Letter to readers, May 6/2011

 

It has been a couple of lifetimes since I have been here, it seems… I have started these and stopped them, every quarter or so… this tank-life seems so unreachable now…

 

I have one or two days of good Tank progress--and then this life becomes chaotic again, overwhelmed again, lost again… for 2 months… my life ebbs away, with nothing to show for these last days/weeks/months/years of my time on earth… I pray and I give, but the main thing God has used in my life and in the lives of many, I do not have the energy or time or heart or clarity or purity to do, it seems…

 

I have things yet to do in this life--and I resign myself to that--yet the 'they shall run and not be weary' moments seem distant in the past…

 

I know that these past 2 years have been very abnormal (burying both parents, managing both sets of affairs, flying almost 200 plane flights, a crushing workload, trying to help/support several family members (sometimes at the same time), weekends used for visitors, bible teaching, or house repairs;  an occasional 'local' issue (such as a large tree falling from a neighbor's yard across my driveway and front lawn….

 

[see what I mean?--it is now June 4th--a month later… but things seem better(?) slightly, I had a couple of good days of Tankwerke last weekend, but nothing since then… the day job saps all the mental life out of me, leaving nothing for night time… but I will trust in Him… and I have reason to hope a little, at this point… most items of the last 2 years have come to closure in the last 30 days… I still have one or two things left to attend to on my parents' home (where I have lived for the last 18 months), such as foundation repair and brick mortar repair, but those will hopefully be off my mind within another 30 days…

 

But as I sit here on a Saturday (with tomorrow being taken up all day with the Skype bible study I teach), my to-do list (non-dayjob) has dropped from 50 to 5… but my energy level has also dropped by that much (smile)… maybe its aging, or the wear-and-tear of many decades of being a sinner (with the steady stream of ethical compromises and failures that inevitably affect the children of the Garden).

 

But I have noticed over the past 2 weeks or so, a distinct 'lightening' (?) of my spirit, almost like the restfulness that comes with certain types of clarity or of simplicity.

 

But there is also this odd 'season' of crises of those around me--it seems like most of my family are experiencing unusual challenges (e.g. health, financial, legal, relationships, morale, direction) around me…

 

And so it is now January of 2012 with no further entries in this letter… the challenges of the last paragraph (from June 2011) turned into crises of panic and despair…  many of them have intersected my life and at the moment I am writing this I am utterly consumed with one of them—and in a vortex of fear and paralysis and struggle and self-doubt and… purification?

 

I have sensed God’s work in my life over the past 2-3-4 months more clearly than I can ever remember (except at the death of my daughter, and at other crises close to that magnitude). But in the current crisis—which has been going on since June 2011 (sigh/smile)—I can actually see some kind of pattern. I often can come up with multiple interpretations of the events surrounding me, but rarely do I have a deep ‘sense’ that what I see is part of what God is actually intending in these events. I am looking now at a pattern of evil events that God has allowed to happen, but which has been thwarted in its apparent goal, that is precipitating a radical change in someone’s life (and in mine, as a consequence). The events are clearly evil, aimed at one of His precious children, not in character with His ‘normal’ spiritual chastening nor disciplining-through-hardship, and very oblique to the mistakes of the victim.

 

This is actually unlike the evil armies of Assyria or Babylon, used as national punishment/chastening (in keeping with the covenant commitments) on the deliberately, maliciously, and arrogantly disloyal early Israelites. But within that mass of covenant-breakers, there were those Israelites or Judahites who were loyal to the Lord, and they experienced the awful force of the enemy and the resultant loss of life, property, and/or exile. They had the  experience of evil, but it was not for punishment. Their God would have ‘structured’ (?) or sculpted their experience of that evil to accomplish different ends than the wake-up-call of violence pre-announced by the Prophets. They would have received benefits in this life (e.g., in their survival, fortunes in the land of exile, spiritual development), or expanded ministry opportunities (e.g., in helping the survivors, in influencing their captors—cf. Daniel and Esther--or in witnessing to their captors—cf the witness of the Israelite slave girl to Naaman in 2 Kings 5), or earned additional eternal rewards for the next life (‘a better resurrection’, as Hebrews calls it). Or a mixture of all these…

 

But the case I have before me is one of a solitary nature. There is no group, and the ‘invading force’ has singled out this person. And the larger context may well include a larger ‘bucket’ of evil that might be forthcoming. So, this might be a case like that of Isaiah 57.1  -- that the righteous are taken away (in death or exile) to be SPARED from something worse…

 

It’s been another 3 days (wow, this seems like a ‘slow moving blah-blag…’ now). Some progress, yet more fear and uncertainty… but signs of hope … signs of His activity in directing (even ‘hastening’?) one sub-current of this situation… I am watching this closely, trying to be open to learning what He is doing—and what He is TRYING to get me to see, to understand, and to accept, about ‘His ways are beyond our ways’… I tremble, but I have a quiet excitement about this—I know there is still pain ahead, but I know and even ‘sense’ (the two are different, experientially) that God is very ‘active’ in this process of deliverance…

 

I don’t know the ‘what FOR’ yet, although I can ‘rationalize’ several trajectories. Some of them will be true, and some false, but I would bet that the most important ones are the ones that I cannot see (now). I will know in heaven ‘what really happened here’ but after 40 years of watching His work in my life, and the circles of life that I participate in, I also know that I am too dense and/or shallow to really understand much of this now. I wish I had the deep eyes of faith and intimacy with God’s ways—like our Lord had (“I do what I see my Father do”)—but I don’t. What spiritual gift(s) I have are NOT in the category of faith or wisdom or discernment—they are in the areas of ministry that God allows me to work in, tools of teaching and of knowledge (not ‘smarts’ but an inner sense of where some truth might be).

 

Let me make a comment on this, briefly. I understand the spiritual gift of ‘knowledge’ to work like a metal detector. The truth that it knows (or senses as being true) is not obvious from the surface data. It operates like a hunch that ends up being correct after the data is analyzed.  It LOOKS a little like knowing some proposition is true BEFORE you have had time to even begin investigation. It is maybe(?) something like foresight (not of future events, but of some future discovery?).

 

I have seen it before the Tanklife started (1994) but only sporadically, and I generally wrote it off as ‘hasty induction’ or ‘a lucky guess’, but since the Tank began, it has manifested itself more frequently. The form is generally the same: a question which I have never even THOUGHT about comes in, and BEFORE diving into the research, an idea of where the answer lies emerges from my subconscious. The idea does not restrict the research—since I will have to defend my conclusions from every conceivable ‘attack’—but it does help prioritize the research process and provide an initial ‘working hypothesis’ for constructing the hypothesis ‘testing against the data’ step. I said ‘prioritize’ the research process, but it does not ‘restrict’ it—I still have to research all the other possible alternative interpretations of the data, and assess them (so I wont be blind-sided by someone later… like has happened once or twice on the Tank in the past…sigh/smile… not to mention accountability before the Lord!).

 

My initial hunches are often skewed, and more often incomplete, but not often off-target. God seems to use them to start the process and to guide it once moving. [There is an old adage about finding God’s will for your life that talks about having to START moving before God GUIDES your movement: “You cannot steer a parked car”—I have seen that in my life SO MANY TIMES. I know that I have to start out in faith—slowly if I am very unsure of the path—before God will begin to interject people, leadings, obstacles, diversions, counselors, pauses, acceleration, open doors and closed doors into my stream of movement.]

 

But back to the path… I stand today (jan 29) in expectation of God’s deliverance for a friend, sensing His coordination of multiple ‘small things’ in the larger complex of events, personalities, timings, perspectives, emotions, legalities, and economics. “God will shepherd His little sheep”.

 

The Honor of God

 

Small entry… (I think…sigh/smile)…

 

I was just sending an email to my Pakistani translator—who is facing much more difficult circumstances than my friend and certainly more difficult than I—and started to end with this:

 

“In His love and by His power and for His honor,”

 

But it struck me that the God of the humiliation of the Incarnation and Crucifixion probably didn’t prioritize having ‘honor’—other than as a powerful indication that He could be trusted as being loyal, non-treacherous, wise, trustworthy, a source of derivative honor, and the ultimate grounding for the reality/truth of the dignity of the person (i.e. the image of God in us).

 

I have pointed out many, many times in my writings and teaching that so many of the passages in the bible in which God’s ‘plan’ or ‘purpose’ is described in terms of ‘praise’ or ‘honor’ have a reference to His salvific work, and not to some ‘glory hog’ elitist model of the ancient world!

 

I see this worded the clearest in Ephesians 1 :

 

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

 

To the praise of the glory of His power?—no—to the praise of His grace, the kindness shown to us

 

Again, in Eph 2, it is to show the riches of His grace through the display of His kindness:

 

 …so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

And in one of the few ‘ultra-mundane’ passages we have (Eph 3.6ff), one aspect of the cosmic purpose of God shows that the ‘display of God’s wisdom’ is/was about His generosity and His peace-making power, not His judgment power:

 

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News. Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ.  I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

This unity in Christ was that of peace-making / reconciliation between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2):

 

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders… You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

 

Of course, there are plenty of passages that speak of God’s power, glory, and authority, but again, so many of these are connected to His role or ministry of moral governance (e.g. lawgiver, judge), His trustworthy and righteous ‘intensity of presence’ (e.g. ‘glory’, incandescence), His power to save His people (from themselves and from the treacherous), and His unique dignity (i.e. unsoiled by weakness, political corruption, caprice, or promise-breaking).

 

So, I changed the ending to this:

 

“In His love and by His power, and so that all will come to appreciate His goodness and to experience His deliverance, and to bask and be healed in His love,”

 

 

 

The Master who Serves…

 

One of the more fascinating images used by Jesus in the gospels (and related to the above theme) is the story in Luke 12.35-38, in which He encourages us to be faithful in this life, and to live our lives “as if there were no tomorrow (on this earth)”—that is, as if His return could be at any moment:

 

Be dressed, ready for service, and have your lamps shining. Be like servants who are waiting for their master to come home from a wedding party. When he comes and knocks, the servants immediately open the door for him.  They will be blessed when their master comes home, because he sees that they were watching for him. I tell you the truth, the master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and he will serve them.  Those servants will be blessed when he comes in and finds them still waiting, even if it is midnight or later. [NCV]

 

The image of the master serving the servants/slaves reminds us of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet in John 13, but the messages are different: one is about humility, and one is about eternal reward for living each moment prepared to encounter Him face to face.

 

This passage does not negate the notion of ‘honor’ or ‘status’ per se, but it makes the difference between high and low status virtually irrelevant. The exaltation-of-the-lesser and status-reversal themes are pervasive in the Synoptics, as revealing what the character of Christ is like, how we are supposed to be like, and indeed even as the Father reveals Himself in the person of Christ.

 

This would have been a shocking image to His listeners:

 

“In Middle Eastern culture, the master would never serve his servants! Jesus redefined the role of the master by serving his disciples, giving himself for them, and meeting all their needs (see 22:24–27).”  [New Living Translation Study Bible. 2008 (Lk 12:37). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.]

 

This moves the relationship of follower and Lord into the arena of the family and household, and mutuality (like in the Trinity!):

 

“In presenting his picture of faithful response, Jesus borrows from standard images of the household in Roman times, but also redefines household relations. His most surprising—and no doubt to some, outlandish—innovation is his implicit request that, in order to identify oneself among the faithful in the household of God, one should identify oneself with the slaves of his example; this innovation embraces even the authority figure, the master/lord, whose actions upon his return are themselves servile. By serving those who are slaves, the returning lord esteems the humble, overturning socio-religious and socio-political norms, just as Mary’s Song had foretold (1:52b).

 

“Having used two metaphors to communicate the necessity of readiness, Jesus continues by weaving together a short example story and pronouncements of blessing for those who maintain perpetual alertness. Jesus’ story centers on a banquet scene that draws together three important elements from the wider Lukan perspective on meals. First, and most obvious in this co-text, the master provides a meal for the faithful, just as Jesus had promised in his portrait of the kingdom in vv 22–31. Whatever else the meal setting might serve, it is most obviously a place for eating—no small matter in the context of the proclamation of good news for the marginalized (…) and in light of the perspective on life sanctioned by Jesus in vv 13–34. Second, working within the lines of an important stream of end-time thinking in Judaism as well as in Luke-Acts, Jesus situates his concern for vigilance within the eschatological framework of anticipation of the heavenly banquet.

 

“Third, as is the case elsewhere in Luke-Acts, so here the table provides the setting for Jesus’ self-revelation. In this case, a scene that otherwise reflects household norms—slaves awaiting the arrival of their lord—actually subverts the basis of the slave system. The master undergoes a status reversal, so that he engages in slavish activity on behalf of slaves. This means that the vigilant no longer have the status of slaves, though Jesus does not push so far as to portray them now as masters. Instead, he seems to posit in the place of common household conventions governed by a hyperconcern with status consciousness the household of God, characterized by blindness with respect to issues of status and the roles that attend them. Here, mutual service is the order of the day. On the one hand, this surprising end to the story might be understood as nothing more (or less) than an embodiment of the message of Jesus as this has been proclaimed since the onset of his public ministry. In addition, Jesus’ parable can be read in a self-referential way, in which he presents himself as the lord who serves the faithful; in fact, this is exactly how Jesus speaks of himself to his disciples at their last meal together (22:24–27). Either way, it is important to realize that Jesus’ message goes beyond any attempt to establish the parameters of a new social order. Instead, Jesus provides for his audience a vision of the eschaton, of a household reality wherein hierarchies of status are nullified; with this vision he both declares the nature of the reward awaiting the faithful and alerts his audience to the nature of fidelity in the interim and in the eschaton. [Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (499, 501-502). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

 

I do not have a personal experience of having had a Middle-Eastern or Greco-Roman “Lord”, but my relationship with Jesus seems to match with what I see in the Gospels and history books. It does not have any of the abuses that were sometimes/often in those relationships, of course, but it certainly has all the benefits possible within them (smile)!

 

But this image of the master serving the servant, reminds me more of another middle-eastern image that I have no first-hand experience of: the Shepard and the sheep. The images of the Good Shepherd sacrificing his life for the sheep, of the intimacy of being called by name and of recognizing His voice, and of the protection of His staff against the wolves and predators that would do me in—these I can understand and appreciate and marvel and weep at. Such a Lord, such a Shepherd, such a Servant-King…

 

There are many images of His ministry to us/me in the Bible—High Priest daily interceding for us, the Life-source and nourishment of the Church, the authority over all the ‘powers and principalities’ which influence (and sometimes dominate) the authority structures under which I live (e.g. governments of the world) and the cultural processes which sometimes (and often succeed… sigh) try to make me conform to sub-optimal values and perspectives (e.g. glamorization of power, authentication of greed, approval of arrogance, divinization of popular and academic celebrities, over-individualization or under-individualization, self-centric altruism, self-congratulatory virtue—and even ‘self-righteous condemnation of these cultural processes’…smile!). But I still fall back on the image of the little lamb with a broken leg, being carried in the arms of the Shepherd, who speaks in gentle tones and comforting sounds words I cannot understand… but I am safe here…

 

So, I will try to ‘watch’ for my Lord and do the tasks He has assigned me in His absence (though He is present and guiding in the person of the Spirit—the ‘other Companion of the same type’ of John 14-16), and if I am successful, then I will experience the awkwardness of that moment when the Lord serves me at the table… what would that be like?!—to see that face of love and eyes of joy and smile of warm acceptance of me, little glenn?!

 

As a simple believer, I will always have eternal life, whether or not I am ‘faithful to the end’, whether or not I lapse into public sin that results in Him taking me Home early (1 Cor 11:29-31), whether or not I even forget that I am forgiven (2 Peter 1.9). I make be embarrassed and bitter at myself at His appearing—from wasting life and my talents—but I will still be an inhabitant in the Kingdom (I might not have a ‘big inheritance’—like some of the foreigners in Israel—but at least I will enjoy the blessings of a world ‘wherein dwelleth righteousness’.  

 

It is the ‘little child’ who believes and has eternal life, but it is the ‘disciple’ who is called to ‘take up his Cross and follow me’—the Little Child (the definition of the kingdom inhabitants—‘of such is the Kingdom’) is only asked to come to Jesus in faith—there is no Cross to bear for such a one, but there is a Cross for those who would become followers (to call lost Little Children to eternal life, and to encourage them to embrace discipleship). The Little child is not called to ‘count the cost’, but only to trust and embrace the Son. But the would-be disciple is warned to count the cost up-front, and to realize that following the Master—as a disciple, not as a sheep—will lead to calls to constant service (with the attendant difficulties in the world), but yielding a greater experience in the Kingdom (‘a better resurrection’ or the various ‘crowns’ offered for different types of faithfulness or a more-than-citizenship inheritance within the Kingdom). 

 

But the possibility of this additional blessing and reward, in this passage, for walking with Him in (even) spotty service through these days—like all promises of additional/conditional rewards for disciples—moves me first to amazement, then to endearment, and finally—hopefully—to ‘abandoned obedience’…

 

 

 

Incompatible background theories of the original of the gospels/Jesus figure

 

On a lighter note….(smile):

 

I started re-investigating some allegations on the web that the gospel stories and the character of Jesus were wholesale borrowings and adaptations of early Buddhist legends (but have been distracted by a thousand other issues…sigh). I ran across a flyer for a conference scheduled for 2008 (but postponed), named was “Did Jesus Really Exist? New Testament Source Criticism” and the speaker roster included Dr. Christian Lindtner, Dr. Zacharias Thundy, and Dr. Robert M. Price among others.

 

I had a moment of hilarity as I envisioned an imaginary debate at the conference (with other speakers not mentioned, of course), with the participants being these:

 

·         Christian Lindtner (Gospels/Jesus portraiture created almost solely from Buddhist sources)

·         Robert Price (Gospels/Jesus portraiture almost solely created as Midrash on the OT, with some divine-man elements mixed in)

·         Dennis MacDonald (Gospels/Jesus portraiture almost solely create from Homer)

·         G.A. Wells (Gospels/Jesus portraiture almost solely created from Divine Men and/or Dying and Rising Gods—DARGs).

 

Most of these positions are mutually exclusive (with the possible semi-weird exception that if the OT was based on Homer—don’t laugh, it has been argued before(!)—then Midrash of the OT could theoretically be two of these positions in one…smile).

 

I know how each of these positions argues against ‘traditional’ views of the gospels, but I would LOVE TO SEE how they argued against EACH OTHER! I would love to see the truly brilliant (IMO) Dr. Price try to argue that the walking on the water was CLEARLY based on OT imagery rather than on the disciples of the Buddhist flying over water—only to have Dr. MacDonald tell them that they BOTH are dead wrong—that it is CLEARLY derived from the story of Hermes in the Iliad!

 

I would love to write down the criteria they would use to debunk the parallels from their opponents’ positions. That would provide some great material, under the principle of ‘by what measure you measure, it will be measured back to you’—smile.

 

Of course, Dr. MacDonald addresses some alternative backgrounds to the gospel stories in his works, as does Dr. Price (not Buddhist sources that I can find), but I do not see the other sides of the argument taking on the positions of Dr. Price or Dr. MacDonald. But wouldn’t that be revealing, I bet? (GRIN)

 

That would be a fun exchange, and I suspect that it would provide some level of evidence for the position I learned/adopted (from some source which I cannot remember, but to whom I am deeply indebted) and that I posted on the Tank when it first started in 1994:

 

“It would be easy to attack the 'fortress' of the Christian case on many, many small-medium points, BUT TO CONSTRUCT AN ALTERNATIVE SYSTEM that would be able to withstand the same caliber of intellectual examination on as many fronts, I put well beyond the practical realm of feasibility.” (from http://christianthinktank.com/oxymore.html ).

 

 

Asaph—a role model for us all

 

One of the most encouraging passages in scripture for me is the Psalm of Failed Perspective (my term) in Psalm 73. In it Asaph—a talented Spirit-lead minister and deep-hearted lover of God—shares his deepest doubts, with God and in public perpetuity.  His writing represents the moments of all those who know God and live in the world scarred, and sometimes shaped, by malice, materialism, and arrogance.

 

He starts in verse 1 at place all those who know God start—at a theological confession of God’s goodness (not His power and not His majesty—but His goodness). He then confesses –in writing for all time(!) his sin of envy , his mercantile view of personal piety (‘in vain have I kept my heart clean…’), and his (probable) overstatement of their prosperity and his own suffering (uh, right me down as guilty of this too…sigh/smile).

 

And then in verse 15 he faces the conflict of integrity in his ministry: if he is honest about this anti-YHWH perspective, he will have ‘betrayed’ – destructively – the people he leads in worship of God. He is caught between dishonesty in his singing and praises of YHWH and destruction of the faith of those who rely upon the goodness of their God. This shows great sensitivity, great honesty, and great integrity on his part.

 

And so he does the obvious thing—he went into the presence of God. The sanctuary setting reminded him of the need for atonement for evil—that God would hold humans responsible for their moral actions, that every act ‘away from God’ reduces the very reality of the treacherous (‘phantoms’), and that ‘current success is NO predictor of eternal success’! His data (they are prosperous, I am stricken) is not changed, but his enlarged perspective (enlarged by taking God’s view) places those data points into a different background—into one that is consonant with the affirmations of verse one (and the history of biblical Israel up to his time as well).

 

And then he does what we all do—he has the “Duoh”-moment, followed by amazement at his own sub-human spiritual intelligence! He is pricked, embittered, brutish and ignorant—like a simple animal that reacts only to/in the present. How often have I been there, and ‘will yet be again’….!

 

But—again—this man knows our good-hearted God. He knows that our God does not leave us alone in moments of doubt or confusion, but He walks and waits (and probably even chuckles in some of our more ludicrous versions of this) with us.

 

Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside.

 I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

Whom have I in heaven but you?   I desire you more than anything on earth.

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart;

      He is mine forever. [NLT]

 

What a model of honest and dealing with one’s failures and doubts. Many Tank readers have experienced this—often and deeply—as I have. The model of Asaph’s honesty, integrity, and confidence in the goodness and presence of His living God speaks to us all.

 

[I have more topics but I cannot write them up today—I was ‘fortunate’ (smile) to be allowed to do this today—]

 

In His love,

Little glenn

(Jan 29/2012)

 


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