Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This week's lesson: the latter rain

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9, NIV).
It's raining here on the Oregon Coast.

Much like Palestine, you see, we have two seasons: the wet, and the dry. The wet begins sometime in autumn and continues on through spring.

And everything here -- the trees, the fish, the osprey that lives on the baseball field near our church . . . it all needs the rain to start on time (i.e. "the early rain"), and to continue on until late in spring (i.e. "the latter rain").

The "early rain" and "latter rain" are not two distinct events, in other words. Instead, they are the bookends -- the beginning and end -- of one, long, continuous rainy season.

(And yes, the technical name for two opposites that stand for the whole is "merism." Think "near and far," for instance, or "night and day," or "alpha and omega.")

When Joel 2:23 predicted "the early rain and the latter rain," in other words, it did not say that it would begin to rain . . . then stop . . . then begin again. No, it promised that God's people would have all the rain they needed, from beginning to end.

And when Acts 2:16-21 says Joel's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is not saying that God's spirit will descend on the church . . . then stop . . . then descend again.

No, just as the promise of the remnant tells us that God will always have a people who love and follow Him, so too the promise of latter rain tells us that God will always love and lead His people.

In short, it is the promise of Matthew 28:20b -- "And surely I am with you always," said Jesus, "to the very end of the age."  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

This week's lesson: healing broken relationships

As Jesus said in Matthew 13:47ff, God's love is a net that pulls in all kinds of fish -- and some of them are definitely not keepers!

But prayer helps.

So does empathy.

And if worse comes to worse, I always have my Personal Aggravation Index (PAI).

The PAI helps me keep things in perspective; it does this by letting me rate the people who annoy me in three different areas: pain, intent, and frequency.

Pain (i.e. just how difficult is it to deal with this person?
1: meh
2: very unpleasant
3: this person makes my eyeballs bleed
Intent (i.e. just how much are they trying to aggravate me?)
1: they can't help it -- they were raised by wolves, and don't know how to deal with people..
2: they know it aggravates me, but they do it anyway.
3. they're doing it deliberately because they know it aggravates me!
Frequency (i.e. how often do I deal with this person?)
1. Once in a while
2. Frequently
3. Even when I try to avoid them, they come looking for me!
Once I've rated the person, then I add up their score:
1-3: Eh . . . it's not as bad as I thought.
4-6: Okay, we have a problem -- but this is fixable, right?
7-9: We're going to need a bigger boat!
Try it -- and see if it helps you!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This week's lesson: new thoughts

"I'm looking for loopholes."

That's what W. C. Fields said when he was asked why he reads the Bible -- and in truth, we all have a tendency to do the same.
  • I know that I need to lose weight, for instance . . . but we all know that calories don't count when you're on vacation.
  • I know we should obey the law . . . but who drives 55 on this stretch of road?
  • And we all know that we should love our enemies . . . but not when they've treated us the way they did!
In short, we all find it easy to rationalize our bad choices -- to convince ourselves that we really haven't done anything that was actually all that wrong.

Unfortunately, other people don't always see it that way.

No, in Matthew 5, Jesus points out that:
  • We can say we were "just looking" -- but we've still angered our spouse. 
  • We can say we were "just letting off steam" -- but we've still frightened our children.
  • And we can tell ourselves that "shading the truth" isn't the same as telling a lie . . .
But if we love someone, then we don't play these kinds of games with them. No, if we love someone, then Matthew 5:48 urges us to love them wholly and completely, just as God loves us . . .

With no loopholes.