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Category Archives: Advent Devotions

How to be Great!

‘At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”‘ [Matthew 18:1-6]

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When I was younger, this text mystified me a bit. I mean, on the surface its meaning is obvious… innocence… simplicity… yadda yadda. But when you know children, I mean really get to KNOW children… they can be a real pain. Hence, my confusion.

I mean, frankly, while this seems like a lovely image… have you honestly ever met a “humble” child? Really? I haven’t. Children can be brutal. They clamor for status and primacy. Some of the cruelest people on the face of the earth I’ve ever known have been children.

So… what is Jesus saying here, really?

I’ve finally resolved that for myself, but if your ponderings lead you to a different place, that’s fine, too. Just thought I’d share this.

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The disciples are in the time where Jesus is preparing them for His crucifixion. He has told them He is going to be killed, but that He will rise again three days later. He is extremely clear about who He is… Son of Man, Son of God. So, in the midst of sorting these confusing things out, they ask a question only someone in His unique position could answer…

“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Pretty big question. Pretty bold question. I suspect they were expecting a pretty big bold answer. What about you? If you had been standing there listening, or even if you had had the chance to ASK this question, what answer would you expect?

Something like, “He who does the will of the Father, He is the greatest…”

Or, “He who upholds the Kingdom in righteousness, He is the greatest…”

Or, “He who speaks the truth of God, He is the greatest…”

Right? I would. Or perhaps they were thinking of all the history… the patriarchs, the prophets, the judges, the kings, King David. Perhaps they expected Him to name one of those.

But no. As per usual for Him, He does something totally unexpected. He calls a little boy to Him from among the bystanders, and has him stand in front of the disciples like an artist’s model. He answers them in a very odd way. He does NOT tell them WHO is the greatest in the Kingdom. Instead (again consistent with how He usually does things), He tells them HOW to BECOME the greatest in the kingdom. (Perhaps that’s really what they wanted to know in the first place, bless their competitive little hearts.)

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

WHAT?

I bet they didn’t see THAT coming! Remember, they’d just shortly before been at the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appear before their very eyes, and take counsel with Jesus. Peter wanted to make a shrine on that mountaintop. So I am more than certain that when they inquired about heaven’s greatest soul, they weren’t expecting some little kid in the street!

So what was so special about kids? Or… what was so special about THIS little kid? What do kids have, that we don’t have? Why does Jesus use words like “converted” and “become like” as He points to this boy? How did this boy so dramatically “humble himself” that Jesus uses him as a model for the greatest in heaven?

Only in recent years have I figured it out. What do kids have, that we don’t? What did this little boy show, that we lose over time and must be transformed to recapture?

Trust

Children raised by loving healthy parents, learn “Trust” from the cradle. At least, trust of their parents. They learn to trust that they are provided for… mom and dad will make sure they have something to eat. They learn to trust that they are safe and protected… mom and dad will make sure others don’t hurt them, that they don’t get lost or injured. They learn to trust that they are valued, treasured, affirmed… they will carry on the family legacy, delighting the heart of their father, bringing joy to their mother.

As trust grows, obedience grows apace. When a child is secure that mom and dad seek only their good, their provision, safety, and security… parental directives are far more likely to be seen in that light. The child may wonder, or even ask, “Why?”. But the question is more likely to come even as the child is assenting and obeying, as opposed to the suspicious argument and immobility of the child who has learned NOT to trust.

Are there such children? Untrusting children? Those who have learned to be insecure, suspicious, perhaps rebellious and disobedient? Oh, yes. Both kinds of children surround us all the time. We adults, parents and others, can send a child down either of these two paths. Jesus tells us how in the lament that follows:

And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus didn’t pose as His model just a “little boy”, but rather a “TRUSTING little boy”. Why do I say this? How do I know this? Because the text says Jesus “called a child to Himself and set him before them“. Let’s see… Jesus calls on a stranger boy in a crowd, as He talks Kingdom-of-God-stuff with His disciples… AND HE COMES!

[Pause]

Think that through a minute. So… imagine yer a kid in the street. Maybe you’re alone. Maybe you’re passing by with mom and dad. Maybe you’re standing there with them listening to this (now) notorious or famous Preacher-Guy everyone’s talking about… and He looks your way with a simple, “Please come here a moment…” What do YOU do?

Ever been called up onstage for a Magician… or a hypnotist? Ever been there when this happened to a friend? It’s SCARY! But this kid COMES!

Why? Because the kid trusts Him and obeys Him. OR… perhaps it’s more accurate to say… this kid obeys Him BECAUSE he has been taught to trust adults in the first place.

This boy obeys, yielding to Jesus’ invitation and will, TRUSTING that nothing bad will happen to Him because of that trust. Or, he may have trusted that his loved ones nearby would make sure nothing bad happened to him.

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Gentle Reader, I believe we’ve lost that capacity. I think the disciples, like ‘most all adults, had lost that capacity. We have to weigh the alternatives, look at it from both sides, consider the pros and cons, and come to a reasoned decision about what to do.

Want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Want to attain greatness there?

Gotta find another way to live. Gotta rediscover “trust”. Gotta get “reborn”, and then “grow up all over again”, reestablishing the sort of trust for God that we once knew as little one’s with our loving parents. When we do, we discover that God will ALWAYS provide for us, ALWAYS keep us safe, and ALWAYS cling to us as the delight of His heart and apple of His eye.

When we honor that trust in one another, dealing uprightly, sacredly, honestly with one another… we fulfill the promise of His last words on this. Sometimes, our trust is abused and we are betrayed. Sometimes, even though we walk  in trust honoring Him, we will be hurt by others. It is not our role to protect from that, or avenge it. Our part is to forgive. But Jesus is unmistakably clear that when we honor our Kingdom citizenship, living in trust and transparency, the King Himself, Our Father, will deal with those who abuse our trust.

Jesus closes with His lament of such foolish people…

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Good news? Bad news? Well, it is certainly unexpected news… do you aspire to greatness in the Kingdom? Then aspire to Trust and Reliance on the unknown will of God. Trust Him enough to obey. Treat others as equally sacred children. And as gradually our trust transforms us into yielding to Him (as we lose our self-protective fear), watch what happens!

 

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Would we dare?

The Omega

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Hebrews 12:1-2]

The Alpha

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Never, before today, have I thought of Christmas in terms of “shame”. Of Mary’s shame of conceiving out of wedlock, Joseph’s shame to wed a pregnant bride, their family shame to bear their son in a cast off stable, to bed Him in a feed trough…

And what of Jesus Himself? Who can even begin to conceive of the contrast between His glorious throne, and swaddling clothes, nappies, and nipples?

And yet… and yet… He EMBRACED that! ALL of them did! Who can imagine such a thing? Mary dared deadly shame to say “yes” to the Angel Gabriel. Joseph dared to trust Mary when she told him of Jesus’ conception.

And Jesus? Jesus willingly embraced His humanity, placing Himself in the care of this incredible couple. He embraced the shame. He accepted His own weakness, helplessness, dependency.

Doing so… as a puny little infant… His very presence terrified a king, prompting the slaughter of countless boys. His presence inspired other kings, who paid Him homage and presented Him gifts. His danger, and the warning of an angel, uprooted His family to an alien country to preserve His life. Did they travel in secret? Like people ashamed? Traveling by little known routes, not to be seen, moving by night, resting and hiding by day?

How strange does this all seem for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

Did they despise the shame? Yet did they all embrace it, for the love of God and those He came to save? Did they love us? Somehow know that somewhere, sometime, you and I would be sitting here praising God for all this?

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All this… all this shame… they took on and embraced, that WE might come to be freed of OUR shame! That our own shames, guilts, sins, be remembered no more. That we stand clean and clear, robed in the righteousness of Christ before the Holy Throne of the Father!

What about us? That’s the question that came to me this morning. That’s the question the Lord confronted me with this morning.

Does “shame”, a concern about what other people will think of me, ever prevent me from doing the right thing, a righteous thing, an action of grace?

It has, Gentle Reader. I must be honest. There are times I have refrained from doing “the right thing”, because it would embarrass me. You too?   * head nods here *   Well, our human frailty gets us all sometimes.

But just let me encourage you, Gentle Reader. Let me ask you to encourage me as well, from time to time. Acts of grace, of compassion, of gentleness… should never be constrained by “how it looks” to others, or whether we will “lose status” by embracing the shame. Do the right, the gentle, the loving… and let onlookers sort themselves out before the Throne.

Jesus’ earthly life began embracing shame. His earthly life ended the same way. But throughout… He is, was, and ever shall be… King of Kings, Lord of Lords…

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [Philippians 2:8-11]

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Advent Devotions, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Monday – Humor Required

For those of us who serve in churches, whether staff or congregant, this month (December) is just horrendously busy. In the midst of such a flurry of activity, working to make these holidays rich and meaningful… we sometimes just get…. “tarred”… as they say ’round here.

For me, humor is often the best tonic. I found myself listening to some Bob Newhart, and from there was led to Grady Nutt. If you have never seen/heard Rev. Grady Nutt speak, allow me the privilege of introducing you.

This may begin a new “tradition” for me. Mondays, we just deserve and need a smile. Please enjoy this!

 

 

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Compromising Purity – Toxic Waste

fruiteeth

“Purity”  This outdated, “uncool” word. Somehow, deep in our heart of hearts, we know purity is central to the intimacy and immediacy of our relationship with God. We sense its importance with our transparency and intimacy with those we love. We even suspect, with that creepy sense of a hint at the back of our minds, that purity may be important to our own comfort level, our transparency, with ourselves in our innermost hearts.

So here we are, at last, having arrived at the predictable destination for any discussion of “purity”… the “Sex-Drugs-RockandRoll” part… the “hot-n-sweaty-between-the-sheets” part… the “pornography” part… the “self-abuse” part! Mwah hah haaa! Finally! We’ve gotten to the “Dirty Dancin’ Sex” part! We’ve ARRIVED!

Except…

We haven’t.

Here is where we… humanly… theologically… parentally… morally… religiously… miss the point so readily and frequently. We think this is the “end of the line”, this sexual immorality thing, when it is but a waypoint, (granted a MAJOR waypoint, but still just) a waystation on the path to our final destination.

And what’s that? What’s the final destination? As ever, it is our own hearts. Our interior selves, the place from which love comes and goes, where relationships form and are embraced. The place where we encounter and respond to God and to one another.

Paul addresses sexual immorality with the Corinthians thus: All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6: 12-20]

This is not a condemnation of “sex”. God commanded Adam and Eve (and many others) to go forth, be fruitful, and fill the earth with new life. This is not a condemnation of “the body”. Paul speaks of immorality as a sin AGAINST one’s own body, and urges instead that we glorify God in our body.

So… as I am so often asked, “What’s wrong with pornography, Little Monk? There’s no victim. I’m not touching anyone but myself. How can there be a sin, when no one is hurt or touched, when I’m all alone?” And all that person has for their moral compass is this vague neurotic sense of guilt and shame, laid down when they were very young (incredibly young), when self-gratification was equated with the shame they knew if they pooped their pants or failed to make it to the toilet in time to pee. All they have in their conscience is the human equivalent of the downcast whimper of a puppy whose nose has been squashed into their mess.

They’ve been taught shame. The wrong kind of shame. They’ve been taught to be ashamed of their body. Ashamed of its reactions to visual (or other) sensory stimuli. Ashamed of their body’s connection to their minds and imagination. Often, ironically, this shame bleeds into their own marital relationships, toxifying the very place, the actual place where holiness dwells in all of this. They have been taught shame of passion itself, and thus become caught in a toxic trap that negates any sense of purity or light.

How did this happen?

Their understanding of purity stopped short of the destination. They got hung up at the “somatic”, at the “glandular”, at the “body” part… and they did not carry on with the issue all the way to the mind and the heart!

Jesus addressed this right at the outset in His Sermon on the Mount:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’;  but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Matthew 6:27-28]

This word “lust” here, epithumeo (ἐπιθυμέω), simply means “passionate desire”. Humans like to translate it “lust”, but it really doesn’t have an innately sexual meaning. Jesus uses this same word of His own feelings from time to time, feelings of love for those He has come to save, passionate desire to gather, to protect, to embrace. I’ve always likened it to that feeling a parent has, from time to time, where you just want to hug your children (or grandchildren) so intently that you must constrain yourself or cause discomfort. The passion is where the “mind”, the “emotions”, and the “body” (the glands, the intensity, the muscles) meet and cross over into one another.

So what has all this got to do with the topic?

We are speaking here of compromising purity, specifically (at the moment) through sexual immorality. Jesus points out that where it all goes haywire is not in the bed (though that may well be a likely outcome)… but the adultery is in the “look upon her with lust [passionate desire] in his heart”. THAT… is intense focus… THAT is placing the self in the intimate sexual scene… THAT is to generate and revel in the “fantasy”.

And THERE is where the problem lies with pornography, self-abuse, and all the other little “secret dirties” that nannies, and parents, and religious shame-mongers program children with. Such programmers seldom understand the mechanics themselves, and are usually so uncomfortable with the topic (not to mention ignorant), that they never do as Jesus did… get down to the heart of the matter.

If all we focus on is the physical, the material… the video playing… the magazine purchasing, hiding, drawing out behind the locked door… the movie-going… then we miss the point. The heart of the matter is not in the material, it is in the mental, the emotional, the relational.

When we take a false relationship of intimacy into our minds and hearts through the senses… (whether pornography, infidelity, sexual fantasy in the community, church, or workplace)… or any other form of sexual immorality, we make a conscious decision to devote and dedicate our mind and imagination to a LIE. We focus, concentrate, passion and adrenalin involving a whole biological system designed for a joyful, wholesome, and holy purpose… and we poison that, devaluing that to the “merely vicarious”, of no greater significance to us than watching a scary movie for cheap thrills.

The mind… the heart… the inner person… made in the image of God… capable of imagination and co-creatiion… such dignity and power is scarcely imaginable. THIS is what sets us apart (as far as we know) from all other life on earth (perhaps beyond). Here is the essence of the soul, of the heart. Here is where Paul says we sin against our very SELVES, our own body, when we cheapen this.

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Where’s the “Purity” issue?

To invest the self, the soul, the mind, the heart, the passion… the capacity we have for imagination and fantasy… into a the non-existent phantom of sexuality without relationship, call-to-oneness, or true trust and intimacy… this is utterly toxic and self-defeating. This leads, inevitably and unavoidably, to emotional desolation, emptiness, unrequited yearning.

The Serpent succeeded in seducing Eve with such a process… painting in her mind something impossible… “a good thing outside the will of God”. Once she conceived of that possibility, she yearned for it, judged it desirable, and acted upon that thought.

The irony is that the generation of “neurotic shame” and “shadowy mystique” usually strengthens the illusion of desirability. Sexual allure is largely cultural. What hairstyles, makeup, clothing (or lack thereof), is “attractive”… is largely dependent on where (and when) you are and who you grew up with. Even the “ultimate allure”, the naked form… varies in “attractiveness” from one culture to another, one era to another.

Why? Because Jesus had it right! It’s in the head, the heart, the desire, the fantasy, the “longing look”. Sin is in the “will”, the “choice”. Purity is a decision as well as a quality. Flee from sin. Refuse to pursue immorality of any kind (sexual or otherwise), and do not even remain “passive” and happy if it is upon you against your will.

How?

Ah… we can “drive out the toxic”, by “embracing the wholesome”. Darkness cannot exist where/when light is brought in to the room. We can “import purity”, and by this means counteract all of the compromises… adulteration, corruption, and toxification. Paul told us how! Watch this…

Sheri Phillips, NOAA/NESDIS/NODC/DBMD, amer0020, NOAA's Small World Collection

Sheri Phillips, NOAA/NESDIS/NODC/DBMD, amer0020, NOAA’s Small World Collection

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” [Philippians 4:4-9]

How amazing is this?

Paul teaches this TREMENDOUS truth here! And he’s not even talking about “behaving rightly”, or “being moral”, or “purity” or anything like that! He’s talking about PEACE! He’s talking about GRACE! He’s talking about how to invite the God of peace to be with us, and to guard our minds and our hearts!

Gentle Reader… God is NOT a DEAF MUTE! He is not passive! He doesn’t just sit there saying, “Well, let’s see how they handle THIS now, shall We?” or “AHA! He’s made his own bed and messed up, now let’s let him lie in it!” That’s NOT God. That’s not how God has EVER been! It’s not how God is through the Old Testament, New, or in our lives as we walk. If that were so, we’d all have been toast long, long ago.

No… if we will take what WE are and have and can… our attention, our focus… and direct that toward elements of light… “whatever is good, true, beautiful, etc.”. THEN He will bring us the rest of the way! He will purify! He will enlighten. He will guard and grant peace.

Why? Because we deserve it? Because we do such a great job cleaning house that He just can’t wait to get in here? Lol! No. Simply because it’s what He’s always wanting all along. He WANTS to dwell with us. He WANTS us to know peace, not turmoil, anxiety, fretfulness, loneliness.

I often teach that the single most persistent truth I see reflected in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments… is God’s desperate and determined desire to live intimately in, among, alongside His children in sheer love… and our equally determined efforts to resist that. (Fortunately, He’s God, we’re not. He wins!)

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Purity is not hokey or out-of-date. Purity reflects the clarity of connection, intimacy, immediacy between God and us, and among ourselves in light and transparency. Compromises of purity lie all around us every day. But the restoration, the maintenance, the protection of purity… lies all around us, among us, and within us as well.

Never despair. Never reject. Never shrink away in fear or shame. “Let your mind dwell”… LEARN… learn to meditate, to contemplate, to use the tremendous gifts God gave us for entering into His consciousness, to dwell on whatever is of good, whatever is of Jesus and Truth. And such effort will bear fruit in the reduction of any and all fantasies in/of darkness.

 

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Ripples and Birthdays

WisdomIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2]

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,  in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [Luke 2:4-7]

While I know that technically it is “Christmas Day” as I write, Gentle Reader, for me it is the ending of Christmas Eve for I’ve not yet slept. These several days, I’ve yet been struck with the awesome power of “silence’ and “waiting”. I know there are those who decry the customs and traditions of the Liturgical Year, and the cycle of holidays such as Christmas and Easter in the Christian Church. I realize, with all educated theologians, that the decisions to select the dates we have are more dependent on the incorporation of customs by pagan peoples into Christian practice, than any scriptural seasonal basis. But it has always seemed more to me an apt unification of God’s people, rather than any denial or wrongful compromise.

Paulfg (Just me being curious) speaks often of dropping pebbles and watching the myriad ripples that follow. So much of grace is like that. God, or one who follows Him, drops a pebble, and the Holy Spirit echoes and reverberates among many others like variations on a theme of music. I was recently struck by the rhythmic nature of reality, of the necessity of opposites. In order to know true freedom and choice of good over evil, we MUST of logical necessity, have the capacity to choose evil. In order to know light, we must have the ability to apprehend darkness. For me, limited as I am by my own culture and upbringing, I’m coming to consider this the nature of yin and yang. Even Paul’s ripples have peaks and troughs, a zenith and nadir to define them.

This “silence”, this “fasting”, this preparation for the annual commemoration of the Great Events of the Nativity and the Resurrection that comprise Advent and Lent… these are important, and can do much to enrich our experience of God. Why? Because they are, in and of themselves, some sort of “magic times”? No. Because God takes special note of those who are devout enough to honor these penitential periods, and rewards the faithful with special Brownie Point Blessings? No. Because we have to “purge ourselves of our worldliness and sin”, in order to benefit from these sacred feasts? Well, such exercise may well bear some fruit, yes… but not in such a transactional way, no.

Now, I know you’ve heard this before, but let me say it again. I write from my own experience and subjective perspective. My opinions and conclusions are my own, and if they do not agree with yours I am NOT implying that you are wrong. For you, in your life, your world, your walk with the Lord, these ideas may not fit at all… and if that is the case, please cast them aside without hesitation. But perhaps these reflections will spur a new thought or idea to explore with Him, and that may bring additional grace or blessing. I share to expand our sense of the Possible in the realm of the grace of God.

This night, I’ve been struck with the Ripples of the Nativity. With this transition from Advent into Christmas. From pregnancy to parenthood. I was struck with those TWO texts quoted at the beginning of this post. All of “Not-Yet-Created” waited silently and darkly for “Creation”. The verb there for God “formed” is a word that means “brought forth from nothing at all”. This is not like a conjurer’s trick, the magician who unveils and releases a dove from a handkerchief and his “empty” hand. No, this is vastly more profound. This is God the Father and God the Son and God the Breath of God speaking, extending, and hovering over the expanse of darkness to bring forth… EVERYTHING. Birth!

And then, much later on, we see this scenario play out into our world, our time and space, as the Father sends forth Gabriel and speaks, the Son extends, and the Holy Breath overshadows Mary in her home. Nine months later, according to the rules of biology established in our lives, we have… Birth!

In my own life, this is a night each year when the universe itself holds its collective breath and gazes upon THE miracle of birth. It is God’s glory, God’s act, God’s love, God’s grace. It is entirely and wholly His, and it could well be said that He alone has the right to rejoice in it. But… just as He invited the shepherds and the maji so long ago to take part, to come, to witness, to celebrate… so too, He invites us. Isn’t that wondrous?

But watch this, it gets better! It is not only the celebration of the Birth of Jesus that is going on here.  Jesus said, “you in Me and I in you and together we in the Father.”  John the Apostle calls you a “Child of God”. Paul the Apostle waxes eloquent about “joint-heir with Christ,” including the training and discipline involved. We never see any of these texts grovelling in any sort of “worthless worm theology”, as so often undermines Christians in the name of humility.

The Nativity is not only Jesus’ Birthday… but ours as well. We are here to commemorate a birth… your birth, my birth… as sons and daughters of God… joint heirs… princes and princesses of kingdom… called to do the works of Jesus and greater yet because He is risen to the Father.

God Alone creates something from nothing. God Alone chose to lay down His divinity and become a man like us in all things but sin. God Alone moves the Holy Breath Spirit to dwell within us and among us. Why? Because He chooses to. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

And God Alone could make royalty of you and me. “Holy and Royal Priesthood” is all well and good as long as we speak of it in some vague corporate collective of “The Church”. But people become vastly less comfortable when one points out that means that YOU, are a sacred prince/princess priest/priestess. *I’m* not saying that… Scripture says that.

So… for tonight… let us continue to be silent, waiting, and ready. For, tomorrow, there will be Birth. And there will be a Gift. And the Gift will be an entirely new life… not just a “getting by” life… but a holy and royal life. A life filled with life, love, joy, truth, beauty, goodness, power, authority, and duty. Life that gives itself away and pours itself out for others…

Why? Because that’s what God has chosen to do. Because that’s what Love means to Him.

Happy Birthday, Your Highness.

 

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in Advent Devotions, Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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Shhh… The Cosmos Stills

WisdomOnly days to go and Advent ends. You know, Gentle Reader, that I often repost Richard Rohr’s meditations here. The amazing thing, to me, is that I will often write about something, even cross-blog with others here in WordPress on a topic, and see Fr. Richard post on the same topic days or weeks later. (I assure you that we have no contact, and his devotion posts are certainly scheduled well in advance of these.)

The past few weekends have been astonishing in my own life, for reasons very hard to express. I have been overcome with a sense of the “presence and relaxation” of God on these weekend days. It’s very hard to describe, but think about how you feel when you and a dear friend or family member gets away to some weekend retreat or resort, and have no phones to answer or chores to do. Imagine a day where all you “have” to do is nothing at all, besides waken, eat, refresh, and laugh, play, or rest. (These are the kind of days I try to provide when my kids get to come visit for (usually) a few days at a time.)

So, imagine sitting totally relaxed in your living room or study, sitting with someOne you utterly love and trust, just… comfortable. Maybe you’re both reading, or watching the telly, or listening to music, or just dozing off and on. But there’s no speech because, in this particular moment, there’s just no need for any. Know what I mean? There’s just that understanding between you, and in this moment nothing needs to be said.

Well, now imagine that it’s a Sunday, and here you are in the living room doing those things, and the Lord is there doing just that. And imagine that from this blessed restful state of just “being with” one another, this strange creeping sense that “you’re not doing this right” starts to steal over you. You become “concerned” because, well, you’re not being “reverent” enough. You’re not “worshiping”. You’re not “praying”. Somehow you’re getting it wrong. You should be acting and feeling… “reverenter” or something.

Well, this happened to me a couple weeks ago. And in the midst of my growing disquiet of heart, without even my saying anything, as if He knew exactly what I was thinking (fancy that), He seemed to turn to me and smilingly shake His head. There I was, enjoying an indescribable day… and my own doubts start to take over and rob me of this amazing joy.

Ever so gently and simply He helped me understand… I WAS fulfilling all of my own (and His) desires and expectations. It just didn’t LOOK LIKE the gloomy or sanctimonious images so often associated with worship or piety. This time together was intensely aware of His presence and filled with love. Attention could be given to whatever activity was happening, without ever diminishing attention and focus given to Him. What’s more, the experience of it, the sensation of it, lingered. This was not just a “Sunday activity” we were about. This was a “state of consciousness” that seemed quite capable of extending through much of the week.

The strange thing I realized was that the sense of being together was a silent joy. It was not imporant to talk, or even to interact. It was the simple presence, the love, and the joy of that presence that mattered.  As this awareness grew, it seemed to expand into lots of related thoughts. The most dramatic realization was about “prayer” and “silence”.

I learned to redefine “prayer”, at least for my own experience. (Needless to say, I share my definition only for the sharing, not because this is supposed to redefine prayer for you or anyone else.) Prayer has simply become: The willing opening of the consciousness to the presence and love of God in the moment.

Like most people, I’ve always thought of “prayer” in terms of “words”. But this is quite a different view. Not passive… but rather like “opening the self” not only to the “view” of God, but to “sharing the moment with” Him. (Lol. That may make no sense at all, but it’s the only words I can find for it.)

I’m constantly astonished at the sheer variety, the diversity, of “ways to pray”. The phrase almost doesn’t make sense, as it seems like there are as many ways as there are feelings, or needs, or ways to see and experience God. So this post must not be read as limiting true prayer by any means.

I have spent considerable time this day trying to find the words to say what I mean. The closest I can get, an experiment in prayer if you want to try it, and the place where this all ties into Advent is…

Have you ever fallen in love? True love? And do you recall the time(s) when you were in the same room with your beloved and right there and then, without saying or doing anything, all was right with the world? You didn’t even need or want to say anything, for fear of “breaking the spell”?

Imagine that as a form of prayer. It starts with quiet moments. Let quiet moments when your heart and mind drift to Him stretch out into that experience of presence and embrace. See if that awareness, that sense of presence, can extend outwards into more active moments and activities.

Have you ever wondered how… specifically how… anyone is supposed to “pray always”? I have. If we think of prayer as words, of attention paid exclusively to God Alone, then this injunction of Paul’s seems to leave us with a choice between a monastic life, and noncompliance.

But what if… just what if… praying always is moving through every moment, every place, every thought and feeling, conscious of the welcomed presence and companionship of God? Or, to turn that around a bit, what if this kind of prayer is simply no shutting Him OUT of the moment?

There is tremendous power of love in silence. We can both take some of that silence into any and every moment, even the busiest, and we can rest in and enjoy the silence when we have the chance. Right now, in these days just before Christmas, I wonder if the universe itself quiets and stills in preparation to commemorate this… the inconceivable… that God become man.

Silent prayer… love without words… I’m learning. Slowly, but I’m learning.

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in Advent Devotions, Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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Questioning an Angel – Part II

WisdomThe angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. [Luke 1:30-38]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It is always interesting to find “pairs” in Scripture. Mary asks a question of the angel in this conversation. Zacharias did so a few months earler. But while Zacharias’ question resulted in criticism and a “proof response” of becoming mute for more than nine months, Mary’s does not.

Why not? Favoritism… or her youth… or perhaps she was just better looking than her cousin’s husband? What is the difference between what she said and did, and what he said and did?

No, none of that really makes sense, does it? After all, there are other differences in the encounters, besides the announcement of a pending birth. The angel comes to her having sought her out, she does not show fear but wonder, she is confused as to what all this means.

But both of them ask a question of their angel when told that they are going to have a child. At first glance, the questions may look the same.

Zacharias asks: “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”

Mary asks: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

I mean, just LOOK at that. They look like equivalent questions, don’t they? Astonishment, followed by the reason for the astonishment?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This time of year brings out the best in So many commentators and devotional bloggers, that I’m not going to apologize for neglecting all the wonderful, warm, reverent and loving observations and musings prompted by this astonishing passage. The recent poem quoted from Juan de la Cruz of “If You Want” certainly elevates the soul to ponder one’s personal conception of Jesus.

So I want to share just the single laser-specific gleam that God focused my heart on time and time again right here this year. It was this contrast/comparison thing between Zacharias and Mary in their angelic encounters. Most specifically, the spotlight falls on these two questions and their responses.

My question arose: What made the difference here? Rather like the offerings of Cain and Abel… one was “acceptable” and the other “not”. But why?

Here are my conclusions, and should your own ponders bring new petals to light, I’d love to hear them.

Like so many things of God, perhaps the ultimate key lies not in the “words” but in the “heart”. What underlay the questions they asked? It seems to me as if there is a vast difference of heart between the two.

Zacharias is faced with a miraculous angelic apparition, receives wonderful news, and “doubts”. What does he doubt? His own sanity? Does he wonder if he is just imagining all this, whether this is just what we would call “an hallucination of wish fulfillment”? After all, isn’t this the dearest desire of his heart? (I have to wonder, would I do this?) Or does he doubt the identity, the alignment of the celestial being, concerned that this may be a demon rather than an angel? (I know many associates for whom this would be a major concern.)

I think not. It seems that Zacharias measures the angel’s words against what he knows to be fundamental common sense, his knowledge of “science”, and his own judgment… and concludes that being as old as he and Elizabeth are, God simply cannot accomplish this. Perhaps Zacharias’ question comes from his common sense conclusion that God has bitten off more than He can chew, and he seeks some sign from Gabriel that God can back up His boast.

Zacharias will believe this, when he is satisfied by a proof that God can make good on His claim. His question is an expression of “test”, a demand for a “proof”.

God honors this. He always has (and always will). BUT, one would think the “being chosen by lot”, along with the seeing an angel sitting alongside the altar and discussing any/all of this with him would be proof enough. Nonetheless, the angel (messenger) conveys God’s willingness to meet Zacharias’ need. Elizabeth will conceive… BUT since he doubted, he would remain mute until her pregnancy has fully passed.

So, what is so different about Mary’s question? Now, here we have to judge a bit post hoc, propter hoc, I’m afraid. Looking at the full passage, there is no sense at any point of her saying, “I don’t believe this!” Her question to the angel seems more “mechanical” than “interrogative”.

She asks a question of how this will come about, not whether. She does not demand any proof of the angel, but seems to ask more what role she is to play in what is happening. “How can I conceive, being virgin?” Is she to have relations with Joseph? What is SHE to do, not what can GOD do?

The angel answers her question, but then offers what she did not ask for. On his own initiative (at behest of God), the angel offers a proof and sign of his truthfulness. Interestingly, rather than just taking this as a validation of truth, she perceives this as a “call to service”, and once this encounter is finished she goes to minister to Elizabeth until the birth.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lots more can be said, but we don’t need to.

I question God and my angels. I don’t always mean to, but I do it all the time. (Well, I used to do it more than I do now. Still…) Just as we see in the Psalms, people approach God with a variety of states of mind and heart. I realize, God has no “unaskable questions”, and never forbids this conversation. But as my own faith and trust in Him grow, I find fewer of my questions focus on, “I can’t believe this until You prove it to me.” Rather my questions are more centered on, “This is incredible, but how do I most readily work WITH You on this, rather than not.”

How about you?

Grace to thee — Gentle Reader

 

 

 

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