A Manger Moment

220px-the_velveteen_rabbit_pg_1This morning in the Secret Place (that Holy moment when one truly senses a nearness beyond religious discipline) the teacher in me was reawakened.  Perhaps I simply recognized the Teacher.

Life experience is the tool of the Teacher; capturing what the Teacher says is the skill that daily begs of me and thus the joy of writing.

First, and usually too early in the morning, I sense a profound honesty, a transparency that by grace, reaches beyond my own inadequacies and historical demonstration of darkness; there seems a spiritual tension, a reality that truth remains yet to be unpacked.

Life is felt once more!

That Life was instilled in me as a child.  When I do not know, but knowing has always been a part of my being.  I do know that God loves me and sharing that love is my greatness contribution to this globe.  When I share the love of God, when I know that a life has been truly touched by the Christ in me, the joy of that moment far surpasses any role played heretofore!

At the risk of losing the more religious of my readers, Skin Horse, in Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit calls it becoming real!   …once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.

How do I know that I am loved, only because I love others!  The Apostle John said it this way, “… everyone who loves the Father loves his children as well.” I Jn 5:1 NIRV.

This verse, read again this a.m., has always been precious to me.  You see, within a year or two after I had my life changing moment with God, January 3, 1973, I had been invited back into the church.  Perhaps too rapidly, I was introduced to the challenges of congregational leadership.   I awoke one Sunday morning with questions as to this new and developing vocation.   Was this something God was doing or merely a new venture?  At that time, my heart was still tender, given the remedy that grace had offered me some few months before.

My question of the Father that morning: “how will I know going forward that this is real?”  “Are you doing what you are doing out of love for others?” was the reply!  My answer was a resounding, yes!  I recall the relief as I finished shaving and began dressing that Sunday morning.

Now 44 years into this journey, the challenge is the same: am I doing this out of love, and do I truly love others above self?  That in a nutshell is the Gospel, the love of the Father, as demonstrated in the Christ, the Word made flesh.

This morning I revisited that place, reexamining that Love.  I’ll call it a manger moment!

Too lengthy for a morning post; perhaps I’ll make an attempt at a series:

New Life and True Intimacy-A Personal Companionship with “Christ Alone”

The Veil– When the Cares of Life Distract Me

The Curtain of Separation– The Fabric of My Distance

Religion– Self Justification of that Distance

Philosophy– The Rationale for My Distance

Politics– Herding vs. Hurting

The Place of Separation – The Consequence

The Crisis – Love Again Revealed

“There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.” 1

To be continued.

1 The Velveteen Rabbit, HOW TOYS BECOME REAL by Margery Williams, Illustrations by William Nicholson, Doubleday and Company., Garden City, New York.

 

 

 

Erosion

rublevs-the-trinity

This morning, as I opened Richard Rohr’s newest book, The Divine Dance, I found myself in a moment of introspection.  In just a few pages, Rohr, as he always seems to do, began to challenge my heart both with the loss of intimacy over my 43 year journey with Christ and my awareness of how diminished the beauty of Christ may have become as revealed by the Church.

Rohr uses the religious artwork of Fifteenth Century Russian Artist, Andrei Rublev, as a visual aid in the refurbishment of our somewhat eroded understanding of the blessed Trinity.  As he puts it, “This particular form of artistic expression, attempts to point beyond itself, inviting in its viewers a sense of both the beyond and the communion that exists in our midst.” 1

Though I have yet to finish the Introduction, once googled, his selection seemed strategic not only in genre, but symbolic of my heart as well, given the centuries of preservation’s wear and tear upon this iconic image.  As I read the online description of this multiple times refurbished masterpiece, it seemed to set off a deep contemplative sorrowing within me.

Now displayed in the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow, the words “close to” are used “because, after five centuries, the icon’s painting turned out to be severely damaged. The gold background was lost, the tree was painted anew within the old contours and the top layers of paint were washed off. Even the ground was partially disturbed and cracks appeared, the outlines of the Angels’ heads were partly altered. Notwithstanding the above, even in its present state the Trinity remains one of the best of all the Russian icons.”2

As I enter my 68th year on this struggling globe, now in its third millennia since the time of Christ, I must wonder at the appearance of Christianity as the world now sees it both through the Church, and in my life as well! 

Perhaps we appear like this iconic piece of art, “the gold background was lost, the tree was painted anew within the old contours and the top layers of paint were washed off. Even the ground was partially disturbed and cracks appeared, the outlines of the Angels’ heads were partly altered.”

Godly sorrow works repentance!  My challenge is to daily afford God access to the canvas of my life, so that the Imago Dei originally  intended with the Master’s first brush stroke, deep in my mother’s womb, might always bear at minimum a “close to” resemblance to the art work intended for my life.  

Rohr goes on to say that one artist became a follower of Jesus just from gazing at Rublev’s iconic work, exclaiming, “If that’s the nature of God, then I’m a believer.”
May it be said of me before I pass.

1Richard Rohr,The Divine Dance, Whitaker House,2016, p.29.

2http://www.sacredheartpullman.org/Icon%20explanation.htm

 

“Both/And”

Scapegoat

I can remember the first time I heard the phrase “Both/And” in a religious setting.  I was huddled among moderate Baptists with whom I had engaged in a Coaching practice.  It seemed they had moved off “center” from their previous “either/or” approach to Biblical reasoning.  Was this the beginning of enlightenment or evidence of the cautions offered in the New Testament Book of Jude?

 

As I daily ruminate on my ultra-conservative, even Pentecostal up-bringing, I am equally rattled by where my right-of-center friends have gone in this present election season.  I cannot believe the faulty reasoning being leveraged to justify voters more fearful of a Clinton Presidency than the global possibilities of a man with little evident character or predictable morals.  It seems that our faith is more grounded in the Supreme Court than the Supreme Being!

 

Compound that with the fact that the historically stabilizing forces in America, the institutional church and the concept of inalienable rights, are also eroding.  Civil Rights issues loom large, legitimized by the visual transparency and immediacy of often undeniable information provided through social media.

 

Then there is the oncoming train of scientific evidence that challenges the bedrock of our religious brotherhood, Creation Theory, while yet on the other hand, reinforces the idea that we are one!  Jesus sought after that same understanding and received a death sentence by crucifixion.

 

“In the journal Nature, three separate teams of geneticists survey DNA collected from cultures around the globe, many for the first time, and conclude that all non-Africans today trace their ancestry to a single population emerging from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago.

 

“I think all three studies are basically saying the same thing,” said Joshua M. Akey of the University of Washington, who wrote a commentary accompanying the new work. “We know there were multiple dispersals out of Africa, but we can trace our ancestry back to a single one.”1

 

I find it ironic that religion and science both agree and disagree though equally refusing to offer middle ground.  Fear seems to mount as the evidence of evolution challenges religion’s simple creation story; meanwhile culture seems to fulfill the scriptural prophecies which so aptly describe these “last days”.  Paul’s second letter to Timothy offers this description: “For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred.” (NLT).

 

How does one reconcile his/herself in this mounting tension, maintain a love that casts out all fear, honors one’s neighbor, hopes for freedom, distains war, respects Civil Rights and shares life’s spoils in the midst of a greedy society?  For me it is my personal faith.

I find my assurance anchored in an undeniable grace filled journey with God, the God who is love.  Had I not experienced this unmerited favor, witnessed the “Hand of the Lord” so evident in my life physically, financially and within my home, I would have great difficulty at this moment in time given my personal failures and my “deep in the trenches” experience with both church and state.  All this faith is bounded by an information bank of 53 years of scriptural pursuit, scientific study and leadership theory.

 

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!” (NIV)

 

 

1 http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/science/ancient-dna-human-history.html?smid=fb-share&referer=http://m.facebook.com/

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?

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