The Sheep Pen

Hindu Event

Occasionally in my read through scriptures, a phrase will leap out at me and remain present throughout the rest of my reading, almost a distraction.  After a while, I will circle back and study that phrase for further insights.

 

This a.m. in John 10:1, only eleven words into my read, there it was.  “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen through the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber.”

 

Context is important.  Jesus was questioning the newly healed blind man, and of course the religious were always nearby.  Not the well-meaning church folk, but those hoping to catch Him in some flawed statement; kind of the same ilk as our contemporary ultra-partisan politicians!

 

Of late, I have become personally aware of the brokenness of humanity, to include myself!  Even those most conscientious about following the ways of Christ have a dark side.  In fact, John commented on this earlier in verses 2:24, 25:  “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them (speaking of believers), for he knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (NIV).

 

I am a sheep, a smelly one at times, and though occasionally I try to lead (shepherd) I quickly become convinced of “what was (is) in a man.”  We are broken at best.  Thank God, we have a Shepherd.  Thank God for the security of a “pen.”

 

The Gate, Christ himself, who was God our Creator, is and ever shall be our Abba Father!  He was and is the Way.  His lifestyle, his demonstration of mercy and love, is the way.  What greater love has no man, than to lay down one’s life for another.   Sinning, the falling short of the glory of God, we do well!  Forgiving, accepting, inclusion, not so well!

 

With sin always comes guilt and the need of “redemption” (chose your on word).  Perhaps guilt, that sickening feeling is more a part of our brokenness than God’s demand, for God knows we are “sheep.”

 

The Good News, He became “sin” for us!  The Shepherd became a sheep, a lamb, one sacrificed, once and for all; ever resolving the sin imposed need of redemption!  Let’s not make this difficult.

 

That is always good news in my darkest moments!

 

This is by no means my attempt to say that American Christianity is the Way, nor that the “Jesus” often presented by legalistic evangelicals (perhaps the Pharisees of our day) is the only way.  I’ll let the reader percolate (coffee in hand) on that one.

 

In fact, the Gate Keeper Himself was by no means an exclusionist: “I have other sheep that are not a part of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.” John 10:16a (NIV).

Uhmm?

Sheep or Shepherds

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jn 1:1-5,14 NIV

In a recent conversation, after just having read these refreshing  words from the Gospel of John, I was made aware of just how far we as Christ followers may have strayed from the role model of The Christ.

Christ was God become flesh, that’s the model, The Chief Shepherd became a lamb!

My point is our apparent promotion mentality.  We want to become shepherds working the sheep, and though I understand the agricultural leadership allegory, I sense a loss of perspective. We are the sheep to whom the Chief Shepherd came!  We did not become him, we are still sheep, smelly sheep!

Perhaps the structural hierarchy of the church has deluded us?  It seems that no one wants to bear the image of a sinner saved by grace.   We want to be above “them” while drawing our spiritual esteem from serving among “them.”  In fact, even those who would emerge as true spiritual leaders are too often quickly promoted to the esteemed rank of Bishop, Archbishop, even Overseer.  Pecking order was not a part of Jesus’ model, though rightfully all titles were His!

Jesus resisted flattery, even the well deserved title of Rabbi.  In fact his reply at one point was “there is none good but God!”

If He became flesh, a lamb among sheep, a model of God’s truth and grace, should we not also be comfortable in our own sheep skin as we walk and love within the marketplace of our personal calling?

One Day

Picture 1

I seem to be writing less these days; inconsistent might be more truthful.  With the grands now rightfully capturing any flex time, not to mention the bizarre political climate that has seized the institutional church, it’s hard to write with a positive bent!

 

Yet, when daily compelled by ever present thoughts around a particular theme, I will eventually be driven to process, the purpose of my blog.

 

The words spoken to me at age nine, “One day you will preach the Gospel” are forever etched in the recesses of my mind.  How does one escape calling?

 

Regardless of that sovereign voice, my life has never taken on the vocation most would assume.  Now at age 67, when most are considering retirement, I continue to wrestle with communicating the Gospel, howbeit in non-traditional venues. Maybe my childhood orientation toward “preaching the Gospel” behind a pulpit was part of the challenge?

 

Maybe “this is the Day the Lord has made” and so I must get on with it.

 

What is the Gospel and if platforms for its preachment have been erected on almost every corner, how have we produced the national leadership deficit we now face? Think about it, if “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”…?

 

The answer perhaps is a Gospel based not on fear but grace alone.  Fear brings torment, the tool behind the many terrorists who believe themselves agents of God!

 

As we sit on the cusp of a choice between anarchy and socialism, the Gospel message is quite simple and when demonstrated in love, equally compelling. “Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” was the writer’s summation in the Book of Romans.   Contextually, a definition of the Kingdom of God, yet the Gospel, at its best is exactly that: the declaration of another Kingdom come among us!  One that so stretches our faith that we often err in communicating this beautiful reality.

 

True righteousness cannot be learned but rather is “imputed”, an alien righteousness offered from the only true standard bearer, our Creator!

 

Peace is the gift bought on our behalf by the One who reconciled sin, not mine alone, but the sins of the whole world.  Simply put, God became flesh and bore the brokenness that we perceive within ourselves, now our sins are no longer entertained by the Creator!  Sin was put  to death, nailed to the cross as at it were!

 

Joy, that flood of awareness and freedom from our dreaded lost-ness, now back-fills the void, without one pence of cost to us!  We who have been made whole are now free to “become”, rather than being tasked to “do”, as our faith based institutions so often require!

 

Perhaps the frustration of our politics is certain evidence that the message we have preached has fallen short of the glory of God?

 

This day, I have preached the gospel!

Grasping The Moment

It’s been some time since I have been moved to post on my blog, perhaps due to family distractions, a birth and a death.  Need I speak of the doting grandfather that I have become, “wasting hours” as my finger is tugged upon by an amazing young boy who loves to go “out Poppi, out.”  Then, like so many, dumbstruck by the amusement of our current national politics.  The latter I find every day a little more sobering.

 

This morning as I finished my annual read through the final two chapters of the book of Matthew, the pages seem to literally reverberate with truth about our day.  These chapters walk us through the frustrations of a well-meaning Judas who seems set up to betray the Christ.   Perhaps he was thinking, surely this man who walked on water could prevent any danger to himself?  He thus schemes for a moment deep within the “Whitehouse” of his day, where at last Jesus could be positioned as that conquering savior all had prayed for, much needed by the people held in Rome’s grip of oppression.  I need to move on!

 

Judas then seeks repentance among the religious of his day, those set up to administer the truth and justice of Moses’ Law only to be mocked.  His bribery money, earlier issued by those same chief priests, now prophetically used by the “do-gooders” of the institutional church of their day!  Jeremiah (32:24) had beaten them to their decision and unknowingly recorded the moment for posterity, as had Zechariah (11:12-13), centuries before that day.  The mystery and relevance of the scriptures is baffling!

 

Judas, gripped by an unresolvable remorse, his convictions perhaps deeper than those in the priesthood, hangs himself.

 

“Meanwhile” (Matthew 27:11) the kangaroo court of the Priesthood has sent Jesus before Pilate, where the saga continues.  Pilate, a skilled politician, attempts to escape the sick plot of the “righteous” by utilizing the custom of offering the demented person of Barabbus in exchange for the one he knows to be innocent.  Needless to say, the people and politics prevail.  A scary but relevant insight for today!

 

As Jesus is then turned over to those paid to torment and terrorize, the mockery continues with The One whom they have little knowledge of, beyond some rumor that He had declared himself the King of the Jews, even the Son of God!  Can you begin to see what I see?

 

My need to write (to process) came as I attempted to get inside the head of Jesus, a man dying on a cross, hanging between two thieves after a life of generous love toward others.  This had to be emotionally grueling, particularly if one had known earlier moments where the heavens had ministered to and through him.  Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration, angels in the Garden, bread and fish multiplied, not to speak of numerous healings; even in great storms, he had defied the very laws of nature!

 

In His dying words, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” questioned by some as a cry out to Elijah, he was simply quoting Psalm 22:1; perhaps in death, reflecting on the prophecies He was then fulfilling?  Yes, He was then drinking the Gethsemane cup, He had so desperately prayed to escape, “if there be any other way!”

 

When its seems that all is going to Hell in a hand-basket, remember this is Friday and Sunday is coming, also testified to by the multiple dead raised in Matthew 27:52, as they came out of their tomb!

 

Grandchildren are a great joy, but the Word of God is fascinating and relevant!

 

 

 

Speaking in Tongues

Download 2013 026Its been quite a while since my last blog post.  These last two months have been filled with significant family moments, from the birth of a granddaughter, to the death of my dear Father-in-law.  Life can be quite intense at times.

This morning as things seem to be planing out somewhat, I picked up one of my wife’s devotionals from Max Lucado, “On Cavary’s Hill.”  I was stuck by an insight unpacked in the way only he seems able.  Lucado comments on the sign posted over Jesus’ head as he hung from the cruel Roman cross.  “King of the Jews” it read, in three languages, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.  The three languages of the then ancient world.

Lucado goes on to explain that Pilate’s assigned title was written in Hebrew, the language of Israel, the language of religion; then, also in Latin, the language of the Romans, the language of law and government; and in Greek, the language of Greece, the language of culture.

My spiritual orientation is Pentecostal, a theology constructed around the belief that God through the Holy Spirit can in fact speak through the followers of Christ in languages they have not learned, often necessary to communicate the Good News to those of other orientations.

Yet Paul, in I Corinthians 13 states that “though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not love, I have become a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.” There are times when the way we communicate determines whether or not our message is heard.  There are ways to say things to the religious that require a language different than when we are speaking to politicians, or to those far distant from our own culture.

We too often are more concerned with the opinion we want to express, than we are the true impact of our thoughts and words on others.  Though we may be sincere in our desire speak truth, the language we use can often be totally offensive.

In a pluralistic, overly religious, politically polarized,multicultural society, speaking in the right tongue means everything, especially if we are to reflect the Christ of Calvary!

 

 

 

Ideologies

Hindu Event

My Facebook page serves as a sample of the global community in which I live.  I have carefully maintained a broad spectrum of “friends”- those that I associate with on a regular basis as well as, some I have come to know through others.  It is intentionally geographically global, as well as politically ideological.

Ideology is an interesting word, a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.  In today’s world of diversity and plurality, it is ample to describe spiritual beliefs as well.  In fact, it now seems that our spiritual beliefs are shaped as much by various ideologies as our relationship with the Creator?  For those reading who may be atheistic or non-creationists I trust you will continue.

My reason for writing this morning is the growing disturbance felt as I read the propensity of sarcasm and hatred among the religious. Nothing is worth that.  “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”1

This morning I listened to a young man who since being born, had fled from city to city in a war torn area of our world.  His life was surrounded by religion, in fact his objective was to fight against the enemies of God.  However, in his zeal to please God he found no peace, until he responded to a compelling voice, much like Cornelius in the Book of Acts, to seek out an individual whom he did not know on the streets of a very large city in the Middle East.  He walked up to the man, who was dressed in military fatigues, ask him if he were a Christian (highly unlikely and very risky)?  The man was in fact the pastor of a small underground church!  The rest of his testimony was phenomenal.

I have to wonder how much we have lost in terms of the presence of God in our lives, as we continue to practice a religion now so seized upon with fear, politics and the need to prosper, while so many suffer such great hardship.  Interesting that so long ago the bracelets in demand by so many Americans asked the Question, “What would Jesus do?”

  • Maybe a better statement is, “Watch what Jesus does!”

1 Corinthians 13:1

 

 

Consent vs. Control

Its been a while since I have felt compelled to post my thoughts. Perhaps it was the wonderful anticipation of a new granddaughter, Caroline Elizabeth born April 6th, who has now thankfully and joyfully diluted the acidic nausea stemming from the political disgust of late.

However, the longer I journey in relative silence, the greater the internal groan of my growing awareness: neither my experience of “church” nor the faux politics of our erring democracy can any longer hold sufficient “water” to quench my thirst for righteousness, peace, justice and joy.

Just when I had some sense that the Institutional Church had heard the cry of the Body of Christ, I witness another blatant disregard for the Spirit of Christ. As for political leadership, we seem to be settling for a “lesser of two evils” scenario. God help us, as the “church” seems to have now fully bought into this mockery of democracy as well!

Meanwhile the majority cry out for a leader, and though they may not recognize it, a true revelation of their Creator!

Our country is at a critical tipping point, not unlike the colonies just before the Revolutionary War. Yes, revolution could be in the mix in days to come!

Minimally there seems a need for revamping of the two party system as noted in a recent editorial by Eliot Cohen. “Even if a third candidacy still yielded a Clinton victory, it would be worthwhile. It would, first, deny the Clinton campaign the illusion of a mandate from American voters who would have, en masse, turned out to reject Trump.” 1

Perhaps transformation is closer than we think (a moment of optimism needed here!)

Why all this remorse? Perhaps it also stems in part from a recent experience upon the passing of my father in law April 15. His request for family members to be a part of his funeral met with a less than amicable response from the denominational leadership of the church he had supported for 70 years. Without saying much more, his funeral of necessity was held in the local mortuary without any representation of the leadership from the small church he had devoted his life to, nor any support thus far from the seminaries that he had helped fund. This experience provided further insight as to where men are capable of taking religion in the name of the Gospel!

During that funeral service I was privileged to share observations of this dear man’s life. I had witnessed first hand over the forty plus years of his journey with Christ. A journey that rescued him from a very legalistic rules-based religion, and afforded a true relationship with Jesus. Not only had his work-style changed (though sainthood is not where I am going here), but his very personality had morphed from a man who understood control and success, to a Christ-follower fully willing to consent to the will of His Father.

Much of my text for his Eulogy came from a book by Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God.2

One statement in particular summed up the book’s treatise:“True Christianity is about a different kind of kingdom, a strange kind of King! A far better image of God than religion has provided us.”

He goes on to clarify, “Jesus surely demonstrated a God fully in control, over disease, demons, even which side of the boat fish would bite! His disciples even declared that never had they met a man that even the winds and the waves obeyed! Yet, his real message was consent over control, even to death on the cross!”

Jersak in his book goes so far as to declare that our fall was necessary for us to fully grasp this image, “one who is fully in control, yet consents to be a part of our suffering. His truest image is mercy and a love that endures forever.”

“Consent then, like the cross, encompasses love, surrender, submission, invitation, hospitality and receptivity to love. Christ consents, yields, submits to the Father, to humility to servant hood and to death. Beautifully, mercifully, powerfully-even ironically- through the cross.”

This morning as I read Isaiah’s prophetic messianic references, and a plea to the people of his day, I was reminded of Jerzak’s theology of consent over control. “Who has believed our message” Isaiah cries out. He goes on in Chapter 53:1-10 to describe in detail the remarkable life and death of a Jesus yet to be born.

However, wedged between verses 11-12, he describes what I believe to be the joint reward for those who consent to follow this suffering Christ:

“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.” Is. 53:11-12a NIV.

Unlike fallen humanity, “rather than control or coerce, God in Christ cares and consents to suffer with us and for us. We should never concede to the false image of a lame duck dad who sits by silently, watching his kids getting beaten by a bully. Instead, we look to the true image of the cruciform-Christ Himself- the One who comes down to suffer and die with us in order that we might overcome affliction, defeat death and raised us up to live and reign with him.”

1 (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/eliot-cohen-time-for-third-party-entry/article_dad5d5c9-c1af-5239-acd9-9fef0bcb0aea.html)

2 https://www.ptm.org/uni/resources/order/form_christlike.php