“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater” – Isaiah 55
Sometimes it rains up here where I live in the Northwest corner of the USA. Big wet clouds pour in off the pacific, emptying themselves in our lowland valleys with what, around this time of year, can feel like an incessant downpour. It’s why we’re called the evergreen state. It’s why there’s moss on our roofs. It’s why we drink tons of coffee. The effect of rain on soil is instant: the water becomes a source of life for all that there, transforming seeds to shoots, shoots to plants, plants to blossoms, and harvests, and abundance. Without water none of this happens.
But just above these valleys (gloriously close for we who ski) that same water falls as snow. It’s still water; still carrying within itself the same life giving power. But it’s not absorbed, not received – at least not at first, not yet. Receptivity will come later, when these parts of the world enjoy longer days, and warmer. Then there’ll be a mighty melt-off, and when that happens, the mountains that are presently frozen and buried under tons of frozen water will burst forth with wave after wave of wildflower color. I might want it now – but I need to wait.
This has everything to do with the people called the church. God’s revelation is pouring forth all the time – through the word, through the world, but the truth is that the same cloud might fall in one place as rain, and another as snow. In other words, some people will receive the word people aren’t to be property, while others are still busy defending slavery. Some will challenge the notion that “in Jesus name” could ever be attached to the war machine, while others will continue to defend the the ethics of the same. Someone hears Genesis 9 and comes to the conclusion that the death penalty is right. Another person in unfazed, believing that Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness trump Genesis 9. One person’s sexual or financial ethic will be challenged by a message, while another’s will remain unaltered, leaving some convinced that all debt is wrong, while others say, “no debt except house debt” and others “no debt except house debt and school loans because they’re in investment in your future and blah blah blah…”
What gives? How can the same revelation be met with life changing receptivity in one person and passivity, or even profound disagreement, in another? The answer is found in the snow and the rain. God’s word is received like snow sometimes. We hear it and aren’t able to respond. This could be for any number of reasons, ranging from low blood sugar to our own theological biases. Other times, we hear it and the effects are immediate. I think some of you might get tripped up the examples I offered because you want to debate who has the right view and who has the wrong view. We can surely have those conversations, but that sort of misses the point of this post.I’m trying to share the snow and rain principles – and what they means for us:
1. Be patient with each other. If you see flaws in another person’s views or actions, and there’s a genuine disagreement between you and them, recognize that you’re probably not both right. One of you is in snow mode, and snow mode is very different than willful sinning (which is a different thing, requiring a different response). I don’t know anyone who believes in the Patriarchal view of ministry, or the Egalitarian view, who holds their view for blatantly selfish, or culturally accommodating reasons. So someone’s in snow mode – not yet receiving the truth, because both people aren’t right. Until the warmth of fuller revelation comes, we’ll both hold our views, but give each other grace, because both hold the the centrality of Jesus.
2. Recognize that the field of your heart isn’t snow free. Of course I think my views on pacifism, the death penalty, sexuality, the role of government, and everything else, are well grounded – rooted in convictions that come from my careful study, objectivity, and revelation from the Holy Spirit. I need to have convictions; need to live by them and preach them. But if I think I’m fed only by rain and never by snow, my heart isn’t just cold – it’s ‘scary cold’. I say this because it’s just such a heart that hardens into narrow dogmatism, creating filters that pre-emptively determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s right and who’s wrong. It all sounds frighteningly familiar, as the Pharisees, who knew the Bible like the back of their hands, but hated the Messiah of which the Bible spoke, remind us.
3. Don’ grow weary in sharing, serving, loving, talking. As we live our lives with the confidence that we are, not perfectly but in some measure, the presence of Jesus in the world, the reminder that God’s presence is received instantly by some, and only over time, eventually, by others, is very encouraging. It frees me, as a pastor, from an addiction to results.
I remember a word someone said to me at his wedding, which happened years ago. This someone has gone on to serve Christ in powerful and profound ways, both in his family, church, and community. But as his wedding was approaching, he’d just started coming to church again, after about a 25 year break. We were talking one day about the revival of his faith and he said this to me: “It’s been a long time – a very long time. But finally, it’s starting to sink in.”
All those Sunday school teachers and boring sermons back in the 80s? – maybe they were bad teachers….or maybe it was just snowing.
Sink in – just like snow melting. Like the Pacific Northwest – our calling as Christ followers is keep everyone wet, while making sure our hearts continue to thaw