Three Crosses

This morning as I was praying, a prayer unrelated to the crucifixion, I saw an image most remarkably clear in my mind’s eye. As you may have guessed by the title, it was three crosses. Jesus was center of the three, likely it would seem, as thus goes the story of his being crucified between two thieves.

Accompanying this vision was a gnawing awareness, perhaps cultivated by recent international events, of the growing divide between those seeking God in today’s world. Complicating factors are masses of people well connected through technology, yet with an imparity of resources, stirred up by a polarized media bias with only the façade of conscientious journalism; not to mention a globe too small by virtue of today’s powerful weaponry and its growing religious fanaticism.

We do not seem to be headed (no sick pun intended) in a good direction, at least not for all mankind.

Being raised as an evangelical, these days are referred to almost affectionately as the “last days”; and, for those with a pre-tribulation bent (I’ll let the readers do their own research),are seen as a necessary thing with little long term consequence for the Christian. Yet, most of those Christians live in isolated silos within American Christendom. For those Christians within more underdeveloped countries or countries in crisis, their world experience may lead them to believe quite differently.

Lest I go too far down this road, the images this morning and the understanding that seemed to flow from them was about neither of the positions discussed above. More it seemed the intent of the Spirit was to provide a sense of urgency as to what we were doing with Jesus. Hung between two thieves, one more open than the other but none the less both thieves.

Was God trying to speak to me further about my now over two year old and growing awareness of what He is doing to fulfill the commitment and promise to Hagar, the blessing of Ishmael? You see for some time, I have felt compelled to keep my heart open to the thoughts of those now wrestling with the plurality of America. Even to the extent of agreeing to my first visit to the middle-East, Lebanon in fact, just one day after what I knew would be a brutal political defeat. I was exhausted but following my heart. What I experienced changed my perspective forever about two religions, one being my own.

American Christianity has lost it footings, not only generationally but doctrinally. This post may be the dividing line between myself and many whom I love, but even that only makes more clear an earlier message to my heart, “embrace the cross,” now also over two years old. This caution and calling was voiced deep within me, each time I found myself struggling with political observations among those who often boast, yes at times arrogantly, as possessing the most capacity to love and the more Biblically sound within the Body of Christ. We have become comfortable with the labels “far-right” and “far-left” as battle lines within the Church, an institution founded on sacrificial love.

Might this God of Abraham, who shocked the off-spring of Judaism by becoming flesh, now be challenging both Judaism and Christianity as He moves outside of the “sheep pen” to reveal himself to the offspring of this child of Sarah’s handmaiden, now orphaned to both sects of the Judeo-Christian religion, though this covenant with Ishmael was captured plainly in the Book both love and honor, The Pentateuch? Is the God who became flesh, challenging both religions developed around His Name, to the point of His own death? Is Aslan now stirring once more, yet rejected in part by all, each overwhelmed by this pure and awesome love for all mankind?

Once more Jesus is hung in the middle of our philosophical and religious differences but none the less at work in a powerful way that could fulfill the numerous and insurmountable prophecies scattered throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.

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Power of Attorney

Much has been going on of late, not the least of which is the birth of our first grandchild, John Luther Jackson. In between sharing in the joy and responsibility of this gift from God, our regular life continues.

One of the privileges of ministry at this time is to act on a request from two friends in 1996. With no children, the friends asked that should we survive either spouse, we act as Power of Attorney (POA). That day occurred some years back when the husband was killed in an automobile accident and now, a few weeks back, the surviving spouse fell and was seriously injured.

POA is an interesting role, especially when someone is not even blood kin, with few relatives surviving. Making rational decisions while assuring the quality of life one’s friend has always enjoyed is quite a learning curve, especially when their resources are being threatened. Physical impairment late in life can produce safety challenges that have to be considered, but quite often not appreciated by those imposed upon. Factor in a lifelong friendship and the emotional loyalties friendship brings, and the POA can be brought to tears.

If you have read this blog previously, you know that I always factor life experience into my daily devotionals, even to the books I might be reading. This morning I found myself in an “aHa” moment, between scripture readings in both the Psalms and Hebrews and the three books I am now reading in tandem. All seem to point to the reality that I in Christ am,…you guessed it, His POA!

In moments where I feel awkward making decisions for my human friend and at times rightfully asked, especially among medical personnel, by what right, I simply show them the papers signed by my deceased friend and his spouse, and then act in their names, based on a covenant made between us decades ago.

Do you get where I am going? Jesus, The Name that is above every name has given me the right to act as attorney-in-fact in His absence. I am now empowered to speak in His Name, and am acting in good faith based on the documents provided (The Word). I no longer have to feel awkward, even if it is not received; providing, it is for the obvious good of the parties involved. I have been assigned POA.

Perhaps the greatest gift ever provided by my now deceased friend is the learning experience of being pressed into those sometimes taxing moments that require a discerning act of love and my best wisdom. I then execute that decision in the full confidence of the legal authority previously assigned. I trust the parallels are obvious, for you see, I now also humbly act out of love on behalf of my friend, Jesus Christ. That POA is based on the letters that assign a similar role in this present world, though those letters are now centuries old.

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Time Warps and Rewiring

It seems as if a full year has been packed into the last month, between an overly scheduled professional calendar, which I am trying to bring under control, the needs of a lifelong friend now requiring oversight and rehabilitation, my immediate family’s care (throw in a kitchen remodeling) and now the blessing of a beautiful first grandchild; it has been quite the harried thirty days.

My time of personal processing, which this blog affords, has been somewhat limited. My mornings have been continually anchored by the grace that enters through my devotional walk, not only with my ancient leather backed companion of scripture, but two other books that have seemed providential. Both books were offered by a friend who had been scheduled prior to my personal confrontation with my human limitations and have nurtured introspection, as I attempt to afford ample time for my ongoing miracle of rewiring.

If you are a first time reader, previous blogs will afford insight into this miracle, though my request of the Lord was not, at least to me, something novel, though very much needed. I have always believed God to strengthen me for moments of endurance and deep journey that for many would go un-attempted. Of course with that kind of life approach, failure or near failure is common.

Let me clarify that many have attempted and accomplished feats well beyond my own, and for those mentors I am grateful. So, my transparency is offered with humility, relative to my station in life.

With the enhancement of technology and as I my wife defines it, the addictive nature of social media, our lives have become non-stop. For a change agent, or at least one who grabs life by the throat each morning, this may set up an unreal expectation of winning.
As stated in an earlier post, winning at times come easily but often requires warring, wounding and eventually the need for re-wiring.

Yesterday may have been pivotal given my recent prayers toward that end. My first grandchild came into the world, with new challenges and new energy afforded my genes! New possibilities for transference of long pent up vision for His Kingdom come, to this earth. Please, I’ll say it again, all my thoughts are offered with humble transparency though sincere and obviously vulnerable. My energies once given to career, income stream, even community mentoring have now been given new focus with the arrival of John Luther.

My wife and I found it humorous, given that the personalized license plate ordered on the week following my TGA moment arrived the same day as John Luther, and now have replaced the former plate, MAY-R.

As this day opens, I continue to offer moment by moment, prayerful opportunity to my sovereign Lord, that with each ill-thought word or misspent action, just as was the case with the spent cerebral cells of Lazarus, I become known to my family and friends as one REWIRED.

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Unsightly Hairs

Warning: The content of this post may be offensive to some.

While shaving this a.m. I was taken aback by an over one-inch long hair growing from my ear lobe. How had this gnarly, black strand grown to such degree without my notice?

I know what invasive ear canal hair can be like as one ages; and, I make it’s removal a part of my grooming each morning. Yet, this one had obviously missed my attention for days.

I’ll admit that a lot has been going on in my life, but to miss something this noticeable?
My wife, when asked, was so kind as to declare she had not noticed and thus perhaps neither had others.

You know where I am going I trust? Just as something this distasteful can occur without notice, so I suppose may the blind spots in our life; however, with much more serious repercussions.

Just the point of my prayers these last few weeks. Lord, remove the maverick hairs of my soul; re-wire this mind, condition this aspiring sage for further impact and maturity.

After removing the hair with one quick stroke of the razor, my morning dilemma was over. Though such quick remedy is often not the case for long neglected character flaws or ill-gotten leadership behaviors, we can still take heart in God’s commitment to our full redemption and His eye for excellence, as He daily grooms our souls.

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I may have just experienced one of the most bizarre moments in my life, the onset of something called Transient Global Amnesia. I am told it is an unexplained catch-all for a stroke like moment that leaves no physical challenges other than a black hole of memory, lasting less than 24 hours, now being reconstructed from feedback from those nearby at the onset. As intriguing as that may sound, that is not what this posting is about and is absolutely not about sympathy. Rather, the opportunity to encourage and to share what I believe to have been a bizarre spiritual moment that happens to fit the definition of the medical terminology referenced as TGA.

Peter mentioned something similar in I Peter 4:12-13, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

Perhaps such was the case for this Christ follower? If so, let’s call this post simply my rejoicing, and the transparency more about helping others than protecting my image, for I am told that some find it difficult to “walk out of the woods” that occur post episode.

The bizarre thing to me has been the nature of my prayers these past few months, that is, that the Lord would somehow rewire my brain. Yes, physically removing the collective damage that comes from the blows of a fully engaged life. Let’s move on.

For context, I must reference a message delivered recently by a guest minister at my church. During his talk, the speaker referenced terms I had used as chapter headings in a recent draft for a book which I felt best described my life journey. The words were Winning, Warring and Wounding; his lecture expanded the alliteration to include “wiring.” Implied is the long term toil on one’s life as he or she matures. It should be fairly obvious, at least to adults, the reality that life has its times when wins come easy, yet there are equal times when in order to win, there seems a need for more significant energy output; physically, mentally and yes at times, spiritually.

Those familiar with the spiritual sometimes categorize these laborious moments as spiritual warfare. A text is often cited among Christians from Matthew 11:12, “the violent take it by force.” Yes, there have been moments when the only way through seems to be forceful prayer, even utterances and groanings not understandable even to the prayer…praying in the Spirit.

Such has been the case many times in my life; so, upon hearing the aforementioned teaching, I began to pray that God would re-wire my mind, removing the impairments that could offend others or lessen the impact of my future life as an elder. Is this possible? Why not, given that Lazarus was dead for four days, his cerebral matter perhaps liquid by then? Yet, we read of his conversation at a gathering shortly after his resurrection; and shall I mention the Lord’s more brutal passing and miraculous recovery? I thought I might be foolish, not to pray toward that end.

Thus my prayers began some weeks back, of necessity at times, given the full life I seem to be leading, and on top of that, preparing for my first grandchild later this month. Friday, following a couple coaching conversations, I returned from my office with some apparent symptoms that caused my daughter pause, such as asking the same questions repeatedly. Though I don’t recall it, I apparently recommended that she take me to the fine hospital now located so close to our home in Clemmons, and from there, a rushed trip by ambulance to Forsyth Hospital, during which, I vaguely recall counting the bridges as we hurriedly moved up I-40 toward the emergency room. Fortunately, I was not the stroke victim previously diagnosed, and I a grateful to God. After preparing to leave the hospital, I stepped into the restroom for a quite moment apart from family. I asked the Lord, “What does this mean?” I know I heard a soft whisper, “I’ve been listening to you pray.”

Slowing down might be in order and that too will be good given the approaching birth of John Luther; and, I am rejoicing and trusting that those around me, who have long noticed my blind spots, will see constructive change. I’m looking forward to a bright future, given that physicians have assured me through MRI’s, EKG’s, neurological interviews and the like, that no damage was evident and TGA seldom occurs twice. Yes, I have even ordered a new license plate, an excuse to replace the long overdue, MAY-R. It will read, REWIRED.

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Deep in my Bones

This morning I realized just how long it had been since I had processed my thoughts as a part of my daily devotional routine. As I read through the word annually, certain moments seem to come to life in parallel ways with my own. Such were the results in today’s a.m. read in the third chapter of Ezra.

There has been a growing sense of need for renewal in my spirit, long overdue after being held captive by so many distractions due to my many ventures both political and professional. There is something about captivity that creates hunger for days where spiritual liberty and abundant harvest seemed more evident.

This chapter follows the authorization of Cyrus, King of Persia, to return and rebuild the Temple, lost from these captive lives for then over 70 years. Many were alive, who once knew the beauty of Solomon’s temple, and holding residual intensity deep in their bones as a memory of miraculous God visited worship moments. There was something about being home, having their own dirt once more under their feet, in their case, Jerusalem.

Their response to this proclamation by the King, accompanied by an abundant inventory of silver, gold, money, artisans, food, drink and even cedar logs was to first build an altar, catching up on their pent up need for praise, sacrifice and ritual, traditions that lay dormant for the most part in Babylon, by then, under control of Persia.

Eventually, they laid the foundation for a new temple, at which point the Elders wept aloud and the new generation shouted for joy, creating a noise heard far away! This is where my interest piqued.

Were the Elders simply overwhelmed by the reality that what they had thought lost was somehow now sovereignly recovered? The younger perhaps thrilled with a fresh vision of God, heretofore only dreamed of, but never actually touched upon, except in their context-less interpretation as they listened to the tired stories of “the good ole days”, while growing up among the elders in their providential captivity.

Can you sense where I am going? We seem to be sitting on a similar and sovereign divide between two generations, the older offering only stories and a failed paradigm for church that is no longer attractive enough for the Next’ers to even support; yet, there is something so deep in the bones of the aging that they are unwilling to relinquish the old, in hopes that one day what they have experienced, even built this once thriving nation upon, will in some way be revived.

The younger generation is excited by more than their music and lights, equally desiring a meaningful “God” experience, finding a new release of their smothered spirits. Naive of the pain that this sort of counter culture stand will eventually cost them, yet, with that innocence, energy for celebration and renewal, so necessary to bring about deep transformation.

I sense that we are there again, on the cusp of a sovereign renewal, just as history has repeatedly chronicled, about every 500 years.

Excited to the bone!

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The Fourth

Today I am tempted to avoid the contemplative call that seems to be there every morning, often with a new thought that I need to struggle through. This morning was exceptionally difficult. It’s the Fourth of July, when social media is filled with astonishing photos of wind driven flags, the Statue of Liberty and quotes promoting nationalism and liberty.

One such quote:
“To be born free is a gift.
To remain free is a struggle.
To die free is a duty.”

We Americans are serious about Liberty, yet the passion that called men to such Liberty was much more than capitalism and free enterprise, though holding awesome outcomes for many when balanced with philanthropy. Yet at times, one must admit that our incarnate lust entangles us, spotting our history with brutal wars and such madness as slavery.

Surely this gift of liberty was of spiritual essence for men are seldom long bounded by their own morality; otherwise the joy of success would not be repeatedly tainted by greed and true freedom so rare upon this earth, given this great American experiment in democracy.

Though varying in their spiritual understanding, there was a sense of an Omnipotent Being guiding the wisdom of our Founders and encouraging their risk, even unto death.

This morning after a couple hours of moving from the local news, Facebook, scriptures and numerous cups of coffee, it seemed appropriate to open a new book for the rest of the morning. This would be my second book by Barbara Brown Taylor, entitled Learning to Walk In The Dark, I ventured no further than her first quote and first scripture passage before this compelling urge to write, to think out loud, gripped me once more.

“There is a tendency for us to flee from the wild silence and the wild dark, to pack up our gods and hunker down behind city walls, to turn the gods into idols, to kowtow before them and approach their precincts only in official robes of office. And when we are in the temples, then who will hear the voice crying in the wilderness? Who will hear the reed shaken by the wind?” - Chet Raymo, The Soul of the Night

Ironically, in my scripture readings I had just finished the prayer offered by Solomon in II Chronicles 6-7, upon the dedication of the temple so long desired by and prepared for by his father, David.

These days, I seem to have outgrown the simple stories that placate American Christians, perhaps anesthetizing them from otherwise available opportunities for intimate relationship with the Almighty. Yes, the very One that enabled this freedom we now celebrate most passionately on this day.

Surely, we have cause to celebrate and responsibility to be grateful, but I often wonder if we have chosen religion and nationalism over a relationship with this powerful Being who knows the number of our hairs, each of us by name and so desires to be known as “Friend.”

One of the articles read as well this a.m. was a pastor’s lament over the diminishing numbers of Gen-Xers leaving the institutional church. His bottom line was that 20-30 year olds don’t need hipper pastors, louder music or better lighting shows, but a powerful encounter with the God we profess.

BTW, that passage that compelled me to write:

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and the riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.”
Isaiah 45:3

If you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to the treasure: Intimacy with God in a place called America!

So blessed & grateful!

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