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

 

 

The Spirit of Sampson

Twice this morning I have sat down at my workstation to capture a moment of closure.  Ironically it has been exactly 30 years since we began a journey that would eventually lead us to uproot ourselves professionally, leave a newly constructed home and set out on what has been one of the most exciting and productive times of our lives as a couple.  Not sure how all this has felt to my only child, though life seems to be working well for her.

 

Life is about transitions, the word we often use to describe the inevitable adjustments to the constant of change.  What we make of those adjustments can determine long term outcomes, good and bad.  The best response is to move into the flow, which always leads to transformation.

 

As has been the case with my professional life for 44 years, my parallel journey through scripture has always been equally providential in its timing.  This morning I was reading in Judges 13-16, the story of Sampson.  His life both in terms of weakness and calling, have always spoken to me.  Being a visionary, I have often had moments where scriptural stories would literally play on the screen of my mind, providing critical markers, junction points of decision in my life.  Such has been the story of Sampson.

 

Of course everyone would desire their life be marked with heroic acts, like ripping apart a lion or slaying 1000 men with the jawbone of an ass.  That has not been the case, unless perhaps I capitalize on a play on words, referencing the moments where with “foot in my mouth,” the words from my “jaws” have made me appear more like the animal referenced!

 

Once we made the decision to risk all in 1987, and began a journey toward a new town, Winston-Salem, with little promise of exercising our calling, things began to move at a rapid pace.   That is the nature of transformation; all this was affirmed this a.m. as I read through the first few pages of my hard back paper journal, now within months of being a 30 year old document!

 

I have always been a slow learner when it comes to change, a trait one would think unlikely for a visionary.  That comes from a deep commitment to vision (strength that becomes weakness) and loyalties gained over time, which often must slowly erode before one is able to move on.  Pardon my candor, by no means meant to harm but in hopes that this blog, which has now for eight years served as my journal, will somehow serve others, who may come behind me.  Transparency and accountability are cousins, if not sisters, to truth telling.

 

Back to Samson, I can recall my conversation with the Lord, as I was driving up Highway 52, some years later, having cut our final ties with the city of Lexington, which we still love.  My case with the Lord, as I struggled with the loneliness of the new, was the stability and opportunity the school system had offered my family, emerging positions of leadership and influence, let alone full retirement in only 10 years!

 

It was then, on a stretch of concrete near the Akron Drive exit, the aforementioned video began to play; I literally watched as a blind, tired Sampson, walking in circles, enslaved by and harnessed to a grist mill, ground someone else’s grain! (Judges 16:21)

 

The option posed by the Spirit was whether I wanted to spend the rest of my life grinding someone else’s “grain” in return for subsistence, or would I rather follow him?  My decision was swift, though I somehow knew that my friend would have blessed either had I stumbled.

 

From that day forward my prayer has been, not only that I know the freedom to make wise decisions long before this level of crisis, but also maintain the valor of this man Sampson, when it came time to make such transformational plays.

 

Though Sampson lived in a much more primitive time, my heart cry since that “video” has always been that should I ever find myself in a spot in my life where my efforts were of value only as entertainment, that God would provide an exit strategy, a last and perhaps sovereign leadership moment!

 

This post is about the hope and new sense of calling that transitions often provide.  Could this morning’s sense of closure actually be further fulfillment of a transformation begun 30 years ago and in fact, the grandest moment of my calling?   This morning confirmed that journaling is a valuable tool for hindsight and affirmation..

 

God give me the ears of Sampson, discernment for the moment, and the companion (“not by might nor power, but by His Spirit”) willing to guide this now aged servant toward just the place where those now allegorical, yet critical “temple pillars stand”, and then may I, like Sampson, push with all my might!

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Even a Wayfaring Fool!

 

rublevs-the-trinity

Here I sit, once more struggling with transparency, as with wonder, I reenter my annual read through of the Word!  Now endowed with almost seven decades of life and forty plus years of scripture reads, I still find challenges as I sort through the filters of numerous pastors, a plethora of books and my rich life experiences!

 

What is the life learning, if any, that I will leave to those behind me?

 

I had not traveled far into this year’s read before I was dumbstruck!  Hearing as it seemed for the first time, the deep agony in the voice of the Creator as he begs of a fallen Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?”

 

For some of my readers, this text no longer merits literal, biographical evidence of the plight of the first two human beings on earth. However you unpack scripture, my point is, the alignment of these stories with my own personal journey is to revealing to disregard.

 

In God’s comments to Adam, I hear the pain of a friend, even closer a father, who knows that something dreadfully unnecessary has happened to the one He loves.  I have to think about a moment I shared with my Dad, the morning I revealed to him that my first marriage had just taken an irreconcilable hit!  He took me to his own bedroom, the place so personal to him and my mom, almost sanctuary-like when entered as a child.  He knew his 22 year old son was having one of those naked moments that life hands us all, and all too often!

 

The need for this post began several days ago, and until now I have said little about it. Yet, this morning as I moved on through the story of Abraham, I heard this same paternal dialogue repeated in the story of the testing on Mt. Moriah.  Tradition attributes the writing of Genesis to Moses.  From his point of view, this was a test of loyalty to a God that demanded sacrifices.  I have to believe that in some way sin creates that demand, while our Creator weeps at times, though somehow sovereignly separated from full intervention?  Still yet, through the Canon of Scripture, God has mysteriously and miraculously revealed His true nature in these stories recorded by broken men and women.

 

The story of Abraham is amazingly parallel with so many of us.  We set out to fulfill the “calling of God” with hearts laden with promises, that at some point in time will seem impossible.  Abraham like so many still devises means by which to accomplish these promises, all of which only compound his challenges. Abraham was well-intended in his decision to raise his nephew Lot after his brother Haran dies; ingenious in his attempts to protect his beautiful wife Sara when King Abimelech came around; not to speak of his stellar agreement to take Hagar as surrogate for the sake of offspring and certainly courageous in his commitment to offer his only son on Moriah!

 

“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’”1 Perhaps his failed attempts at “serving God” had brought him to the point that such a request seemed reasonable?  Many a radical, yes even in our day, has made this same mistake in the name of religion.

 

Let’s circle back to the words of this compassionate God in the garden, “Who told you that you were naked.”  Something had so tarnished the conscience of Creation, that a redemptive journey would be necessary, such that “wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”2 The beloved Peter, and later John the Revelator, hints that God foreknew what would happen, even before Creation was birthed on this very globe, to which as the story goes, Satan had been banished.  “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”3   It causes one to wonder if the real drama is not occurring in the heavens, while those who chose to participate, though they suffer violence at times, are well guarded actors in some plot that proves the power of love!

 

So here we sit, naked, striving to please a God who two centuries ago showed up with His Gospel of Love!.  His response to the most sinful was “Go and sin no more” and to the most religious, “you vile hypocrites!”

 

I’ll leave this post with a couple simple question: Was Moriah simply one more story, as God further unpacks His counter to the demands of sin ?  Daily, he takes the heavy pile of dead wood, our works destroyed, and places them on the shoulders of His only Son, the Ram, caught in the thicket of our madness.

 

Was Moriah a test of Abraham’s loyalty?  Moses called it that.  The irony is that when the true sacrifice showed up in the only Son of God, unlike Abraham who recognized the Ram, we knowingly followed through with a crucifixion!

 

His response to our sin: a resurrection!  Selah!

 

1 Genesis 22:2 NIV

2 Isaiah 35:8 KJV

3 I Pet 1:20 NLT

A Hunger Still Resides

2010-12-04_14-02-24_377

 

Given my tirades over the current model of church and the fact that I probably offended the majority of my pastor friends, I felt compelled to express the fact that there are seasons when folk fondly referred to as “Chreasters,” do return to church. Christmas and Easter have for centuries re-inspired the masses!

There seems always an underlying hope and hunger, regardless of where one lives or even one’s religion?  As the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”  Ecc. 3:11b.

Though at times it seems that St. Nicholas and retail America have been more a part of preserving this Holy-day than the churches, nevertheless when given a chance, people still flock to celebrate this grand tradition of lights, giving, and in our neck of the woods, Candlelight Services.  Christmas Carols are made new every season as radio stations hurriedly slip into the season the day after Thanksgiving!

Through the ages, the thought seems to beg our awareness that out there somewhere, in the now myriad of galaxies, dwells a Being far more powerful than the rich and famous, more loving than the best of Mom’s, while surpassing the capacity of the most enterprising Dad.  Even the Atheist is driven to argument!

Our falling short of the minimum goals we set for ourselves, let alone what scripture explains as the expectations of God, has driven the religious throughout the millennia to describe the need for a sacrifice(s) to appease this Being.  The beauty of Christianity is that this very One, lovingly offers to become that sacrifice!

Preserved in the Jewish tradition is the need for a lamb without blemish; perhaps what our self-righteousness would require in return for our repeated sins?  I believe God knew this about His Creation, and before the foundation of the Earth, foreordained that He would become flesh, the sinless sacrifice!  His demonstrated unattainable sinlessness, validated by his power over the very Laws of Nature, and salted with unending compassion for the outcast, would enrage the self-righteous.

This Babe of Bethlehem, as prophesied by the Prophet Micah, and announced to shepherds, would grow up a common man nearby Jerusalem. Later as a sacrificial Lamb, would be led to slaughter just outside the Holy City, by the very ones “called” to enforce the unattainable requirements of the Law.  God ever uses religion, though often contrarian to the ways of the religious.

The story goes that wise men, Magi from the East, brought gifts from afar, gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil.  Each perhaps symbolic of who this holy child would become, how his life would end and ours would be redeemed!  What a gift!

Merry Christmas, to all!