Archive for July 2007

Dr. Crane on Exodus

July 30, 2007

The following is part of a note I sent to a friend with whom I was discussing Exodus 14:13: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” A discussion on Christo-centric thinking ensued, and over the course of many days. At one point, I sent him this note:

I was thinking about these things, and it suddenly struck me, like a bolt from heaven!, that I’d heard Frasier Crane comment on this topic. I poured through the old Seattle station records, and found this transcript:

Frasier (in most mellifluous voice): Hello, caller. I’m listening.

Male Caller (in frustrated, angry voice): I’m going to knock some heads together! Somebody’s going to get flattened, I tell you. I’m tired of all this crap! I’m not going to take it any more!

Frasier: Easy, Caller. What’s the source of your anger?

Caller: Everything! Things aren’t going so well at work, you know, and every day I think I’m going to be canned. My wife is more interested in hanging out with her girlfriends than me, and now my daughter is flunking out of college. I work and work and work and nobody’s satisfied. There’s no pleasing anybody. I’ve tried marriage counseling, I’ve gone to work seminars, and I’ve talked to my daughter ‘til I’m blue in the face, and nothing is changing! My world is falling apart, and I’m going crazy! I work 80 hours a week to please my boss, and then I drive 10 hours to help my daughter move dorm furniture around, and my wife says I’m not available to her! So I go to counseling with her, and what a waste of time that is – no offense, doctor!

Frasier: None taken.

Caller: I don’t know what else there is to do. I don’t know who I am any more. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat; everywhere there are voices hollering at me to do more! I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I can’t get the voice out of my head! I want to explode, and I think somebody is going to get hurt. What do I do?

Frasier: It sounds to me like maybe you shouldn’t do anything.

Caller (screaming): What the [bleeped] do you mean, saying that? Don’t you care about my problem? What kind of [bleep bleep bleep] therapist are you?

Frasier (calm, soothing, unflappable): What I’m saying is that you’re in danger of losing yourself in all the noise of all you are doing. You need a break. You need the world to take a time-out. You need to recover you.

Caller: (pause) Yeah, that sounds good.

Frasier: There’s too much noise in your life right now. Doctors, bosses, family, everybody is shouting at you. You can’t hear your inner voice. You can’t listen. So, here’s what to do: unplug your computer, turn off your Blackberry or leave your cellphone on the table. Take the weekend off. Go find a raft on a lake. Let the only noise you hear be the sound of the Beachboys. Breathe. Reflect. Listen to yourself. Get in touch with a higher power if you believe in one. Reconnect.

Caller: That sounds REAL good.

Frasier: And when you get back, make sure you don’t turn all the noise back on. Tell your boss you’re not available 24/7. If you don’t have Caller ID on your phone, get it. Go back to therapy with your wife, but tell her you also need a golf game or two, and a quiet night of jazz with a nice aperitif (or, if you prefer, beer, pizza and football) to match every therapy session. Keep your life quiet. Take time to “know thyself” and then “to your own self be true.”

Caller: Thanks, doc. That’s the best advice I’ve ever had. You’re great. You’ve probably saved my life; you’ve surely saved somebody’s.

Frasier: (pleased but o so humble voice): You’re welcome, and thank you. Who’s next, Roz?

S____, I thought this was not too bad. I envisioned asking Frasier to come and speak at our church. I think lots of people would be pleased, and most of them would think it was pretty cool. Not everyone, of course; there are always some cranky folks no matter what. Some nit-picker would ask if we even knew if Frasier was a Christian. We just can’t escape people like that.

But I got to thinking that maybe your text says something MORE. Maybe Moses (maybe God) was trying to tell us something that even Frasier doesn’t get yet. I got to wondering what that might be. So I asked my friend Rabbi Kirschenhblum. He wrote me back the following note:

Tom, thanks for asking. The passage you asked about, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” is one of the most blessed passages in the Torah. I used it just the other day when I was speaking to a dear woman in our community, who was in immense grief. She had just lost her husband, a strong man of faith, and her 10-year old son in a car accident. She was broken, and confused, and even a bit angry. She said, “Why would God allow this to happen? Why? Why?”

My heart went out to her. She’s in the midst of tremendous calamity, and nothing makes sense. I shared with her that that is how Israel felt when God made them take a seeming wrong turn and they ended up backed up against the Red Sea, facing death and ruin…why? But Moses knew that God had been about proving Himself from the beginning, as One to be trusted, and the bringer of Salvation. All is never lost! Believe! It may not make sense now, but our God leads us like a shepherd. I gave to her some comfort from Psalm 77:

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me…

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted…

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?

…Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

…The waters saw you, O God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.

The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.

Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.

The pain is real, the doubts are natural. But we must not forget that God is leading, in oft mysterious ways where is footsteps cannot be traced. But he is still there, and the waters will part for us, and dry land will be there for us.

If I were in your pastor’s shoes, my eyes would run rivers for the pain and the tears his flock know. Surely many tragedies and calamities will be represented. Through my tears, I would urge them that God is good, that He is wise, and that He is to be trusted as One Who WILL rescue them. Without a doubt, they will know His deliverance. I would urge them to faith that does not fail.

Well, S____, I like Rabbi Kirschenhblum, and he did not disappoint. I imagine asking him to speak at our church, and I think he would go over even better than Frasier. He is such an empathic, compassionate man, and his faith is so great. I know people would be comforted, I know they would be encouraged, I know that tears of joy would follow the cries of pain. I think he might get an ovation. I don’t know if people would think he was cool, but I know they’d feel moved, for sure. And they’d go out wanting to trust God. This is a good thing, surely.

But I still got to wondering. Is there perhaps, even more? I mean, it was good and true, but shouldn’t we “Christians” be talking about “Christ” a little bit? But what would that mean, from this old passage? I thought maybe I was being ridiculous, but I wasn’t sure. I wished there was somebody I could ask who would know the WHOLE STORY.

My sleep was very troubled, as I pondered this issue. I tossed and turned and sweated (too much). But when I finally dropped off, I had the most wonderful dream!!! Moses himself came to speak with me, and explain what he had written!!!!!!! It was amazing! It was worth all these exclamation points! Here’s how it went:

Me: You! You’re…you’re….you’re MOSES!

Moses: Yea.

Me: Pardon?

Moses: Don’t you speak Hebrew?

Me: Umm…can you speak English? Not for me, you understand, it’s, umm…for my friends that might listen to this dream. Yeah, it’s for a friend…

Moses: Sure!

Me: Man, it must be awesome to be you! The things you’ve seen! The things you’ve done! The plagues, the Red Sea, thunder on the mountain, the 10 commandments…

Moses: Yeah, I guess.

Me: What do you mean? You don’t sound very enthused. Your life was amazing!!

Moses: Not so much as you think. The stuff people get all excited about wasn’t really where it was all at, you know what I mean?

Me: No, I don’t think I do? You mean you don’t think that when you saw Israel go through the Red Sea on dry ground, and then Pharoah’s army swallowed up…you don’t think that was the most amazing thing? You made up a song about it, right on the spot!

Moses: O, don’t get me wrong. It was extremely cool. In the moment, it was absolutely exhilarating. But it kind of dwindled out in perspective…

Me: What do you mean?

Moses: Well, think about Israel. 40 years later, when God took me up on Mt. Pisgah to show me all I could see before I died, the only two adults left that had walked through the Red Sea were Joshua and Caleb. Everyone else was dead….and I would be too, before we crossed into Canaan. Looking back from that perspective…it seemed a little, I don’t know…a little less, I guess. Do you know how many funerals I attended in those years? It was horribly, bitterly crazy.

And then I looked across the river to the Promised Land, and it was good and all, don’t get me wrong…but it was just land, and I knew it was soil that a lot more of them would die on. And I knew there’d be other enemies besides Egypt; what was the point of burying Pharoah in the Red Sea if Cushan Rishathaim and Eglon and Sennecharib and Nebuchadnezzar were just waiting in the wings, you know what I mean? There’s always another Pharoah. Somebody needed to do a bigger Rescue than that one there at the Red Sea. Somebody needed to do a rescue that would snatch them from EVERY Pharoah, and from death and dying.

Me: Well, err…

Moses: And that mess of a nation, they all said they’d obey God’s law, but the first thing they do is build themselves a golden calf and worship it! Unbelievable! They needed Rescuing all right; they needed rescuing from Egypt, and they needed rescuing from the desert, but most of all they needed rescuing from themselves! What was the point of it all?

Me: But, but…

Moses: And then, many years later, God raised me from the dead so I could have a chat with His Great Rescuer! He took me to another mountain, and brought Elijah, too, and I met the Saviour, the Messiah-Prophet, face to face! Now, THAT was amazing! He wanted to talk about the Exodus again…but you know, he wasn’t asking for advice or anything…we were just talking about how incredibly gloriously beautifully AWESOME it was going to be when he struck down every false power, tackled the devil and threw him down in his own den, and destroyed even death!! Yeah!! Now THAT’s awesome! You wanna talk excitement? He’s the ticket, believe me! He delivers a land that’s more then geography on a map, and he is the only Rescuer who has already defeated the powers that enslave and imprison us. He’s God, and He comes with God, so He can actually make the law live in the heart, not just in stone. And His hope is forever, man!

When I talked with him, the whole place was alive with electricity and glory and brilliance…’cuz He’s the real thing. It’s all about Him, man!

Me: Umm…like, what do I do with this?

Moses: Ya gotta understand where the real power is. We came out of Egypt, and we thought we were so good…but we had wagonloads of idols, we weren’t really any different than the nations we went through. Everyone has an ULTIMATE, right? Everyone is trusting to SOMETHING. We need to understand how useless those pitiful idols are. Break down the idols of the heart. And then see where there hope is, in times of distress and trouble, and even beyond the worst of them! See the Salvation of the Lord! See that Jesus has already gone through the Red Sea for them, and they can follow him safely! Then we trust God because we know Jesus!

We know that we can trust Him in the deepest and blackest of our Red Sea experiences, because He’s already gone through the Great Final Red Sea, and come out victorious on the other side. We can plant our feet in His footsteps, because we know He has trampled on all the powers that were against us.

If I were in your pastor’s shoes, I’d tell people to SEE the salvation of the Lord. It’s easy to focus on cancer and death and grief and betrayal and injustice and violence because they are immediate, and real, and horrible, and frightening. But teach the people faced with these things to SEE that Jesus has met the power behind them all, and triumphed. That He has thrown down the powers that stood against us, triumphing in the cross (Col. 2). That He has won through to life, so that, although they might not escape cancer or betrayal, they know they need not be defeated by them. There is hope in a victory already accomplished! And get them to understand the greatest Rescue of all: the Rescue of their own souls from the futility of useless idols to serve the God of Life! Tell you pastor to “Let my people go, that they might worship!”

Get them to see His glory, and believe his love and power! It’s amazing, I tell you! Apply Jesus to the motive of living, and watch lives change. He’s an amazing Rescuer!

Me: Can we talk more?

Moses: You betcha!

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Turn on the sunlight

July 18, 2007

We’re in Vancouver, on a short vacation. It’s a staggeringly beautiful place…when the sun is shining. It’s also a rainforest location. There are a whole lot of dull, listless, misty, grungy days, when even in the midst of such beauty and with the beach only a few steps away, all you want to do is stay inside with a coffee and a good book.

I thought about what it is like to live where the gospel is known, but not always preached. Where Jesus is loved, but not always unveiled.  Where people are given lots of peppy “ought to, and here’s how” talks.  It’s like taking people down to the beach on a rainy, wet, cold day, and telling them to “enjoy the sun”. Give them beach blankets to lie on, and shovels and pails to make sand castles, but don’t give them any sunlight. They might lie on the sand, they might dig and build, but it’ll be just going through the motions and they’d really rather bolt back indoors.  I actually heard a mother saying this to her two young boys:  “We’ve come a long way to enjoy this, and you’re gonna stay here until you do.”

I thought she was joking…she wasn’t.

Bring on the sun, and everything changes.

Turn on the “sun” in the church, and all the “oughts and shoulds” will be heard differently.

The problem of justice

July 2, 2007

We come back to look at justice in the book of Job.  The problem of justice seems, at least at first glance, to be one of the primary challenges in the book.  Job is a just man — and that’s one of the reasons such calamities befall him!    Job’s wife perceives such calamity, coming from God, as unjust treatment of a good man, and so calls for curses upon a monstrously unjust God.  Job’s friends perceive such calamity, coming from a indisputably just God, as necessarily befalling an unjust man.  They spend their arguments asserting the justice of God and the consequent necessity of Job seeing, and acknowledging, some great sin.  Job believes in God’s justice, but he also believes in his own righteousness — not claiming total innocence, but claiming that he is innocent of such sin as would warrant such calamitous response.  So he doesn’t know how to resolve the tension he feels; at times he overwhelmed with the sense that God is unfair, but he is unwilling to end it there, and so remains in inward turmoil.

Note that under all three attitudes — Job’s wife, Job’s friends, and Job himself (Elihu we’ll look at later) — share this one, unchallenged assumption:  the world is meant to operate according to the principle that the righteous are rewarded, and the wicked punished.  Straightforward (it seems) justice.  A principle of retribution.  Job’s wife embraces the principle, and castigates God for violating it.  Job’s friends embrace the principle, and castigate Job for protesting his innocence in the face of the punishment only the wicked receive.  Job embraces the principle, but at the same time embraces his own righteousness and that of God, and so is left in frustrated incoherence when seeking to understand what is happening.

And all of them are wrong.

It is up to God to speak the missing truth.

More later.