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

Confessions

First Baptist

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”1

 

The prophet Daniel was approximately 70 years old when he saw “the writing on the wall.”  Sitting just three years outside that ominous age, I am continuously compelled to share my thoughts.  What good are the life experiences if one does not pass forward the things learned?

 

The older I get, the more I realize that I have had a comparatively amazing life.  Perhaps I have not taken as much risk, earned as much or stayed with one career long enough to add value, however, the mystical side of my life I would not trade for any of the above. Experiencing God has been my life pursuit, with the exception of perhaps ten years; even those years I now find were about God pursuing all of me!

 

Religion for this third generation Pentecostal has been pivotal in my life experience:

“Pentecostalism is arguably the most important mass religious movement of the twentieth century. Today, this movement is the second largest sub-group of global Christianity. It has over 30 million American adherents and a worldwide following of 430 million. Pentecostalism’s inauspicious beginnings at the turn of the century make the movement’s growth all the more surprising.

 

Pentecostalism grew out of the Holiness revival during the second half of the nineteenth century. This revival was an expression of both social and theological discontent among the nation’s lower and middle-class groups.

 

The 1906 revival at Azusa street, Los Angeles marks the second phase of the Pentecostals’ origins. The Azusa street revival gathered the “ethnic minority groups of Los Angeles,” who discovered a “sense of dignity and community denied them in the larger urban culture.”2

 

“Holiness advocates disapproved of the impiety in mainline denominations and were alienated by the growing wealth and elaborateness of their churches.”3   Ironically, I now find myself in a similar place with Pentecostal Churches.  Many seem either stuck somewhere in time, defending what they can no longer manifest, or deeply a part of their own denominationalism, though dressed differently and much more prosperous.

 

The miracles witnessed earlier, from crossed eyes straitened to comatose individuals quickly awakened and healed, now seem few and far between.  Much more likely are those who profess the “year of Jubilee” with some quick blessing that defies capitalism, or a message of positive thinking seldom evidenced by the suffering saints whose insights we used to value.  Trying not to be judgmental or cynical, just thinking out loud.  I too fit the bill at times!

It is interesting that the fruit and the new growth once recorded in America, is now most often found in under developed countries. Growth in American churches seems more about transfer, as sincere followers move like nomads with each newly emerging preacher or church plant, hoping to find their way out of their personal spiritual dessert.

 

Was it the literal interpretation of the Word of God that brought these early revivals and former miracles, the departure from this discipline the reason for our decline?  These are the thoughts with which I struggle after nearly 70 years of observation and participation with some of the best of spiritual leaders.  Only 55% of Millennials view the Church as having a positive impact on the country, down 18% in just five years.4

 

The loss of the aforementioned scriptural discipline seems hardly the reason, as I no longer read as literal as once taught.  Yet, new every morning is this exciting journey with a Being unlike all humanity, still as faithful today as when a fourteen year old Daniel was forcibly removed from his surroundings by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C..

 

Daniel, in an attempt to reorient this young teenager, was renamed Belteshazzar, for the “moon god” he had not studied.  Yet, after enduring multiple maniacal leaders, he finds himself instrumental in the restoration of the Temple by a most unlikely Cyrus in 536 B.C., in his 80’s!

 

As I age, the mystery still continues, for the One who sits over galaxies that dwarf our beings, continues to compel us beings to write, now for centuries and across multiple continents.  Yet, that One is able to both capture our brokenness and commuicate truth, while risking the sometimes harsh image we project upon Him.  Thank God for the model provided by The Christ!

Now 2000 years later, may we continue to struggle with the Holy Writ, walk with the Holy One and watch the Kingdom unfold!

 

 

 

1 I Corinthians 13

2 http://are.as.wvu.edu/pentroot.htm

3 Ibid.

4 http://factsandtrends.net/2016/02/26/millennials-increasingly-view-the-church-negatively/#.VtQ-N5wrLcd

Reincarnation

I am certain that the title of this post caught the attention of my evangelical Christian friends, though that was not my intention.  The Word has been in my spirit since a friend expressed her views regarding the afterlife.  You see, few people do not in some way sense that they are a part of something much larger than this life.  Of course out of that come numerous opinions and from there a plethora of religions.

In my belief, Christianity, the Word incarnation is pivotal.  We believe that God became flesh and dwelt among us “incarnate”.  As well, that post crucifixion, Christ was resurrected bodily and ascended back to the heavens (that part is to me quite the mystery).

His birth, death and resurrection is a source of hope for those who fear death, as well as a demonstration of what awaits the believer.  Why the title?  By way of a relationship with this living Christ, I have become a new creature, reincarnate!   My experience with Christ was just that dramatic.  I walked into my Dad’s living room the night of January 3, 1973, a very broken young man, only to be confronted by his prayers.  A very spiritual moment occurred and my best description was “born again.”. My thoughts changed, my language changed and my habits!  I began a journey that was radically different from the path of literal destruction that I was on.

image

Now 43 years past, with quite a different genre of friends and a culture no where near the one I was born into, I am realizing how little most folk know about such experiences.  Even my church friends possess few of the mystical moments I have experienced.  Please hear a desire to be transparent with my story only and by no means a sense of arrogance.

It was only about a year after my experience with Christ that I found myself surrounded by others with similar experiences in their life.  Something seemed to be occurring, perhaps an influence of the 70’s Jesus Movement, as well as something known as the Full Gospel Businessmen.  The latter brought credibility by way of marketplace leaders, many who like myself found themselves being recruited by little known Pentecostal churches.  I had some advantage as I had been raised Pentecostal.

From a Methodist Men’s breakfast that soon became interdenominational and crossed paths with the Full
Gospel Businessmen, I was introduced to an Assemblies of God pastor, Woodrow Oxner (photo) with a most radical life story that included the kind of miracles that I had been told of as a child and would later see and experience personally.

With that exposure came a desire to fully experience a walk beyond just a moral adjustment, though radical mine had been.  As I began to read scripture and open myself to the same experiences as early believers in the New Testament, the miraculous began to occur.  I have experienced physical healings in my body, laid my hands on others to see them healed, as well as answers to prayer in an array of fashions too numerous for this post.

My life has been reincarnated. Christ is in me by way of the Holy Spirit.  This is not entirely mystical, for God first in Christ demonstrated the capacity to become man, and now through the Spirit, can actually dwell in a man.  I think perhaps that was my reason for choosing the stark title, for I find few who fully understand this as a reality, as opposed to a base of knowledge that dances around the possibility and calls itself, Christianity.

I am a new creature in Christ Jesus, all things that used to control my life have lost their power over me.  Do I still have choices, absolutely!  Do I always make the best of choices, absolutely not, yet there is a voice inside of me that pursues me every day.  A comforter who gently instructs, to use Biblical words, “this is the way, walk you in it.”

Christ in me (incarnate), the hope of glory.

Repentance, Ressurection, Restoration

First Baptist

For over a week now, I have had these three terms running through my mind.  The first concept is foundational to the Christian faith; confession of our  short comings seems the first step toward receiving the grace of God.  However, my life experience has been that confession or the sense of need for “outside help” is always a gift of grace.  In other words God is always at work bringing us to repentance, the acceptance of his love. Repentance is then more his proposal than our humility.  Just as an adoring lover comes to the point that living without her groom is not living at all, so God proposes to us in a way that we cannot refuse!  Our acceptance of that proposal often sounds like repentance when we come to realize how far we are from what we were created to be!

Of course, the Resurrection makes all that possible: God becoming flesh, living a blameless life before us, and receiving the penalty of our sins (whether God imposed or the fruit of man’s shortcomings, I still am not sure)!  Jesus then rose from the dead to assure us that death no longer has a hold on us!  Not just in the after life but in the now.

Perhaps the thing we have failed to communicate as Christ Followers is that this transformation from fallen creature to our original Godlike image is not as radical as the language of “born again” implies.  For me the change was radical on January 3, 1973, relatively speaking.  My life was such a mess that by comparison, the person that I was the morning after I came to Christ was amazing, both to me and to others.  My language changed, my habits changed, not in the 21-90 days as science would have it, but almost instantly, or so it seemed.

Yet as the years have gone by, what I have come to realize is that I might have been relatively righteous in some of my ways, if I compare my new man with those most wicked, but that is not Christ-like-ness.   Discipleship, spiritual transformation, restoration, reclaiming of the nature of Christ, the character of Christ and the fruit of Christ is much slower.  At 67 years of age, it appears to be a life journey of three steps forward and two steps back.  In fact, it is the two steps back that holds the prize!  As we compare and contrast our failures and life learnings, the feedback of others, both saint and sinner, with the life of Christ, we slowly begin to grasp the “aHa’s” of the New Creation.

Perhaps the necessity of this blog entry is to communicate the need to “lighten up” on yourself, if you are a new or aspiring believer; “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound!”  For those like myself, long into the Red Zone of Life, having dropped the ball way too often, and even at times failing to pick up my own fumbles, (I love Cam Newton and my Panthers), let this be an affirmation!  Another year is in front of us, and we are better prepared for it!

Keep Pounding!