Last week, I had some very strange encounters with God that I interpreted with too much confidence too quickly, since it was the first time I had received experiences of this kind. I wrote a really long strange blog post that was initially intended to be a low-key meditation on the way that American Christians often confuse the fear of the Lord with the fear that has to do with punishment. I will be sharing bite-sized pieces from that strange outpouring in the future. I also wrote some strange, cryptic things on both facebook and twitter about Jesus’ return and things of that nature that made some people uncomfortable. One of my facebook friends wrote that I should “get the plans for my boat together” (like Noah), which was a good-natured way to help me laugh at myself and come back down to Earth. This weekend I will be preaching on how Jesus gives us a vision, using a story from Mark 8:22-26 when Jesus heals a blind man in two stages. The first time, the blind man receives partial vision; Jesus has to repeat the process for him to gain full sight. God used two scriptures yesterday to help me gain greater clarity in His vision for me: Paul’s encounter in Corinth in Acts 18 and John the Baptist’s interaction with the crowd in Luke 3.
When Paul first traveled to Corinth, he met two Jews who would become lifelong friends of his, Aquila and Priscilla, who shared his trade of tent-making. He stayed with them during the week and would go to the synagogue each weekend to make a case for Christ being the Jewish messiah. The people in the synagogue opposed him pretty universally, so he shook the dust from his clothes and said, “Fine, I’m going to the Gentiles.” God appeared to Paul in a vision and said this: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10).
I cannot tell you the chill that went down my spine when I read these words walking around Lake Accotink yesterday morning. It was an encouragement I so desperately needed. I had thought God had wanted us to blow up this #JesusIsMyCandidate campaign on twitter. The vision seemed clear — people of varying political beliefs tweeting prophecy, praise, and testimony about Jesus as one small means of reshaping Christian public discourse in America. God told me to trust Him and stop nagging people about it. The fruit that I thought the seeds would create has not appeared. (Though this is not a guilt-trip, if you feel convicted, you can click on the link and read more ). The Huffington Post still has not published my piece about it, and I wonder frankly if it’s because they decided it wasn’t newsworthy in the typical way that media outlets will only let you exploit them to give your cause credibility if it already has credibility before you approach them. We ran into this in the activist world I inhabited a decade ago. They would not give airtime to our public awareness events unless somebody did something “newsworthy” like breaking a window; the media told us this point-blank (“Is anyone getting arrested?”) — it was so contrived and ridiculous.
In any case, I have decided that I’m not going to hassle people about the twitter campaign any more because as Gamaliel said, if it’s of God, it will have life, and if it’s just Morgan’s delusional grandiosity, it should die, having served a different educational purpose. But it was still important to receive God’s affirmation through Acts 18:9-10. And those of you who have encouraged me have shown me that indeed, “there are many in the city” who are not completely weirded out and alienated when I share what I have gone through. I have been blessed to know that you too have had visions and encounters that you are hesitant to share in your communities with people who might not understand them. So I will speak about the insights God seems to be sharing with me, but I am learning that just as the blind man who was healed by Jesus at Bethsaida only saw trees instead of people at first (Mark 8:24), I can intuit something imprecisely at first without it meaning that God has not spoken at all, so I should use more discretion about what I share, when, and with whom.
Because of my intense encounter, I felt compelled to tell the world that Jesus was coming tomorrow. As the days have elapsed, I have tempered my way of thinking about this to say instead that we should live as though Jesus is coming tomorrow no differently than Paul counseled the early church. Kingdom living is characterized by this kind of hope against hope. Living in what Jesus called “the world” under what Paul called “the powers and principalities” is to react to every childlike vision for change by saying, “We can’t do that because…” When we accept the shackles of social entropy that postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault recognized as coagulated synergies of power, our ability to see God is like stargazing in a city filled with smog. So I say instead that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us because He’s coming tomorrow (and the next day and the next day).
Now regarding the second reading from yesterday’s Daily Office, it starts off as one of the harsher fire and brimstone sermons that John the Baptist gives to the people who are coming to be baptized by him: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9). It’s important to understand here as always that “repentance” doesn’t mean what we learned in elementary school Sunday school. It’s not just “I’m sorry and I won’t do it again.” You can experience metanoia, the Greek word for repentance, without a specific sin to apologize for. Metanoia means that you can never see the world same again. The reason John is so harsh is because he wants his audience to be so utterly changed in their assumptions about the world that their lives reflect an absolute difference. It is not enough to “belong” to the family of Christ or Abraham. We are created for fruit that will bless the world.
But here’s the important counsel for me as a prophet. When the people ask John for specific, bite-sized tasks to do in response to his challenge, he is able to translate his prophecy into practical pastoral application: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same… Don’t collect any more money than you are required to… Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (v. 11, 13, 14). Just because the kingdom of God is at hand (as it always has been), inviting us out of a world that has been deprived of imagination, doesn’t mean that the answer has to be for everyone in America to quit their jobs and drive out to Burning Man in Nevada. God’s people need bite-sized missions of integrity to accomplish that will draw them out of the spirit-crushing assumptions and expectations of the world. The goal of these bite-sized missions is complete transcendence in which we really do “work as though we are working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23), not just as an empty motto that has no more meaning than “Do your best,” but as your actual experience, expecting God to talk to you at the water cooler because something you read in the Bible corresponds to something your colleague saw on TV and it turns out that her church is going on a mission project to Mexico and you had always wanted to go there but you just needed some kind of goose-bumpy “coincidence” provided by God to compel you to make a bold move.
So anyway, I’m going to keep on prophesying because God told me that “there are many in the city” who need to hear it. I may talk in “otherworldly” Biblical language partly because it’s more fun to say, “Jacob and Esau will reconcile and rebuild the Temple where Jesus will reign” rather than “I hope one day all the Abrahamic faiths will somehow become one” (though I absolutely don’t want it to happen as supersessionist hegemony). If we played around with narrating our lives as the stories of Biblical characters, it might help us escape the tedium of modern life (“Wow, yesterday after the game, the glory of God shone as bright as what Ezekiel saw on the banks of the Tigris… You know, I pulled a Jonah when we had that conflict and I really should have come straight to you… I’m going to have to just start wearing a wooden yoke into work like Jeremiah unless we can start thinking outside of the box here”). Wouldn’t it be weird and cool if people talked that way in the workplace? It would be so much better than all that silly synthetic corporate world jargon that gets tossed around. Of course you’ve got to get to know your Bible if you want to talk that way (;-)). A place to start is by putting a Daily Office app on your phone. It’s one of the best decisions that this ADD-riddled pastor has ever made.