“We Are Human Like You”

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Today I want to share a passage from Acts chapter 14.

This incident took place in the town of Lystra, in what today is Turkey. For context, this means it’s in the same general culture area as Troy, Gobekli Tepe, and according to the map in my NIV study Bible, it is just about 150 miles inland from Tarsus, the town where Paul grew up. Of course, when he was growing up there, surrounded by Roman and Hellenistic and pre-Hellenistic paganism, Paul was Saul: good Jewish boy, overeducated, one of history’s geniuses, fire in his eyes, very purist about the Torah. Since his childhood in Tarsus, Paul has had a number of very formative experiences and is now a very different person. He is still familiar with the local pagan mindset, but now he has a much more inviting attitude towards them.

I post this passage because the appeal that Paul and Barnabas make to the people of Lystra about the Creator is similar to the attitude taken toward Him by Ki-Ki, the shaman in my book The Strange Land. What can you say about the Creator to a people who know nothing about Him except what they can glean from the human experience? Here it is.

[Paul and Barnabas] fled [Iconium] to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.

In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.

Acts 14:6 – 18

God Knows Your Address

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Hope that’s not too creepy.

Addresses: Not So Easy

A pastor friend used to say this all this the time: “God knows your address.” Then, for a while, my husband started saying it all the time. I was always kind of underwhelmed by the saying. I was thinking, True, but … I’m supposed to be impressed by this? When the very hairs of my head are all numbered?

But for mere mortals, addresses aren’t always so easy.

When introducing yourself in Indonesia, your address is part of the standard introduction formula. Instead of, “Hi, my name is Jennifer Mugrage, and I’m from Idaho and I’m a writer,” you would say something like, “Hi, I’m Ibu Jeni, I am already married, no kids yet, and my address is ___________.” Instead of profession and region, you give marital status and street address.

The addresses are a little different too. Assuming that you share a city with the person you are meeting, you give number, street, and neighborhood, for example, “Number 18 Banana Alley, in Lower Kiputi.” In some neighborhoods, your house might not be a on street exactly, but on a little alley or down a flight of stairs. You give the nearest street plus neighborhood and do your best.

I was in Indonesia for some time before I found out why people give their street address when introducing themselves. The person you are talking to is supposed to memorize your street address on their first hearing, then later find it and come visit you! If you don’t come visit, you are at fault. And no excuses … after all, they told you their address.

This Herculean intellectual task is far beyond a mere language learner, whose brain is already overloaded with new words and who half the time can barely find her own apartment.

God is Savvy

So this week, it was brought home to me that we when say God knows your address, we are saying that despite His reputation, God is not some fuzzy-headed mystic. He is practical.

Check this out: at the end of Acts chapter 9, Simon Peter ends up staying in the coastal town of Joppa. He gets there sort of by accident: he’d been helping someone in Lydda, which was nearby, and then people in Joppa heard about it and asked for his help too, so he came. And then he stays in Joppa a while, with a tanner who is also named Simon. This was not where Peter normally lived. He was from Galilee originally, and it appears that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter had been staying in Jerusalem. But now he is staying in Joppa.

At the beginning of chapter 10, we meet a Roman centurion (Roman: no nonsense!) who is “devout:” that is, interested in Jewish ethical monotheism. He gives to the poor and prays to the Jewish God, but he’s a not a convert. This man, Cornelius, lives in Caesarea, which is also on the coast but a few days’ journey north of Joppa. One day, while praying, Cornelius is visited by an angel. “Cornelius! Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

Wow! That is a very practical angel. Not only does he know Cornelius’s name and prayer habits, but he gives Cornelius, not a vague “word” that could mean anything, but an address.

In those days, people didn’t have last names generally. It would be [Name] of [Birthplace]. So “Simon who is called Peter” was pretty specific. Simon was a common name and there were probably many Simon of Galilees, but this Simon has an alternate name. And then the address. The angel gives city (Joppa); person that Simon Peter is staying with (Simon the Tanner); and then, though there is not more than one Simon the Tanner in Joppa but just in case you need more details when asking around, “his house is by the sea.”

In the ancient world, these are pretty good directions. It’s like giving street, number, and apartment number. It appears that Simon the Tanner’s street didn’t have a name, but his house was by the sea. And the messengers that Cornelius sent seem to have found the place with no problem.

God knows your address. Hope that doesn’t freak you out.

All the Verses About Death

(… O.K., not all. But a good few.)

***

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

***

Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a commandment, as did Adam. The mind of sinful man is death. The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions … the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms. For this very reason Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like those who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Six Oh Six

I’m not musical. Hence, this is the only choral arrangement that I could sing with you, any time, even a capella. Reason? I grew up Mennonite.

“606” – so called because for years it was hymn #606 in the Mennonite Hymnal — is an arrangement of the doxology. It is, or it used to be, sung often enough in Mennonite churches that it could be called the Mennonite national anthem. Which means it was sung often enough that I, who have to hear a song about 100 times before I catch on, actually had a chance to learn it. It wasn’t until years later, hearing it after a gap in time, that I realized how very German it sounds. The Mennonites are an Anabaptist sect founded by Menno Simons. He was actually a Freislander, but Mennonites are German enough in culture that it has influenced their music.

I was inspired to post this when Chris posted an arrangement of Nearer, My God, to Thee that reminded me very much of the music I grew up with.

Netflix Wants Me to Doubt My Own Mind

So, within about the past month, I’ve watched two different psychological thrillers on Netflix. And they are both the same damn movie. (And I use damn advisedly.) In both, the viewer knows only what the point of view character knows. And he (it’s a he in both movies) is uncovering a conspiracy. Until, at the very end, it turns out that he’s delusional. Many of the major events in the movie, which were shown to the viewer as if in good faith, were actually happening only in his mind. Actual events were quite different. The interpretation he was putting on everything was completely wrong. In one of the movies, the point of view character is brought to realize this, at least briefly. In the other, it is made plain to the viewer only.

I am pretty ticked at both of these movies. Especially at them both being on Netflix at the same time.

On the one hand, they are well-written, well-plotted, well-filmed and well-acted. Tense as heck. They are an immersive experience that helps the viewer understand what it feels like to be delusional. (In both cases, the break with reality was brought on by trauma. In both cases, actually, involving the death of a child.) So, they are very good.

But this strength comes at a pretty steep cost. Namely, they can make you doubt yourself something fierce. I think that the reveal at the end of each movie was that the person was delusional. But who really knows? Maybe I am misinterpreting what the director was trying to say. Maybe I did not even watch the danged movies. Maybe there is no such thing as reality.

This has to be intentional, right? Two movies, running concurrently, aimed at people who like psychological thrillers, both of them trying to tell you that you can’t really know what is real. I mean, God help you if you’ve got dissociative disorder. (And I use God help you advisedly.)

I’m with G.K. Chesterton on this. Or rather, he is there, throwing me a lifeline. GKC believed strongly that we have a moral obligation to believe in reality and to trust our own perceptions of it. I don’t have any of the quotes in front of me, but I do remember that he said something like, “Every day you can hear an educated man utter the heretical statement that he may be wrong.” He also tells a long story, elsewhere, about how he spent an evening at a friend’s house where they had a brisk philosophical debate. GKC was maintaining that reality exists and can be known. His friend was maintaining the opposite. Having vigorously defended reality, GKC got into a taxi and, when he arrived at his destination, had one of those confusing conversations with the cab driver that make you feel as if you’ve fallen through a portal. The cab driver remembered picking up GKC at some other location, and remembered GKC having said something to him that he didn’t say. GKC argued with the man for several minutes, and after just a few minutes was starting to doubt himself and, thus, reality. Then, just when GKC was beginning to waver, the cabman got on his face a look of sudden revelation as he realized that he was remembering a different customer.

You might think that someone like GKC, who believes that “I might be wrong” is a heresy, would be arrogant and impossible to convince of anything. But that’s not necessarily true. If you believe in reality and trust your perceptions of it, then you can be presented with evidence. And if the evidence is good, you can change your mind. If you don’t have the baseline trust in your own mind, then no amount of evidence is going to convince you.

One more, equally sinister, aspect of all this. Traditionally, Hollywood likes to give us messages that we should not trust authority. The cops are on the take. The conspiracy goes all the way to the top. The experts don’t know everything. We are “sleeping with the enemy.” The two movies I watched recently give the opposite message. They play on our expectations that experts and authority figures in movies will turn out to be villains. In both of these particular cases, it is doctors (medical doctors in one; psychologists in another) who appear to be concealing the truth. They appear to want to treat the protagonist like he’s crazy, or else frame him for being crazy. There is bureaucracy and gaslighting and all the stuff we find in dystopias. But in this case, they turn out to be right. What to do you know? He actually is crazy. If only he had listened to them. Lives could have been saved.

I think both of these movies were made before you-know-what, so it’s probably a coincidence. Still, I’m not super comfortable when two pieces of well-done art say to me in stereo, “Trust us. We know what reality is and you don’t. We know best.”

Coincidentally Thematic Book Haul

Notice how about half of them are about mountain men and the American West? And the other half are about: Scotland, gnomes, language, and “The All-Beef Cookbook.” Seems like a haul tailor-made for me, no?

Guess where this came from.

A friend, who works at the library, showed up with a pipe-smoke-scented box of books that were being thrown out.

That’s right.

This haul was selected for my reference library by God Himself.

Also, the photograph of a nameless old shack was in the box too.

I Know What You Want.

You want 30 hours of theology podcasts.

I mean, who wouldn’t want that?

So, here’s what this is. Christian novelist Brian Godawa has gotten his hands on a pre-release copy of a commentary on the book of Revelation, The Divorce of Israel, by Kenneth Gentry. The gist of it is that Gentry’s interpretation is preterist, i.e. coming from a point of view that most of the events in Revelation have already happened during the horrible years of Rome’s siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In other words, they were not prophecies of the distant future when John gave them, but rather prophecies of the immediate future. That’s the reason for the frequent warnings that “these things will soon take place.”

But, you say, what about all the stuff in Revelation that definitely sounds like the end of the world: the stars falling, the sky rolling up like a scroll, Jesus coming in the clouds, etc., etc.? Godawa shows, following Gentry, that all of this “collapsing universe imagery” was conventionally used in the Old Testament to describe God’s judgements on nations, usually through a siege, military defeat, and the razing of the countryside.

In the videos linked to above (and the first one embedded below), Through the Black interviews Brian Godawa in a series of 16 videos that are 1 – 2 hours each. That’s how long it takes them to go through Revelation chapter by chapter (and also Matthew 24), answering all the “what about”s that are probably popping into your head if you have ever been exposed to the usual type of modern evangelical teaching on Revelation.

As the Through the Black host says many times on these podcasts, eschatology matters. It can even have life-and-death consequences. Just look at David Koresh. Even mentioning Revelation, outside of Christian circles, nowadays is enough to get you branded as a loon. Inside Christian circles, it can still cause people to run screaming from the room, and who could blame them? Preterism gives us a way to look at this book that is consistent with the rest of Scripture and which doesn’t force us to create elaborate, increasingly self-contradictory systems of thought that will drive us crazy. If you like to listen to podcasts, join me in working your way through this one.