Posts Tagged ‘Rob Bell’

Waiting to Be Seen

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Chapter-a-day
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Genesis 40:

8.Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Joseph is in prison.

Ambushed by his brothers, threatened with death, and ultimately sold into the hands of travelers, he was sold into the servitude of a high-ranking military figure in the Egyptian royal guard, near the palace-compound of the Pharaoh.  Undaunted by the specter of his past, and unfettered by the chains of his circumstances, Joseph has risen to prominence, even as a slave, by being a blessing to the people around him.

Joseph’s attitude and mission made him a fountain of blessing to the people closest to him, no matter his circumstances.  He was attractive to people, because he brought blessing to them.

Unfortunately, somebody desired to take advantage of that, and lustily grasped for more.  Joseph refused to be put in that situation, out of respect for his master, but ultimately, because he knew it would be displeasing to God.  So she cooked up false charges against Joseph in her bitterness, and now, he is in prison.

Framed, and unjustly imprisoned, yet his attitude and mission have not wavered.  When fellow prisoners appear disheartened, he seeks to ease their burden.  And he says something that is most intriguing to me.  They tell him they are troubled because “they have had dreams” and there is no one to interpret the them.  His response?  “Do not interpretations belong to God?  Tell me your dreams.”

What a curious phrase.  Why would Joseph think he has any ability to ease the burden of his fellow prisoners by hearing the dreams, if interpretations belong to God?  What would make him think that?

Rob Bell, enigmatic and ire-inspiring, has written on something that strikes me as being parallel to this question:  Does God speak into and through unbelievers prophetically?  I don’t know that Bell would necessarily have phrased the question as clumsily as that- being prone to poetic prose, and being very good at phrasing questions with swagger.  But the question is still interesting.  Does truth spill from the mouth of the unbeliever?

I see Joseph making that claim, in a veiled way, in his statement.  He seems to be suggesting that the dreams have truth in them.  The truth resides in the vision-giver, not contingent on the vision-haver‘s belief or knowledge of God.

Paul says, hundreds and hundreds of years later, that God has made his invisible qualities known in Creation, and that He is made known in what He has made.  But that we have turned a blind eye to it.

All that is necessary then, is for somebody to enter the situation and see it for what it is!  And isn’t that ability itself a gift?  Isn’t it grace that removes the veil of sin and darkness from our eyes that we can peel back the curtain and see God’s Kingdom?

Joseph looks into these men, and their lives, as they are, and peels back the veil of God’s Truth spoken to them, and through them.

God longs to be known.  Communion with what He has created is intrinsic to the plan, and design of what He has made.  He is a communicator.  He is a protagonist.  Life is qualified by the degree to which it is in communion with its maker.  Joseph knows that God desires to be seen.  And that He can be seen, present in every life- not just the life of a “believer.”  So he looks for the truth in the vision, and gives the truthfulness of the vision- the degree to which it is true- over to God, who himself claims the meaning.

God speaks into people.  He speaks through people.  He does this with the desire to be seen and known.  Maybe one of our most important jobs isn’t to bring the truth to people, but instead of bringing it to them, showing them how it’s been there all along.

God doesn’t just show up in your life all of a sudden when you realize and admit that He’s real.  That would be idiotic.  Why would you want a God like that?  Rather, it’s in recognizing how God has always been, and will always be, there, with you, ahead of you, to your left and your right, and protecting your rear flank.

I think there is a powerful and compelling message to be found here: God doesn’t need us (i.e. “believers”) to “stick together” to the exclusion of the outside world.  We do not need to be pharaisees in our world.  He’s already out there, laying truth in people, doing truth in people, and setting them up to be called out and seen as part`of God’s plan, as part of God’s world, rather than antagonistic to it.

I think there are seasons where withdrawal is good.  We often call those seasons “sabbatical.”  Kind of like going to bed each night- sleep is more than recovery.  Sleep is health building.  But if you sleep all the time, well, you just get fat.

I will accept the challenge in this passage- God is out there, working, doing things, and waiting.  He’s waiting to be seen, waiting to be identified.  Waiting for genuine communion with everything He has made.  At the root of everything that is true, there can be but one Truth.


Genesis 28:

4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.”

13 There above it[c] stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[d] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel,[e] though the city used to be called Luz.



The bible is an interesting tool in the right hands.  It’s an even more interesting one in the wrong hands.  It’s striking to me how we debate about literal translations, or metaphorical/allegorical translations, and what’s right and what’s wrong, etc, etc, ad nauseum.


Because the first thing the bible is, absolutely and concretely, is a historical account.  It is a written record of events that happened somewhere to somebody or because of somebody.  So I like to start there when I’m reading.


Here, in chapter 28, Isaac has accepted that he was duped into blessing Jacob, and affirms that blessing by directing him to marry from his own people in Harran, where Abraham began his journey when his father died.  So Jacob leaves, carrying the legacy of his father Isaac, given to him by God and also his own father, Abraham, a blessing of prosperity, and as we’ve come to speak of it, that Jacob would have a “full quiver.”


Jacob stops along his journey, finding a suitable place to spend the night.  He sleeps, but has a dream, a vision, where God ordains Jacob as the next to carry the legacy of His promise to Abraham, and to Noah before him, the legacy of a family like the sands of all the shores, or all the stars in the sky.  And that in that family lineage would be a blessing for all the peoples of the earth, a veiled reminder that He’s still working out his first promise to Eve, the promise of reparations for the damage of the serpent’s lie.


Jacob awakes, and amazed that God would appear in this desolate, bland, unremarkable place, says “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  Honoring this newly revealed treasure, he renames the place, calling it “Bethel.”  The text notes that it already had a name though, “Luz.”

But apart from the strictly historical aspect, , here I find an interesting “type,” or an image of something more conceptual.  It may not be the primary function for this passage of scripture being in the historical record for us all to see, but nevertheless, it bubbles up to the surface when I read this.

God is already everywhere we go.

See?  Deep, huh?  No, but seriously, how many times have you felt like you were trying to bring God into somebody’s life?  Like, opening the door to somebody’s heart and trying to help God squeeze in like a camera crew for the TV show “Hoarders”  trying to worm their way into a crowded hallway, around a door that can’t open all the way.

Dude-  God’s already in there.

Maybe you have a husband or a wife who is closed off from your faith, and you want so much to share it with them.  But you can’t find an entry point.

God is already in there.

Whenever that person experiences you loving them, God is there.  Whenever that person experiences you engaging with their problems, and hurting from their hurts, God is interacting with them.

I see a model of that in this story of Jacob’s.  He lays his head down in an unfamiliar place, and God reveals himself.  Jacob awakens, and realizes that though the place is unfamiliar, unremarkable, and otherwise appears desolate, God is already here.  So he claims it with an altar, and renames it.  It’s never going to just be some spot on a map.  It’s never going to be called desolate again.  Now it’s Bethel, the Lord’s house.

Where are you?  Has God shown himself to you yet?  Or are you possibly trying to bring God someplace that He’s been already forever?  Look around.  Where is love being shown or given?  Where is service being done?  Where are people investing into each other with genuine concern and selflessness?  God is already there.  Call him out, remove the veil, and name Him.

This is another block in the bridge called mercy.  Another paver on the road “grace.”  He is already there providing for your needs before you recognize Him.  He isn’t waiting for you to call on Him to shower down His gifts on you.  They are laying around you on the ground, waiting for you when you get there.  You are wearing them.  Sleeping in them.  Loving them in your life already.

The rock upon which Jacob laid his head that night, the rock that became the altar marking this unremarkable place called the Lord’s house, was already there.  Jacob didn’t pack it with him.  All he did was lay his head on it, and God opened up the realm, peeled back the veil and showed himself.

Just go on your journey, and keep your eyes open, and if you are tired, or think you are alone, just lay down.

I have a great friend and pastor who once dropped this one on me: Jesus, in his resurrected body, is the most real thing in the universe.


Rob Bell, in his book Velvet Elvis, writes that he is “simply trying to orient myself around living a particular kind of way, the kind of way that Jesus taught is possible.  And I think that the way of Jesus is the best possible way to live.”  Later, Bell writes that when you live the “way” Jesus taught, you begin to notice- to realize that you are living more in harmony with “ultimate reality.”


Yesterday, the pastor’s message had a brilliant line: “The degree to which you are obeying the law of God, you are real.”

(commence forceful popping).

So in your very best “Cheech” voice, ask yourself with me: “What is re-AL-ity, maaaan?”

What is “real” anyways?  Is “real” something you can see?  Something you can touch?  Does tangibility constitute being “real”?  What qualities do all “real” things share?

What qualities do “UN-real” things share?

The bible talks about principalities and powers, it talks about spirits of the air.  It talks about levels of Heaven, and the world of the grave (Sheol).  It talks about the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Caesar.

Jesus say “my kingdom is not of this world.”  There’s angels and demons.

Or do we go with Neo?  There is NO spoon.  (remember to take the bag out when popping slows to 2 or 3 seconds between pops).

The question for me is this: if Jesus lived the perfect life, and has been resurrected- if Jesus’ resurrection is actually the firstborn of man to the life that God desires for all of us, if that is our goal, our destiny, our pursuit- to live into that life- is there anything now that can be called real?  Is there anything now worth doing?

Paul writes that the deeds of our lives will be tested- sort of like a product from a factory- “Does it meet x-y-z criterion?  Will it be what we are saying it will be”?  He says that when it is tested all that which was not of God and for God will be burned away, leaving only what is God pleasing to remain.  And that will represent our life to God.  This is not a scale.  We do not need to make weight to be received warmly by God.  We are received warmly by God.  Period.  But there is a noted difference between the things of our life now that are God’s and those which are not.

These things are real.  That which burns away- not so much.  They do not attach to our legacy.  God says those things are not real.

So what on earth are we left with?  Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven in the same breath as forgiveness.  As healing Luke 8:1-3.  As repentance (Mark 9:46-48).  In the same breath as mercy to the poor (Mark 10:21).  He talked about faith in the face of optimism (Matthew 8:9-11).  In the face of humility (Luke 7:28).  In the face of delayed gratification (Luke 22:16).

So I guess those are the things that are real.  Really, really real.  The degree to which my life looks like that, I am real.

What do I need to strip away to get down to the really real?  Where has my life taken on the qualities of unreality?