Redemption or Resurrection

John Luther in church

 

I am now 43 years into my experience with Christ, (the God who became flesh and dwelt among us), still yet the old Jacob within me struggles with the prize won at Calvary- total resurrection!  Not just in the after life, but in the NOW!   As I pray each morning, I find myself re-navigating the same waters as my spirit can hardly comprehend His marvelous grace!

 

My flesh still attempts to filter the gospel through my sinfulness and daily falling short of the mark of the high calling in Christ Jesus.  I’ll wage a bet, the same for you?  Yet, God’s perspective is unambiguously different.  The filter through which He views my performance is the sinlessness of Christ.  His righteousness is imputed to me!

 

The word “imputed” has always intrigued me, both legally and theologically.  It means “to ascribe (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to someone by virtue of a similar quality in another; to lay the responsibility or blame for, often falsely or unjustly.” 1  That is in fact what God did in Christ.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten…laid on him the iniquity of us all…died for the sins of the whole world.”2

 

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”3   So go the Chris Tomlin lyrics of Amazing Grace: “My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood His mercy reigns. Unending love, amazing grace.” 4

 

“…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”5

 

“And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”6   Hear that, we are “no longer called servants, but friends,8 …no longer slaves but God’s child!9  I am a friend of God, a child of the most High, a King’s Kid!

 

The Old Testament filter of the Law and sin causes my flesh to cry out for rescue and redemption!  The new covenant however, proclaims Good News: Resurrection and all things made new!

 

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means (any longer) anything; what counts is the new creation.”10

 

Selah!

 

1 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/impute

2 Jn 3:16,Isaiah 53:6, I Jn 2:

3 II Cor. 2:5-7

4 http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/christomlin/amazinggracemychainsaregone.html

5 Romans 8:37-39 NIV

6 James 2:23

7 Jn 15:15

8 Galatians 6:15

9 Galatians 4:7

10 Galatians 5:6

Savor

New Day

I was quite refreshed this a.m. as I reflected on a conversation with a dear friend just yesterday morning.  Other than an occasional comment on Facebook, we seldom see each other more than once or twice a year.  Yet, he is the kind of friend that absence or silence matters little to the quality of our relationship.  In fact, it is true in this case that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  He described our conversation yesterday as poetry!

 

The take away for me, other than the delightful moments of dry humor and deep wisdom, was the awareness that neither of us had lost our savor.  Both having served for decades in the Christian community are quite candid when we meet, expressing our thoughts in an ultra-transparent way.  There is always accountability at the table, as well as a felt loyalty; if either were too far off the heavenly path to be of any earthly good, the other would call his hand.

 

Jesus is quoted by Matthew in chapter 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its savor, how shall it be salted?  It is thereafter good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (King James 2000 Bible).

 

Our annual meetings are much more than some subconscious need to check our spiritual saltiness, for they are always prefaced with a longing to be together once more.  We both have had a lifetime of experience with people and he, quite “lettered” academically.  We know the rules of religion and the expectations of leadership.  To say it another way, we have the molecular composition required for salt, as well as the sharp crystalline edge. The question is do we still possess our savor, are we effective in our calling, do we bring light to the conversations we so often have with others?

 

Both of us are somewhat hyper self-critical, though always underlying our deep conversation is a wry sense of humor.  Then, mid-thought, he gently wipes a tear with his Starbuck napkin, while I burst into the mixed laughter and tear laden emotion that I am growing comfortable with as I age.

 

We instinctively know we have accomplished our mission; we stand and caress just before departure.  We had not lost our savor!

 

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.” 2 Cor. 4:16 (NLT).

 

Or, as one of our more illustrious Presidential candidates might say: “Two Corinthians”!

Hero Worship and MLK,Jr. Day

Kneel In

I still have a knot in my throat and a certain sorrow in my heart after a weekend with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Actually it was a couple days read from a friend’s dissertation that set this off.  The aforementioned was in preparation for a brief engagement on a panel for an MLK,Jr. Kneel-In held last evening at the St. Phillips African Moravian Church, the oldest African American church in Winston-Salem.  I was over prepared for the time I had to share and I knew it.

I tried to tighten up my delivery for the sake of brevity, which always poses the problem, what to leave in and what to set aside for later.  That’s the art of writing and speaking.  The more I tried the more a deep emotion seemed to arise from within me.  I had stumbled upon something spiritual that needed to be reconciled.

This was somehow deeper than just my annual revisit of King’s life and the inevitable assessment of progress too little!  This man went through a literal Hell in the brief 39 years of his life.  Challenged by God in a mystical moment in the middle of the night, after being awakened by an angry and threatening phone call, he sat at his kitchen table on January 27, 1956, solidifying his courage and the “power that his father, Daddy King said could make a way out of no way.” 1

This transformational moment, though one of many I am sure, would lead him to understand that “no lie could live forever because the universe belongs to God and that unmerited suffering would bring brotherhood, justice and equality because God would make all things new,” developing an “ecstatic intimacy that allowed him the kind of madness that shatters the complacency of religious people.” 2

My personal challenge last evening wasn’t just the residual emotion from my read of King’s biography, but the compounded effects of an early morning interfaith event on Islamophobia. There we listened to the sincere sharing of a local Imam and Rabbi, men of equal faith to my own but of different persuasions.  All three of us Abrahamic and mono-theistic in our roots and all three equally concerned with the political state of America.

That drove me to give my Sunday to reading still further into history as we know it, and the radicalization of various religions over time.  I know the argument that the Institutional Church is not the Body of Christ, still yet I do have certain “deep in my bones” expectations, which history seems to erode each time I read a little more.

This morning I realize that my continued pain is the inevitable result of hero worship.  In my case, men like Martin Luther, Jan Huss and yes, MLK,Jr., who long struggled with power players in both church and state, each giving a lifetime and in some cases their blood to reform or better yet transform this globe!  These men set benchmarks almost impossible for mere mortals to live into.

Yet, when I look deeply at judgement calls made by each, they often fall short of my expectations.  For instance, Luther’s response to the Peasants War in Germany in 1525: “Suffering, he insisted, was (the peasants) lot and they must turn the other cheek and accept the loss of their lives and property. “A worldly kingdom,” he insisted, “cannot exist without an inequality of persons, some being free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects.” So, Luther commanded the princes, “Let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisoned, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.” Killing these peasants was an act of mercy, because it would liberate them from this satanic bondage.”3

This paragraph is even more stinging:

“Industrialization had led to the development of modern weaponry. At first, Europeans had been reluctant to use the new machine guns against their fellow Europeans, but by 1851, Minie ball-firing rifles issued to British troops overseas and used to great effect the following year against Bantu tribesmen. “Civilized man is much more susceptible to injury than savages,” Sir John Ardagh explained at a conference in The Hague that debated the legality of these weapons in 1899; “The savage, like the Tiger, is not so impressionable and will go on fighting even when desperately wounded.” Human rights could not be extended to non-Western peoples, because they seemed scarcely human.” 4

These were Europeans who had lived through massive moments of reform and still yet the seed of  Adam manifests in each.  Where has this gotten us, certainly not where The God intended. Not only do we still have a world plagued by racism and bigotry but live in a time of deeply threatened geo-political systems with an America on the precipice of a post democracy moment, her churches more reliant on politics than a sovereign presence. We are an overly religious people, though grossly under spiritual, gripped by a rightful fear of loss of liberty and hard earned material possessions.  We need to reexamine our approach to religion!

“Healthy religion, as the very word re-ligio (“rebinding”) indicates, is the task of putting our divided realities back together: human and divine, male and female, heaven and earth, sin and salvation, mistake and glory.”5

“Psychiatrists who have investigated people involved in the 9/11 plot and in subsequent attacks have found that these terrorists were not chiefly motivated by religion. Far more pressing has been the desire to escape a stifling sense of insignificance. Powerless at home, many of them alienated by the host culture, young Muslim men in the West are attracted by the strong masculine figure of the jihadi and the prospect of living in a like-minded community, convinced that a heroic death will give their lives meaning.”6

The cumulative effect of poor judgment calls seems to have us in a moment that jeopardizes the future of our globe; yet from a more positive perspective, perhaps a time when the full work of our Creator is manifesting itself.

What if God has been at work since the days of Abram, moving mankind back toward those garden walks with Adam?  What if God in Christ paid the price necessary for our sins, in fact the sins of the whole world, descending into hell to set the captive free, all the captive!  “Therefore God says, ‘When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ But this, ‘He ascended’ —didn’t he also first descend into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” (Ephesians 4:7-10).

Meanwhile we as Christians continue to impose our faith, as if God had no concern for others than we.  He clearly pointed this out to Judaism through the Prophets of Israel (Is 53), yet we Christians live as if the Advent of Christ was God starting all over again, with a whole new set of rules!

Could God all along have been revealing the context for a perfect plan of restoration, first among the Children of Israel, then fully manifesting Himself in The Christ and His glorious Church, while silently at work in the hearts of the offspring of Ishmael, as promised to Hagar?

Could we be living in a day similar to when God brought Jacob and his long lost brother Esau back together?  Jacob was needlessly terrified at the possibilities of loss, so much so, that he lined up his possession and loved ones in a diminishing order to mitigate his loses.  Yet as Esau approached this terrified but favored servant of God, just as Jesus shared in His story of the Prodigal Father, Esau too brought gifts and embraced Jacob; all to his surprise!

“Behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadows keeping watch above his own.”7

Perhaps there is a day that each religion stubbornly resists, and all the forces of evil fear, thus fostering  the racism, injustice and war that is so rampant?  “And when this (day) happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

 

Free at last! Free at last!

 

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”8

 

1 Making All Things New:  The Redemptive Value of Unmerited Suffering in the life and Works of Martin Luther King, Jr., Helen Losse, 2000.

2 Ibid.

3http://www.charterforcompassion.org/images/menus/ReligionSpiritualityInterfaith/IslamophobiaGuide/PDFS/IslamophobiaGuide.pdf. p.16.

4 Ibid. p.20

5http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=af6f0a8c-08b1-4f57-99f5-d128f3a30661&c=d34a34d0-eef9-11e3-b593-d4ae52754b78&ch=d4304f10-eef9-11e3-b60f-d4ae52754b78

6http://www.charterforcompassion.org/images/menus/ReligionSpiritualityInterfaith/IslamophobiaGuide/PDFS/IslamophobiaGuide.pdf.p.8

7 http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

8 Ibid.

Leaving Well Enough Alone

First Baptist

 

As I continue my lifelong journey of taking scripture by the throat, choking every ounce of truth from it, I run the risk of drawing ire from the more learned theologian.  I perhaps should simply read scripture at face value, and when there is a question in my spirit, ask someone who knows better?  Otherwise, I should learn to leave well enough alone!

What is my problem?  It seems that as I have gotten older and have more thoroughly examined the explanations offered over time, I realize the deep mystery yet to be discovered.  Let alone the contrast and variance of “truth” among those who most openly practice their faith.  One nation under God, really? 

Jesus, the son of a carpenter, perhaps from the home of a peasant, seldom seemed able to leave well enough alone when he saw hypocrisy among the ultra-religious.  As I press through the Gospel of Luke, there are times when I just cannot move forward without comment.

In Chapter 13-15, Jesus seems to be on a roll, if not in a rumble with the Pharisees; perhaps today, he would be addressing the Fundamentalists, those requiring strict adherence to their view of scripture?  Apparently a conversation had emerged around some unfortunate Galilean souls killed by Pilate; as a mockery perhaps, their blood was commingled with some pagan sacrifice.

Surely, these souls had some hidden sin, some less than legal adherence to the Laws of God in order to have fallen victim to this madman?  Jesus’ response was quick and simple!  Given this congregations focus on the sins of others, they too ran the risk of sin!  He should have stopped there, but he goes further.

He then randomly mentions eighteen souls, remember that number, upon whom the tower of Siloam had fallen.  This tower was thought to have been just south of Jerusalem.  They were all most familiar with this unfortunate accident, which was in no wise indicative of hidden sin.  His point should have been well taken.

Then Jesus takes their struggle with the sins of others a step further, with a parable of a certain man (I think he was speaking of himself) who planted a tree in a vineyard.  After three years (the length of time Jesus ministered) still no fruit, and the owner of the vineyard had ordered it removed.  Intercession was made, so that the Lord of the vineyard might cultivate and fertilizer, eventually achieving the goal of the Master. Somewhat more subtle than earlier, he was challenging them, while also leaking a promise of a New Covenant of grace, soon to be delivered at Pentecost.

Nice story, great way to end a service! Now, just leave well enough alone!

Not so with this man!  While teaching on a Sabbath, knowing full well the religious rules of the synagogue, he turns toward a seriously handicapped woman and heals her!  Not just any woman, but a woman who had sat “bowed” among them for eighteen years.  Remember his earlier mention of eighteen souls, now twice Luke calls attention to the fact that this woman’s infirmity was interestingly enough also eighteen years! Is there a message here?

This is where I could get in trouble with the Hebrew Scholars that might be reading this blog.  I ask for grace, as I am simply trying to learn as much as possible about scriptures which I have read all my life, though perhaps blind to their deepest meaning?

Maybe his teaching that day had been on the Shemoneh Esrei, which literally means eighteen, and was the most important prayer of the synagogue.  The prayer, sometimes called the Amidah (“standing”), was recited while facing the Aron Kodesh (the ark that houses the Torah scrolls).  There were eighteen blessings divided into three general types: Praise, Petitions, Thanks. 1

Had they just finished their lengthy prayer, perfectly content reciting their eighteen blessings, though among them, a lady long humiliated in that she was unable to stand as they offered praise to a God she knew was full able to heal her?  Was Jesus, now on behalf of the God she so loved, making a long overdue personal statement to her?

As well, though of a totally different nature, he was also sending a message to those now indignant that He would heal her on the Sabbath. It seems they cared more about their own ass (and oxen) than the people they worshipped with!  Not my words, read it for yourself in verse 13:15 KJV.

You have to love the irony here, for she being unable to stand, had in her humility long fulfilled the intent of the Amidah, while others more uncompromising of the Law, harbored sin in their hearts, just as they had earlier supposed of the unfortunate Galileans.

Jesus apparently went about his way, but can you imagine the difference in their worship the next time they stood before the Torah, she now standing with them!

Aren’t you glad He never leaves well enough alone!

1http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Prayers/Daily_Prayers/Shemoneh_Esrei/Printer_Version/printer_version.html

 

 

Narnia and Nationalism

ScapegoatI am watching the Bundy-Hammond standoff in Oregon with some curiosity.  If you read the background of their case, it might seem that they represent the grassroots of our nation.  To some, they are modern day Wild West heroes, like those that originally brought ranching to these vast and open plains.  They now consider themselves victims of a lengthy government takeover of what for years had been open grazing grounds.

Respectfully though ironic, their plea sounds much like what I would have imagined was offered by Native Americans, when those same lands were originally stolen in the name of national expansion. Ouch!  The case behind the Oregon standoff will not hold water if we use the same bucket of reasoning?

Unfortunately, some of my ultra-conservative, likely Trump voting friends would certainly consider going to Oregon for this peaceful, though armed standoff.  Others, perhaps to the opposite extreme see them as domestic terrorists:

“This is grown men angry playing dress-up.  This is weekend warrior fantasizing, using live ammo.

It’s a Wild West wet dream come to life in a way that only white men could get away with.

It is petulance and tough guy bullying wrapped in nationalism and covered with the flag.”

“If these gentlemen were truly interested in confronting the Government and in speaking truth to Power and in defending innocent, marginalized people against unmerited violence, they would have already assembled months ago in Ferguson or Baltimore or Cleveland.”1

I tend not to agree with either extreme fully, but simply know that America is in crisis.  Layer on top of all this the immigration challenges that face a country built on the backs of immigrants!  Shall I mention the involuntary immigrants known as slaves!  Double Ouch!

Now compound those challenges with present day Islamophobia, gun rights, widening economic disparities, healthcare and gay rights, and the list goes on and on!  My more conservative readers will hesitate to read further, as they are starting to smell a liberal!

Actually, I am wrestling with my faith more than my politics!

The Institutional Church which has been the moral mainstay of so many Americans is in decline; minimally, a massive shift is underway among both “Dones and Nones”, as she is equally polarized by these issues.   At least it is the final season of American Idol, so perhaps we can all resume Wednesday night services next year and things will go better?  Ouch again!

I really do pray about my country and have tried to serve her well, through the public school system, then the church at large and even as a municipal leader.  This morning I was awakened early, struggling again between my temples.  In those predawn moments, two words came to my mind: Narnia and nationalism!

Could the problem with Christ followers be that we have long forgotten the implications contained in the statement: “my Kingdom is not of this world!” (Jn 18:36)?   Had it been so, that is, had Jesus come solely to save Israel as a nation, certainly a legion of angels, a heavenly cavalry as it were, would have prevented the Calvary we celebrate!  Had His Kingdom been of this world, death would have held Him in the grave and we would have nothing more to celebrate than any other religious ideology.  We, the followers of Christ, profess another Kingdom!

Perhaps we have now become more American than Christian?  Don’t throw me under the bus, as I love this place and she has been good to me and to so many around this globe.  Likewise, I love my home, my physical abode, my cabin in the woods behind my home, my community and my local church!  However, my faith and family are not inseparably tied to any present geography, though we may be blessed by it!  If the residential structure we live in somehow became uninhabitable, I would have no problem modifying it or even offering it to someone else, so that what is meaningful in my life could continue without jeopardy.

The dilemma is that there are few places on this earth that can provide the quality of life and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans!  Why do you think so few want to leave and so many want to come!  The life style some of us have come to enjoy is seductive, and yet more and more elitist, with fewer and fewer in America having opportunity to share in that abundance!

Sure there are great stories and greater possibilities everyday due to free enterprise, with bootstrap successes described daily on line.   However, and for whatever reasons, even those self-imposed, there is a widening gap between the “haves and have nots” of our nation.  Thus, many in the masses struggle within our borders, let alone outside!  Those who watch our extravagance from afar via internet technology and the ever abundant smart phone, may not see this as the moral society we once professed and thus become easy prey for tyrants hell bent on our destruction.

What is our call as believers: to love our enemies and lay down our lives for our friends!  Read that again, because if we fully understand the previous sentence, our enemies become our friends!  That only makes sense in America right now, if, this is not your home!

Narnia, the enchanted place in C.S. Lewis’s narrative, perhaps heaven, is not easily understood until the creator of Narnia finds you!  It cannot be attained by religious devotion; even personal martyrdom will not win it!  At one time the mission of the Church was not some Oregon like preserve to hunker down in peaceful protest until Jesus comes, but rather to live in relationship with The Christ in such a way as to serve and love others in this world.  This was not our home!

Decades ago, we Christians began to arm ourselves with politics; some are trying again, and this time even with concealed carry permits!  If challenged, some say they will use them.  One professing Christian College leader even advocated such!  A shameful representation of Christianity, a masterful recruitment tool for ISIS!

Can Christ followers really make statements that imply carpet bombing as a solution for those who threaten our quality of life? Are we now so unlike the One we profess as our champion, the One who gave His life for His friends?

We were once a nation others boasted of, an ally in desperate times when despots inflicted undeserved pain and misery.  Not without error, but if push came to shove, we would lay our future on the line, even our very offspring to defend freedom everywhere.  I am not sure in many cases if we acted soon enough; Hitler’s atrocities were known to us well before we ever entered the war.  I didn’t say that our righteousness was without spot!  However, we were not a nation that saw war as the first response, nor apt to close our borders while others suffered!

Perhaps the sins we have not dealt with are suddenly boiling over both in our urban streets and the plains of the Wild West!  We never have quite dealt with racism, the glaring one, and in our attempts to deal with economic disparities while protecting personal wealth, we have created an entitlement mentality that escapes all wisdom.  Maybe true repentance was never had by us, so now both wisdom and sanity have escaped us?

The very gift of the Statue of Liberty was intended to compliment us as a nation. A poem, and its famous last lines have become part of American history. Here is the sonnet in its entirety:

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The committee to erect the statue organized a large number of money-raising events.  As part of one such effort, an auction of art and manuscripts, poet Emma Lazarus was asked to donate an original work. She initially declined, stating she could not write a poem about a statue. At the time, she was also involved in aiding refugees to New York who had fled anti-Semitic pogroms in eastern Europe. These refugees were forced to live in conditions that the wealthy Lazarus had never experienced. She saw a way to express her empathy for these refugees in terms of the statue.  The resulting sonnet, “The New Colossus”, including the iconic lines “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, is uniquely identified with the Statue of Liberty and is inscribed on a plaque in the museum in its base.” 2

Refugees were not the focus of the original artist’s intent, but came into play only after additional fund-raising strategies became necessary.  “In an essay on their website, the Park Service suggested that Edouard de Laboulaye the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society and a prominent and important political thinker of his time. Laboulaye was minded to honor the Union victory and its consequences, “With the abolition of slavery and the Union’s victory in the Civil War in 1865, Laboulaye’s wishes of freedom and democracy were turning into a reality in the United States. In order to honor these achievements, Laboulaye proposed that a gift be built for the United States on behalf of France. Laboulaye hoped that by calling attention to the recent achievements of the United States, the French people would be inspired to call for their own democracy in the face of a repressive monarchy.”3

 I have to wonder if the depth of our love for each other and for the world inspires other nations as it once did?  If our history and freedom was somehow bounded by the natural fruit of God-fearing leaders, like Lincoln, do we still have the moral character to again seek out this God of love, adjusting our lives accordingly?  If not, Narnia’s wardrobe becomes an even more important asset to possess, especially if Lewis’s Aslan is once more on the move among all nations!

 

1 http://johnpavlovitz.com/

2 ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statue_of_Liberty

3 Ibid.

 

Treasured People

cropped-2233746852_23d24682fe.jpgNew Year’s Day is perhaps one of my favorite holidays.  Though the Eve’s celebration is always fun, it has never seemed that meaningful; perhaps only the prelude, the necessary decompression that affords a deep sense of new possibilities the day afterwards?  It sets up a respite of sorts, a quieting of the heart that allows me to rejoice in each new relationship gained in the previous year.  I found myself sending notes to folk after midnight and even still this morning!

 

People are everything and with the right people anything is possible in the New Year.  With those possibilities come the greatest joys, as new chords of friendship break through the tired limitations both individually and institutionally so many of us would otherwise settle for.  Jesus, the One I hope to better emulate in 2016 was not your status quo player!

 

Each morning I practice a time of reflection, scriptural intake and of course catch up on the local and national news.  That seems to inform and shape my day sufficiently before I step into it.  Yet, over the last six years, writing has become a real tool for processing and interpreting those reflections, when something lingers in my mind.  Often a thought will emerge, and though pushed aside, remains until dealt with.  Perhaps, like a piece of spinach hung in my teeth requires attention, if I am to be comfortable going into my day.  With so many distractions from the workplace removed, New Year’s Day provides an entire day for processing if needed, thus my love for the holiday.

 

Given all the junk food consumed while watching the two playoff games with Clemson and Alabama, and the tinge of heartburn that will soon require a Nexium, perhaps you understand my source of words?

 

This morning as I attempted to continue my reading, it seemed that words from yesterday still “hung in my crop,” (Luke 7:1-10).  Lest I miss a real truth, I must digest it a little further.  Jesus has just finished his dissertation on home building (6:47-49), as this skilled carpenter advises regarding solid foundations.  I assume Luke was prepping us spiritually with his sequencing of the story that followed.

 

It seems there was a Centurion from Capernaum who had a servant that was deathly ill.  This powerful Roman was apparently a man of financial means but not sufficiently engaged in the religious community for him to be comfortable asking Jesus to heal his servant.  Interesting that he has his ear to the ground and knows that Jesus can deliver on the much needed healing, but rather than demand, he draws from a life experience that has taught him best to leverage relationships in “Getting to Yes”!  He goes to those closest to the one from whom that yes is needed, and in this case the Elders of the Jewish sect.

 

He had secured that right not by participation in their religious ceremonies but by way of benevolence, perhaps even a better citizen than many of the leaders in the “church”.  He was known among the religious for loving the nation and for his participation in a recent capital campaign (“built us a synagogue”).

 

If you have served on any board, you know of people like that in the community. Their gifts add legitimacy, and they genuinely respect the necessary things done by the collective of churches, though they may seldom participate publicly in any particular place of worship.  They are often behind the scenes making their communities work, ever supporting and sustaining reasonable candidates for office.  They frankly just understand the system better than most.  God uses them for sure, though we in religious circles too often value them less than we should!

 

Like this man, many are truly humble and work behind the scenes asking little for themselves.  I hope one or two of them will read this.  Perhaps Luke’s message was more for them than those constantly desiring miracles for themselves?  He was capturing the qualities that Jesus truly sought to encourage.

 

This man’s humility seems much more authentic than those who by reason of religious vocation spoke often of spiritual virtues.  I suspect he clearly knew that this Jesus whom he had heard so much about, was different than most and neither money, nor political power could be of influence.  Yet somehow within the same gut that had made him successful, he knew that the servant he so loved could benefit by this God-man’s presence.  He makes the ask of the Elders.

 

The Elders immediately tried to impress Jesus with what this man had done for the “non-profit” community and their “church.”  Here’s the part that hung in my crop, they manifest by their actions that they have no clue what motivates Jesus, certainly not nationalism or their religious edifices alone!  The interesting thing is how Luke prefaces this story in 6:45: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

 

I have been intrigued of late with a series of reads related to recent neurological studies connecting the brain with the heart, and just how much the heart controls what we speak to ourselves and to others.

 

This “secular” man’s heart was much more pure than the religious, though he assumed they would have much more impact upon his request of Jesus.  I sense that Jesus already knew that the Elders were simply fulfilling their quid pro quo, in hopes of future gifts when needed.  He so often knew the thoughts and intents of hearts long before words were spoken.

 

Sure enough, as he draws close to the residence of the Centurion, this powerful man sends friends to express his self-taught unworthiness, brought on by moments in his rise to power when he perhaps had done things that few knew of; weak moments that now haunted his spirit, when financial resources and political favors were no longer enough.

 

“…say in a word and my servant shall be healed.”  He understood power, though apparently in the interlude since his request, “something” had been at work in his heart, building faith for this moment.  Jesus marveled, as the Centurion expressed this deep understanding of how true authority works.  “For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say to one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this and he doeth it.”

 

Luke captures this teachable moment for those of us with hearts to hear.  Jesus, as he did in so many cases, hesitates while a few folk go ahead of him only to find the servant healed long before they arrived!  What the Centurion had described, Jesus did for this man’s servant.  Think of the impact on all these men.  Jesus’s means and motivation were quite different than what the Elders might have employed to reach this Centurion.  I would loved to have been a fly on the wall when Jesus and the Centurion later met for coffee at the nearest Starbux in that day!

 

May the year of 2016, continue to build a strong foundation of truth under your “house” regardless of the degree of your religious participation.  May the One who sees deep into our hearts surround your life with others of means and capacity, as you labor to add value to your community.  Most importantly, relationships with others like you, who at a distance understand the Spirit, though that understanding might often be expressed in ways quite different than the religious might prefer. That is who Jesus was!

New Wine Requires New Wine Skins

New Day

Most sincere in my belief, though somewhat less confident in both my walk and my skill as a theologian, I now often meditate on the global shift so readily apparent in Christianity. The old brain seems to go there in the wee hours, and last night was just such a night.

 

I am a decades’ long student of the scriptures, yet amazed at how alive they have become of late.  The obvious contrast between the life of Christ and the Law of Moses cannot be escaped, though we tenaciously support both by way of the Canon.  The mystery is that you cannot understand one without the other!  “ I have come not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it,” is too often used as an excuse to justify the Law, causing good folk to adhere to scripture, though seldom accomplishing God’s intent. Something seems missing from our faith walk given the direction of our nation, if our present Christianity is the answer.

 

Judaism was caught in that trap, somewhere between what its priests had declared as God’s Word, and what the prophets were saying about what that same God intended through His Word. There is an “I’m right, your wrong” that comes with the “Fall”, though I’m not so sure even that story was as simple as eating an apple or listening to your wife (comic relief for the heavy that is coming)?

 

This morning as I read Luke’s chapter five, the scriptures seemed to so reinforce my night’s ruminations that I could not avoid writing.

 

Christ followers believe that Jesus was fully man, yet fully God.  Something as simple as needing a craft to amplify his words across the water had led him to happen upon the boat of a man named Peter.  I am not sure if when he first got into the boat, he had any plans for Peter, other than the use of his small idle craft. 

Peter was washing his nets after an exhausting night with little “luck.”  It was only after he let down his nets in obedience that perhaps even the man Jesus began to realize that this was a major God moment.  He then begins to prophesy to this newly called “fisher of men.”  All kind of life lessons here!

 

From here we begin to witness not just a common carpenter’s son with a few spiritual sound bites for mankind, but a powerful God-man who speaks words that we continue to marvel at until this day. He was not your average church planter!

It was the churchmen of that day, though “temple-men” may be the more appropriate word, who provided his highest hurdle and ultimately the cross!  By the way, lest I offend my Jewish brothers, Jesus’ reply on that cross was, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  I am quite certain the same is being said by Him today on behalf of American Christians, and even radical Islam! “Father forgive them!”

 

The good news is, God is love and it is not His that any perish, needless to say that we kill each other in His Name! He is aware and Christ is ever interceding!

 

Jesus was constantly in the marketplace, with sinners, harlots, tax collectors and the like.  Earlier comments, when he was actually in the temple quoting Isaiah had begun His terminal course toward the cross: “He has sent me to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted.”  Not the Messiah they had desired; the story goes that he sat down in a seat reserved for someone more to their liking, a conquering Messiah?  We all seem to prefer that God when our quality of life is threatened!

 

Rambling somewhat, so I must get to my point.  As Luke records, Jesus was breaking the news that Judaism as they knew it was about to change.  New wine (5:38) was on the way.  It’s was no coincidence that when the true Pentecost occurred, these same and others thought the recipients of the Third Person of the Trinity were drunk, though they spoke in a language they had not learned and yet everyone understood!  God so often provides “Duh!” moments and we too often again miss the point!  We have ears to hear but…!

 

Not many Centuries forward, the descendants of these same converted Jews and the newly attracted Gentiles would come to the same point.  Their new faith was now the preferred political prescription for how God would do things within Constantine’s empire.  

Judaism, the parent institution was abandoned, though their Law was ever secured in the Canon. Though Constantine’s attempt at a Book of Order, perhaps this was God’s attempt at contrast!  Men, so unlike the Christ of God, once again had begun to kill for their faith. Constantine by now had sanctioned their body as the official church. 

Not long afterwards, a spiritually wounded Mohammed emerges to challenge this growing army.  Regardless of how we may feel about this same sect today, we might need to look again at our own religion.

 

By 1095, the Church had fully bought into warfare in the name of God and the European Crusades were offered Papal blessings.  By the 1400’s those who spoke out against such religious atrocities were burned at the stake by the Universal Church; most notably to those in my local community, Jan Hus, a Bishop from the Moravian Province of the Czech Republic. While burning, he prophesied of a “swan that would sing and the Church would gladly listen!”

That swan, Martin Luther later steps onto the scene and the Protestant Reformation emerges. However, within only a few hundred years of the reformation, this splintered religion begins to build its own churches and cathedrals, easily divided by every wind of doctrine!

 

The words of Christ (my paraphrase) when He healed the leper in verse 5:14, “go show yourself to the priest for a testimony, and be sure to follow Moses commandments. Maybe they will listen to you.”  Credibility is so often required for priests to believe, even in the face of the miraculous, as Luke also pointed out (again paraphrased). When Jesus told the man let down from the roof by the laity, “your sins are forgiven”, he already knew the rebuttal brewing in the hearts of the clergy in the room, he then said to the man, “Rise up and walk!”  Gotta love this guy!

 

Judaism as they knew it would change radically by the time they had celebrated a few more Pentecosts!

 

Finally, my purpose for writing!  I believe that the Church as we know it will witness even another new wine-skin, one that no church sustainability strategy can thwart.  As I wrote in 2009, the present status is Foreclosure!  Jesus began moving in the marketplace in the 70s’ and by now has matured a laity far beyond what any seminary could provide.

 

Simultaneously and not without fear among many Christians, radical Islam is again on the move.  Globally, our overly politicized “Christian” response to refugees is being called into question, perhaps further fueling the radical recruitment of Jihadists among ISIS. 

We have the means to both provide and to love the foreigner, though not without cost, peril and definitely a change in lifestyle.  Nobody wants to go there and thus the kind of ludicrous movement we see among the “fed-up” followers of Donald Trump!  Insanity prevails!

 

While Americans resist the Word’s admonishment to welcome foreigners, nations like Germany are now turning to their spiritual roots, revisiting a constitution that calls for obedience to God and care for their community! 

Scores of Muslims are now observing the contrast between the hellish Jihadists and the caring of the faithful (Jew, Christian and Muslim)! A breakthrough of truth seems apparent.  Many even testify of a personal Theophany, a Roman Road like appearances of Christ physically!

 

Meanwhile preachers call for a fast, a hunkering down of the pew to make the old wine-skin work, for it is the old wine that makes sense to them, much like the Pharisee of Jesus’ day.  His reply, “Can ye make the children of the bride chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them.  But the day will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them and then they shall fast in those days.” (5:35).

 

Could it be at this time for contrast’s sake, the Institutional Church as we know it has long been removed from the wedding party of Christ, left to fast, while the One whose wine they once enjoyed,  moves in a new spiritual realm, deep among those long lost to this religion we call Christianity? For God so loved the World, every tongue and tribe!

 

Is the sudden rekindling of radical Islam, the enemy’s attempt to thwart the fact that God is responding to a poor and brokenhearted people who have continued to cry out to God (there is only One) for mercy? Though the enemy rages, the Son continues reaping the harvest of those “sheep we know not of” fulfilling the long forgotten promise to Hagar, also the wife of Abraham.

 

Perhaps we are in a new season in the faith, a sort of post-Christianity, where political adherents and even many professional clergy are beginning to act much like the Temple types in Jesus day, resisting the New Wine at their own peril!