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 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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Cabin Fever and the Golden Calf

First snow fall 2010Perhaps this ultra-cold weather, the snow and ice now blanketing the Piedmont have finally gotten to me!  The harsh weather provides more indoor time to catch up on outstanding business and volunteer paperwork, so thinking now seems to kick in hard as I read and study!

 

As well, my annual read through scriptures has me with Aaron, the associate pastor of a church that had just crossed the Red Sea!  Those folk had seen God do some powerful things. 
Meanwhile their Senior Pastor was away for some prolonged time with God in the mountains.

 

I hope my more conservative readers are no more offended by my tongue in cheek approach today, than other brothers and sisters might be when I express my thoughts about Meryl Streep’s recent monologue.  I think there are connections and a truth for the people of this polarized nation, who like those of Exodus, may have lost their way, if not their minds!

 

Meryl, a favorite actor of mine, said some pretty provocative things; truth in part, though my review of her acceptance speech was after the fact.  I cherish the arts, but Hollywood has never been where I go for moral direction.  I’ll have to admit, her comment about our President-elect and people of power giving permission, especially before children, for the hideous mockery of a disabled journalist and the lack of diplomacy witnessed from our soon to be “Tweeter in Chief” is so on the mark.   I too am a product of the public schools and a 20 year veteran public educator, so I appreciated the implications there.

 

Again, Meryl is a favorite, but her physical audience was also likely represented by people of influence whose lifestyles and commitments to home, family and marriage may give equal permission for our poor behavior as a nation.

 

My objective is neither to criticize Meryl Streep nor Donald Trump, but rather “like a blow to the skull” awaken our citizens; my grandchildren’s lives are at stake.

 

My question is how in God’s name (In God We Trust) did we get here?  Your question is what does this have to do with a Golden Calf?

 

Keep reading.
First, where did Aaron learn this behavior and why would he (Ex. 32:1-5) choose gold to represent the God who had not many days past, provided a wind that literally walled up the water of the Red Sea.  Then to boot, the Egyptians even attempted to follow in their horse drawn chariots through what was apparently dry land!  Looking back over their shoulders, they witnessed the timely release of those pent up waves, swallowing up their enemy.  BAM!

 

Whether you believe these stories to be literal or myth, let’s not lose focus of the principle, though my thinking out loud this morning seems less than laser-like!  
BTW, believing the Biblical stories of scripture, in this bizarre moment for our nation seems to have little implication about one’s discernment of the Divine.  Given that 87% white evangelicals voted for Trump.  Then however, many a believer on the other side will see Meryl Streep’s speech as long overdue and possibly from heaven above! 
The people if God are divided like no other period in my lifetime!

 

Back to the story, Moses has a definite personnel challenge on his hands, one that had its roots in him “convincing God” that stuttering was a problem before a Pharaoh.  Now in his absence, Aaron seems to throw him under the bus by saying: “As for this fellow Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”  Wow!

 

Something had definitely gone undetected by this “on the move” Senior Pastor.  The fact that it culminates in a Golden Calf, causes me to think that materialism had slowly become a problem within their spiritual culture.  Hello!

 

After all, in an attempt to stop the death of their firstborn children, this congregation of former slaves had been so favored by the Egyptians (Ex 12:35-36), that they were laden with an abundance of gold and silver; sufficient for them to be deluded into believing material assets could represent the highest blessing, if not their best likeness of their Red Sea God!

 

Not really sure about the calf image, unless their doctrine was out of focus as well?  Well there we are?  Can I get a witness?

 

They were so gullible as to gather early the next day, hold a church service, sacrifice their burnt offerings (I just lost my PETA readers), offer fellowship offerings and a pot luck dinner where they “sat down to eat and drink and got up in revelry.” (Ex. 32:6).  Where were the Elders of this “city” of people, and why were they not troubled the night before?

 

Moses was apparently the true called out one, though the lineage of the Levites would soon give way to Judah, The Lion.  Yet, his writings would forever stand in stark contrast to the higher expectations and teachings of Christ, though God would use the beauty of the arts (Meryl) to capture and communicate the subtle overtones of grace (Ex. 31:4-5).

 

God’s direction to Moses: “Go down (the mountain) because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.”   Could this be a word to the American Church, as well as Hollywood?