engagement with people—they actually matter. A life without pleasure and fun would be a bitter root indeed, but if time only exists to get us to the next game / party / tryst then we aren’t livingwe are pulling down the shades of our minds and sleepwalking through the few years given to us. Yes, thinking and engaging with people is hard work, but unlike the next buzz, they have eternal value.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bible Quiz

1. Name 4 great women of the Bible
2. Name 4 great men of the Bible
3. Name 4 great marriages of the Bible

Well, how did you do?

  • For question one you might have answered Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Abigail, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia, and others.
  • For question two you might have answered Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Elijah, David, Solomon, John, Peter and others.
  • So how did you do on question three?

    I came up empty.

A few marriages clearly were not in the great category:

  • Adam & Eve
    • Honeymoon in paradise, but her quest for knowledge got them evicted
  • Abraham & Sarah
    • "She’s not my wife, she’s my sister”—so much for stepping up...
  • Moses & Zipporah
    • Spent a lot of time apart. She tossed a foreskin at him in Exodus 4:25!

Somewhat more promising:

  • Ruth and Boaz
    • We read about the romance, but not much about their marriage
  • Rachel and Jacob
    • Another romance. Jacob clearly loved Rachel, but we don’t learn about their marriage other than fertility troubles

The best (?):

  • The “excellent wife” in Proverbs 31
    • Trust, financial gain and “She does him good and not evil All the days of her life” – not much else.
  • Aquila and Priscilla in Acts 18
    • Obviously a great couple, who helped Paul in his ministry. But we don’t learn anything specific about their marriage.

Marriage is the only human institution established before the fall. It is used to symbolize the relationship between God and Israel Jeremiah 31:32 and Christ and the Church—and yet there are only a handful of verses regarding its practice.

Why did God choose to give marriage the silent treatment?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Things I learned from my Mom

My Mom slipped away peacefully on the morning of December 26th—I suspect her last act of will was hanging on until Christmas was over. She was 83.

A few of the things I learned from my Mom:

  • A summer long ago, when I was 5 or 6 a big snake crawled into our back yard. You couldn't see the end of its tail, but it sure looked like a rattlesnake. My Dad wasn't around—so my Mom went into the house, came out with the shotgun, and dispatched the snake. We were impressed. From her I learned to have a bias for action.

  • One evening, when my younger sister Glynette was an infant my Mom asked me if I had brushed my teeth. I lied and told her that I had. She immediately called me on it—I was shocked at how quickly my lie was found out. From my Mom I learned the importance of honesty. She had a great ability to see through the fog of situations and see the truth of what was going on.

  • We used to have a black and white TV set that sat on a stand that could roll around. For reasons that don't seem obvious now I was holding our hamster in one hand while rolling the TV towards the downward steps into the game room. Somehow I lost control of things and needed to make the split second decision to drop the hamster and stop the TV or protect the rodent and the let the TV go down the stairs. I made the humanitarian (hamsterian?) choice and the TV tumbled. Mom made me pay to have the TV fixed. Now I am more careful when juggling things.

  • The same TV was a player in another episode. Dad and I wanted to watch two different shows at the same time. Mine was broadcast in color, and his in black & white (must have been the mid-60's—way before VCRs had been invented). The new color set was in the kitchen, and the black and white in the back bedroom. Dad decided that I should watch my show in the back while he watched the black and white program on the color TV. What can you say? I knew I wasn't going to win that battle so I adjourned to the bedroom. A few minutes later a chastised father came in and suggested we switch. Mom had had a "discussion" with him on who was being the more mature person. I learned that it's possible for justice to triumph over hierarchy.

  • I remember a time when I was a young teenager that I snapped at Mom and she began to cry. I learned that even with adults, words can hurt.

  • Much more recently, when faced with the diagnosis of cancer, she was not angry at God. She accepted the situation and handled it with amazing grace. God had given her a verse for her situation:

    "The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him." (Gal 3:12 The Message)

    From her, I learned the importance of accepting and obeying what God calls us to do.