Gideon, Baal, and Defending God

This is one of the sections I added to my book as I revised it tonight… in the last section of the chapter simply entitled “God”. Enjoy —

Sometimes I wonder if Christians – at least Western Christians, anyway – aren’t the most thin-skinned people around. When someone makes a movie, writes a song, authors a book, creates a piece of art, or says something that pushes the envelope, there is no group around you can count on to get riled up more than Christians.

It’s almost as if we don’t really believe God is more powerful than our wildest dreams, because we don’t fully believe he is love.

In the Old Testament, a really interesting story is told of a man named Gideon. Gideon was this big, famous, holy warrior of God – only he wasn’t. He was a scaredy-cat who God used anyway, and that in itself makes his a story worth reading. But the rest of the context makes it even more intriguing to me.

When Gideon comes along, it’s in the middle of a bad situation for the nation of Israel. They are being attacked and oppressed by a neighboring kingdom and are crying out to God to rescue them. This other kingdom is doing awful things to Israel: even though they have the strength to just come in and wipe the Israelites out, they hang back, watch the Israelites plant their fields, and then swoop in and destroy all the crops. Over and over again. They are slowly starving the Israelites to death, and the Israelites are powerless to stop them.

But God isn’t.

God sends a messenger down to Gideon one day to tell him that God has chosen him to wipe out the bad guys – but before he does that, God has kind of an introductory quest for him first. There is a man in Israel who has set up some altars to pagan gods, and God wants Gideon to destroy the altars before he will commission Gideon as a leader.

Oh, and the twist? The man who has been worshiping false gods… is Gideon’s dad.

Gideon, being one of the broken protagonists who fill the pages of Scripture, is scared – and so he sets out at night under the cover of darkness. He tears down his dad’s altars, including one to the pagan god Baal, and returns home to what I can only imagine to be incredibly restless sleep.

When he awakes the next morning, the town is abuzz with the news. Eventually, someone puts the clues together and figures out that it was by Gideon’s hand these altars fell, and so a mob gathers demanding his death.

It is into this scene that Gideon’s dad – the one with the broken altars to false gods – steps. And he says something of such wisdom it leaps off the page at me: “Will you contend for Baal? If he is a god, let him contend for himself.”

All this outrage. All this angst. And for what? Because they feel like a god needs defending?

And so when Christians – with good and decent motives, I have to believe – call for boycotts. get upset and worked up, write letters, bemoan and decry things, and get outraged, I just want to put my arm around their shoulders and say, “Will you contend for God? If he is God, let him contend for himself.”

Because if we believe God is love, then our response to the culture around us looks radically different. Defending God begins to seem quite laughable. Defend a God who is love? Who are we to defend the most powerful force in the universe?

Revising the Story

I spent some time in between my jobs this morning starting in on some of the major revisions I’ve been wanting to make to my Torn Wineskins manuscript. I’ve rewritten much of the first chapter, cut some material from some of the history chapters, and added some more personal stories. I’ve also renamed most of the chapters to be simpler, more artistic, and flow through the story I’m attempting to tell more smoothly. Here’s a sneak peek for you, my readers:

  • Ch.1 – Stories
  • Ch.2 – Gods
  • Ch.3 – Fireflies
  • Ch.4 – Kings
  • Ch.5 – Fire
  • Ch.6 – Rebirth
  • Ch.7 – Rules
  • Ch.8 – Pride
  • Ch.9 – Freedom
  • Ch.10 – Wine
  • Ch.11 – God
  • Ch.12 – Breath
  • Ch.13 – Intersections
  • Ch.14 – Anchovies
  • Ch.15 – Feet
  • Ch.16 – Accomplices

There’s a lot more work to be done (and those new chapter titles might not make the cut either), but I hope to finish it quickly and get this resubmitted to all the agents and publishers out there. Thanks to those of you who have asked recently where I’m at in the whole process, and for your encouragement and prayers!

Like Sheep Without a Shepherd

Mountain view with sheepphoto © 2005 Jule_Berlin | more info (via: Wylio)

On the Christian calendar, this week is Holy Week — the days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. One of the more poignant moments in that story is when Jesus sits on a rock overlooking Jerusalem and begins crying.

He cries because he has come to give them peace, and they don’t realize it.

He cries because he knows what’s about to go down.

And he cries out of compassion for the everyday, normal folks walking around Jerusalem’s streets — folks who are, as Jesus puts it, “like sheep without a shepherd.” His heart breaks for them.

In memory of that moment and in honor of the Easter season, I am posting a few paragraphs from my book Torn Wineskins this morning:

It was enough to make Jesus himself cry, as he mourned that the people he loved “were like sheep without a shepherd.”

I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t mourn because the people were leaderless. They had leadership. They had people defining rules and interpreting the Law and explaining how to get into a right relationship with God for them.

They were not without leaders. They were without a shepherd – someone who cared about them and for them. Someone who would feed them and make them lie down in green pastures. Someone who could gently guide them into the heart of God.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus wouldn’t mourn the same things in the modern church as well. We have plenty of leaders who are anxious to describe, debate, and define doctrine – but what people need is a shepherd. Someone who has sacrificed the power of fear at the feet of Jesus and is willing to allow things to get really messy as they lean on the power of the Holy Spirit instead.

I pray that all of us will recognize this Easter season that Jesus is coming to give us peace. That in the midst of all our leaders, he is the shepherd. And I pray you find comfort in his compassion.

On Heaven and Hell

So there’s been a lot of talk on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook the past several days about the idea of heaven and hell — courtesy of Rob Bell’s controversial teaser video for his new book.

Chapter 13 of my book is dedicated to discussing the same topics, so I’d like to share some excerpts as a way to add my voice to the conversation – and also as a way to share my writing with you before my book gets published!

So click on the link below to download a PDF of some rough draft excerpts from the chapter.

These excerpts are less than half the chapter. For some really good conversations on what it means to have eternal life, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the story of the sheep and the goats, and the evolving Jewish perspectives of the afterlife, you’ll have to buy the book when it comes out!

Keep in mind that this will most likely push you out of your comfort zone. It’s designed to. And please remember that what I write is meant to start conversations, not end them. I’m not laying out a complete theology on heaven and hell (or anything else I write about). I’m just adding a valid perspective to the conversation, and I hope you’ll take it and dialog it – with me, with your friends, with your small group, with people who don’t know Jesus.

And I promise, promise, promise you that I came up with what is written on the top of page 7 several months ago, long before anyone had ever heard of the title of Rob Bell’s next book. :)

Chapter 13 – Heaven and Hell

There Be Giants

As I near the completion of the manuscript for my first book, many of you have asked what the process of publishing looks like – so I thought I’d explain it a little here, and confess some of the thoughts I have as I travel through that process.

Essentially, reputable publishers choose to work with agents and do not generally accept unsolicited manuscripts – especially from first-time authors like myself. So, most authors hire agents to review their manuscripts, pass them along to publishers, and advocate on the author’s behalf. These agents usually take an industry standard 15% of any publishing contract moneys (up front money as well as royalties later on down the road).

Agents will only accept manuscripts that are accompanied by a Book Proposal – a kind of cover letter document that contains a brief overview of the book, why the author thinks the book will sell, what market it will sell to, and why they are the best person to write the book. The Book Proposal also comes with 2-3 full chapters of the book attached. This way, the agent gets an idea of what the book is about, how well it is written, and what the writing style and skill level of the author is.

So my immediate goal is to finish the final two chapters of my book, draw up a Book Proposal, and start sending it off to agents to see if anyone will agree to represent me. Most agents have a particular genre of books they will specialize in, and so as I read I am learning it is vitally important to not just find a willing agent, but to find one that is a good fit for your style and topic of writing.

It was when I started checking around for available agents that all the feelings of doubt began surfacing in my mind. The whole idea of having an agent is to get your manuscript in front of publishers who don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. But all the agent websites I looked at all said that they were not currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts either! I began to wonder how I’ll ever get someone to read my stuff.

I felt like the twelve spies sent to scout out the Promised Land in the book of Joshua, really. They had made it so far – they were on the cusp of the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for so long. They had made it! But when they looked to see what it would take to enter, they saw giants and got scared. They said it would be impossible.

Just like them, the process looks pretty impossible right now. But just like them, I need to remember that God is in control of this whole thing. I’m anxious, now that I’m on the cusp of the Promised Land, so to speak, with a nearly complete manuscript, to watch how God orchestrates things from here. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going. Maybe if I get rejected by 27 different agents before getting rejected by 8 different publishers, my story will be an encouragement to other budding authors out there. Or, maybe God will make it really easy – who knows?

Here’s to the journey!

Sneak Peek: Chapter Titles

My book is coming along really nicely, and I hope to have it finished up here in the next month or two. As a special sneak peek, I thought I’d show you, my faithful readers, what I’ve tentatively outlined for the chapters in the book.

Conversation one is the interweaving of two stories: (1) our history as humanity through the five major culture shifts we’ve experienced (or are experiencing), and (2) my own personal history and background (chapters 3, 5, 7, and 9). This section comes to a climax as we shift into postmodernity — something that is currently underway. The chapters in conversation one are shorter than those in conversation two.

Conversation two uses the backdrop of that culture shift as an opportunity to reimagine our faith and rediscover the message and heart of God in order to reach the people around us. I’ve thrown in some section headings to kind of flesh out what these chapters will look like a little more.

Introduction

Conversation ONE: Where We’ve Been
Chapter 1: A Look Back
Chapter 2: This is Sparta (Ancient Culture to Hellenism)
Chapter 3: Religion By Process of Elimination
Chapter 4: Unification of Church and State (Hellenism to Medievalism)
Chapter 5: I’m On Fire
Chapter 6: Respect the Classics, Man (Medievalism to the Renaissance)
Chapter 7: Being a Jackass for Jesus
Chapter 8: Pride Before the Fall (The Renaissance to Modernity)
Chapter 9: It is for Freedom
Chapter 10: Philosophical Mumbo Jumbo (Modernity to Postmodernity)

Conversation TWO: Where We Can Go
Chapter 11: God
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*God is Love
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Black and White and Shades of Grey
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Useless and Obsolete Rules

Chapter 12: Scripture
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*God’s Breath
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Literally
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Rediscovering Narrative

Chapter 13: Heaven and Hell
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Our Heaven Fetish
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*The Fear-Driven Life
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*The End

Chapter 14: The Gospel
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Anchovy Prices
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*The Kingdom
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Evangelii

Chapter 15: Discipleship
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Fishermen and Tax Collectors
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Lovin’ Us Some Hierarchy
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Of Life and Love

Chapter 16: The Church
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Candles
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Doubt
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*God is Love

None of these chapter titles are set in stone, obviously, and some are more likely to change than others (chapter seven, for instance). But this should give you guys a pretty good idea of what the book is about and what I’ve been working on writing over the past year!

Sneak Peek: Chapter Titles

My book is coming along really nicely, and I hope to have it finished up here in the next month or two. As a special sneak peek, I thought I’d show you, my faithful readers, what I’ve tentatively outlined for the chapters in the book.

Conversation one is the interweaving of two stories: (1) our history as humanity through the five major culture shifts we’ve experienced (or are experiencing), and (2) my own personal history and background (chapters 3, 5, 7, and 9). This section comes to a climax as we shift into postmodernity — something that is currently underway. The chapters in conversation one are shorter than those in conversation two.

Conversation two uses the backdrop of that culture shift as an opportunity to reimagine our faith and rediscover the message and heart of God in order to reach the people around us. I’ve thrown in some section headings to kind of flesh out what these chapters will look like a little more.

Introduction

Conversation ONE: Where We’ve Been
Chapter 1: A Look Back
Chapter 2: This is Sparta (Ancient Culture to Hellenism)
Chapter 3: Religion By Process of Elimination
Chapter 4: Unification of Church and State (Hellenism to Medievalism)
Chapter 5: I’m On Fire
Chapter 6: Respect the Classics, Man (Medievalism to the Renaissance)
Chapter 7: Being a Jackass for Jesus
Chapter 8: Pride Before the Fall (The Renaissance to Modernity)
Chapter 9: It is for Freedom
Chapter 10: Philosophical Mumbo Jumbo (Modernity to Postmodernity)

Conversation TWO: Where We Can Go
Chapter 11: God
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*God is Love
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Black and White and Shades of Grey
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Useless and Obsolete Rules

Chapter 12: Scripture
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*God’s Breath
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Literally
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Rediscovering Narrative

Chapter 13: Heaven and Hell
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Our Heaven Fetish
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*The Fear-Driven Life
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*The End

Chapter 14: The Gospel
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Anchovy Prices
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*The Kingdom
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Evangelii

Chapter 15: Discipleship
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Fishermen and Tax Collectors
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Lovin’ Us Some Hierarchy
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Of Life and Love

Chapter 16: The Church
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Candles
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*Doubt
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp*God is Love

None of these chapter titles are set in stone, obviously, and some are more likely to change than others (chapter seven, for instance). But this should give you guys a pretty good idea of what the book is about and what I’ve been working on writing over the past year!

A Short Excerpt From My Book

As you probably know, since it was on my list of New Year’s resolutions, I am in the process of writing a book. And I absolutely love it. When I get a chunk of several hours to work on it, it is some of the most fulfilling time I have experienced.

Writing a book is much harder than I anticipated. It’s easy to come up with thoughts and ideas. It’s easy to blog about thoughts and ideas. But to put them down on paper — something permanent, that people will be reading and interpreting and misinterpreting for some time to come… that’s hard. I want to make sure what I am expressing is really what I want to express – not just the words, but the tone and the mood as well. I want people to know me through my writing, and not get a wrong impression of who I am or what I’m about.

I’m still hoping to meet my resolution of having the book finished by the end of the year. And to say thank you to the 50 or so of you who read this blog, and to keep myself accountable to writing, I’ve decided to begin sharing some short excerpts from the book with you.

Even posting this excerpt here makes me really nervous for some reason.

Anyway, I’d better do this before I change my mind. Heh. Here’s a couple paragraphs from the introduction in order to whet your appetite. Enjoy, and be sure to leave some feedback – that’s one of the ways the book will get better before it gets published!

Even that word, “laity,” conveys this understanding: its various definitions include demeaning phrases such as “outsider, non-expert” and “the mass of people, as distinguished from those specially skilled.”

So we have, for hundreds upon hundreds of years now, given the job of dispensing Truth to religious professionals. The insiders. The experts. Those specially skilled. 

And we’ve sat back as the undefined and collective masses – us souls who are, apparently, specially unskilled.

We even made churches that espoused a doctrine that said every believer was really a priest, based off of a sentence in a letter one of the earliest followers of Jesus wrote4, but then turned around and (either implicitly or explicitly) told those same “priests” that they couldn’t in fact reliably interpret Scripture or their experiences with God without a paid professional to help them.

Of course, there is historical justification for this: going back a few centuries, not many people could read. It was necessary for educated people who actually had copies of literature – including the Scriptures – and could read it, to pass along information to folks verbally. To teach them what it said and what it meant.

But here’s the thing that many people either don’t realize or are afraid to deal with: the idea that Truth is revelatory was never really about Truth. It was about the necessity of the time period, the culture in which the Church found itself. Yet somewhere along the way, we began making the mistake of believing that idea was a non-negotiable inherent fact about Truth itself.

A Short Excerpt From My Book

As you probably know, since it was on my list of New Year’s resolutions, I am in the process of writing a book. And I absolutely love it. When I get a chunk of several hours to work on it, it is some of the most fulfilling time I have experienced.

Writing a book is much harder than I anticipated. It’s easy to come up with thoughts and ideas. It’s easy to blog about thoughts and ideas. But to put them down on paper — something permanent, that people will be reading and interpreting and misinterpreting for some time to come… that’s hard. I want to make sure what I am expressing is really what I want to express – not just the words, but the tone and the mood as well. I want people to know me through my writing, and not get a wrong impression of who I am or what I’m about.

I’m still hoping to meet my resolution of having the book finished by the end of the year. And to say thank you to the 50 or so of you who read this blog, and to keep myself accountable to writing, I’ve decided to begin sharing some short excerpts from the book with you.

Even posting this excerpt here makes me really nervous for some reason.

Anyway, I’d better do this before I change my mind. Heh. Here’s a couple paragraphs from the introduction in order to whet your appetite. Enjoy, and be sure to leave some feedback – that’s one of the ways the book will get better before it gets published!

Even that word, “laity,” conveys this understanding: its various definitions include demeaning phrases such as “outsider, non-expert” and “the mass of people, as distinguished from those specially skilled.”

So we have, for hundreds upon hundreds of years now, given the job of dispensing Truth to religious professionals. The insiders. The experts. Those specially skilled. 

And we’ve sat back as the undefined and collective masses – us souls who are, apparently, specially unskilled.

We even made churches that espoused a doctrine that said every believer was really a priest, based off of a sentence in a letter one of the earliest followers of Jesus wrote4, but then turned around and (either implicitly or explicitly) told those same “priests” that they couldn’t in fact reliably interpret Scripture or their experiences with God without a paid professional to help them.

Of course, there is historical justification for this: going back a few centuries, not many people could read. It was necessary for educated people who actually had copies of literature – including the Scriptures – and could read it, to pass along information to folks verbally. To teach them what it said and what it meant.

But here’s the thing that many people either don’t realize or are afraid to deal with: the idea that Truth is revelatory was never really about Truth. It was about the necessity of the time period, the culture in which the Church found itself. Yet somewhere along the way, we began making the mistake of believing that idea was a non-negotiable inherent fact about Truth itself.