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Great Questions — The Littlest Question

©1982KatherineBrown

©1982KatherineBrown

“How do I LIVE in Christ, right here, right now, day to day?”

THAT, I call “the littlest question”. That is a question of “how?”, not of “Who?” or of “What?”. That is a question of “little me”, not “All Mighty God”, or “The Mighty Counselor”, or “The Messiah”, or “The Savior”. That is a question of right here, right now, not “In Eternity”, “In the Cosmos”, or “From the Beginning of Time”.

As Christian bloggers, as ministers of the gospel, as church people, as teachers/preachers, we spend much of our time dealing with “The Great Questions!” “Who/What is God and His Nature?”, “What is Truth?”, “What is Forgiveness and how Often?”, “How Should the Bride of Christ, The Church, Run?“, and so on. Those are decidedly GOOD questions. They explore our relationship with God as we seek to know Him intimately and thus experience eternal life. Nothing wrong with such questions. I spend much time in them, as do others.

But, once in a while I am reminded of the fundamental simplicity of Christ. Recently I was reminded, by someone INSISTING that I address a single, very simple question. It shames me to confess, their question was so fundamental and so simple, and I spend so much time “in my head” with the great and mighty questions, that for far too long… I couldn’t even HEAR their question properly.

What was the question?

“HOW… in practical terms… How am I supposed to LIVE, as a Christian?”

Every time I answered, the person shook their head and said, “I HEAR that, but I don’t know how to DO that! I hear that from you, I see that in Scripture, I hear that in Church… but when it comes right down to it, I don’t know what that all MEANS outside of church, prayer and religion. HOW do I DO that?”

I realized that THEY were not the one “not getting it”. THEY weren’t “dense”. *I* was. *I* wasn’t getting it, *I* was being slow on the uptake. I didn’t know why communication wasn’t happening, so I backed up a moment to take my confusion to Jesus, and He showed me the problem. It made me blush then, and it makes me blush now.

I kept giving them “Great Question” answers. You know… “Love God with all your…”, “Love as Jesus loves…”, “Forgive always…” so on and so on. I kept answering the “What?”‘s of Christian living. They weren’t ASKING me about “What?” or “Why?” or “Who?”… they got all that. They knew all that. They were asking “HOW?”, and I was utterly failing to respond. What’s more, truthfully, I didn’t KNOW. I hadn’t “thought about it”. It all seems so complicated… “How do you live a perfect (as Jesus commanded at the end of Sermon on the Mount) Christian life?” So many rules. So many opinions. So many interpretations. So many traditions. What was I to say?

So, as I stopped my speaking, closed my eyes, backed up… and “punted”… I prayed, then shut up and listened. “Lord? What’s wrong here? Why are we not connecting? I’m missing something critical here.”

And, at first, all I could hear was Jesus’ laughter. Rather like we laugh when watching a kitten tie themselves up in a big ball of yarn. Not “making fun” so much as “recognizing the absurdity of the moment”. His laughter calmed me in the sense that I knew I wasn’t “misleading” or “speaking less than Truth” here, but I remained confused for the moment.

“You’re just making things all too complicated,” He said. “HOW do you live out love? If you want to focus on one, single, behavior that will have the greatest impact on letting Me be Me in you… ‘be KIND’! The closest human label and emotion to ‘agape’ in behavior, is ‘kindness’. Tell him to go out tomorrow, and every day, in every encounter, making every decision, in the kindest way and being kind to everyone. He will know, as do you and everyone else, when he is being ‘unkind’ and ‘selfish’. Tell him, simply to ‘be kind’, and then follow up from there with him later.”

And so I did.

That has affected me since. I’ve looked at that aspect of my Crystal Rose now from many angles. It’s true. “Kindness” in the way we mean that, is central to all of the Old Law. Central to the Gospels. If we were to line up all the encounters of Jesus, and ask what central characteristic they hold in common, His kindness would be atop the list.

Kindness… to be consistently Kind… is very very simple.

It is also very very hard!

Want the Scriptural take on all this?

Read over the entirety of 1 Corinthians 13 for a moment. (It’s a comparatively short chapter. Go ahead and look at it… I’ll wait here.)

<<     Hums the Final Jeopardy theme music tune here, waiting patiently….  >>

Finished? Good. Now watch this…

In all that chapter, Paul deals with “love”, and simple behaviors, after opening with matters of Great Questions. After all, Paul’s epistles constantly deal with Great Questions and Weighty Matters… the nature of God, the nature of the Church, the nature of Salvation, discipline in the church, the nature of ministry, the qualifications of ministers… and on… and on… and on. We base much of our Great Question dialogue grounded in the writings of Paul. As I said, nothing wrong with that.

But! We can lose sight of the simple fact that over and over and over, Paul is ALSO “making new believers”! He is evangelizing. He is sharing the SIMPLE Good News of the arrival of Jesus, His Kingdom, and the freedom in our lives of our redemption. Paul doesn’t plunge new believers into heady debate about “to meat or not to meat”, or lots of other things. He speaks of Christ, of His love, of Christ come, and crucified, and risen.

The KEY verse, in all of 1 Corinthians 13, I believe to be Verse Four:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant…”

As I’ve looked and pondered these things, the opening verses deal with the Great Questions! You can have all the “Great Answers”, and do all the “Great Things”… but without this bedrock, this “love” thing… that’s all meaningless. Everything before verse four, seems to lead up to verse four. Everything after verse four, seems only to expand on and refine it.

“Patient, kind, no jealousy or ego…”

To brag and be arrogant are based in pride, and pride (wounded) is part and parcel of jealousy.

So… right here, in front of man and God and everybody, I say openly… “If you want to live out the perfect Christian life, and have the love of Christ flow through you to others, focus behaviors on ‘patient, kind, not ego-bound'”.

There’s HOW!

One last note. Think about, in your own life, those persons… those (usually) handful of persons… who have really “shone Christ” in your own life to you. You know who I mean, the one’s who, when you spend time with them, leave you sensing the nearness and presence of Christ more strongly than you did before. Those ones that just ‘cover you up in’ the Father’s love, the Son’s Forgiveness, the Holy Spirit’s presence. The ones you reach towards when you feel that need for the tangible presence of Jesus.

Now, ask yourself,  “is that person patient? kind? and humble (ego-free)” in their dealings with me?

Let us, then, go and do likewise.

Grace to you, Gentle Reader — The Little Monk

 
7 Comments

Posted by on February 18, 2016 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Because I say so…

244px-messier-42-10-12-2004-filtered-e1401834586474While working on some projects over the past few weeks, I was struck with an amazing realization…

Are you a parent? Were you a parent? Or… do you remember your own parents? Imagine, if you will…

  1. You tell your child to do something or other that they don’t particularly want to do.
  2. They (predictably) ask, in a whiny voice, “But… but… WHY?”
  3. And you say? (fill in the blank here) (Psst! Hint: Check the title of this post!)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Have you ever noticed how often God Almighty, when faced with parallel situations with His Old Testament children, identifies Himself thus…

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.”

Time and time again, He identifies Himself this way. And one day this realization just stopped me cold, as I thought… “Waitaminute! Why does God EXPLAIN Himself? Is He coddling His children? I mean, why doesn’t He say… ‘Because I am the Lord your God who could squish you like a bug?’ or “I am the Lord your God who created heaven, earth, and you?’ or even the tried-and-true…. “Because I say so!”?

It started me looking up one passage after another, and I saw this pattern repeated over and over. And this confused me. After all, if ANYONE has the right to pose an argument from authority without qualification, it must be Him, no? And yet, He doesn’t. In fact, He NEVER EVER does.

I was stunned.

We do it, we humans, all the time. Certainly with our children and subordinates. We claim our authority by position and rank, not by our actions and history. At least, not usually we don’t.

It all started me thinking… Why? Doubtless God is more emotionally secure than we are. We have greater need to massage our egos and pride, true enough. But still, does it make sense that we tend to point to ourselves when we assert authority, while God points to the children when He does?

So, I pondered, “Why?” Clearly, God gets it right more than I do. So, He has a method to why He asserts His authority in these terms rather than mine. As I pondered, I came to a conclusion.

I’d like to know what you think about what I thought… which was…

It seems that God defines “authority” in terms of His own commitment to the care and welfare of the other.

Perhaps that is a critical key. Perhaps “authority” only has true meaning in relationships of care, and it is directly related to the degree of commitment one has for the nurturance of the other. Like when God placed Adam into the garden to “protect and to serve” the plants, THUS exercising dominion. Is it possible that God always intended Adam’s “authority” and “dominion” to extend only to the limits of his caretaking?

Could God’s authority be infinite in that His caretaking is infinite? And the reverse? God’s caretaking is infinite in that His authority is infinite? Is the assertion and exercise of authority only godly and legitimate to the extent that we are committed to the well-being of the other? Is such assertion without commitment nothing more than the haughty posing of the self-righteous whitewashed tombs?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That’s where my ponders led me. What do you think?

Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader! — The Little Monk

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 15, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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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.

 

 
1 Comment

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

 

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Spiritual Gifts — Contagious

gift-boxesWhen they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them. It came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”  [1 Samuel 10:10-11]

{Have a look at this chapter (1 Samuel 10), and see this story from verse 1 to verse 12.]

Don Merritt has just completed a terrific series of posts on “Spiritual Gifts”, and I recommend it to all of you Gentle Readers. [The series starts with the post of October 30, titled “Now What?“. Get the whole series in one bite by going to The Life Project and pulling the listing of keyword tag “spiritual gifts“. It is WELL worth the effort, trust me.].

I didn’t comment on his posts for a number of reasons, the foremost of which was that they were so well done there really wasn’t much I felt moved to add. His material was so comprehensive and well organized that I didn’t want to distract anyone (or him) by injecting my sort of “out of the box” commentary. But I did have a number of those thoughts go by, along with flashbacks of the ancient times when these emerged in my own walk.

Between that and some questions that have come up from time to time on the topics of Discernment and hearing the Holy Spirit, there are a few pebbles that I’ve wanted to toss into our pond of spiritual growth and exploration here as their own posts.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The question is often asked… “How can I enhance my spiritual growth?”

The answer is often given… “Find and attend a church or place of worship that grows you, where the Holy Spirit seems to be present among the people.”

Such advice is often looked upon as being “marketing”, or “toeing the party line”. But it is far more than that. The other day, I mentioned that to “gather as church” is an effect, a fruit, of an intimate encounter with God… it is not generally a cause. “Piety”… a deep and sincere love for the Divine, on His own terms, not ours, can be nearly palpable, tangible, with certain places or people.

Have you ever walked into a church, or a chapel or old mission, or maybe a cloister… and just wanted to sit there and enjoy the experience? I don’t want to sound “flamingly mystical” or anything, but… I have become convinced over time that people of love, investing themselves into the Word(s) of God, with faith repetitively in a place… seem to leave a residue behind.

Which comes to my point… that “faith”, “love”, “encouragement”, and “giftedness”… all seem to have a major element of “contagion” to them. Investing time, care, focus and love into Truth of God seems to draw that truth forward into our immediate experience. More simply put, Love is a force that has real world effects when applied.

Back in the days when I was a young omniscient minister, I was part of a band of brethren that ministered according to our gifts in the community. I noticed at the time, the strange phenomenon that when I was “functioning in and with the group”, the strength of my gift was much greater, much more precise, much clearer, than when I was alone or working alone. Upon further reflection later in life, I realized that my own development of those gifts… even their emergence to identifiability… had occurred when I was both under the tutelage of a master spiritual director AND was comfortably nestled among a group of brethren determined to grow in our relationship with God, and serving the community.

When I did see this in my middle age, I was struck with that passage from 1 Samuel. I have observed this before, many times. When a collective of faithful (whether a church, a ministry, whatever) are determined, dedicated, and mutually accountable to grow in Christ… and when led by a teacher of wisdom and experience… then spiritual giftedness, grace, and growth of relationship with God… seem to “effervesce” or bubble up like popcorn bursting forth.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bottom Line: Grace, love, and emergence of spiritual gifts are “contagious”, and best nurtured in an environment that includes the energetic encouragement of fellow family members, with the guidance and care of an experienced master mentor.

What do ya’ll think? What have you seen, heard, experienced around any of this?
Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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The Cross as Compassion

Image: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

Compassion

The Cross as Compassion

Friday, July 4, 2014

Each worldview has its own folly and its own form of wisdom, and Paul says the cross has challenged both and comes out with the best and most honest answer—precisely because it incorporates the tragic (the irrational, absurd, and sinful) and uses it for good purposes. The Christian perspective can absorb and appreciate paradox—which is order within disorder, redemption through tragedy, resurrection through death, divinity through humanity.

For Paul, therefore, the cross and its transformative power is his summary symbol for the depths of divine wisdom, which seems like mere “folly” to the “masters of every age” (1 Corinthians 2:6). The compassionate holding of essential meaninglessness or tragedy, as Jesus does on the cross, is the final and triumphant resolution of all the dualisms and dichotomies that we ourselves must face in our own lives. We are thus “saved by the cross”!

Paradox held and overcome is the beginning of training in non-dual thinking or contemplation, as opposed to paradox denied, which forces us to choose only one part of any mysterious truth. Such a choice will be false because we usually choose the one that serves our small purposes. Who would ever choose the cross? Yet life often demands it of us anyway. Would anyone will or wish their child to be born with a mental or physical disability? Yet how many such families rise to very high levels of love and compassion? Paul offers a new wisdom that challenges both “Jews and Greeks” (read: religious conservatives and secular liberals) in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25.

Conversion, therefore, is not joining a different group, but seeing with the eyes of the crucified. The cross is Paul’s philosopher’s stone or “codebreaker” for any lasting spiritual liberation. God can save sincere people of faith inside of any system or religion, if only they can be patient,trusting, and compassionate in the presence of human misery or failure,especially their own. This is life’s essential journey. These trustful ones have surrendered to Christ, very often without needing to use the precise word “Christ” at all (Matthew 7:21). It is the active doing and not the correct saying that matters.

Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi,
pp. 75-76

Gateway to Silence:
May I see with eyes of compassion.

 

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Slice ‘N Dice – The Rest of the Story

Spine of a BibleSome of us remember Paul Harvey, a wonderful radio broadcaster and author who specialized in looking beneath the headlines of major stories or characters, and painting a context… a background… often surprising, that helped us better understand the story itself.

Most all those who read or follow this blog love the Lord, love the Bible, and seek to let the Word of God (in every form) grow our intimacy and relationship with God. That humbles me. Often, when I sit to type, it almost scares me. I want to know, with confidence, when I push that “Publish” button, that I’ve prayed, heard, and typed as clearly and cleanly as I am able.

Many of you, Gentle Readers, know this feeling very well. About half of those who follow this post preach or teach through the Word of God on a regular basis. THAT knowledge humbles me even more. One of the reasons I try to post here regularly is an interesting statistic I recently heard, but don’t know the footnote to.

Question: “What internet sites and search questions get the most hits on Saturday nights?”

(*No, it’s not pornography, which was my first guess when asked this question*)

Answer: “Sermon Notes. The highest traffic on the internet on Saturday nights, are from preachers seeking to draft their sermons for the next day.”

(This was told me by my homiletics professor, with whom I still take clinics from time to time. Learning this, I included the category “Sermon Seeds”, hoping to address some of that need.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anyway, a couple years ago I preached a sermon that keyed on our freedom in Christ and our freedom from fear at the judgment. One of my key verses was this, Hebrews 9:27: “And inasmuch as it is [y]appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…” and I put it in its place there, and went on with the rest of my structured message.

This particular sermon was very important to me, laying out a critical truth, so afterwards I forwarded a .wav file of the message and my notes, for comment and feedback to an old friend… The Pastor (you’ve seen referred to here in different posts from time to time). He was kind enough to reply, affirmed the point and teaching, giving generally positive feedback. But he also was kind enough to point out that there was a place he recommended that I consider a possible improvement.

(I cannot express to you how gentle… how many words he uses to “buffer, insulate, and soften”… anything he says that could possibly be interpreted as “critical'”, in order not to wound or offend the other.) Anyhow, in his reply, after dealing with the “softening introduction” to his critique, I found I had pushed one of his “Hot Buttons”… through my own lack of academic, intellectual, theological… rigor. I had “cut a corner”, and thus expressed less of the truth than I want to do.

Please note, my Hebrews snippet expressed an entire VERSE of scripture, yes. HOWEVER, I did NOT present the entire SENTENCE. In doing that, in that “Slice ‘N Dice” moment (as paulfg calls it), I failed to express the full meaning of the statement. I used the clause that bolstered my position, but I slanted the meaning of the words as originally expressed by Hebrews’ author.

I had used the phrase, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”…. to focus the listener on their own mental image of the judgment (and fear thereof)… for oratorical, homiletic, reasons. It was a “speaker’s trick”. This was dishonest. This was not the intent of the author, as is made clear when one finishes the sentence. The full sentence is this:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. [Hebrews 9:27-28]

Do you see it? Do you see my mistake? In doing what I did, I actually REVERSED the intention of the author. I used the clause to generate fear. But the author states the full sentence to generate confidence, hope, and assurance in Christ at the moment of judgment.

My friend did NOT accuse me of laziness, sloppiness, or dishonesty. None of that. He simply stated that there is a subtle trap inherent in quoting, teaching, or preaching from a scriptural sentence fragment, and that he had seen it done so often with this particular passage that it had become one of his pet peeves. He suggested (gently) that in my own teaching I consider a resolve never to quote or teach from a scriptural sentence fragment… especially when doing so changes the inherent meaning of the sentence. Either quote the entire sentence (even if that’s more than one verse)… or move on and find another passage.

Joyfully I embraced that resolve, and have tried never again to quote less than the scriptural sentence.

Why am I discussing this? Because Paulfg’s post this morning, again has brought it to my mind. It is a perfect example of this problem… and Paul did NOT do it, by the way. It’s in one of his quoted discussion passages!

I had, just yesterday, been discussing his very passage from Hebrews 10 as I wrote, “many preachers and churchmen LOVE to admonish and rebuke people about church attendance by repeating, ‘do not forsake the assembling together as is the habit of some’… laying a burden of guilt upon those who don’t come to the church building every week, Bible under their arm, all dressed up, checkbook in hand!”

In my writing I pointed out that this “scripture sentence fragment” in fact reverses the intention of the author, (just as I had done years ago). That the entire passage gives a totally different texture and feel to these words. Behold:

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

See it? See the difference? There are those who quote the fragment as if to say, “we are doing CHURCH and we keep people in order because they come. You aren’t coming, so you are out of order.” While the passage actually talks about what keeps the CHURCH “in order”… the passage talks about the purpose of church in its fundamentals, why it is there, what it is supposed to do! What is that, you ask? Glad you asked.

We see three things here as the “purpose” of “assembling together”:

  • stimulate one another to love
  • stimulate one another to good deeds (love-in-action)
  • encouraging one another

In my experience, there are very few churches who see this as their fundamental purpose. Rather, many churches focus on “repeating the rules, and pointing out all the places they are broken” either by their own sheep, or by all “those sinners out there”. Many churches engage in what some have called the “Preacher’s Lie” or the “Church’s Lie”, which is a control game… controlling the behavior, attendance, and money of a congregation through either the generation of guilt over their frailties, or the generation of pride and false camaraderie of pharisaical self-righteousness.

Sorry… had a “moment” there… but anyway…

And here, in Paulfg’s post this morning, “In every moment we are together“, I find this same Hebrews 10 passage blockquoted.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, fellow travelers, especially those of us who teach… I recommend Paul’s post to you there. I recommend Hebrews to you… (all of it). And I place before you a possibility to consider… that whenever you teach, consider always using the whole sentence, and never a clause alone. It’s often very important to hear The Rest of the Story.

Sometimes, it just changes everything!

Grace to you — The Little Monk

 

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Journey – It Didn’t Look Heavy

Desert Caravan“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’” [Matthew 11:16-18]

Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Matthew 9:10-13]

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Our third day of travel was pleasant and productive, though perhaps a bit slower than I’d have liked. My beast of burden seemed to labor more heavily than I thought needful. As we camp for the evening, the Lord walked among us. He drew me aside to my baggage, looked into my pack, and commented that He would like to see the gift I planned to present.

This was awkward, for my gift was a pearl I intended to give. It was a lovely pearl, multicolored, round and smooth. I had sought this pearl long and hard, and offered it as my most treasured possession. But… but… being round and smooth, it had worked its way to the bottom of the pack. I could not reach it. I could not even see it… hidden as it was beneath all my belongings.

The Lord peeked in to my bag, smiled, and said, “You’ve packed too much baggage. These things encumber you. Why not use this journey to rid yourself of these things you have no more need of? Why not learn to travel faster, lighter, more nimbly than you ever have before? These things, this debris between you and your pearl, is a waste of space.”

This seemed harsh to me. I protested, “But Lord! I NEED these things. I’ve always had these things. They are part of me. How can I live if I rid myself of them?”

Gently, smiling, He said, “Little Monk, you don’t need nearly as much as you think you do. ‘I am sufficient for thee’…” He quoted. “And that is TRUE, Little One. Tell you what. I’m not saying to dump out this whole bag right here. I’m not even saying you HAVE to rid yourself of these at all. But how about considering ridding yourself of one piece of this meaningless debris at a time… one item per day… but only as you yourself SEE that you no longer need these things? How’s that?”

Um, Gentle Reader, it rather shames me to admit… but, while I agreed to the Lord’s terms, my tone was not exactly a hearty “hail fellow, well met” about it. It was a bit more timid a whisper of… “Um, sure, Lord. If that’s what You really want… I guess that will be ok.”

Why? Why all that timidity and hesitation? Well, because, strange to say… I didn’t and don’t KNOW exactly what that is in that pack. I know ABOUT it, but not specifics. I know that it’s the “stuff” I consider indispensable to me and my life, my ego. It’s the stuff I think I cannot live without, but which isn’t really needful. Imagine our lives being a Temple of Holy God in our own universe? Well, this stuff is the “clutter”… those items we acquire, collect, and treasure for reasons that satisfy or glorify ourselves, but not Him. See now, my hesitation? These are my “Teddy Bears”… my “Blankies”… my “Binkies”. And we all irrationally cling to and treasure such things.

But Our Lord has asked me, challenged me, to “trust Him” here. He has assured me He will not violate, not “tear anything from my grasp”. Rather He is going to point items out, one at a time, let me ponder them, and see if I still see them as needful. If so, I may keep them. If not, then I alone will choose to release them and cast them out along the path here.

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He pointed to a scroll atop the stack of my stuff. I knew this scroll. It is one of my most prized possessions. It is like a certificate, with my name writ large on the top, signed by leaders, friends, persons of stature… proclaiming that “Little Monk is hereby recognized as respectable, orthodox, legitimate in humanity and ministry!” This scroll is my “‘I’m OK’ Certificate”.

The Lord POINTED… at THIS! The Lord bid me GET RID… of THIS! I was horrified. I protested. He answered.

“Little Monk, it is not that this is a BAD thing. But, in you, in your life now, this is a NEEDLESS thing. THIS… this is ‘your reputation’.

The Lord went on, “This was built through the first half of your life, as you had no regard whatever for YOUR reputation, but only for MINE. And you were successful. But suddenly, one day, you received this scroll. And you were proud of it. All right. Not a bad thing in itself. But… but… NOW, you begin to be concerned for this. You begin jealously to guard this. You hear the voices of the hypocrites, who say, ‘Don’t jeopardize your reputation, by going to wrong places, being with wrong people, doing things others may judge to be wrong.’ Little Monk, you are beginning to hear those voices, consider their counsel, and constrain your steps to retain their approval.

“Little Monk, I… when I walked the earth…. never HAD their approval. They tested Me, they tried Me, they tried to trap and catch Me out, ultimately they tried, convicted, and murdered Me. Every moment of My ministry, they tried to constrain My steps, and I would not allow it.

“You are beginning to do so. You have begun to succumb to the siren’s song of specious argument… ‘what would the community think?”… “what example do you set?”… to churchmen, to youth, to the community at large. The answer to those questions is simple and straightforward… the example you are to set is as it has ever been… Me! You are to let Me walk in you, speaking My words, loving with My heart, touching with My hands. I have never changed nor wavered, and I never will. They judged Me as Me in My time. They will judge Me in you the same way.

“Release this, Little Monk. Let go your love of your reputation. Let Me simply be Me in and through you, and stop constraining My steps, My love, or My hands for fear of “what others will think”, or your concern over your reputation among churchmen. Release your reputation, Little Monk. Trust Me, and know, when you love as I love, do as I command, you WILL be rejected, reviled, and persecuted by those who love themselves, their darkness, their control, and their boundaries. They always did, they always have, they always will. That just goes with the mission.

“But it is your own choice. Embrace all that, and release this concern for your reputation. Or, don’t. Hold on to this instead. I’ll not love you less nor think less of you. But know this… this weighs us down, constrains and fetters us. And you will be much happier as My free child, than as their fearful puppet.”

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This made sense to me. I picked up the scroll with one last look. Realized how empty and meaningless it was, and placed it in our evening fire. As the parchment ignited, glowing red, then curling to black ash… I felt as though a shadow had left my heart, and it felt lighter and more free. Freedom is a wonderful feeling.

My reputation… meaningless… burnt to ash… an empty illusion. Being true to Him… following Him… going where His feet lead me… taking Light into dark places? THAT is real. That is joyful. THAT is free!

This has been a good day on our journey.

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Anyone else have anything for the campfire?

 

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