Category Archives: Thinking Outloud

You Should Have Been There, It Was Epic

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Job 38:1-5

From this point God goes on to chastise Job with pictures of creating the universe.    “Where were you when I measured the universe while a chorus of morning stars sang and angels shouted for joy?” “Where were you when I tricked-out the clouds?” “Have you seen the freakish stuff in the ocean depths?” “Have you seen my outrageous snow-machine?” “Have you seen my Van de Graaff generator for making lightning? It should be called the Van de Godd generator.”

For sure this is a rebuke from God in response to Job getting all up in His grill.  God had patiently listened to Job get all uppity about the injustice of his situation, albeit perceived injustice.  In essence God was saying, “Who are you to question me?”  It can sound like a rather caustic and abusive rebuke. “Man-up because I’m about to throw-down.”

But attributing such vindictiveness doesn’t reconcile completely with God’s character. It doesn’t align with God’s loving character in general or the character of God specifically toward Job revealed in the opening chapter of the book, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Sure, God may have finally had His fill of Job’s whining and accusations, but that doesn’t jive with God’s character, either.  God is infinite.  To think that man could test the limit of God’s patience is to think that man could also test the limit of God’s love.  That’s a non sequitur with The Infinite, The Beginning and The End.  I think that there’s another way to hear God’s words to Job.  I think that they can be heard with awe and wonder; one friend regaling another with tales of exploits past, a chum recounting adventures to the delight of his besty…

“Man-up, ’cause you’re not going to believe how it really went down!”

“Dude, you should have been there.  It was epic!”

“It was tricked out!”

“Absolute pownage!”

“I was en fuego; call me The Busdriver ’cause I took everyone to school!”

“The angels rocked out and even the morning stars threw down!”

“The whole time I kept thinking, ‘I wish Job was here. He would so dig this.'”

OK, it’s a paraphrase…maybe more than a paraphrase. But really, don’t you think God wants us to see amazing things?  Doesn’t He want us to experience the grandeur of His creation?  Don’t we rejoice when we experience the wonder of God?

And God didn’t stop His wonders after creating the universe.  He’s still driving the bus…He’s still en fuego…you know that He’s still buttah ’cause He’s still on a roll.  God is still all about The Epic!  And He wants you to be there for it.  What is He going to do today that He wants you to witness?  And then who does He want you to tell about it?  Who does God want you to regale with wondrous tales of yore and exploits to come?

As for my paraphrase, it’s not quite as far-fetched as we might think.  Jump ahead to the epilogue…

“After the Lord had said these things to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has…my servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.'” (Job 42:7-8) It seems that the one who got it right was Job who was willing to reveal himself to God so that God could in turn reveal Himself to Job.  The ones who truly suffered were the pious “friends” with the religious platitudes.  Job got to witness the wonders of God because He sought the wonders of God.

It must have been epic.

That’s why worship.

Excellence is Attractive

At Worship Concepts we have a simple premise, “Excellence is Attractive.” Pardon the redundancy, but here is an excellent example. One of the most excellent pieces of music performed with excellence on what can be best described as an unusual instrument.  Excellence appears effortless, but anyone who has pursued it knows that it is anything but.  Once achieved, however, it’s captivating.  You can’t help but be attracted to it.  I have no idea of this gentleman’s spiritual condition, but I believe God smiles even at what He has created here because “…whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

That’s the Way a Savior Rolls

“When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.” John 21:9

If you go back and read this story from the beginning you see that they (the Disciples) had been fishing all night. The picture in my mind is of a few of them hanging out the day before. The sting of Jesus’ crucifixion had been washed away by the surprise and joy of seeing Him while they were hiding from the Jewish leaders (see 20:19); now they’re basking in the glow of knowing the risen Savior. It must have felt something like the soldiers who had just survived Bastogne or the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team-mates who had just won the impossible victory. Just a short time earlier they were cowering behind locked doors trembling with the fear of uncertainty. They had invested everything to be a part of a new kingdom; watched it all vanish on a cross; then watched with incredulity as the object of their affection revealed Himself.

So, at the end of what must have been a very good day I picture them sitting around a fire spinning yarns and memories of the previous three years. I imagine there was a lot of laughter; the kind of laughter that brings a tear to your eyes; laughter that is relaxed and content with life.

Eventually the laughter gives way to quiet reflection; a silence that comes with serenity and peace as each mind relaxes in its own pleasant recollection of moments passed. Each of the disciples gazes with gratification at the flickering coals of the fire. Each face is framed in the warm glow of the fading embers.

One of them, Peter, says, “Ya, know…the last three years has been a blast, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it, but I really miss what I used to do…fishing. I think I’m gonna go drown some worms.” (Yes, I know that there are a ton of problems with the hermeneutics and exegesis of my paraphrase, but just work with me.)

Anyway, some of the others say, “Hey, that sounds nice. We’ll come with ya’.”

And, being fisherman they fish, all night. They catch…nothing. “Well, I guess the good times are over,” they must have thought to themselves.

Then some “yahoo” walking along the shore suggests throwing the nets out of the other side of the boat. It must have seemed like a joke, and I sense that it was with a certain amount of sarcasm that they gave it a try.

It’s at this moment, as they start retrieving their catch, that the nets start to rip. Peter’s head must have snapped around to look again at the mysterious stranger on shore. I suspect that what He saw, as he squinted through the mist, was a familiar silhouette crouched over a fire coaxing the embers from the previous night’s fire back to flame. I suspect that in the flickering light of the fire Peter saw a wry smile. I imagine a playful twinkle in Jesus’ eye as He thought, “That’s my boy, The Rock. A little slow on the uptake, but quick to action once he catches on.”

And, as if on cue, Peter jumps out of the boat and rushes to shore. The others’ follow in short order and this is where I think the fun really starts.

Jesus had just delivered fish into their nets beyond their imagination. He filled their nets beyond measure. That would have been enough, don’t you think? But, that’s not how the Savior rolls. The Disciples are dead tired from riding an emotional rollercoaster, being awake all night and then dragging nets bulging with fish to shore. They probably figured that it was good enough that they had been blessed with a good catch. Cooking their own breakfast would just be part of the routine.

But, really, Jesus doesn’t do just enough. He doesn’t just meet our need, He supersedes it. He provides for us before we have a clue that we have a need. It’s like He was saying, “you thought you needed raw fish, but what you really need is some cooked fish… and some bread, too.” Also, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that Jesus has some skills with the spatula and frying pan. It’s unlikely that He had simply slapped some mayonnaise and Chicken of the Sea onto some Wonderbread. No, it’s easy to imagine some macadamia crusted orange roughy garnished with citrus infused horseradish sauce served with lightly toasted artisan bread rubbed with roasted garlic.

Then He really gets to the point, “Hey, bring some of your fish, too.” Did He really need them to bring some of the fish that they had just caught? No, I’m quite certain that He was more than capable of feeding them all. Jesus’ point is that it’s more fun when we all get to share what we have. Yeh, He provided the fish that He asked them to bring, but that’s His point. It would be enough that He gives us stuff. It would be enough for Him to provide even after His provision.

What “floors” me is that Jesus wants me to know the joy of  blessing others. He blesses me so that I can bless others. And, not just so that the “other” can be blessed, but so that I can get to experience just a small bit of what it’s like to be a “blesser”.

…blessing us to be a blessing. That’s just the way Jesus rolls.

Book Review – “Quit Going to Church” by Bob Hostetler

I’ve always wanted to be able to quote Larry the Cucumber with sincerity and authenticity. Bob Hostetler has given me the chance with his newest book, Quit Going to Church. “I laughed. I cried. It moved me, Bob.” If you don’t get the joke, go watch Veggie Tales “Dave and the Giant Pickle”. I’ll wait to finish the review until you get back.

Back already? Good. I continue…

My experience is that relevant books don’t share brand new revolutionary ideas. Rather they resonate and affirm brand new revolutionary ideas that have been percolating in our minds. The books that we enjoy the most crystalize and put into words nebulous thoughts that we’ve had before, but hadn’t articulated. “Quit Going to Church” is just such a book.

The first chapter is also the title chapter, kind of like the title track on an album. As you consider the apparently contrarian title and read the first book it becomes apparent that Bob is setting the table for those of us that have been in church for a while. Bob doesn’t seem to intend this book for those who are dissatisfied with church, but rather for those of us that have been operating on auto-pilot. While reading the first chapter I was reminded of a phrase that we’re fond of around here, “Just because you’re in a church building doesn’t mean that you’re part of the church that God is building.”

It was in chapter two that I cried. No, really, I cried. The picture of prayer toward the end of this chapter is alone worth the price of the book, but please read the whole thing.

Chapter three? That’s where I laughed. Trust me. Read it. If you follow Bob on twitter (which I strongly recommend), then you know that his books won’t leave you in want of laughs, chortles, snorts and guffaws.

And thus “Quit Going to Church” flows. One chapter after the next challenges many dear, and might I say idolatrous, beliefs that we have held about Christianity for centuries, but aren’t found in Scripture. And Bob doesn’t lack in Scriptural support in the points made. It’s refreshing to see so many Biblical addresses in the footnotes. Some readers may be put off by the author’s use of Hebrew, Greek and sources that may seem pedantic. I offer the encouragement that Bob puts the cookies on the bottom shelf so that even I can reach them.

For those that have attended one of Worship Concepts Network’s “AWEthentic Worship Experience” conferences, you will recognize why “Quit Going to Church” resonates with me on many levels. The chapter “Quit Sharing Your Faith” reveals how we often view “pre-saved” persons as commodities rather than as people. “Quit Volunteering” echoes our own “Differences between slaves and servants.” Chapter ten is “Quit trying to Be Good”…wow, simply wow. And “Quit Enjoying Worship” is hereafter on the Worship Concepts Network required reading list.

Bob is well read and it is evident in this offering. Many of the themes in “Quit Going to Church” will be familiar to well-read Christians. But Bob is successful at unpacking many of them in a new light. I confess that Bob quotes some sources, pastors, and authors with whom I have serious theological differences. However, we can often learn the most from those with whom we disagree. To my regular blog readers, who might be put off by certain “names” that are bandied about in unflattering terms by evangelicals, please receive their words as you would themselves as persons…in Christ’s love.  Just as not everything that we say is “good”, not everything said by those with whom we disagree is “evil.”

If there is one place where “Quit Going to Church” doesn’t resonate with me, it’s in “Quit Living in the Center of God’s Will.” When addressing God’s will for our lives and living “by faith” there is the risk of sharing stories of victory and saying, “Look, it worked there. So and so stepped out in faith, defying all reason and sanity, and God delivered the victory!” The final chapter here is more balanced than most in this regard, but it still draws on a story of victory. When I read such accounts and interpretations I want to ask, “What about those in Hebrews 11:35-40? What about the martyrs? What faith did they lack that they didn’t get to see the promise fulfilled?”

Bob is clever and creative in his approach and the Bible story that he uses is unique. In order to avoid a “spoiler alert” I’ll simply say that he continues a contrarian approach. However, the protagonist in the illustration maintained his faith and was victorious. Frankly, I want to hear from those that were “defeated”, those that didn’t see the promise fulfilled in their lifetime, and remained faithful.

OK, that’s out of the way. Now go read Bob Hostetler’s “Quit Going to Church.” Each chapter concludes with a specific and practical prayer. Read each chapter prayerfully and to paraphrase Larry the Cucumber, “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. Where you need to be firm, God will shore up your foundation. Where you need to be moved, God will draw your heart toward His.”

Angels’ Wings

“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7

I can remember bursting through the door as a boy and seeing mom had spent the day making sure the house was especially clean. The furniture glistened from a fresh coat of Lemon Pledge, the carpet was freshly vacuumed… there were even clean towels in the down stairs bathroom and the water in the toilet was blue.

Someone was coming to visit. Not just anyone, either! “It must be somebody special… and they’re going to stay overnight!” We could tell, we weren’t allowed in the guest bedroom and the smell of fresh Chexmix filled the house.Those were my favorite times.

Exciting times! My brother and I would be so filled with anticipation that waiting at the house would take too long. So we would wait for our guests on the front lawn hours before they were due to arrive. When we couldn’t stand that any longer we would ride our bikes on a recon mission with our walkie-talkies and binoculars. Racing from one entrance of our sub-division to the other, our hearts tingling and ready to burst with anticipation. Each trying to be the first to spot visiting friends or relatives.

I suspect that’s what it must be like in heaven as another lost child comes home. Angels fluttering to and fro with excitement as they see long lost souls coming home.

And I can still hear the rush of angel wings for my home coming. Listen carefully and you can hear the celebration for you, too.