A Twisted Tail (sic)

As I sat in church yesterday, listening to a pastor share the story of Nehemiah, a man with a passion for his city, I couldn’t help but rehearse the joy of the two years spent walking around and praying over my home town.

Yes, at age 48, I moved to the 24th floor of what was then the Wachovia Building with a sense of calling to pray.   Though now referred to as the Winston Tower, I prefer the previous name, given its connection with the early Moravian founders of Winston-Salem.  My heart was to discover the power of prayer; what I discovered was my own hearts need for prayer!

I had resigned my job as an Executive Pastor, though not as irresponsible as it might sound, given that my wife and I had first set up a company for purposes of income.  My objective was to pray for the city, watch for results and learn about prayer.  This seemed to perfectly align with a sense of call to cities, some 20 years earlier.  I had for seven years served a large and rapidly growing church after moving back to my hometown in response to that calling.  Before that, I had given 20 years to a nearby school system. Though it seemed to be a perfect fit in terms of campus outcomes, I had become aware that my service to that church was now limiting my flexibility and thus my impact. Spiritual discomfort for me, will always drive me to my knees and if not remedied, tends to bring pain both to me and to others.

Even before I resigned, I would find myself each day, and particularly Sunday’s, walking around the city’s inner blocks in prayer.   I wondered at times about my sanity!  Often from my 24th floor perch, I would pray first to the North, then East, and eventually cover the territory as far as I could see.  I am still watching the movement of the Spirit across our county, easily making connections between breakthroughs now occurring, the people I met and the situational soft-touches made during that window.  Prayer works.

You might be wondering about the title and yes, even the spelling?  Many may be too young to have ever walked a bull?  No that was not another typo!  When I was less than nine years of age, my mom drove me and my Dad to the stock sale in Statesville, NC. There, he intended to purchase a young steer, first to be stall fed and then butchered for his families consumption.  We had one car and no trailer!

My job was to walk in front of the often reluctant steer, holding a strap attached to a leather harness, gently indicating the path he should follow, along side the low traffic streets that led to our home.  Though I cannot imagine bringing a nine year old into this drama, I had already learned to follow instructions, at least from my Dad!  Now that I think of it, that may have been preparation for my future role as Mayor?

My Dad’s job was to walk alongside the steer standing between him and the highway; when a car approached he would nudge the young steer off the road.  As well, if the steer froze, refusing to move either off the road or forward, my Dad would ring his tail!  Not in such as way as to be cruel nor to do damage, but just to let the steer know that there was no alternative if he was to avoid pain!  Now you may realize where this is going.

Both in the days leading up to the follow-ship of my life calling, and even in the days since those glorious two years of prayer, God has been faithful to prod me, though at times I have both caused Him pain and suffered some of the same.  Not “tail pain”, but heart pain, when I have decided to test His faithfulness.  I am grateful to my Dad for those early leadership lessons, the life and eventual sacrifice of that young steer!  But as well, to God for His faithfulness, and for the inspiring story and life of Nehemiah, one of my heroes.

Astonishment

Most of my mornings begin with an earlier than expected awakening; this morning around 3:00.  When I slip into my bedroom shoes, Coach arises as well, flopping his half breed Beagle ears in some helicopter-like motion, all excited about the trip down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, at some point relieving himself of fluids built up during the night.  He has yet to retrieve the prized plastic bag of printed wood pulp for his master!  This beloved hound has his own priorities, especially if an early morning skunk has traversed the drive way.

Back inside, with coffee in hand, I begin my search of the printed page for world and local news not yet attained by way of digital media.  At some point,  I realize how pointless this exercise is, given the amount of time I spend on line.  I will eventually lay aside this diminishing reminder of the change occurring in our culture, assuaging my environmental guilt by way of the cloth newspaper recycling container my wife keeps beside my reading chair.

Meanwhile my spirit continues to ruminate over the possibilities of the new day, and will invariably lead me to the one text that has for nearly 45 years guided my every morning. Same old stories, though the margins of this leather bound friend are inked with new insights, daily captured over time, some less legible than others.  My legibility seems to diminish depending on the time allocated for reading and the pressure to produce, if that reading is somehow tied to a preparation.  This I assume has correlation with my ever growing desire to squeeze a little more out of the day by awakening just a little earlier than most?

If enough time remains my contemplative mind will get the best of me and convince my fingers that they have something to say.  Then, just as I am currently doing, I find myself pecking away at a keyboard.  Though my intent is good, rabbit trails often sabotage my ultimate and most often layered message.  Those that endure to the end, seem to find benefit!

Do I have something to say?  It would seem that way, or certainly the requests for mentor-ship  from the younger generation, the occasional speaking engagement or community leadership roles would rapidly diminish.  When I play through my story, daily stimulated by the aged sagas captured in ancient scripture, whether prophet, priest or king, I am astonished at what has occurred in my lifetime.

Just one generation away from a family with no dirt to call their own, their only asset a bail of cotton, and that barely salvaged when my then 16 year old Dad backed his Public School bus up to the porch of their blazing rent house. Everything burned, no furniture, just a bail of cotton, yet they like so many other Great Depression survivors started anew with a raw faith that God would provide for their family of seven; less the brother who had died earlier of pneumonia, before the Doctor’s horse and buggy could arrive from town!

Having now served as a three term mayor, privileged to live in a high wealth community, self employed for over 20 years, how did I get here? 

I even found myself conversing just last evening with a globally connected futurist about possiblilties of an invitation to New York, following a national gathering in Kansas this June of some 200 select communities.  One generation away from one bale of cotton!
What took me here this a.m., other than my astonishing gratefulness?

 I Kings 7:3,4 & 8:

The story of my life and a few other good friends in search of mercy!

 

 

 

 

 

A Fourth Man

These last couple of weeks has been quite involved at several levels, within my business, my community engagement and also my family.  April 6th is a special time given that my daughter, Summer, and now her daughter, Caroline, were both born on that same date!

 

Yet amidst all that, I have continued to wonder about a thought that occurs to me as I continue to meditate upon the concept of the Trinity.  You may be humored by the thought that I put into my walk with Christ, but for me, Christianity is not about religion, church attendance nor even sharing my testimony, but rather, fully understanding who God is and affording avenue for the Trinity to flow through me.  If that happens, the other stuff will be a natural!

 

Is there more to the Trinity story than simply three beings, unlike me, whose only mission is to lavish love upon each other, and to demonstrate that love by way of this broken creation, of which I am a part!  Was there entry made for me to walk through this life, bathed in that same love, in full communion with this Tri-part Being?  That is the Gospel!

 

Raised quite simple, I was taught to see God the Father as Creator and a kind of general overseer of the Universe; then Jesus, His Son, a Redeemer type foreordained to rescue a broken world.  It was all about us and a God feverishly attempting to redeem something that had gone awry.  Once redeemed, one could by way of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, be empowered to win the rest of the world to Jesus, if each so chose.  The concept was fairly easily explained.

 

Only of late, through the insistent work of Richard Rohr have I begun to think differently about the Trinity and even Creation.  Who are these three beings, surely not like we who are “lower than the angels?”  Apparently, there is some pecking order in the heavens of which we are the least.  In fact, “Franciscan theology on the whole . . . emphasized the incarnation as the love of God made visible in the world. [Bonaventure] did not consider the incarnation foremost as a remedy for sin but the primacy of love and the completion of creation. He recapitulated an idea present in the Greek fathers of the church, namely, Christ is the redeeming and fulfilling center of the universe. Christ does not save us from creation; rather, Christ is the reason for creation. . . . Christ is first in God’s intention to love; love is the reason for creation.” 1

 

Was Creation solely about the Christ, a manifestation of unadulterated love in front of fallen angels, rather than some attempt on God’s part to establish a Universe, only to have it be overpowered by a Fallen Angel, thus requiring His rescue?   Really, and worse yet, was the fallen-ness of these creatures a great source of anger, even rage from Father God, requiring the blood of His Son as the only sufficient means to appease that anger?   If so, how does this contrast with the loving nature of Christ, whom we claim to be the manifestation of God in the flesh, let alone the Prodigal whom Jesus spoke of, “his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck!”

If I may turn a corner here as we head toward my point, one of my favorite stories in the Bible is that of the three Hebrew children, children of the king’s seed, sought out by Nebuchadnezzar for their academic prowess.  Yet, when they refused the diet recommended, let alone later on, to bow down to the King, things got a little rough!

 

Actually there were four Hebrews, to include Daniel.  It seems that after Daniel’s interpretation of the King’s dream, all four were elevated in authority within the province but apparently Daniel served in a different station than the other three.  I say this because it appears that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found themselves isolated in some way from Daniel and ended up facing the fiery furnace.

 

Most if not all, know the story of the King ramping up the furnace so hot, that it actually slew the men who threw the three Hebrews in!

 

However, in the midst of the fire, a FOURTH appeared and by the King’s own admission, that was likened unto a “son of the gods!”

 

This is a quantum leap from Sunday School, but is there a message here for the believer willing to step into the fire of this great transformational shift occurring in today’s world?   Is there a place for a fourth in the Trinity by way of the Holy Spirit, so invincible that even the flames of this great cultural shift cannot harm us?  We walk around in the fire while not even the hint of smoke attaches itself to us?

 

My point this morning, has less to do with the commitment of these young boys, than the faithful companionship that drew God into their fire, appropriating such an invincible nature by way of this fourth man.  Surely there is a compounded message beyond the fact that these three boys were saved, or even elevated once more by this fickle King?

 

Was the Son of God actually modeling a walk that is now possible for mankind?  Was it this mystical relationship which afforded the Hebrew heroes of the faith, along with the martyrs of the gospel since, to endure extreme hardship?  Is there a place in the Trinity for a fourth, the Bride of Christ, and could this afford such an invincible walk that even in the fire of this present cultural shirt, we are not burned.   Was there a Trinity message for us in that fire?

 

Have we accepted a lesser message in our brokenness, believing this whole thing is about us, rather than some greater drama being played out the lesser stage of this small globe; and yes, before an audience of spiritual beings much more powerful than ourselves.  Is that message about the empowerment of love?

 

This by the way, at least in my eyes, now justifies the shed blood of Christ, for I can now envision a Tri-part Being who is so forgiving and all knowing that even before we fallen creatures were made, it was foreordained that He would show up in our fire.  Even at a time when crucifixion was the highest penalty for breaking the law, knowing that our sin, not His wrath, would bring such guilt as to demand blood sacrifice, the highest cost to mortals, the shedding of blood, His blood!  This penalty, even the blood of a lamb, mysteriously reinforced in religion, would culminate in a moment like no other, communicating what true love is…for God is love!

 

[1] Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution (Orbis Books: 2008), 6.

Getting to NO

 

I was unable to escape a pastor’s message on Sunday regarding the great “NO” faced by our Lord in Gethsemane, a place more and more significant to my life.

 

Luke records these words of Jesus in the Garden: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”1

 

In a “Getting to Yes2 World” or perhaps now as recommended by our new President, learning the Art of The Deal3, we find ourselves as a nation, far removed from the humility and the love demonstrated by the man Christ Jesus.

 

Yes, this God became flesh, knowing the agony of the cross, choosing to fully reveal His great love at a time when this cruel art of execution was used by the Romans; meant to discourage any insurrection or tendency toward crime.  Ironically, the crime committed by those responsible for the death of Christ perhaps far exceeds that of the criminals that died on each side of the Christ!  UHMM, even as I write, I sense perhaps a tinge of bitterness still resides in my own heart, for even after Calvary, it is not “God’s will that any should perish, but that ALL should have eternal life.”4   WOW, what love!

 

Gethsemane was Jesus, both God and Man getting to “NO”; coming to agreement with Himself as God, and coming to a comfort level as a man with God’s full purpose for His life.

 

In this case there is greater mystery as to how the decision was made. “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days.”5

 

Calvary was seen by the religious as a rightful punishment for someone claiming to be God, though He had repeatedly manifest miracles attributable only to God; by others, an act of appeasement to a God angry at His sinful Creation!  Perhaps with God, it was seen as the only act of love that we as sinful people would find fitting, thus relieving us of the guilt that our brokenness loads upon our lives?  He himself would become flesh; a scape goat bearing our sins in the manner fitting of only the worst of sinners!

 

Getting to this “NO” was still no easy negotiation for the God-Man, yet humility and love won over through “great sweat drops of blood.”

 

For those equally “called according to His purposes” our prayer’s answer may not always be “Yes”, or even “Not Now!”  “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”6

 

 

 

1 Luke 22:42 NIV

2 Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

by Bruce Patton, William Ury, Roger Fisher.

3 The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump.

4 II Peter 3:9

5 I Peter 1:20 NLT

6 I Peter 4:13 NIV

Religion and Love

I guess, with the political clamor in our nation and in fact around the globe, and the divisive religious conversations now occurring, yes even on Facebook, I tend to read scripture differently than ever before.  I saw a Facebook post this a.m. that read “Muslims Need Jesus, get equipped.”  Not sure what will be offered but I trust it is an exercise in loving those that come from quite a different experience than the majority of Americans.

 

Only true love, not hate or fear affords the conversational openness to share the transformation that occurs when one truly comes to know Christ.

 

This morning as I read from Philippians, though a friend recently cautioned me about seeing Jesus through Paul, I noticed how much his perspective had changed as he aged.

 

Credibility for me comes when I consider the radical change that occurred in this man, who once boasted of those imprisoned and even killed Christians on behalf of God, though well-schooled in his Theology.  Yet, here in Philippians, he refers to his former peers still in Judaism as “mutilators of the flesh” when referencing circumcision.   What was the radical change that occurred in Paul’s life?  BTW, it was post-ascension, which gives me hope of escaping religion as well.

 

The entire Biblical narrative, both Old and New Testaments seems packed with ongoing revelation as the people of God mature generationally, though not without struggle.  This killing in the name of God seems to be one of the last bastions of sin to fall, fostered by an “us and them” perspective that so many religious people seem to feed upon.

 

Jesus, who professed to be God in the flesh said, “come unto me all that are heavy laden and I will give you rest”…not power, prosperity nor a mandate to kill, but peace and a radical concern for others!

 

As I read further, even into John’s writings, this seasoned disciple who spent time with Christ, also reflects a new perspective now near ninety years of age.  Timne and a relationship with God seem to be releasing the old religious bias that caused so much turmoil over the actual city of Jerusalem as the place where God would eventually reign, thus validating Israel as the chosen of God.  Now perhaps more non-religious than ever before, he writes, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”  Something new was in his spirit.

 

As I age, I have to wonder at the mystery of scripture, and how mankind, even those most in love with God, have captured so much of their own bias, while still miraculously delivering such a powerful and ongoing revelation of the Father!

 

Apparently there is more to come than any one religion has yet to phantom from this loving God, whose desire it is that none perish!  I guess age causes one to wonder more than in the former days when youth convinced us that we knew it all!

Soulish Strategies Redeemed

I could hardly wait to get back to my workstation after my 7:00 meeting this a.m.. Maybe it was because of my long hiatus from blogging, which has prevented this vulnerable process that affords me such great pleasure.

This morning’s early read through my favorite Bible book,  Ruth backed up with the scarlet thread of truth delivered in the testimony of a local business man and brother in Christ at NCS (1); or maybe it’s this feeling that a new and long awaited season has now opened! Life in Christ and the privilege of aging is amazing!

If you have not read Ruth of late you might want to.  It is loaded with relevance in terms of relationships, even some skillful pointers in workplace negotiation.  I think we are too often distracted by the marvelous prophetic nuances that affirm the divinity of Christ; even so much so, that we may miss beneficial life applications for the “here and now.”

Widow Naomi, originally from Bethlehem had fled a famine along with her late husband Elimelech, though she still owned property there.  Her two sons, whose names meant “infirmity” and “failing”, perhaps allegorical, bring light to what often happens with our best efforts.  As the author unpacks the story of Naomi, I can hear my own soulish thoughts,  as when I occasionally encounter life’s bitter circumstance.

Yet in this beautiful story, Ruth exemplifies the best of a companion: one who listens, and follows through with humility; she seems to also reflect the internal dialogue I often hear and have learned to follow, when I am at my best spiritually.   She simply goes about each new day, shows up on behalf of Naomi, and then wonders as the spiritual dynamic around her so persuasively demonstrates the providence and favor of Father God, to this foreigner so new to the faith!

Naomi, once back in her hometown, is land poor; that is, broke except for that one asset. She instructs this Moabite, Ruth around the custom of gleaning, the Hebrew strategy in their day for homelessness and hunger.  As farmers harvested their crops, which jusy so happened to be the case when they arrived, both hungry and destitute.  

There in Bethlehem (The House of Bread), laborers with little agricultural equipment, were instructed not to pick up spilled or overlooked grain, especially in the corners of the fields.
Ruth each day, faithfully goes to the fields in hope of enough grain for a meal. Ironically, the very field she goes into happens to be a field owned by a wealthy relative, Boaz (fat chance).  Boaz, a business man always with an eye for opportunity, happens to drop by (management by walking around).  He immediately spots this beautiful woman and immediately instructs his servant to protect her; even find a way to allow more grain to be left in the field than normal!   I suspect it was not only physical beauty but spiritual presence that attracted this man of integrity, as the story will soon bear out.   She gains instant favor and finds provision for herself and Naomi; have included a worship link for those having not so terrific a mement in their lives-beauty for ashes (2).

Boaz soon comes to learn of his kinsman-redeemer opportunity; his lineage and custom requires him to honor a fallen brother both economically and maritally.  Boaz was a type of Christ!

Meanwhile Naomi, too often like myself, works feverishly from her broken and bitter place of failure and loss, attempting to at least position Ruth in a way that she would be noticed, in hopes that Boaz would consider his responsibility as a kinsman-redeemer. 

Naomi, was working from a distorted position of power, though for all practical purposes powerless; at least she had a network and knowledge of the Hebrew customs.  Ha!

Also laughable is the way that the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes to accomplish the will of the Lord, restoring Naomi; and even in the end, providing for Ruth with what Naomi had earlier assured her would never happen! 

Naomi finds herself rejoicing, Ruth now a bride and the mother of her first child, “and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.”(3)

This truth was long ago prophesied by Jacob over his erring son Judah, in a similar situation, after the loss of his wife, then with a daughter-in-law, Tamar pregnant by  Judah (you can’t make up this stuff); thus setting up the lineage for a King…out of Judah would come a lion! (4)

Bottom line, how blessed I was this a.m. by a Biblical mother-in-law who acts like me, at my worst; a foreigner’s daughter brought into the glorious story of the Gospel; and yes, a business man willing to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.   The latter, witnessed both in my 5:00 devotional and in the testimony of my friend at 7!  What a morning!  And on top of that I even treated myself and Coach to a fresh Bacon, Egg and Cheese from Pete’s in Clemmons!

1 https://newcanaansociety.org/winston-salem/

2 http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/beauty-for-ashes-chris-mcclarney/

3 Ruth 4:17b

4 Gen 49:8-12

 

 

The Spirit of Sampson

Twice this morning I have sat down at my workstation to capture a moment of closure.  Ironically it has been exactly 30 years since we began a journey that would eventually lead us to uproot ourselves professionally, leave a newly constructed home and set out on what has been one of the most exciting and productive times of our lives as a couple.  Not sure how all this has felt to my only child, though life seems to be working well for her.

 

Life is about transitions, the word we often use to describe the inevitable adjustments to the constant of change.  What we make of those adjustments can determine long term outcomes, good and bad.  The best response is to move into the flow, which always leads to transformation.

 

As has been the case with my professional life for 44 years, my parallel journey through scripture has always been equally providential in its timing.  This morning I was reading in Judges 13-16, the story of Sampson.  His life both in terms of weakness and calling, have always spoken to me.  Being a visionary, I have often had moments where scriptural stories would literally play on the screen of my mind, providing critical markers, junction points of decision in my life.  Such has been the story of Sampson.

 

Of course everyone would desire their life be marked with heroic acts, like ripping apart a lion or slaying 1000 men with the jawbone of an ass.  That has not been the case, unless perhaps I capitalize on a play on words, referencing the moments where with “foot in my mouth,” the words from my “jaws” have made me appear more like the animal referenced!

 

Once we made the decision to risk all in 1987, and began a journey toward a new town, Winston-Salem, with little promise of exercising our calling, things began to move at a rapid pace.   That is the nature of transformation; all this was affirmed this a.m. as I read through the first few pages of my hard back paper journal, now within months of being a 30 year old document!

 

I have always been a slow learner when it comes to change, a trait one would think unlikely for a visionary.  That comes from a deep commitment to vision (strength that becomes weakness) and loyalties gained over time, which often must slowly erode before one is able to move on.  Pardon my candor, by no means meant to harm but in hopes that this blog, which has now for eight years served as my journal, will somehow serve others, who may come behind me.  Transparency and accountability are cousins, if not sisters, to truth telling.

 

Back to Samson, I can recall my conversation with the Lord, as I was driving up Highway 52, some years later, having cut our final ties with the city of Lexington, which we still love.  My case with the Lord, as I struggled with the loneliness of the new, was the stability and opportunity the school system had offered my family, emerging positions of leadership and influence, let alone full retirement in only 10 years!

 

It was then, on a stretch of concrete near the Akron Drive exit, the aforementioned video began to play; I literally watched as a blind, tired Sampson, walking in circles, enslaved by and harnessed to a grist mill, ground someone else’s grain! (Judges 16:21)

 

The option posed by the Spirit was whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life grinding someone else’s “grain” in return for subsistence, or would I rather follow him?  My decision was swift, though I somehow knew that my friend would have blessed either had I stumbled.

 

From that day forward my prayer has been, not only that I know the freedom to make wise decisions long before this level of crisis, but also maintain the valor of this man Sampson, when it came time to make such transformational plays.

 

Though Sampson lived in a much more primitive time, my heart cry since that “video” has always been that should I ever find myself in a spot in my life where my efforts were of value only as entertainment, that God would provide an exit strategy, a last and perhaps sovereign leadership moment!

 

This post is about the hope and new sense of calling that transitions often provide.  Could this morning’s sense of closure actually be further fulfillment of a transformation begun 30 years ago and in fact, the grandest moment of my calling?   This morning confirmed that journaling is a valuable tool for hindsight and affirmation..

 

God give me the ears of Sampson, discernment for the moment, and the companion (“not by might nor power, but by His Spirit”) willing to guide this now aged servant toward just the place where those now allegorical, yet critical “temple pillars stand”, and then may I, like Sampson, push with all my might!