"Eldad and Medad are prophesying....
IN THE CAMP!!
I preached at Gethsemane yesterday for Pentecost. Had some fun interpreting the Eldad and Medad story and suggesting that we needed some fire not just on our heads and in our hearts but also... elsewhere.
One of the Daily Texts verses today includes the statement “I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) It reminded me of something important about interpretation that I like to pass along when I get a chance, so I’m going to run down a rabbit hole here for a bit.
The little English word “of” can mean a LOT of different things and the reader/hearer is absolutely required to *interpret* the word and *choose* from different options. Most of us do that easily and subconsciously on the fly, so we’re not even aware that we’re interpreting.
For example: “house of sticks” means house *made* of sticks.
But “love of money” means love *directed towards* money.
And “love of your dog” means the love *felt by* your dog for you.
Except when it means the love *felt for* your dog by you.
Now, watch how this can have a huge impact on how you interpret.
In Matthew 16:19 Jesus refers to the “keys of the Kingdom. What does “of” mean there? The keys “to” the Kingdom? Could be. That would imply that the Kingdom is locked and you need the key to get in, though. Hmmm…
Or, it could mean the keys *belonging to* the Kingdom. That’s a whole ‘nother thing there. If you have these “Kingdom keys” what do you think you might be able to lock… or unlock? Might it be the “gates of Hades” that Jesus refers to in the previous verse?
“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Mt. 16:18b
You’ve got to admit… a gate isn’t likely to "prevail” against you if you have the key that can open it.
Popular culture has latched onto the “pearly gates” image from Revelation 21:21 in a way that has even us thinking of heaven as a gated community. Seriously… a gated community!?!? If you don’t have a key yourself you better be on good terms with Saint Peter, right! After all he has the “keys *to* (?) the Kingdom” right?
Well, how about this instead. What if the only “gated community” that even exists is Hell/Hades/Death, and the *problem* is not “How can I possibly get *into* heaven when I’m locked out?” but rather, “How can I possibly get *out* of H/H/D when I’m locked IN?
Sit with that image for a minute, and then see how it feels to consider that the Kingdom keys have unlocked the gates and no one can ever be locked in again.
Pearly gates that are locked, or gates of Hades unlocked – which image resonates more powerfully with what you know as the message of Jesus?
It is, of course, a matter of interpretation. Gotta keep an eye on those great big theological words like “of.”
Here's a visual summary of the themes in my personal devotions over the last 12 months:
If you prune that down to the top 20 words, it looks like this:
And if you go all the way down to the top 5 words, you see this:
Not that you really need to know that much about what's been on my heart for the last twelve months as I read and reflect on Scripture of course, but I wanted to share with you the tools I've found that have made this little look-back reflection possible.
First, I've been using a simple journaling format that I learned from Wayne Cordeiro at New Hope in Hawaii. It uses a SOAP acronym to provide structure (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) and help keep things simple. I've written more about that before. What I may not have mentioned is that the journal invites you to create a Table of Contents as you go, and for each entry to record a title and some keywords that identify the themes in what you've written. Here's what mine looks like:
I've been using this journaling tool for several years now and have begun using the keywords as a window into the past. (The Table of Contents is also a HUGE asset when you need to find a verse on a topic for yourself or someone else.)
With that list of words as raw material, you can visualize it as above using the website Wordle. Paste your text into the box and BOOM! A word cloud where the words that appear most frequently are shown in larger font. Wordle gives you a lot of flexibility on how the visual is created... fonts, colors and alignment etc. But you can also limit the number of words that will be shown from your content, which is how I made the three versions above. (You can also make a Wordle from a document, or even from a website. Try pasting in a whole book of the Bible sometime to see some interesting things about the topics that book is engaging.)
If you're not doing daily devos, I encourage you to start and I recommend the Life Journal as a great tool. It's been a huge blessing to me!
A clergy group I belong to on Facebook got started talking about metrics and I chimed in (just a little bit). Thought I'd share some of that here for those who are interested:
"Metrics may not do a good job of telling the whole story, but they tend to tell you if there's a story you should be paying attention to."
"Much of the 3dm approach lends itself to metrics, which I appreciate:
Number of people in huddles. Number of huddles meeting. Number of people who are able to lead huddles. Number of second, third... generation huddles. Number & generation of Missional Communities."
"One key metric that anyone working in Post-Christendom should be tracking is adult baptisms. I think that one metric is like the canary in the coal mine if we dare to look at it.
For conventional congregations, I went so far as to develop an measure of "Evangelical Effectiveness" based on that: Number of Adult Baptisms per year per 100 people in worship. (Normalizes for the size of the congregation.)
I tried to get that metric placed in use in my Synod years ago - at least as a way of discovering the congregations that are *actually* effective in conversion growth. I was thinking if we knew which ones they were, we might be able to hear their stories and learn from them. Unfortunately, the proposal was met with disinterest and resistance I'm sorry to say.
"Going off in another direction... sometimes we measure what we do because it's easier to measure than other things that might be intrinsically more important. Butts and bucks are easy to count & so are adult baptisms for that matter. But we're trying to make disciples and help people *mature* in faith. What could we look at as "metrics" for maturity?
Many people stop pursuing that because they think things like maturity cant be measured. True enough. But they can be *evaluated.* Lots of "squishy" things can be evaluated... you just need to find a way to metri-fy it.
For example, years ago when I was (FINALLY!) getting my depression diagnosed, the doctor gave me a little inventory. "How often do you think about thus-and-such?" "How many times per week do feel XYZ?" and so on. Scaled responses like Never - Rarely - Sometimes - Often - All the time. He *scored* the inventory and that was a part of the diagnosis.
We *could* do discipleship growth assessments... if we dared.
Imagine an assessment about the presence of the following traits in your attitudes and behavior: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness...
Are those things *more evident* this year than when you took the inventory last year?
For the truly courageous, we give the inventory to the five people closest to us and let THEM do the eval!
Ready to have your kids and spouse weigh in on the question "Has (your name here) become more patient over the last year?" Does (name) have more self control?"
I pursue a practice of daily devotions (note: pursuing is not the same as achieving) and when my devos are suitable for public view I often post them on my Feral Pastor Facebook page. A recent post there that touched on the experience of brokenness, and how "cheering people up" is often not the best approach, seemed to get more attention that most. Maybe that's just because simply naming the reality of brokenness has a powerful resonance with a lot of people. Whatever the reason, I thought I'd also post that reflection here in case it was a blessing to others.
A MAN ONCE TOOK THE ENGINE FROM HIS LAWN MOWER AND USED IT TO REPLACE THE BROKEN ONE IN HIS CAR. HE THEN CURSED THE CAR FOR POOR PERFORMANCE, AND ALSO RUINED THE MOTOR. ALL ALONG, HE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE MOWING THE LAWN.
Are you the engine? Are you the “man?” You may well be both at the same time!
What do you expect out of yourself, out of your life and the others around you? What does the world and your workplace expect?
What does Jesus expect?
Jesus said – no, scratch that – Jesus says;“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” That’s from Matthew 11:27-29.
I also love, love, love this version from Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(By the way… be aware that even if you are a Christian and feel pretty good about that, the actual “religion” you are practicing may well be Busyness, or Other People’s Expectations, or My Own Expectations, or Success, or The American Dream or whatever. These are killer religions, and burning you out is their preferred form of human sacrifice.)
If you want a job to do and something to work on for Jesus, consider this one: become a living, prophetic witness to a different way of life that gives life, rather than destroys it.
Here's a nice, brief blog post from Thom Schultz, the founder of Group Publishing with the "Kodak" analogy for the church, if you haven't encountered it before. Kodak was the only game in town for film, but has been wiped out by digital photography... a technology they invented!
In that analogy, I'd say that sticking with film for photography in the digital age corresponds to sticking with programs, property, professionals/pastors, and presentational worship in the post-Christendom age. But that's just me.
Or more succinctly, it's the mistake of thinking we are in the "large group weekly worship" business.
We typically speak of "confession and forgiveness" and do them in that order. My devotions this morning touch on the opportunity to reverse the order, and enter into confession in the confidence that comes from knowing you are forgiven.
In my work with 3dm as a discipling tool I've picked up some valuable "lenses" that can be put on like
glasses to help me interpret and even see things. For example, one 3dm lens is the Triangle, which invites us to consider our relationships with God (Up), other believers (In) and everyone else (Out). In my devotions this morning, that lens gave me a second and third look at a verse I might have otherwise skipped over because it "didn't connect with me."
The way that Lutherans tend to think of salvation is really nicely represented by the following passage from Ezekiel. Note how the activity of God has priority and primacy throughout, and obedience emerges at the initiative of the Spirit who has already been given. Even the awareness and regret over one's sinfulness shows up as an after-effect, rather than a prerequisite for the arrival of the Spirit and the gift of a new heart. (Gotta love the irony here: only a new heart is capable of regret over sin it seems.)
24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices.
I want to start collecting some of the metaphors and visuals that I keep returning to and thought I'd start with Asteroid Field Navigation. I touched on this briefly once before in the context of making "mistakes" but thought I'd brush it off and represent it.
Asteroid Field Navigation
Back in the days of Lewis and Clark they could spend a few years making a map, hand it over to you, and it would still work because all the mountains and rivers were right where they left them. In our world, the terrain itself is unstable, and it's better still to go the next step and just acknowledge that there is no terrain period. Instead, we travel and navigate in an asteroid field where everything is in motion, including us. If you try to make a map, you won't succeed because by the time it's done, it's obsolete, and you've probably been hit by an asteroid in the mean time anyway.
But navigation is still possible. They way you do it is by constant course correction in a three step process.
First, orient yourself by quickly getting sufficient clarity about where you are and where you are going. "Where you are" includes getting a bead on the rocks in motion around you, especially those on a collision course.
Second, move. Take some action that avoids catastrophe, utilizes immediate opportunity and moves you in the direction of the destination even if it's not a straight-line course. (Fellow geeks will enjoy visualizing this with vectors.)
Finally, now that you have initiated movement, your whole context has shifted. So go back to step one and start over. Orient, Act, Repeat.
Spells OAR. Cute, huh? That's just icing on the cake, speaking metaphorically.
I pursue a practice of daily devotions and journaling using the SOAP format, which I highly recommend. Of late, I've begun posting photos of my journal entries as an easy way of sharing my life with others that are my travelling partners in the faith. (Much easier than re-typing everything!) So below is a photo of my entry for today. It's a reminder that faith is about trusting a person, not confidence in a particular way of thinking about Him.
Talking about baptism has a tendency to start fights among Christians, but I gave in to the urge to offer a key metaphor for me in a post on another blog so I thought I'd let folks here have a look too.
"Maybe the significance of baptism isn't in what it "does to" the baptized, but in what it "does to God." Perhaps baptism is a way God has empowered us to "bind God" to the person being baptized in a way that has eternal, spiritual significance.
For a metaphor, consider this. I traveled to Vietnam years ago, empowered by my wife to legally bind her (and me) to a child through my own signature on her behalf. Signing my name is a routine and frequently meaningless act, but in this context, it had huge, real and lasting significance for me, my wife and the child. (Her name is Amy.) In the same way, washing with water is usually not very meaningful, but in the context of baptism that act could have real significance.
The metaphor could be extended to address some of the other struggles around baptism. Suppose my wife and I had made a personal commitment to provide in every way possible for the welfare of the child *regardless of whether the formal adoption was allowed to go through.* Our ability to deliver everything our hearts desired to Amy might have been hindered if the formalities couldn't be enacted... (it wold have been pretty hard to get her out of the country and situated with American citizenship, for example!) Who knows, maybe we would have ended up finding it necessary to "move into the neighborhood" (See John 1:14 the Message) and become citizens of Vietnam in order to follow our hearts and care for the child we had *unilaterally* claimed as our own. When you use this metaphor as a lens, you can see nicely that the underlying commitment is the real thing, the main thing, but it's also helpful to have the formalities enacted since that 1) makes the commitment public to all and 2) makes it much easier for the blessings of the relationship to flow to the child."