Between Two Thieves

 

 

I cannot believe how long it has been since I have posted on my blog.  As well, how the thought of “two thieves” continues to incubate in my heart.  Is it a book, an insight to be shared or a message that I should continue to ponder privately?  I alluded to it once on a post but have never wrestled through it sufficient for it to leave my spirit.

 

Processing thought is how I spend a large majority of my time.  Probably secondary to that is reading the Scriptures and the writings of others regarding that mysterious text.

 

Then of course the rest of my time is giving to living according to where my heart seems to be that day, as I move out into the workplace and among my family.  My family, such a gift and yet robbed it seems of so much life experience, having watched me wrestle between two thieves most of my life.

 

By now you must have had some idea of where the thought comes from?

 

“Two other men were also led out with Jesus to be killed. Both of them had broken the law. The soldiers brought them to the place called the Skull. There they nailed Jesus to the cross. He hung between the two criminals. One was on his right and one was on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” The soldiers divided up his clothes by casting lots.

 

The people stood there watching. The rulers even made fun of Jesus. They said, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

 

The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him. They offered him wine vinegar. They said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

 

A written sign had been placed above him. It read,

this is the king of the jews.

One of the criminals hanging there made fun of Jesus. He said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself! Save us!”

 

But the other criminal scolded him. “Don’t you have any respect for God?” he said. “Remember, you are under the same sentence of death. 41 We are being punished fairly. We are getting just what our actions call for. But this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”

 

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Luke 23:32-42 (NIRV):

 

I must however give credit where credit is due, for my first “aha!” occurred in a sanctuary on a Sunday morning as my good friend Allan Wright of Reynolda Presbyterian unpacked his own revelation about the conversation that occurred between three men, two guilty, while one suffered with a cause that drew both blasphemy from one and repentance from the other.

 

 

Then there is Richard Rohr, to some a heretic and to others a man of tremendous insight into the gospel, with little middle ground allowed!  “The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! Duns Scotus concluded that Jesus’ death was not a “penal substitution” but a divine epiphany for all to see. Jesus was pure gift. The idea of gift is much more transformative than necessity, payment, or transaction. It shows that God is not violent, but loving. It is we who are violent.”

 

It would seem that the lowly birth and tragic though prophetic, death of Jesus was God saying “flag on the field” to religion and the religious; His death, an answer to the punishment sin’s guilt demanded of the sinner, rather than a means of assuaging God’s wrath!  My concern is that even with the great scriptural contrast between who Jesus demonstrated God to be, alongside the wrathful One described in the Old Testament, we have preferred some combination of the two and devised doctrines to support that perception!

 

The mystery of scripture is not in the literal text but in its ability to capture the hearts of both man and God in a way such that an ongoing revelation is possible and probable to the one whose heart is open.

 

“Jesus was killed on the collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world that was both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. He hung between a good thief and a bad thief, between heaven and earth, inside of both humanity and divinity, a male body with a feminine soul, utterly whole and yet utterly disfigured—all the primary opposites.” – Rohr 7/26/17

 

Today we set inside a nation so divided that our global image of hope and the American Dream becomes more tarnished almost daily.

 

At a recent conference represented by 10 nations, I was privileged to engage in a an elevator conversation with a first generation immigrant Venture Capitalist. He was very clear about his role in aiding those pouring into our country with ideas and dreams such that they are able to get “legs under their dream” as soon as possible, thus prepared for what he saw coming to this country.  This was a brief conversation as we descended 19 floors, but as he was leaving, in a very cold but caring way, as he sensed my desire to see our country transformed, he left me with these words: “250 years is not bad for a country, you guys have had a good run!”  I was dumbfounded by his calculated realism!

 

What brought us here?  Perhaps our willingness to accommodate division as a Church, Catholic-Protestant, Charismatic-Orthodox traditional; or maybe it was by design; left brained-right brained?  Could that have been the necessity of the Trinity Concept, three in one or three that are contained in a fourth, just now being dealt with in our both and conversations of the last 10-120 years?

 

Again I found it interesting in Rohr’s timing as he used the same words in a recent morning meditation: “the crucified one” always hangs between these two thieves — paying the price within himself just as we must do.”  For context I will include his entire paragraph:

 

“If we must have perfection to be happy with ourselves, we have only two choices. We can either blind ourselves to our own evil (and deny the weeds) or we can give up in discouragement (and deny the wheat). But if we put aside perfection and face the tension of having both, then we can hear the good news with open hearts. It takes uncommon humility to carry the dark side of things. It takes a kind of courage to carry the good side, too. Archetypically, “the crucified one” always hangs between these two thieves — paying the price within himself just as we must do. (See Luke 23:32–34; note Jesus forgives both thieves.)”

 

Our political divide, even though today it seems potentially insurmountable, is one of the healthy traits of democracy, as long as civility reigns and ego’s are contained; as well, the ability to separate personal agenda from prophetic calling, and religion from divine relationship.

 

The challenge of living and dying between two thieves is quite tedious and in a pluralistic society spiritual cannibalism also comes into play.

 

So much to unpack!

Shock and Awe

Matthews’ account of John the Baptist struck a chord with me this a.m. given the recent loss of an admired believer, though somewhat distant friend.  Our lives seem disposable when one who has been so diligent in the spread of the gospel is taken out by disease or disaster, especially as young as this friend was.  We just don’t see it coming, even with the much dreaded lingering torment of cancer.

 

I have to wonder what was going on in John’s mind as he sat there waiting for his cousin Jesus to bring solution to his guiltless imprisonment by the tyrant Herod.  Even Herod knew that this precursor of the Christ had done nothing wrong, other than calling whoredom what it was! I wonder if even John had a clue as to how far his prophetic life style would take him, in preparing the way for the God-man and members of his crew.

 

I can see John, somewhat relieved as the door to his cell was opened, thinking his cousin must have come through.  The horror and disbelief that must have momentarily been his as the guard swung his blade severing his head!  What a loss to humanity!

 

Jesus himself seems caught off guard; remember this God-man was fully man!  He “retreats to a solitary place.”  Yet still the crowds are there, and unlike so many of us, his compassion overcomes his grief and yes, perhaps even his disbelief, that God would let something like this occur.  Meanwhile, His disciples are of little help in the moment other than to scorn the crowd, directing Jesus to send them away so they can eat.  These privileged few were apparently more directed by their bellies than their hearts.  That would all change soon!

 

Whether truly hour by hour or simply the way it is recorded, one’s read of Mathew 14 moves swiftly forward, and I think for a reason.  The narrative that begins with a threatened Herod, stunned by what he hears of John the Baptist:”risen from the dead!  That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”   That of course is more religious folklore than reality, but between that and John’s accusation of his Brother Phillip’s wife, he had him locked up!

 

From that point an abrupt execution occurs, leaving his cousin Jesus stunned, yet in a way we cannot conceive, his grief is overcome by compassion and another God-moment occurs in the feeding of the 5000!   “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in a boat” where they find themselves in a storm!  Unlike anything these former fisherman had evr seen, Jesus appears out on the water.  Their first guess: “It’s a ghost.”  Of course, that is followed by the famed story of Peter walking on the water!

 

How does all this relate, perhaps we are witnessing the shift of a spiritual mantle from John the Baptist to Peter,: though unlike John, Peter, when in prison will be greeted not by a guard with a sword, but an angel who unlocks the doors and leads him to a prayer meeting where he is greeted by some of  his old “ship mates” from that very storm, now cowering in disbelief, though praying for his release.

 

We are a strange bunch and God works in even more mysterious ways to continue his work when it is time for a mantle to shift!  Peter is now emboldened in a way not seen since John, and even more so, when the One whom John prophesied had in fact risen from the grave!  The Early Church is still alive, though our response to the ways of the Lord seems eerily the same, especially when we lose a warrior friend!

 

Rest in Peace Caroline Leinbach Woo!

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!