Monthly Archives: June 2014

Lions in the Garden

Kevin_Richardson_with_lions When I was a child, the church taught me the great Bible stories. The Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah in the belly of a fish; these are classics we grew up on. It was easier as a child to accept without hesitation the miraculous and supernatural elements of these stories. But soon after entering my fifties some doubts began to creep in. Having spent a fair amount of time in the Bible I began to wonder if some of those stories were allegories or didactics meant to teach a moral lesson. After all, Jesus himself used parables to convey spiritual truths. By the way, allegory is defined as:

“A representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another; a symbolical narrative.”

As the years passed, it became easier to entertain the possibility that extraordinary Bible stories such as the Garden of Eden or lions lying down with lambs might be allegory instead of literal. It just seemed like the path of least resistance given the constant assault by the scientific community to discredit such stories. But then I occasionally come across things like this video (click link above) of Kevin Richardson, a park ranger in Africa. I don’t know if Richardson is a believer, but the image of the male lion embracing him like a friend reminds me that God does indeed pull off supernatural events and those events are not as far from our “real world” as we might think. This video is a glimpse into what it might be like when God is finished making all things new and the lion indeed lays down with lambs. And it ain’t no allegory.

A Pet Peeve with Water Hogs

Lake_oroville_low_waterA pet peeve is not something my ill-mannered dog leaves on the kitchen floor. It is a grievance (such as the grievance my dog has with me for neglecting to let him outside to go pee). Some peoples’ attitude about water really kinks my garden hose. Allow me to elaborate.

I have lived in California all my life (please don’t hold that against me). When I was a child, they built Whiskeytown Lake just west of Redding, California. I remember my dad taking me out there to watch the heavy equipment moving all that dirt to make way for the lake. It was impressive to behold. That’s when I fell in love with Tonka Trucks. When the project was finished, President John Kennedy flew to our little town and dedicated Whiskeytown Lake. That was the last time I witnessed the construction of a lake. In fact, it was the last time I even heard of a lake under construction in California. I will be 58 years old this month. In other words, decades have passed since the glory days of water reclamation in California, at least from my humble perspective as a water addict.

California is now in a drought, and if we do not get a wet winter in 2014-15, it will be an epic drought. Here’s the thing: I recently adjusted my automatic sprinkler system to only water on Saturdays and Tuesdays, just as the City of Sacramento requested. But I forgot about Program B in my watering system, which means it continued to water every day. This resulted in my receiving a nasty letter from the City advising me of the consequences of wasting water. I wondered who of my smiling neighbors squealed on me. Fearing that the City’s water soldiers would submit me to waterboarding, I quickly fixed the problem. Soon thereafter, Cindy and I were having lunch with friends when the sensitive topic of H2O conservation came up. My friend said he would start conserving water when the City communicated with him that it was mandatory or when his neighbor emptied his swimming pool. I detected a tone of irritation in his declaration. I quickly realized that should the water police pick me up for questioning I would have to deny that I know the man. I would not want to be seen as collaborating with water wasters.

At a family gathering I heard someone blame farmers in the Sacramento Valley for using too much water. I think this is what psychiatrists call cognitive dissonance. Anyhow, these incidents heightened my awareness of water usage in my neighborhood. Yesterday I noticed a neighbor watering his lawn in a furtive manner in the middle of the day. Watering in the middle of the day is verboten in the City. For a moment I experienced a flash of resentment towards my neighbor for not following the rules. Cindy asked if we should turn him in. Sigh! So this is what the Bible refers to about neighbor turning against neighbor, children against their parents, I thought to myself.

Where am I going with this topic? Human nature can cause people to turn on each other when everyone does not play by the same rules, and rest assured EVERYONE will never play by the same rules. Ideally, we should not get angry with our neighbors for sneaking some extra water on their lawn, the lawn they labored hard to maintain for the sake of beauty and property value. Instead, we should direct our scorn towards political leaders who have not planned accordingly to deal with this problem. Their focus is off course. For instance, California political leaders are pushing that we spend billions of dollars on a high-speed rail system. High-speed rail sounds cool, European, sophisticated, and forward thinking. But compared to the State’s failure to keep pace with the water needs of millions of new people who have moved to California since I watched them build Whiskeytown Lake, their priorities are dangerously wrong.

Well, I need to go put some bricks in my toilet tank. It’s either that or stop flushing.

Was it God’s voice or your imagination?

481px-BaruchWritingJeremiah_sPropheciesRecently, a man vied for a promotion at work. He was convinced that he was the perfect fit for the new job. Some people in his church even told him that the Lord had showed them that he would be chosen for the promotion. It threw him for a loop when someone else was selected for the job. Granted, it is possible he could eventually get the promotion at some point in the future. But this situation made me wonder what we, as Christians, should think or learn when “prophecies” don’t come true.

Jeremiah 14:14 says:

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.’”

This is a strongly worded verse. The context of the verse is a situation where the nation of Israel faced drought, famine, and war. A bunch of false prophets were telling the people of Israel that everything would be fine. The Lord wanted the people of Israel to know that they were indeed facing drought, famine, and war; the opposite of what the faux prophets were saying.

If you read between the lines of Jeremiah chapter 14, it strongly implies a caution from the Lord that both the prophets AND the people who listen to the prophets have a responsibility to confirm that a prophecy is from the Lord, good news or bad. In other words, it can be questionable for prophets to prophesy only what the people want to hear and risky for the people to crave good news so much it blinds them to unpleasant realities. Today, many Christians view the role of prophet as cool. In reality, the role of a legitimate prophet is serious business, even dangerous. It is often an unpopular role because legitimate prophets are occasionally asked by God to be heralds of bad news. There’s no shortage of wannabe prophets, but fewer people than we think are anointed by God to actually BE prophets in the church.

I suspect many would-be prophets in the church today draw prophesies from their imagination. It’s understandable since humans have a very active imagination and a powerful yearning for communication with God. But we have a sober responsibility to not utter prophesies without absolute assurance that they come from God and not our own mind. Better to say nothing than something false. Also, there is nothing wrong with getting second opinions from other mature Christians before speaking a prophecy. It is also essential to pray about a prophecy and meditate on it before speaking it out in the world.

There is one more danger for would-be prophets. The nature of being a prophet entices us because it can make us feel important in the ecosystem of the church. For instance, I might never be the esteemed senior pastor, but I can be the go-to guy if I have the gift of prophesy. After all, some of the most famous people in the Bible were prophets. It’s tempting to go down that road, even if we belong on a different and less celebrated path.