Rahab & the Bible’s Red Light District

RahabHow many of you remember the Old Testament character named Rahab? She was an early professional (in what is known as the worlds’ oldest profession). As the story goes, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to case the Jericho. They ended up staying at the home of Rahab.

The Bible doesn’t say whether Rahab’s home was a cathouse (or as it is also known, a house of ill repute). Chances are, however, it was. It just stands to reason.

The Bible doesn’t mention if the two spies engaged in any seemly activities while they were there, either. I won’t speculate, but I have my suspicions.

The thrust of the story is that Rahab hid the Israelite spies and covered for them. In return, when the Hebrew army took Jericho, she and her household were spared. Her home was marked with a red cord to alert the soldiers which home was hers.

My ancestry is not in question.

When Jericho fell (literally), Rahab and her family were taken in to live with the Israelites. In a New Testament genealogy, she is listed in the family tree of Jesus. I’d say that was quite an honor for a woman of the night.

When God appeared in the flesh, he could have come through any line of people he chose. For some reason, he did it through a prostitute. This gives me great hope.

I’m not sure if there are any such women in my family tree, but if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.rahab1

But it’s not my ancestry that’s in question. It’s me. I’m no better than Rahab. If she could end up in a position of Biblical distinction, I should have a shot at holding down a spot in God’s Kingdom as well.

The point is the Lord doesn’t seem to be picky. He chose a lot of losers to be a part of his family, his circle of friends, and his followers. In fact, compared to him, we’re all losers (with a capital “L”).

A lot of folks don’t think they’re good enough to be included in God’s Kingdom. They believe they have sinned too much, strayed too far, and fallen off the deep end too often. From what I see in Scripture, that’s just not true.

An inspiration of the other kind.

On the other end of that, there are a lot of folks in the church that seem to agree with them. They consider these “evil doers” to be forever lost. What a crock! How can someone who has been touched by an angel (so to speak) withhold that experience from anyone else? They should be out helping people discover that experience.

Rahab is an inspiration. She was obviously nobody special. Just the opposite is true, in fact. Yet she is now known for her bravery, her discernment, and her willingness to be obedient to the will of the one, true God.

I think I’m going to tie a red cord around the banister on my front porch.  rahab2

You Are Not Alone: Random Thoughts from an Introverted Preacher

Loner

I tend to be a loner—a very private person.  I grew up hearing from my parents, “That’s nobody’s business but ours.”  In other words, no one else needs to know our concerns.  What we do is confidential. It’s not for public consumption.  I took that concept and ran with it…probably to an extreme.

Introvert

Part of my problem (if you can call it that) is that I’m an introvert. One of the cruel jokes of ministry is that 85% of all pastors are introverts. (I’m convinced that is part of the curse dropped on us in IntrovertsUnitethe Garden of Eden. Just a wild guess, of course.)

I’ve worked hard (and continue to do so) at overcoming my introversion. Since it’s built into my personality, I will probably never completely overcome it. But I’ve done a relatively decent job of covering it up.

Actually, I really enjoy other people…just not too many and for too long. I’m telling you, it’s part of the curse.

Community

One of the central themes of the Bible is the communal nature of the church…koinonia (Greek for fellowship or community). Loners have a hard time with that. It becomes necessary for us to break out of our mold. We have to work at being more open and accepting. One of the hardest things for me as a Christian has always been the inclusion of the whole church in my life. Even as a pastor I still work on that one.

I Am Second

There is a really good website called I Am Second. My youngest son turned me on to this a few years ago.  I like to go back to it from time to time, because it’s a great site to remind us that we are truly not alone.

People

I sometimes joke that the church would be great if it wasn’t for the people.  Obviously, that’s absurd on its face.  Without people there is no church.

SawYouLastWeedChristianity is a little paradoxical in its ability to tolerate others.  On the one hand, you can’t even be considered a member of the church unless you believe in Jesus.  That sounds a little intolerant.  On the other hand, if you believe in Jesus, we can tolerate almost anything else about you.

Where some people make their mistake is when they confuse tolerance and love.  We are commanded to love everyone, not tolerate them. Loving from a distance is not really an option, though.

Preaching to the Masses

What’s really strange is this. The bigger the crowd, the easier it is for me to preach. Explain that one to me. A crowded party drains the energy right out of me. A crowded worship service gets me juiced up (spiritually speaking). Could it be because I don’t have to look at one person too long? Inquiring minds want to know.

Down Time

This was easy to write because I’m alone right now.

Nine Seconds to Splash Down

I recently heard of a study that showed the attention span of human beings has now dropped below that of a gold fish. That really doesn’t tell us anything until we know the attention span of a gold fish. Apparently it’s nine seconds.

GoldfishNINE SECONDS! That means most of you are ready to stop reading this and go on to something else. It doesn’t bode well for people who write (like me). I already have a problem attracting readers. Losing them after eight seconds is a killer.

If our attention span keeps getting shorter, what does that say for our future? How can we survive with the attention span of a guppy?

They say that the media has done this to us. Ten second sound bites… Thirty second hamburgers… Instant-on TV… The list goes on forever. Yet I have to say I like all this quickness. Waiting for stuff can be a real drag.

“You shouldn’t pray for patience…”

I’ve even noticed in my own life that I’m beginning to grow a little impatient with anything that takes longer than a millisecond. If it can affect an old geezer like me, it can undoubtedly affect anyone.

It’s been said many times over the years that you shouldn’t pray for patience. The reason given is that the Lord will introduce situations into your life to help you build a patient spirit. I suspect the process can be less than hilarious. I’ve heeded that little warning and have never prayed that prayer. I’ve done so because of another old saying. “Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.” Don’t even ask me what that means.

Trending Downward

I’m not sure where all this impatience will lead. I’m definitely not a futurist. I can tell you, however, it doesn’t bode well for the practice of reading the Bible. That’s an endeavor that can take awhile.

It’s a trend I find to be a bit more than sad. I’ve always found Scripture to be fascinating. That’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, The Last Wedding (please pardon the shameless plug). It’s also one of the reasons I’m in the midst of writing a second book. I write because I want to do what I can to point people to a knowledge and love of the Bible. It’s a fantastic piece of literature that can change anyone’s life.gone_fishin_trucker_hat-r651b2949c560451bae86943336382d62_v9wfy_8byvr_324

The good news in all of this is you don’t have to read the Bible in one sitting. In fact, you don’t even have to read it in one year. A little bit of Scripture can go a long way—particularly if you slow down long enough to meditate on it.

In fact, I’m of the opinion that the Bible is at it’s best when you stop and ask questions of it. You know—the old what, when, why, where, and how. Too many of us read a verse and say, “I don’t get it.” Then we give up. What are we—trout?

Religion is Dead

It seems like many (if not most) of us, like to take refuge in religious activities. SpellPeaceWe feel like we’re better people if we’re doing something pious.  If we can just follow the right rules, pray the right formula, or chant the right words, we’ll be okay with God.

Unfortunately, as I understand Scripture, it seems the Lord is not very interested in religion.  In fact, it seems as though the more religious people get, the less He likes it.

All the man-made rules may make us feel better about ourselves, but it’s the heart of the matter that makes the difference.  Yet even after all these years, I continually catch myself setting up new rules to follow (at least I hope I catch myself).  You’d think I’d learn to follow Jesus instead of a bunch of rules.

Rules are a little easier, though.  They don’t move around like Jesus does. But then, why follow things that aren’t moving.  They can’t take you anywhere.

Long ago, people approached the prophet Zechariah with a question for the Lord. They wanted to know if they should “mourn and fast in the fifth month” as they had for many years. The Lord answered with a couple questions of his own:

“When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?  And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?”

The implication was that the people were basically doing these things merely to make themselves feel better. We somehow think we’ll be better off if we “pay our dues.” Follow the rules, give a nice offering, and go about business as usual.

The Lord then told Zechariah to pass on these words to the good folks:

“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”

Someone could say, “Well, those are just more rules!” Maybe. But there is a stark difference between going down a checklist of dos and don’ts as opposed to being a merciful, compassionate, and just person. In fact, one might sum it up as “doing versus being.”

It Becomes Personal

When we follow Christ, it becomes a very personal thing. We are transformed into what the apostle Paul calls “living sacrifices.” That, my friends, is a far cry from enumerating a heavenly spreadsheet of religious activities.

JESUS OF NAZARETH -- Pictured: Robert Powell as Jesus -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

If we grow to become compassionate, we don’t have to be told what to do. Life will happen, and we will find ourselves doing benevolent activities. We will do them because they have become part of our nature.

An agenda of rules quickly becomes a dead religion. It’s very impersonal. Your relationship is with a worksheet rather than with people. I know from personal experience.

Having done both, I highly recommend Jesus. He’s a lot more fun than a spreadsheet.

Nose Rings: An Old Testament Hangover

bull-with-nose-ringWhen I was young, all the nose rings I saw were attached to bulls.  Heavy rings were inserted into their noses for obvious reasons.  A chain or rope was hooked to them in order to lead them around. If you think about how tender your nose can be, you can imagine how it would feel. Try going in a different direction from the one in which you’re being pulled.

I always felt badly for bulls because of this. At least I did until I stood next to one. Those babies are huge! I wouldn’t want to try riding one for sure. Leading one around wouldn’t be a picnic either.

In the Old Testament, we read how victors led losing kings around by nose rings. It was a definite sign of forced submission. It also had to be more than a little painful. The piercing alone must have been brutal (I doubt they took them to a tattoo parlor to get it done).

Today we see lots of people with nose rings. I guess they think it’s cool or distinctive.  Regardless of how fashionable it is, it definitely sets them apart. Every time I see someone with a nose ring, I think of those Old Testament kings being led away by their enemies. I’ll never get one. (Why make it any easier on my enemies than they already have it.)

THERMAL, CA - APRIL 13:  Kendall Jenner attends Day 2 of the LACOSTE Beautiful Desert Pool Party on April 13, 2014 in Thermal, California.  (Photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images for LACOSTE)
Kendall Jenner (Photo by Chris Weeks)

Today, we get them of our own volition. No one forces us. Being stylish can cause us to do unusual things. We all know plenty of women who wear shoes that kill their feet. As long as they look good, that’s all that matters. I suppose a few guys do that as well.

I have to hand it to them. Comfort is usually paramount. But if you’re willing to bear the pain to look different, that’s commitment.

I think the church could take a lesson from these hardy folks. If there’s one drawback to the American church today, it’s our insistence on being permanently comfortable. We don’t much care how it looks. We don’t even care much how little ministry is done. As long as we are comfortable, that’s what matters.

I’m certainly no exception to the comfort seekers, and I’m a pastor. I want the place of worship to be heated in winter and air conditioned in summer. I even want any actual ministry we do to be under good conditions. Even as I write this, I’m sitting in a very comfortable study in extremely comfortable surroundings.

Jesus told the early church to be his witness Body-Piercing“to the ends of the earth.” Then they promptly hunkered down in Jerusalem for the next few years. It wasn’t until the church fell under heavy persecution that they began taking the Gospel elsewhere.

I don’t want to put any ideas in God’s head, but maybe we could use a few nose rings (figuratively speaking, of course). Or maybe we could actually go to the ends of the earth of our own volition.

There is Someone that I Love

“There is someone that I love, even though I don’t approve of what he does. There is someone I accept, though some of his thoughts and actions revolt me. There is someone I forgive, though he hurts the people I love the most. That person is me.” ~C. S. Lewis~

CS-LewisC.S. Lewis was one of a kind. He’s one of those guys that seem to have garnered everyone’s respect. On top of that, he was a gifted writer. Consequently, he is about as quotable as they come.

This particular quote reveals his humility. It’s certainly self-deprecating. Apparently, he didn’t think more of himself than he ought.

With his accomplishments and the acclaim he received, he certainly could have had an ego bigger than the sky. Yet, he appears to have been well grounded. He also appears to have understood his own shortcomings and sin.

We usually look up to people because of their talent, their abilities, and/or their achievements. Seldom do we know these people intimately. When we do get a look at them behind the scenes, we often find a skeleton in their closet that knocks them off the pedestal we erected for them.

Cop an attitude…

With people like Lewis, however, there is an openness that precludes any idol worship. It’s an attitude that says, “I’m an imperfect sinner. I’m not crazy about it, but here I am. Help me get better.”

Any of us would do well to cop that kind of attitude. For most of us, however, it’s highly likely that we would try to hide any chinks in our armor. We want to put our best foot forward and leave it there. Our failings can remain in the shadows.

However, we best serve the human race that surrounds us by being a little vulnerable. When someone seems a little too perfect, they don’t seem human. If they aren’t human, they become an unfeeling robot destined for obscurity. No one looks up to a façade without wondering what’s behind it. Eventually, we get tired (even suspicious) of someone who never fails.

Lewis not only had a healthy view of who he was, he admittedly loved himself. Sometimes we get the feeling that’s wrong—that we shouldn’t love ourselves. We need to realize, that’s how God made us.Self-Love

We have to have some self-love in order to be everything we can be. We need it for self-preservation. We need it to reach our potential. It’s when we don’t care about ourselves that we become less than productive or worse.

Without self-love, we can actually become self-loathing. It’s then that we fall prey to self-destructive habits. These can place us in the position of becoming burdens on society rather than blessings.

Like Lewis, there is someone that I love. It’s me. As messed up as I am, I think I have potential and can get better every day. I love me because God loves me. I’ve read in his book that he loves you too.

Growing Corn: A Lesson in Life

corn

I recently ran across this post on Facebook:

“There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best-grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it.

The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.

‘Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.’

So is with our lives… Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all…”

I certainly couldn’t have said it better myself. What a great example of what it means to make everyone around you better than they were.

Each year, as a baseball fan, I hear about players who make all their teammates better. They do that by taking some of the pressure off them and carrying it on their own shoulders. When they’re in the line-up, the rest of the batting order hits better. It’s a ripple effect.Roberto

It’s much like the farmer sharing his good seed. He reaps the benefit of his own benevolence. Ball players reap the reward of a winning team. We could do the same in our day-to-day lives.

Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case. Too often we want less for our neighbors so we will look better by comparison. It’s the reverse of “a rising tide raises all boats.” If we can just drag those around us down to our level, maybe we can outshine them.

That’s a really sad commentary on the way many of us live. There’s no victory in someone else’s demise. There’s no joy in someone else’s degradation. There’s no moral achievement when someone else falls below our standards.

We would do well to take a page from the life of Jesus. Look at some of the folks he chose to befriend. The Pharisees of his day thought he was terrible because he ate with sinners. On the other hand, everyone else thought he was pretty special.

He didn’t hang out with them so he would look better by comparison. He hung out with them to lift them up. He gave them encouragement to be better than they were. He gave them nuggets to build their lives upon.

Maybe it’s time we did the same. Any hand up you can give will be a rising tide…for everyone.rising-tide-lifts-all-the-boats

 

Wet Floors & Slippery Slopes

Two policemen call the police station on the radio.

“Hello. Is that you Sarge?”

“Yes?”

“We have a case here. A woman has shot her husband for stepping on the floor she had just mopped clean.”

“Have you arrested the woman?”

“No sir. The floor is still wet.”

mopladyI love that story.

Caution is the better part of valor, is it not? Sometimes it makes no sense to rush into a situation.

Today, it seems like all of us are in a rush. We flit around, always in a hurry. We’ve convinced ourselves we can accomplish lots of things. Hence, we cram our schedules.

Consequently, we’re often late for important things (if not for everything). We rush because we can. We’re late because we can get away with it.

That’s especially true where I live. Anytime someone’s late, they have a built-in excuse—traffic. Traffic around here is always horrific. So, the answer to being late is often a simple, “Traffic was backed up.” It almost always works.

Truth be told, that’s usually a lame excuse. We know traffic is bad. All we have to do is leave a few minutes early to make up for it. We can’t, however, because we’re in a rush to do other stuff as well.

Our two policemen friends had to make an arrest. They weren’t in a big hurry to do so. They didn’t rush in. They took their time, and waited for the floor to dry.

“Fools rush in…”

While it’s true they were in danger if they hurried, their example is a good one. There are a lot of hidden dangers lurking in life. We cause ourselves loads of problems by being in a hurry.

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Like a lot of old sayings, this one has a solid reason for its existence. The two policemen in our story feared to tread on the wet floor. We would do well to slow down a little, take our time, survey the landscape of our lives, and proceed with caution. The old Poor Richard adage also comes to mind here. “Haste makes waste.”

Unfortunately, we have also accumulated lots of opposite bits of wisdom. How Policeabout this one? “He who hesitates is lost.” Well, I don’t like being lost (but I hesitate a lot). What are we to do?

Many would tell us to simply use our common sense. However, a wise man may have been right when he said, “Common sense is neither common nor sensical.” Hmmm…

For those of us in the church, there’s a principal that is often helpful when used. It’s called community.

Being surrounded by a gathering of believers gives us a support group in which there exists a common sense of reality. Too many of us fail to use that means of discerning our situation. We’re too private, I guess.

The two officers in our story had each other. One of them by himself may have rushed in. Communal wisdom prevails again.

Spoiler Alert!

WarningI have a friend who always seems to know who the killer is about ten seconds into the movie. Man, do I hate that! I hate that on several levels.

I hate it because I’m jealous–jealous that I don’t have anywhere near the level of analysis or insight he does. I hate it because he’s so aware and I’m so naïve. I hate it because he always spoiled the ending for me. No matter how obvious it is to everyone else, I’m always surprised (unless he’s around).

Christians seem to be like that. Our attention seems to be drawn to the back of the book—the end of the movie—the sum total of all things. I get that, but there’s something to be said for the journey.

Is it good to know the end of the story?

One of the things that originally drew me to Christ was my newfound knowledge that he was returning. I was twenty, in college, and rebellious. Hearing that Jesus was coming back was a startling revelation for me. I couldn’t remember ever hearing that before.

So it was good for me to know the end of the story. Unfortunately, our tendency seems to major in the last chapter. We should know about end times, but dwelling on them gets in the way of everything else.

Because I was drawn in by eschatology (the study of end times), I spent my first year as a committed Christian looking to the skies (not literally, but I think you know what I mean). That was a year I could have been getting immersed in the rest of Scripture. As it was, I could list all the signs of the times. I didn’t do much for the Kingdom of God, however.

That was forty-six years ago. Fortunately, at some point I realized I had to be about my Father’s business. Time was a-wasting! I turned it around pretty quickly, but some people never do.

“We’re on a pilgrimage.”

I do believe we are in the end times. However, we have been in the end times for two thousand years. Since it’s not given to us to know these things, maybe we should be about the things we DO know.

We’re on a pilgrimage. We might know the ending and the outcome of our travels. But the journey is important. What we do between the beginning and the end has consequences. It’s reassuring to know who wins, but that doesn’t negate our responsibilities. While the ends are important, the means are important as well. Let’s not be so “heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.” I don’t know who said that, but it comes in handy from time to time.

As I write this, I’m preparing to head out to the cinema on a date with my wife. I end_is_nearknow she won’t spoil the ending for me (at least she hasn’t over the past twenty years). But even if she does take a guess, she won’t hound me with her theory of who-dunnit and how. Thanks be to God.

The Day the Manna Stopped

Years ago when I was a rookie pastor, I preached a sermon entitled, “The Day the Manna Stopped.” It was based upon a passage of Scripture in Joshua.  The passage mentioned a day in the history of the Children of Israel when the manna was no longer supplied.

Remember the story? To keep them from starving in the wilderness, God supplied manna—a sort of heavenly bread. When they woke up each morning, they found it on the ground along with the dew. It was their daily sustenance.

mannaI’ll never forget the first time I preached on that passage. One of my parishioners came to me after the sermon and said, “That was exceptional.”  I don’t think I had ever heard someone say that about any of my sermons (before or since).  I wish I had a recording of that message so I could figure out what I did right.

After I preached a similar sermon more recently, one of my parishioners noted that it really spoke to him about his relationship with his children.  During the sermon, I had suggested that the manna stopped because it was time for the Children of Israel to start providing for themselves.  This particular parishioner decided that his adult children needed to provide for themselves from that point on instead of relying on him so much.

The Children of Israel had no choice…”

Sometimes the line between being served and earning our own way is a tough one to cross. When does the time arrive for us to do it on our own? How do we discern when that time arrives?

In the wilderness, the Children of Israel had no choice. The line of demarcation was clear. One day, there was no more manna. They had to fend for themselves.

That doesn’t mean God had abandoned them. On the contrary, God was leading them into a more mature way of living. Sometimes the baby birds need to be pushed out of the nest.

On the other hand, there are times when that line is blurry. The birds have to begin flapping their wings and sense for themselves when it’s time to take off. That’s when it can get a little scary.

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We face these sorts of challenges often in life. We are being led by the hand (so to speak). Then one day, the hand lets go. Occasionally, it’s us who do the letting go. We decide it’s time, and we strike out on our own.

You may be facing one of those situations right now. You think it might be time to fend for yourself. Or maybe you have no choice. It’s scary, and you don’t want to even try.

“Do what I do.”

You can either a) step out in faith and give it a shot, or b) you can shut down and do nothing. Letter “b” is usually a lousy option.

My best advice is to do what I do. Pray for wisdom, protection, and grace. Then spread your wings. The Wind of God will be there to lift you up.