Saturday, March 31, 2012


Every time evil doesn't get a foothold in our lives, we win.

Sometimes bad things happen to us, and we are hurt or betrayed or savaged by life. But there is a difference between being harmed and being ruined. Harm comes to everyone, but Christian people find victory in Christ to avoid utter ruin. It is Christ who sustains us, delivers us, buoys us, and restores us to our full humanity such that we can say, “I'm devastated, but not bitter (even though I should be) because of what Christ has done for me.”

This is what I mean by keeping Satan from getting a foothold. Bitterness is a foothold. It is a cancer that eats your soul from the inside out. You will certainly be harmed in this life. That's the bad news. But the good news is that harm doesn't have to ruin you. If you welcome the Spirit and invite him to heal you from the inside out, you can gain wisdom and understanding and even some spiritual health. But if you refuse, and allow that harm to rot and fester in your spirit, then you will turn bitter. That bitterness—far more than the original harm itself—will ruin you.

You achieve victory when you refuse to be bitter.

Here's a three-part reminder I use to remember how this works and identify the ways Christ is winning in me:

I'm a _________, even though I should be ________ because I can see ________.
I'm a (forgiver, peacemaker, friend), even though I should be (resentful, vengeful, hostile) because I can see (Christ's healing power, Christ's eternal joy, Christ's peace that passes all understanding).

Rachel was a little girl in our church who died of cancer before her tenth birthday. Her father, Frank, had every right to be angry and bitter. He had prayed and begged God to heal his daughter and God had not. None of us understood why not, least of all Frank, but Frank understood that Rachel's suffering was over, and she was now in the presence of Jesus. Frank understood that Rachel had already received her (final) victory. Understanding that was Frank's victory. Refusing to be angry with God, question God, or distance himself from God was further victory in Frank's life. As a result, nearly two decades later, I can testify to the fact that Frank is one of the most profoundly happy and generous people I've ever met. But he had every right to be reclusive and miserable. The difference was that Frank chose not to exercise his right to unhappiness, but to claim victory in and with and through Christ.

He refused to let the devil get a foothold, and as a result he has a life most everyone would envy. That life didn't come easily, but Frank was faithful and disciplined, mindful of who God is and what he's done and—focused on that—it was more than enough for everyone to win in the end.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Levels of Biblical Interpretation

Found this while trolling today, a simple summary of an ancient concept.



The modern manner of interpreting Biblical text is commonly called exegesis. This method concerns itself mostly with the literary and grammatical context of Scripture verses. Practitioners of exegesis sometimes view anything beyond the literal text as "isogesis" and often pay it little heed to it, or regard it with suspicion. This is an unfortunate error, a result of a backlash against improper allegorizing of the Scriptures, resulting in a case where "the baby is thrown out with the bathwater."

With regard to the proper understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures in their proper context, including the "New Testament" books, there are in fact "levels" of interpretation that must be taken into consideration. This was the method used to write and interpret Scripture by the authors themselves as well as the audience of their time and culture.


The four level of interpretation are called: Parshat, Remez, D’rash & Sud. The first letter of each word P-R-D-S is taken, and vowels are added for pronunciation, giving the word PARDES (meaning "garden" or "orchard"). Each layer is deeper and more intense than the last, like the layers of an onion.

P'shat (pronounced peh-shaht' - meaning "simple")

The p'shat is the plain, simple meaning of the text. The understanding of scripture in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the word’s being used, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. The p'shat is the keystone of Scripture understanding. If we discard the p'shat we lose any real chance of an accurate understanding and we are no longer objectively deriving meaning from the Scriptures (exegesis), but subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisogesis). The Talmud states that no passage loses its p'shat:

Talmud Shabbat 63a - Rabbi Kahana objected to Mar son of Rabbi Huna: But this refers to the words of the Torah? A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning, he replied.

Note that within the p'shat you can find several types of language, including figurative, symbolic and allegorical. The following generic guidelines can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its p'shat:

  1. When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative. Example: Isaiah 5:7 - For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
  2. When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative. Example: Zechariah 5:1-3 - Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying scroll. And he said to me, What do you see? And I answered, I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits. And he said to me, This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth; for everyone who steals shall be cut off henceforth, according to it; and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth, according to it.
  3. When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative. Example: Psalm 17:8 - Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings ...

Remez (pronounced reh-mez' - meaning "hint")

This is where another (implied) meaning is alluded to in the text, usually revealling a deeper meaning. There may still be a p'shat meaning as well as another meaning as any verse can have multiple levels of meaning. An example of implied "REMEZ" Proverbs 20:10 -Different weights, and different measures, both of them are alike an abomination to the Lord.The p'shat would be concerned with a merchant using the same scale to weigh goods for all of his customers. The remez implies that this goes beyond this into aspects of fairness and honesty in anyone's life.

D’rash (pronounced deh-rahsh' also called "Midrash," meaning "concept")

This is a teaching or exposition or application of the P'shat and/or Remez. (In some cases this could be considered comparable to a "sermon.") For instance, Biblical writers may take two or more unrelated verses and combine them to create a verse(s) with a third meaning.

There are three rules to consider when utilizing the d'rash interpretation of a text:

  1. A drash understanding can not be used to strip a passage of its p'shat meaning, nor may any such understanding contradict the p'shat meaning of any other scripture passage. As the Talmud states, "No passage loses its p'shat."
  2. Let scripture interpret scripture. Look for the scriptures themselves to define the components of an allegory.
  3. The primary components of an allegory represent specific realities. We should limit ourselves to these primary components when understanding the text.

Sud (pronounced either sawd, or sood [like "wood"] - meaning "hidden")

This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. An example most people are familiar with is Revelation 13:18, regarding the "beast" and the number "666."


Examples of the Remez, D'rash and Sud, can be found in Matthew as follows. (Of course the p'shat is throughout the text.) Without knowledge and application of the rules of PARDES, these verses would either not make sense or indicate an error on the part of the author:

Matthew 2:15 - "Out of Egypt I called my son." This is a quote from Hosea 11:1 that Matthew is applying to Yeshua. If we stuck to a literal exegesis only and researched the quote, we would have to accuse Matthew of improperly using Scripture, as Hosea is clearly speaking of the nation of Israel, and not the Messiah. Matthew however, is hinting (a remez) at the relationship between Israel and the Messiah, in this and other verses he uses.
Matthew 18:18 - "... Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" This is a verse that has been interpreted in numerous (incorrect) ways due to a lack of understanding that this ad'rash concerning decisions one makes in their personal "walk with God" (called your"halakha" in Hebrew/Judaism).
Matthew 26:28 - "Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, Drink from it all of you, This is my blood ..." Taken literally this verse verse would not only be a violation of the Torah commandment against consuming blood, but along with other verses about eating Yeshua's flesh (John 6:51-56), could be grounds for accusations of cannibalism. There is a far deeper, more mystical meaning here however(the sud), even one that those who heard Him did not understand (John 6:52).


Because God sympathizes with us and wants us to experience his power and dignity and image alive and at work in us, he becomes one of us and shows us how it’s done. God desires to proclaim men as victors, so he becomes one and wins. Christ destroyed death, brought an end to sin, abolished corruption, banished ignorance, manifested life, declared truth, and bestowed incorruption.

Of particular importance to those who claim God is unjust, or unfair, is the means through which God accomplished his victory. He could have accomplished it by force, wresting lordship away from Satan mano a mano, but then the devil would have had cause for complaint. After all, the disobedience of Adam resulted in the abdication of humanity's dominion over the earth. Satan had rightly and justly won his lordship, and God would have had to either cheat, break his own rules, or bully Satan in order to get it back.

No—in order to be just, God had to win back the lordship over the world. And the only way he could win back what humanity had lost was to become human himself. So he did. Thus the disobedience of Adam was undone by the obedience of Christ.

Obedience was the means of his triumph and ours.

We could never have escaped the devil's dominion without the victory of Christ on the cross. The passion of Christ brings us courage and power. He, through his passion, ascended on high, made captivity captive, gave gifts to men, and gave us power.

What is the nature of that power? According to the Second Testament, it is power to rule (Revelation 1.6), power to overcome evil (Ephesians 6.10), power to defeat the agents of the enemy (Luke 10.19), power to witness (Acts 1.8), power to perform miracles (Acts 6.8), power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 12.9), and power for the new creation (1 Corinthians 15.43).

But we can only have this power because Christ has won it back for us. He has "tied up the strongman" (Matthew 12.29), carried off what the devil once owned, and given it back to God's people.

God could have cheated, but instead he allowed his divine wisdom to be put on display, making a show of those dark powers and returning humanity to its former, God-given, glory.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Have you ever heard of a scapegoat?

In philosophy, a scapegoat is someone everyone else decides to blame for all their troubles. If you imagine a pre-industrialized village where all the babies keep dying of a rare influenza, then you might easily imagine the kind of panic and anxiety felt by those villagers. Having tried everything to get rid of the contagion, they find they cannot, and the babies keep dying. The villagers come to think the problem must be more than the flu, and so they single out poor Edith Sunshine. Edith is new to town, young, and pretty. The men have certainly noticed Edith, which means the women have, too. Suddenly, someone realizes the babies took sick sometime (roughly) around Edith's arrival. She must be a witch! Burn her! And so they do, and for a while they are content to believe the problem has been solved.

At least, until the next baby dies, at which point they'll have to find a new Edith.

The term scapegoat has biblical origins, rooted in the Day of Atonement rituals as described in Leviticus 16. Once each year, the high priest would confess all the sins of Israel to a goat. The sins were transferred to the goat, so to speak, and it was driven into the wilderness. Thus Israel was cleansed.

A scapegoat, then, is one who takes on the sins of others. Biblically, this referred not only to the cultic ritual described above, but also to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29), for he has carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53.4) and become sin for us (2 Corinthians 5.21).

The point I'd like to make is that Jesus was the last scapegoat. He was blamed for the sins of all in both the philosophical sense (others blamed him) and the theological sense (he willingly accepted that blame). The reason he was the last scapegoat, the final one we ever need recognize, is that his death was not the end of the story. Jesus was resurrected into new life, conquering death, and in so doing, he exposed the violent scapegoating tendencies in the human heart and forced us to realize precisely how much evil we are truly capable of performing. Faced with our own complicity to sacrifice others for our benefit, as though we were looking into a mirror showing us how morally hideous we have become, we recoil from our sinful nature and embrace God and his plan to heal the world. Jesus' victory, then, is the starting point for his present work in the world, where—through his Spirit—he continues to triumphantly break down sin's power and deify men.

Through Christ, we are called more than conquerors (see Romans 8). We are not simply beneficiaries of his victory, but participants in his war on sin, both internally, in our own hearts against our own sinful nature, and externally, against the powers of darkness arrayed in the world. What does this mean for us?

Two things, initially. First, we must refuse to blame others—especially God—for the sins (and their consequences) we have personally performed. No one got us into the mess we're in but us. The good news is God will help us get out of it. Second, we must thank God for his mercy in this regard and endeavor to assist him in all possible ways, so evil is uprooted both internally and externally as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mnemonic Victory

Mnemonic devices are little strings of words we use to help us remember big concepts. I often find them very helpful in wading through the vast stores of scriptural knowledge required in my profession. For example, every time I see a compact disc, I can't help but think of the prophet Habakkuk. In the late eighties and through the nineties, CDs (the abbreviation for compact disc) were the standard form for transporting music. But my friend Paul Hughes once held up a CD with a piece of masking tape on it to teach me about Habakkuk. The prophet's name was scrawled on the tape, a makeshift label, and the CD stood for crisis and dialogue, the two main themes of the biblical book. Because of that little mnemonic device, I've got a good handle on that book for life.

In real life, I often use a mnemonic aid to assist in victorious living. It's a simple little refrain that helps me remember every moment in life is an opportunity to submit to God's Spirit and be renewed in his image. Here's the device:
When they ________, then you _________, so that _________.

When they, then you, so that. There's kind of a sing-song feel to it when you say it out loud, what Shakespearians would call iambic meter. Anyway, the gist involves letting yourself be formed by Christ instead of reacting to the poor behavior of others. So, when they (curse you, revile you, hate you), then you (bless them, forgive them, respond with mercy) so that (the Spirit gets bigger inside you, you are re-formed into the image of Christ, you are transformed).

We have to learn to see every unpleasant, miserable thing as an opportunity for God to do his new creation, resurrection work in us, killing off our sinful nature and bringing the kingdom to bear.

We have to see these things with kingdom eyes, changing our perspective from “woe is me” to “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

When they crucify you, then you sacrifice yourself willingly, so that God will raise you up into new life.

The next time you feel like strangling someone who's treating you like a weiner, try to hear these little iams working through your head and see if it doesn't help you respond differently.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Victory Isn't Getting What You Want

Victory isn't about getting what you want. It’s about getting what God wants in you and loving it. It's his victory, not yours. He died on the cross to spare you from it. Your participation in his suffering is derivative, just as your victory is derivative too.

That ought to affect how we think, speak, and pray about victory. In fact, that may be one of the primary ways Christian victory is different from worldly success. In truth, you can have victory even in the midst of failure, since failing at a given task is often of far less spiritual consequence than failing to live life as God intended.

To disambiguate, we might distinguish between horizontal victory and vertical victory. Horizontal victory is getting what you want in this life. Vertical victory is living the way God wants. For the Christian, vertical victory always precedes horizontal victory. Your vertical victory is your responsibility before God. Attend first to him and what he wants. Then, in concert with the Spirit, pursue your earthly victory.

For example, if a woman's boss berates her every day, she wants horizontal victory. She wants her boss to stop verbally abusing her. God wants that too, but God also wants this woman to take every possible ounce of good from this miserable circumstance. The woman knows this and knows vertical victory always comes first, so she prays and asks God for two things simultaneously. First, she asks that her boss would leave her alone; and second, that she would endure his tirades with grace and respond in love. The woman knows victory in either direction will only come through the power of God's Spirit, but she chooses to cooperate with God in all the ways she can manage. Consequently, whenever her boss amps up, the woman begins to cycle the scriptures through her mind and cautions herself to respond with self-control, to avoid saying something that may get her fired. After work, she goes home and continues her spiritual struggle, claiming victory and reminding herself that her boss doesn't define her or shape her, and that he doesn't have the power to rob her of her God-given dignity. Concerning her boss she thinks, You don't define me. You don't shape me. I'm shaped and defined by God, made in his image and filled with his spirit. I have dignity. I have the victory in Jesus' name over all the accusations of the enemy, including all the crap coming out of your mouth.

The woman may not see horizontal victory right away, but she still has vertical victory (even if he never lets up) because she's untouched by his negativity and murderous spirit. She is not defined by the enemy, but by Christ. She finds immediate vertical victory as she longs for ultimate horizontal victory.

And, of course, the more Christ wins in us, the easier it becomes for us to walk in victory with others. The woman's boss finally notices her gracious responses to his long-standing jerkiness and backs off.

Had the woman not prioritized the vertical over the horizontal, she may have missed out on both. She may have fought the wrong war with the wrong weapons and lost on both fronts. Which is what might happen to you, unless you remember victory isn't about getting what you want, but about getting what God wants in you and loving it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Instrument of Your Defeat is the Occasion of Your Victory

None of the dark powers understood why Christ came into the world. If they had, they wouldn't have pinned him to the cross (see 1 Corinthians 2.8). Maybe these dark powers were blinded by their own ambition or greed. Maybe, when Christ took fragile human form, they thought, What luck! Here's our chance to end it all. Regardless, they played right into God's hands. God used Satan's own evil to bring about Satan's own destruction.

Since his earlier attempt to involve Jesus in a collaboration to rule the earth failed, Satan set about to seize what he thought was a moment of vulnerability (viz. The Son is now human and can be killed) and had Jesus crucified. Ironically, Satan even enticed Judas to betray Jesus and in so doing the devil signed his own death warrant.

Here's a powerful spiritual principle: often the things that look to destroy you are the very things God will use to make you grow.

The instrument of your defeat is the occasion of your victory.

Did you catch that? We attain victory only when we're under attack, besieged, and persecuted. There's no victory without a war.

When I was a young man, first starting out in the ministry, I asked my dad what the best way was for people to grow in the faith. I expected him to say something like small groups, or reading the Bible. Instead, Dad answered matter-of-factly with this little gem: pain.

Pain is what makes us grow.

You can't grow muscles without exercise. You can't grow your intellect without study. All growth requires resistance. We have to learn to see things as they really are, through kingdom eyes, and understand that hardship isn't just hard—it is also the opportunity to overcome, to grow, and to cultivate the kingdom in us.

In order for you to be part of the new creation, your old self has to be crucified; you must go through pain, through death. Then, in the midst of that pain, you get your victory via resurrection, as the new creation comes to bear.

The new you, remade and reformed into the image of your creator, only emerges as you're sanctified though all the hard stuff. Which means we need to change our perspective on hardship, difficulty, and sorrow.

When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1.2-4

Sunday, March 25, 2012


God wants to establish his lordship over the cosmos through us. He wants his bride to reign with him (2 Timothy 2.12; Revelation 5.10, 20.6). This was the plan from the beginning (see Genesis 1.26-27). It's not enough to know Satan has been defeated. He has to be routed, to be eradicated, out of our homes, out of our families, out of our lives, and out of our minds.

The best way to accomplish this is through prayer.

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (James 5.16). Prayer moves God and makes an incredible difference in the world. Jesus told us to ask God for things, promising that they would be given (Matthew 7.7, 18.19-20; John 14.13-16, 15.7, 16.23). He encouraged us to pray with tireless persistence as though God needed to be called to attention (Luke 11.5-13, 18.1-8).

In light of this, we have to acknowledge that prayer is an essential part of our co-reigning with him. God's will is like a business check that must be cosigned in order to be validated. The church is the cosigner, and prayer is our signature.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

You Have To Care

Despair is the enemy of victory.

In war, if two equal and opposing sides cannot be differentiated by anything other than morale, the sad side loses.


It's the same in spiritual warfare. If you lose the battle for your spirit, if your hope is lost and your optimism shattered, if you read the scriptures and cannot bring yourself to believe them, then you've lost even before the fight has begun.

You can't win if you cease to care. If you stop caring about your marriage, you'll end up divorced. Nobody's marriage is perfect, but if you let the ongoing imperfections lead you into despair, you'll give up and lose the fight for happiness, mutuality, and partnership.

God cannot perform what he wants in your spirit without your openness and cooperation with his spirit. Neither can we expect God to work in our favor if we act with disregard or carelessness toward others, ourselves, or our circumstances.
You have to fight for victory in your outlook, so you can experience victory in your circumstances.

The real question at the end of all this is how do you lift your spirits, boost your morale, and restore your hope?

Three things must be said here. First, hope comes through character (see Romans 5.2-5). You get hope in the midst of suffering because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. If you can keep fighting to keep fighting (that's the perseverance part), you'll grow increasingly resolute (that's the character part), and those two things together (which we might refer to as suffering well) add up to hope because, simply put, you wake up and realize Hey, I haven't lost yet, and I've been fighting for a long time. Maybe there's hope after all!


Secondly, you have to realize hope comes though memory and the application of memory into the future. For example, when you read the scriptures and learn the stories of people who previously put their hope in God you realize that [a] you're not the only person to have fought for hope and [b] if they can persevere then so can you (Romans 15.4). Likewise, when you look back over your life and see the litany of God's faithfulness to you, you become increasingly confident that the same God who showed up to help you before can be trusted to show up and help you once again. Victory yesterday translates into hope for tomorrow.



Finally, hope is rooted in imagination. You have to close your eyes and dream up a better future, one consistent with God's vision for your life, and then work towards bringing that dream into reality. Admittedly, this is the hardest of the three, but it is also the most profitable. Despair is, at the root, all the wrong kinds of imagination. It's when you let your fantasies spoil and become nightmares so that all you can imagine is horrible and wrong. Take control over your imagination, fill your mind with wonder and beauty and adventure and meaning, and start healthy production back at the fantasy-factory.

Of course, there's good biblical language for this kind of sanctified imagination. In the scriptures they call it visions and dreams, and when the prophets spoke about the visions God gave them for the people, the net result was always hope.
Hope does not disappoint.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Planting Pitons

Two spiritual clichés come closest to the point, but miss it still. The first, “we are all on a spiritual journey,” correctly indicates that the spiritual life is gradual, ever-progressing, and long. But it fails to indicate the fact that the journey is hard. Not just sometimes. It is always hard, and when it is hardest is when it is also most beneficial. It’s better to speak of a spiritual ascent than a journey, though I confess I'm nitpicking.

The second cliché is also journey-oriented: “you are always either moving closer to God or away from him; you are never spiritually stagnant.” This thought correctly indicates the fact that there is no such thing as dead-in-the-water faith. At best, we're pursuing God; at worst, we've lost interest and are pursuing something else. There is no middle ground. And yet this catchphrase neglects an equally important consideration. It's difficult to abandon God entirely after a lifetime of seeking him actively. It's far more common, and far more probable, that long-term God-seekers only drift so far when their attention wanes. They rarely, if ever, turn right around and neglect God completely. They simply have too much practice attending to him to forget about him. Even in the worst case scenario—a fallen pastor, a fraud, an embittered missionary, an apologist who is no longer persuaded by her best arguments—those who have devoted themselves to God for a long, long time find it almost impossible to leave him in their wake.

God is a hard habit to break.

After considering these clichés (the spiritual journey and the myth of stagnation) for some time, I ran across an illustration by John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard church. In speaking of spiritual development, Wimber says there are times when we attain certain understanding, or reach a certain level (for lack of a better term) from which we cannot slide backwards. To extend our mountain-ascent metaphor, these understandings are like pitons—the metal spikes mountain climbers rely on for safety while scaling incredible heights. Pitons are planted firmly in the rock as the climbers ascend. Ropes are threaded through the pitons from the lead climber to the climber below. As a result, the climbers can never fall too far past their last piton. This is called belaying, and it has saved many lives.

Knowing God puts us on a path of spiritual transformation. But that path is tough and requires real effort on our part to cooperate with the Spirit and ascend in the faith. As we grow, we're constantly planting pitons—little markers that keep us from slipping too far. Some of these are theological (Jesus was both God and man, come to save the world), and some are experiential (because of the presence of the Spirit in my life, I know I'll get through these present difficulties), but the good news is that if we slip, the last piton is always there, with Christ as the climber below holding our rope.

When you consider your spirituality, you might do well to catalogue your pitons. Think of them. Name them. Describe them. These are your past victories, and as you strive for your next victories, you may take some strength from understanding just how far you've come.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Not Total Victory

I believe Christ is working through us to heal the world. God is working to accomplish his kingdom purposes through us, to slowly colonize Earth with the spirit of heaven. I believe those who seek to follow Christ can positively affect the world around them, slowly bringing new creation to bear, so the world more closely resembles what God designed it to be.

But that won't ever happen completely in my lifetime.

I wish it were otherwise, but it's not. Any positive differences we make are comparatively small. They're not inconsequential, but they suffer from scale.
You can't save the world.

You likely can't even save all the people you know.

But most of us, most of the time, fail to realize that. We think that, since God is working through us, and since we're willing to cooperate, a whole lot of problems ought to be solved a whole lot quicker than they are.

They should, but they won't. Not totally. To believe we can totally reverse the U.S. economic depression, or totally clean up our streets from the drug trade, or totally eradicate crime in our neighborhoods, or totally educate every single child in the state, or totally stand in the way of terrorism is unrealistic. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, only that we shouldn't despair when we don’t accomplish everything we hope to.

When we do despair, we are guilty of an over-realized eschatology. The eschaton is the fancy word for the end of time, when God finally shows up to make all wrong things right and all crooked things straight, when he reunites this world with his world. Whenever we try to fix everything and fail, the sadness we feel is an ideological sadness born out of a misunderstanding of his ultimate plan.

You see, you can't fix everything. If you could, we wouldn't need God. We'd just need you. But you're not God.

Don't let that discourage you, though. You can still fix some stuff. You can still have some victory in this life.

But not all.

You won't have total victory in this life. That only happens at the end, when you're reunited with Christ in paradise. This is the struggle for the next victory, a partial victory that comes through the ceaseless advance of the kingdom-in-you. God is exporting his kingdom purpose in you, making you and your family and your network a franchise of his kingdom. It's not quick work, but it's well done.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Next Step

How do you gain victory over something like unforgiveness? A step at a time.

My mom told me about a painful experience she and my dad had during their early years in pastoral ministry. They were building a new facility at their church and—as is so common—tensions between the church leadership and the church laity grew as the building costs escalated, and the project threatened to soar out of hand. During that season, many people left the church (and many more came, too, because of all the excitement). Whenever someone leaves a church it hurts the pastor. Sometimes more and sometimes less, but it always hurts. Maybe it shouldn't. But it always does.

Some of the folks who left were Mom and Dad's closest friends. In fact, all of their friends left. The church grew, and many people came to faith in Christ, but my parents were left alone, hurting, and bewildered as to their abandonment. To make matters worse, the reason their friends left was some uncertainty about my father's character. I can tell you honestly that my dad is the single most godly man I've ever met, but they didn't know that. They only had suspicions and rumors to go on, and go they did.

My folks were not only isolated, but also besmirched. And not just by enemies, but by their allies.

Mom says she was full of hate. She couldn't figure out why they had been so abused. And they still had to see their old friends at social events and around town. They tried to avoid the same grocery stores and shopping centers and restaurants, and they were mostly successful, until—finally—they had to go to a wedding where all these people would be.

En route to the wedding, God spoke to my mom, and told her to walk up to the ringleader of the dissenters and throw her arms around him. She was instructed to remember the good times, before all the drama, and tell this man she loved him. She told my dad what God had spoken into her spirit, and Dad encouraged her to follow through on it. Dad wasn't excited about the prospect of any kind of confrontation, but he had enough faith to believe God knew what he was doing.

They got to the wedding and, sure enough, all my folks’ old friends were huddled together laughing at the reception. Mom went right up into the middle of them and hugged that man for all he was worth, saying "I love you."

He was totally taken aback, but composed himself quickly. He returned Mom's hug and replied, "Glenda—I love you, too."

Mom says in that moment all the evil went out of her. It was like an exorcism. In an instant, she had been given supernatural victory over her hurt and her inability to forgive. Those folks never came back to our church, but that's not the point. The point, in Mom's words, is that "my hatred was hurting me—they didn't have a thing to do with it. And when it was over? I could have done the happy dance."

Mom wouldn't have had that experience without first being obedient to God. If she had refused to hug that man and tell him she loved him (do I even need to point out it was plutonic?), then she may have had to work through those issues for much, much longer. But that's how it works: you take a step, and then God meets you. He doesn't show you the whole way forward, just the next step.

In Genesis 12:1, God spoke to Abraham and told him to leave the land of his fathers and "go to the land I will show you." Abraham must have wondered, Which land? But God didn't tell him. He just told Abraham to take a step.

You take a step of faith. And then God takes a step to meet you. If you don't take your step—your step of obedience—he waits a long, long time to take his. Because he wants the two of you to journey together.

How do you get over something like unforgiveness? A step at a time. But not alone. And not without any promise of recovery or reward. And not without some confidence that God is going to greet you. You have to take the next step, but he takes the one right after.

In the end, we are condemned to victory.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

this is worth every second: Kony 2012

The Kony 2012 "Controversy" (by Dan Pallotta, Harvard Business Review Commentator)
4:40 PM Tuesday March 13, 2012 | Comments (167)

Last week, Invisible Children launched a brilliant video aimed at making Ugandan rebel warlord Joseph Kony "famous" in the interest of capturing him and ending his reign of deranged brutality. The group hoped for half a million YouTube views by year end. They're up to 76 million today.

And now they're being attacked — not by Kony, but by critics whose voices are raised louder about this video than they ever were by Kony's atrocities.

Founded by three college students in 2003, Invisible Children is a human rights organization. They intended to make a documentary on Darfur. Bullets in the direction of their truck in Uganda caused them to change direction. Instead of a film, they ended up creating a massive movement to save children from abduction into Kony's rebel army. Their movement has galvanized hundreds of thousands of young people all over the world. They raise in excess of $13 million annually.

We pay lip service to the need to raise a new generation of socially conscious young people. We build institutes for leadership and the advancement of civil society on our campuses for it. Not in their wildest dreams could these efforts hope to produce young leaders capable of the results these three young men have achieved. This is movement-building at its finest. I have rarely seen anything like it.

Similarly, many bemoan the march of students into business schools and investment banking. They despair at the advance of materialism over concern for the world. These three activists and their legions of supporters are the opposite of that.

Yet predictably, the more successful their movement becomes, the more criticism they attract — and from the very people preaching social consciousness and decrying MBAs. It's a wonder any young person would want to try to change the world anymore. At the first sign that any of them actually has a shot at it, their own sector wants to cut them off at the knees. No success allowed. It offends our puritan ethos of self-criticism and restraint. Here's what Invisible Children is being criticized for:

1. Not combating the atrocities of the Ugandan military establishment. This reminds me of an incident in 1983. Thirty-eight of my classmates and I were bicycling 4,256 miles across the United States over nine weeks during an extremely hot summer to raise money for world hunger. Someone asked, "Why aren't you doing anything about hunger in America?" My response was that we had our hands full biking across America for world hunger and that if the guy was so damned concerned about hunger in America why wasn't he doing something about it himself?

2. Not giving adequate weight to the fact that Kony is now outside of Uganda with a weakened force of several hundred members. Now, as if their domestic movement-building wasn't awe-inspiring enough, Invisible Children has built an early warning radio network to protect local citizens from rebel attack. Their website has a user-interface that tracks this data. It's so user-friendly it makes Apple's aesthetics look sophomoric. Yes, Kony is out of Uganda, but that hasn't stopped his Lord's Resistance Army from killing 151 people and abducting 591 in the last year alone. What are the critics saying, exactly? Leave the poor murderer alone, he's suffered enough already?

3. Spending too much money on film and media. It's a film and media organization for Christ's sake. That's how they've drawn this massive groundswell of young supporters to their cause. Would critics rather they spent nothing on film and media and that no one know about them or the issue? That the children remain invisible? Of the $8.9 million the group spent last year, only 3.2% was spent on fundraising, and only 16.24% on administration. And guess what people were administering and fundraising for? The mission of the organization. So, to you young followers out there, given what I've seen, I'd say 100% of the money you're giving is going to good. I actually think they should be spending more, not less on fundraising. And Invisible Children has the clearest, most transparent financial and disclosure statements I've just about ever seen.

4. Making it harder to capture Kony by spotlighting him. What's the alternative? Maintain the strategy that's left him free for sixteen years?

The children are now visible. Case closed. If only more humanitarian organizations had such success toward their missions.

But there's something bigger going on here.

In the 1960s, critics whined that the money spent to go to the moon was more than it was worth. They didn't get that it wasn't about collecting moon rocks. It was about collecting passion and aiming it at something impossible. It was about demonstrating to ourselves that we were underestimating our potential by massive orders of magnitude. They didn't get the impact of millions of eight year-old kids watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, whispering to ourselves, "My God, anything is possible."

You should see the light in the eyes of the college kids engaged in Invisible Children's mission. That's the larger value of what these guys have created. A generation of kids believing again that they can change the world, and seeing themselves accomplish it.

The criticism is largely based in envy at Invisible Children's success. Envy? In charity? Yes. There are an awful lot of people out there for whom all of this work is still about their own holiness. They'd rather children remain obscured by criticism of the way in which they're being made visible.

switching dinner plates

Spirituality is like food and drugs.

Drugs can be mixed with food either by an enemy, as poison, or by a physician, as medicine. Either way, the drugs go down easier. On the one hand, the drugs bring death; on the other, life.

Spirituality is like that too.

Imagine sitting down to eat dinner with a poisoner and a physician. Both have had access to the same ingredients and both have cooked you supper. Two plates sit before you, identical in all outward respects. You wonder Who made this? Is it poison or medicine? If you eat the wrong food you'll die. But if you choose wisely, you'll live forever.

The food in question, parabolically, is our life on earth. In some sense, it has been drugged by both the devil and the Lord. Satan has prepared a sinister supper: death. But just as dinner is served, Christ has absconded the tray and swapped out the food. Death is still on the menu, but it is now accompanied by the dessert of resurrection. Satan wants you dead. Christ wants you to die so you can be born again.

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (Luke 9:24)

Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. (John 11:25)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

Satan drugged us with death, and Christ with life. And this isn't the first time this has happened. The crucifixion was the first switching of the plates. Instead of Christ's death being the end of our hope, as Satan intended, it was the beginning. Instead of it being the sign of Satan's triumph, it was the moment of his defeat.

What God has done in Christ for us, he has now also done in us for Christ.

Dinner has been served, and it has been appointed once for a man to die (Hebrews 9:27), so eat and drink for tomorrow we die (Isaiah 22:13).

Just make sure to eat dessert.

Friday, March 16, 2012

demolishing strongholds

Having victory implies there is some kind of fight going on. We know ultimate victory is given to us by Jesus, who won it all on the cross. We know his final victory will be consummated when heaven and earth are made new at the end of time.

But what about our victory? Which fight are we in right now?

Scripture teaches us we are fighting a spiritual war. It's not against armies or opposing nations. It's a different sort of battle altogether, which means it's critical that we understand the rules of engagement.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10.3-6

This battle takes place in the hearts and minds of people. You want victory? Start by renewing your mind (Romans 12.1-2), and continue by turning over your heart to God (see Galatians 5.22-26; Colossians 3). You have to learn to control your thoughts, stop yourself from spiraling mentally into depression or lust, and teach yourself to think Christ-centered thoughts instead. You have to learn how to defend your beliefs, articulate your faith, and think through the things that trouble you about your relationship with God. These are the "strongholds" Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthians.

In a physical war, armies move across the theatre of war and capture enemy positions, slowly advancing their forces into occupied territory. That's what we have to do with our minds. We've grown up in a world completely dominated by ideologies, ideas, and desires contrary to God. Step-by-step, bit-by-bit, we have to advance through the battlefield of our minds, our will, and our emotions and take back all the territory in opposition to God. We have to fortify God's word in us and defend the work of God's Spirit with mental and intellectual reinforcement, with community and relational support, and with determination and prayer.

The battlefield is your mind. The victory, then, is in your mind too. Maybe not just in your mind, but certainly first in your thoughts, evaluations, and considerations.

Think on that.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

provoking evil

Hurt people, hurt people.

Sometimes even the nicest people get angry. And when they do, they're capable of remarkable hurt and meanness. There are usually good ways of dealing with that when it happens. It still hurts, but the road to restoration is well-paved with those kinds of folks.

But sometimes, the people who attack, criticize, and berate us aren't the good ones. Sometimes we're the target for petty, conniving, malicious jerks.

And they never stop.

And they never go away.

They persecute us, for one reason or another, and no matter how many times we “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5.39) or “overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19.11) or “respond with kindness in order to heap burning coals on their heads” (Proverbs 25.22) they simply will not quit.

What are we supposed to do in those circumstances? How are we supposed to respond to the well-meaning people around us who try to console us by saying we need to see things “from their perspective?” Or that we shouldn't be so harsh until we've “walked a mile in their moccasins?” What will make the clichés stop or the pain finally run out?

My good friend Vince McLaren had a very biblical, even Christological, way of dealing with these situations. He used to tell me I should let angry, frustrated, mean-spirited people persist in their persecution. In fact, he taught me to encourage it. Vince told me that, eventually, their hatred would be exposed in front of everyone, put on display for the world to witness, and they would end up isolating even their closest friends and supporters.

It was great advice. Eventually, the mask always slips, and the evil beneath it is seen for what it truly is.

My dad used to give me the same advice, though he parsed it a little differently, and I never listened half so well to him. Dad told me to “give them all the rope they need to hang themselves with.”

One time, I had a difficult intern who was always criticizing me and second-guessing every decision I made. She would solicit other’s opinions, twist them, and bring them to me in an effort to build a case for why she was right and I was wrong. On every topic. From worship to teaching to mailouts and phone appointments, she knew better than I did. As her criticisms intensified, they also became less “differences of opinion” and more personal attacks concerning my character, my allegiance to Christ, and my capabilities as a pastor.

Those few times that the “others” came to see me directly about their perceptions concerning my leadership decisions, I tried to articulate my point of view without slandering my intern or defending myself. I was always surprised at the excuses the “others” made for my intern once the disparity between my instructions and her behavior was made known. They said “she’s just new” or “we all make mistakes” or “I’m sure she means well.” And never, not once, was there any acknowledgment that she might be purposefully out to cause me harm.

I understand why we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I’m also inclined to extend grace to the “others” since I had been unwilling to divulge either my personal hurt or perceptions on the issue. They were ignorant. But the fact remained, it was a difficult scenario and I didn’t know what to do.

This was the first time Vince told me to let my intern do whatever she wanted, and even allow others to see it. “She’ll burn herself,” he told me. “Just let her do it and you’ll be fine.”

So I did.

And one evening, during a worship rehearsal I was leading, my intern exploded in a high-intensity, high-volume, lambasting of my integrity and my competence.

In front of everyone.

Which, actually, was awesome. Because I didn’t have to defend myself. Everyone there saw how inappropriate her behavior was, and they saw that all her conniving and scheming was motivated by power and control. Several spoke up in my defense immediately, and several more confronted my intern later privately. The intern later apologized, asked for my forgiveness, and sought opportunities at another church.

Now, I’m not above a little correction when it’s due. In fact, I count myself among those particularly predisposed to instruction and betterment, but in this scenario I was right and she was wrong and all I had to do to get everyone else to see it was put her on display.

I understand if that sounds harsh. But remember we're talking about extreme circumstances here. We're talking about bullying that won't quit, humiliation that cannot be stopped, misery that is celebrated, cultivated, and broadcast to our enduring shame.

In those extreme circumstances, both Dad's advice and Vince's take a page right out of the book of Christ.

Tired of evil's triumph, God came into the world hidden in the man, Jesus. The mightiest power, hidden within the weakest body. Majesty in lowliness, suffering and death. This was a maneuver the powers of evil simply couldn't understand. Seeing God so weak, evil unleashed all its force to assail good, but that was its undoing. Evil overreached itself, and its power was broken just as it seemed to have prevailed.

God gave the devil all the rope he needed to hang himself.

That's what we should do as well—provoke evil, so evil cannot hide. Evil must not be mistaken for good any longer. Liars and social assassins must be exposed as agents of harm. When provoked, evil comes out with fangs bared, full force, and everyone watching sees how evil it truly is. Now exposed, evil can be judged. It must.

When you find yourself backed into a corner, don't fight evil with evil; put the evil on display. Let everyone see it for what it truly is. It's not neutral.

And neither are you.