WTF Part 5: Harsh Jesus

Last time, we talked about some parables where Jesus seems naïve at first blush, but upon closer examination, the stories provide profoundly comforting messages about the generosity of God and the openness of the Kingdom of Heaven.

If only all of Jesus’ parables were like that…


Today, let’s look at a couple of stories where Jesus seems kind of harsh:

virginsThe Parable of the Ten Virgins is a real WTFer. First of all, the cultural context of the parable is so foreign, it doesn’t make any sense to the modern reader. And assuming you can get your head around the narrative, the parable speaks kindly about the ‘wise’ virgins who choose not to share, and tell the ‘foolish’ virgins to go get their own oil. Then, when they leave to do so and the groom arrives, they’re locked out of the banquet and the groom disowns them, saying, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.

WTFWTF, Jesus?!? A little bad planning that prompts a scramble at the last minute and we’re locked out?!? Where’s that abundant grace you talked about in the other three parables?

The point of this parable is to always be living like Jesus is coming back today. To never ‘phone in’ our disciplehood, or cut corners or the like. And that’s obviously a vital component of our faith and a truth we need to hold onto and live by.

Dana Carvey's Churchlady, of 1980s Saturday Night Live fame, is who I think of when I hear the term 'religious people'.

Dana Carvey’s Churchlady, of 1980s Saturday Night Live fame

But I still don’t like this parable. I still think the Churchladys of the world could use it to justify a refusal to be generous, or worse – a refusal to extend grace in this life to a brother or sister who really needs it. That would be a misuse and a corruption of the text, of course, but when it comes to hijacking a Bible passage to justify unChristian behavior, people have done more with less.

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I sometimes wonder if the wedding banquet in the Ten Virgins parable is the same soiree Jesus talk about in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 – one of the biggest WTFs in the Gospels, for my shekels.

It starts off straightforwardly enough: a king hosts a banquet, but none of his invited guests show up. They’re too busy, and/or they’ve taken him and his generosity for granted. The king has these ungrateful shlebs killed and their town burned – which feels like a bit of an overreaction to me. (Is this really what the Kingdom of Heaven is like?!?) The king then continues on with the wedding plans (and why wouldn’t he?) and sends his staff out to round up whoever they can find: God a pulse? You’re in!

mt22_13But when one of these second-choice guests is found to not be wearing wedding clothes, he’s tied hand and foot and thrown outside into the darkness, ‘where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’!

“For many are invited, but few are chosen,”’ the parable ends ominously. 

WTF, Jesus?!? The guy’s minding his own business, and the King’s servant comes by and invites him to fill a chair at a sumptuous wedding banquet. So the guy drops what he’s doing and goes straight to the feast. When he arrives in unsuitable clothing, he’s not politely asked to leave, he’s tied up and literally thrown out

Apparently, some commentators like to infer that the host has provided proper wedding clothes to the last-minute guests, but this guy has refused to wear them. … But that ain’t in the text.

With or without that insertion, this is an uncomfortable parable, and it’s meant to be.

wpid-clothe-yourself-with-christThe guy is said to represent the Christian whose faith isn’t genuine: You may appear to be a follower of Jesus, but you don’t clothe yourself with Christ, through true repentance for sin and faith in Christ, and then a commitment to love and obey the Lord as evidence of saving faith.

Since you’re not truly part of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, you’re denied entry on Judgment Day.

As Jesus says in Mathew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

free-for-allSo the Parables of the Workers in the Vineyard, Lost Sheep and the Sower talk help us to see the abundant grace of God and the borderline offensive notion that the Kingdom of Heaven is far more accepting than we’d expect (and maybe prefer). Meanwhile, the parables of the Wedding Banquet and the Ten Virgins underscore that it’s not quite a free-for-all. Living as disciples of Christ requires that we strive to reciprocate what we’ve received.

Both are essential components of the Truth of our faith, and I need to ask WTF when reading these parables, in order to arrive there.

Now, these are by no means the only WTFs worth wrestling with in Jesus’ parables, but they’re some of my favorites. What about you, Reader(s)? What parables do you love to be frustrated by? For that matter, what passages throughout the whole Scripture rub you the wrong way?

Whatever these passages are for you, I encourage you to go back and read and wrestle with them again. You might not learn anything new – but in my experience, every wrestling match with God makes me stronger – even though God always wins – which is a delightful WTF in itself.

Peace be with you.

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WTF Part 4: Clueless Jesus

So far in this series, we’ve stuck with the Old Testament and its barbaric times and alarmingly vengeful depiction of God, but when it comes to WTFs, the OT ain’t got nuthin’ on the Parables of JC.


In some of these made-up stories Jesus tells to make a point, He almost comes off as clueless. His depiction of the society in which He lived is so startlingly different from reality (even the reality of First-Century Palestine) that you wonder if He’s even paying attention to His surroundings.

WTFIn today’s vernacular, we’d be tempted to ask ‘WTF, Jesus?!? What planet are You from?’ But a better question would, of course, be, ‘WTF, Jesus?!? What plane of existence are You from?’

On this side of the Cross, we know that this is because a big component of Jesus’ mission was to turn the world upside-down – but somehow, the parables He tells that come from this angle continue to startle us, prompting many a Wednesday-Thursday-Friday (WTF) response.

When we talk about Jesus turning the world upside-down, this isn't what we mean. But looking at our planet this way is probably a valuable exercise anyway.

When we talk about Jesus turning the world upside-down, this isn’t what we mean. But looking at our planet this way is probably a valuable exercise as well.

Jesus speaks plainly about turning the world upside-down in Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” This line comes at the end of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which ends with the laborers who work one hour are paid the same as those who work all day. What a scandalous and absurd notion:

WTF, Jesus?!? No landowner worth his salt (or light) would shoot himself in the foot by paying people that way! It’s just bad business. Du-uh.

Now, in the case of that story, even Jesus’ listeners at the time probably realized He was exaggerating to make a point. But in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus seems to be implying that the ridiculous is true in the ‘real world’:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?’ – Luke 15:4

Errrm, no, Jesus. No shepherd in his right mind would do that. You’ve got 99 sheep; WTF kind of shepherd would risk losing any more of them for the sake of one?

Similarly, a short-sighted cynic could easily have missed the point of the Parable of the Sower because of the title character’s questionable planting methodology:

sower_pic“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” – Mark 4:3-8

WTF kind of a farmer would do that, Jesus?!? Seed is precious and expensive. Anyone who knows anything knows you don’t scatter it on paths, rocky places or among thorns. You plant it in the field, where you know it’s going to grow. (Maybe you should stick to parables about carpentry, Lord.)

I suspect this is exactly the reaction Jesus wants from us as we’re confronted with these three famous WTF parables. In order to emphasize how different the Kingdom of Heaven is from the human status quo, he up-ends us where we live and breathe: in our economy.

No landowner on earth would or should pay one-hour workers the same as full-day workers, because in a transactional economy, we earn our wages. But in God’s economy, none of us are capable of earning favor with God, so all who turn to Christ are given the same unmerited grace, whether we come to Him at the dawn or dusk of our lives, or anywhere inbetween.

No shepherd would leave 99 safe sheep to seek one lost one, but as my pastor recently said in a sermon about this parable, the 99 ‘found’ sheep won’t become lost again unless they choose not to follow the Shepherd!

And while the seeds for wheat and canola and carrots are finite and expensive, the seeds of God’s grace are abundant and inexhaustible – so God scatters them anywhere and everywhere, in the hopes that some of them will take root in places that you and I would write off as impractical, and in soil we’d call barren and even Godforsaken.

These parables are startling and sometimes a little offensive – the Grace of God shouldn’t be available to bad people, should it? – but they’re also really comforting when we realize that there’s bad in you and me, too. God is generous. God never gives up. God’s grace is endless, and it’s all we need. That’s what these WTF parables teach us.

Great. OK, WTFs withdrawn. Parables are awesome.

Hang on, there, Tiger. Let’s talk about a couple more … next time.

Until then, peace be with you.

Posted in Bible, Faith, Forgiveness, Gospel, Grace, New Testament, Parables, Wrestling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WTF Part 3: Is God Mean?

Sometimes, it seems like God has a sizeable mean streak.


Not only when She won’t give us the snazzy stuff we feel like we need, or won’t instantly heal our infirmities, prevent our genocides or divert hurricanes away from our populated areas.

I can use Isaiah 55:8 (“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord) to get my head – if not my heart – around those kinds of decisions not to interfere with free will, or with nature.

WTFBut there are moments in the Bible when God – the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, as John 3:16 tells us – does choose to get involved. And more alarmingly, She seems to have it in for certain people who belong to the world She gave Her son for.

Consider the Pharaoh:

In Exodus 9:12, 10:20, 10:27 and 11:10, it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, seemingly to make sure the Egyptian monarch didn’t let the Israelites go before his entire nation had been completely decimated by the 10 plagues.

I’ve heard it explained that Pharaoh wasn’t beginning to change his mind about whether to let the Israelites go, but only lose his nerve – so God’s hardening of the heart merely strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to follow through on the decisions he’d already made.

Still, WTF?!?

WTF, God?!? If Pharaoh’s resolve is weakening and You’re disposed to interfere with free will in this instance anyway, why not take advantage of this vulnerable moment to soften Pharaoh’s heart even more, and help him change his mind about letting Israel go? Think of the lives You’d have saved! Egyptians were Your people, made in Your image, just as much as the Israelites were, weren’t they?

Furthermore, in Jonah 4:11, You rebuked Jonah for wishing You’d wiped out the Ninevites, who were Israel’s enemies and wicked in their ways (not unlike the Egyptians of Moses’ day), as follows: ‘And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

There were also much more than 120,000 people, and also many animals, in Egypt, Lord. What about them?

WTF?!?

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In the S-Word series last year, I wrote about two other significant WTFs – one where it says an evil spirit from the Lord tormented King Saul, and another where the Lord put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of prophets, who enticed King Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead.

god-torments-saulIn the latter story, God also empowers Micaiah to reveal the deception, so there’s a confusing but mitigating plot twist there – but the notion that Almighty God would ever send angels to deliberately deceive (or worse, demons to torment) His children is mightily disturbing.

Now, as I said in the Other S-Word Part 4 and Part 5, the concepts of ‘sending’ and ‘allowing’ are blurred in the Hebrew idioms used here. Fair enough. So let’s focus on the word ‘allow’.

When we use the word ‘allow’ in this context, does it mean ‘give overt permission to’ or ‘choose not to interfere with’? And when it comes to an inexhaustible, all-knowing and all-powerful God, is there a difference?

Dunno.

Therefore, the WTF stands.

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img_0721It’s easy for me to fixate on God’s seemingly malevolent interference in the free will of his children in these verses and get stuck in a What-The funk. But when I look up from my brooding a bit, I return to where I began this blog post: Isaiah 55:8“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

And I’m also reminded of the last four chapters of the Book of Job, when Job – who arguably had legitimate reasons for questioning God – actually dared to do question God. And then, (gulp), God answered him.

Apologist Ravi Zacharias sums this encounter up beautifully and then provides insightful comment in one of the tracks of his Top 5 Questions CD:

‘… Job was saying, ‘Only that which I can comprehensively understand in my mind will I fully accept. And God says, ‘Alright, Job. Since you want that kind of comprehensive understanding, tell me where were you when the foundations of the earth were laid? Where were you when such and such happened?’ He nailed Job with 64 questions back-to-back, to show him that the many wonderful concepts he had imbibed he did not have a full and comprehensive understanding of (either).’

Similarly, while I maintain what I said in Part 2 of this series, that it’s good and godly to wrestle with these questions and even lay our WTFs at the feet of God, I don’t really want Him to answer me.

job-38-4For one thing, if God lambasted me with the same kind of questions She levelled at Job, I think my spirit and soul would be a puddle of goo at the end of it. But maybe more importantly, I probably don’t actually want everything God does to make sense. I need His ways to be infinitely higher than my ways. I need for His interactions with the world to be mysterious and befuddling.

After all, if we could fully understand God, would She cease to be God?

Peace be with you.

Posted in Bible, Creation, Faith, Forgiveness, God, Grace, Kindness, Mercy of God, Old Testament, Omnipresence, Prayer, Sin, Wrath of God, Wrestling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

WTF (Part 2): WTF Are You Doing, Baldy?

Last time, we explored some of the many posts in the Bible that are so confusing – and sometimes, even offensive – that they prompt readers to exclaim Wednesday Thursday Friday (WTF)?!?


And I can’t tell you how many readers immediately responded with anger and incredulity at the presumptuousness, audacity and blasphemy of this exercise. (I really can’t, because none of you actually responded this way.) But if this WTF series does strike you as a bad idea, let me point out in so many words that I think this is an extremely Godly angle from which to look at the Scriptures.

WTFI’m convinced that God wants us to actually read the Bible for ourselves – not simply listen to what pastors and scholars say about it. And when we bump into something in Scripture that rubs us the wrong way, it’s our responsibility (not merely our right) to engage with it; to push back and even to cry out to God for an answer about what on earth (or in heaven) She put these passages in the Bible for.

It’s also a good idea to read what the experts have said and written about these passages, to talk with other believers and to go so far as to ask your pastor what he or she thinks and feels about them.

For a time, I was reluctant to pull on these uncomfortable threads out of fear of unravelling the whole tapestry of my faith in the process. ‘I can’t wrestle too much with 2 Kings 2:23-24, because I might end up losing Jesus.’ That was my prison for a while.

But I don’t think that prison was built by God.

I think God is standing in the wrestling ring, just like He was with Jacob, waiting patiently for me to join Him.

The Truth of Jesus transcends any real or misguided misgivings we might have about the veracity and reliability of the Bible – either as a whole, or in the individual passages that tend to give us heartburn.

Whatever humanity got wrong when we transcribed God’s word, whatever was intended for audiences of previous millennia and has now become obsolete but lives on anyway and should now be viewed more as historical literature rather than timelessly relevant to all humanity, Jesus still saves.

disciplehood-title-slides-4As many have famously (and arguably overly simplistically) tweeted, there’s a sense in which the Bible isn’t the Word of God, Christ is.

So I invite you to continue with me on this brief WTF journey through the Scriptures – and then take one of your own.

My guess is that it will only sharpen your faith, not dull it.

Peace be with you.

Posted in Bible, Faith, Forgiveness, Grace, Holiness, Words, Wrestling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday Thursday Friday? (Part 1)

My 17-year-old daughter doesn’t spend a lot of time in the church these days, but she still has a favorite Bible passage: 2 Kings 2:23-24:


bald-toonFrom there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

bearsTaken at face value, some kids teased Elisha about being follicly challenged and he responded by cursing them in the name of God. And God – the ‘God is love’ God from 1 John 4:8 – responds by sending bears to kill the jeerers.

WTFWednesday Thursday Friday?!? (and also other words that start with WTF …)

This is one of a number of Bible stories that I find quite vexing. I thought it might be worth taking a walk through some of them, to see what can be learned about God, or about humanity, through these WTF verses. And as things often happen, this barely-enough-material-for-a-whole-blog-post post turned quickly into a series. Some of the WTFs are instructive, and in other cases, the WTFs stand. Without further ado, let’s continue…

So getting back to Elisha the Baldy, I did a bit of research and discovered that a few nuances are missing in the NIV, which I’ve quoted above.

b2m-evolutionFirst, the ‘boys’: according to a couple of the articles I found on this passage online, this isn’t a gang of a half-dozen eight-year-olds here.

‘The Hebrew word can refer to children, but rather more specifically means “young men,”‘ wrote the author of this article.

And as the NIV does say, the bears mauled 42 of the boys/young men. This means there were more than 42 of them – and to be harassed in this way by more than four-dozen rowdy teenagers would be quite unnerving.

Additionally, the translation of their taunt ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ might be flawed as well. The New King James Version says they urged Elisha to ‘Go up, you baldhead!’ And the words ‘go up’ are related to the fact that this event happens just after Elisha watches Elijah, his mentor and predecessor, ‘go up’ to Heaven. The taunters are apparently suggesting he follow where Elijah has gone, so they can be rid of him as well.

‘In summary, 2 Kings 2:23-24 is not an account of God mauling young children for making fun of a bald man. Rather, it is a record of an insulting demonstration against God’s prophet by a large group of young men. Because these young people of about 20 years of age or older (the same term is used of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:7) so despised the prophet of the Lord, Elisha called upon the Lord to deal with the rebels as He saw fit. The Lord’s punishment was the mauling of 42 of them by two female bears. The penalty was clearly justified, for to ridicule Elisha was to ridicule the Lord Himself. The seriousness of the crime was indicated by the seriousness of the punishment. The appalling judgment was God’s warning to all who would scorn the prophets of the Lord.’ – a quote from the same article cited above

Really?!?

circular-reasoning1I find the context about the young men/boys and ‘go up’ helpful, but the punishment for the taunt seems extremely excessive – whether you look at God as the turn-the-other-cheek Savior or the eye-for-an-eye Law-Giver. And the conclusion that the punishment was justified because God did it and we know that God is a just God, feels a lot like circular reasoning to me.

I’ll let you know if I come across anything that’s more helpful, but for now, the 2 Kings 2:23-24 WTF stands.

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We a similar level of ruthlessness and brutality on the part of Elisha’s mentor Elijah, a few pages earlier in 1 Kings 18:40:

‘Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.’

disciplehood-title-slides-1This comes right after Elijah mopped the floor with the prophets of Baal in a showdown on Mount Carmel. You’d think such a humiliating victory – including plenty of trash talk on the part of the man of God – would’ve been enough. But no. Elijah had his spiritual opponents executed. All 450 of them. These men were corrupt and wicked and misguided and evil, but they were still descendants of Adam who bore the image of the One True God. And yet, there’s no reason in the text to assume God was bothered by the action. Indeed, the text leaves room to infer that the extermination was God’s idea!

I know things were quite different in Old Testament times, but WTF. Period.

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I’ve already written at length about a couple of other big WTFs in the Bible: Paul’s exasperated exorcism of a possessed girl in Acts 16:16-18 and God’s decision to kill Aaron’s sons for unauthorized worship (of Yahweh) in Leviticus 10:1-2.

A passage I would like to look at today, though, is Deuteronomy 21:10-14:

10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

If God loves everyone, why didn’t She forbid this behavior out of hand? Why didn’t She simply tell the Israelites, ‘…if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may not take her as your wife. Her people were just defeated in war and you’ve probably just killed her husband, her father or her brothers, so she’s been through enough. There are plenty of women back in Israel, so leave her alone, you selfish jerk!’

WTF, God?

But the way a lot of scholars read it, this passage is actually an extraordinarily humanistic instruction for the time and place in which it was written.

The purpose of the passage is to put some boundaries around what a God-fearing (but still extremely savage and barbaric, by 21st Century standards) Israelite was allowed to do when he encountered a beautiful woman among his defeated enemies.

You’ll see a slightly less barbaric outlook on slavery and how women are treated as you move forward in the Bible. That trend continues (with some notable backslides) at a painfully slow pace until the time of Jesus, when respect for the individual really begins to gather steam.

The Israelites weren’t capable of leaping to a completely gender-equal, slavery-free worldview in one jump, anymore than we are today.

So God met them where they were and helped them to take a baby step toward that ideal, as they could handle it.

And I think He is still doing that with you and with me.

Do you treat everyone you meet as though they are bearers of the divine image of the Holy God of the Universe? What baby step toward that ideal is God calling you to take today?

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OK, so we’ve mainly stayed in the Old Testament so far in our stroll through biblical WTFs. But eventually, we’ll really open Pandora’s Box and examine a few of the crazy non-sequiturs Jesus lambasted his listeners with in the parables He told in the Gospels.

But for now, peace be with you.

Posted in Bible, Faith, False Prophets, Mercy of God, Old Testament, Torah, Wrestling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Milestones, Part 2

As often happens lately, what I thought would be one Disciplehood post turned out to be too long to be read in one go. Therefore, I decided to split Milestones in two. Now for the navel-gazing promised in Part 1 of this accidental series:


Baldy’s Thirst Birthday Update

Baldy's Thirst BirthdayI celebrated a milestone of my own a few weeks ago, when I turned 45 on August 25. Regular readers will recall that I donated this birthday to charity, and invited anyone and everyone to support this campaign in the blog post Baldy’s Thirst Birthday.

Well, much to my disappointment, the move did not prevent me from turning 45. Also, I fell short of my goal of raising $1,000 US to fund clean drinking water projects in the developing world.

But I still consider the campaign a rollicking success. My friends, family and co-workers gave $737 to the fund, which is probably pretty close to $1,000 CDN. Also worth noting is that only $282 of the total came from people who’d normally have gotten me a birthday gift, so $455 US was money that would never have come to me, but is going to help make life better for the world’s least fortunate sons and daughters.

Most importantly, 24 people will get clean water.

Twenty-four.

That’s a decent-size elementary school class. Two soccer teams (plus two). The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Who, Kiss and Black Sabbath. That’s not a small number of people.

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Who, Kiss and Black Sabbath

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Who, Kiss and Black Sabbath: not a small number of people.

And the ship hasn’t sailed yet on reaching that $1,000 target. I officially stopped promoting it on August 25 at 11:59 p.m. MDT, but Charity: Water won’t actually close the campaign until September 30. Come on in; the water’s fine!

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Disciplehood, Then and Now

In the earliest days of this blog, I apparently had a lot to say. I posted more entries in the last three months of 2010 than I did in the first 11 months of 2015.

noOne might wonder if I’ve lost interest in blogging, or indeed, if I’ve lost passion for Christ. Both are fair questions, but the answer to both of them is a definite no.

I continue to love to study and explore the Word and share what I learn and ponder in the e-pages of this blog. I love relating how I connect with my faith to the music, movies and TV shows that also profoundly inform my worldview. Blogging continues to give me great joy, and helps me to continue to keep moving in my walk with God.

We keep a variety of translations and study Bibles on our coffee table for our Bible study group to refer to. Naturally, everyone just looks stuff up on their phones.

We keep a variety of translations and study Bibles on our coffee table for our Bible study group to refer to. Naturally, everyone just looks stuff up on their phones.

Having said that, the ideas are not coming as fast and furious as they used to. I’ve picked most of the low-hanging fruit, as the saying goes, so I probably couldn’t keep up weekly (or better) pace I set as a target when I launched Disciplehood back in late September 2010.

Meanwhile, my life has also become a lot busier in the past six years: I went from being a stay-home dad and part-time freelance journalist to a full-time corporate communicator. I’ve gone from attending a home Bible study group to hosting and leading one. I’ve gotten increasingly involved in the leadership of Cursillo activities. I’m involved in a discernment process to explore whether I’m called to the priesthood. Meanwhile, my responsibilities at home haven’t diminished much during the Disciplehood era.

You could say that I’m too busy living out my disciplehood to write Disciplehood.

Could this guy be the source of the voice I was hearing?

Could this guy be the source of the voice I was hearing?

A few months ago, I even pondered making this my last entry – 300 is a good, round number, and six years is definitely enough time to demonstrate my level of commitment to the outlet.

I’ve gotten exasperated now and then with not being able to find enough quality time to write, and sometimes I’m dissatisfied with the quality of the post as I’m publishing it – but resign to press the button anyway, because half-assed is better than no-assed. Then, a few weeks later, I go back and re-read that supposedly lacklustre post and discover that it’s actually not bad – and I wonder if the naysayer voice that tried to talk me out of posting the entry was actually my own.

So on the whole, I’m still convinced that Disciplehood does some good. For me, for sure – and possibly even for some of you. So I’ll keep ’em coming. Sporadically and infrequently to be sure, but the flow will continue.

If you find yourself hungry for Disciplehood more quickly than the chow line is moving, feel free to sample the leftovers in the archive. Here are a few of my recent-ish favorites that you may have missed:

  • Perfect: Since right now is really all we have (the past is gone and the future isn’t here yet), if the thing I’m doing right now is the same thing I’d be doing if my life was perfect, does that mean that right now, my life is perfect?
  • The Lazarus Series: A three-post exploration of the friend whose death made Jesus weep in the Gospel of John, and the character of the same name in a parable Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke. Could these stories be related?

  • The R-Word Series: ‘Remember’ is an oft-repeated theme in the Bible. There are even a surprising number of instances when psalmists send reminders to God – as if an omniscient God could ever forget anything. Seems audacious and unnecessary – but is it possible God likes it when we plead with Her not to forget us?
  • In Want: The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not be in want. We all know what it means to be in need, but what does it mean to be in want?
  • Roofs and Raincoats and Cup or Funnel?: These two posts aren’t a series, but they both compare God’s grace with a deluge of rain. Roofs and Raincoats suggests that we misguidedly hide from grace under spiritual tarps and umbrellas that we construct to ‘protect’ us – and the good news is that since we built them, we can step out from under them. Cup or Funnel asks whether we’re using a cup to catch God’s grace for ourselves, or a wide-mouthed funnel to share it with the rest of the world.

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Prepare for glory, Disciplehooders. Theres more where the first 300 entries came from.

Prepare for glory, Disciplehooders. There’s more where the first 300 entries came from.

Well, that’s it.

Thanks for sticking around for the past 1,100 words, six years and 300 posts, reader(s).

I look forward to celebrating many more milestones with you over the months and years to come.

Peace be with you.

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Milestones, Part 1

Not long ago, I posted my 300th Disciplehood entry, and nobody even bought me flowers. (Our sixth bloggiversary will be on September 30, if you want a shot at redemption, BTW.)


The arrival of these two Disciplehood milestones within just a few weeks of each other has me thinking about milestones in general and their meaning/significance.

In today’s cultural context (Christian and otherwise), are these occasions’ significance overblown? Are they underblown? Can other cultures past and present (including, but not limited to, First-Century Palestine) teach us anything about what a healthy approach to milestones looks like?

Let’s explore some of these questions, and then do a bit of navel-gazing, as we have in other milestone-acknowledging Disciplehood posts, such as Two Hundred, Four Years and Bloggiversary.

Milestones, not Millstones

milestones‘“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”‘ – Matthew 18:6

Wait. That verse is about millstones, not milestones. Never mind.

The word ‘milestone’ doesn’t come up in a Bible Gateway search of the New International Version of the Bible, but Scripture does have a few things to say about these key markers of our journeys through life.

centered-stones-smallIn Joshua 4:1-9, God instructs the people to literally build a monument using a bunch of stones, to remind them of the day they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. The altars that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built throughout the time of the Patriarchs seem to function as monuments that remind people of significant events as much as temporary places of worship – their mentions certainly function as literary milestones for us reading the text in modern times, regardless of what they meant for Abraham and co. at the time.

Meanwhile, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul often compares the Christian life to a race – more like a marathon than a sprint. Baked into that metaphor (for me, at least) is the need for milestones or signposts that let the runners know how far they’ve progressed – and how far they have to go. These spiritual milestones are admittedly a lot fuzzier (and arguably fewer) in the Christian race than they are in 21st-Century long-distance runs, but I’m convinced they’re there.

Would children in the developing world be jealous, or grateful, that clowns at their birthday parties are a rarity?

Would children in the developing world be jealous, or grateful, that clowns at their birthday parties are a rarity?

But what about personal milestones in the Bible? Did they celebrate birthdays in biblical times? The NIV records three references to birthday parties, so the concept was known, at least. I suspect that for common people, these celebrations would have been much less lavish and stuff-centred than they are for 21st-Century North Americans.

And while the ancient Jewish calendar provided precise instructions on an assortment of religious festivals that functioned as annual milestones for the nation of Israel as a whole, there’s not much evidence that they got caught up in celebrating individual milestones: preschool graduations, kindergarten graduations, junior proms, senior proms and the first day of your second year of Grade 12, like we do today.

Bob: ‘It’s not a graduation. He’s moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.’
Helen: ‘It’s a ceremony.’
Bob: ‘It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.’ – from The Incredibles, Disney-Pixar, 2004

Is Mr. Incredible incredibly right here? Is our fascination with marking every milestone actually holding us back from becoming the incredible people God created us to be? A question worth pondering…

Perhaps a less-is-more approach would be more impactful than the way we do it. Rather than a series of commemorative portraits to celebrate Little Floyd’s first tooth, first pee in a potty, first big-boy bike and his first facial hair, would we be better off with just one major childhood development milestone that marks one’s ready-or-not arrival into adulthood?

A Bat Mitzvah: nothing like this happened at my Confirmation party – of course, I was 42...

A Bat Mitzvah: nothing like this happened at my Confirmation party – of course, I was 40…

We’re probably all familiar with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and First Communion and Confirmation – its Christian counterparts. But other cultures from all over the world have their own Coming of Age traditions, as documented in this article.

In our culture, childhood is a process that clearly has a beginning (birth, or maybe conception), but its end is terribly undefined. What milestone constitutes adulthood, practically speaking, in our culture? Driver’s licence? High school grad? 18th birthday? College/university grad? When you move out of your parents’ basement and pay all of your bills yourself?

Is it possible that the multitude of milestones we celebrate are confusing us? In my own family, we certainly talked about Confirmation as the point when our kids took ownership of their own faith – rather than attending church because Mom and Dad said so – but not a lot actually changed for our kids following these milestones. Could that be because the significance of these genuinely meaningful milestones got buried under a heap of Kodak moments and silly selfies?

I got the problems of an adult on my head and my shoulders, Im an adult now!

I got the problems of an adult on my head and my shoulders, I’m an adult now!

It’s interesting to me that, at least originally, a bar/bat mitzvah denoted when a Jewish boy/girl became accountable for his/her own actions under Jewish law. Its origins are about responsibilities, not privileges. Sure, you get a great party thrown in your honor, and people give you some nice gifts to celebrate the occasion, but once the guests have left and you change out of your fancy clothes, more is expected of you.

Whether you feel like an adult or not, you are one. So act like it.

Perhaps that kind of line-in-the-sand declaration is what’s missing from the myriad of milestones celebrated in our culture, and maybe that’s part of the reason so many of us are still living in our parents’ basements.

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Hmm.

Seems I had more to say about milestones than I thought. I guess the navel-gazing will have to wait until next time.

Until then, peace be with you.

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