inconceivable interpretations of Romans 7

“Inconceivable!” the bald guy with the cartoon voice keeps shouting. He uses the word over and over to express his shock.

And finally Inigo Montoya – of “… you killed my father, prepare to die” fame – has had enough and utters my favorite line from The Princess Bride: “you keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I mention this because I’ve heard several explanations of the famous Romans 7 passage where Paul says “… the things I want to do, I don’t do. What I don’t want to do I find myself doing,” etc.

And with nearly every explanation I find myself thinking “You keep using that Scripture. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

People like to say “see, Paul struggled the same way we did! His life was an ongoing battle too! Just like ours!” It’s the ultimate “misery loves company” moment for us. We should EXPECT for our lives as Christians to be a tooth and nail fight for shreds of goodness!

… wait, how is this good news?  It seems to me that if Paul’s saying “yep, the Christian life is one big, ongoing ying and yang battle against sin and you’ll probably never see much progress” … well that just depresses me.

But I don’t think that’s what Paul’s saying. At all. But seeing that involves backing up a bit. Continue reading

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a new love

I’m speaking for the college ministry at my church this Thursday, and have the privilege to cover 1 Cor. 13 (a.k.a. the “love” chapter that’s often read at weddings).

In my preparation I learned something interesting: the word for love in this chapter is “agape” (which I knew). But what I didn’t know is how odd Paul’s word-choice was. During Paul’s time agape was an obscure word nearly no one knew. Most people think it was adopted from the Hebrew language, and thus was far from being a common colloquialism.

So why — in one of him most evocative chapters ever — does Paul use a word no one knows? I think for the same reason anyone uses an uncommon word … to sound smart.

… not really. I think it’s because new words demand new interpretation. Whenever I use the word “orange” my brain opens up a file containing everything I know about oranges. So if I want to communicate something OTHER than the information in that file, I need a new word.

I think Paul uses the word agape to clarify that he’s not talking about love the way his readers knew it. No, the love Paul talked about was something that — like the word — was different, rare, unusual. He then spends half the chapter defining this love: it’s patient, kind, free of jealousy and pride and rudeness. This love is hopeful and joyful and it’s always always always a proponent of the truth. It leads to faith and hope.

And I think the implication of this chapter is that whatever this agape is, it’s altogether other than the type of love we humans usually embody. It’s not phileo, friendly but only to a point. It’s not eros, romantic and desirous and lustful (not that either of these two loves are necessarily bad, by the way).

It’s a love that’s bigger … or maybe deeper would be a better adjective. It’s a love that humans aren’t particularly capable of on their own. It’s a love that will have to come from some place else.

Probably from a God who would repeatedly say that He is the inherent embodiment of agape. “For God so agape’d the world …” Or in 1 John, “For God is agape, and in Him there is no darkness.”

1 Corinthians 13, then, isn’t a call to try harder to love well. It’s a call to participate in a love that is altogether outside us … and never more needed.

whispers

It was Elijah’s great moment.

A stand-off between the priests of Baal – the spiritual seductresses that had led Israel to whore herself out to another lover – and THE God. The I AM. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God who by His choice made Israel a chosen people.

And God won.

Fire fell from the sky. The altar was consumed. The priests were killed.

Elijah could not have dreamed a better result. God had show up in power and surely now – after all of this – Israel would rush back to Yahweh. Jezebel and her spineless husband’s reign of oppression would end. Israel would take its place as a shining beacon of light to the world. Right?

 

Except it didn’t go that way. Continue reading

the dust of our rabbi

There was a saying in Jesus’ time: “may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” Which is a weird thing to say to someone, I know.

It was said to people who were in training to be one of the few, highly respected teachers of the Jewish faith. It was a saying for disciples who, if a rabbi allowed them to sit under their tutelage, would follow their rabbi around everywhere and watch as he interacted with the world. They would watch him eat, pray, go to temple, and they would observe him, because they wanted to be JUST LIKE their rabbi.

So to be covered in the dust of your rabbi meant that you has followed him so closely on the dirt roads of 1st Century Palestine that his sandals had kicked up a cloud of dust that was now caking your body. And this was an honor, because there was nothing a disciple wanted more than to be just like his rabbi. The dust was a sign of honor.

 So when Jesus – the rabbi – says to his disciples, “you will do greater things than these,” it is a huge moment. He’s telling them “you’ve been covered in my dust, and you’ve done well. I’ve watched you, and you have what it takes. Of course, Jesus also knew the Holy Spirit would soon be changing their lives, bringing the same power that would soon raise Jesus from the dead into every waking moment. But that’s kind of the point for us, right? If we spend each day hovering close to our rabbi – caked in the peripheral presence of the Holy Spirit – then we can be just like Jesus. We will grow in His love and power. We will see our lives changed, and see God use us to change OTHER peoples’ lives.

damned lies

“You won’t die if you eat the fruit from that tree” the serpent indignantly insisted. “The problem here is God … he’s holding out on you. He doesn’t really want what’s best for you. You’re smart enough to figure out your OWN way of doing things.”

And Eve listened, and I still listen, and I see people everywhere who are listening too.

We’re focused on the tree, and how much we want its fruit, and how cruel it is for God to keep us from the tree. And how the tree really isn’t that big of a deal. We think it’s all about the tree.

And what we don’t realize is that it was never about the tree at all … not really.

It was about trust.

Satan’s goal always has been, and always will be, to make sure we don’t trust in God’s competency and God’s goodness.

Every sin we commit ultimately comes back to a belief that God either isn’t good or isn’t smart. He’s incompetent or He’s evil.

If I want what’s best for me, I best be about getting it, because God’s not going to come through, I think.

But I don’t realize any of this. Because I’m so focused on the damned lie that this is really all about the tree … not me choosing to shun the one who created me.

BLOG TRAFFIC & THE BOOK OF REVELATION: two things I don’t understand

So I haven’t blogged in a long time — three weeks to be precise. It’s sadly pretty typical for me.

I blog twice a week for months … and then stop. I run three times a week for years … and then stop. I voraciously read the news every day for half a decade … then stop.

I’m an unpredictable guy.

Also unpredictable: my blog traffic. I have slowly but surely built something resembling a respectable audience the last few months, but figured that nearly a month off would wreck that. But when I looked at the statistics today … I’m averaging more views per day than ever before and on pace for a record breaking month. I’m pretty sure this is because of all the pictures I have here. People google image “cancer” and the cancer cell pic I used in a post several months ago shows up.

Basically what I’m saying is that when I DON’T write, more people look at this blog … primarily because most people coming to this blog aren’t looking to read anything. They are just looking for pictures …

 

There are some things I know are wrong, even if I can’t explain why I feel that way. For instance, I know — know from the bottom of my heart — that cockroaches are demons in physical form. Think about it, they thrive in dark and decaying places. They scuttle about all weird-like. They can survive a nuclear holocaust. Something ain’t right … I just can’t prove it.

For years I’ve felt the same way about the book of Revelation … or more accurately, about peoples’ interpretation of it. I read those Left Behind books and hear preachers explain a 7 1/2 year day-by-day timeline of the apocalypse and something inside me goes “this just doesn’t sound right.” But I could never explain why I felt that way. It was just a vague impression that these people were misreading things. Continue reading