“They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.’” (Numbers 13:26-27)
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:2-3)
I will be the first to admit that what I wrote in my last post is a stretch for some of you. I’m sure there are some—not a lot because I don’t have that many visitors anyway—who are saying, I knew it! I knew the guy was wound too tight!
OK, I’ve endured worse slights than being compared to a watch. And frankly, it is impossible to maintain a 10.0/10.0 Rotten Fruit of the Spirit rating when you discuss some manifestations of the Holy Spirit. New wine, new wineskins, that sort of thing. You can’t sew elastic into an old wineskin and get the same effect.
Pentecost elicited accusations of drunkenness. Except for Equate Cherry-flavor Cough & Flu, no alcohol has passed these lips since I was 19, and none at all if we’re talking about alcohol that you really want to drink.
So what was it all about, this revelation? It sounds vaguely Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Or maybe The Nutty Professor, the Jerry Lewis film that Wikipedia says parodies Robert Louis Stevenson’s story. (Even though my bachelor’s degree is in English, I somehow missed that trenchant observation over the years. I wonder what R.L. Stevenson would think of a character based on his novella that could eat persimmons through a picket fence?)
The revelation I described in the last post was a free sample. (More mouse-clicks.) A free sample such as the spies brought back from their survey of the Promised Land.
I use that phrase because I actually think it’s a good analogy. They used to come through the mail in tiny packages of product normally sold in quantities 5-10 times larger. Or a nice lady in the grocery store buttered a cracker with it and handed it to you as you walked by. Or a couple dozen temp employees in matching polos handed them to you as you exited a sporting event (back when you could go to one).
Free means free, and they give you just enough to make a fair assessment of whether you think the product’s worth purchasing. But after the free sample, you will be purchasing it if you want to savor the flavor, the texture, the color, the design or whatever it was about the product that the free sample whet your appetite for. Because that’s one of the purposes of a free sample as well, to create a taste for something long enough to relax your death grip on the Capital One card and place an order.
What the spies brought back in Numbers 13—a single cluster of grapes, some pomegranates and figs—cost them nothing more than the effort of cutting off the cluster and carrying it back. Basically the fruit was free. Moses had sent out the spies to find out as much as possible about the land before they entered it. No Canaanite kings or their cohorts harassed them, tried to attack them or even looked sideways at them.
What I received was a free sample—a (literally) living illustration of how I could talk, think and live that was “the fruit of the land” and infinitely superior to the mediocre spiritual existence I had known for about four years. It was nothing more than that, but also nothing less. As I said, this temporary state of grace lasted a few days then disappeared.
And that was that. It didn’t come with a set of instructions in three languages. I didn’t immediately receive any explanatory words from the Lord that shed light on what had “come over me,” the closest thing to a description I could muster. I was bewildered when it happened and bewildered when it vanished.
And I mention that because, in addition to much-needed infusions of life for moribund churches, the charismatic church has spawned some pretty strange fish (think the kind of bizarre creatures Jacques Cousteau used to find five miles down, with LED appendages and shimmering, scaly Habsburg jaws).
And pretty strange, seat-of-the-pants theology, compiled often from an accumulation of observations that may or may not stay tethered to sound scriptural doctrine. “Come over me” is one example. As a figure of speech it’s not very useful for describing life in the Spirit or the lifelong process of sanctification.
At the time of my New Delhi revelation, though, I didn’t appreciate that. So I was thinking and probably praying that a repeat performance, but one that would “take” this time, was what I needed. I was dead wrong.
If I had had the understanding of Scripture I have now, I would have realized how wrong I was. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
I explained in the last post that living in the midst of many theologically well-trained Christian workers didn’t yield the light I needed to understand, much less solve, my spiritual problems. Hence the need for the revelation.
But if this base-of-the-ladder understanding of spiritual reality was all I had—there is hope of living confidently without chronic fear—I was hardly primed for a detailed tutorial on the theology.
But I did know how to recognize the presence of the Lord as he led me day-by-day. (Cue the Godspell music.) The people of Israel had to do something day-by-day, too: gather manna. When they tried to keep it, it spoiled.
In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses reminded the people about the wilderness experience: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Are you beginning to see how this works? In my revelation–my free sample–the Lord had given me a taste of the fruit of the land—the fruit of living in his kingdom and knowing the power and blessing that obtains therein. But this was as yet far off.
When it departed, I was bereft, and had no spiritual wherewithal to even know what my next step was (“he humbled you”). But I had tasted something that now I could neither forget nor disdain as not worth the effort (“he caused you to hunger”).
So, he then fed me the grapes, the pomegranates and figs again, right? No, he started “feeding me with manna.” But I thought this was about taking the land and enjoying its fruit. I don’t understand (“manna which neither you nor your ancestors had known”; manna means “What is it?”). Just as I understood very little initially.
It is about taking the land and enjoying its fruit, eventually. But you must undergo an apprenticeship until you reach that point. What follows after that—conquering the land step by step, city by city, vanquishing king after king—is something I discussed here in more detail.
From the humbling to the heights, the journey is about the exchange of one life for another that is the dynamic of discipleship. It’s in the header photo: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt 16:25).