Author Archives: Randy Ehle

On the Brink of War

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All I heard was, “he called me a terrorist!“, and it was downhill from there. When the dust settled and I was able to get some answers about what had so quickly escalated into a war of words, it was really very simple: M had laughed at T’s name, so T called M a terrorist. And in the way of seventh grade boys, the words continued to fly back and forth.

Just a week earlier I’d had to step between two other middle-schoolers who were about to get physical because of similar taunts. As I began to intervene, another teacher (who just happened to be walking by?) opened the classroom door in time to see and hear enough to immediately call out M.

I asked T if M’s accusation was true; had he called M a terrorist? He readily admitted he had. I genuinely appreciated his honesty, and said so. But I also said that’s not acceptable, and sent him on his way with the other teacher and his adversary.

The exchange had a certain tragic irony, coming as it did on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. But in this unruly middle school English class, it opened the door to a lesson in both history and current events – for when are the two ever unrelated?

I am a Cold War veteran. I served close enough to the Soviet Union that we took very seriously the threat of missile strikes. I worked less than eight miles from an ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) base being built to counter that threat. We lived and served under the ominously-named policy, “Mutual Assured Destruction.” Until….

Until two courageous leaders sat down across a table and dared each other, not to a bigger fight, but to end the escalation, to stop building missile bases, to reduce the nuclear stockpiles. While many around them chanted the political version of “fight, fight, fight, fight,” U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev shook hands and said, No. (Or nyet.) While many in both lands feared their adversaries could not be trusted, the two leaders dared to trust.

And that’s what it takes for middle schoolers to avoid fights, too: courage. The courage to risk being hurt in order to avoid a fight. The honor to not defend oneself when insulted. The humility to allow another their opinion, no matter how wrong.*

The type of exchange I’ve seen in the classroom has become the norm not only in middle school, but across the country and at nearly every level of society. We have programs and curriculum to fight bullying at school, but our kids see the bullying happen at home, in the community, on the news, in the government.

We need courageous, humble leaders for middle schoolers to learn from. We need teachers who will step in and bring perspective. We need parents and grandparents, mentors and spiritual leaders who will demonstrate the gut-wrenching love to convince kids of their value and worth. We need government leaders who will acknowledge that those on the other side of the political aisle really want the same thing: the best for our communities and nation; and then will work together to achieve unity and peace and healing within our land.

It’s not easy. Humility never is. But it is right and good and best.

 

*Please note: I am not defending indefensible speech, bigotry, hatred. I am merely stating what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived: the humble, often quiet fight of non-violence that can shut down hatred and move a nation. We have a long way to go, but we’ve made a start.

The Word: Written or Incarnate?

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Note: this post is more of a Bible study than most. If you are student of Scripture, then I would like your feedback on this. The perspective I present below is not the traditional evangelical view with which I grew up and in which I am trained, so I would like to hear from both my evangelical friends (who are likely to disagree) and with my friends from other theological backgrounds.

12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV)

How do these oft-memorized verses about “the word of God” fit with the themes of entering His rest, of belief and obedience? And how do these verses connect those themes to the following passage about Jesus being the great high priest?

“The word” in verse 12 here is most often understood to be God’s recorded word, the Scripture; i.e., the Bible: God’s word (and words) revealed through His prophets, His Son, and the apostles; and written down and canonized.

This seems a too-limited view, however, in light of the words used and the context following. Certainly Scripture is sharp and piercing; it reveals our thoughts and intentions, shows whether we are truly obeying or merely acting. Yet this does not satisfy the descriptive words “living and active,” or the verb “discerning.” Verse 13, further, uses personal language: “sight” (can a written word see?); “him,” not it; and a personal direct object, “to whom” our account will be given.

I think verses 12-13 are speaking of the living Word of whom John wrote in his gospel: the Word-become-flesh, Jesus Christ. Certainly the writer here is not speaking exclusively of the written revelation (of which his own words would become a part).

Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, is alive and active, discerning, seeing, and waiting to receive an accounting of our belief or unbelief, our obedience or disobedience. It is Him to whom we owe our belief and obedience; Him to whom we will give account. He—not a book (even the Book of God)—is our great high priest, our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) before God, and our salvation. It is through Jesus Christ that we may receive mercy when our hearts struggle to believe and grace when we disobey.

The Foundry

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“[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature….” (Hebrews 1:3)

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son….” (Romans 8:29)

I never got to use the sand-cast foundry in my high school’s Industrial Arts shop. Something was wrong with it, as I recall, so we could only talk about how it works, but that foundry came to mind when I read the opening words of Hebrews.

In sand casting, a pattern is pressed into a frame of compacted sand to create a mold. After removing the pattern, molten metal is poured into the mold. When the metal has cooled, the mold is removed from the completed casting, rough edges are smoothed off, and any other finishing work is done. All told, the process is extremely detailed, requires intense heat and pressure, and can develop imperfections at any point.

Kind of like being a disciple of Jesus.

I used to think Jesus was the pattern a disciple was supposed to follow. I don’t think that’s wrong, necessarily—Paul suggests it in Romans 8—but when I read these words in Hebrews recently, I had to do some new thinking. Hebrews says Jesus is “the exact image of [God’s] nature.” In a sand-casting analogy, that suggests that God himself is the pattern and Jesus is the mold – the sand that’s pressed around the pattern.

However you look at, there are some important lessons for us as disciples:

  • We are metal that gets melted down, both to be refined (see Zechariah 13:9 and Malachi 3:2), and so that we can be poured into the mold. Melting is hot and hurts, but it’s the only way to get rid of the impurities in the metal.
  • Even after we’ve cooled down and been removed from the mold, there’s still work to do. Scrap metal must be cut, chiseled, hammered, or torched off. Rough edges need to be filed down.

All these processes, in metalwork, transform a chunk of raw metal into a strong, useful, even attractive tool. In the Christian life, the process is called sanctification, transforming a stubborn, sin-riddled chunk of humanity into a new creation, a disciple shaped into the image of Jesus Christ – who is “the exact imprint of God’s nature.”

It’s a lifelong task. Where are you in the process? 

Whatever This Is

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He didn’t even spare his own Son –
	He’s not going to let that sacrifice go to waste!
What accusations? The answer is already
	on the table.
What condemnation? The penalty has already
	been paid. Over and done.
And now he’s at God’s side – has God’s ear.
	[Every mistake, every failing, every sin
		filtered through the prism of
		Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice.
	Over before it’s done.]

So what!
	So what? So this:
		Nothing.
			NOTHING!
				NO-THING
		can come between me-and-him!

Hard stuff – really hard stuff?
		Nope.
Tears – piteous wailing – agonizing desperation? 
		Nope.
Faith-haters – faith-hurters – stone-hurlers? 
		Nope.
Empty stomach? Empty closet?
	Not those, either.

READ THIS:
	Because of You
		Death is daily, moment-by-moment
			Slow, torturous.
		We’re in line for the slaughterhouse.

But – however – nonetheless – yet…
		WAIT! Hold presses!
	Fooled ya’!
		We win! We win! We win!
			We won! You won!
	Your love — death-to-self, us-before-you,
		climb-up-on-the-cross-and-die-for-me love…
Your love won the fight, the battle, the war
	long before I even knew there was an argument.

And so, I know this — with every ounce of knowing,
	every fiber of my being,
	beyond the doubts that hide in shadows:

	Ain’t nothin’ comin’ ‘tween me and your love!
		Death – life
		Angels – kings – congress – presidents
		Now – not yet
		Enemies of the state
		Unclimbable mountains – unfordable valleys
		Stuff that's made

Nothing at all can come between
	me-and-your-love.

[Guess I can handle this*, huh?]



			*whatever “this” is

(Based on Romans 8:31-39.)

Can these dry bones live?

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It’s one of the odder scenes in the Bible: a valley of bones. Dry, sun-bleached bones. We don’t know why they’re there, or even where “there” is. We only know that God takes Ezekiel and sets him down in a valley filled with dry bones. Very dry.

But the odd isn’t over. God tells Ezekiel to speak—or rather, to prophesy—to proclaim God’s words to the bones. “Say to them,” God says, “‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.'”

Ummm… God? Bones can’t hear. Especially dry bones. 

But isn’t that sort of the point? If the bones could hear, they wouldn’t be dry. Resurrection wouldn’t be resurrection without death.

We speak of “the miracle of modern medicine” – and I admit, it’s pretty amazing stuff. (My 80-year-old Dad had three major surgeries last year; I’m convinced.) But miraculous? Even Miracle Max knew that his “miracle pill” would only work because The Man in Black was just “mostly dead. … With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.” (The Princess Bride)

Lazarus was all dead when Jesus called him from the grave. Jesus was all dead when God raised him that first Easter morning. And the dry bones were all dead. But that didn’t stop Ezekiel from prophesying.

What part of you is God bringing back to life?
Where is God’s breath blowing,
the dry bones moving?

Read Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ reflection (from which those questions come) at www.unfoldinglight.net. Then listen for the rattling of the bones. Listen for the wind (God’s breath, His Spirit; they’re all the same word). And, as Steve writes:

Be open to the miracle
Let God breathe, and wait.

Because even if you’re “all dead,” God can breathe life into your dry bones.