After writing a book that affirmed science on a level that made many Christians uncomfortable, Pastor Bradley becomes an enigma by writing a book that affirms the supernatural on a level that makes many Christians uncomfortable. The Rush and the Rest is the product of a decade worth of studying and practicing the supernatural ways of the Holy Spirit. Bradley aims to take us deeper into the Scriptures than we have ever gone before with this one-part academic and one-part spiritual work. Regardless of where you are on the Christian journey, this book is bound to have something fresh for you.
Out of the 66 books in the Bible, there are two books in particular I think are weird to find there: the Songs of Solomon and Ruth. It’s pretty obvious why Songs of Solomon is weird (it gets a little steamy), but don’t worry, it’s Ruth that I want to focus on today. Before the book of Ruth we have books devoted to our origin story, our laws, and our wars, but Ruth departs from all of that to teach us seemingly little about theology. Her book is more or less a short, random, overlooked love story.
This 4 chapter book begins with Ruth losing her husband and committing her life to her mother-in-law who also lost everyone dear to her. Ruth was from a different people and culture than her mother-in-law so it must have been a bit terrifying to follow her mother-in-law when she decided to return home to her own people in Bethlehem, but Ruth was committed to her, so she did it anyways.
While they were in Bethlehem, Ruth met a guy named Boaz. He let her freely take any food she wanted from his farm and made sure all the guys in his workforce left her alone. He protected her and took care of her and when mealtime came around he gave her more to eat than she needed, though she hardly knew who he was.
But he knew who she was, because he was a relative of Ruth’s mother-in-law. He had heard of how Ruth had committed herself to her mother-in-law instead of her own parents and how she had chosen the discomfort of being with her mother-in-law’s people rather than her own people.
And he was impressed.
Ruth and Boaz moved pretty quick. In chapter two they met and in chapter three Ruth gave a proposal of sorts through a bunch of interesting and confusing cultural practices, which you can all check out later if you want (don’t worry, it’s a short book). Whatever exactly it is that truly happened in chapter three, Boaz feels blessed by it and by chapter 4 they’re married.
So what’s the point of this book? Maybe to show us how God loved Ruth the Moabite, a woman from a people group outside of his own chosen Israel. Or maybe it was to tell us more about King David’s back story seeing as how Ruth ended up being David’s great, great grandmother. Or maybe it was so we’d know that not all mother-in-laws are evil—I don’t know!
But I do find it interesting that the Bible pauses for love. It pauses to tell us the stories not just of our heroes, but also of their love interests. Sure, many of these stories evolve into soap operas of sorts, but in this case, we find an incredibly short book breaking from stories of our origins, wars, and laws to tell us the seemingly unimportant story of how one little lady on the outside married a farmer on the inside—showing us that things like marriage and love matter.
Jesus himself (who was also a descendant of Ruth) talks about the importance of marriage. Even though he never married, he understood that it was a HUGE deal. He explained that in marriage we “are no longer two but one flesh” and that what “God has joined together, man shouldn’t separate.” He went on to explain that divorce was made by man, not by God—making it clear that not only does God care about our marriages, but that he takes them more seriously than humans do. He cares about your marriage whether your dating life was 3 chapters long or 6 years long.
Why does He care? Because He knows every hair on your head! I love my wife and my children immensely, but I don’t have the slightest idea how many hairs are on their heads! A God who is that meticulous about something so minuscule and unimportant as hair, of course cares about your marriage! That’s a huge part of your life! From today on out you’re two lives are fused as one and you need to know that God cares about it. He cares more than you do, which will be important to remember on some days.
He is a God who is constantly creating life, and he’s still doing it today in our marriages. It’s like our physical birth from our parents and our spiritual birth from salvation in Christ being melded together into some new kind of physical, spiritual, marital rebirth. Cherish it, just as God Himself cherishes it for you. For love is God and God is love and you dwell with God when you love each other.
Allow me to leave you with a scene from the movie Stardust. If you’ve seen it, you may recall in this movie that there’s a star that falls to the earth and becomes a human. Her name is Yvaine. After going on some adventures with a boy named Tristan she begins to wax poetic about love. Speaking from her prior perspective as a star looking at the earth she says:
“I know a lot about love. I’ve seen it, centuries and centuries of it, and it was the only thing that made watching your world bearable. All those wars. Pain, lies, hate—It made me want to turn away and never look down again. But when I see the way that mankind loves—You could search to the furthest reaches of the universe and never find anything more beautiful. So yes, I know that love is unconditional. But I also know that it can be unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable, unbearable and strangely easy to mistake for loathing, and—what I’m trying to say, Tristan is—I think I love you. Is this love, Tristan? I never imagined I’d know it for myself. My heart—It feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it’s trying to escape because it doesn’t belong to me any more. It belongs to you…. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.”
I encourage you to make the same exchange. Your heart for theirs. Their heart for yours. If both of you are always about each other, consistently handing your hearts to one another rather than keeping it to yourself, your marriage will be filled with the love that God has for you, for He showed us that love for one another is found in humility and service to one another—freely handing us his heart if we wanted it even in times when we didn’t deserve it. We could just take the free gift of his heart in exchange for our own.
A beam of light pierced through a small hole in the tent right onto the farmer’s tired face, warming his cheek. There was so much dust in the beam’s path that it almost looked like you could reach out and grab the light.
The farmer rubbed his eyes sleepily and then stretched out his arms and legs, cracking his back in the process. And then, sitting up on his bed, he clasped his hands together, closed his eyes and sat in silence. For an extended period of time he spoke not a word—he simply sat there. One might have been convinced that he had somehow fallen back asleep in that position, but that was not the case. It was clear from the way his eyes shifted around under his eyelids and the occasional deep breaths he took that he was quite awake.
After an hour had passed, he opened his mouth saying, “Alright Father. I will offer him your water today.” (Luke 6:12–13) And with that, he rose to his feet and walked across the sandy ground to the corner of the tent to get his wooden bucket.
The sky at Lovetree Farms was a beautiful bright blue that spring day. The farmer smiled as he treaded the long orchard towards the well on the other side, the tree branches waving in the mild breeze around him. He whistled along with the chorus of morning birds and a bluejay landed on his shoulder to join with him.
“How are you this morning little friend?” greeted the farmer.
The bird chirped back in what sounded like an attempt at a response.
“Really? You’re going to teach your son to fly today?” asked the farmer. “Dear bluejay, you and your kind never cease to amaze me. Here we are just getting over a long winter and none of you have come to me worried about finding food or about any other matter. Instead you simply share with me the blessings in your life and in doing so, bless me also! Your spirits are always up even when you have reason to complain!” (Matthew 6:26)
If birds can blush, that most certainly was what the bluejay did. The farmer pulled a sunflower seed out of his pocket and placed it on his shoulder. “Don’t change my friend. There is never any need to be anxious about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is anxious enough for itself. There’s enough trouble to deal with today, yes?” (Matthew 6:34)
The bird speedily ate the sunflower seed and chirped happily in the farmer’s ear.
“Yes, as one writer once said, ’tomorrow will be certain to bring worse than today, for many days to come. And there is nothing that I can do to help it.’” (Gandalf)
The bird stopped its happy chirping and did what resembled a double-take. The farmer stopped walking as the bird leaned forward to make eye contact with him. The farmer’s eyes slowly moved towards the bird and a smile cracked on the his face as he began to laugh one of those deep belly-laughs.
“Come, my feathery friends!” he shouted into the orchard. “Come be rewarded for your trust in my Father’s provision!” The farmer reached into his pockets and pulled out fistfuls of sunflower seeds, throwing them into the air with a big smile on his face. Birds flew from the branches all around, flocking to the farmer’s feet. The seed was gone in a matter of seconds.
“Oh, you’re all hungry I see!” exclaimed the farmer. “Don’t worry, my Father likes to feast!” He reached back into his pocket and pulled out an impossible amount of seeds, throwing them all across the ground in front of him. “Eat up friends, eat up! The last thing I need is to weed sunflowers out of this orchard all summer.”
The farmer carefully stepped around the hundreds of birds, as an amazing amount of seeds fell out of his pockets with every step. The birds were so satisfied with their meal that they didn’t even see him leave.
Well, all that is but for one bird. The bluejay that had landed on his shoulder fluttered onto a branch at the farmer’s eye-level. Two other bluejays hopped out of a nest at the end of the branch and joined him.
“Oh, hello again,” smiled the farmer.
The bird’s demeanor changed as he chirped something that only the farmer seemed to understand.
“My dear friend,” started the farmer, “Why didn’t you tell me earlier that your son’s wing was broken? Surely you didn’t want him to try to fly today like this?”
The baby bluejay looked down in shame. He was a bird after all, he was meant for the skies!
The farmer leaned in close to the baby bird. “Do you wish to be healed?” he asked.
The bird shook his head.
“Then get up, take to the skies and fly,” said the farmer, a warm smirk spreading out across his face. (John 5:7)
At once, the baby bird leapt off the branch. His parents chirped in fear and closed their eyes, but they never heard him hit the ground. The farmer turned around to see him soaring across the open sky, landing on branches and taking off as immediately as he had touched them. The farmer laughed another one of his loud belly-laughs as the baby bird chirped in excitement, gaining the attention of all the other birds in the orchard. Never had their been such celebration amidst the birds before. The mother and father bird jumped onto the farmer’s shoulders and rubbed their faces against his neck in appreciation.
“Oh there, there,” gushed the farmer as the birds flew off into the distance to catch up with their son. They were so happy that they forgot to eat any of the sunflower seeds. (Acts 3:6–8)
Awhile later, the farmer arrived at the well. It stood right in front of an old rugged tree, next to the wagon he had left there the night before. He pulled his big wooden bucket off of his shoulder and tied it to the well’s crank and lowered it down. When the bucket was full, he rolled up his sleeves and put all of his strength into pulling it back up.
The farmer cupped his hands, filled them with water from the bucket, and took a generous sip. “Mm…” he sighed as a gopher popped up out of the ground. He wagged his finger at the gopher and said, “There truly is no water like this water. Why some choose to get drunk with wine compared to this, I’ll never know. I myself will continue to be filled with this (Ephesians 5:18).” The gopher wasn’t sure what to do with that statement so he quietly lowered himself back into his hole.
The farmer looked back towards the orchard and said, “And perhaps he will drink it too.”
At that moment an ox trotted up to him. “Hello old friend!” The farmer greeted him, petting his head. “Have you come to help me with my work again?”
The ox put one foot forward and bowed his head.
“You know, you’re a much gentler and humbler creature than your horns suggest,” he said.
The ox bit a rope connected to the wagon, backed himself up in front of it, and waited to be attached.
“Well you’re ready to go, aren’t you?”
The ox’s tail wagged excitedly like a dog’s.
The farmer chuckled and then grunted loudly as he grabbed the rope handles of the wooden bucket, carrying it from the well wall to the back of the wagon. He then walked up to the ox and attached the yoke.
“I too am gentle and humble,” the farmer whispered in the ox’s ear. “You work hard friend. Today this yoke will be easy on you and bring you rest. I know you expect the work we do to be burdensome, but as you do it with me, it will become light.” (Matthew 11:28–30) When he had said these words, the farmer knocked three times on the yoke and flowers sprouted up across the old splintered wood. The ox made a joyous noise and calmly began to tread the long orchard in sync with the farmer’s direction.
“Alright friend,” said the farmer. “You can take a break, we’re here now.”
The farmer removed the yoke off of the ox and the ox quietly laid down and fell asleep.
The wagon had stopped in front of one of the apple trees in the orchard. It looked a little livelier than many of the other trees surrounding it. It couldn’t have been more than 25 years old, yet its branches stuck out further than the surrounding trees and it was budding before all the rest.
The farmer put his hand on the tree’s trunk. “Hello friend,” he said. “It has been wonderful to watch you grow these past years. I remember when my father knit you together—when you were just a seed (Psalm 139:13). And now here we are years later and your destiny still awaits you, for you were born for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
The farmer continued, “So far in your life, you have not seen me, for you have been a simple apple tree. What ability do you have to be conscious of things outside of soil, sun and water? But as I have watched you grow, it has become clear that you have picked up on my presence and direction in some shape or form. For I have come to talk with you often and have taken great care of you.”
The farmer walked back to his wagon and grunted again as he lifted the bucket of water off the back. He placed it in front of the apple tree and leaned over to catch his breath.
“I have labored hard over you these past 15 years, though you have not entirely known it. I have built fences around you to protect you. During a drought, I watered you. When you were younger and the fire blight overtook your branches, I worked hard to bring you back to full health. When you grew too many apples to support your small branches, I relieved you of them. And when the weight of your trunk began to tilt you over, I straightened you back into the ground.”
“I’m adamant about serving you, for my Father finds you to be of supreme worth and wishes you—like all of your brothers and sisters here—to be taken care of. I do only what I see my Father doing, (John 5:19) and today my father is reaching out to you, inviting you to become something new. Everything you know of being an apple tree will pass away, and a new life will come upon you, if you accept my invitation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The farmer put his hand back on the tree’s trunk and closed his eyes and was silent. The tension was palpable. You could sense that there was really some kind of magic in the air—that all it would take was a word or action from the farmer to activate it.
The farmer opened his eyes and quietly said, “I have talked with my Father and have already paid the price necessary for you to access this new life I’ve been talking about. I know you can’t talk, but this decision goes deeper than words. If you decide to make it, I will know and will freely give you this new life.”
“But you should also know: if you accept, you will have to follow me so that I can teach you more fully what this life looks like. Then you too, will be able to teach others.” The farmer paused and took a deep breath. “Do you accept the invitation?”
The magic was so full now that the whole orchard must have felt it, for the entire land fell silent. The farmer once again closed his eyes as though listening intently to the quietness. And then something must have happened. The tree must have responded somehow, someway, because a huge smile stretched across the farmer’s face.
“Then receive it,” he said. He reached into the bucket and a scar in the center of his once broken hand opened up, releasing a small amount of blood into the water (Matthew 26:26–28). As he pulled his hand back out the scar miraculously closed up. In that moment, two clouds appeared in the bright blue sky and crashed into each other, causing incredibly loud thunder (or was it a voice?) (John 12:28–29) to echo across the farm. It immediately started to downpour on the tree. The farmer tilted the bucket over, covering the ground all around the tree. He then backed away out of the rain to watch.
The tree gasped loudly. He leaned forward, his branches stretching across the ground like fingers, scraping the grass right out of the dirt. He pulled his extensive roots out of the ground and fell on his face. There he lay, convulsing as all of his branches and roots began to wrap around each other forming new arms and legs. The change was violent and tense and the tree cried out as it continued. But then as swiftly as it had started, it was done. The tree was left lying on the ground in the fetal position with a large wooden body that could now move around.
The farmer slowly approached the new species of tree with that warm smile on his face. “My Father has washed you clean with rain from Heaven and I have poured out living water on you that will make you never thirst again and bring you into eternal life (John 4:14).”
“Living… water?” the tree groaned through the new mouth on his trunk. He was still adjusting to the change. “I think… I can feel it inside of me.”
“It?” questioned the farmer. “Certainly you can feel it. It will always be there with you now. It is what makes you the new creation you are. But like all living things, it has a name. In fact, He has carried many names, but you will know him as The Fruitful One.”
“The Fruitful One,” the tree said aloud, soaking it in. “My lips tingle when I say His name out loud.”
“Indeed,” replied the farmer. “He is as sacred as they come. All sins will be forgiven in this world except the blasphemies against him (Mark 3:28–29). If you’re lucky, that tingle will remain on your lips as a safeguard.”
The farmer drew closer to the tree and placed his hand on his shoulder. The tree let go of his knees and straightened out from the fetal position. He laid on his back and looked up at the sky for the first time.
“It’s so beautiful,” said the tree.
“Isn’t it?” replied the farmer. “The Fruitful One made it all, you know. The sky; the earth; the stars; the waters; the creatures; the trees; all of it.” The farmer stared off into the distance for a moment to take it all in. “That being said, it’s really no shock that He would create something new out of you. Creation is His speciality.”
He looked at the tree and smiled. The tree looked into the farmer’s loving eyes and attempted to smile back, but he was still new to the whole process. It was like watching a baby learn to smile. He shaped his lips in a way that made you think he was maybe catching on, but then his face fell back into an unenthused state.
The farmer laughed. “You may be a 25 year old apple tree, but you’re just an infant Lovetree.” (1 Corinthians 3:1)
“Lovetree?” questioned the apple tree, still playing with his facial muscles in attempts to smile.
“Yes,” replied the farmer. “It’s what your new state is called. You’re not the first tree to drink the water I gave you today. There are many more that have already accepted my invitation. They are all Lovetrees like you, regardless if they are apple trees or pear trees or male or female.” (Galatians 3:28–29)
“And what do Lovetrees do?” asked the tree.
“Follow me mostly,” replied the farmer.
“Where?” asked the tree as he sat up.
“That you know where I’m going is not the point,” he answered. “That you follow me regardless, is.”
The tree was confused. “The Fruitful One will allow me to follow you that blindly?” he asked.
“My dear friend,” started the farmer, patting the tree’s shoulder, “the living water you drank today which is The Fruitful One flows out of my very heart (John 7:38–39). You could not have received Him if you had not received me. I will never lead you a direction that The Fruitful One wouldn’t. We are all headed to the same place.”
“This is all so much to take in,” said the apple tree, putting his new hands into the ground behind him in attempts to stand up. “Ouch!” he hissed as he rose to his feet. He wrapped his arms around himself. “Everything really hurts!”
“That is normal for a new Lovetree,” said the farmer. “In order to become a new creation you must die to your old self and ways of life (Ephesians 4:22–24), so yeah, you should definitely be feeling it right now. And as you keep growing as a Lovetree, you’ll find there is plenty more of your old life that you’ll need to strip off along the way.”
“Will it hurt those times too?” asked the tree.
“Death always hurts my friend,” answered the farmer. “But it is appropriate. And it often takes time—even a lifetime for some—but it’s worth it.”
“But then what if I return to my old ways of life?” asked the tree.
The farmer looked intently at the ground. “We will never give up on you if you do. We have called you into this new life for a reason and we will now and forevermore call you to it. But if you start to live like an apple tree again, then an apple tree you will become.”
The air grew cold for a moment. Each of the farmer’s words carried a certain weight with it. The whole orchard could feel it. But then the farmer perked up and the mild breeze returned.
“You need a name!” he said, sounding quite excited to try some out. The tree raised his eyebrow, which was really just a piece of conveniently placed bark. “How about Ferdinand?” he asked.
The tree puckered his lips in a way that communicated he wasn’t too fond of the idea, though he was afraid to let the farmer down.
“No?” the farmer laughed. “Don’t worry, I always thought that was a hilarious-sounding name! I would never actually name someone that! Hm… Let’s see,“ he pondered. ”How about Pomegranate?”
The tree wasn’t sure how to respond to that one.
“Oh come on now!” laughed the farmer. “I’m kidding! I’m not going to have an apple tree walking around named Pomegranate! Besides, we’ve actually had a name chosen for you since before you were planted.”
“Oh?” said the tree. “What is it?”
“Millo,” he answered.
“Millo,” the tree whispered to himself. “I like that.”
“Good! Now let’s stretch those new legs of yours and head to Lovetree Village where others like you are staying.”
The farmer led the way whistling a catchy hymn with a hop in his step. The orchard was quite large and much of the day had been spent traversing it and bringing Millo to life. The sun was now beginning to go down, setting the sky ablaze with oranges, pinks and blues. Millo opened his new eyes as wide as he could to absorb it all in. After awhile, he opened his mouth to interrupt the farmer’s whistling as politely as possible.
“Excuse me for interrupting your song Mr. Farmer, but what does Millo mean?”
“Fullness!” exclaimed the farmer. “And so you will live up to your new name!”
“Fullness?” asked the tree. “Fullness of what?”
The farmer laughed. “Fullness of questions perhaps! But I suppose that makes sense given the circumstances. In this case, it means fullness in fruit-bearing.”
“Like apples?” asked Millo.
“Sort of,” answered the farmer. “But this is a different kind of fruit—The Fruitful One’s fruit.”
“But I’m an apple tree,” replied Millo. “Is his fruit different than apples?”
“It is!” said the farmer. “But in your new state you can grow it if you desire to. And who better to illustrate The Fruitful One’s fruit than a fruit tree himself!”
“But why me in particular?” asked the tree as he stepped cautiously over a squirrel that was gaping at his incredible height.
“Well, technically bearing The Fruitful One’s fruit is the destiny of all Lovetrees. But as we’ve watched you grow, we’ve had this hope that you might demonstrate that fruit more fully than the rest of the Lovetrees,” said the farmer.
“See, the others really need a boost. Apathy and complacency is a strong wall and many of the other trees can’t seem to break it down. But if we can find just one Lovetree that will grow all The Fruitful One’s fruit passionately and adamantly, then the others will see and desire it too. We believe you have that passion in you Millo.”
“Well I do enjoy growing fruit,” said Millo.
“We’ve never seen anything quite like you in an apple tree your age,” said the farmer. “The eyes of my Father run to and fro throughout the whole garden to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him (2 Chronicles 16:9). As far as being a good apple tree is concerned, you were blameless. Do you think you are you capable of being just as good of a Lovetree?”
“I hope so,” replied Millo. “But what all do I have to grow?”
“Oh, just a few things,” started the farmer, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The farmer gazed up at Millo and found an overwhelmed facial expression. “But don’t worry, maturity and fullness requires time (Ephesians 4:13)! We don’t expect you to grow an entire fruit overnight.”
As the farmer finished this statement, he and Millo had reached the gate of Lovetree Village. The farmer walked in and yelled into the courtyard. “Hello friends!” Stomping and rumbling came from all directions as a group of about 50 Lovetrees gathered around the farmer. Millo stayed behind the gate, too shy to come in just yet.
“I’d like to introduce you to a new Lovetree tonight!” proclaimed the farmer. “His name is Millo!” The trees clapped and cheered loudly, shaking the ground.
“Now I’m sure most of you remember what your first night was like in Lovetree Village—you were all still adapting to your new bodies, ways of life and really, existence in general. That being said, please make sure Millo is comfortable and welcomed with the same warmth that you desired on your first night. Love him as you love yourself (Mark 12:31).” The farmer then turned around to tell Millo goodnight, but he saw sadness on his face and was filled with compassion for him.
“I’m afraid,” Millo said.
The farmer grabbed Millo’s giant hand and led him into the courtyard. “Remember, The Fruitful One flows out of me and into you. Therefore, if you need to reach me, I’m right here,” the farmer said pointing to Millo’s heart. He then turned and yelled to a tall Lovetree off in the distance. “Hey Ferdinand!”
“Yes boss?” replied a low voice from a tall tree.
“You’re specifically in charge of making sure Millo is taken special care of at every step,” he told him.
“You got it boss,” Ferdinand said giving the farmer a thumbs up.
“See you soon buddy,” said the farmer as Millo walked towards the large tree.
“So your name is Ferdinand, huh?” said Millo.
“Yeah, hilarious right?” he answered. “I think the boss meant it as a joke, but I just went with it.”
“No, no,” said Millo. “I’m sure he takes that name very seriously.” Millo turned around to see the farmer slapping his leg and laughing. He then waved to Millo and headed back towards his tent.
A few hours later, Millo got over his anxiety and laughed, ate and played with the others. After a long night of getting to know the Lovetree community, he went and found himself a cozy spot to lie down and stare at the stars before falling asleep in the lush grass.
He of course had never seen stars before. The wonder of it all consumed him. The same Fruitful One who had hung those stars in place now lived inside of him. And the evolution he had gone through that day from a simple apple tree to a Lovetree wasn’t the end of his story—there was more. In fact, after 25 years of being alive, he sensed that this was just the beginning of the real story of his life.
And perhaps, starting tomorrow, he would begin that new story and see what The Fruitful One had for him.
Many of us have heard the horror stories of church splits. Many of us have experienced them ourselves. Often something goes awry between pastors and one starts an uprising against the other. These church splits are born out of gossip and jealousy, raised in bitterness and eventually split by Satan.
It’s an old technique of the devil’s and it dates all the way back to Numbers 16. It’s there that a group of 250 well-known Israelites come together to usurp Moses’ leadership position. He may be the “head pastor,” but many of these usurpers are from the tribe of Levi and are therefore set apart to be the priests that take care of the ministry of the Tabernacle—that is God’s holy, sacred space among His people.
“We’re all holy!” they say. “God is among all of us. So what makes you so much more important? Why do you get to be in charge? Do you even know what you’re doing? Because last we checked, we were lost in the wilderness!”
You can see everything that has led up to this point seeping out of their speech. The gossip, the jealousy and the bitterness. They have even invoked God’s name and used spiritual logic to justify their point.
Somehow God is always of our opinion, isn’t He? He always seems to be a part of our own personal uprising. Perhaps that’s why some churches are torn apart so easily. We invoke God’s name and in doing so make ourselves to be a god. “Follow me because God is on my side. This other guy obviously doesn’t get it.”
I’ve done it. I’ve attended churches and felt like I had to offer my 2 cents in the other direction of whatever the pastor said for no reason other than to have someone think my thoughts were important. We especially love to do it to the worship band. Oh, I wouldn’t have played this song. I can’t believe they let them on the stage. He’s so flat today. They’re so loud. I can’t believe they’re wearing those clothes. I can’t believe they’re playing so many hymns. I can’t believe they’re not playing any hymns. I can’t believe they played just the right number of hymns. I could do all of this better than they could.
It’s in these small places that our uprising and bitterness begins. To some extent we’re probably all guilty of the seed of a church split. Water it enough and it’ll eventually take over. It grows very quickly.
The story found in Numbers 16 doesn’t end well for the mob. In the same way, church splits never end well for the church. It destroys our witness and abuses Jesus’ bride, leaving her blemished and beat up, trying to get back up on her feet.
Let’s check our pride at the door pastors. This is God’s church, not ours. And despite the fact that it’s our job to take care of His church, in the end He’s actually more concerned about her than we are. And He does not care to see her heartbroken.
Theology is important. Some people want to say it’s not important because they think “true freedom” can’t be found if you try to comprehend God. They expect that we are to make God out of our experiences.
But that’s not how it works.
Typically, their denial of theology comes from some past experience they had with a church, pastor, or person who turned doctrine into an idol. But just like with all things, there’s a balance. Theology should always be coupled with zeal and experience, it shouldn’t be just one or the other.
Why? Because solely living out of zeal and experience is dangerous. If God is simply a God of your experience, you will no doubt craft an idol of Him in your image. You’ll file all of your own personal conceptions and misconceptions of who He is into the same place.
Take the story of Jephthah for example (Judges 11). He leads God’s people into battle against an enemy and makes a promise to God in doing so: “You let me win this battle and I’ll sacrifice the first thing that comes out of my house when I get home.”
Now sacrifices were pretty custom for the time. He was most likely trying to one-up a normal sacrifice to honor God for a victory. Rather than just sacrifice any given farm animal, he would sacrifice one of great meaning to him—like a dog or a cat—something from inside the house.
But if you know the story, what comes out of the house is not a dog or a cat—it’s his daughter. His only child comes bursting out the front door dancing with tambourines in hand. She’s celebrating her father’s victory, for he has won the battle.
This of course is where most of us say, “Oh, sorry God, you know that’s not what I meant.” But in this case bad theology leads to a stupid God-dishonoring decision.
Jephthah must have looked at the world around him and saw false gods like Molech (whom people sacrificed their children to by burning them) and thought to himself, I will have to make the same great child sacrifice to my God—DESPITE the fact that His God HATES child sacrifice and expressly forbids it (Deut 12:31; 18:9-12)!
But when experience is your theology…
And so Jephthah holds a bad promise higher than his God. He exalts bad theology and apparently doesn’t even ask a priest somewhere about God’s laws on the matter.
Run child, get far away from here—for your father’s bad theology is out to kill you. He’s bowed down before Molech without even noticing it.
Of course, if you know the story, she doesn’t run away. For she too has bought into this idea that it would be honorable and pleasing for her to be sacrificed, despite the fact that God illustrated with Abraham that He is a different from the false gods and would never have anyone follow through on this custom (Gen 22).
Bad theology is dangerous. And it still kills, even today.
I logged in under the name newfangledpower and waited for my brother, woohoodude, to join me (a sad screen name he chose as a young innocent boy, unaware of some of its implications). I sat there with my headphones on, waiting to talk to him, but all that came through was static. Some obnoxious guy made fun of my screen name while I waited. We played a round, but Joel’s voice never came through. All I knew of him was his avatar frolicking through a war zone, roping onto tree limbs, and flying through the air. We won that match (something pretty rare for me) but life became normal again when we lost the next one.
“Yeah newfangledpower! You $&@#%&!” said the obnoxious guy.
I had been sitting there quietly for two rounds, so he probably didn’t know my mic was on.
“Dude,” I said. “What was that for?”
Taken aback, he tried to find the words. “Uh… We won!”
“So you curse me out?” I replied.
“Well… You’re making me feel bad.”
“Didn’t know my mic was on did ya!?” I exclaimed, the game relocating me to a new match as soon as the words were out of my mouth.
This moment was like a real life XKCD comic.
After getting a PS3 many years ago, I talked with my friend about how I was concerned that playing some shooters felt a little bit like murder given how far they’ve come, a concern recently echoed in an Engadget article.
“It’s just a game,” they replied a little aggressively. “It’s not real people.”
Fair enough. It is just software. But given a few more years to dwell on the idea, I feel that we really can sin while playing video games. Sure, this is obvious to some extent. There’s plenty of M-rated games out there chocked full of sex, gore, and more, but I mean that we as Christians can actually sin in more of a murderous way while playing it.
In the Sermon on the Mount (perhaps the greatest message ever preached), Jesus explains that anger is synonymous with murder, (Matthew 5:21-26) which is also later reiterated by John (1 John 3:15). This is in the same way that Jesus says lust is sex, which the church makes an effort to hit on a lot, but for whatever reason we tend to overlook this bit on anger. Maybe because Jesus got righteously angry so we figure our anger is the same? Or maybe anger hits a little too close to home?
With this spiritual equation of “anger-is-murder,” it seems to me that video games can really lead to a spiritual darkness in us. Sure, in story mode we may just be fighting the software, but online shooters are another story. I’ve seen people lose they’re cool in online matches and hunt down specific players for vengeance. In fact, I’ve both been the hunter and the hunted.
“Anger is murder,” says Jesus. And when we run around in a video game with a gun in our hand after that noob that just took us out, we get just a little closer to seeing the truth there.
As Christian video gamers, we should remain mindful of this—especially with the wider release of virtual reality so close and a new world of both beautiful and dark possibilities ahead of us.
It’s interesting that throughout much of the beginning of the Old Testament, God’s people don’t have a human king. This was intentional, however, because God was meant to be their king. Therefore, we see those who take on leadership over Israel to be those whom God speaks to. He relates his instructions to these people and they relay it on to everyone else.
But once we reach the book of 1 Samuel, God’s people demand a human king. It bothers the prophet Samuel quite a bit, so he goes to talk to God about it. God tells him that if they want to reject Him as king and do that, then they can. But, first they need to understand what’s going to happen if they want a human king. God then lies out a long list of unpleasant things all kings do to their people. Basically, everyone is going to be a slave to him and everything he wants.
So Samuel goes and delivers the news. “Are you really sure you want a king? Here’s what’s going to happen if you do.” He then delivers the expansive list of all the things kings do. It’s like it all goes in one ear and out the other. “Yes, give us a king!” they say.
It doesn’t take long for things to haywire. The first king, Saul, goes crazy. And while the second king, David, is always looked at as the greatest king of Israel, that man did some pretty messed up things in his reign. Soon we’re flying through kings—one after the other every few years until we reach Manasseh. This king was so bad and led Israel so astray that all of the other nations out there were living better lives than God’s own people were.
They gave up God as King for human kings who couldn’t handle the power, each one of them falling in their own way.
Fortunately, God became King again. It’s one of the aspects of Easter that we don’t often look like, even though famous theologian N.T. Wright would point out that it was one of the main things Jesus was doing on earth—making God king again.
And when you look at the life of Jesus, you realize there’s a lot more politically going on than we thought. One of Jesus’ core messages (if not the core message) was about the kingdom of Heaven. It’s not just a place we go when we die, it’s something we bring to earth now. It’s a place that already exists that we are called to live in while here on earth. And if we want to follow Jesus, then we have to recognize that this is the kingdom He calls us into and it is the place where He reigns.
And suddenly the politics of his time on earth start to pop out, but they’re all so much different than we’d expect. It ends up that the Kingdom of Heaven is very backwards from our own kingdoms on earth. In fact it’s so different, that if Jesus ran for president we probably wouldn’t even recognize that He was doing it. And if we did recognize that he was doing it, we’d say he’s sabotaging his career to become president.
Sure, Jesus has a royal birth, but he’s born into a feeding trough and the people who come up to worship him are the lowly shepherds and the wise men practicing the sins God forbids His people to practice.
We see him go into the desert for 40 days where he faces political seduction. The devil offers him another way of being king of the world. He offers him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will bow down and worship him.
We see Jesus refuse this seduction and then return home to give his commencement speech. He reads a prophecy from the Old Testament to his home community and then says that the prophecy has been fulfilled in their hearing. But where most people would celebrate a commencement speech, Jesus’ hometown tries to throw him off a cliff for what he just said.
Jesus then travels around the area and explains to people what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. He uses parables to explain it. He preaches on it. He shows it. He describes how backwards it is. It’s a place where the poor in spirit are blessed. It’s a place where one is blessed for being persecuted for righteousness. It’s a place where someone slaps you and you turn the other cheek to welcome them to slap that one as well. It’s so different from our ways of doing things.
Eventually Jesus has his anti-triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Whereas a king would usually enter in on a majestic horse or a shiny red convertible, Jesus comes riding in on a donkey.
And perhaps most backwards of all? His coronation service where He is crowned king. He’s given a death sentence, mocked by everyone, handed a stick for a scepter, a purple robe, and a crown of thorns, and then paraded up to the cross where he’s nailed and left to die.
But the story doesn’t end there. If the king was dead, then we’d expect it to be the end. But the story of Easter is the story that Jesus did not die! He is very much alive! We see that death was victory, not defeat. The kingdom of God has usurped the kingdom of this world. King Jesus has usurped the kings of this world. Heaven and Earth have been joined together by the new Temple that is found in Jesus Christ.
And now we see that love always beats violence—that the politics of the kingdom of Heaven are real and in action today if we choose to live in Heaven now first and foremost and follow our king here and now.
We live in the most exciting time in history, because we live in a time where Jesus has been inaugurated. We get to live in the kingdom not when we die, but right here, right now.
Much of this post is based off the books Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and How God Became King by N.T. Wright. Check out these books to learn more.
Too lazy to read? Me too.