Saturday, August 31, 2013

On the stone tablet of my heart

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. Matthew 23:23

What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:14-19 

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another. Zechariah 7:9

Learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause. Isaiah 1:17

The Law and the Prophets have a vibrant thread woven throughout the centuries, tying together the voice, the circumstances, and the audience.  And even if I don’t understand all the cultural implications, the marching orders are clear, clear about the heart of God. God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God,

And really this is the ultimate What Would Jesus Do? rubber band bound around my forearm, because He was about His Father’s business.  

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. You shall bind them as a sign on your forearm, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

The measure of every thought, of every movement, of every word of my mouth. Love and faithfulness.  Demonstrated as justice and mercy.  Oh the explications I have heard over the years, twisting justice and mercy to be distant parameters on a spectrum, measurable factors that define a particular system, painting a dark line between Them and Us.  God is Just towards Them, and Merciful to Us. Rather than being something that one brings to the Fatherless. Rather than being one breath of the God of gods: justice and mercy, faithfully executed in kindly love.  Calling all sinners to come home.

Jesus Christ, the manifestation, the fulfillment, the completion of the Law and the Prophets. With His arms lifted up.

Friday, August 30, 2013

And his finger was pointing straight at me

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:2

Weston’s thoughts today asked the question, What if? What if we lived in that sweet spot of expectation, living in hope, and really believing that anything is possible with God. Like, God, what if you just opened the door for Victor to fly back to the states to join his family? What if you just healed Victor's knee pain? What if Your Spirit just manifested himself in power in the church here? What if people would just be drawn to me because your presence is such a part of who I am?

Here, as Jesus returns to his hometown of Capernaum, some people brought him a paralytic, and it was their faith that led Him not only to heal their friend, but to forgive him of his sins. As far as I know, he wasn’t exactly kicking and screaming, but all that he did do was lie there.  It was their faith. 

So a while back, about six or seven years ago, I had a pain in the neck.  It was so severe I could barely even focus on my ever-bustling life.  I could think of nothing except this roiling gripping knife-stabbing pain.  I even went to a chiropractor.  For the first time in my life.  I am not wont to go to doctors; really I have to be dragged kicking and screaming, like Efrén and Julio have to pick me up off the floor and carry me out to the car not wanting to go.  And even though this nice man gave me little shocks and applied hot and applied cold and strung me out on his big machine, nothing happened.  LIke I said, I had a pain in the neck.  And I had totally run out of ideas and was despairing of life.  

Nicole had a friend who had just made a movie, The Finger of God.  He too was pretty much kicking and screaming rationally because some strange things were happening around him when people prayed: the sparkle dust, the jewels raining out of the sky, and all these people declaring that they had been healed.  And he kept pushing these crazy phenomena aside in his head until the craziest thing of all happened to his very boring, mundane, traditional aunt and uncle.  Their molars turned to gold.  Really and truly, and that shook him up. A lot.  So this guy took off a year of his life and filmed what God was doing all over the world, huge things with dozens, and hundreds and thousands of people. 

And we all watched this movie.  It was interesting when he was filming among the Gypsies or tribes of Africa, it all seemed great and wonderful, but when the tales came closer to home, the college campuses and suburbs of life in America, we all squirmed, because this was so far out of our day-to-day experience.  None of us were living in the What if.

And Ali and I were sitting on the couch as the movie rolled to a finish on the living room wall.  My life had slowed down to a fuzzy blank of pain in the neck, and I really couldn’t do much else but sit and fret. At the end, after we had watched Jesus reach out and touch protesting person after protesting person, one of those preacher men who I find very irritating came on.  He was one of those guys whose hair was all slicked down and his eyes bulged sort of and I began to squirm even more and look away, when suddenly he looked at the camera and basically said, “I am speaking to you.  God wants to heal you now. You, sitting there on your couch watching this movie.  God is speaking to you.” 

And that made me even more crabby and I was just about to roll my eyes, when this burning electrical heat shot up my back and swirled around my shoulder.  Just like in the movie. Really.  And the pain was gone.  Absolutely.  And it has never returned, not even after six or seven years. Ever.

So why don’t I live in this spot of Weston’s of What if, of continual expectation that God is active and powerful and at work among us?  Not just among homeless gypsies. Or African tribal people.  Here. At 220 South Country Club, just through the oleander bushes from Broadway Village.  

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” Matthew 9:2

Go and sin no more.

Dear LORD, may it be so. And may my faith be so big and unfaltering that I too will carry my friends and family with me, into Your presence so that You can reach into our lives and touch us, and say, “Beloved, take heart.”

And the movie sequel, Father of Lights, is sitting on my dresser, just waiting.  

Save us, Lord; we are perishing

And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them,“Go.” Matthew 8:31

This is the “even the winds and the waves” section of the story of God Walking Among Us.  The leper, the heathen soldier, the didn’t-even-seem-to-ask-person-lying-in-bed, the shoving crowds, those of little faith, and yes, especially the demons turned to Jesus and He replied, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”

And then there’s me.  

Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving Shaun/Jinching home from a moderately successful day at school, I considered my prayer list as of late.  And really, I was reflecting on the very check, check, check tone about it.  God has been faithfully moving beyond my paltry expectations.  Actually, it is more like the “¡Pum!  ¡Pum!  ¡Pum! ¡Corrían para arriba!  ¡Corrían para abajo! excitement from my Cat in the Hat skit for my Spanish classes.  He is on the move.  This is the good news all around me.

Ah, yes, and then there’s me.  

Who sometimes is guilty of that very lack of awareness which called down Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 

Repent.  Mr. Spurgeon vigorously delineates this call to “Repent and believe ye the gospel," even as Christ spake to the waves and said, "Be still," and they were still, and to the winds, "Be calm," and they were quiet, so when we speak to your proud heart it yields because of the grace that accompanies the word, and you repent and believe the gospel. This command, while it has an immediate power, has also a continual force. "Repent ye, and believe the gospel," is advice to the young beginner, and it is advice to the old grey-headed Christian, for this is our life all the way through—"Repent ye, and believe the gospel."

The good news.  May I believe and live in the truth and presence of the gospel today in joy and gratitude. Awareness. A continual force of repentance. Of turning and seeing life as it really is, beyond my harried shuffle.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And Jesus reached out and touched him

And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” Matthew 8:2-3

Kneeling is a physical acknowledgement of complete submission. As in “We will not bow down to your gods.” This leper had come to the very end of his resources, totally spent, poured out empty. 

And he knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord if you will.”

And Jesus responded, “I will.”

And I kneel down, all of me.  Body, soul and spirit.  Spent and empty.  

Come unto me, all you weary and you wired. 
All you burdened and you tired. 

And be.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sweet off the vine

So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Matthew 7:17-20

And what are these fruits?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

Love.  This is the will of the Father. And everything else will be burned up. All of our systems and rules and religion will be like the chaff that is thrown in the unquenchable fire. Do not enter by the wide gilt gate with trumpet calls and flapping banners built by the efforts of men, ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. Rather turn and enter the narrow way, quiet and unassuming, for My burden is light.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.  It is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.

All of our works, prophesying in His name, and casting out demons in His name, and doing many mighty works in His name, are of naught, without love.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

You make known to me the path of life

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12

At many levels our Sacred Scriptures are pretty hard to exactly understand. We have all sorts of barriers–cultural, translations across multiple ancient languages, convoluted grammar and missing punctuation, sinful wayward hearts–and a devil lurking, ever eager to toss flaming darts of discord and distraction. We start shouting and thumping text and take our eyes off of Him and His.

And that Law has lots of ugly bits that are very hard to mesh with our understanding of the Loving Father God who waits for the Prodigal with open arms and Who leaves the ninety and nine to search for the lost sheep because it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish with the Lawgiver who commands the people of Israel to take the women as plunder after killing all the men by sword.

And how do I answer this week’s question from Marco: So why should people believe those particularly horrible Laws as misinterpreted and the nicer ones as representing God’s message to His people?

Jesus.  The Catechism answer. When small children raise their hands and shout, “I know, I know.”

Jesus is God come to earth to proclaim and clarify God’s message to His people.  To clear away all the misunderstandings. He spoke it, He lived it, He gave ever-so-many-memorable examples and stories, and He affirmed what was clear to the rich young ruler who had spent a lifetime in study in order to be pitch-perfect: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus Who Did Not Come to Abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  The Law describes our absolute smashed filthiness. Not a hope of doing it all on our own.  Or any of it, really.  Helpless.  Even those religious sorts who added heaps and heaps of directions that detailed the outward appearances, but could not touch the heart. Only One knows the heart of the Father.  Because they are One. And He gathered up all of that longest of scrolls scribbled with our failure and bore it on his slashed shoulders.  Forever and ever It is finished. 

This is the plumb line to which we line up our understanding.  And if it is crooked, we know who needs to readjust.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sifting through empty pods

opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

Today, I am praying for those askers, for those knockers, and for those seekers.  Lifting them up to the LORD and asking How Long? And while they wait, Dear Father in Heaven Who Would Not Give His Child a Stone, please comfort their hearts and fill up their bellies.  Because our flesh is so very bound up in time, and I am one of these.  

And dear Poppa, for the others, those who are not asking, those who are not knocking, those who are not seeking, I lift them up to the LORD and ask How Long? Those of us careening through life, squandered our property in reckless living, I ask for mercy. And yes, so very often the most merciful gift is that of point of pain, the pause of feeding the pigs, longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.  

I will never forget little seventh-grade Ben Winslow’s joyful gallivanting when he wrapped his brain around the Lewis observation: God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Dear Father in Heaven Goes After the One That is Lost, I trust You to seek until You find, because it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Because our flesh is so very bound up in time, and I am one of these. 

The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The word translated as 'repentance' is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), "after/behind one's mind,” which is a compound word of the preposition 'meta' (after, with), and the verb 'noeo' (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by 'after' and 'different'; so that the whole compound means: to think differently after. Metanoia is therefore primarily an afterthought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by change of conduct, "change of mind and heart,” or, "change of consciousness.”

Dear LORD, Today may I ask, may I knock, may I seek. Your Spirit at work in me, lead me to repentance, Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my soul until Thee.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Of motes and men

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Matthew 7:1-2

This is one of those verses that I am wont to quote.  Actually it first struck my heart and mind ever so many years ago when I was the dorkiest seventh-grader ever memorizing the King James version of Matthew because I was on the Bible Quiz State Team for Tennessee.  

However I have been reflecting, meditating, on it yet again for the past twenty-four hours.  What does this really mean, in the darkest corner of my mind that so longs to label and sort and order and yes, even judge every single other person? So I can find myself in the lineup.  

And I often find this same myself using such a very ugly low bar that no one could possibly crawl under it. So quick to point at the mote in my brother’s eye.  

The example floating around in those days to explain the “For all have sinned” bit was the image of all of humanity standing on the beach in Southern California, and needing to swim to Hawaii.  And the old sickly people would drown first, but eventually even the strong and beautiful would die.  No one would make it on his own.  

I sure get that image.  We are all drowning.  In the swirling nightmare of brokenness of the world–the wars, the famine, the injustices, the hatred–the heartbreak of each soul piled high and crying out, Why, Oh LORD God, Why?” 

Why did You have to plant that stupid old fruit tree in the garden in the first place? Why in a world that You declared, “Good” was there the evil to be known? And while I am asking, “Why,” what about that Law? Does the rhyme and rhythm of it really point to a loving and wise God?  Creator of all the Universe? A deep dark line in the sand dividing Us from You?

But maybe, just maybe, I get an occasional glimpse of What is True.  Not as bright and shining as Lewis’ joy. But a glimpse.  A knowing that is beyond our shattered words, shattered since the tower of Babel when Man first challenged God. 

In the secret hollow of my heart, away from the madding crowd, I know Love.  Experience its clarity, its peace, its grace. And if there is nothing outside of this roiling cosmos, from whence did this Comfort come?  And the scientist within knows that if I measure and pour and observe and measure my test tubes here in front of me, I am discovering principles and laws that can be equally measured elsewhere. Principles and laws that govern this universe and describe the forces holding it together. Thus, it is no hard matter to extrapolate this Love tucked within my depths to For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.  

Which leads me back to judging and poking at motes. In while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  And destroyed the Law.  And broke the prison of sin, the knowing of good and evil.  And in His presence, with my eyes fixed on Him, and Him alone, the storm calms.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Monday, August 19, 2013

The long and winding road

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

The story of Phillip is a comfort. He was a man who obeyed the slightest prodding of the Spirit.  And was met at every turn of the Road Less Chosen: serving tables, fleeing prosecution, stepping in the chariot on the empty road, and welcoming the apostle into his well-appointed and happy home.  

He was Chosen. Received a promise. And God is faithful.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Wiping away the grime with a rag and a squirt of Windex

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

Well, I know lots and lots about moths and rust after yesterday. And cockroaches and water damage and silverfish chomping through books. We already knew that thieves can break in and not find anything worth stealing except an old bicycle we found in the alley.  

Alan and I spent pretty much all day and night sorting stuff. And moving it from here to there.  And filling the recycle bin, and the Goodwill bin (yes, they take all electronics and use them to good purpose, broken or no), and the rubbish bin, and the stack of things to take to Desert and the stack of things to take to Wakefield, and boxes and drawers and shelves and filing cabinets.

Yep, Alan and I have a problem.  Or ten thousand.

And it could be that it is that we are both so very creative and hopeful that we can see beauty from ashes in any bit of something.  Or that we are so very full of delightful memories of people and places and moments that we rejoice and give thanks to our Gracious God as we savor them yet one more time.  Or perhaps not.

And we both know the stories of crazy aunts who stored once-used tea bags and wove their way through the bolts and boxes until at the very end of the trail they had to remove the one last stack from the small place on the bed in order to crawl up and sleep each night.

And we both know the joy of living with nothing, or almost nothing, with one or two changes of clothing, a stack of cloth diapers and a kerosene lamp that sort of lit up our tiny living room. And sort of smoked. Our rubbish bin was an old Nido powdered milk can than needed to be emptied once a year.  Mostly old razor blades was all we didn’t reuse, rethink or compost.  

And I get to walk through the whole question of stuff and money, and who has it and who doesn’t, three times a day with my very nice middle class American high school students as we read Steinbeck’s The Pearl and watch Nike and iPhone factory YouTubes and consider how then we should live as good stewards and lovers of God’s children.  

And may I hold these tattered treasures lightly.  And offer them up freely to those who have but one shirt or who borrow and do not return. May there always be an extra Elijah plate at the dinner table. I absolutely do not want my heart stuffed in some water heater closet lined with shelves or tucked away in a dusty row of mismatched canning jars.  I long to be light on my feet, wherever He calls, I will follow.

Come Lord Jesus, Come.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Seventy-seven times

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:12-14

Actually, if I am simply listening to The Sermon, The Sermon of The One Who Formed Our Hearts, rather than noticing superfluous formatting, this section comes out as one well-developed exposition on the sin that besets each one of us.  Well, at least me.  

Lack of forgiveness runs deep and broad, with many implications.  Lack of forgiveness is the sin that sets me up against Him.  It is me challenging the LORD God, for His position as Judge and Knower of the Complete Story. 

Lack of forgiveness takes hold and twists into the root of bitterness, which poisons the stream of living water which should be flowing freely from me.  This root also takes hold and chokes out the Spirit and His fruit–that of love, joy, peace.  Especially love, love that does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Lack of forgiveness places me under the influence of the Evil One. It means that I have paid heed to his hissing accusations, his pointing finger, giving him place over our Advocate who stands before the Throne with the truth, “For this sin I died.” 

And I remain unforgiven.  Mercy is the practical manifestation of accepting His great gift of redemption.  A truly repentant heart, one that sees clearly the Kingdom at hand, is fixed on Him. My eye is clear and joy is in my step.  He is all that matters, My Lord, my King, my Savior.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The first day of school

Give us this day our daily bread. Matthew 6:11

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

Sift, sort, stack.  My brain is fumbling for a rosary of sorts, the tranquility of a rhythm or mental lingering which encourages the faithful to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord.

Mild panic attacks rise up while angling through the muddle of nameless teenagers in the locker hallway or staring blankly as the loudspeaker reminds homeroom teachers to submit hot lunch orders.  The musical note signaling the end-of-class is so gentle it cannot be heard over the raucous buzzing between my ears. 

Breathe in, breathe out. The stack of unstapled rubrics, essay and in-class quizzes piles high (the inherited stapler choked time and time again in fits of crumpled chomps) against conflicting resolutions of immediate feedback and aching brain cells.  

This Youtube video clip would have both beautifully framed the question at hand and demonstrated my hip teacherness, if, of course, I could have download the most recent version of Adobe Flash Player (past perfect tense).

Humidity causes the office printer to misfeed every time, didn’t cha know? 

Why is my next class lined up in front of the room three doors down? Ah.  Switching rooms.  Ah, yes.  Grab that stack of papers and head out the door.  

But then I settle into the after-dinner couch with my pencil, some sort of makeshift roster, and a small bowl of leftover “when hell freezes over” birthday dessert (Nicole came to the literary bash dressed as a gleaming Beatrice). A familiar peace descends.  Paragraph by paragraph, my students sort themselves out with distinct voices and familiar patterns.  And tug at those dusty heartstrings. I smile in the margin with happy faces and happy notes: strong word choice, excellent example, and solid conclusion. 

Breathe in, breathe out.

Give me this day my daily bread.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And the hawk screams overhead

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7-8

Then why do we pray?

We pray to remind ourselves of what is true. Prayer is truth-speaking into a situation and into our heart.  We do not need to persuade our Father of what is good, no best, for a situation (unless we are Moses standing in the gap for the people of Israel, and even then this was really Moses deciding that he was willing to continue with this bunch of ungrateful nincompoops–reminding himself of the truth, all of the power and love of God already tangibly and purposefully demonstrated and poured out for these ungrateful and unfaithful wretches just like me). 

We are reminding ourselves to leave it in His hands.  

Weston spoke of this in last night’s meditations.  He counted “Father” 19 times in John, chapter 14.  Not only did Christ come to destroy sin and death, but he also came that we might know the Father.  

The Father completes us, heals us, fulfills our longings and burning need for love. We are broken inside, searching for love, acceptance and security. This is the complete love that our Dad in heaven lavishes upon His kids. And I'm not taking anything away from the Son. But our Father accesses that part of our heart that just screams out for the love needed in the most innocent and childlike part of the soul. We are perfectly loved in the Father. Perfect love drives out fear. If God loves me completely what have I to fear?

Jesus says everything He does is not just Him, but the Father living in Him doing His work.

"You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would be glad I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I."

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew Me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him."

Let us trust Jesus. It's all about coming to the Father.”

And this is what Jesus modeled for us, at the fulcrum point of all time and history and everything we can imagine, when every ounce of sunlit theory was stripped from prayer and it was all that He had left, as He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane: Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.

Not my will, but Yours be done.

As I open up my prayer list of beloved Wednesday names.

Not my will, but Yours be done.

As I scan the unfamiliar student names neatly printed in my otherwise empty gradebook.

Not my will, but Yours be done.

And as I take one last stride through the neighborhood creosote silhouette against the billowing sunrise, mulling over ever-so-many details.

Not my will, but Yours be done.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

His forefeet being tied together he was drowned

And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:4

I certainly do not understand the golden crowns thing, the rewards in heaven that apparently we immediately rip off of our head and with great joy throw them down at His feet because we are not worthy.

But I do understand things a little bit better in the here and now.  And I know that there is indeed a great temptation to do good works for the approval of man, so they can all think I am cool and all that.  

In many ways, the approval of man is like golden crowns.  Unwieldy and useless.  A headache, always keeping my eyes peeled trying to keep everyone happy, happy, happy with me. A desperate little hamster on a wheel to nowhere.  

What a better calling to keep my eyes fixed on Him, the author and perfecter of my faith, and absolutely not on Them.  And rather than doing the awkward dance and jiggle of The man, the boy and the donkey in Aesop’s fables trying to keep the nameless masses content, and losing it all,

I can hear the Father whispering in the quiet of my heart, “Well done, beloved child.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Holy fire, burn

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

I have been thinking on this one for a few days.  

In case anyone is left with any delusions of grandeur, any realm of possibility that it is possible to earn righteousness by following the Law, Jesus kicks up the bar–detailing the backstory of the heart of God captured in these carved tablets: clarifying adultery, murder, divorce and love to far beyond my reach.  

There is the little tricky translation problem here as well, because of course Jesus spoke Aramaic, which was then translated into Hebrew, then Greek, and then English.  Therefore, be shlemim (complete) even as is your Av shbaShomayim. Or perhaps, a reference to Leviticus 11:44, be kadosh (set apart) as I AM holy. Or is it t'mim (blameless), in reference to Genesis 17:1?

Or, there is another approach: When he spoke to Abram, God used the Hebrew word translated “perfect” in Gen. 17:1, taw-mam (תָּמַם). The best way to determine the meaning of an ancient word is to see how it is used in other contexts. The actual meaning of taw-mam is almost the opposite of what most Bible translations and the Bible reference books tell us it means. Taw-mam can actually mean expended, exhausted, depleted, spent, completely empty or to come to an end, as in “come to the end of oneself” (#8552, Strong’s Concordance)

Walk before Me and be perfect. (King James)

A more literal and accurate translation of Gen. 17:1 can be: Walk before My faces and be empty of yourself.

The Hebrew words for “Almighty God” in Genesis 17:1 are El Shaddai, the “All-sufficient One.” The contrast is obvious in the Hebrew. Abram, the completely empty one, the spent one, the depleted one, the totally reliant one is walking in the faces of the completely full and sufficient One. This is what Christians are supposed to be – totally dependent upon their Maker, not trusting in the arm of their flesh, especially for “righteousness’ sake.”

Remember, Isaiah calls the righteousness of men, all men and women, filthy menstrual cloths.

This is where Paul takes it. Let us become perfect in the same manner our father in the faith, Abraham, was perfect – let us pour ourselves out, that our Maker might fill us with the good works which He has before ordained that us should walk in.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

So. Jesus gathers His followers around Him, sits them down, and explains to them what true righteousness looks like, something far deeper and far broader than we, sinful man, can do on our own.  We absolutely need God the Father to reach down and be our provision, to fill us up with Himself.  

Thus, these words, Be perfect as I am perfect are not a command, but a promise. Jesus is telling us that when we have truly come to the end of self-effort – when we have emptied ourselves of the self-life, then we will find the promised rest. Then the LORD God will perform through us His very own words, works, ways and will. He is capable of loving His enemies, we in self, are not.

Stephen, his face like that of an angel, was able to fall on his knees as the rocks were pelting down and cry out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Dear El Shaddai, may I walk before You today, empty of self.  

Holy Fire burn away,
My desire for anything
That is not of you and is of me,
I want more of you and less of me, yeah.
Empty me,
Empty me, yeah,
Fill, won't you fill me, 

With you, with you, yeah.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The iotas and dots are swept away

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17

O you dear idiots of Galatia, who saw Jesus Christ the crucified so plainly, who has been casting a spell over you? I will ask you one simple question: did you receive the Spirit of God by trying to keep the Law or by believing the message of the Gospel? Surely you can’t be so idiotic as to think that a man begins his spiritual life in the Spirit and then completes it by reverting to outward observances? Has all your painful experience brought you nowhere? I simply cannot believe it of you! Does God, who gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you, do these things because you have obeyed the Law or because you have believed the Gospel? Ask yourselves that. Galatians 3

I had lots of quiet spaces this week.  Even though I was camping and hiking and repelling and initiating with twelve high school seniors with the sunshine and fog and rain and skunks of Mt. Lemmon.  

I wake up a lot earlier than high school seniors.

And I was piqued by the all caps titles running across the top of left-hand pages of the Bible I had grabbed off the Bible shelf.  A J. B. Phillips New Testament underlined and shaded in coloured pencils with comments by Mary Anne Voelkel very many years ago.  I love reading marked-up books.  It’s like a friend is sitting right next to me, sharing her heart in conversation.  Quite intimate.  

J. B. Phillips entitled the first chunk of Paul’s books, “Letters to young churches.” I thought it appropriate to soak in his counsel and experience; his hard-earned understandings that he longed to pass along to the next generation, as I weighed my responsibility to The Blue Bombers in guiding them into Student Leadership and the next steps of life.  So I read through Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians three times, with their eyes in my mind.

And there was a lot about being salt and light in a flavorless and dark world.  And it had nothing to do with being tied up in rules and regulations, and much to do about humility and grace.  And while we are not to indulge the flesh because it is a waste of all that God has given to us and brings nothing but disappointment, we are to live in the restoration, to stand fast in the liberty opened up to us as Christ fulfilled the Law, for now and evermore.  Amen.  

But by love serve one another.

Cameron’s songs floated through the rain-fresh pine trees under big puffy clouds  and with You make beautiful things out of dust still echoing in our hearts we knelt by a tumbling stream to wash one another’s feet, even as He knelt and washed the others’ feet. 

Just before the Law was accomplished. 

It is finished.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Under the dripping pine trees

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12

I often forget that those who were persecuting Jesus and His followers were the religious leaders, those tenants who had been given responsibility for the Vineyard.  They were the ones who beat one, killed another and stoned another, and at the very end took the heir and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  So often I focus on the other sorts of persecution such as those of fiddling Nero. According to Taticus, Nero inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

John D’Andrea came over yesterday afternoon, and had lots of enthusiastic chats with Jincheng, preparing all of us for a new school year better and beyond than that through which we stumbled last year.  And one thing that he underscored over and over was that in here in America the question word is not “What” (what exactly did the teacher say, and write it down, and memorize it) but the “Why” and “How” of it all.  

And that is true for this blessedness.  Yes, the What will happen.  We will be persecuted.  But let it the Why be for righteousness’ sake.  And false accusations, versus true accusations.  And let me be reminded of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, meekness, temperance, faith, against such there is no law.  

A light drizzle has settled in around this morning.  And as I swam back and forth on distance day at the Hillenbrand pool, I considered more than the extra tarps and socks and windbreaker I will need to pack for my three-day camping trip with twelve high school seniors.  

As we spend long hours alone under the dripping pine trees considering What is True, let us dwell on not only the What, but the Why and the How.  Why? Because of His great, incomprehensible love for us while we were yet sinners.  How?  How then shall I live?  The Blessed and Happy Life.  

The Essential Questions.  Addressed by Jesus as He gathered His followers around  Him: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.  

And the rest of the Sermon was The Student Will Be Able To measurable objectives.  And then He modeled what it looked like, with lots of guided practice, all the way to the cross, 

Now we have been left with the homework, to go into all the world and preach the gospel, through word and deed.  

And we will be blessed indeed.

Nicole reminded me last night, just before we trundled off to bed of another truth, Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when He returns.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

In Arizona, when you google 'Peacemaker' you get gun shows

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9

Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8:14

What stands out in bold in a brand new way to me is the promise of a harvest of good fruits and righteousness sown in peace.  Pure, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy peace.

Making the internet rounds this week is a Craigslist survey of nonChristians and how they feel about Christians: 
“I have no problem whatsoever with God or Jesus – only Christians. It’s been my experience that most Christians are belligerent, disdainful and pushy.” — D.B., Atlanta

“Whenever I’m approached by an evangelist – by a Christian missionary – I know I’m up against someone so obsessed and narrowly focused that it will do me absolutely no good to try and explain or share my own value system. I never want to be rude to them, of course, but never have any idea how to respond to their attempts to convert me; in short order, I inevitably find myself simply feeling embarrassed–first for them, and then for us both. I’m always grateful when such encounters conclude.” – K.C., Fresno

Somehow, present-day Christians forgot about turning the other cheek, abandoned the notion of treating others like they would like to be treated themselves; they’ve become bent on preaching, judging, and selfishly attempting to save the souls of others by condemning them. What happen to love? To respect?” — S.P., Nashville

And as I prepare for the SALT camping adventure, three days tromping about the mountains with Desert seniors, wearing a t-shirt that states in bold lettering: Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone, I am reminded that wisdom from above is not about a list of statistics or archeological discoveries or political finagling, or even wham, bam machine-gun-rapid recited Bible verses.  

To be wise is to be gentle, open to reason, full of mercy.  Peacemakers.  

And to set our confidence it the Peacemaker, the One who makes peace for us with God.  If He is indeed the Love, the Power, the Good Shepherd that we profess with our mouth, we can rest in complete assurance that He is the One Who Brings Forth the harvest, the harvest sown in peace.

And we shall be called sons of God.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

One, two, three, thee and a half, three and three quarters, jump.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who does not lift up his soul to what is false.
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
And give me life in Your ways. Psalm 24, 119

So last night Fred and I went to Victory Worship Center Elevate.  The same darkened room with pulsing lights and smashing drum throbs and a couple hundred kids waving their arms in the air. 

There is nothing worth more
That will ever come close
Nothing can compare
You're our Living Hope
Your Presence

I've tasted and I've seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone

There was only one song last night.  Over and over. 

It has been a long year for Fred.  For me too. The tangible in-this-very-room-presence-of-God that we had so come to know wasn’t to be found. The memories of that sweet taste are illusive.  The Psalmist tells us why.  Our souls have been pierced with flaming darts of the Enemy.  We have believed falsehoods, worthless things that have blinded us to His presence. Doubt. Fear, Discouragement. Loneliness. Stubborn pride of going it alone.  

Purity of heart is not about actions, but The Teacher listed actions, disciplines, that can help keep the momentum spinning, like one of those old metal merry-go-rounds tilting crazily in school yards and parks.  At least they used to; now life is too tame and too worried about lawsuits so anything fast and spinning and a little out of control has been replaced by plastic. Plastic that fades and cracks over time.

And he explained inertia, The vis insita, or innate force of matter, is a power of resisting by which every body, as much as in it lies, endeavours to preserve its present state, whether it be of rest or of moving uniformly forward in a straight line. It takes an outside force to effect change.  Something unexpected.  Out of the norm and status quo. 

Your presence LORD
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your Presence LORD

The disciplines can help, but they are not enough, speaks one who knows, me, Mz. 4:15 In The Morning.  And maybe the Shield of Faith with which we stave off these attacks in the day of evil which will come is more like a Leap of Faith.

We watched the Indiana Jones clip in church Sunday.  The one where clever, courageous, stalwart Indie reached the end of the trail and stood at a gaping chasm.  Nothing else to do but leap into the apparent nothingness.  

The cool thing Jon pointed out is that the sturdy bridge was always there.  Indiana just couldn’t see it. Doubt. Fear, Discouragement. Loneliness. Stubborn pride of going it alone.  But, at the end of himself with no where else to turn and not the tiniest inkling of what would come of it, he leapt. Into the Wild.

Where my heart becomes free.