The Gift of Alone-ness

This morning began early as I awoke even before 4:00. Early morning restlessness is not uncommon among the elderly and is often shaken off, slumber regained. That was not the case this morning.

Today was jammed packed from what seemed like necessary appointments, all meaningful to my life personally and professionally. I would have plenty of time to get my morning devotionals behind me, even communicate back with a few on line late night requests, made after I had left for bed around 10:30. I would then hit the road for a day overly scheduled.

Yet in one of those slots was a request to spend time with a dear servant of God, home from the mission field. She, her husband and now five children, the youngest born in May of 2014, had been serving The Shan Dai peoples in Thailand. They just received a most devastating prognosis regarding the lumpectomy that had become her reason for returning from the field early this year. The longer I considered her need and the power of prayer, the more I realized that my calendar needed to be free from distractions both before my visit, so I could pray, and after so as not be rushed!

Why go over and mumble words of prayer, without the full presence of mind and spiritual capacity to shift the forces of evil that have come against her. I would need to spend time with the Lord, if my time with her was to avail anything other than friendship. This young servant of God deserves much more and in fact needs a visit from the God of Lazarus.

These words may sound strange, even radical to the American Christian but there is a God in heaven and we do have access to Him through Christ Jesus. We have been instructed to pray, to wait upon the Lord so that He might renew our strength. When we desire to be a part of the supernatural, we have to move above our own strength and that can only come through prayer.

It was during my prayer time that I began to realize the gift that her challenge would soon bring into my life. I found myself pouring out my heart before the Lord, my heart broken and tears flowing. During these precious moments, I realized how few people must even know this as an option. In fact, perhaps my reason for writing this is the realization of just how long it had been since I cleared my calendar from all the good things that clutter my life and really sought after the Lord.

The last thing I want is to be misinterpreted. My highest purpose in writing is to just express the joy of being alone with the Lord and the difficulty of getting there. Missing my standard Friday morning meeting with NCS was not a tough decision because the speaker will also be with us tonight. Cancelling my 9:00 real estate listing was just as simple, another broker could handle that. The long scheduled out of town lunch to celebrate a dear business friend’s honor was admittedly more difficult; she has always been there for me! She too understood.

Having done all that, I was ready to engage in prayer. Once into my place of prayer and given the urgency of the need for my friend, I began to pour out my heart before the Lord. It was there that I realized how difficult it is to get alone with God. Not just being alone in a room, but getting alone! Escaping life and making the connection, spirit to spirit, so vital for effectual fervent prayer. That is no easy task. I am not even sure but what it may take a lifetime, perhaps generations to fully understand prayer.

Am I truly so blessed having been raised by those who believed in prayer, practiced prayer, and demonstrated the power of prayer? Now, to have the grace to know how to get there myself?

I think so! May I practice it more! It’s not about all that I do for others that counts in this world. It is about learning who He is, and how to become like Him, even suffering with Him and His own.

We then occasionally experience an other world with Him. That was my privilege this morning.

Posted in Being Loved, hope, Leadership, Post Christian, Press on, Reformation, scripture, Spiritual Revolution, Transformation | Leave a comment

A New Place

This weekend has been quite a wakeup call for me spiritually. It all began with my participation in a very strategic planning process with a group of fellow Christ-followers. I then participated in a very enlightening community gathering around the topic of marriage, primarily with Christians, but from a much broader context than ever before. Not only were there pastors and congregants from the full spectrum of traditional American Christianity, but also a representative of a culture foreign to most in the room. It was eye opening to connect the dots around at least three approaches to co-habitation: the government’s definition of marriage; culture’s definition of marriage and that of the church. The interesting phenomena were the variants within each.

All this was sandwiched between a growing awareness of the doctrinal shift in my own life. As well, I must mention my daily exposure to my wife’s convincingly radiant demonstration of Christ’s love, though some would see her bent as “hyper-grace.” I must say her love for others, as our neighbors and friends daily attest, is convincingly like Jesus!

Mornings of late have begun with the writings of Paul to Timothy and now Titus. My personal reading from scripture has for some time been conjoined with a daily reflection on the writings of Paul by a Franciscan monk by the name of Richard Rohr. Rohr, if you are not familiar with him, is a Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.

He writes in today’s devotional, “The first stone temple of the Jewish people was built around 950 BC. On the day of the dedication of “Solomon’s Temple,” the shekinah glory of Yahweh (fire and cloud from heaven) descended and filled the Temple (1 Kings 8:10-13), just as it had once filled the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40:34-35). This became the assurance of the abiding and localized divine presence of Yahweh for the Jewish people. This naturally made Solomon’s Temple both the center and centering place of the whole world, in Jewish thinking.

When the Babylonians tore down the Temple and took the Jews into exile (587 BC), it no doubt prompted a crisis of faith. The Temple was where God lived! So Ezra, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah convinced the people that they must go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple so God can be with them again. N.T. Wright points out there is no account of the fire and glory of God ever descending on this rebuilt temple (515 BC). This “Second Temple” is the only temple Jesus would have ever known and loved.

The absence of visible shekinah glory must have been a bit of an embarrassment and worry for the Jewish people. Wright says it could explain the growth of Pharisaism, a belief strong in Jesus’ time that if they obeyed laws more perfectly–absolute ritual, priesthood, and Sabbath purity–then the Glory of God would return to the Temple. This is the common pattern in moralistic religion: our impurity supposedly keeps Yahweh away. They tried so hard, but the fire never descended. They must have wondered, “Are we really God’s favorite and chosen people?” (This is a common question for all in early stage religion.)

Knowledge of this history now gives new and even more meaning to what we call Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:1-13). On that day, the fire from heaven descended, not on a building, but on people! And all peoples, not just Jews, were baptized and received the Spirit (Acts 2:38-41). Paul understood this and drew out the immense consequences. He loved to say, “You are that Temple!”1

That rather long insertion from Rohr seemed necessary this morning, and as well, in that my entry into church culture came by way of a Pentecostal pastor. I met this pastor at a community prayer breakfast shortly after my “living room” experience with God in 1973. I was only about a year into my walk with God after a ten year hiatus from the church. This man’s extraordinary walk with God, and the powerful manifestations of God evident in his testimony, struck a chord with me.

Another, piece of information for my readers, my family was third generation Pentecostal, so this pastor’s profession of healings and miraculous interventions by the Holy Spirit were not foreign to me.

It seemed that I was finally living into what Rohr continues to “tease out” of church history: God’s intention to redeem His Creation and in fact live intimately within each being. This logic is found in scriptural phrases such as: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (I Cor. 3:16 NIV); “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27 NIV).

Alongside my new found mentor, I would experience many phenomenal “God Moments” in my early Christian walk. In one case, perhaps the most dramatic, an elderly gentleman was literally raised out of a near comatose state. I had gone to the hospital to pray for him, in obedience to the Spirit. After a simple prayer, the man sat straight up in his hospital bed. When asked “what had happened” by his already grieving, would be widow, the first words from his lips were, “The Lord has come over me.”

Moments like that seemed the norm as I enjoyed the benefits of walking in the Spirit as a new believer, local school teacher and community citizen. However, it wasn’t long into my formal church experience, with leadership opportunities offered both locally and nationally, that I began to see the political back scene that builds within any institution. As a younger and less experienced leader, I always justified what I watched the “elders” do as necessary for the sake of unity and continued propagation of “The Gospel.”

Today, as an older believer, I find myself in a much different place. This place seems to require a measure of truth-telling on my part that is becoming quite uncomfortable. One friend describes it as an “inconvenient love.” His thoughts come from his reflection on Calvary, a place of suffering, exposing a rare requirement of love and compassion, captured in Jesus’ words from the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Titus 2:2 (NIV) offers the recommendation that “the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” That is certainly my aspiration, but the discomfort of truth telling and my growing internal struggle seems oddly contrarian to this honored passage. Surely, there were men in my younger days, both of the character described by Titus and of sufficient maturity to have discerned the challenges that now lay just beneath the surface of the institutional church. Perhaps, they simply did not speak up. If they did, I missed their message and thus find myself embedded in an institution sorely in need of transformation.

As each day passes, though our cities are well exposed to the leadership of our churches and her congregants, many who profess a spirit-filled experience, our nation continues its political and moral drift. Racial injustice abounds and now religious radicalism literally lifts the heads of our fellowman in many parts of the globe.

Meanwhile, we continue to gather in silos, pouring billions into facilities that for the most part are seldom used apart from staff offices and the occasional warehousing of children. This sounds harsh and even perhaps hypocritical, for I know the benefits of child care and even Christian education. The finest is often found within our churches. In fact, my own dear grandson is provided for by one of the best.

Meanwhile, parents, at least among those with whom I gathered this weekend, struggle for sanity, as they work to provide means for their children. Their life is driven by the mass marketing of materialism that has engulfed our nation’s psyche. That too is compounded by the technological revolution, with its myriad of devices that rape families of relationship, playtime and in many cases, their very imagination.

The Huffington Posts reports: “Free time” for kids has been steadily declining since the 1950s. In one particular study, from 1981 to 1997, kids experienced a 25 percent decrease in play time and a 55 percent decrease in time talking with others at home. In contrast, time spent on homework increased by 145 percent, and time spent shopping with parents increased by 168 percent.”

“A research project by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State, looked at psychological trends in youth during a similar period and noticed a sharp increase in anxiety and depression. Our kids are more stressed out than before. And that’s not the only change. Another Twenge study shows a surprising shift in motivation over the years, with kids in the 60s and 70s reporting being more motivated by intrinsic ideals (self-acceptance, affiliation and community) while kids today are more motivated by extrinsic ideals (money, image and fame).” 2

Not sure if I have arrived at a good place, certainly not a comfortable place. Both change and comfort begin with “C’s” but neither can occur in the same moment! My new place, though not comfortable is perhaps necessary to stir up the grace that dwells within those vessels wherein the Spirit does live!

The Church triumphant has never been one that could be contained in walls, nor remain irrelevant to its culture. Neither has it been static in its model. Perhaps she too is in a New Place and though Christ’s love is never convenient, it is quite necessary given the challenges facing this globe!

1 http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=7ff2eee8-2a69-48a2-841e-91640c14c09e&c=d34a34d0-eef9-11e3-b593-d4ae52754b78&ch=d4304f10-eef9-11e3-b60f-d4ae52754b78

2 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-dannemiller/the-one-question-every-parent-should-quit-asking_b_6182248.html

Posted in Church Foreclosure, hope, Institutional Church, Leadership, Political posturing, Post Christian, Press on, Prophecy, Reformation, scripture, Spiritual Revolution, Transformation | Leave a comment

Needy

This morning has been absolutely amazing. I arose early, though not unusual these days. However, when I walked outside to pick up the newspaper, things seemed almost primordial. It was somewhat overcast, the air filled with a fine mist but not enough to cause one to feel concern for the rain. I had to stand for a while in the darkness of the driveway, just to contemplate the serendipity of what I was now a part of. Getting up early has its beautiful moments.

Interesting to me was that I had to touch the plastic wrap on the newspaper to determine that it was in fact misting. I then came back inside to do my scripture reading, now in the Book of Timothy. I’ll sound even more dramatic here, but it suddenly seemed that same environment was now present within my soul. I had been set up by creation. This was going to be a good day in the Lord!

Paul’s letter to Timothy is such sound instruction for those coming into the faith, and perhaps for the many Millennials now trying to figure out the faith? Both seem to be my focus of late. Aging has brought on an awareness of the duty we seniors owe toward those coming behind. I daily pray that God would give me the courage to talk about things which I have learned, that are not new, but because of their perceived potential to unseat the status quo upon which our institutions are anchored, few men will share openly. Yet, there is really nothing new under the Sun. “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly” if I may paraphrase the prophet, Micah. Nothing new, but something difficult for every age!

After my trip through First Timothy, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the richness of God’s Word, its very preservation and ever emerging revelation a true mystery.  After my devotions, I often simply flip through this precious leather backed companion.  This morning, I noted an earlier underlining in I Corinthians 15:56. “The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I needed that!

Of late the ole ticker at times offers faint reminders of my aging; even my eyes are becoming more difficult to focus. As well, I have just walked through a bout with a virus brought home from daycare by my wife after she picked up our new grandson. It is not pretty when ole people get new people illnesses!

What triggered this morning’s blog post was when I glanced across to the next page, II Corinthians 1:3. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles….” Bam! There it was again, the faithfulness of God! With this I walked down into my basement office, opened the sliding door, and flipped the mouse to awaken my word processor.

As the door opened to an emerging sunrise, my magical outdoor setting had by now become even more enchanting. This time the woods that surround the rear of our home resonated with the songs of hundreds of birds, each singing their song to the “top of their lungs.” I had to walk outside once more and literally lift my hands in Thanksgiving.
As I stood looking around at the blessings God has given us, I wept in praise and the awareness of His Presence. It was then that I sensed my true neediness, though accompanied by an “in the moment present-ness” I had not felt for some time.

It has been almost seven years since December 28, 2008, when I received a “word” about the church in foreclosure; along with a promise, that if I would repent, He would reposition and replenish my life. My life has been almost a blur since that moment. Now, after a hard push through seven years of politics and community service, multiple transitions in my approach to church leadership, several attempts at start-up businesses, and the wedding of my only daughter.  Shall I mention again  the life changing experience with a first grandson?  Perhaps I have finally realized what God meant in ’08!

If I would repent, He would reposition me, not in the church, the community, or even financially, though each of those arenas has surely been touched upon. His word to me has been so amazingly reinforced by this morning’s mist-filled moments. The repositioning was to be in Christ, alone. The replenishing not of my purse, but my soul! Perhaps all my neediness was necessary in order to understand what I already had in Him.

It’s good to come home and like the Prodigal, no longer needy!

Posted in Church Foreclosure, hope, Institutional Church, Leadership, Post Christian, Press on, Prophecy, Reformation, scripture, Spiritual Revolution, Transformation | 1 Comment

The Mystery

This morning as I read through the Book of Colossians, I was confronted with the reality of aging in Christ while within a religious body. Institutionalism is quite real, not only organizationally but individually.

Being a part of a Body is Biblical and not always bad.  In fact, there are times when one needs body life to survive the complexities that often take hold of our hearts and minds. After all, we are given to the tendency of falling into behaviors that do less than glorify God. By the way, that is the generic definition of sin, quite less specific than the list of rules for sinners that we, in Body life, often come up with over time!

The flip side is that the longer we are within a body, all of which have their own “pickings and choos’ins of sin,” the more we tend to focus on the “law” of that body. Yet, our only objective should be to “make known the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”1

Though there is debate as to who wrote the epistle, the author (most believe to be Paul) was addressing what apparently had happened over time to this small town outside of Laodicea. It seems that “while on a visit to Ephesus, a young man from Colossae named Epaphras evidently heard the gospel from Paul and was converted. It appears that he was not only saved, but that he was trained and prepared by Paul to go back and plant a church in his hometown of Colossae (1:7; 4:12).2  Apparently, sometime later, as often seems the case, they had begun to act differently than in their early days, reverting back to the rules that evolved within that particular community.

Paul reminds them that “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”3

This was the point in my read that began my introspection and renewed desire to “think out loud” with my readers. I now have been a member of a local church and in fact, with one denomination for over 40 years. As well intended as we always are, our belief system can hardly avoid being skewed by the imbedded thoughts of broken men and women in leadership within any organization.  I’m not throwing rocks at church leadership, but broken is all we got as humans!

This morning, as I lay my life experience up against the words of this epistle, it became markedly obvious that of late, less of my life has been about the celebration of freedom that I once knew in Christ.  More it now seems is given to smoothing out the wrinkles of Church life; struggling to keep one foot in the institution, while truly making an impact for Christ within the real world. That can soon jade one’s joy.

The night of January 3, 1973 that I was “circumcised” in Christ, not some “harsh treatment of the body” (Col 2:23 NIV) but rather a glorious liberty from my then ultra-sinful nature, I could hardly wait to share my experience. In fact, my first phone call to a friend resulted in an inquiry as to “what I might be smoking!”

That experience in Christ led to a new framing of my life with a “joy unspeakable,” out of which would flow a more natural love than I had ever known; bringing with it an apparently contagious desire for a similar life among many of my friends. I must also add that most had been raised in church, my wife for one, yet had not known such love. Sure there was some rejection by those who loved sin more than life! Yet even so, I recall a heart of understanding rather than a mutual discord.

I can remember the early days, when we might do something that to the religious would appear stupid, but to us it was an easy repentance and a fast rebound. We had few to impress, as we were still unchurched; yet among those few there was an intimacy and transparency. We were walking into an unknown; in fact, music meant far more to us than scripture, though at that time, the Living Bible was a welcome translation to the KJV!

The mystery that I write about is very similar to the common jargon in Paul’s letters, this time from the KJV: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”4 How does one, once so gloriously set apart to Christ, over time revert to religion, which is such a poor substitute for intimacy with Christ?

Many of the Millennials now in my life have made this even more evident and their declining numbers in the institutional church may indicate that they see this much more clearly than we old folk!

1 Colossians 1:27b (NIV).
2 https://bible.org/seriespage/background-colossians
3 Colossians 2:13-14 (NIV).
4 Galatians 3:1 (KJV).

Posted in Church Foreclosure, hope, Institutional Church, Leadership, Post Christian, Press on, Prophecy, Reformation, scripture, Spiritual Revolution, Transformation | Leave a comment

There is Hope!

While reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians, I find new hope for the constant struggle with my own thorn in the flesh. Hearing a well respected Paul admit to his thorn sometimes seems less than adequate given that it was perhaps more physical than spiritual. However, when I hear the repeated awareness of our human dilemma among those with whom I better relate, it gives me hope.

In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul the recently converted terrorist, having apparently spent a couple or more years in the faith, runs into that disciple with whom I can truly relate, Peter. Years after Peter’s phenomenal Pentecost experience, he is still battling his fear of what others might think. Here, Paul scorns him for requiring of new converts the practice of the Law. This was counter to what in Paul’s early days the elders in the Church, and perhaps even the fickle Peter had required of Paul: “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing that I was eager to do.” Gal 2:10 NIV.

By the way, these minimal requirements were not so different than the two qualifiers suggested earlier by our Lord: Love God and your neighbor as yourself!

Why does all this give me hope?

If Peter could be used by God in such a phenomenal way after:

  • his pre-crucifixion triple denial;
  • his quick return to his old profession (fishing, John 21) only days after the cruel execution of his friend, and having been told personally by the Christ what his role would be in the Kingdom;
  • then, experiencing the Resurrected Christ in person,
  • yet, all the while carrying a personal and prideful fear of what others might think!

There is hope for this 66 year old, now 40 years in the faith!

Posted in Being Loved, hope, Institutional Church, Leadership, Political posturing, Post Christian, Press on, Prophecy, Reformation, scripture, Spiritual Revolution, Transformation | Leave a comment

The Scapegoat

Scapegoat

Maybe it is the Easter season that has me thinking. As a Christian, I celebrate both the Passover with the Jewish Community and the Crucifixion of Christ among Christians. Historically they both involve the need of a sacrifice to cover the sins of humanity.

Maybe it was the panel I attended last Thursday night. Six people from different ethnicities, generations and professions sat together while this shocking photo clip  was projected on a large screen above the panelist.

The clip affords a stark comparison between the scapegoat made of Christ and the horrible scapegoating of African Americans, often by professing Christians, during the days of Jim Crowe years after the Civil War. Some fear that the act of lynching may be resurfacing, at least in the demented hearts and minds of those still in need of a scapegoat for both their pride and their failures.

To paraphrase the more senior of the panel, a pastor and academic historian from Oakland, “if the cross was our index for Christ’s ‘inconvenient love,’ then the lynching tree becomes the index for our nation’s morality.” The photo has become a jarring reminder for me, of my need for a scapegoat, one I believe voluntarily provided by the Christ, though rejected by many of the religious. Could that pride filled rejection by humanity be the source of the many challenges that face our nation and globe today? Is racism, classism, even religious pluralism, simply another expression of our common need for a scapegoat to relieve our “burden of sin”?

Is this need present even among those who deny any religious affiliation; some of the “nones” giving themselves untiringly toward righting the wrongs of humanity, their own self-righteousness perhaps their substitute scapegoat?

My ponderings were affirmed by the post below, captured on Facebook by a trusted Christ follower, though authored originally by the famous theologian Charles Spurgeon:

“He had been all night in agony, He had spent the early morning at the hall of Caiaphas, He had been hurried from Caiaphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, and from Herod back again to Pilate. He had, therefore—but little strength left, and yet neither refreshment nor rest were permitted Him. They were eager for His blood, and therefore led Him out to die, loaded with the cross. O dolorous procession! Well may Jerusalem’s daughters weep. My soul—you weep also.

What do we learn here, as we see our blessed Lord led forth? Do we not perceive that truth which was set forth in shadow by the scapegoat? Did not the high-priest bring the scapegoat, and put both his hands upon its head, confessing the sins of the people, that thus those sins might be laid upon the goat, and cease from the people? Then the goat was led away by a fit man into the wilderness, and it carried away the sins of the people—so that if they were sought for, they could not be found.

Now we see Jesus brought before the priests and rulers, who pronounce Him guilty; God Himself imputes our sins to Him, “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all;” “He was made sin for us;” and, as the substitute for our guilt, bearing our sin upon His shoulders, represented by the cross; we see the great Scapegoat led away by the appointed officers of justice.

Beloved, can you feel assured that He carried your sin? As you look at the cross upon His shoulders, does it represent your sin? There is one way by which you can tell whether He carried your sin or not. Have you laid your hand upon His head, confessed your sin, and trusted in Him? Then your sin lies not on you; it has all been transferred by blessed imputation to Christ, and He bears it on His shoulder as a load heavier than the cross. Let not the picture vanish until you have rejoiced in your own deliverance, and adored the loving Redeemer upon whom your iniquities were laid.” -Spurgeon

The prophets and priests of Judaism obviously discerned the need for a scapegoat long ago, as reflected in their rituals. Yet, they failed to recognize the scapegoat provided in Christ, “typed” early on in their own scriptures by Abram’s ram in the bush. Both the Quran and the Bible mention Abraham’s conversation around the need for a sacrifice, the potential victim in the Bible was Isaac and in the Quran, the elder Ishmael. While neither accepts the full resolve of Christ, their need for a scapegoat seems to prevail.  Among radical Islam, the recent Kenyan massacre perhaps and among Orthodox Jews, the expectation that sacrifice will resume once their Temple is restored.  None seem without need!

For those unfamiliar with the term’s origin:

“The scapegoat was a goat that was designated (Hebrew לַעֲזָאזֵֽל ) la-aza’zeyl; either “for absolute removal” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon) or possibly “for Azazel” (some modern versions taking the term as a name) and outcast in the desert as part of the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, that began during the Exodus with the original Tabernacle and continued through the times of the temples in Jerusalem.

Throughout the year, the sins of the ancient Israelites were daily transferred to the regular sin offerings as outlined in the Torah in Leviticus Ch 16. Once a year, on the tenth day of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement, the High Priest of Israel sacrificed a bull for a sin offering for his own sins. Subsequently he took two goats and presented them at the door of the tabernacle with a view to dealing with the corporate sins of God’s people — the nation of Israel. Two goats were chosen by lot: one to be “The Lord’s Goat”, which was offered as a blood sacrifice, and the other to be the “Azazel” scapegoat to be sent away into the wilderness. The blood of the slain goat was taken into the Holy of Holies behind the sacred veil and sprinkled on the mercy seat, the lid of the ark of the covenant. Later in the ceremonies of the day, the High Priest confessed the sins of the Israelites to Yahweh placing them figuratively on the head of the other goat, the Azazel scapegoat, who “took them away” never to be seen again. The sin of the nation was thus “atoned for” (paid for) by the “The Lord’s Goat” and “The Azazel Goat”. Since the second goat was sent away to perish, the word “scapegoat” has developed to indicate a person who is blamed and punished for the sins of others.”’1

“In Christianity, especially within Protestantism, this reality prefigures the sacrifice of Christ on the cross through which God has been propitiated and sins can be expiated. Jesus Christ is seen to have fulfilled all of the Biblical “types” – the High Priest who officiates at the ceremony, the Lord’s goat that deals with the pollution of sin and the scapegoat that removes the “burden of sin”. Christians believe that sinners who own their guilt and confess their sins, exercising faith and trust in the person and sacrifice of Jesus, are forgiven their sins.”2

Even before the time of Christ, pagan Syrians practiced a similar ritual. “A concept superficially similar to the biblical scapegoat is attested in two ritual texts in archives at Ebla of the 24th century BC. They were connected with ritual purification on the occasion of the king’s wedding. In them, a she-goat with a silver bracelet hung from her neck was driven forth into the wasteland of “Alini”; “we” in the report of the ritual involves the whole community. Such “elimination rites”, in which an animal, without confession of sins, is the vehicle of evils (not sins) that are chased from the community are widely attested in the Ancient Near East.”

“Later, the Ancient Greeks practiced a scapegoating rite in which a cripple or beggar or criminal (the pharmakos) was cast out of the community, either in response to a natural disaster (such as a plague, famine or an invasion) or in response to a calendrical crisis (such as the end of the year). The scholia refer to the pharmakos being killed, but many scholars reject this, and argue that the earliest evidence (the fragments of the iambic satirist Hipponax) only show the pharmakos being stoned, beaten and driven from the community.”3

Note the word, “pharmakos”, later used to describe a person often already condemned to death sacrificed in ancient Greece as a means of purification or atonement for a city or community. Of course the obvious is the root word for pharmacy, which carries my thoughts to the drug culture. For some I suppose, illicit substances could be their expression, a religion of chemical “scapegoats”; more acceptable, even more righteous in their blindness, than inflicting religious harm of others? Hardly do they know the full and universal damage of their addiction.

Christianity requires no further scapegoat, or does it? Has Christianity, as opposed to Christ-following,now in these post-modern times become victim to the same path as other religions? Was the Holocaust a necessary remedy for some underlying “burden of sin” by former Protestant Reformers who had failed in their pride to fully transfer that burden? Was slavery in Early America a response to a festering need for a savior, and thus unknowingly allowing professing Christian leaders justification for the trade of human flesh? Is today’s obvious classism and poverty unknowingly the result of those who benefit from the world’s greatest economy, yet still carry a burden of sin, allowing them comfort with charity instead of change?

Could the resurfacing of racism in America be symptomatic of a culture approaching that index of morality so starkly portrayed in the above photo? Perhaps even the pronounced acceleration of sex trade at national sporting events is the sick need of a scapegoat, allowing the wealthy to escape the bounds of civility, laying the sins of their perversion upon the flesh of another “less deserving” human?

Sin my friend is “falling short of the glory of God.” Religion in America may have become no more than a postmodern means of averting that awareness. Could the stirring of radical Islam, the resulting beheadings, the recent Kenyan murders be the result of another religion’s attempt to lay the sins of their humanity on the scapegoat of Christianity? Its enraged perpetrators seem always to shout, “God is Great!”

Is this in fact the common need among all humanity? Are all other conversations, and the more politically acceptable discussions, such as racism, poverty, sexuality, even religious plurality, mere distractions from our real need? Not to cast blame on any one religion, for all practitioners mean well in their own minds.  Yet, but when all mankind was provided with a visitation from the God of all people, one willing to become the sacrifice, He was ironically rejected.

Still yet in that irony, He so beautifully became the scapegoat mankind has been searching for even until this day. Who else has lived the life that so many during this “holiday season” desire to emulate, even if unspoken.

“Let not the picture vanish until you have rejoiced in your own deliverance, and adored the loving Redeemer upon whom your iniquities were laid.”- Spurgeon

And for those who find it difficult to believe, some of the last words of Jesus: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scapegoat
2. Ibid
3. Ibid

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God will move the stone…

“Go forward today on the pathway of service, undaunted by possible future obstacles. Let your heart be cheered by the certainty that whatever difficulty you may face, God will move the stone.

In today’s bright sunlight basking,
Leave tomorrow’s cares alone—
Spoil not present joys by asking:
“Who shall roll away the stone?”
Oft, before we’ve faced the trial
We have come with joy to own,
Angels have from heaven descended
And have rolled away the stone.” —Anon. 1

Today’s posting was motivated by a poem posted on Facebook by a dear friend, who comes with high spiritual credibility. As the widow of a best friend, she has demonstrated the very words above, posted for others.

I could not get away from the words once read. The urge to think through these words caught the side of my soul that one might refer to as “calling.” Each time that spiritual soft spot is touched, I seem compelled to elaborate. It has been there since I was 9 years old, when I first heard the voice of the Savior, “One day you will preach the Gospel.” At that time, I perceived some small pulpit, perhaps a storefront or street corner at best. Later as a young man caught up in the “freedom” of adolescence, it was the last thing I desired.

Yet, for 57 years, through numerous trails and equal victories, in various arenas from religious to political, that “voice” has been present. Inescapable in times of rebellion, faithful in times of challenge, God in Christ has been ever present, even as I write.

With every word of hope, something “leaps in my womb” waiting to be heard. “Up from the grave He arose;” “He’s alive: “Because He lives, I can live also.”

No longer do we lie in the rot of failure, or in the dark tomb of regret or despair! God has made a way; His angels have moved the obstacles; light has come into the room, the stone is rolled away!

The energy to arise is always there, the Son is shining and a new Day awaits anyone willing to walk toward the light! Arise My Love!

1 http://odb.org/2005/04/16/god-will-move-the-stone/

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