Friday, January 17, 2020

The Tenanites

In biblical history, the Israelites have had to deal with a lot of other "'ites"; Canaanites, Jebusites, Hivites and and a host of other people groups that spell check doesn't recognize. As a family, we've been studying our way through the parables in the book of Matthew. While narrating back what he remembered from the parable of the tenants, my nine year old son identified a new group.
"...then the owner of the vineyard turned it over to the Tenanites to produce its fruit."

After we all had a little laugh and continued our study, the nature of the slip became somewhat profound. A targeted portion of the audience for Christ's parable was the religious and political authorities whose forefathers played a role in driving out all the different enemy-ites. Now those authorities had become the object of Jesus's metaphor about people who will be driven out. They had become the enemy-ites. It went over about as well as Jesus's teachings about them usually did. They looked for a way to arrest him.

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/bible_cartoons/32003239218

So here we are today with a tendency to feel rather confident about the rights we associate with being Christian. We're well established to say the least. That's partly because of the privilege we've inherited from righteous forefathers. I know our nation wasn't forwardly founded on Christianity but it was close enough that Christians have naturally grown to expect a high level of privilege and influence.

 A prominent point in the parable of the tenants is that God's "vineyard", the resources he has invested for the purpose of getting a return, are only for those who have returning it to him in mind. as well. I say all this to pose a question for myself as much as anybody. To any degree and at the risk of fighting God himself, has privilege and influence turned my faith into the means of preserving my privilege and influence? It may well result in both but I see the need to keep scrutinizing my own motives to make sure they're focused first on what God expects from his investment in me. It's easy to become a "Tenanite".

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Hot Potato

I'm on an Old Testament kick again. It's so interesting to study God through the context of historic examples with a specific nation, Israel, designated as his people. That's something we don't have in quite the same way today. It lets us see God without the modern ambiguity about what he's directly responsible for. It's not all tidy and flattering but it is all a truthful glimpse of who he is.

My most recent musing comes from the the book of 1 Samuel where the Philistines are playing a panicked game of hot potato with the ark they stole from Israel after giving them a sound thumping. It seemed like a great victory to the Philistines until deadly illness almost immediately started inflicting whatever town they tried to keep the ark in. As the pattern became clear and the loss piled up, they returned the ark to Israel and their life presumably returned to normal, worshiping the pagan god Dagon in relative health with no immediate doom at their door.

Not to be taken as a God who plays favorites, when the Israelite's got the ark back, God also killed seventy of the them who looked into it. Apparently, if God does lead you to put some real semblance of him in a box, you had better not look too closely.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/653162752178993828/

Anyway, this account carries a couple interesting points for me. One is that God shows favor but not favoritism. Even if you're fortunate enough to be the ones who really do have God in your box, you still have to be careful, perhaps even more so. And that leads to the second point. The Philistines were spared simply because they returned the ark, not because they turned to serving the God of Israel. Sometimes the only thing needed to get out of acute trouble is to stop actively fighting God's people and stealing their stuff. He'll deal with them harshly enough on his own.

Friday, October 11, 2019

In the Land of the Blind

"In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king."
In the land of those who have lost their driving privileges (a.k.a. the foundation house next door) the king is the visitor in the black SUV with chipping, purple wheels and a stereo that lets Wiz Khalifa sing "young, wild and free" to the whole zip code. It's a good jam but as they stand on sidewalk and triumphantly wave their cigarettes up and down to the beat, it's hard not to laugh at the irony of those who thumb their nose at restraint while trying to drink tiny bits of freedom through a legally kinked straw.


I imagine there's a case being made that the legalities that kink the straw are the thing to be scrutinized. No comment. It's always been tricky business for societies to establish laws that strike the right balance between giving freedom and protecting others against the misuse of it. It seems apparent we're fighting our own nature. I'm not immune. Young, wild and free sounds good to a middle age guy watching from the second story window of his business as well. It just conflicts with the rewards of being responsible that I've come to value more than unchecked freedom.

So I guess that's the thing in this bit of musing. If the one eyed man is king in the land of the blind, who's king in the land of the seeing. I'm convinced that truly seeing changes our fundamental nature to be concerned first with the well being of those around us. Perhaps I'm small minded but I can't see that becoming universal in our current reality. So, I dream of it as a component of Christ's kingdom when young is irrelevant, wild is considerate and free is no hazard to our neighbor. I think we'll still dance triumphantly to the best jams ever. We just won't dump our cigarette tray in front of the neighboring business when we're done. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

High Standards. Low Expectations.

There is an awkward tension in the Bible between facing how short we constantly fall of God's standards and still persevering to be like him. And the more you read, the more is on the line! Hoping to do better each day, we prop up our self esteem and motivation with scriptures about his grace and strength in us before abruptly crashing once more into our old nature like a supervillain with an endless supply of kryptonite. "Consider how far you have fallen"? No problem!

I'm one who emphasizes the value of works in our faith. I'm also the screw-up. In that light, a principle I've encouraged myself with for a long time is, "High standards. Low expectations." It can sound derogatory but let me spell it out a little. It applies first to God's attitude toward you and me. "High standards" is the perfect (or even marginally better) person we all hope to be when comparing ourselves to our Father. "Low expectations" is our Father's knowledge that this is grade school field day. From his own humanity, he also knows we're more likely to trip on our shoelaces than win the event. He's the parent cheering for us anyway, even if we finish last. Just finish! There's enough participation ribbons for everyone. That's why that demeaning parent screaming for nothing short of 1st place is appalling.


But after the participation ribbons are given out, the podiums are real. Father's high standards are attached to his interest in passing his kingdom and wealth onto his children, each according to their ability. His condemnation is only for those who don't trust his encouragement enough to try. That's why he's keeping track of your success, not your failure. He's looking for things to reward, not punish. And he's not weighing them against each other to see how much good is canceled out by the bad.

Yes. Sometimes, discipline has to happen for our own good, to make us children who can handle greater privilege. But that kind of judgement is for parents, not children. And we're the children! Beyond that, it's not merely an encouragement that there's no condemnation in Christ. It's the law! You don't have to beg. Now, retie your shoe laces and go persevere at that higher standard you're struggling toward. Between the lines of Father's warnings to never forget his patience and grace is the message that it's not hard to make him proud.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Alarms

With everyone's utterly relaxed demeanor in front of the store, it took a minute to identify the alarm sounding as I approached Home Depot. I entered the unguarded door with no sense of danger along side several other patrons. Inside, the ear piercing beeps and screeches seemed to echo off everything except ear drums as shopping continued unchecked, save one safety conscious fellow who commented that everyone would be dead if the fire were real. A single employee tried to direct a few shoppers who didn't care about his authority any more than the alarm. I obliged him but the alarm stopped after ten paces toward the exit and he ended up apologizing for the misdirection.



"Where there's smoke, there's fire." Where there's no smoke, no one's changing course no matter how loud the alarm is. Maybe they would have back when alarms were hard to set off but now they carry an almost hopeful tone that something sensational really is happening, like every headline on my Google News feed. It's in our nature to hope for the sensational, rubberneck past the accident, tell a great story about what almost happened. So much so that a flood of new predictions stream in undaunted by the shortfall of old ones and the persistence of the status quo.

The end of the world from imminent catastrophe X is always just around the corner. For Christians, that's been true since Christ promised to return. You can hear the heightened anticipation in most New Testament books. Still waiting. It's a great paycheck for those who can market it and great entertainment for the rest of us. Truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ shamelessly caters to our natural tendency to hope that something sensational really will happen. The world will end. Lots of smoke and fire. Heavenly trumpets of epic doom and glory followed by actual epic doom and glory. But it also warns of getting desensitized to the point of saying, "things go on as they always have and always will." Sometimes I think the trigger for Christ's return may just be when we're all sufficiently tired of the increasingly frantic blare of hollow sirens. Till then, I need to find the torx bits that the apologetic employee said where in aisle nineteen.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Low Man

I am the rich man.
I fear it.
I kneel on the warm side of my door.
I am the rich man.
I feel it,
In prostrate comfort on my bedroom floor.

In affluent dismay,
My prayer begins.
The low man lights the way.
Remember him?
He pleads from phantom cage
To let me in.
A holy light sustained
Yet flickers dim.

Entrapped in pleasures drowning desperate sounds,
I feel the distance.
Sparse excess I have dared to go without.
A grasp at closeness.

How large a gift yet sacrifices slight.
A holy ember strains to flicker bright.

Draw him near or take me far,
From both within me, here we are;
That mindful place, that abstract home,
In low man's space we fear to roam.

Between prayer and prayer again
I am the rich man, now and then.
I cast a glance. The gold grows thin.
I bid the low man let me in.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Mind Blown


The best reactions to being a calico adoptive family happen to my wife when she's out without me. Today in Walmart she changed directions in an aisle only to find another woman in her face who asked, "This is gonna sound weird but can I blow your mind?"

"Uhhh...maybe," my wife answered trying to make the abrupt transition from grocery list to stranger danger with all five kids in tow.

The lady pulled out a large wad of twenties and appeared to debate how many to part with while evaluating Leah closely. A single twenty was offered with the advise that it was for ice cream or something else fun for the kids... "not cigarettes and alcohol." At this point the evidence indicates this lady didn't realize the kids were adopted so the impression was that my wife "gets around" and still doesn't have a man to help her through Walmart. Tough life.

Scripture says if someone's gift is giving let them give generously. So twenty bucks bought an awkward "thank you", a four pack of kids movies and some fancy school folders. Mind blowing? Uhhh, maybe. God has a good sense of humor that's hard to track with sometimes. But even when the joke happens in the canned tuna aisle, it's funny. If anybody needs a mind blowing twenty dollars, I can officially afford to pay it forward now.