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Fall Feasts

“For He cares for you,” 1 Peter 5:7

living waters matisseThe story of Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the Well portrays better than anything why we can trust Jesus with our cares.

Typically we think of our “cares” as earthly needs for provision and protection. Perhaps you, as I, separate your “cares” from your “burdens,” with burdens having a more emotional connotation.

It makes sense that we’d parse definitions this way being that even alternate versions of the Bible translate “cares” as anxieties or worries.

The context in which 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to, “Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you,” is an exhortation to humble ourselves to God’s sovereignty– His “mighty hand.” We are to allow Him to be the one to take care of us no matter how our life circumstances look. We are to believe beyond belief that He is in control of even the most chaotic situations. In this framework, we cast our cares on Him.

Putting ourselves under the execution of God’s mighty hand is scary. It is scary when you aren’t certain that He cares for you. This shadow of uncertainty in God’s care is darkest when you are a person with a guilty conscience.

When you carry a burden of guilt the fear of punishment, feelings of shame, and knowledge of judgment makes it very difficult to trust God with anything physical and emotional, temporal or eternal. Guilt erodes our belief that God is for us and cares to sustain us through life’s trials.

The cares of this world and emotional burdens get tied together by a guilty conscience. The result is an inability to cast our cares on the only one who can take care of them.

Enter the Woman at the Well.

The Woman at the Well was drawing water in the heat of the day because no one else would be there at that time. She wore the scarlet letter. She was judged by others and had done everything they gossiped about. In the middle of the day, she was avoiding all the other women in town who’d come draw water once dusk cooled the day.

Uncomfortably, this woman with a terrible reputation found herself alone with a man at the very time of day she was trying to escape her reputation as a seductress.

Truth be told, I feel really sorry for the Woman at the Well. She had had five husbands. The sixth guy didn’t even marry her in an age when cohabitation was not a thing. And within two minutes of conversation with this stranger, Jesus displayed His supernatural quality to the woman by telling her that He knew these secrets and sins about her. Oddly, it was kinda her miracle. Some people understood Jesus’ identity after a healing or receiving forgiveness, the Samaritan woman’s miracle encounter with Jesus was just Him stating the elephant in the room— that her life was dominated by sexual impropriety.

As far as I know women couldn’t divorce men at that time. A women caught in adultery would be killed. So, I’m not sure what she did, but I am guessing her husbands left her, not the other way around. And the sixth took advantage of her sullied history to the extent of not having the decency to accept her as his wife.

For the Woman at the Well, guilt had crystallized into a ton of rejection. Those rejections had greater implications than just emotional insecurity. A woman who wasn’t legally married in that day had no legal rights or inheritance. She had no security of future provision.

I have been discovering lately that guilt, rejection, and a deprivation mentality are clandestine bedmates.

When I think of rejection I think of feelings of being unlovable or overlooked or insufficient. Recently, God has been working things out in my own heart regarding rejection. I never even considered how an abiding sense of guiltiness under the law could be a platform for a pattern of rejection in my life.

A sinfulness complex and a rejection complex are twin specters in our lives.

Rejection is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Particularly because we can perceive rejection where it really doesn’t exist. Our response to fictitious rejection often culminates in real rejection as people’s limited grace for our insecure oddities runs out. At the root of it, we expect to be rejected because we feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves.

Worse than any rejection we can suffer at the hands of parents or parental figures, employers and mentors, potential lovers or actual lovers, is the rejection of God. Rejection by God implies death. Where God rejects there is not just pain but annihilation.

The law lets us know that being rejected by God is not just a possibility it is an inevitability. Unless we receive the Holy Spirit, which is the Living Water from Jesus, we will be cast out to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth– a place of consuming anxiety and cosmic wanting (John 7:37-39; Matthew 22:1-14; Hebrews 10).

I am one of those people who has an unfortunately sensitive conscience. My conscience is easily piqued. The awareness I have of the righteous requirement of the law expands far beyond its natural bounds. I lay a heavy burden on myself much like the Pharisees did to the people in Jesus’ day (Matthew 23:4).

“They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden,” Matthew 23:4.

 All growing up I had an abiding sense of guilt. I felt inherently immoral. I was always waiting to get in trouble for something even though I almost never (seriously) did anything that could get me into trouble.

My guilt burden, or sinfulness complex, resulted in an expectation of rejection. I had this weird “un-fantasy” when I was young that I would do something bad and that my parents would abandon me for it and then I would become homeless. To me, homelessness was the end result of rejection for your sins. Of course as it happens, I was born genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness closely associated with homelessness. As Job said, “The thing that I feared came upon me” (Job 3:25).

I carried an inflated burden of guilt that fortified a stronghold of rejection that gave a throne in my heart to a spirit of deprivation. A spirit of deprivation manifests as: cares, worries, anxieties, want, lack, scarcity, torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We must receive the forgiveness of our sins and the atonement for our guilt that Jesus offers, so that we might also receive the rich provisions of His mercy. We cannot have relationship with God without the removal of our guilt. Otherwise, our rejection stronghold will make us unable to feel the love of God; and a pervasive belief that we are chronically deprived will make us unable to receive the saturation of His grace.

The Woman at the Well was a Samaritan. When she met Jesus she had an immediate expectation of rejection because of the animosity between Judeans and Samaritans. She was born the wrong kind of person– she had inherent guilt.

Jesus engages with the Samaritan woman despite her being the wrong kind of person morally and ethnically; and He engages with her in a very generous and intimate way.

In John 4, there are three references to the woman’s response to Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of her multiple sexual partners:

  1. First, she says to Jesus: “I can see you are a prophet.”
  2.  Second, she tells the towns people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?”
  3. Third, the narrative explains that the Samaritan townspeople went to hear Jesus themselves because of the testimony that she gave: “He told me everything I ever did.” The passage says that they came to believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world because of both what she said and that she encouraged them to go listen to him for themselves. 

The Woman at the Well’s response to Jesus grew from “You are a prophet” to “maybe You’re the Messiah” to “You are the Savior of the world.”

Jesus defied the woman’s expectation of rejection by requesting her hospitality

Jesus disabled her guilt by taking the veil of secrecy off of her sins.

Jesus also dispossessed the woman’s spirit of deprivation by telling her to ask him for the satisfaction he had available to her.

Her problem was sin and shame, but Jesus addressed her cares– her need for satisfaction.

First, He addresses her profound thirsts. Then He shares with her something he shared with very few people. He shares with her the mystery of God– that Jesus came to offer salvation to the Jews and to the Gentiles, to the half-breeds like her (Ephesians 3:5-6). He tells her the secret that God’s plan is to make right even the people who were born wrong. He offered her knowledge of Himself and His life’s passion. 

This is how Jesus handles our cares too: He requests entry to our hearts, removes the secrecy from around our sin, tells us to ask Him for satisfaction, and then resolves all of our ambivalence toward Him into perfect peace by revealing intimate information about Himself to us.

This is relationship with Jesus. Not only does He know us, but He assures us that our hearts are safe in His hands by entrusting to us privileged information about Himself.

It’s hard to describe what “a personal relationship with God” means in practical terms. But here’s my best guess: Relationship with Jesus is realizing that Jesus is a person who knows the secret of my sins and lets me know the secrets of His glory.

The transformative power of casting our cares on Jesus is that He cares for us. Paternalistic relationships are one way. But Jesus displays His tender care for us by knowing us and being known by us.

The power center of my testimony is the way that Jesus cares for me.

Sharing our testimonies grows our satisfaction and our conviction that Jesus is the Savior who is able to handle all manner of cares. Again- the Samaritan woman’s conviction about Jesus’ identity grew from prophet to possible Messiah of the Jews to Savior of the whole world in the course of two days by sharing her testimony.

Her testimony— “He told me everything I ever did,” unfettered her from guilt under the law and released her into dignity. It removed her cloak of rejection and clothed her in security. It filled her up with self-replenishing, life-giving waters.

My instructions to you for taking care of your soul’s cares is to share your testimony. It’s the most tangible action step in the effort to psychologically cast your cares on Jesus.

Tell anyone and everyone about the One who knows everything you ever did and extended an offer of friendship to you anyway. And– sharing your testimony isn’t really to evangelize anyone else. That’s just a byproduct.

Sharing your testimony is about evangelizing yourself. It is about growing your capacity to cast your cares on Him because you know He cares for you. In such your capacity to receive from Him also grows. Your capacity to feel love grows.

When Jesus first asked the Woman at the Well for a drink of water, she said, “but you have nothing to draw it up with.” He replied, “If you knew who you were talking to, you would ask me for living water and you would never thirst again.”

Let Jesus remove the guilt that excuses you from dipping into the well of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Your sin is not a secret to Jesus.

You don’t have to worry what he’ll do if he finds out.

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

This post was originally published in 2019 as part of the devotional series titled “Instructions for the Care of Your Soul.” I feel heavily that the emphasis of Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles this year is baptism. The Apostle Peter talks about Noah’s Ark being a story about baptism. Nehemiah’s praise during the reinstatement of Sukkot includes praising God as the Lord of Deliverance through the Sea and “the Water from the Rock.” There is nothing so significant in “times in between” than the crossing over into new covenant that baptism represents.

Fall Feasts

“Leviathan makes the water boil with its commotion.” Job 41:31

So, this topic has become one of fascination for me: Behemoth and Leviathan. What I consider to be the spiritual principalities of speech.

The Book of Job, a biblical treatise on the theology of human suffering, dedicates no less than a chapter describing the strength of Leviathan and Behemoth. 

There are really not that many spiritual principalities that are mentioned by name in the Bible, but the “beast” and the “serpent” appear from one end to the other of scripture.

A principality, such as what the Apostle Paul talks about in Ephesians, is a demonic ruler. It is a prince of demons. It has jurisdiction in a place, and power over other spirits.

It seems that Paul emphasizes the nature of principalities by describing them three repetitive but slightly different ways in Ephesians 6:12. He couples the ideas of authority and realm calling them: “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world,” “mighty powers in this dark world,” and “evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

So there exists entities such as Behemoth and Leviathan who have a realm to rule; they have actual authority; they are unseen as they are active on earth; they are strong; they operate away from Christ’s light; they are evil in nature yet are angelic evidenced in that they are privy to the heavenly court– just as we see Satan is in the heavenly court in Job chapters 1 & 2 (and also in Zechariah 3). 

Behemoth and Leviathan are probably familiar vernacular for most people outside of spiritual warfare talk.

Behemoth is a term in English language that usually connotes something large, immovable, entrenched, and with far-reaching power. Most often it would be used as a description for a company or an industry or a baron.

The ties we have made between Behemoth and commerce are completely appropriate. The word behemoth is literally an ancient Canaanite word for “beast.”

We first find the “beast” in operation in Genesis 11 where the first world system was created in Babylonia– a city called Babel.

“The Beast” in apocalyptic prophecy in Daniel and Revelation have to do with empires and world systems. Stodgy, huge, engulfing presences that enslave, weigh on, dominate, and break the people into acquiescence and compliance.

There are two victories prophesied in Revelation– the throwing of the serpent into the pit and the destruction of Babylon.

Leviathan, “the serpent of old,” “the dragon,” makes his first appearance in Genesis and his last in Revelation. Leviathan is throughout the Bible attributed as having the power of deception. Sometimes he is considered Satan, himself, as the lies he propagates are so utterly destructive to our relationships with God and each other.

In Revelation, the dragon is absolutely called Satan (Revelation 20:2).

What impresses strongly on me is that both of these principalities operate in the unseen. The most powerful unseen world that I personally experience is the transfer of human communication. Our words fly here and there, invisibly shaping and shaking the world.

Behemoth loves to operate in philosophy, politics, logic traps, confusion, riots, uproar, outrage, propaganda, and government. It wields influence in the transference of goods between nations, currency, trade agreements, armistices, alliances, and treaties. Oppressive regimes, indoctrination, the release or restriction of free speech– that is Behemoth.

Behemoth draws people into a world view and traps them into a world system that is incredibly difficult to break free from. It is difficult to break free from because every essential function of our humanity happens within a network, a web of social connections and shared interests.

All over the globe, throughout the history of evil world systems, people have had to completely break ties with everyone and everything they knew in order to follow the one true God. It happened to Abraham, it happens today. It is the process that we are witnessing in Job, as God breaks Job free from all wrong thinking and corrupt communication.

In Job, the fight to gain that freedom from the Behemoth of pre-YHWHist world religion was fought on the battleground of interpersonal communication. We see it through the entire book of Job as the battle between his friends’ worldly approach to theology versus Job’s reliance on a future Advocate, Mediator, and Redeemer.

Blasphemous words and deceptive speech are the charges against Behemoth and Leviathan respectively, in the Book of Revelation.

Called the “fleeing serpent,” the “twisting serpent,” the “shining one,” “the dragon,” Leviathan is famous for his deception of Eve. In Revelation, we find him in a retrospective trying to devour Israel before Jesus could be born out of her population. We get a brief heaven’s-eye-view of Jesus ascension and rule in heaven, before being told that right now, there is a war in heaven led by Michael and warring against Satan– the “one deceiving the whole world,” Revelation 12:9.

When this war is won, Satan and his angels will no longer have any place of access in heaven. They will be thrown down to earth and they will engage in a furious attempt to deceive and enslave (Revelation 13) with a power surge of authority as they know that soon they will not have any authority at all or ever again when Christ’s reign is completely consummated.

As Ephesians says, Satan and his princes operate in the unseen world, in the dark world. We have to take seriously that when Revelation talks about the blasphemy of the beast, the torrent of water against Israel from the dragon’s mouth, those vile words and persuasive speech are being spoken through human mouthpieces.

From the unseen world projected into the darkness of human hearts, Satan puts out his propaganda, deceiving (Leviathan) and enslaving (Behemoth) through human agents and earthly systems.

We know that Jesus establishes His kingdom on earth in His chosen day for complete and final victory over the Behemoth world systems that set themselves up against the knowledge of God (Revelation 18; 2 Corinthians 10:5).

It is believed in Jewish tradition (2 Esdras) that a feast will be made of Leviathan in the “time to come.” In Revelation, it is the dragon that is thrown into the pit last after all other evil spirits for a final and forever internment in hell (20:7-10).

Were you to read the Book of Job, what is thought to be the oldest book in the Bible, you will find the whole scope and grandeur of God’s eternally derived plan for the world. The Book of Revelation’s cast of characters are right there in this early, poetic scripture.

You will find, in the Book of Job: God’s heart for mankind and His mechanism of salvation. You will find man in our deceived and deceiving condition. You will find Jesus fixing everything; and God clearing the decks with a thunderous, sweeping, awe-inducing truth bomb. You see God silencing Leviathan and breaking Behemoth.

You see how the Spirit of Truth has the final say in the end, just as it has since the beginning.

Finally, you will find in the Book of Job, the one and only key that you need to fight in this unseen, dark world; your only necessary weapon of spiritual warfare:

To keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Psalm 34:13

A man is not defiled by what comes into your mouth but by the words that come out of your mouth. Matthew 15:11

Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. 1 Peter 4:11

Behemoth and Leviathan are word-powered spirits. Your talk either aligns you with them against God… or with God against them.

 

This post was originally published in 2019 as part of the “Too Much Talking: Spiritual Warfare in the Book of Job” devotional series. This Feast of Tabernacles season we are in, October 2-9, 2020, the themes that keep coming up for me are: water crossings, forgiveness, and speech. For speech, what continues to come to mind is the difference between derisive speech and praise. More to come on this, hopefully. God bless and stay prayerful!

Fall Feasts

“Go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves.” Job 42:8

I first wrote this post about Communion during the 2019 Passover and Easter season, in the middle of a series I was doing about the trials of Job. Have you ever wondered why out of all the hoopla from the Old Covenant we are released from observing, we have this odd little ritual of taking a sip of grape juice and a bite of cracker once a month as “an ordinance?” Why is this ritual important? During this Sukkot season in 2020, Feast of Tabernacles, the Lord has been drawing my attention to forgiveness and reconciliation. Communion is about the forgiveness of our sins against God, and also about the forgiveness of our sins against each other.

At Jesus’ last Passover meal, He commanded His disciples to “love one another.” He then took bread and wine and instituted the ordinance of Communion in remembrance of Him.

Jesus joined together our remembrance of how we were reconciled to God with a command to be reconciled to one another. Love one another and remember me.

The Corinthians were famously and sternly chastised for showing disdain for Communion by simultaneously degrading the poor believers and preferring the rich believers in how they served Communion. Paul even postulated in 1 Corinthians that God was cutting off the lives of some believers before they could damage their witness anymore than they had already with this egregious divorcing of the remembrance of Jesus’ atoning work from the Last Supper command to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The whole Gospel is prophetically unveiled in Job, and this continual reminder in Communion is not overlooked in the Job narrative– that the body and blood of Christ was broken and spilled not just for our atonement and reconciliation to God but also for our reconciliation to each other.

Job plots out the Gospel truth in this manner:

  1. Just as we are proclaimed blameless in faith, Job was proclaimed blameless in faith before his blamelessness was proven by trial (James 1:2-3).
  2. Just as God achieves that blamelessness in us by transforming us through the fiery trials of life, Job’s blamelessness was both started by God and completed by God. This is sanctification.
  3. Just as God revealed a greater understanding of Himself to Job as Job contemplated a future Redeemer, Mediator, and Advocate, we receive the very Revelation of God when we receive a very present Jesus.
  4. And though God had already accepted Job’s sin offerings in Job 1, He still required a guilt offering between Job and his friends. So has God already accepted Jesus as our sin offering, yet requires us to continually recall that Jesus is also the peace offering and the guilt offering between ourselves and other people.

There are five categories of sacrifices and offerings in the Torah. And Jesus has fulfilled them all. Yet, we do participate in these Old Testament sacrifices and rituals in the two ordinances that Jesus commanded as essential to our rebirth as new creations in Him.

We explored the first one in the last post. That is baptism. Our purification bath, required by the law, but we do it only once because Jesus was the last necessary purification sacrifice and therefore we need only a last purification bath when we proclaim dependence on Christ for our purification from sin and death.

But Communion– the peace and guilt offerings– we remember continually throughout our Christian walk. And we partake in it at church together.

Of the five types of offerings described in Leviticus 1-7, two were to reconcile men to each other.

A peace offering, also called a fellowship offering, established something like a contract between two parties. It signified before God that they were committed to fellowship with each other and were dedicated to each others’ future prosperity. This is the kind of offering Abraham shared with Melchizedek in Genesis 14; and that Abraham shared with the three visiting angels in Genesis 18.

A guilt offering was an offering that one person offered before God to another person if something the first person had done caused a loss to the second. The guilt offering also included a monetary compensation.

Job’s friends were probably offering a guilt offering to him. They nearly cost him his faith. God saw their sin against Job and demanded that for them to be right with Him they had to get right with Job.

This principle is reiterated to us by Jesus in Matthew 5:23, part of the Sermon on the Mount: “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

This sheds light on the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our sins as we forgive one another.”

As in everything, Jesus is the all-encompassing sacrifice. He has done a completed work.

However, He puts a collective impetus on us to specifically and frequently remember the aspect of His sacrifice that was done to unify us to one another. If we are partakers in His sacrifice for our sins, we are also partakers in His sacrifice for our offenses to our brothers and sisters in the church.

This is Communion. It is Jesus as the sacrifice Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had to make to Job.

After the Lord finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. Job 42:7-8

God deals with us individually and he deals with us collectively. He died for each of us individually and He died collectively for His Body.

His body was broken that we may be unified.

I am praying not just for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one– as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. John 17:20-23

Fall Feasts

“The women represent two covenants.” Galatians 4:24

I originally wrote this post 2 and a half years ago in the Spring to commemorate Pentecost. Interestingly, both Sukkot/the Feast of Tabernacles and Shavuot/Pentecost are about baptism. One is a baptism that releases from slavery, the other a baptism that empowers for freedom. I want to frame this new reading of an old article with this scripture from Acts 19:

“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”

In May, we’ll be celebrating Shavuot and Pentecost. [At present publishing, we are celebrating Sukkot, aka Feast of Tabernacles.]

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses. Christians celebrate Pentecost at this same time, which as we read in Acts chapter 2 was when the Spirit was given as the helper and comforter of Christ’s disciples. The giving of the Law. The giving of the Spirit.

So, what might this have to do with the families we have been reading about? Well, in Galatians 4, you’ll find Hagar and Sarah given as allegories for the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The analogy hinges on the difference between one of them being a slave and the other being free. Paul emphasizes to the Galatians that in Christ, we are not enslaved to the law but are free. He also comments that Hagar and her children are the “present Jerusalem” and that Sarah and her children of promise are of “the Jerusalem that is above.”

The Jerusalem “that is above” refers to the coming reign of Christ on earth. It’s the Jerusalem that we are waiting for. This is the life of faith— it is a life of waiting, anticipation, belief in, and fidelity to something above our comprehension and beyond our field of vision. Sarah is the mother of the children of faith according to Galatians 4:21-31 and Hebrews 11:11-16.

Now, as you know, [in my past writing] I have painted Sarah in a bit of an unflattering fashion. I have pointed out her prickly habit of unforgiveness toward Abraham, and her unfair treatment of her slave girl. Well, I am going to go ahead and continue on with that description of her.

Sarah is a priceless picture of what unforgiveness looks like in a believer’s life. Sarah exhibits actions and reactions that I believe are systematic of unforgiveness, and are recognizable in the lives of any person or family plagued by a habit of being unforgiving.

My family was discussing unforgiveness at lunch not too long ago, and my aunt asked, “How do I know if I have forgiven someone?”

Believe it or not, secular and spiritual alike, you can find myriad articles on that very question. People regardless of moral, spiritual, and religious persuasion are plagued by unforgiveness; they recognize its affect on their lives, relationships, —and health— and they desperately desire to shake off the shackles of old grudges and wounds that just won’t heal.

“How do I know if I have forgiven someone?” You know that you have forgiven someone when you stop acting like Sarah.

Sarah’s unforgiveness, and all of our unforgiveness, goes beyond an attitude or emotion set. Unforgiveness is not invisible. It’s not very sneaky either. It hides behind the sheer vestige of “getting along,” but come on— We see you, Unforgiveness!

Unforgiveness has a palpable agenda and physical pawns. These pawns are called: leverage and collateral. Sarah had leverage from the past and collateral in the present.

Sarah was so eager to blame Hagar’s presence in the camp on Abraham, but she shared some responsibility. In Genesis, we see that Hagar had begged Sarah to come with them away from Egypt. She could have said no. Can I posit for a moment that Sarah might have been happy to bring a living reminder of what Abraham had done wrong in Egypt along with her? Abraham gave Sarah, his wife, to the Pharaoh to be used as a play thing…eeeeeek.

How many of us have been happy to keep a little something from the past with us to use against a loved one? A good failure from someone’s past works wonders in the “getting my way” department.

And while you are keeping the past alive, make sure to double down on the mess “he made” in the present— find a way to grow that past failure into a living, breathing piece of collateral— like Ishmael. “If you don’t…I will.” That’s collateral.

Sarah had cast Ishmael out once while just in his mother’s belly, when Abraham didn’t hop to. You better believe she’d do it again…which she did. And you can’t say that didn’t hurt Abraham, because the bible specifically says that it did.

How do you know if you’ve forgiven? If you have stopped weaponizing the past, you have forgiven. If you’ve stopped insinuating threats, then you have forgiven.

If someone is “on probation,” that’s not forgiveness. If you’re still “always right,” that’s not forgiveness. If you could write the play book for “How to Get Others to Walk on Egg Shells”— that’s not forgiveness!

So many of us, who are called by Christ’s name, feel like we have not been set free. We still feel chained down, fogged in, and like every door is painted shut. We still feel like we are under the law.

If that is the case for you, which it has been for me— God has been revealing my own spiritual baggage, praise Jesus!— you need to recall the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

I have often wondered what meaning of “as” that phrase was using. And that’s not a nit-picky, semantic question— it makes a difference. Because of how we use the word “as” in English, this line of the prayer could mean two things.

  1. “Forgive us our sins while we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
  2. “Forgive us our sins like we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Well, the good news, and very challenging news, is I believe that it is both. The second reading, I interpret, as relating to Jubilee. To forgive like the Israelites would have been in the biblical style of Jubilee. I will be touching on this subject this month in the context of Shavuot, and again during Advent.

The first reading of “Forgive us our sins” is the personally challenging reading. Forgive us “while.” That’s a conditional word. It means our ability to forgive has a direct correlation to our being forgiven. I know— of course!— that Jesus paid the penalty of our sins, as our kinsman Redeemer. However, forgiveness is an ongoing process that is dependent on us. Let me put it this way: “Free us while we free others.”

If you want to experience freedom, you’ve got to free others.

Leverage and collateral are actions. They’re not attitudes that we can’t help. Whether or not we use them is within our self-control. They are conscious, active, formulated, weaponized words and non-verbal communication that are meant to keep others enslaved by us.

And, yes, I know those others deserve it! Believe me— mine deserve it!!

Under the law they deserve it. But Jesus makes it clear that we are not under the law, but in the Spirit. And in the Spirit, our freedom depends on our freeing others.

We might think that we need deliverance from some ball and chain that is keeping us down. Well, let me inform you— there are two kinds of ball and chain. One is a shackle that weighs down a prisoner from escaping. The other is a weapon. It’s a medieval weapon called a “flail” or a “ball-mace.”

If you’ve seen Braveheart you’ve seen this weapon. Like the tool of imprisonment, it is also a ball and chain— a ball covered in spikes, wielded and swung by a chain.

We are the one’s holding the chain, wielding reckless death to others. The scariest thing about forgiveness is that if we put our ball-mace down, if we stop holding leverage and collateral over other people’s heads, how do we know they won’t hurt us again?

We don’t know that, but life in the Spirit is a life of faith. It is “the Jerusalem that is above.” We put our faith in God not the other person. And we do it imperfectly. We forgive and have faith imperfectly. Thank God, that just like Sarah, who didn’t really by the book deserve to be hailed as faithful or forgiving, we are perceived by God, in the Spirit, as deserving and faithful. (Galatians 4 & Hebrews 11 provide this view of her.)

I am so excited for Shavuot and Pentecost [And Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles] as we will look more deeply into forgiveness and faith, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

What are we forgiven from?— our failures under the law— Shavuot. And what are we forgiven for?— freedom in the Spirit— Pentecost.

Atlas Judged 2021

What Prophets Are Missing About the Missing Revival in California

The modern droughts in California have two culprits other than a lack of rain: salt water intrusion and insufficient water infrastructure.

Yes, over the last 15 years we did have a seven year period where it just didn’t rain. In fact, scientists said that because of global warming it would never rain again. Because of this calculation, the state made budget decisions that redirected billions of dollars of earmarked money away from improving water infrastructure into other initiatives. Which meant that in 2015, when it did start raining again, all the water ran straight into the ocean.

My three favorite places on the Monterey Coastline are Andrew Molera Park, Salinas River State Beach, and the Elkhorn Slough. At each of these locations you can see, or even wade through, the place where fresh water meets the sea– an estuary.

There is something poignant about estuaries for me; they are unlike any other parts of the Bay and Coast. Only specific birds, fish, and plants inhabit estuaries. In the place where the water is not fresh anymore but not salty enough, there is expectation and loss. Places in between are exciting but they are also inhospitable to nearly every kind of life that lives in the atmospheres on either side of them.

Californian farmers, like my dad who is a winegrower, are in a constant battle against the government, the Pacific Ocean, and each other over how to press out of the earth enough water to sustain the largest food crop producer in America and the fifth largest in the world.

When I was little, my mom would shew the four of us kids out of the house and into Dad’s white pickup truck on Saturday mornings. We’d pack in and drive a length of HWY 101 southward between our home in Salinas and San Ardo to check on the vineyards. In season, we’d venture even further south to Fort Hunter Liggett to go quail hunting, or to find a quiet spot on the Salinas River where we could cast off into little rapids and pull up rainbow trout for dinner.

Along the road, you see tall shepherd’s staffs hung with patinaed bells. The bells mark El Camino Real. Having driven this stretch of HWY 101 ad nauseam (literally until I was nauseated) I commented to my dad once that all the towns in South Monterey County are just about 20 minutes apart driving. He said, “Well, that’s how many miles you could ride on horseback in one day back in the mission days. The Spanish built a mission every day’s ride.” Along “the King’s Highway” there is a bell, a mission, and town every day’s ride.

There is no lack of religion in California, or spirituality. In fact, once I was able to spend three days up in Big Sur on a property that our friend’s dad was caretaker of. No one really gets to experience Big Sur. The state parks don’t even hint at what it really is. You meet people from Big Sur and there is a look on their faces like they have a secret. They do. It’s Big Sur.

I came home from camping on this pristine private property that had an IMAX view of the ocean, and I felt physically altered. No, I was not actually in a physically altered state, though there’s plenty of that available in Big Sur too. There is a spiritual presence in that place so potent that I came home feeling like I needed to check into Betty Ford. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Big Sur Land Trust exists less to protect the natural beauty of Big Sur and more to protect its spirituality.

The Salina, Ohlone, and Esselen, the native peoples that populated Monterey’s coastline and arterial valley, had no lack of metaphysical fervor. The Spanish padres had equal measure of religious conviction. Even now, this same dynamic plays out from the southern-most CA pitstop on HWY 101 to the northern-most.

There have been plenty of revivals in California. Moves and movements are the norm here not the exception. Just like the 20 minute intervals of towns along El Camino Real, revivals dovetail one to another. When Azusa Street Revival began to calm in 1915, Aimee Semple McPherson exploded on the scene in 1918. Sister Aimee’s life was cut short in 1944, but not before she established a new denomination, expansive charities for the Great Depression’s poor, and a colossal radio ministry not to mention a mega church in Los Angeles. Five years after Sister Aimee’s death, Billy Graham held 8 weeks of big tent revival meetings in Los Angeles where he had only prepared for three weeks.

When the Billy Graham Crusade came to Los Angeles, William Randolph Hearst sent a telegram to his reporters, “Puff Graham.” It meant to cover the story. The newspapers ran the story and Angelenos responded by pouring into the crusade that launched Billy Graham’s worldwide ministry. Billy Graham preached to more people in his 50 year career as an evangelist than any other person in history. He legitimized evangelicalism as a religious movement. The 1949 revival meeting wasn’t Graham’s first; his first was held the year before in New York City. But no one makes people famous like California does. Thank you, Hearst.

The 1950s are called “The Powerful Years for Religion.” Yet, when the 60s started to shake the hold of Christian conservatism that had settled into the West, the Jesus Movement seemed to just appear from the sea. The Jesus Movement did what the California climate has always done best, from the padres to America’s Pastor, it built a monument, sparked a movement, and made people famous. In this case, it was Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel along with John Wimber and the Vineyard.

By the time Calvary Chapel’s network of churches were packing in 1,000s over multiple services, Rick Warren was starting a bible study that would become Saddleback Church. The year was 1980. Up to date 20,000 people attend Warren’s church weekly and he has become an influencer of epic proportions having written books that, I don’t know, share what’s in the secret sauce?

To the best of my knowledge, being that this was the California Christian environment I grew up in, Christian revivalism did pretty well in the ’90s. The New Prophetic Movement had my family at revival meetings, hearing visiting evangelists almost every night of the week. Christianity commercialized and Spirit West Coast music festival moved into Monterey County every summer for over a week. We could hear the music playing from its host location, Laguna Seca Raceway from our house but we camped for the week anyway. My mom does not miss a moment when revival comes to town.

When I graduated from high school in 2004, I kinda left church in my rear view mirror for awhile, but as far as I can tell, there has never not been revival in California. There has always been some new movement, some new method of reaching youth, some new church that is bursting at the seams.

So why do the prophets talk about “the missing revival in California”? Why do churches feel so dry and empty? Pastors yearn for an outpouring. Yet, history seems to say that California’s pastors are chest deep in a flood already.

It’s missing because the water is brackish and the cisterns are broken.

Beware of the buzz of “LOOK, REVIVAL!”

We are coming into a revival of the quiet place, such as is transforming the nations where Christians would die if they became famous. California doesn’t need a new, big move so much as it needs to be transformed by a still small voice.