“Give Us (Me) a King!”

The people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles. (1 Samuel Ch 8)

That’s a pretty key moment in the long narrative of the nation of Israel. Up until that moment, though they have been “ruled” by men and women called “Judges,” God—YHWH—has been their king.

But then they make a different choice. They look around, at the world around them, and ask the current judge, Samuel, to find them a king.

After all, everyone else has one.

Samuel tells God what they want, and God actually says to let them have one. He knows what this means…

He knows they are rejecting him as their king… 

When I think about this, it makes me pause: what kind of love and security does it take to accept a rejection from someone so dear?

(From my ongoing counseling, I know that these are some very, very healthy and strong boundaries.)

God can take the rejection (though it certainly hurts). What’s more, on top of the shock of knowing that God can allow His people to turn their back on Him, He is also capable of feeling that pain.

There’s a glimpse here, a hint of some deeper reality:

Maybe, rather than God being a distant far off deity who is eternal and unmovable and utterly unlike us…

Maybe, just maybe, God knows what it’s like to be rejected, AND He knows how to feel it. 

HE FEELS IT. 

This little passage of scripture also says something powerful and poignant about us—or, let’s be honest: about me—and that is simply this:

Kings are always the easy way out. 

Samuel tells the people what a monarchy is going to bring: among other things, standing armies (institutionalized violence) and taxes (economic disparity).

But the people say, “Bring it on.”

And so do I.

I recognize something of myself in Israel’s response, namely that it’s always easier to opt for systems and rules rather than the radical grace and love of God. 

It’s always easier for me to turn my back on God’s radical love and on the idea that everything is grace and instead embrace a subtle tit-for-tat existence with God:

… When I “behave” my life goes well; God makes good things happen.

… When I “sin” my life goes badly; God punishes me by “making me” lose my job, or my relationship, etc., etc.

Why do I do this? For the same reason Israel wants a king: because it’s always tempting to want to be like the world around me. 

The world works this way: when you do well, you’re rewarded; when you blow it, you’re punished.

But, just like in this story, God doesn’t work like the world does:

… When I “behave”, God loves me, but I’m not like a star pupil that gets to sit at the head of the heavenly class. God loves me because His essence is to love. He can’t help it.

… When I sin/stumble/fall/mis-behave/etc., God still loves me. He doesn’t punish me by withdrawing His love, or “making bad things happen” to me.

(This is not to say there aren’t human, real consequences to bad decisions: this is just to say you can’t attribute these things to some kind of heavenly system of justice and scales.)

By the way: this “being like other nations” comes out whenever we post something like, “Got a new car today #blessed.”

Because whether you got a new car today, or your car got re-possessed, you are still #blessed.

All of life is a blessing. We just don’t often see it.

Because that’s the way the world works.

And we want to be like all the other nations.

I woke up this morning to a #blessed reality.

My breath, right this very minute, is a blessing.

It’s all grace.

 

Maybe what you can do, right now, is to pause and acknowledge the ways that God is blessing you.

Your home or apartment? Blessing. 

Your friends? Blessing. 

Your job? Your school? … You got it: Blessing. 

Your life? This moment? 

Sure: the world might think you’re crazy to think this way. But guess what?

You don’t have to be like the world. 

 

Under the mercy,
+e

 

As always: thanks for commenting, sharing, etc.

 

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Grace

Lately, I’ve been saying repeatedly, “Grace isn’t about getting us into heaven; it’s everything.” 

I think most of us “Jesus people” are guilty at one point or another of reducing grace into some kind of holy club (that most people wouldn’t want to visit). We reduce it and turn it into “who is going to heaven” (again, a group that most people wouldn’t want to go with).

In doing that, we turn it into something exclusive. Something that is about figuring out who is in and who is out.

Do they have the secret handshake?

Have they passed the Jesus quiz? (psssst for Jesus, the answer is always “all of the above”).

Do they have the right credentials?

But grace is simply (and infinitely more explosively) “define favor”. It is everything: our gifts, our talents, our resources, our friends, our family.

“Grace” says that everything we have is a gift.

It’s not about a club. It’s about a gift, a resource for dealing with life.

One of my favorite quotes on grace (and faith and Christianity) comes from theologian Bob Tuttle. He says,

I’m into Jesus Christ for one reason and one reason alone: faith and trust in Jesus is the only way I know how to access the power of the Holy Spirit that enables me to overcome the things that would attempt to swallow me whole.

In this sense, “grace” is synonymous with the Holy Spirit.

This is a “real-world” spirituality. It’s not about a club (unless it’s a club of the broken-hearted); it’s about growth and transformation.

Sign me up for that.

 

+e

 

… Like a Hurricane

Recently, I made a mistake.

A big one.

Those are enough details for now, but it left me thinking about love and forgiveness.

Now, my wife is not perfect, but repeatedly I’ve been blown away, overwhelmed, by her ability to forgive and love me in spite of my faults. She is a fierce lover, and when she is loyal, she is loyal. 

It’s a withering love. And it’s difficult to stand.

In the midst of this, I realized that there is something inside of me that absolutely wants to flee this kind of love. I have a hunch I’m not the only one. I have a theory that this condition is more human than I’d like to admit.

What is it inside of us that makes us flee this kind of acceptance?

It’s obviously similar to the love that Christ has for us/me. To look into the face of a love that is totally accepting and forgiving is excruciating sometimes. We want to hide and run because of all the bad that we have done, but there is something there that says we must stand in it and take it, like a fierce rainstorm.

That’s what love is. That’s what love can be… A hurricane. 

Love him, or hate him, Saint Paul must have learned to stand in that hurricane. Here was a man who had people—innocent people—killed, and then later sought those people out in community, as one of them. Moreover, before that he had to stand in the face of Jesus and accept that love.

He could stand in the face of that storm. He was no longer a man with blood on his hands, with the lives of men, women, and children (!) on his conscience. He was simply a man who was now “In Christ”, and was inviting others to experience this same storm.

I know I’m not naturally wired for it. It makes me want to hide, to go numb, to retreat.

I guess I’m TRYING to learn to withstand it, but it is difficult.

Musically speaking, not that it is anything like this:

But maybe, it’s a bit like this:

peace

Is “Religion” REALLY Opposed to “Relationship”

I’m tired of playing off “religion” against “relationship.”

The notion (as defined by my tribe) is that Jesus came to save us from “religion” and invite us into a “relationship” with God.

This is a false dichotomy for a few different reasons.

First of all, it’s generally understood by Biblical scholars that the Jewish faith of Jesus’ era was immersed in “relationship”. The Jews (probably even moreso than most modern, western Christians) were intensely aware of the all-encompassing nature of God. They lived in a God-soaked, God-bathed world. God pervaded their politics, their art, their social structure.

They did not compartmentalize.

This God that was everywhere lived in a vital and dynamic relationship with them through a Covenant relationship that looked something like this: God committed Himself to Israel in a binding relationship; Israel would wander away, and God would pursue, invite and even “woo” Israel back like a lover who had betrayed her true love and left.

This God—YHWH, or even “The Name”—acted time and again to bring back and restore Israel, not because they kept the Law or were perfect, but simply because He loves them. (Read the Exodus: when does God rescue? before Israel has a chance to even hear the Law, much less obey it. God acts while His people are helpless and enslaved. For those of you keeping score at home, this is what grace looks like.)

Now, had some people in Jesus’ time forgot about this? Had some of them turned the vital faith of Abraham and Isaac into rote performance and rule keeping?

Sure. But look around us: we are just as adept at doing that in the 21st century as they were in the 1st.

What Jesus was up to was (among other things):

… showing what an “eternal life now” could look like
… welcoming in the outsiders to the Kingdom
… conquering evil through suffering love
… providing a ransom for our sin

It’s simply too narrow of a statement to say that Jesus saved us from religion.

Furthermore, by playing this “binary” game (black and white, on or off, etc), we are missing a vital part of what “religion” actually means.

Though the etymology is slightly unclear, the root of religion could be understood as a coming out of the Latin root legare, which means to “connect or bind” (it’s where our word for “ligament” comes from as well). In other words, “religion” at its best re-connects us. It should literally “knit us together”; it should connect us with ourselves, the world around us, and with God.

It should not fragment us, or make us small-minded.

With these thoughts in mind, what I’d actually say that Jesus (and the Prophets, and Paul, and the church fathers and mothers, and the great saints as well) was not trying to save us from religion as much as he was trying (still is trying, actually) to save us from bad religion, that fragments, fractures, and reduces our world.

So I’ll take both. I like my relationship (with the Triune God, with the world), but I can only have that relationship through my religion (my efforts to re-connect with God through His Holy Spirit).

This Needs No Further Explanation

“The point about Jesus’ resurrection is not ‘He’s alive again, therefore there is a life after death,’… It’s not, ‘Jesus is alive again, therefore we’re all going to go to heaven,’ … The point about the resurrection is, ‘Jesus has been raised from the dead, therefore God’s new creation has begun, and therefore we have a job to do… We don’t need to worry (about our sin) any more… but you do need to work.” -NT Wright