Strips of Linen

I cannot get away from my growing intrigue with scripture. You would think after 42 years, one would grow weary of the same words. I have never experienced a book for which more than two reads made sense! Yet, here I set deep in my autumn years, the red zone, and I cannot get enough of those moments when a simple phrase leaps out for exploration, as if seen for the first time.

Meanwhile, my life journey has taken me deep into the community, with networks that penetrate poverty and wealth, grassroots leadership and elected officials, not to speak of a growing interfaith alliance among those who believe quite differently, but respect my candor, as I do their life journey. Something is going on!

The window that we live in is one of rapid change, brought on by a technological explosion unlike anything since the Enlightenment. I sit here at a blue screen with access to all public domain knowledge, and a text away from almost anyone in the world. Meanwhile, my belief system is being challenged in a way not unlike the post resurrection days of the Early Church. In fact, recent beheadings by those bent on eliminating faiths other than their own, not to speak of an economy that presses national leaders to seek global solutions. Meanwhile, we face a growing risk of nuclear war among maverick nations whose tyrants desire to advantage this intense global unrest.

My faithful readership would be disappointed if I left out my now over stated beliefs that the American Church is long into a process of God invoked foreclosure. More so than in 2009, when I first felt that might be the case, the institutional church seems to be awakening, though still resisting reality in hope of renewal. We churchmen seem good at circling the wagons, or doing the same things with more intensity, not to speak of the weak souls among our congregants who migrate from church to church, as would a herd of Caribou in search of a winter feeding ground! This friend is a sure formula for collateral damage and a potential loss to the Kingdom that could carry well into the next generation, unless leadership arises from without the church.

The beauty is that the One who set this foreclosure into motion (Rev. 5), our near-kinsman, unlike the creatures that represent Him, has a plan. One only need engage among the many emerging marketplace leaders who see this dilemma,love the Body of Christ and are willing to take risks that many in the church are unwilling to take. I don’t expect to win friends as I write, though I am to love those whom my words might trouble.

At times, I feel like the disciples, who had lost all hope given the recent crucifixion of their leader and friend, until beckoned to the tomb with notice that a theft of the body had occurred (John 20:2). When they reached the tomb, there lay strips of linen. Uhmm!

Maybe some background would help:

Jesus’ burial involved 75 pounds of spices mixed with a gummy substance made from myrrh and aloes, used in between the folds of the linen cloths. These strips of linen were wrapped around His body (John 19:39-40). According to Jewish custom, the body was washed and straightened, then wrapped tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen about a foot wide. The gummy aromatic spices were placed between the wrappings or folds of the linen partly as a preservative and partly as a cement to glue the linen cloths into a solid covering which adhered so closely to the body that it would not easily be removed. The aloes were a fragrant wood which was pounded to a dry dust, and the myrrh was an aromatic gum which was mixed in with the dry aloes. The powder immediately around the myrrh would become sticky and would cement the linen cloths to each other and to the body, but the bulk of the aloe powder would most likely remain dry. The face was covered with a cloth napkin or handkerchief which was sometimes wrapped fully around the head.1

I am not sure how all this aligns with the Shroud of Turin research, but it seems obvious from John’s writings, much closer to the actual events than today’s many suppositions, that a theft seemed highly unlikely. Why would a thief go to the difficulty of unwrapping the body before moving it? Why would the face cloth be folded and laid to the side, while the strips of linen were simply piled at the mouth of the tomb?

It has always been my belief that the face cloth, mentioned in other gospels, was a critical piece of the Master’s “wink” at his troubled disciple’s. Perhaps folded in the same way as the towel, after he had washed these same disciples’ feet? Something became strangely exciting in that moment! Perhaps we are in a similar place in time?

1 http://evidenceforchristianity.org/a-muslim-friend-claims-anointing-with-myrrh-and-aloe-is-not-a-jewish-practice-is-this-truer/

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Bible Basics

This morning was one of those times when I felt more nostalgia than revelation, yet seemed encouraged to write. As I continued my read through the Gospel of John, now in chapter 19, I was amazed by the detail surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. John seemed purposeful in his attempts to chronical the Old Testament passages that foretold just how this would unfold.

Of course I am writing somewhat tongue in cheek, for the New Testament scriptures are laden with clarity around the “types and shadows” of the Old Testament. The Tabernacle, necessary to provide focus during the Exodus years, would set up a need for a permanent Temple once the Israelites settled into Jerusalem. That temple, would then serve to platform the ministry of Jesus, which its rituals had for centuries foretold.

With its elaborate metaphorical furnishings, the temple declared a day coming when the People of God would become the Temple of God. The separation from the Holy of Holies, the four inch thick veil that Josephus wrote could withstand the pull of two teams of horses, would eventually be torn in twain, as Jesus the sacrificial lamb gave up his last breath on the tree. That tree, upon which the serpent was lifted in Moses day, would again be selected as an unavoidable and eternal symbol of the place where God would bare the guilt for our sin and shame.

The sacrifice for our sins, Christ himself, down to the distribution of his very garments, would model the requirements of the Law, even among those involved who knew little of the Law. Example being the Roman soldiers, who divided his outer garments, souvenirs of that fateful day, yet would cast lots for the inner garment, woven from one thread top to bottom. They chose not to tear this one, a drama long hidden in the words of the Psalmist (22:18).

Yes, and just as Exodus 12:46 required that the Passover Lamb have no bones broken, the soldiers made a risky “field decision” though ordered otherwise, not to break the bones of the Messiah, before releasing his body for burial. Those hanging either side Him, still alive, both received the brutal blow that would break their legs, preventing the victim means of lifting the body, as each gasped their final breaths. Jesus, the Lamb crucified during this Passover feast, would be spared their last cruel act, while fulfilling the scriptures once more. Still yet, Jesus would receive a mocking stab to the side, forever sealing the words from Zechariah 12:10, but affirming a promise that the very ones who had killed the long awaited Messiah, would again “look on him whom they had pierced.”

Finally, just as Isaiah had prophesied in chapter 53:9, he would find his burial among the wealthy, though highly improbable given his origin. Of course we know the story, of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, taking significant political risk in asking for his body, even providing the spices for his preparation.

Sometimes I just find a simple journey back to the basics somewhat refreshing.

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Absurdity

“On that day you will realize that I am in the Father and you are in me, and I am in you.” –Jesus (John14:20 NIV).

I could not help but sense how absurd that statement should sound to anyone unfamiliar with the Spirit of God. In fact, that statement should make no sense to anyone who has not had an encounter with Christ himself.

Perhaps the risk factor in my writing just went up again, for how can anyone have an experience with a man dead for over 2000 years? Now I have the same challenge as the blind man in John 9:25, healed by some “stranger” named Jesus. When asked by the religious to explain his encounter, his words were simply, “all I know is I was blind and now I see.” His parents were also caught off guard, for they were of the same religion as those asking the hard questions. Not wanting to lose anymore positional power than necessary, their response was “we don’t know who did this to our son, ask him, he is old enough to answer for himself.” How’s that for being thrown under the bus by your Momma!

When I read the harsh comments from the growing number of men and women that the institutional church has now left in its dust, a generation ill-informed of the spiritual realities that do exist, I can understand. How could any believer expect these words to make sense to men and women who have not experienced God for themselves? Yet, we get “all in a wad” when criticized!

Just because it is in the scriptures, one cannot expect a post-Christian society to accept our text as truth, especially when flexed in the face of a very literate and rational world. In fact, the same challenges are facing other mono-theistic religions, and thus the horrific crimes perpetrated among those prone to use violence to proselyte.

You might recall that even Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, educated in the scriptures and very well-meaning, stood before the Christ totally confused. Jesus was neither scornful nor taken back by his inability to understand. It is from that conversation that John captured the great phrase, “except a man be born again.”

We, the American Church may be the most absurd, when we expect of men what even Christ cautioned as impossible. Yet, his remedy of love also seems a bit far-fetched following on the heels of Old Testament writing; particularly if one reads of the warring escapades of the Kings or even the stories of more recent atrocities committed in the name of Christianity by our own religious zealots! Can we be honest about religion, was it ever God’s intent?

Jesus’ own humanity was tested in the temple, as pointed out by Ron Slater in today’s Readers Forum(1). The religious order of his day had simply become a trade, where men and women were preyed upon as they came to offer the sacrifices required by religious law. The House of Prayer, God’s original intent, had become a “den of thieves.”

This same Jesus, whom I believe was God, love incarnate, had come to place himself on the altar, forever arresting our fears of the punitive God portrayed by men yet to fully experience Him. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

Again my risk factor has been compounded, even among Christians, for now I am using the love word, when fear has driven us to prefer war over the olive branch. “Love covers a multitude of sins”, a hard earned reality for Peter, the man who desperately tried to protect Jesus. God doesn’t need us to protect Him or His Word, but to simply live it. “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12 NIV).

Do we really believe this stuff? If so, despite the volley of slurs between political leaders, the earnest and sometimes not so earnest attempts of our religious leaders, and yes, in the face of horrific crimes against humanity in the name of God, may we, the children of God, simply live love loudly!

Absurdity? Not to me, for once I was blind and now I see.

1 http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editor/the-readers-forum-wednesday-letters/article_c4153c76-bc3f-11e4-b35c-13f136d7fb28.html

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Prophet or Prodigal

Reading through the New Testament, internalizing the possibilities of one becoming like Jesus, which is no less than the Pauline Epistles state as possible, I must say is troubling.

Like the songwriter, I am:

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;”
1

The more I read of men who boldly profess the call of God on their lives, men who press into the marketplace as change agents, versus huddling among their own in sanctuaries, the more I realize this holy tension held in my breast.

Yet, even with the reality of calling comes the deep awareness of own brokenness. Our brokenness surely should be apparent in the macro. One has only to watch our nation’s centuries old struggle with racial justice, or the global brutality of terrorism now being inflicted by fellow human beings in the name of God.

Owning our brokenness individually and publically is simply not the American way, especially if one ever desires to speak into the political arena or climb up the corporate ladder. Even now my readers must be trying to determine if depression is driving this post or perhaps some type of Messiah complex?

Just being real, yet longing for the change that could be ours if we stepped not only into the reality of our brokenness, but with the salve of love, forgiveness and compassion. We all know both exist, or at least hopefully have experienced love, either as a wayward child, a hopeful parent or as with me, a doting grandparent!

That deep love is the base for authentic Christianity, perhaps not American Christianity but the belief system where a God exists who both desires to walk with us as friends and to see us as children, become all we were called to be in this broken world.

Aging has its benefits and its setbacks, more data for hard calls but more urgency given time. This morning all this bubbled up, as I read the words of Jesus: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” He was not only here as God, to make possible the things that our brokenness had robbed us of, but to model who we could be!

“Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;”
2

Staring headlong at the end zone, in fact, living in the Red Zone, my last 20 yards! No time to hold back!

1 Come, thy Fount of Every Blessing. http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/comethou.htm
2 Ibid.

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The Baby and the Wash

I am always amazed at the diverse opinion and the easily aroused passion among those in the Christian faith, particularly when it comes to the Canon of scriptures.

“A biblical canon, or canon of scripture, is a list of books considered to be authoritative scripture by a particular religious community. The word “canon” comes from the Greek κανών, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”.1

Yesterday, I posted a comment from Richard Rohr on Facebook, a representative community that I have carefully selected for its diversity and frankly its politics. No one is safe among my “friends” yet the conversation is amazing! “Representing” on line are those whom I highly respect for the faith journey they have lived out, as well as those highly educated in the faith, and those who teeter on heresy (a loaded word).

Rohr’s comment in the devotional cited below was: “You do realize, I hope, that every time God forgives, God is breaking God’s own rules, and saying relationship with YOU matters more than God being right! I would base my life on that assertion.”2

One has to admit that the idea that God would violate His own rules is quite thought provoking. I assume that was the very intent of this modern day contemplative. The underlying error in those provoked was the thought that the Law that was given was God’s rules. Yet, one only has to engage in the New Testament conversation with Jesus, directed most often at those most skilled in the law, to know that something was awry in their understanding of the “why” behind the “rules.” Not only did they not get the why, they added to the rules!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ “You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?”3

His point perhaps was Rohr’s, which is more important the rules or the people for whom the rules were provided? We overly guard the text at times and miss the spirit behind it. The baby is the main thing, not the wash!

“So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.…” 4

Selah!

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_canon

2 http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=ce7f20b6-4f7a-4c00-8732-279c244263fa&c=d34a34d0-eef9-11e3-b593-d4ae52754b78&ch=d4304f10-eef9-11e3-b60f-d4ae52754b78

3 http://biblehub.com/matthew/23-16.htm

4 http://biblehub.com/galatians/4-4.htm

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A Reality Check

Every once and a while a sanity check needs to occur in any leader’s head. Leadership is actually to a large degree conflict management, for if leadership assumes forward movement, and movement involves change, then conflict and at times even chaos is necessary.

This morning’s reflection on Richard Rohr’s post1 and the shock value that his departure from the norm always affords has caused me to reflect on my future, both as a church and community leader. Likewise, a post from the New York Times2 forwarded by a fellow church leader seemed to affirm my need for such a reality check given these troubling times. I cannot be comfortable, perhaps stirred by the future of one grandson, John Luther!

Of course all of this is flavored in part my annual journey through the scriptures, currently in John’s Gospel, with his references to John the Baptist. John’s life chronicles the benefit and hazards spoken to in Rohr’s reflections on the necessary balance between Kings, Priests and prophets. One has only to read my last post to understand my thoughts on the brokenness of our institutions and its leadership, to include myself. With that, the reader will understand the need to add the second reference, given the similar challenges now facing practicing Muslims.

Perhaps I am privileged to live in the time of a second Reformation, this one much more global, as God begins to bring a Kingdom perspective to all three monotheistic belief systems, Judaism, Christianity and yes, based on his promises to Hagar, Islam as well.

How does this impact my life? It calls to question much of what I have been taught, chosen to believe and in fact, experienced on my journey with the Lord of the Heavens. On the night of January 3, 1973 and ever since, my life has been undeniably and radically intersected by the God of the Universe. I now have over 40 years of evidence that this was not just a bad moment mentally!

I say that for those more rational, and because to believe otherwise sends me to a place of the paranormal that I cannot reconcile with science. I have seen too much of the super natural power of God to deny Him room in my life at this late juncture. I am Pentecostal, warts and all, and have seen interventions in my life and the lives of scores of others, from physical miracles, vocational placement and yes, financial means that were undeniable.

Perhaps like John the Baptist, I am now willing to take the risk of prophetic speak, though very aware of the dangers and misappropriations of hyper spiritual labels. As Rohr cautions, “In the Hebrew Scriptures, the central institution of Temple sacrifice, priests, and Levites attempted to balance itself with prophets, or the legitimation of official, sanctioned critics, even though they usually killed them in the end.”

So, what comes next, an objective review of institutional baggage? Maybe a cleansing from the things that people and politics have imposed, though they also were perhaps placed in my life as sovereign gatekeepers of the pace of change?

There have certainly been times when without these inputs, I would have run way ahead of timing, not that I haven’t questioned that reality already. However, I must believe that if I was called at an early age, protected from my own stupidity and sinfulness time and again, that I have now been positioned by providence with purpose! He is able to keep that which is committed to Him, the author and finisher of my faith!

“Through many dangers toils and snares, I have already come, tis grace hath kept me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”

1 http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=2d1eaaba-8a75-4e4a-be95-242a7a665524&c=d34a34d0-eef9-11e3-b593-d4ae52754b78&ch=d4304f10-eef9-11e3-b60f-d4ae52754b78

2 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/18/opinion/mustafa-akyol-a-letter-concerning-muslim-toleration.html?ref=opinion&_r=1

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We Are a Part of the Darkness

I continue to struggle with the role of the American Church at a time when the once distant, now global conflict of religion, approaches our shores. When darkness moves into the land, do not think that folk will join you in singing happy songs of worship to a God they do not know. Nor perhaps, that even your own countrymen will be on board with that, as the threat to their livelihood and loved ones becomes more real.

This morning as I read from the Gospel of John, I was stuck by the reality of darkness. It is by grace that I am saved, a gift from God and not of myself. Given that great point of privilege, I can easily mistake my new position in Christ as qualifying me as light, when even our own scriptures point out that the contrary. “If we say we are without sin, we make God a liar! Strong words from the same writer who coined these: “The light shines the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” John 1:5 NIV.

We are the children of light, but we are not the light. John the Baptist, “confessed freely, I am not the Christ.”

“Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79 KJV.

We, my friends, sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, but by grace. He is the light; we are the darkness, until we are made perfect in Him!

My fear is that because we have received light, we think we are the light, yet as I observe what comes out of me, let alone what I hear from those who profess light, I am assured that darkness often prevails in the people of light!

Mind you that I did not say that darkness prevails! Grace is providence working the works of light in the lives of humanity, the people of darkness. Yet darkness need not be feared. Several posts ago, I mentioned the book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor. Her well-articulated analogy of first time cave exploration, spelunking, passing through body sized narrow, absolutely dark spaces in silence, apart from the noise caused by the friction of her clothing, with only her coach’s blind promise of coming out on the other end was quite claustrophobic. Welcome to the journey!

Following Christ, faith, has often been referred to as a dark journey, so how do I walk this journey?

“It seems to me that what I am made for is not speculation but silence and emptiness, to wait in darkness and receive the Word of God entirely in His Oneness and not broken up into all His shadows.”1

We walk in darkness, so benefit most when we walk in silence. Our fear so often prevents silence, but “perfect love”, a gift from God, “drives out our fears.”

“Christianity is a religion of the Word. The Word is Love. But we sometimes forget that the Word emerges first of all from silence. When there is no silence, then the One Word which God speaks is not truly heard as Love. Then only ‘words’ are heard. ‘Words’ are not love, for they are many and Love is One. Where there are many words, we lose consciousness of the fact that there is really only One Word. The One Word which God speaks is Himself. Speaking, he manifests Himself as infinite Love.

If there is no silence beyond and within the many words of doctrine, there is no religion, only a religious ideology.”2

I am a part of the darkness, a moonlit darkness, yet in my moments of silence, by grace, I can enjoy the light reflected from the Son! Perhaps, even a conduit of light in the best and worst of times.

1 <a href=”https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/thomas-merton-on-silence/

2 Ibid.

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