The Disciple Scroll by Allan Rabinowitz

In 2010, I had the rich blessing to be part of a Down Ancient Paths experience led by my special friend Charles. During our trek through Syria, Jordan, and Israel, we were treated to some of the best guides in the Middle East.  

allanOn a level all his own was a fellow named Allan Rabinowitz. A storyteller extraordinaire, Allan could make mounds of rock come alive, as if ruins whispered their tales into his ears. He has avidly studied the land and the history of Israel for more than 25 years, even hiking large portions of the countryside, including all 1000 KM of the Israel Trail.

But when the “official” tour was done, what Allan really loved to talk about were the Old Testament prophets, specifically Jeremiah. In fact, if one listened long enough, mention might arise of a novel Allan had been lovingly labouring over for years–an historical exploration of the Prophet of Sorrow’s life, as seen through the eyes of his scribe Baruch.  Admiring both Allan’s expertise and passion on his subject matter–and dreaming of writing myself–I asked him questions about his writing process and his plan for publishing.

Upon returning home, I tucked into the back of my mind a note to keep an ear to the ground for Allan’s book down the road.  Re-discovering that note recently, I was pleasantly surprised to finally find Allan’s name on both Amazon (Kindle) and Smashwords (All Sorts of Formats). Apparently, Allan chose to E-publish, meaning you cannot purchase a bound and printed version of his work.

But don’t let that stop you!

(The flip-side is that you can own this treasure for under $4 and read it however you want.)

disciple scrollI just finished the novel and can vouch for its worth.  What a gem!  Even if you’ve never met Allan, you will quickly know that you are reading the work of a gifted storyteller. The days of Jerusalem’s demise at the hands of Babylon come to life in frightening ways, and the life of the prophet Jeremiah becomes vivid like never before as you work your way through these pages.

When I visited with Allan in 2010, he spoke of this novel as if it was the project of his life. So what happens when you take a gifted and passionate individual and then skim off the very best they have to offer over years of their life?

You get something like “The Disciple’s Scroll”.

I hope you will get it!

Losing Faith (Part VI): Less than Certain

NOTE: This post of an ongoing series titled, “Losing Faith”. Previous posts can be seen HERE.

certainty

I love certainty.

Great comfort arrives when pieces fit snugly together. If I have must have letters, let the I’s be dotted and the T’s be crossed. If I must have ducks, let them be in well-straightened rows.

That said, it’s easy for me to enjoy the opening chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 contain the poetic telling of the world’s origins. In three words: Creator calms chaos. A state of lightless emptiness receives form and fill. Perfect pieces are shaped and snapped into one another. God called it good, and my order-loving self rejoiced.

However, Yahweh’s demolition skills are also exceptional when He notes the need. Genesis 6 begins the story around Noah, in which God unravels the intricate stitching of the Creation account. Re-creation is preceded by un-creation. I can sketch this logical need with clarity, but I failed to consider what such swirling floods would feel like when my own feet were swept away by the current.

Faith and Certainty

You see, the trouble is that faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. The quest for one endangers the other. More than that, the demand for one executes the other. The term “faith” is found 400+ times in the Bible (depending on translation used). In turn, one could reasonably conclude that certainty is therefore not a central experience to those who desire interaction with God. He has never dealt in that currency.

When Jesus called his first disciples, we read that they left behind nets and fathers and tables and what-not. They had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what would unfold along the way, but they held no illusions that they could both stay and go. There is no option of receiving without releasing.

Over the last few years, God has asked me to release my mind.

That sentence is begging for misunderstanding.

What I Do Not Mean

I am not speaking of believing blindly, of tossing aside one’s discernment, or becoming foolish or reckless or stupid. Our brains are glorious gifts, capable of shocking possibilities. I am certain that God wants them used to their fullest potential, and I am set on faithfully stewarding the one in my skull.

God’s nudge that I “let go” wasn’t a prompt to stop thinking. It was a loving lesson delivered vividly multiple times in the past four years. Even the slowest student starts to soak up a message after that type of immersion. What did I soak up?

My mind holds me back.

Trust me when I say that arriving at those five words required a climb-Mount-Everest type of trek for this fellow. Far easier to type it than to travel it.

Speaking of Typing

typingSurprisingly, the act of typing provided one of the breakthroughs. There is a sweetness to hitting one’s typing-stride. Keys are clicking, phrases are forming, and Creation ex nihilo is unfolding. My dust hands, tapping on Steve Job’s handiwork, are forming a never-seen-before reality. Wow!

But I have noticed something. I make more typing errors when I am thinking about the task. When eyes survey the keyboard, mistakes increase. Typing, at its fastest, happens more quickly than my brain can track. Demanding a mental log of the actions taking place is akin to tying an elephant to a Ferrari’s back bumper. Within this task, better to check the brain at the door and let muscle memory dating back to high school typing classes (Yes, I am old enough to have had typing classes!) carry the load. For here, my mind holds me back.

Typing is not the only such realm.

A Knowing Beyond Knowing

Within the spiritual dimensions, the mind—with all its power—can actually serve as anchor rather than compass. The demand for certainty is an inside insistence of one’s own sovereignty. Nothing in this post is a criticism of philosophy or science or religion or any other intellectual discipline. This is simply a statement of surrender from one man whose spiritual experiences have long ago left his head spinning. There is revelation beyond reason, and there is life above logic. And if one wishes to engage on those levels, his grip for control will have to break. One cannot stay and go simultaneously.

Mystery is the gap where Divinity lives. Strive ruthlessly to eliminate that space, and you will bulldoze the residence of the Divine in your life.

Or He might hijack the bulldozer and head your way!

1273bulldozer

 

Jesus Calls You to Be Selfish

I confess, that title may be slightly misleading.

But only slightly.

All or Nothing

There is a common belief that anything less than absolute altruism somehow clashes with pure religion. While I understand the sentiment, how is anyone less than Mother Teresa expected to take even a step forward if this is true?

Desiring God (Piper)I believe the answer lies in “Christian hedonism“, a provocative phrase coined by John Piper in his 1986 book “Desiring God”.

If one can get past the shock of binding the terms “Christian” and “hedonism”, a wonderfully disorienting teaching awaits.

In one sentence, Piper lays it out like this: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  Jeremy Taylor, a 17th-century Anglican cleric once said that “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy.” The concept has also been linked to Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, and Jonathan Edwards, among others.

Tuck away the historical figures that you may or may not care about. This post’s title suggested that Jesus himself promotes such a teaching. Is that true?

14-biltmoreMusical Chairs

Luke 14 depicts Jesus giving seating advice after observing wedding guests eagerly jockeying for the seats of honour. A surface reading would suggest that Jesus was teaching them how to be more effective in their selfish pursuits, as if to say, “If you really want to sit at the head table, let me show you a trick that you may have missed with your small-scoped view.”

This is where the “purity police” show up. If the driving motive behind an act is a desire to receive reward or get ahead, doesn’t that undercut the act’s honour from the get-go?

I think Jesus would say, “No.”

And here’s why.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

stock-footage-old-stopwatch-clock-gears-mechanism-with-tick-tick-soundOur Maker knows how we tick.

He is not shocked to learn that we are hardly altruistic. In fact, I will be hard-pressed to have one such moment this week, maybe even today.  Most would agree that a will to survive or succeed appears to be our first nature.

Even more certain is this fact: God wants to lead me. He wants to direct my life and form me into a man more centered upon Him than upon myself. How to do this?

Harnessing our Selfishness

I believe God taps our self-centeredness as a tool toward redemption. It would not be the first time that God has used something lesser for something greater.

If this rubs you wrong, the key truth to remember here is that this hardly makes obedience any easier.  It is not as if God lowers the bar by allowing us to “function selfishly”.

In treating my self-seeking nature as His classroom, God requires a leap of faith so great that most will never draw near to its edge.

Invisible > Visible

I can only pursue unseen treasure if I am willing to release what appears to be already in my grasp. The promise of rewards for goodness–either in an afterlife or in due time–has no power to motivate those who prefer “living for today”. This is delayed gratification to its max. Putting money away for retirement, saving sex until marriage, reading books rather than watching movies–these, and a thousand other examples, highlight the intense struggle humanity has with delayed gratification. To imagine faith as an ignoble pursuit because it contains offers of unseen and untouched reward–this is out of touch with the challenge of the spiritual life.  Such a critic has never tried to live by faith.

Following Christ’s call requires unbelievable guts. Most cannot muster them. It demands a constant loosening of one’s grip and a willingness to settle on rewards that often uncertain and counter-intuitive.

That is the life of faith: Crushingly costly and richly rewarding all at once.

Be Ready

dark_countryside_by_themagilla-d4vkqxm

They are up late.

The countryside was dark hours ago, and the chores are complete. On any other night, they would have headed to bed shortly after sunset, but tonight is no average night.

The master is expected to return.  He has sent word, and they will be ready for him.

This imagery is common to several portions of Jesus’ teachings. Luke 12:40 clarifies the point that lies just beyond the scene imagined above: “You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.”

Any combination of “Son of Man” and “coming” quickly turn heads toward the end of time, the final coming.

And rightfully so.

However, it dawned on me recently that there is a message that resonates in another way as well.

Just as Christ’s final return is unknown, so too is every move of God.

  • A season of stripping off layers.
  • A time of trial.
  • A green pasture of rest.
  • A wilderness of discipline.
  • An unimagined opportunity.

Such pages of life are not bookmarked in advance. They arrive unannounced, just like the master to his household.  But when they do arrive, the readied heart can open the door to them, confident that the Creator comes with them, that He is eager to dance the upcoming steps with us, to fill us with His life-giving rhythms to the extent that we take His hand and engage with His movements.

But one must be ready.

It is oh-so-easy to live with eyes blinded to anything beyond the immediate, failing to even consider where the Infinite One is seeking to infiltrate our grocery-getting, rugrat-raising, marriage-managing, schedule-surfing lives.

But that’s the importance of being ready.

To tie readiness to Christ’s final coming is to suggest that there is one day when being ill-prepared would be costly.

Truth be told, there is cost in every moment that we press forward with eyes closed and hearts hard to the Constant Companion.

Today as you lay your plans, top the list with this: Be Ready.

Be ready to listen up.

Be ready to speak up.

Be ready to step up.

Your day will not be a rat-race of randomness. Your Master has mixed up its ingredients, and He reveals His presence and plans on His own schedule.

So be ready.

The Road to Blessing

amen1In the middle of Luke 11, there is an “amen” story.

Preacher Jesus was rocking.

A prayer lesson had just ended, and he had moved on to how demons are defeated. Caught up in provocative power of Jesus’ teachings, a lady listener shouted out.  It wasn’t as “classic” a response as “amen” or even “preach it”. But the sentiment was the same… mostly.

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Mentions of female anatomy don’t usually accompany the praises of preaching, yet here we have a woman (likely a mother herself) essentially exclaiming, “Your mom is so lucky.”

Said another way: “How fortunate was your mother to birth someone of your substance and quality.”

Or another way: “Hearing your message and seeing your works, it is clear that your mom was pulled into a magnificent life when she conceived and birthed you.”

Yet Jesus sidesteps the remark, countering that the real blessing awaits all who respond obediently to God’s leading and teaching.  In other words, the blessing of God is available to all. It is not pre-portioned and dished out to selected favourites; it is not limited to those in preferential position. Nor is God’s blessing random, as if He were firing blindly into a crowd. Certainly, servants like Mary were approached with unique calls upon them, but the larger point is this: Blessing awaits all who obey.

So to you: Tune your ears today.

Lean in and listen.

The Lord’s word will arrive in some yet unknown tone. It may carry courage or conviction, but it will demand obedience.

And blessing will await all who respond.

Abraham Would Wear a Cross

nonexpert_dance_waltzScripture displays a dance between the pronounced attributes of God. At least, it appears as a dance to our small eyes, capable of beholding only one thing at a time.

Straining to Step

God’s character is a primary example: He is just as only a Being of burning holiness can be, yet He is kind as only a Being of furious love can exhibit.  Our reach and rhythm find the steps of this dance greatly stretching. How can He be both?

While all of us discover God in real-time, the fact was even more pronounced for Abraham. No Scriptures to study, no preaching to process, he was discovering the substance of Yahweh solely as Yahweh revealed Himself.

The Sodom Study

On the outskirts of Sodom, a city reputed for its wickedness, God revealed to Abraham a side different from the kindness and guidance that had thus far characterized God’s tone. God’s holy justice had determined that Sodom’s time had arrived. The Consuming Fire was about to swallow an entire city.

Abraham proceeded to open negotiations with the Almighty, by “drawing near” and querying, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23)

Torah-3C-AbrahamHe wanted to know how God ticked. Was His sense of justice so tightly wound that it would override what Abraham considered to be reasonable, percentage-based standards of grace?

“Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?”

And on the auction went, with Abraham bowing out of the bidding once Yahweh had agreed that He would spare the entire city if He found ten righteous people.

The Twist

Abraham was concerned that God’s holy justice burned so hot that an innocent few might suffer alongside the guilty masses.  But Yahweh flips it over and reveals that He is actually so gracious toward His faithful ones that He will allow rampant sin to go unpunished.

Said another way, Abraham feared that God was a sniper so eager to pull the trigger that innocent victims would be struck down. God displays a shocking willingness to let evil have its day in exchange for the safety of His people.

Abraham Would Wear a Cross

wooden-cross-weatheredIf Abraham were alive today, he would wear a cross around his neck. He would have to. What other ornament can even begin to capture this concept, this intimate interaction of perfect justice tempered by lavish love?

Jesus’ disciples approached from the opposite road to Abraham; they were eager to see fireworks. Let Rome burn!  Smite the Samaritans!  Humble Herod!  Bring the biggest cup you have, and pour down the judgment.

And God obliges.

In fact, He brings a larger vessel of venom than they could have imagined. His view encompasses the collective evil of humanity back to Eden. Horror movies and nightmares could not compete with the content of that cup.

And He unloaded His appropriated anger, dropping it like an atom bomb on a cross-beamed and convicted criminal.  Then He dared to tell us that love was at the center of the carnage–grace at its gutsiest.  Oh to be sure, there would be justice, swift and sweeping. Every evil would be exorcised, and wailing would ensue.  But the entire execution of justice would serve as a stay of execution for the guilty.

Jesus paid it all.
All to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

No doubt in my mind, Abraham would have worn a cross.  And as he wore it, he would have marveled. He might have recalled the most grievous days of his life, as he walked his son Isaac toward Mount Moriah. Willing to display his faithfulness to a God who appeared to making nonsensical requests, Abraham was pushed to the brink before a bleating broke the tension.

“God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Father had declared that to son. If Abraham were with us today, wearing that cross, he would stroke it as a treasure from another universe. And he would marvel at the prophetic nature of his Moriah-message.

Had Abraham’s sacrifice been carried out, it would have displayed his allegiance to an unseen Deity. But God’s son-sacrifice has been carried out, as an exhibition of His allegiance to people who lack all ability to dance with Him.

 

 

Five Ways to Suck at Reading Your Bible

Thomas Edison QuoteA familiar line from Thomas Edison frames failure with unfamiliar brightness: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

It embarrasses me that it has taken me years to establish a regular Scripture reading habit. But in the spirit of Edison, here are five surefire ways to failure that I discovered along the way:

1) Don’t Have a Plan.
The amount of mental energy saved by following an already-established reading schedule is unreal. Such a plan allows me to quickly jump in to the task at hand without clearing any additional hurdles on a daily basis because if I have to clear additional hurdles on a daily basis, I’m not even stepping on the track. If you are in desperate need of a varied and reasonably paced reading schedule, here is the one I use; it has me on course to read my Bible through every three years. If you want to avoid reading your Bible, plan to figure out what to read each day when the moment arrives–that failure method is foolproof.

2) Do It at Bedtime.
“I am not a morning person.” That was my chorus for many years, particularly during my student days, when late-night studying was a regular rhythm. Then my conscience would awake at bedtime to remind me of my missed Bible readings. Additionally, the idea of falling asleep with Scripture as my final thoughts of the day was somewhat romantic. The less romantic reality was that I typically failed to get through a paragraph before my eyes closed up shop. We can argue about being a morning person or not in another post. For the moment, consider every option better than reading in a horizontal position at the end of a hard day: while you eat breakfast, on the bus to school, during morning coffee break, as you grab lunch, first thing after you tuck in your kids. If deep down, you really don’t want to read your Bible, do it at bedtime. And you won’t!

3) Seek the Check Mark.
How much pleasure do you derive from checking off at item on your to do list? Have you ever done something that wasn’t on your list, and then written it on your list after the fact so that you could place a check mark beside it? I know someone who has. However, all the check marks in the world can actually work to undercut the value of a solid Bible reading habit. You might getting to it, but is it getting to you? Tell your duty-driven self to submit itself before the Scriptures being reading. View the exercise as a time dedicated to God getting His hands on your heart, rather than you getting your hands on His book. But if the only mark you want left from the habit is checks upon your list, then treat Bible-reading as something akin to washing the floor or changing the oil. You will get exactly what you are seeking–the thrill of inking a check mark.

4) Settle for Silence.
Silent reading engages the eyes and the mind. And sometimes it fails to do even that much. At times, I’ve added my ears to the game by listening to an audio Bible. Max McLean is among my favourite readers–he can be heard on BibleGateway’s website, reading the ESV along with a few other translations. However, after a time, I realized that I was still under-engaged in the act. His soothing voice had become background noise as my eyes grazed over the text. Next move? Read it aloud with my own voice. This now engages my eyes, ears, and mouth. And it is that final component–my mouth determining the tone and emphasis to read with as I press the text through my lips–that engages my mind on a deeper level still. But if you want to struggle to interact with the text, or even to remember it an hour later, stay in the silence.

5) Keep Moving Regardless.If you have a plan in action (see #1), and you enjoy checking it off each day (see #3), then one corrective measure may be needed. In “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ,” Madame Guyon likened Scripture-reading to a bee buzzing over flowers. At some point, he finds what he’s looking for and stops to plunge himself into it. If your Scripture habit is driven by a recognized need to connect with God and hear from Him, then pay more attention to your reading than to your reading list. What if the second verse of your chapter is where your heart needs to linger? Guyon would say, “Scrap the rest of your plan, and linger.” To keep reading is to risk losing the glorious revelation that most of bemoan as lacking in our Bible readings. Don’t allow your sense of duty (I should really finish the whole passage) to undercut the entire purpose of your habit: To connect with God. If God shows up ready to teach, clear your schedule… starting with the rest of today’s reading. Or to minimize the impact of your Scripture habits, keep trucking blindly.

YOUR TURN: What about you? Have you discovered any other paths to surefire failure in your Bible readings?  Your input makes this post better!

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