Who you gonna believe?

The problem with lines in the sand defining who’s “in” an “out” regarding salvation is that there are nearly as many lines as there are people. So, eventually, all you are really doing is choosing who’s line you are going to use to define your (and others) “salvation”. And whether that’s a small group of ONE congregation today, or a group of millions over 500 years makes little difference. It’s still ALL man’s opinion of what you “MUST believe” in order to be “saved”.
The Jews had THEIR ideas of what one needed to believe and do to please God. Jesus certainly challenged those. But then the disciples/apostles chose their OWN lines (for good or bad) for how one came to be “in Christ”. Paul, whom I consider to be the first “Christian universalist”, made some brilliant statements towards the inclusion of all, but STILL struggled with who was “saved” and who was “lost”.
I don’t think there ARE any lines, people. Everyone is “in Christ” because it’s not OUR choice that made for our inclusion. It was God’s plan from the beginning to “win us back” (reconcile us) to His heart after mankind decided that following rules would bring them back into favor with a God they decided was distant, authoritarian and retributive. Jesus challenged all THOSE ideas, too, and then showed us what God REALLY looks like — an innocent man, hanging on a cross at humanity’s  hand, who comes back and proclaims peace rather than “justice” (vengeance) over mankind.
We are ALL included in the plan. There’s only knowing that you are vs. still being blind to the truth of it. The “sheep” and the “goats” (kids) are all of us and we are all at some times more “sheep” and at others more “goat”, but God’s love keeps refining away our “goat” attitudes and showing us that we are REALLY His sheep and always have been. We just “forgot”… or were lied to.
So, stop drawing lines and start recognizing the face of Christ in every person you meet, including your OWN in the mirror, whether they are considered “in” or “out” by the mass of “Christendom” or not. And let them KNOW that they are God’s precious sheep and He loves them, and is only FOR them. Especially this time of year when God declared His “GOODWILL” (favor, kindness, mercy, love) toward man by giving us an example of who He is in human flesh, so that we can learn and then also be Him in human flesh to the rest of our brothers and sisters.

Of Forgiveness and Taxes

Imagine this scenario of you will…

You are in a coma. You have been for some time and are completely unaware of your surroundings.

Now imagine while you are “out” the President and Congress passes a sweeping tax reform bill for our country. It is announced that beginning in 2019 everyone will pay a simple flat tax of 12% (I just pulled that number out of the air, so don’t read any significance into it).

Now let’s say that sometime early next year you come out of your coma and after a few weeks of therapy, you are ready to return to your former life, job and all.

But you are unaware of the tax law changes.

Now, let’s assume, for the sake of argument alone, that when told about the tax reform and the new rate. A rate that will save you significantly on your tax bill, you simply refuse to believe it. It’s just “too good to be true”. You request that your taxes be taken out at the same rate as they have always been “just in case”. Maybe you mistrust the government. Who knows? The point is you are paying something you no longer owe simply because you refuse to believe that you don’t have to pay it.

But isn’t this what mainstream Christianity teaches we should do?

It is said that Jesus “paid” the debt of sin to God on your behalf. But if you don’t BELIEVE that, then you have to pay the debt YOURSELF in the form of punishment in Hell for eternity. Basically, if you don’t BELIEVE Jesus secured your forgiveness, then you are not forgiven.

But let’s go back to our real-world scenario. If the tax reform was passed, then those taxes are NOT owed. It makes NO difference what a person BELIEVES about the taxes they think they should pay. If the government has declared a certain rate, then that is ALL they are going to accept. Anything you pay over that will be returned to you, because that is not your debt. In other words, your BELIEF does not change the REALITY of the tax rate. So, why does your belief change your state of forgiveness? If Jesus paid it all, for all humanity, then how could OUR will, our stubbornness or ignorance be stronger than that act of reality? If OUR belief is the linchpin on which forgiveness rests, then wouldn’t we, in the act of believing, an act of OUR will, be effectively saving OURSELVES?

I submit that OUR wills do not make for reality. Jesus PAID the debt. The debt that the LAW demanded — blood. Forgiveness was secured. Whether you or I BELIEVE that fact does not CHANGE the fact. It changes our RESPONSE to that fact, our ability to live in the knowledge of that fact, but not the fact itself. I can continue to pay the old tax rate if I am stubborn enough to, but that doesn’t force the government to take my money. It doesn’t change what IS.

Our faith is for US, not for God. Our faith allows US to accept and live in the forgiveness we’ve ALREADY been given. It does not “allow” God to forgive us. God forgives because He’s God, not because of what we believe, say or do.

So next time someone tries to convince you that your faith is REQUIRED to effect God’s forgiveness (or love or grace or anything else), remind them of this little analogy. Faith believes what is real (truth). It changes SUBJECTIVE reality (what I think and feel), not OBJECTIVE reality.

In Pursuit of “Truth”

We REALLY want to be right.

Especially in the West, I think this is one of the most important things for people today. Certainly on social media it seems that way. We our literally obsessed with having OUR truth equal objective truth, and we will go to great lengths to prove that it does.

The cry of “fake news” is all about this. We want news that we believe is provable, objective truth, or we label it “fake”.

Even this week’s Trump incident is all about finding out the truth. I think short of a recording of the word (not likely) we will never have more than “he said/he said” to go on. It’s just a matter of who’s story you find most convincing or whom you trust more, which of course, is gonna be different for different folks. But the cry from many is “prove it or go home”. In other words, give me the objective truth or I won’t believe it.

Even in religion, including if not primarily Christianity (in it’s popular form) it’s claimed that having a lack of objective truth WILL ultimately land you in some kind of “bad place”. So, we MUST get things right. It is imperative. Eternity depends on our knowledge of objective truth.

But is this really GOD’S goal for us? Does God expect us to make sure that everything we believe is objective truth? Or else?

I’m not so sure.

Now Jesus DID say He was the way, the truth and the life. (If the Bible is to be believed — let’s just go with “yes” for the sake of our discussion here.)

But the word translated as “truth” is better rendered as “reality”. And notice He didn’t say He SPOKE truth (more on this later), but that He WAS truth (reality). As is common in Jewish thought the “way”, “truth” and “life” are really all about the same idea. So Jesus was saying that HE (His “essence”) was REALITY, was the WAY to be, and was what LIFE was really about. In other words, He was declaring that He was the perfect example for how humanity should see the world and live their lives. He was the REAL WAY OF LIVING!

So, that’s not so much about objective truth, as about a life-changing shift in thinking and “being”. It is “true” because of the fruit it brings to your life, the RESULTS. Jesus said we would be known by our LOVE, not by our TRUTH. Living the “Jesus way” leads to love, and Jesus declared over and over that this was the ultimate goal.

Now, let’s get back to what Jesus said and believed. Was all of it 100% objective truth? We sure want to think so. Why? Because then we have a “standard” to follow for our OWN objective truth claims (at least on the subject of faith). This objective truth standard has then filtered down from Jesus to the Bible, and THIS has now becomes the source of objective truth for most of the Protestant church in the West. If it’s in the Bible, it equals objective truth. If Jesus said (or can be shown to have believed it), it is objective truth. That’s the view that few would challenge.

But I don’t think it’s true. And I don’t think that’s a big problem, either.

Many things in the Bible have fallen on “hard times” in the area of being provable as objective truth. Some will deny that this is so, but that’s only because their very afterlives depend on it. You cannot threaten to pull the foundation of someone’s spiritual life down without expecting a fight. But if we’re really honest, we have to admit the “evidence” is sparse if not non-existent for some of the historical events and people found in scripture.

But Jesus BELIEVED these things (as far as we can tell), so they MUST be true, right?

Well, yes, and no. They certainly COULD be objective truth. Lack of empirical evidence doesn’t DISCLAIM them, but merely casts doubt. But what matters is that to Jesus, they WERE true. They were true to every other Jew of His time, as well. This was the culture that He was born into and was taught from. This was the truth that He knew. As a man, He only had TWO sources of truth — those around Him (His culture/upbringing), and the indwelling Spirit (which likely did not fully “engage” with Him until His baptism) that brought Him revelation as He needed it. Unless the Spirit CONTRADICTED His learned cultural truth, it was still TRUE to Him.

Therefore, there were no lies or deceit in His mouth when He referred to events and people that may or may not have empirically existed, because to HIM, they were “true”. We do the same thing, within our own cultural context. You can see this all over social media. We share the truth WE believe. Sure we would LIKE for it to line up with objective truth (and will argue that it does, presenting whatever facts we believe support us). But for MANY things, we can’t really KNOW. And neither did Jesus. He believed what He was told and what made sense in His culture. If this is not true, then He was not really a man at all. Men can only know the truth they have been taught, either by other men, or by the Spirit’s revelation. Jesus was not given ALL knowledge, as Christ He had laid that ability aside. He was only given the knowledge it was necessary for Him to have to proclaim the message He was here to share. He used the historical things He BELIEVED (and that would have also related to His audience) as a vehicle to convey greater, Spirit-revealed, truths.

Had He KNOWN all truth, and attempted to correct every detail of their historical narrative, he would have been so out of touch with reality (as they understood it) that He would have seemed completely insane and/or a liar (by their understanding of truth). It was hard enough for them to grasp the message of love and reconciliation, etc. that He was sharing without dismantling their historical narratives in the name of declaring only objective truth. It didn’t MATTER if He ALWAYS spoke objective truth. What mattered was that He communicated the subjective experience (the “way/truth/life”) He had with the Father to them, and demonstrated what that relationship MEANT and how to apply that in practical ways. In other words, His real way of living (eternal life, Kingdom living) was the most important truth, not objective truth.

Unfortunately, we have totally lost this knowing through unknowing in the church. We seek for, COMPETE for, and divide and separate our world, including the church, based on truths that WE believe, but can rarely if ever really know for sure that they match objective truth.  But God’s desire for us is to seek HIM, His way/truth/life. That may not look EXACTLY the same in your life as it does in mine. We may even believe different “objective truths”, because we will be at different places in our “way/truth/life” journey. God gives us what’s best for US in the now. We aren’t yet ready for the truth we will receive in ten, twenty or thirty years down the line. But we keep seeking, knowing He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  And we do not unite within the body around our particular understanding of objective truth. That’s the way of the world, constantly dividing and sub-dividing based on conformity of beliefs. We are united by the life-changing love that flows from Jesus’ real way of living.

So, seek ye first His kingdom (life/way/truth), and all these things will be added unto you (ie. the revelation you need will be given to you in due time). Pursue JESUS, not (empirical) truth. He’s all the truth you will ever need.

“I Deserve God’s Grace”

[This phrase popped into my head this morning while I was waiting for the kids to get out of school. What surprised me was the immediate negative feeling I had when contemplating it. Exploring that feeling and the reasons for it led to this blog post.]

I deserve God’s grace.

Did that bother you at all that I said that? Does it maybe raise your “religious hackles” to hear me say (or anyone for that matter) that we DESERVE anything from God? Well, except judgement, wrath and Hell, of course. We’ve heard that PLENTY all our lives from the church. It’s only because of Jesus, and our acceptance of Him, that we don’t get all that stuff that we DO deserve, and THAT, is said, is grace. But I think we’ve been lied to. Or, at the least, been given a half-truth. Let’s look closer at this. I think you MIGHT come away from this article feeling OK with saying that you DO really DESERVE God’s grace.

First of all, let’s define terms. “Grace” — what is it? Well “dictionary.com” defines it as “favor or goodwill”, “mercy, clemency, pardon”.

In church, the definition I was taught was “undeserved favor” OR “unmerited favor”. You’re probably going, “Well, look, right there it SAYS ‘undeserved’, so HOW can you possibly DESERVE grace?” Well, because I think ‘undeserved’ is not the same as ‘unmerited’ and has crept into our vernacular over time. “Unmerited” means that you didn’t EARN it or WIN it, perform some task, fulfill some promise, etc., etc.. But “undeserved” doesn’t mean the same thing. You can deserve something without having EARNED it, simply by being who you are. For instance, the President DESERVES respect. You may not want to GIVE it to him because of his actions, but he DESERVES it by nature of his office. He didn’t EARN it, as it wasn’t HIS actions that got him the position. He, in a sense, was “gifted” the position, and WITH that position comes certain “perks”, and one of those is respect.

In the same way, we, because of who WE are, DESERVE God’s grace.

And there goes those hackles again. I know. I felt them, too. But let me explain.

We deserve God’s grace not because we did or can EVER do anything to “merit” it, but because of who He made us to be. He formed us IN HIS image and calls us ALL His “children.” Yes, even those of us who are currently “astray”. To be “lost” implies ownership. We are all belong to Him, and nothing we do can change that. We can DENY His Fathership over us but that changes nothing. And with that “position” as God’s child comes certain “perks”. And these are God’s unconditional love, His mercy AND His grace. These are a given, a reality that exists whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. God FAVORS you. In the words of the character of “God” in The Shack, He “is especially fond” of you, and me, and every one of us. At Jesus’ birth, the angels declared, “Peace, goodwill on earth, on whom His favor rests.” That’s not JUST a collective statement. It goes for EACH person. God’s favor (GRACE) rests on YOU. Because you, as part of mankind — God’s special, Spirit-breathed creation — DESERVE that grace and love because of who you are to God, your value to Him. And nothing you do will change that for the worse OR for the better. Nothing will earn you LESS of God’s grace. Nothing will earn you MORE of God’s grace. Because it’s not about YOU, but about who you are to HIM. And, by extension, who EVERYONE you meet is to God.

So, learn to be OK with DESERVING God’s grace. AND learn to give your OWN grace to everyone you meet, because, regardless of THEIR actions, they ALSO deserve God’s grace. Say it out loud. Not as a matter of PRIDE (cause you didn’t do anything), but as a matter of confidence (trust) in God. You can KNOW that God is FOR you, favoring you, desiring your best, because you are His precious child.

And you deserve it. 🙂

On Salvation, The Gospel & Imputed Righteousness

While folding some laundry this morning (typical weekend chore), I had a nice “chat” with the Holy Spirit on a variety of topics. It was like a stream of conscious that was interrupted here and there by a thought from the Spirit that then led me in some new directions (for me). I apologize for the length, but I hope, if you take the time, you will be blessed as I was.

My first thoughts were about the subtle difference between the church’s idea of salvation and the salvation that Jesus provided. They seem so close, in fact, I was thinking it was so close that maybe it doesn’t REALLY matter if people believe the traditional paradigm. I mean, the result — a heart that understands the love of God — is the same, right?

Actually, no, the Spirit convicted me and impressed on me that I need to tell the truth, even if it is uncomfortable.

The church’s idea of salvation, the one that you will hear from 95% of pulpits today is based on this: We are saved by grace through faith. Sounds great. Sounds “right”. It fleshes out something like this… When we believe in Jesus, which means believing a litany of things about Him: His Godhood. His sinlessness. His love of humanity. His act of sacrifice in our place on the cross, we are saved. The cross is where He took the world’s sin upon Himself, so that God could punish HIM for our sin instead of us, and in that act we could be forgiven and have the righteousness of Jesus cover our own sin. Believing ALL of that and recognizing your place, your NEED of it, allows God to forgive YOU personally and accept you (adopt you) as His child. To simplify… believe in Jesus (as described above) and be saved (be forgiven/accepted by God). Your repentance and belief results in your salvation by God. Again. Sounds good, sounds right, right? Well, yeah, it’s what we’ve always been told.

But it is wrong. So subtly wrong. We are saved by our faith yes, but it is not the faith that causes or allows God to save us. We are saved THROUGH (via the process of) our faith. It is not the faith which allows God to change our position before Him. It is our faith that allows us to see our ALREADY (and before time) position before Him, where before we DIDN’T see/believe it. Our faith is not just in what happened on the cross. Our faith is in what that TELLS us about who God is and what He thinks of us. And when we BELIEVE that God really does love and forgive us no matter what we do (including killing Him), then we are saved from what we USED to believe about Him (our foolish ideas about God as judge looking to punish us for wrongs done which offend Him). What we are saved from is not “Hell”, or God’s wrath (directly), or punishment, but our FALSE ideas. And when we have FAITH, we are dispelling/denying/repenting of (changing our minds) about those ideas and agreeing with who JESUS says and PROVED on the cross that God IS.

Such a subtle difference, but it means SO much because it changes how we see God. And THAT is the crux of being “saved”. Our false view of God is the “SIN” that Jesus came to save His people from. There is more to it, more details, more to unpack, but that is the “big picture” paradigm shift that we experience at “salvation”. And that brings me to the 2nd thought I had today.

We have “the gospel” wrong.

Traditionally the gospel is said to be the cross. The sacrifice, and the EXCHANGE that happened — our sin for His righteousness — is the good news. That we can appear righteous before God (and be accepted) because God punished our sins in JESUS, instead of in us.

But that’s NOT the good news (gospel) at all.

I submit that the GOSPEL was declared LONG before the cross. The gospel was declared at the incarnation. At Jesus’ birth. When the heavenly hosts said, “Peace, goodwill towards men, on whom His favor rests.” THAT is the gospel. God ALREADY favors (accepts/delights) in us. God ALREADY has nothing but GOOD in store for us (not punishment or wrath) and God is in the process of bringing PEACE to the world through His Son, and not JUST “spiritual peace” between God and man, but actual, practical world-changing, life-saving, war-ending peace.

It started when Jesus was born, and that is STILL the gospel message. God’s peace, God’s favor, God’s goodness. For you. Right here and now.

So how does the cross fit in?

The cross PROVED that this was true. The cross proved that even though we were allowed (Jesus laid down His life) to kill our OWN God, that when He rose again and came back, the first thing He said was to repeat what was said the day He was born, “Peace be with you.”. NOTHING you do will change the good news of God’s favor, goodness and peace. The good news is that we had God wrong, but NOW we can see, because of Jesus and because of the cross, what God is REALLY like and how He REALLY feels towards us. Mankind killing Jesus was not “good news”. It was a horrible act. But it is what God felt was necessary to PROVE to us who He really was.

What’s so bad is that now we found a way to believe in the cross, but STILL miss who God is. Not only that, but now we have used the cross to ENFORCE our terrible image of God as judge and punisher of evil, and have made Him into a child-sacrificer to boot. How BAD can we make Him look? How far short of His glory CAN we fall in disparaging His good reputation? We have TWISTED the cross and twisted God’s image in the process. And most everyone believes this is the truth. It almost makes me believe in the devil again because it’s such a subtle, but deadly deception that has totally derailed the gospel message of God’s peace, goodwill and favor toward man.

It’s time to RECLAIM the true gospel that was declared to man when Jesus arrived here. God’s favor rests on you. You, as you are. Not you as religion wants to MAKE you so God will accept you. Not you who believes just the “right things” about Jesus so God doesn’t have to avert His eyes from your loathsomeness. But you RIGHT NOW. THIS news will transform lives. I know because it has mine. It has given me such a love for God and for humanity that I never even understood before. I always believed I loved, but now I can see how superficial (though sincere) that love really was, because it was still based on a God who is looking to ERADICATE evil and punish and torture all those who break His moral standards.

And you can’t really love a God who tortures people. You can SAY you do, but it’s half-hearted at best, even if you BELIEVE it is whole-hearted. I know, again, because I’ve EXPERIENCED it. You can only see it from the OTHER side. (Yeah, I know how ‘conceited’ that sounds, but I’m really being sincere here). I couldn’t see how “weak” my love of God was until I really understood who He is and how much He loves me.

You cannot love humanity, when you think the majority of them are lost forever because of their depraved state before God. You can PITY them, yes, but pity is NOT love. Pity does not give them the intrinsic worth and love that God gives them AS THEY ARE, “evil” and all. Yes, INTRINSIC worth, not IMPUTED worth. Which brings me to my third, final and most profound thought of the day.

The traditional view of “imputed righteousness” says that when Jesus died for our sins, He took them on Himself and gave US His righteousness, so that when God looks at US (if we’ve “accepted Christ”), He sees Jesus’ righteousness instead of our sin. It’s kind of like we are wearing a Jesus-cloak of righteousness that covers up our “filthy rags” of sin. But let’s examine this idea more closely.

The first problem is our misunderstanding of the word “righteous” or “righteousness”. We have equated this with “sinless” and “sinlessness” or “perfect goodness” or “purity”. And the word CAN be used that way in Greek, but it’s meaning is much more about trajectory than about purity. Righteousness is “going in the right direction”. That’s what the word actually means. If you were travelling down the road, and you stopped and asked for directions, and found out you were headed the wrong way, you were “unrighteous” (headed in the wrong direction). You needed to be made righteous (ie. JUSTIFIED, adjusted) and placed in the right direction (made righteous), so that then, as you continued your journey, you would be displaying “righteousness” in being headed in the right direction, and people could actually follow YOU if they wanted to know the right way to go. THIS is the picture of what righteousness is.

God is ALWAYS righteous, always headed in the right direction, towards peace, goodwill and love. His desire is to make us righteous, as well. To place us in the right direction, with the right goals. Now go back through your Bible and read all those verses that talk about righteousness and insert this idea into them and be amazed at how much sense they make. Not EVERY verse will work, as there are other words that have been translated as righteousness in the Bible. But most will work with this “going in the right direction” meaning. No, really, go look some up. I’ll wait. 🙂

So, then, how does this affect the idea of “imputed righteousness”? Can you only LOOK like your headed in the right direction, but not REALLY be righteous yourself? No. Jesus doesn’t just make us LOOK righteous. He places us in the right direction (justifies us), so we ARE headed in the right direction.

Then I started thinking about the idea of wearing Jesus righteousness like a garment. There’s a verse that says to “put on” the breastplate of righteousness. So I was thinking about whether there were any other places in the Bible where putting on a garment had to do with changing or going a particular direction. And the Spirit brought Elijah’s cloak to mind. Elijah passed his cloak on to Elisha in the old Bible story. However, my mind immediately dismissed this as I have always been taught that the cloak represented God’s power and authority being passed from Elijah to Elisha and that had nothing to do with going in a particular direction.

I continued thinking about this idea of righteousness being about being headed in the right direction, and thinking if about how FAITH puts us in the right direction (is counted as righteousness). When Abraham BELIEVED God, that God would make him a great nation and give him a land, he started out on a JOURNEY, both spiritually and physically, with God. He started on a particular trajectory. He was “made righteous” (placed on a certain path with a certain goal) THROUGH his faith. He certainly wasn’t thought of as “good” as in pure or morally perfect. Far from it. He made awful choices. God wasn’t OVERLOOKING those because Abraham believed in Him. His righteousness was not about what he did, but the TRAJECTORY of his life.

And then AGAIN, the Spirit brought up the cloak of Elijah. And I said, “OK, how does this fit, God, because I don’t see it?”

And then, I did.

The cloak of Elijah was how Elisha was COMMISSIONED, how he was “chosen” for the task as a prophet of God. When he took on the cloak, he took on the job, the mission, the PATH that was set before him by God. He “put on” his righteousness, because the cloak put him on the path that would determine the rest of his life. My jaw dropped. This is how Jesus “imputes” His righteousness to us. He gives us HIS commission to be HIS ambassadors of reconciliation. To continue down the path that He showed us. The path, the trajectory, of peace, goodwill and love towards mankind. And we “take up” this cloak (or breastplate), when we BELIEVE in the message of Jesus, in the Gospel. When we ACCEPT the commission (the way pointed out) of Jesus.

Our faith is counted as righteousness. I hope this blessed you today.

The Oft-Maligned Innkeeper

(Note: this was first posted on my Facebook on Dec. 8, 2014, before I had a blog. I thought it was appropriate to add it here during the Christmas season.)

Ah, Christmas!

The blessed baby. The virgin mother. The proud, but confused father. The excited shepherds. The majestic (if out of place) “wise men”. The lovely angels.

And the stingy, no-good innkeeper. 😦

We see him in all the Christmas pageants where the story is acted out. Everybody’s thrilled about Jesus, but THAT guy. I mean, what IS his problem anyway? Why does this “Scrooge” show up in the story?

Or does he?

We get the idea of an innkeeper from ONE verse in the Bible. Yep. ONE VERSE.

Luke 2:7: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Well, if there was “no room”, then SOMEBODY had to tell them that, right? So, it must have been that stingy innkeeper, who was apparently SO stressed out that he would turn away a pregnant woman about to give birth.

Never mind the fact that to do so would have been anathema in Jewish society, where taking care of travelers and guests was one of the MOST important things you could do. For a PREGNANT women, an innkeeper would have likely given up his OWN bed. If word of such a slight had got around, his inn would have been “out of business” in days.

But the idea of Mary and Joseph going to an inn is flawed in the first place.

The Greek word translated as “inn” is ‘kataluma’. But kataluma would be better translated “guest room”. In fact, most modern translations actually are now using that word. The only other time the word is used is in Mark 14:14-15 “And wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples? And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.”

This is referring to the “upper room” where Jesus and the disciples had The Last Supper.

Houses (at least of fairly well-to-do people) of that time were two-stories. On the first floor there would be a central courtyard where the animals were kept at night. Around this area would be common rooms, the kitchen, servants quarters, etc. On the upper floors (away from the dust) were the bedrooms, and the “guest room(s)”. As I said, hospitality was a BIG thing back then, and most houses had an available guest room both for relatives and friends or a stranger or sojourner. This was the norm. Not having a room for a stranger to stay in would have been a “bad thing”.

(Typical middle eastern floor plan.)

While we have no direct evidence, odds would favor the fact that both Joseph AND Mary had relatives IN Bethlehem. They were going there for the census, so it was his hometown. We also know that Elizabeth and Zachariah lived “in the hill country of Judea”. This COULD have been near Bethlehem. It makes sense, because Zachariah, as a priest in the temple, probably would not have owned property IN the city proper, but settled just on the outskirts of town. This would have also have made it fairly easy for the shepherds to find the babe, as well. Regardless of whether it was Elizabeth’s house or another relative, it makes more than a little sense that they were planning to stay with relatives, not going to an “inn”.

But “while they were there” (which could have been two hours or two weeks), it was time for her to give birth. I tend to go with a shorter time, because if they KNEW she was going to deliver, whomever was IN the guest room would most probably have given it to Mary. But if they did arrive late at night, and everyone was sleeping, Mary probably told them NOT to wake up the household, and that she would be fine downstairs in the courtyard area (with the animals), at least until the morning. Maybe she couldn’t even climb the ladder/stairs to the upper floors in her condition. (I’ll also note here that it’s quite likely she delivered earlier than expected due to the stressful journey there. They would have likely planned to travel AFTER the baby was born if she had been THAT close to delivering.) It’s also more than likely there would have been at least ONE other family member up with them, and probably some servants as well. They were not completely alone in this, like the romanticized story depicts. If they had been, the shepherds would have been mortified at such a thing, and would have taken them to their OWN homes. In the morning, the family would have been moved to an “upper guest room” and they would have stayed there until the child was old enough to travel. This COULD be the very house that the “wise men” visited after the baby became a “young child”.

But my point is…. NO innkeeper. NO “Scrooges” during the night of His birth. No abandoned mother and father. Jewish hospitality ensured that Mary and Joseph would have been well taken care of by family and baby Jesus was surrounded by those who were happy He was there. No grumps allowed!

So let there be “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Even innkeepers. 🙂

Did Solomon Lose His Wisdom?

(This post is inspired by a conversation I had with my wife, Jen, this morning in the car. Thank, babe.)


We all know his story.

God asked him what he most wanted, and he (wisely) choose wisdom with which to rule the people. God declared he hit the jackpot with that answer and give him not JUST wisdom, but riches, power, peace. Just about everything a king could ever want. Solomon did it all, experienced everything the ancient world had to offer. And at the end of his life he said it was all “vanity” (worthless) compared to knowing God, compared to having a relationship with Him.

According to the scriptures, Solomon made some bad mistakes that resulted in the Kingdom being taken from his son’s hands, broken, and the people eventually going into captivity. This was said to be a punishment for falling away and worshiping other gods besides Jehovah. And eventually, when they learned their lesson, many, MANY years later, they were allowed to come back to the land and restore it. This is the story of a LARGE portion of the OT. Most of the history books, some of the poetry and several of the prophetic books are concerning this time period.

So, quick recap. Solomon becomes king. Asks God for wisdom. Gets it “all”. Experiences it “all”. Part of the all is “other gods”. Solomon declares all the all worthless. The kingdom is taken from his son and broken. Israel goes into captivity. They “learn their lesson” and eventually return to restore “God’s ways”. That’s the basic narrative.

When reading ANY book, especially a book filled with history, it’s important to remember who is writing the narrative. No matter who it is, they are BOUND to be biased. There’s an old saying that, “The winners write the history books.” and it’s pretty true. When you are the writer, you will likely spin the story however you want to make your nation/tribe “the hero” (sometimes even when you lose). You can see this even in our OWN history books, and we tend to favor scientific objectivity over everything else. Not so in the ancient world.

Now most scholars agree that much of the historical writings of Israel were written during their time of exile. Sure, they had bits and pieces and records here and there, but a large portion up until that time was oral tradition passed down to each generation. One reason was because, well, writing was just starting to take off during Solomon’s time. In Moses’ time, they still wrote things on stone blocks (Ten Commandments) if they wanted them to last for awhile. They simply didn’t have a way to record huge amounts of text on “paper” (especially since it hadn’t been invented yet). So, Moses didn’t “write the Bible” (sorry, Keith Green). Israel’s early history was passed via oral traditions. I know to US it seem incredible that SO much information as is included in Leviticus, Numbers, etc. could be memorized and reproduced orally, but that was the “way it was done” back then. Besides doing the necessary things for survival, they didn’t have very much else TO do except learn to recite their traditions.

However, by the time they get to the exile, they want, they NEED, to not lose their tribal identity (something the Babylonians very much tried to take from them – hence the new names, customs, etc.), and so they began to write down their traditions in EARNEST as a way to safeguard it for future generations  So a great work of gathering, cataloging and writing down their history to that point (along with other writings – prophecies, poetry, songs, etc.) was begun and probably took a great many years. It may have even been done by different groups working independently. Hence the reason we have Kings AND Chronicles. Both these tell about the same time period, but have both the same and different things going on in them. They tell the story from different perspectives. Still, it’s amazing how strikingly similar they are. A testament to those who came before them.

So, let’s go back to the PURPOSE again for these writings. It was to establish a NATIONAL IDENTITY for the people of Israel. To help them remember “who they are” and their unique relationship with God. It was this history that they took back with them in order to reestablish Jerusalem, the wall, the temple and everything around that. This was their “guidebook” for who they were as a people.

So, their “agenda” was not 100% historical accuracy, but to establish identity and solidarity with the one true God. That doesn’t mean they LIED on purpose to make themselves look good. They didn’t THINK along those lines. They weren’t “historians” as we would understand that term. They didn’t think scientifically and empirically. They thought TRIBALISTICALLY and ONTOLOGICALLY (‘big picture’ truths). They NEEDED to be different, set apart, special and uniquely “in touch” with God.

It’s important to recognize this when you read the Bible so you understand what’s going on in the head of the writers. They’re not trying to tell you “the truth”, but who they ARE in their writings. They are imparting their identity to their children and children’s children. They are saying “Look, this is what you come from. Live accordingly.” All ancient cultures do this in their writings, stories, traditions. It’s the story of the PEOPLE, not the FACTS, that is MOST important.

OK, Ken, are you EVER going to get to the POINT of this post?

Why, yes, I believe I am. ALL of the proceeding we now need to keep in mind as we read the story and writings concerning Solomon.

So, Solomon is approached BY GOD. (That’s important to them, God speaks to THEM.) and asked what he most wants. He answers to rule the PEOPLE wisely. Again, see right from the beginning how it’s about the PEOPLE, the TRIBE. God grants him this desire and also blesses him with all the rest, the wealth, the status, the women, etc., etc. and a wonderful time of peace for Israel.  This was their “glory years”, when they were the envy of much of the world. Princes and princesses, kings and queens visited, leaving tribute and Solomon welcomed them all. He was the great gatherer, of both people (probably marrying into MANY royal lines)  and ideas. He promoted the sharing of ideas and peace in the world. Even God said he would be a man of peace. He opened the country to foreigners and allowed them to not just stay but to worship their OWN gods if they so chose. How scandalous. How WRONG.

Oh, but WAIT!

Isn’t Solomon supposed to be WISE, by God’s granting? If it was SO unwise for him to be this “open” with his people and his country, why would he have made this decision? Did God take BACK his wisdom? If so, why didn’t He take back all the REST of the gifts. Why allow Solomon to be “foolish” and allow such “inclusion” to become the practice in the land?

Remember, the “goal” of the writings of this time was to solidify the connection between the one true God and the people. To keep them “free” and “pure” of any other outside influences (“other gods”). The only way to do this is to make Solomon’s ideas to be “idolatry”, to be “wrong”. and ultimately to be the reason why God “punished” Israel with captivity.

Oh, but you say, “Solomon said all the stuff he did was worthless, which would include the other gods/religions/etc., right?”

Yes, BUT we need to see the CONTEXT of his proclamation. He said they were all vain in COMPARISON to knowing God. That doesn’t mean they have NO value. It means knowing God, understanding God, having a relationship with God is the MOST important which makes the rest pale by comparison. So, Solomon ALWAYS had his priorities right. He knew God was the MOST important thing. So, was Solomon still wise? I think so. So was he wise when he promoted inclusivity and peace throughout the world, especially within his own borders? I have to say, “yes”. So was this why Israel was “punished” with captivity? I’m thinking probably not. To THEM, yes, of course, it probably SEEMED that way. I’m sure their were many who SAID God was going to punish them for their “liberal ways” (just as we hear a lot about now). And we humans have always tried to see the reasons behind everything that happens to us, generally laying the “blame” at God’s feet as the ultimate bringer of both good and bad. So, if “God” did it, He had to have a reason, and those naysayers must have been right after all. We do the same things today.

But, let’s recall, Solomon ran his country PEACEFULLY with the world, bringing peoples together in harmony. But he was ALSO highly respected (not FEARED, but respected) by the rest of the world for his great wisdom. But after he died, that respect did not transfer to his son. They were a people who no longer knew war, who desired that everyone just get along and share. But after the kingdom split they became directionless and weak, militarily speaking. As an empire “ripe” from many years of peace, it was only a matter of time before somebody came in and picked the fruit and they were easily taken over and away by the Babylonian and later, the Assyrian empires

At that point, the cry for inclusivity (led by Solomon) turned to one of EXCLUSIVITY. God is for US. We are for God. We are united as a people due to our exclusive covenant with God. The rest of the world is “evil”. Peace became a dead dream of the past and Israel’s driving passion became to be a military power again someday, like it was under the “good ole days” of David. And so it continued till the days of Christ.

However, it’s interesting to note how, in all their time of exile, they continued to bring the light of God to other empires (even those like Darius, who already knew there MUST be a one, true God, but just didn’t understand Him). God used their captivity to do the SAME thing that Solomon did during HIS reign, to SHARE their knowledge of God with the world and to learn to live and work with “foreigners” (even while they cried for exclusivity in their writings).

Now, what will you take away from this. I think you will probably take away whatever you already come to this article with.

If you see God as exclusive, only “saving” those who believe the right way about Him, and that being INCLUSIVE is dangerous, makes God angry and invites His punishment, then you will see this story from the “traditional” viewpoint. The viewpoint it was arguably written from, in order to sell  a particular tribalistic way of thinking.

However, if you see God as inclusive, arms open, wanting the people of the world to unite, taking the best from every culture, every religion (but not abandoning God – just as Solomon never did) and using it all for the betterment of mankind, to wisely alleviate suffering and bring peace to the world, then you might see this story differently than you ever have before.

Did Solomon lose his wisdom? No, I don’t think so. But have WE (humanity) lost his wisdom, and, I think, the same wisdom that Christ shared? I very much think so.