Dec 23, 2013

Is God Patient? (Part 3)

If you have not done so already, be sure to read the Introduction that is Part 1 and the study of the Hebrew root words that is Part 2

The Greek Definitions
Endurance as Salvation: makrǒthumia/ makrǒthumōs
Found fifteen times in the New Testament, fourteen in the first form and once in the second (Acts 26:3), this word refers to forbearance or fortitude, to be longsuffering, or to endure.

So how is YHWH enduring?

Linked alongside the Hebrew word, ârêk, the Apostle Paul writes to the early church in Rome, “Or do you presume the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance [a ‘change of mind’]?” In Romans 9:22-23, Paul goes on to write, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels [Greek ‘bodies’] of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”

Along with how YHWH waited for Noah to build the Ark before flooding the earth as a result of its sin (1 Peter 3:20), Paul’s comments lead me to wonder if YHWH is both judge and executioner. In other words, does He directly condemn and destroy and pardon?

Here are some possible answers:

1.      YHWH holds Himself in check. His wrath is in constant counter tension with His grace, His destruction with His renewal, with justice somewhere muddled in the middle. YHWH practices self-control.
2.      YHWH holds an angelic entity—or entities—in check.
a.       There is a heavenly servant zealous to execute YHWH’s righteous judgment in its absolutely pure service to and love of its lord. This recalls Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” as recorded in Luke 9:52-56. Jesus replied to their fervor to destroy an unrepentant city with fire, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”
b.      There is a demonic, hellish force like Destruction (Hebrew Abaddon, Greek Apollyon) that readily tries to stir chaos amidst the world, but which is countered and sometimes contained, or even allowed—as Paul seems to suggest—by YHWH and/or His heavenly agents (compare Daniel 10:10-14 with 2 Corinthians 12:7).
3.      YHWH endures or allows the destruction that mankind so readily fosters, both in honor of freewill, but also so that those who Paul calls “the elect” might be drawn to His power amidst the hardship.

In contrast to Paul’s verbose style, the Apostle Peter perhaps offers a more concise perspective to begin with when addressing this subject. He writes, “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15a). Alright, so how does YHWH’s patience provide salvation? Is it because YHWH does not destroy mankind at the first instance of sin, or because He prevents something else from bringing harm, or because he has chosen to endure the chaos that humanity often embraces and incites?

Those who want a simple black-and-white answer—such as those who generally emphasize YHWH’s sovereignty to mean that everything happens by His direct decree—will likely favor #1 above. Those who allow a worldview’s value to include shades between black and white may be more inclined toward a dynamic involving the two latter answers, or at least #2b and #3. In part, this leads to a discussion about spiritual warfare, which, though fascinating and important, does not really have ground to be discussed here. If there is room for all aforementioned points to exist together, however, Jesus seems to be the only means to begin understanding it—the only bridge.

So perhaps examining how mankind is to be longsuffering will add more insight to this riddle of how YHWH’s wrath and mercy coexist.

The aspect of patience associated with makrǒthumia commends a Christ-follower’s ministry (2 Corinthians 6:6), or “the calling to which [we] have been called . . . bearing with one another in love . . . eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Patience is a product not of my own efforts, but of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is how I am meant to engage people (Colossians 1:11, 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:14), preach the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:2), and demonstrate my praise for Jesus’ mercy even as I struggle with pain (1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:10). YHWH’s endurance saves me because, while my endurance can help expand the Kingdom, it is grounded and grows because of what the Son of Man, Jesus, endured. He makes the call to live in endurance clearer—and harder. His life exonerates and glorifies the legacy of those who “inherit the promises” of God’s covenant with Abraham (Hebrews 6:12; James 5:10; Hebrews 6:15). It is about worship, about sharing the ultimate abundance that YHWH has provided.

Real Freedom: makrǒthuměō
Found nine times in the New Testament, and similar to the previous set of words, this differs only in that it includes an aspect of being mild and slow in avenging—slow to anger and slow to punish.

Though affirming man’s call to “Be patient . . . until the coming of the Lord [a farming metaphor]” (James 5:7), this word essentially applies to YHWH. This is best demonstrated in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:26, 29), one of three instances where the English word “patience” is directly associated with Jesus’ teaching. The second example, found in Luke 18:7-8, contains two questions.

The first is whether, in the end, when Jesus returns, YHWH will delay long in giving justice [avenge the persecution of] the “elect, who cry to him day and night”? In this particular discourse, Jesus is affirming that YHWH is indeed responsive, that He hears the cries of the hurting, and will ultimately respond to them. This is not to say, however, that He will necessarily do so right now. This quickly lends itself to a discussion of the so-called “Problem of Evil,” which cannot be adequately addressed here. But part of the answer may reside in what was just outlined concerning makrǒthumia.

This is further complicated by Jesus’ conclusion of this parable with the second question: Will YHWH even find faith on earth? This lends itself to another question (or two): Is YHWH’s help somehow dependent on how much I have allowed or opened myself to be helped? Though difficult amidst suffering, is YHWH’s delay in giving justice actually to the benefit of all mankind?

While various Old Testament accounts challenge a sense of YHWH delaying justice—e.g. the Flood, the intended genocide of Canaan—complicating the discussion with questions about YHWH’s goodness and consistency, which is yet another discussion related to the theology of the Kingdom, it seems best to once again try to focus on how Jesus informs the broader picture. And let us not forget Tozer’s helpful definitions of mercy and grace as shared in Part 2 of this series.

In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord [Greek Kurios = ‘He with the power to decide, the master, the possessor, commonly associated with God, the Messiah’] is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you [on your account], not wishing that any should perish, but that all [Greek Pas = ‘individually, collectively’] should reach repentance.” YHWH desires relationship with each person. Yet the freedom that He has breathed into the structure of this world allows us to reject that desire. That is, depending on how you define or whether you accept the premise of “Irresistible Grace.” Regardless, this inherent freedom is base at best. The pursuit of stimulants like sex, wealth, and/or fame usually proves to be a cheap expression of freedom. As a focus, that kind of worship binds and starves me in its short-term pleasure rather than offering any real long-term peace in satisfaction, which is ultimate freedom. Furthermore, there are clearly ramifications for rejecting YHWH’s mercy and grace.

Opening myself to YHWH is about surrendering my freedom to choose anything else to predominantly love. Therein resides real freedom. Another paradox: surrendering freedom to gain it. In this transformed bond, it is a freedom that nourishes gifts like sex, wealth, and/or fame with true beauty and meaning—with life.

Life and Wholeness: hupǒmênō
This word, found thirty-one times in the New Testament, is very similar to the previous three words in emphasizing steadfastness, but it also  contains a figurative aspect of undergo (bear) (trials), suffer.

In patience, I wait and hope for what I do not see (Romans 8:25), my hope being through the encouragement of the Scriptures—by the God of endurance, encouragement, and glorious might (Colossians 1:11; 2 Peter 1:6)—in order that I may live in harmony with fellow Christ-followers, and thus with Jesus; that together we might glorify him (Romans 15:4-5). This steadfast hope rises from the steadfastness of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:5). As with Job, the purpose of YHWH is compassionate and merciful to those who are steadfast (James 5:11). Or as Jesus reveals to John, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance [following the command to not worship false gods and receive their mark, not being swayed by false teaching and materialism], I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (1 Timothy 6:11-12; Revelation 2:2-3, 3:10, 14:12).

I am not only spared YHWH’s wrath, but I am offered life [Greek: breath of life, soul] (Luke 21:19; see also Romans 2:7; Hebrews 10:36; Revelation 2:19). True life is meant to bear spiritual fruit. The most noteworthy fruit is relationship. Relationship necessitates perseverance (Luke 8:15). Jesus is my example of this (Hebrews 12:1). I become like him by imitating and adopting his steadfast faith amidst suffering (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 1:5, 6:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:10; Revelation 1:9). His suffering was not only physical, but emotional as his closest friends abandoned him. Even YHWH [somehow] abandoned him. It is written that this kind of steadfast faith makes me “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4)—a calling to all who follow Jesus (Revelation 13:10), especially meant to be modeled and encouraged in the Church by my elders (Titus 2:2). It is a lofty goal, but it is possible because of Jesus. In it there is hope for life. In it there is hope for being whole again.

Transformation: aněxikakǒs
This is summarized well with the one Scripture passage that uses this word, here meaning the [human] endurance of ill and wrongs:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24). My example of living and striving toward a life of peace and wholeness, serves the Holy Spirit in guiding people toward transformation. As do the examples of all who follow Jesus. That is part of the divine romance. It requires community, for only in this kind of community can real maturation and progress occur.

Illuminated Mirrors: ěpiěikēs
This final word, used five times in the New Testament, is defined by the English words suitable, fair, mild, gentle, and moderation.

This applies to YHWH as an attribute of “wisdom from above,” which is heavily associated with being peaceable (James 3:17).

This characteristic of reasonableness and gentleness should apply to me as a disciple of Jesus because it can endear me to others. Whether from a position of authority that contrasts trends like violence, drunkenness, and greed (1 Timothy 3:3), or as a demonstration of my submission to authority (1 Peter 2:18), or my general good will (Titus 3:2), acting from gentleness demonstrates the true freedom in which I live, the transformation taking place within my life. In short, it demonstrates the Holy Spirit of Jesus living in my heart.

There is meaning in this. There is hope because it is marked by a promise that the peace of YHWH will shelter and fill my heart and mind. I can mirror this because Jesus’ pure life, living water, fills my life—as it can be with all who receive him. More so, it can be illuminated, and thus illuminate. Jesus came. Jesus comes. Soli deo gloria.

There is tension in life. Patience would not be necessary if it were not so. Tension is at the heart of unspeakable pain. Yet it also directs toward some of the most compelling beauty. It empowers movement: muscle fibers producing physical motion. It produces music: stringed instruments. It forms language: human vocal cords. . . . There is so much heartache and so much beauty. One reaches from the grave while the other pulls it out to live and stand once more.

How can I stand? How can I help others stand?

YHWH is faithful. Therefore, I can be faithful.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is about following YHWH’s prompting, about surrendering my own desires for the greater vision of the Gospel of the Kingdom. I have hope in following YHWH because He has and does already bear the true burdens of choice. To follow Him is to follow His choice, which is to follow Jesus: the answer to waiting for salvation. YHWH shelters me in this mercy and grace. I do not have to face storms alone and exposed.

My days on this earth are limited, my impact relatively small. But those days and impact can be meaningful when they are lifted up and carried by Jesus. He makes life significant. He gives it direction. He gives it hope. Each day is a precious opportunity. Therefore I join Tozer’s prayer, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

So is God patient?

I ask this question because it points to understanding YHWH’s love, and, therefore, the love that I am inspired to offer to others. This inspiration, this living, is a kind of worship.

Why worship? Because YHWH is compassionate and just. He does not default to anger, but allows me to respond. I find strength in this love to wait for the ultimate fulfillment of His goodness. I find belonging as I join Jesus’ Great Campaign to gather all people into his Kingdom of Heaven. I find hope in this because Jesus endured the unthinkable—the unfathomable—that the world might know salvation. It was for freedom that he set me free. In that freedom I find peace. In peace there is life. That life is about transformation. It is about mirroring—about illuminating—Love. It is about something that began over two thousand years ago in a seemingly insignificant town, in a seemingly insignificant shed, on a seemingly insignificant night. Yet it was a night that changed everything, when insignificance began to be utterly transformed into significance—when what was expected, when what was thought reasonable, suddenly became only the beginning. Jesus, the advent of peace on earth: YHWH’s absolute authority and power manifested in this world as it is in Heaven.

This is the real meaning of Christmas. This is why we should celebrate. Really. What are you waiting for?

Merry Christmas.

Thank you for navigating some of this wilderness with me.

Dec 16, 2013

Is God Patient? (Part 2)

An introduction to this whole semantic mess regarding "patience" can be found in Part 1.

The English root word of “patience” is patient, which has two meanings in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

The First English Definition
“1. Bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint, 2. manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain, 3. not hasty or impetuous, 4. steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity, or 5. able or willing to bear.”

I was hoping for a simpler definition to begin with.

It seems necessary to make sure that we understand a few words within the definition:

Forbearance means “a refraining from the enforcement of something (as a debt, right, or obligation) that is due.” A patient person it marked by this.

Impetuous refers to being marked by “impulsive vehemence or passion (i.e. temperament)” or “force and violence of movement or action (i.e. wind).” A patient person is not marked by this.

The Second English Definition
“1.a. An individual awaiting or under medical care or treatment, b. the recipient of any of various personal services, or 2. one that is acted upon.”

When examined critically, this only adds further dynamics to an understanding of patience. Perhaps it is with a spark of divine irony that “patience” is such a puzzling idea at a serious glance. Then there are the 3 Hebrew words and 6 Greek words that have been translated into some variant of “patience” in English translations of the Bible. Briefly noting their thematic uses offers some further insight. Let us begin . . .

The Hebrew Definitions
Compassion and Justice: ârêk
This word, found in 15 different Old Testament passages, means long [-suffering, -winged], patient, slow [to anger].

How is this word attributed to God?

In Exdosus 34:6b-7, Moses writes, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands [or to the thousandth generation], forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (also referenced in Numbers 14:18 and Nahum 1:3).

There is a paradoxical tension in this passage: forgiving iniquity and visiting iniquity, grace and judgment. Tozer provides one of the clearest, most succinct explanations of this tension:

“[God] has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised. . . . As judgment is God’s justice confronting moral inequity, so mercy is the goodness of God confronting human suffering and guilt. . . . As mercy is God’s goodness confronting human misery and guilt, so grace is His goodness directed toward human debt and demerit.”

With further study, it is interesting to note that “slow to anger” is often paired with “steadfast love” or “abundant (or abounding) lovingkindness”, or also often paired with “gracious and merciful (or compassionate)” (see Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; and Romans 2:4), but still not without some tension with the demand for righteous judgment (Jeremiah 15:15). What is important for now is this sense that YHWH’s patience is defined by love—or love by patience—evident through His compassion, though not without unfulfilled judgment against rebellion.

So how is this word associated with mankind?

Proverbs 15:18 reads, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” When examining other instances of “slow to anger” in Proverbs 14:29, 16:32, or Ecclesiastes 7:8, it is seems that mankind is called to be patient because it demonstrates humble wisdom.

Without delving into the theology of the Kingdom of YHWH, and how it relates first to ancient Israel and then later to the world best expressed through the Church, ârêk directs us to Jesus being the only hope of mediating the tension between YHWH’s compassion and justice. Mankind is unable to consistently live in wisdom, and thus is unable to consistently and honorable demonstrate YHWH’s love. In Proverbs, especially, wisdom is basically personified to the extent that it foreshadows the coming of mankind’s ideal—that is, Jesus Christ. He is the embodiment of patience. He demonstrates it to YHWH for us, and to us as YHWH.

In consideration of the human timeline, from mortal perspective in other words, it would seem that YHWH indeed suffers long in waiting for me to respond to His gift of compassion that is Jesus. Similarly, in consideration of uncharted eternity—the potential for receiving the just consequences of my rejection of Him—YHWH is indeed slow to anger. Furthermore, such steadfast love is incredibly humbling when considered alongside my own attitude toward others.

Waiting for Good: chûwl
This primitive word is found only once in the Old Testament, and means to wait carefully (patiently), hope; often associated with twisting or whirling as in a dance, writhing in anguish or fear, or bearing or bringing forth as in childbirth. This is a nuanced word, to say the least. “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices” (Psalm 37:7).

I am often—or always—called to wait for good things, of which Jesus’ ultimate redemption is the greatest. This is not an easy task, especially considering that I live amidst a culture that glamorizes immediate gratification. Yet as Jesus’ road to the cross attests, there will be pain. To follow after Jesus is not for the fainthearted.

Gathering the Faithful: qâvâh
The final Hebrew root word is found in forty-three Old Testament passages. Like chûwl, it is also primitive, and means to wait, look for, expect; to collect, or bind together.

How is the word used in reference to YHWH?

YHWH is interested in gathering (Jeremiah 3:17, Micah 5:7). Such gathering occurs in the end times, but is also used in reference to nature (Genesis 1:9), as in gathering the good harvest in contrast to that which is found to be rotten (Isaiah 5:2, 4, 7). He sometimes does so when we do not expect it (Isaiah 64:3), while at other times it is in reward to those who are expectant or ready (Lamentations 3:25).

What does it mean for a person to live expectantly?

“I wait for your salvation, O LORD” (Genesis 49:18; see also Psalm 25:3a, 5, 37:9, 34; Isaiah 8:17, 25:9, 26:8, 33:2, 49:23, 69:6; Jeremiah 14:22; and Hosea 12:6). As has already been mentioned, Jesus initiates the completion of that waiting period. People long for wounds to be healed, for the chaos to be quelled. People long for hope, for strength—for justice (Psalm 27:14, 39:7, 40:1, 52:9b, 130:5b; and Proverb 20:22). Jesus tells us to have faith, for “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith in Jesus leads to salvation. “But they who wait [actively trust, have faith] for the LORD shall renew their strength [spiritual transformation]; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Even nature waits (Isaiah 51:5, 60:9). The conclusion has already begun (Job 3:9, 6:19, 17:13).

Yet it is also important to note that evil is also waiting (Psalm 56:6; 119:95; and Lamentations 2:16). It seeks to devour our lives. While spiritual warfare is its own heavy subject, for now note that the fulfillment of ultimate peace has yet to come. There is still pain. There is still darkness, and some hopes unmet that no one can really explain. “But when I hoped [expected] for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness came” (Job 30:26; see also Job 7:2-3; Isaiah 59:9, 11; and Jeremiah 8:15, 13:16, 14:19).

There can be real hope, however, because there is a promise. C.S. Lewis writes it well: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” Still, even with such hope, in the face of uncertainty and heartache, it takes immense courage to press on. That is why we need to be gathered into community.

Or as Steve Clifford, pastor of WestGate Church in San Jose, says, “Doing the Christian life alone is not just difficult, it’s impossible.”

In the next post of this series, Part 3, I will proceed to examine what the New Testament writers offer to the discussion of patience through a brief study of the Greek root words.

Dec 13, 2013

Is God Patient? (Part 1)

Why this Question?
In Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer writes, “We wait for the sun to move from east to west or for the hour hand to move around the face of the clock, but God is not compelled so to wait. For Him everything that will happen has already happened.”


God is not compelled so to wait?

What does that mean? Does waiting factor into YHWH’s existence at all? Is “patience” relevant to discussing His nature?

Granted, at the heart of such questions is a mysterious God of many attributes and many names, the “I am”, YHWH, who has no creator, who created our world, entered it at a specific time in history as a specific human being, Jesus of Nazareth, died and rose from the dead in that lifespan, and then, shortly after ascending to Heaven, came to reside permanently in that same world as the Spirit that dwells within and guides the hearts of His disciples in truth and wisdom. And more.


Christians have heard these ideas countless times. It is taken for granted to be sensible, but think about it again. Really think about what has been communicated. Perhaps consider it another way:

As the orthodox creeds of Christianity proclaim, this God is the one and only eternal, triune God. One. Triune. He is not only the Creator, King, and Judge, but a man, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, the embodiment of YHWH’s love that fulfills His justice while professing His grace and mercy to humanity. Outside the universe. In the universe. And more.

With so many facets and apparent paradoxes, there seems to be more mystery enshrouding my hope for a holistic view of YHWH than clarity. Through His Word, Jesus, and how it interacts with the Holy Spirit, however, I do believe that YHWH has provided the essentials of His nature. Perhaps the rest is not essential—though by no means unimportant. Jesus, this Word, is the blood that flows through the heart of YHWH’s mystery. It gives life. It stains it. Once covered in it, filled with it even, it is nearly impossible to remove. Furthermore, being that Jesus is not directly, physically here at the moment, humanity probably only has blood stains to decipher anyway. It is enough for hope and salvation, but it is not the complete body. There are only pieces—living: growing, active—but pieces all the same.

This mystery has been confounding brilliant minds for centuries, differing theories of interpretation—too readily called doctrine, I suspect—that have often led to serious division and even violence. Libraries are full of mortal reason in all fields of study wrestling with the right words to explain the mystery. Yet reason is not enough to explain YHWH. Scientific process, art, personal testimony—everything in the human arsenal of experience unfortunately proves inadequate to provide a complete understanding of YHWH. Thus faith must step in to bridge the numerous, seemingly insurmountable chasms that human hearts and minds cannot cross. Attempting to journey across such thresholds demands courage, therefore. And humility.

I have so many questions against current presuppositions, against those claiming exegetical backing—which, if we are honest, is often more eisegetical in nature—that I cannot possibly address it succinctly in one body of writing. Nor do I want to. The questions become stifling. They can cramp the will, prevent me from fostering the resources to actually take action. Not all will feel this way, but they have their own strengths and passions—their own vision. I am more compelled by the wilderness of how art speaks to experience rather than reason or science.

Every once and a while, though, I feel drawn to enter the world of scholarship to challenge what I may deduce. In this instance, Tozer provided the nudge.

Let me assume, for now, then, that YHWH is outside of time, and, therefore, knows both the end and the beginning simultaneously; that there is no future, no past, and no present for YHWH. I cannot really know this for sure because its infinite potential extends beyond my finite limitation. I am led to understand that time exists in a half-dimension: it has a starting point, and proceeds in only one direction. There are so many other dimensions, so does it really matter that I understand the nature of how YHWH exists outside time and space? In the sense that trying to answer the questions draws me closer in relationship with YHWH, yes. In the sense that it affects how I should live right now, maybe not so much.

As a disciple of Jesus, I am called to follow him—to be like him. Though some may debate this, I believe that at the heart of the Gospel is a story of YHWH’s love. Though I do not fully grasp how that all works with its tensions of justice and grace, and much more, it is a critical aspect of YHWH’s character. It is written that “God is love” (I John 4:8). Tozer would add that YHWH does not so much show love, but offer the only true, complete reality of it. Again, YHWH is love. He is the starting point of understanding it.

So what is love?

One of the most well-known definitions begins with “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). This suggests that patience is one intrinsic link to understanding love. Therefore, it must be an aspect of YHWH’s character, right? Or is it yet another failed attempt at human understanding? In fact, are most things that we call attributes of YHWH limited expressions of the Truth?

It is remarkable how swiftly the question can lead one to the edge of the chasm of utter perplexity. Hence, for now I will try to focus only on one word, one idea. Patience.

What does “patience” really mean? What does the Bible provide to the conversation? More specifically, how does patience specifically relate to my relationship with God and, therefore, with other people?

It takes a lot of time to begin to thoroughly study a word. Therefore, this brief mental journey has been divided into a few parts. The Hebrew and Greek words commonly translated into English terms associated with patience will be examined along with Scripture in the next posts. As will the ramifications of such knowledge, which is the more important purpose and outcome of this work.

If you are interested, if you dare, bear with me a while longer—join me—as I venture further into this wilderness.

Oct 29, 2013

What is Halloween?

"And there to intone ancient threats learnt verbatim;
They lisp “TRICK OR TREAT!” Tis their stark ultimatum.
Thus: region by region such legions take plunder.
Does this spector-full spectacle cause you to wonder?
Just how did our fair festive forebears conceive,
Of this primeval practice called All Hallows Eve?"

Oct 24, 2013

Biblical Dating?

Is there such a thing?

Though perhaps written in unnecessarily complex vernacular, I appreciate Paul Maxwell's balanced perspective in “Toward a Biblical Approach to Dating.”

Thinking about it for a moment, though, the article title is basically saying toward approaching the Bible; directly suggesting that there is indeed no Biblical perspective on dating, but only indirect guiding truths.

The first chapter of Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage addresses the subject of contemporary culture and dating trends a bit more succinctly than Maxwell, but Maxwell essentially communicates the same conclusion. It is indeed beneficial to consider how culture has influenced our perspective of relationship.

Much of the following has been triggered by reading Maxwell’s article.

Is Dating like National Politics?
Well, it sure can feel that way sometimes. Self-oriented. Pretentious. Overrated. Necessary. . . .

Maxwell writes "Compare how the Bible relates to dating with how it relates to national politics." Though he goes on to explain it pretty well in the article, I believe that using this comparison is too misleading. After all, the Kingdom of Israel’s "national politics" included genocide-oriented conquest, countless polygamist political marriages (especially at its height under the rule of King Solomon), and some serious family strife resulting in violent division (e.g. King David's family), to name but a few. Not that this was all that God really wanted, but national politics is a term that raises loads of unnecessary distractions to a conversation about dating.

Is Dating an Institution?
Like “national politics", I would shy away from referring to dating as an “institution.” Sure, there are social trends that could be compared to political trends—call it an institution, if you will. Perhaps it can feel like an asylum at times.

It seems to me, however, that at the essence of dating is the pursuit of relationship, which has not, is not, and never will be just some institution. Relationship is the essence of our existence. It is the whole point of everything: to connect with others and to love them. That is the mandate that God has demonstrated and given to His people. He is most honored in the context of relationship. All meaning begins here. If that is not true, there was really no point for Jesus to have dwelt among us.

Furthermore, I would contend against a statement like “Dating has no redemptive-historical meaning.” On its own, for its own sake—as a kind of entertainment or sport—which seems to unfortunately be the trend in the United States, dating is indeed rather meaningless. I appreciate how Maxwell considers dating in general to be a transition between singleness and marriage. Such a bridge is necessary and healthy. Dating is incredibly meaningful in its proper expression. Ideally, people learn from it, grow from it, and hopefully ultimately build a holy covenantal marriage from it.

With this view in mind, and at the risk of sounding sacrilegious, could Jesus’ life not be viewed as a kind of courtship of Israel, linking the Old Covenant with the New—an old way of life to the new? The metaphor is flawed because God was actually already in a covenantal relationship with His people before Jesus came. But I think you get the idea.

To consider more practical terms, Maxwell does offer a refreshingly original definition of dating:

Dating is merely our culture's disposable (yet legitimate) mode of expressing interest (to any degree) in entering into the marriage covenant with a particular person. . . . It is a this-world cultural mode of manifesting a legitimate transition that God endorses and delights in.

While he seems to think that dating is something new to this present culture, contrasting it with ancient near Eastern courtship practices, I would contend that the semantics and expression have only changed. Has the idea not stayed the same: people and society generally looking for some way to encourage uncommitted relationship toward committed relationship?

Granted, the long-defined sanctity of marriage is being challenged on a few fronts today, but that is another conversation.

Necessary Boundaries
In the second half of the article, Maxwell goes on to outline how Biblical moral boundaries guide the developing intimacy of a dating relationship. He does this very well, which warrants no commentary from me. Read it for yourself.

Yet while some people like to mark their ideas with the "Biblical Perspective" stamp of approval, I would not use the phrase "Biblical Perspective" in conjunction with dating, i.e. "A Biblical Perspective of Dating." The Bible really does not have anything direct to say about dating. Trying to claim a Biblical perspective of dating, therefore, seems to be more like eisegesis—“the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas (Merriam Webster)—than exegesis, which is “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text.”

That noted, Jesus does teach us a lot about moral purity, which lends itself to a discussion of healthy boundaries—once again, as Maxwell clearly outlines. When we talk about boundaries, what most people are really talking about has to do with sexuality. There is a minor degree of subjectivity in what some of those boundary lines are for people (e.g. hand holding being too arousing for some, while kissing is too arousing for others, etc.). I appreciate the challenge that Pastor Steve Clifford made two weekends ago when discussing "The Power of Love" (i.e. Sexuality) at WestGate Church: When the desire or arousal cannot be righteously fulfilled, you must stop right there. "Righteously fulfilled" refers to the holy covenant of marriage. Or another way that Clifford phrases it is that "there are no righteous orgasms outside of marriage."

This statement is a challenge to masturbation, pornography, sexting, and just about any sexual expressions regardless of whether it involves vaginal intercourse or not (e.g. oral sex, anal sex, etc.). This is not to disclaim other forms of affection like hugging, hand-holding, or kissing, unless, of course, they arouse a desire that cannot be righteously fulfilled.

Finally, I will not address homosexuality here because it deserves its own focused discussion. In the meantime, I have found that one great place to begin the conversation is with the wise words of Ravi Zacharias when he responds to the question, “Can someone live a sincere Christian life as a homosexual?

Beyond the Conversation about Dating
Someone recently asked, “How do we encourage and direct [singles] from a Biblical perspective, not just based on our cultural or personal experiences?”

Once again, I am not sure that “Biblical perspective” is well suited to a conversation about dating. That is, unless the encouragement relates to understanding moral boundaries within a relationship and/or dating in the context of its goal being a healthy marriage.

The response to “What is dating anyway?” is much more subjective, and thoroughly and imperfectly tied to culture. For example, one has only to read Jeff Taylor’s Friendlationships to get a sense that there is no universally accepted definition of what dating actually is.

Dating is messy. It can be frustrating. It can be ridiculous. And it can be pretty darn fun.

I would also like to suggest that some Christians too often discredit personal experience. That attitude seems to dishonor the work of the Holy Spirit in and through a Christ-follower’s life. Like dating, or like marriage really, truth and experience are united in an imperfect, untidily journey together. I believe that the Bible was mostly written from that context, which is not to suggest that experience trumps the Bible or that the Bible should not be Christianity’s universal guiding text. Biblical interpretation, on the other hand . . . well, that is another subject. Again.

For now, let us focus back on the original question. How do we encourage singles?

Actually, let me also note that there are equivocally numerous books and articles already written that address this subject. I do not really feel like chiming in because most of what needs to be communicated has already been communicated. Not to mention that the subject is an ambivalent one at that, and I am undecided as to whether the Apostle Paul helps or just compounds the issue with his blatant affirmation of independence from romance. Also, we cannot forget that Jesus was single.

Rather, the most important message that I wish to affirm when it comes to encouraging singles—or anyone, really—is that each person has a unique story. Discard all that I previously wrote if it means you are now paying attention.

A Story for Stories
With a human story comes a mass of subjective complexity: emotional scars, physical scars, heavy burdens on the spirit, incredible defenses around the heart, hopes, despair, bitterness . . . The list is endless. There are common threads, but the important truth to remember is that each person needs to receive love and to give love. Each person desires intimacy. What that means for each individual may vary, but without some form of intimacy the human life is empty.

Healing is essential. But where does healing come from?

Jesus Christ offers the clearest of answers.

Love is essential. But where does love come from?


Jesus Christ, God incarnate, is the definitive starting place. He offers us unmitigated, gracious, unceasing love. He offers us healing. Each of us only needs to acknowledge him to receive it: acknowledge that I am helpless without him; that without his guidance I will just fall again and again—for the rest of my life. That he is flawless. That he is selfless. That he is powerful. That I need the intimate relationship that he offers if I am to even begin to hope that truth and love can be shared with another human being.

From that attitude of repentant humility, I am called by Jesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit of his truth and love, to let it fill my heart and overflow to others. Not only do I need the truth in love given to me by God through Jesus, and to give it, but for some uncertain reason I also need it from others—beyond what just God can give (Genesis 2:18). It is a multi-directional offering. It is about serving one another. It is about relationship—with a family member, with a trusted friend, with a spouse. With anyone.

Singles need love. Singles need relationship.

Just like everyone else.

Soli deo Gloria.

And has anyone actually ever heard of "flirtexting" anyway?

Oct 7, 2013

Love is . . .

. . . not the fulfillment of identity, but encouragement in the vision and action of purpose.

Sep 11, 2013

Frailty, thy name is Man

Filled with wonder and heartache,
Bright bonds that stir passion on
Shattered past spirit drowned;
Wash memory devour remorse,
Color each blessing and curse
To deny, embrace, let go?

Sep 2, 2013

Is church essential? to begin this discussion, we should probably first post another question. 

What is church?

There are volumes of books and articles written on this subject, many of which probably include original Greeks words like Ecclesia and Koinonia. My intent, however, is to consider the broader implications of our answers. Let us consider essential focus.

Of course, to talk about church we should probably first address the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

What is the Gospel?

This subject has resulted in still more volumes published and more emotions heightened, but most of Christendom seems to summarize its orthodoxy with the Apostles Creed and/or Nicene Creed. These creeds conceptually express the core, unyielding truths of who Jesus was, is, and is to come.

Jesus did not call people to merely confess their frailty and profess belief in his claims, however. He calls Believers to follow him—to be his disciples. Further still, he calls disciples to demonstrate belief in him and his message by modeling it to others and by telling others about it.

Believe. Be a disciple. Make disciples.

To follow Jesus necessitates that I not only love God, but that I also love others. Everyone. Family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, angry drivers, politicians . . . This is perhaps the hardest part because people are complicated. People are wounded, often fearful. Not to mention entitled, demanding, and occasionally just plain unreasonable.

Like me.

The answer begins with loving people.

Now to paint a mural with ideal colors:

Disciples start congregating on a regular basis because they find inspiration from each other’s stories and that of the Biblical narrative. They want to share life together: memories, resources, and wisdom.

A church results. It is a unique kind of community. It is a symbol of unity. As the Holy Spirit moves, a vibrant and healthy culture forms. Whether in a home, some building, or outside, the church serves as a gathering place where people sharing a common faith can worship together: praising God, praying, teaching, learning, and generally supporting one another in daily life.

A church grows. Its members direct their energy toward fighting injustice on behalf of their city. A church becomes a force for stirring communities into action. It stands for peace and unity.

The congregation eventually exceeds the capacity of its meeting place. A new space may be required. Multiple worship services are decided upon. Strategies for a satellite campus are discussed. More leadership and structure are garnered so that resources are stewarded well and personnel kept accountable. Bureaucracy settles in. Additional staff members are hired to help manage and facilitate it all. Marketing strategies are formed. Bulletins are printed. Signs are made. Websites are built. The calendar fills up. Jesus promote church?

A church is an interesting organism. The Holy Spirit can certainly work through a church’s influence in a city, state, country, or even the world to encourage transformation. The church can be a formal representation to other representatives, whether neighborhoods, schools, businesses, or governments. It has great potential. From house church to mega church, a church can be a beacon. It can be a necessary catalyst for change. It can be the opposite.

Is church the real goal?

I appreciate something that Pope Francis I said: "I want trouble in the dioceses! I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures."

It is necessary to briefly note the difference between a church and the Church; though, of course, this is also debated. A “church” implies either a building (derived from the German word, Kirche) or a gathering of Christians. This congregation may or may not grow—or want to grow—into an organization. “The Church”, contrarily, represents the unity in Jesus that all Christians share around the world. The Church is the body of Jesus: the continuing tangible manifestation of the Gospel. The Church is also called the Bride of Christ. While these metaphors can offer further insight into Jesus’ relationship with humanity, they usually just add some initial befuddlement.

What does it mean to be the Body of Christ AND to be his Bride? 

Community should be the inevitable result of people intent on loving God, loving one another, and loving their neighbors. But attending a church does not necessarily lead to community. And community does not necessarily mean church. Or friendship for that matter.

There should be some level of belonging because of shared faith in Jesus’ love. The desire to love and be loved is arguably the predominant motivation for just about everyone’s choices. Most grasp what love is. More struggle with how to give and receive love. Jesus offers some relatively plain insight. I just struggle with it because I want to find ways that mold the definition with my own inclinations.

Is that not also so with a church? Personal inclination is impossible to remove when people are involved. So what am I to do? Maybe the point is that I focus first on loving like Jesus rather than first building a church like Paul.

Did Jesus not speak more about the Kingdom of God?

While talking about church is more tangible than talking about love and the Kingdom, Jesus calls his disciples to herald the truth of God’s Kingdom. Our world is fallen and broken. It is dying. We are dying. I am to share God’s love because it combats isolation and oppression with the mysterious reality that life does not have to be this way. There is another path to follow. God is real. He is present. He is good. Jesus, the Son of God, the Creator of Everything, invaded the world over two centuries ago as a human being. He answered the call for justice with his own death. A rocky hill with a bloodied cross became a major symbol and stronghold in a blatant invasion against the Prince of the Earth, Lucifer.

There has been a violent spiritual war raging since creation. While it is written that it will not conclude until Jesus returns, in the meantime, he brought peace to earth in a permanent, growing way. He rose from the dead. Death is no longer the conclusion. A new life is offered. Jesus promises victory.

The Kingdom of God is advancing.

To be the Body of Christ is to take part in a great campaign. It may or may not include being part of a local church. To be his Bride is not only to remain pure—not committing ourselves to other promises of meaning, whether sex, money, or fame—but to remain faithful with the opportunities that he has given me. I am called to proclaim the Good News. By the power of the Holy Spirit, I am called to combat Hell on earth—the lies and chaos of Satan—with the realities of Heaven. I am called to dwell amidst my culture while not letting it shape my motivation. The grace of God is meaning and hope. His love for each of us, including unbelievers, is my motivation. My goal is to end willful ignorance, passivity, and distraction. While it must begin in my own heart, it must not remain there.

The world needs more action and less theorizing.

Believe. Follow Jesus. As an individual, as a community, or wherever I find myself, I must cast aside excuses and help others along that new path. There is strength when two or more gather in the name of Jesus. Hallelujah, God is powerful enough to use me even when I am alone in shadows of doubt or heartache—or in the brilliance of success.

It is not comfortable. It is not easy. But my God is greater than adversity. I will overcome by the love of Jesus and the message of his transformative power. Amen.