The dove, the waters, and the solid ground

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11

I talked to a Christian guy recently who was nervous that God might be mad at him. It’s an understandable enough sentiment, but from a rational perspective, it’s odd. It’s like fearing you might fail a math test after you’ve already received your diploma, or fearing you might be burned by a fire that has already been extinguished. Christians have little reason to fear the thing from which they’ve already been saved. It reminded me of something that happens at Jesus’ baptism.

At the baptism of Jesus, a dove descends and lands on Jesus as he arises out of the waters. I’m wondering if we’re talking about something that was visually bird-like or if it was like a dove in its peaceful nature? Regardless, Matthew and Mark say that Jesus saw something like a dove. Luke states, from a narrator’s third-person perspective, that it was a dove in bodily form. John records it from the mouth of John the Baptist, who says he saw something like a dove.

The first place a dove appears in the Bible is in the story of Noah. God sends floodwaters to eradicate a corrupt and violent human species, saving only Noah, his family, and a boat-load of animals. After 40 days of floating, Noah sends out a dove. Eventually, it returns with an olive branch, signifying that it had found solid ground.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that in both stories a dove goes out and finds solid ground amidst waters sent to wash away sinfulness.

The baptismal waters of the River Jordan, like the floodwaters of the ancient flood epic, were there to wash away sins. The floodwaters were sent to destroy the evil of humankind. The baptismal waters captured symbolically the washing away of sin.

We, as a species and as individuals, deserve the punishment of the flood. We have lived corrupt lives, or conspired to do so, and we cannot by our own merit survive. Only when God provided solid ground could Noah endure the flood. At the baptism of Jesus, the dove again settles on the solid ground, which is Jesus Christ. He is the only thing on which we can stand in the midst of the waters that have been sent for the sinful. If we try to stand on our own goodness, we are standing on sinking sand.

When the dove, the Holy Spirit, comes to us today, it is to call us to return to the only solid ground on which we can stand – to Jesus. When we believe he died for us, we are spared the punishment of the flood. There is no longer anything for which we can be held accountable, because his death consumed our sin. We ourselves arise out of baptismal waters to stand on him.

Without solid ground, we have every reason to fear we will be rowing forever. But once you believe in him, there’s nothing left of which to be afraid.


Letting Go to Lighten Up

Satan has scattered a few toys across the face of the earth, and people keep picking them up and playing with them.  Bitterness is one of Satan’s toys.  Revenge, pettiness, P.jpggossip, slander.  All the building blocks of revenge.  When life is over, Satan gets to come back and take all his toys home with them.  If you’re holding onto one of them, just realize you can get dragged down with it.  You don’t want to be holding onto the toys when the creepy clown comes looking for them.  So if you’re holding onto bitterness towards someone, you might want to drop it.  It’s not that fun to play with now, and in the end, it will take you places you don’t want to go.

Grace is not just a nice thing to do or a duty to obey.  It’s the lightening up of our souls by shedding the dead weight.

SA.gifI knew a family in South Africa who took in and raised as their son the boy who had murdered their daughter.  In the racially charged atmosphere after Apartheid, this destructive young man with evil in his heart tore apart this family.  It was grace that allowed them to steal that victory from the side of evil.  If that kind of grace can exist, can’t we practice its most simple forms?

Driscoll’s Re-emergence

I’m attending the Thrive Conference in Sacramento where evangelical prodigal ex-pastor Mark Driscoll made a surprise appearance and lecture this morning.  It was announced last night, but that was the first any of as had heard about it.  Most of the lecture was about the persecution his family had experienced in the last year.  He also gave several practical reasons why we ought to forgive people.  But there was a gaping hole in what he had to say.

Pastor Ray Johnston of Bayside Church, which hosts Thrive, introduced Driscoll, saying that back stage Driscoll was humble and apologetic.  He said that this is the kind of guy he really wants to be in the foxhole with.  “I really just like this guy,” he said.

Driscoll appeared wearing a recognizable Mumford-style vest and pegged jeans, looking sheepish.  He hugged Johnston and took a seat on a stool.  The following are my rough paraphrase of what he talked about.  He said…

driscollWhat does the Bible say?  It says strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.  For you who are shepherds, Jesus’ goal is to bring a flock around you.  The enemy has a plan to strike you.  I want to talk to “struck shepherds.”

It’s harder when you have a family.  Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus were single.  It’s scary what to think what would have happened to their families.  If you are a shepherd that has been struck, you can’t talk about it in detail, because that would be gossip.  I don’t want to talk about me.  i want to sever you.  We had an 8 year conflict that finally went public.  Here he recommended 1st Peter 3:8-12 for such conflicts.

He then began to talk about “Grace and I,” and he said that he used to refer to her as a pastor’s wife, but now he has to refer to her as an ex-pastor’s wife because he is an ex-pastor.  They have 5 kids.  The last year has been difficult on them.  They’ve had to move three times for safety issues.  There were protests outside their home, and a person who sounded mentally ill showed up at their house and was arrested.  People would post his address online after he moved.  Someone went to the bathroom on his front porch, and he received hate mail.  At one point the media blocked the driveway to get an interview and a helicopter one flew over “to flush me out.”  He said they went inside and avoided being in front of a window.  He said his 8 year old came into the room wearing a military jacket and carrying an Airsoft gun and asked if the jacket was bulletproof.  He hadn’t realized the helicopter was the media and had only seen movies where the bad guys came out of helicopters and shot everyone.  The boy had night terrors for months.  At one point they wanted to sleep in a tent in the backyard, but someone started throwing rocks over the fence at his kids at 6:30 in the morning.  They filed a police report.  Another time someone scattered a bucket of nails all over the driveway.  He said his email had been hacked.

He said God spoke to he and his wife “audibly” and released them from ministry.

The Board (of Mars Hill Church, where Driscoll had pastored), who are good and godly people, had authority over him and released a statement before the Driscolls were ready that said that he had resigned.  The kids were in school at the time so they raced down to pick them up, but the kids had found out about the resignation through social media.  (Here Driscoll began choking up as he spoke.)  “We had served that church for twenty years.”  He had baptized around 10,000 people.  The middle son, who Driscoll said was the shepherd of the family, asked, “Who’s going to care for the people?”  We’ve helped start 400 churches and our church had 15 locations.  And now they had nowhere to go for church.  “We were just zombies.” So they had church in the living room.  The one daughter who could sang led them in singing and one son went and got a bucket to collect the offering.  The boy said they were going to give the money to a single mom so that she could buy toys for her kids.  They read Scripture.  “I’ve got to teach this family,” he realized.  It was the first time in 18 years he didn’t have a sermon prepared on a Sunday.  He said, “I just lost it.”

Addressing the crowd he said, “I’m jealous for the well-being of your families.” So he said he was going to be a dad and a pastor.  He taught them about forgiveness.  He said he didn’t want to raise kids who are bitter.  So he wanted them to forgive those involved.  He had seen the church picketed by people that he had baptized.  But we forgive because we’re forgiven.  We need to think about all of the malice brought against the chief shepherd.  We have a broken-hearted God.  Rather than vengeance, God had a plan, that Jesus would come so we could be forgiven and reconciled.  He had Judas and Thomas and Peter.  And he was destroyed in front of his own mother and brothers.  It destroyed a family and that’s what happens when a shepherd is struck.  He had wine vinegar in a sponge forced in his mouth, and his research has told him that this was what Roman soldiers used as an antiseptic after using the bathroom, like a kind of toilet paper.  That’s what Jesus went through.

When sin happens, someone has to pay.  Vengeance makes for great movies (especially starring Liam Neeson), but terrible ministry.  So he wanted to give us some compelling reasons why we need to forgive.

Then he prayed that God would bring to mind someone that we needed to forgive.

Exodus 34, about being slow to anger, is the passage that is most quoted within the Bible.  And the best way to glorify God is to forgive.  We are to forgive as Christ forgave us.  We’re not denying justice, we’re just handing it off to the highest court.

Then he went through (I think he said he had 5 points but only got to 4) a list of reasons why we should forgive.  They included:

1. Forgive because if we don’t forgive we’re saying that their sin against us is worse than our sins against the Lord

2.  Because I love you and forgiveness blesses you.  It releases stress and depression.  Not forgiving “makes your worst day your every day.”  It benefits you physically to forgive in terms of stress and sleep, and emotionally in terms of healing and letting joy return.  He did a brief excursus on the parable of the person who wouldn’t forgive and then had to go to the jailer, who Driscoll said was Satan.  We say that they need to repent to be forgiven (at this point Driscoll made the point by yelling), but, he said quietly, they don’t hold the key to the prison.  We do.  And we open the door when we forgive.

3.  You bless others when you forgive.  Jesus said to love your enemy, which is how we know the Bible was not written by human beings.  To not forgive someone is to take the seat of God.

4.  I believe God gave this message to me.  I’ve done 6 months of study on forgiveness.  I don’t want to say that I’m totally innocent.  Sometimes the shepherd is wounded because he punched himself in the head.  But forgiveness is always tied to the demonic.  Forgiveness is how we were delivered from the demonic.  In your anger do not sin an give the enemy a foothold.  Satan and the demons have never been forgiven for anything and they will never forgive anything.  So when you refuse to forgive, you are trafficking in the demonic.  Bitterness grows and can take hold and defile many.  But I want joy and grace to flow in your life.  So forgive them.  Then he closed in prayer.

Johnston came in and prayed for Driscoll and alluded to God doing something new in and for Driscoll.  It sounded like the forecast of a professional return.

As I say, that’s a rough paraphrase, but I think I’ve got the gist of the content.

Now here’s the one lingering issue I have.  Driscoll just gave a long lecture on forgiveness without asking for it.  Aside from the allusion to “not being totally innocent,” he really didn’t point out his own failings.  In fact, it seemed like the entire lecture was aimed at his need to forgive those people who had wronged him.  What has happened to his family is horrible, as he describes it, and should never happen.  But what lingers after Driscoll’s resignation is that he evaded his Board’s plan for a disciplinary procedure.  He never really reconciled with those whom he had harmed, and after all of his talk of forgiveness, it would have been so simple and so graceful for him to ask for it.  Perhaps that was to be the implication that was to be drawn from the whole talk – that Driscoll now needs forgiveness too.  But the weight of the graphic imagery of the abuse of his family left us with the undoubted impression that Driscoll was a victim who now needed to forgive those who had wronged him.  He was a “struck shepherd” that heaven had taken out.  I think his idea that Jesus’ goal is to gather people around the pastor is symptomatic of Driscoll’s issues.  And if this is indeed a step in the direction of a professional re-emergence, I think most of us still want him to address the many charges and challenges that have been brought against him.  He has certainly apologized for much of it, but I think any professional return on his part will require that those issues go addressed through a supervised process.  There are still many people who have been reportedly hurt, bullied, and fired from their jobs by Driscoll, and I think his read on forgiveness may have to more thoroughly include himself among the guilty if he wants to regain any kind of credibility.

But just to provoke the seething hoards who still hate Driscoll, let me say something that I’ve said before – he’s a brilliant orator.  There are few communicators like him, and in the right place, with humility and supervision, he could live a life of effective ministry for Jesus.  Those Christians who still want to disagree might want to think about who the Apostle Paul really was.  And honestly, we might want to think about whether or not we really do believe in forgiveness.  Because no one is beyond it’s reach, and Jesus did give us a heads up that we will be judged in the same way we judge.  To hate Driscoll is to reject grace.

This was my initial dream for Driscoll when he resigned.


ImageThere’s a trend I’ve noticed, one that I’m sure psychologists have categorized and codified, but I don’t know what they call it.

When people see something horrible, or wicked, or deviant, we come up with a grouping for those responsible for said malfeasance.  We call people “crazy” in order to create a safe, fenced in group from which we have just separated ourselves.  In childhood there are “bad guys,” which is an awfully neat line for an incredibly undefined population.  More than one commentator pointed out that the American media used “insurgents” for what we called, during the American Revolution, “patriots.” Categorizing gives power to the one who makes the categories.  It gives us the power to protect ourselves.

In the wake of the terrorist act at the Boston marathon, there is now a desperate longing for explanation.  What degree of mad ideologizing could lead to such an act of hatred?  People are already eagerly anticipating a category into which that person can be put.  We will most likely brand this person with some variation on “zealous” or “disturbed.”

But what’s strange to me with this particular event is the urgency I’ve seen from a number of voices to say “Humanity isn’t like this.” There seems to be an express desire to make sure than humanism itself is defended.  Comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted a commentary on this which got widely circulated, and he uses language like “a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population” and “a tiny sliver” versus “a vast majority.” The culprit is a lack of tolerance, and the guilty party is not most of us, because humanity is not “inherently evil.”

At some point each of us will need to wake up to the fact that we can’t create enough categories of brokenness to make ourselves a safe exception.  We are in the broken category, the untrustworthy category, the hateful category, and the evil category.  Some degree of socialization and behavior modification may keep us out of the Lord of the Flies, but it’s not our inherent capacity to choose to be good.

There’s only one category that we ought to strive for, and that category is “forgiven.” It will keep us from the kind of hubris that we use to take power over others, write them off, and separate ourselves from them.  Forgiven is a fundamentally evangelical category – it always makes room for someone else.