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I Wish I’d Said That…

 

[I have found all this to be utterly true. I’ve also found it almost impossible to wrap words around. I didn’t want to weaken the words by trying to restate them. So here they are, for your consideration. — LM]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Exploring the Mystics
with James Finley

Only Love Is Real
Friday, October 13, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues sharing insights from John of the Cross. Take a few moments in the midst of your busy day to slow down, to enter into the quiet, and to read these words from your heart center, without judgment or needing to fully understand with your logical brain.

Just as with Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle, by the very first paragraph of John of the Cross’ Prologue to The Ascent of Mount Carmel you get the sense that the words are coming from some very deep place from inside of him—or really through him—that intimately accesses a deep place in us:

A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. [1]

One of the operative principles of love is that love does not rest as long as there is an inequality in love. In seeing the beloved down, the lover is moved to lift the beloved up. John says the infinite love of God will not rest until you are equal to God in love. Even though you would be absolutely nothing without God, God will not rest until you are as much God as God is God. God will not settle for a trace of inequality. In the “dark night of the soul,” we are weaned away from the ego’s finite ideas and feelings about God. We come to know that no idea about God is God. We are also weaned from our ideas about our self as being a finite, separate self apart from God.

Not everyone experiences this kind of union in this life. But in some lives God does not wait until death to begin the consummation through a dark night of the soul. In this nondual state, although I am not God, I am not other than God either. Although I am not you, I am not other than you either. Although I am not the earth, I am not other than the earth either. All things are unexplainably, invincibly one in endless diversity forever.

The awakening of this state on this earth does not mean you are holier than others. Rather, you awaken to how unexplainably holy everybody is. The mystic—that is, the person who is ripe with this love consciousness that’s born in the night—is not more holy but is granted a greater realization of the infinite holiness of the simplest of things.

Then, in some strange way, when you die, nothing will happen, because you’ve already died to the illusion that anything less than love is real; and you are aware that Infinite Love is loving you endlessly and giving itself away as your life.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:

[1] John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications: 1991), 114-115.

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, discs 1 and 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

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Posted by on October 13, 2017 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Bloody Fingers?

Thomas 2

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” [John 20: 19-28]

I was recently in a conversation with a friend in advanced theological studies. It was pointed out that of the 14 student cohort moving through these studies in lockstep, 12 candidates do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Bear in mind, this is a Christian Seminary, whose students are career tracked to senior pastorate, denominational administration, and seminary faculty.

I’ll admit, I was a bit stunned. My overwhelming feeling was confusion, interspersed with some anger, sadness, and a healthy dose of frustration. The idea of pastoring a Christian church, when deep in one’s heart of hearts lies the belief that Easter is a fraud, left me a bit at sea. I felt a need to respond in some way, and yet quite at a loss as to how.

What does one do, teach, say, or even blog when God’s sovereignty over death itself is not only questioned (which is a healthy academic exercise — questioning everything), but utterly rejected as morality fiction? So… my adrenaline ran free… I talked with some friends, I emailed some friends, and settled… nothing at all. Basically, I looked towards the heavens, spread my hands, and felt like an ecclesiastical Chicken Little running in circles crying “the sky is falling!”

The next day, when the adrenaline rush had waned, and the Lord got to get a word in edgeways over my frantic (unidirectional) prayer…. I thought He’d be upset alongside me, and suggest some massive prayer campaign for revival and faith among the collective church, etc., etc.

Imagine my surprise when, in a FAR more matter of fact manner than I’d have imagined possible, He just slid up alongside me at my chair and said, “Um, Little Monk? What’s the problem? I’ve been through this. You feel all akimbo to realize that some of My servants don’t believe in My physical resurrection. I’ve been there before, you know… Thomas traveled with Me all three years, hearing everything I said, seeing everything I did. He knew Lazarus. He was at the Last Supper and with us in the Garden. He knew ALL the other disciples, and he knew the women who reported My rising and what the angels told them.

“And nonetheless, knowing ALL of that and ALL of them, still… his mind could not accept, could not comprehend, the possibility that I had risen from the dead. How in the world can you judge these students, or anyone, for struggling to wrap their heads around such a possibility?

“How did I handle that situation? I met his need. He made a straight up, bald faced, statement of what it would take for him to believe I rose from the dead. He meant that, and I took him at his word. The next time I came, I saw him, bid peace to him, and invited him to put his fingers in My wounds and his fist in My side. As it turned out, he found that after all, he didn’t need to do that.

“But Thomas had to see for himself. He needed to have a personal affirming experience of Me, to believe in My resurrection. Many people are that way, many people are skeptical of claims. Thomas was My disciple and friend before his faith was strained this way, and he was among the full Apostles, spreading the gospel thousands of miles after that day. He set Me a test, I met that, and he served Me faithfully and mightily.

“Nothing has changed today. I have many servants who love Me, worship Me, follow Me, and yet (perhaps deep in their heart of hearts) cannot comprehend or accept My resurrection. If they will do the same thing Thomas did… if they will encounter Me and set me a condition by which We, they and I, can experience one another by which they will believe, I will meet that joyfully. Just as once I did for you, by the way.

“Invite such people to come apart for a time, come find Me, encounter Me, and let Me show them My risen self in some way they can accept. It is vastly more comfortable to have faith in what one sincerely believes. Now, it is much happier and easier for faith to come by hearing, and hearing by My word. But those who doubt and resolve those doubts, can certainly be among My most mighty servants.

“Don’t judge. Invite and encourage. I’m always ready to encounter. Be at peace.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

<Sigh> So there we are, Gentle Reader. A bit of a confession, I guess. The Lord is just so much more patient, calmer, so much less judgmental than I am. I keep thinking I’m growing up, but so often He reminds me of such simple things.

Grace to you, and to all of us, Gentle Reader! — The Little Monk

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2017 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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The Resurrection – What’s the Big Deal?

Empty Tomb

From time to time across my life, the Lord has granted me the grace of some “new” understanding of Him, of me, of “stuff” relating the two… of Him and the world… just… “something”… on Easter morning. This effect is always the most profound when He guides me along some “path of preparation” (rather reminiscent of John the Baptist’s “prepare ye the way of the Lord… Make straight paths…”) during Lent.

I put the word “new” in quotations opening this post, because what I learn is often not “new” at all… It is something, some word or phrase, that we ALL know… that we’ve ALWAYS known… maybe all our lives. And yet, the learning opens before me with unimagined depth and breadth, such that it seems I had never heard or seen it before.

This Easter, this Resurrection Sunday just past, has been one of those times and, to be perfectly frank, I’m still “recovering” from it.

I awoke, gently… quietly… and the Lord spoke just one single word. “Resurrection”

That’s all He said. But…

I could not even move from my bed before He just “unfolded” that word before me… took me inside of it… let me watch in an entirely new way what HE means/meant by it… that it felt as if I lay there for two hours, though it may have been seconds, minutes, or half the day. Time just stood suspended.

Jesus, sitting up naked, clearing Himself of His winding sheet in Joseph of Arimathea’s borrowed tomb? Yes. That was there. But… but… there was just so much MORE! I had never thought about the actual technical “meaning” behind the word “re-surrection”. It means… “breathing again”. It became this “coming-again-to-life” of not only Jesus, but all of mankind, and all of the fallen world, and all of the Cosmos, all of Creation.

The Re-surrection was, is, the “Fresh Start of Life”, buried with Jesus in His death, raised again in Newness of Life…

Not just Him, not just “us”, but ALL!

Is that a big enough deal?

How about this, then?

Two things, ONLY two things, denote the Christian… the one translated from domain of darkness to kingdom of light, Kingdom of God… to trust and acknowledge that The Father sent Jesus, the Son… and raised Him from the dead.

Why is that “all we need to know”? Because within THAT, all else is contained and subsumed.

How many times have I heard the protest, “Being a Christian is too hard. I go to Church and I don’t know enough. Everybody in Sunday School knows all this ‘stuff’ and I feel like an ignorant fool! And the Bible is too complicated, all these rules, verses, books, stories. I just don’t get it. I’m not SMART ENOUGH to be a Christian or go to church!”

Oh, the pain in my heart at such words!

What did the APOSTLES require of a “new church” just “getting with the program” in the First Century?

Three Things: (1) No fornication. (2) No eating the meat of strangled animals. (3) No eating meat sacrificed to idols.

I mean, they had a big MEETING about it and everything! And that’s what they settled on. Now, how “complicated” is all that for a Church Covenant?

There wasn’t any Bible at the time to impress one another with, or make gentiles memorize.

Paul repeats time and time again, he preaches(preached) only Jesus, and Him crucified!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Christian life should never get so complicated, Gentle Readers.

Believe in the Father, His love, His provision. Believing in the Son sent from the Father, born true man, living as true man yet truly God son of God. Believing in the Passion, the Cross, and… AND… the RESURRECTION!

Life, pulled from the maw of death… destroying death and darkness once and for all in the glory and power of Life and Light!

Love God, love neighbor, love self. Love as Jesus loves…

Complicated? Hardly!

But this word, Gentle Reader… the Power of this Word… Resurrection!

When we believe in Jesus of the Resurrection, we believe in Jesus of the Cross, and Jesus of the Gospels, and Jesus of the Manger. When we believe in Jesus of the Resurrection, we believe in God the Father who raised Him. We believe in God and the Old Testament, and the Covenant God made with man, to care for him as his God, and receive him as His people. When we believe in Jesus of the Resurrection, we believe in God who walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day, and who fashioned man in His own image, and who fashioned Adam and Eve as created He them.

Many many peoples have worshiped gods who bring death from life. Many peoples have worshiped gods who demand sacrifice in payment for their blessing and good will. Many peoples have worshiped gods who generate fear to constrain and rule men.

Our God is none of that. Our God brings Life at the destruction of death. Our God sacrificed Himself, to feed and bring blessing to men. Our God generates Love that conquers fear, and has removed punishment having taken that upon Himself.

This is not complicated. We need not make it so. This is simple relationship. And we can decide… each of us individually… whether or not we CHOOSE to TRUST in such relationship. And… we can invite others to do so, generally in words of nearly one syllable.

God is so urgently, so intently, so intimately present… right here, right now… seeking relationship of touch and immediacy with His children…

One friend I had used to put it this way:

  1. Do you believe that Jesus truly lived, and was sent by Our Father, God?
  2. Do you believe that Jesus truly died, hung on the Cross?
  3. Do you believe that Jesus truly rose again, resurrected by the Father?
  4. Has he ever died since?
  5. Then He must be alive right now!!!

Let us all be Resurrected, freed of deadness, numbness, decay, atrophy. Let us all be made alive! Wonderfully alive! Totally Alive! As only HE knows and makes Life!

It’s just not that complicated, is it? Be joyful in the grace of New Life!

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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99 and 44/100ths Percent

by yin yang Source:http://everystockphoto.s3.amazonaws.com/clean_simplicity_refreshing_19096_o.jpg

by yang yang Source

“Purity”…

We like “purity”… in our water, in our food, in our medicines, toothpaste, or other hygiene products.

But as to ourselves… our character, our morality, our spirituality, our ethics and behaviors…. well…

“Purity” is just not a cool word anymore. It’s like one of those “itchy” words, “uncomfortable” words, that make us squirm in our seats or look down at our toes when it comes up in conversation.

One of those “skewering” words too often abused by some to look down on others, as some self-proclaimed guru of “righteousness” lambastes the culture and all who engage it as “ungodly”, “unrighteous”, and “heathen”.

This is a shame… this “disconnect” between a simple word that we’re all perfectly comfortable with when relating to our water or our food… and the very same word when relating to ourselves, our minds, spirits, souls. It’s a shame, only because this still is, and always has been, an “important” word.

Purity is important, not because God will “love us more” if we’re “pure”, and “love us less” if we’re not. Purity is important because it “maximizes” us and all that is good in and for us, and “protects” us from what is harmful and toxic.

Gonna look at “purity” for a couple posts… because right now we’re looking at “means and methods” for experiencing more closely the intimate connection we have with God. Purity is an important element of clarity and transparency between our own hearts and the heart of God. But the word, the concept, has been so misused and abused that the enemy has made such strides in muddling and befuddling it… we often throw out the baby with the bath water, turning from its abuse…. and miss the critical elements of light embedded within.

For the moment, I just want to point out three simple things about “Purity” by and large, on which we most likely can all agree. This is not particularly “religious” or “spiritual” in application. This is just an observation about Purity, and its mechanics.

There are 3 ways I know of, to compromise “Purity”:

  1. Adulteration – A material may be made less dense and reduced in concentration and potency by the addition of another inert material to it. The addition may of itself do nothing harmful whatever, it simply reduces the effect of the pure substance. (e.g. Adding water to cough syrup adulterates and reduces the health effects of the medicine.)
  2. Corruption – A material may be changed in its essential nature and reduced in its effect or even rendered harmful, by the development of a second material within its mass, that had been a part of itself in potential form, but not activated until the corruption began which depended on the development of the right conditions. (e.g. Food spoils without proper preservation, temperature, or storage because of otherwise harmless organisms already present in that food, such as milk curdling or meat decomposing.)
  3. Toxification – A material may be changed in its essential nature and reduced in its effect or even rendered harmful, by the introduction of some harmful material from the outside environment, foreign to itself. (e.g. Water supply or foodstuffs can be tainted by environmental microbes or chemicals, rendering them toxic.)

These, as far as I know, are the only mechanisms for undermining and compromising purity. They are fundamental and important, and bear as much on the purity of intangible essentials, as they do on food or water. Jesus addressed them, we usually innately know them, but they are not often discussed because the entire topic has become uncomfortable.

In the next few posts, we’ll see if we can get past any discomfort, lay these out on the table, and poke around in this a bit.

Joy, grace, peace, and love to all!

The Little Monk

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 25, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Spiritual Warfare

 

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Discipleship & Spiritual Direction: A Fable

MoonlightOnce upon a time, I was not yet “Little Monk”… I was simply “Little”. I first awoke in darkness and I was afraid. I don’t know why I was afraid… I just was. And in my fear I would not, could not, move. I just lay there, still, eyes closed… quiet.

But then I heard voices around me, friendly voices, peaceful voices, comforting and loving voices…

They said, “Little, do not be afraid. Here, take our hands, stand, rise up and walk…” And so I did…

After a while, I felt around at things, learned that these voices (I learned to call them “friends”) meant me no harm. They meant me only good. I learned I could trust them, that they would not hurt me. I explored everything around me, by hearing and touch.

But then one day, my friends said, “Little, open your eyes. Look around. Discover your life, your world.”

Again, I was afraid. This would be very daring, very different. I feared hurt. I feared… I don’t even know what, I just feared.

But my friends said, “We will be with you. You will come to no harm. Trust us.”

So… timidly… fearfully… I opened my eyes…

And I could SEE! O… My… what Wonders! Imagine, blind since birth, and now I could SEE!

It was nighttime, but yet the stars! The stars were SO Beautiful. They gave forth Light! Who could imagine this?

I could see my home, our hillside, this monastery I was sheltered in. I could see… I could see FACES! I could SEE my FRIENDS! They smiled at me… they embraced me with joy! They… they LOVED me… and now I could SEE that! What wonder! I learned more that I could trust to the voices of my friends. I came to see them as my “brethren”.

But THEN… (you may not believe this)… but THEN the MOON came out! The Light of It! No words… My joy overcame me. I could see for MILES! I could see beyond our hill, across plains and valleys, and just barely make out OTHER hills, and perhaps even something beyond that! I gasped with the sheer overpowering wonder and joy of it all.

I began to laugh and to dance and to cry all at the same time. I grabbed onto my brethren and dragged them out to the clear hillside to share in the wonder of the vista and view. You, Gentle Reader, would have thought me mad to see this, but it is just a leaping of heart I cannot describe.

My brethren laughed with me, danced with me, wept with me… sharing my joy and my wonder. It was an amazing time. A time I yet enter into now and again… for time is very “wibbley wobbley” on the hillside of my monastery.

But as I caught my breath, panting in joyful recovery, my brethren said, “You are no longer just ‘Little’. Welcome among us, now ‘Little Monk.'”

And I understood… it wasn’t a matter of where I was from, or what I had learned, or what I did. It was simply a matter of what I could see and understand. And one other thing…

I was no longer afraid. Not of anything. I could SEE, and my brethren embraced me and I them. Oh, pain may come or go, I could bark my shins or fall or anything… but I could TRUST… and that meant everything was, and would be, all right. I had nothing left to fear, for I could SEE! Even in this ever night, illumined by nothing but moon and stars… I could SEE and I could trust.

And then… one incredible day… the brethren came to me and said, “Little Monk, we want to show you something you’ve not yet seen, and it will amaze and delight you.” They reached out their hands to me, and trusting them utterly, I followed their lead.

They walked eastwards, and pointed at the farthest ridge of mountains there…

O, Gentle Reader… there was a Glow there! It was the most incredible thing… totally indescribable. I have lived this entire life in the blue and purple hues of moonlight and starlight, and that has been wondrous. But there… there to the East… there was the coming of Dawn.

New colors, new radiance, a promise of brilliance so far beyond my imaginings as a mountain is to a grain of sand. O… My… Word. I looked about us, and found that many monks, many brethren, just sat on this western hillside gazing in love at that growing glow. For a quite long time, I did so myself…

~ ~ ~ ~  ~

We now go on about our affairs, take care of one another and others in the love of this twilight of stars and moon. We dance, we sing, we embrace, we eat and feed others, and we love in trust and without fear. This is a wondrous and wonderful life.

But deep within, at least, my own heart… I gaze eastward. I see that growing glow of the coming Dawn. I can nearly feel its warmth and can only imagine its brilliance. I know, I absolutely KNOW, that when Dawn comes… when the Sun (as the brethren have spoken of) breaks above the horizon… that it will be more marvelous than I can possibly imagine or speak of.

And within me, I wonder as I look about this life… Once the Sun rises in Dawn… When the promise of that Light and Radiance touches me… WHAT will I be able to SEE then?

We all wait together, embraced and anticipating with breathless love and trust…

No words…

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Beyond the Pain…

depression“Are you saying you want to kill yourself today?”

“Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… yes.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have a friend, a brother deep in my heart who, in this year 2015 has endured devastating losses. Relationships… career… finances… physical health… professional esteem… sense of personal esteem… All that — devastating.

This is not to say that he has not participated in, made decisions that have led to, much of this loss. (Some would say “all” of it, but perhaps it is more fair to say “most”.) Some people, both in general and regarding him specifically, respond with, “Well… he’s made his bed…” or its more “Christian” counterpart, “Well… he’s sinned, so if/when he repents…”

News Flash: My friend, my brother, is a “sinner”.

Stop the Presses: So am I.

Random Conjecture: So is every reader here.

So… chalking suffering and pain up to the presence of “sin”, may be “theologically accurate”, but I’ve never found it particularly “helpful”. That is not what this discussion is about. The questions I find most meaningful in these days are no longer questions of “What?” or even of “Why?”… but rather, the question of “How?” In the midst of devastating, breathtaking pain, How do we go on? How do we “live”, when even breathing hurts? How?

This post is not being written to evoke darkness, despair, hopelessness or depression. (In fact, this isn’t even a technical consideration, or intended to have a primary focus on, depression. If pieces of this discussion address some of that, good. But that’s really not what this is about.) This post is being written to communicate the precise OPPOSITE… I seek to proclaim Hope, Purpose, Life, and Light. But here we are, right here, right now, in the trenches… in the nitty-gritty of darkness… WAY past the place of “preaching” or “platitudes”. These hurts, these fears, this despair can run so dark, so deep, so bloody… that “quoting verses” doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Seldom… thanks be to God it is ever so seldom… am I in a moment where reflecting this depth of darkness is appropriate in this place, this blog, before you, Gentle Reader. But this is one of those moments, and I am irresistibly moved to repeat to you what I’ve just shared with that brother on the phone in a second call this day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Context:

First, I will not share the sequence of events, decisions, or circumstances that have brought my brother to despair of life and its meaning. That would not be appropriate professionally, spiritually, or relationally both with God and with him. You do not need that information to hear truth in these words. Just imagine that you have lost your connection with everything in your life on earth that you hold dear, and you can find common ground with the heart of my friend/brother.

Second (last): “There but for the Grace of God…” Believe me when I say, *I* am by no means “superior” to this friend/brother in any dimension of Christianity. He is as “called and gifted” as I, most would say more so. He is as “highly trained and educated” as I, in fact… demonstrably more so. (I have one doctorate, he has two.) He is as “experienced in ministry” as I, as many years of service. He has counseled as many in pastoral counseling as I, perhaps more. He has as much “denominational stature” as I, in fact… demonstrably more. Believe me when I say to you, set the two of us side by side in columns on paper… pick ANY criterion of “evaluation and job performance” you choose… in ANY regard (Christian, community, professional, pastoral, financial, you name it…) and you’ll grade him as “superior” to me EVERY time. That’s just the truth.

And those are the only critical information you need to hear the truth I seek to speak in this post. There is not an ounce of “superiority” or finger-pointing in me towards this friend/brother… he is “better than I” in every measure for what we have dedicated our lives to, and I accept that as true, so you can as well. I am painfully aware that “there but for the grace of God go I” as I walk with him, and I walk in the holy “fear and trembling” of deep humility as I speak with him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here’s What I Have Come to Say:

My friend/brother has experienced devastating, catastrophic, losses in every arena of his life this year. He spent considerable time, energy, and resources initially in denial of these losses, and then in trying to combat them and recover lost resource. Now, only now, is his grief reaching “acceptance”, and in that acceptance he is finding is pain so great and his life so empty… that he is considering relieving his pain by ending his life.

This is the call I got first thing this morning, that my friend/brother had come to this point in his walk, in his life. This was the call that contained the opening two lines of this post.

THIS, this “bottomless pit of unrelieved darkness”, THIS is the “reality” the “battlefield” of real “spiritual warfare”. (There are many others, of course… but this is certainly one of them.) And this one is life or death, right here right now.

I embraced my friend/brother on the phone. I “loved on” my friend/brother on the phone. But I love/loved him too much to “feed into his spiral”. I was not going to say all the “warm, soft, fuzzy words” that were going to roll off him like so much rainwater off a duck. You know what I mean… words like, “Just trust in God.”, “This too shall pass”, “People love you.”, “Time will heal this.” or quoting any of dozens of appropriate scriptures.

Why? Why would I not say those words? Because in that moment, he would not “hear” them. He was trapped in a “death spiral”, a place nearly dead to hearing and vision, trapped in thrall to an image of himself in a mirror… the image of his miserable self, against a backdrop of a life he did not have and could not re-acquire… a mirror image filled with the “sorrow that leads to death”. He was trapped in what Eric Berne would call the “Yes, but… Game” (Games People Play). He wanted me to float “warm fuzzy balloons” that he could dart and destroy in his misery, justifying his resolve to quit, to give up, to die.

I floated no such balloons. Instead, I said a couple very blunt things, couched and cushioned in many “gentling words”. I’m going to put the “bald statements and questions” out here before you now, but please understand they were not expressed this starkly… but rather nested in softening words that he could hear. OK?

Statement of Observation: “My brother, you have found that when stripped of your ‘stuff’, your money, prestige, resources, and your own plans… you have lost your will to live.”

Statement Two: “Good! You and I share the same background and know the same things. I don’t have to… I CANNOT… ‘preach’ to you and I refuse to try. You’re better than this! You know better than this! You know as well as I that OUR lives, at least… CANNOT be grounded in our ‘stuff’. If you had forgotten this, and are being reminded of this, I grieve for your pain, but I am grateful for the insight.”

“WE, at least, CANNOT ground our lives, our purpose, our meaning… in our STUFF. This is what we try to communicate with others, that’s a false foundation and it will not, it cannot, sustain us. I cannot tell you this, you know it as deeply as I.”

Challenging Question: “You consider ending your life because so much has been lost. Well, then I ask you this… ‘Why are you ALIVE in the first place? Why do we have life? Why are WE here?'”

And I shut up… for a long time to silence on the other end of the phone…

His Response: “I’m not comfortable with this conversation any more, so I don’t want to talk to you. I’m going to let you go now, so God Bless!” And he hung up.

For the next hour I pondered whether I had just killed my friend and brother. I prayed, I pondered, I studied, I listened, I realized…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An hour after that realization, I phone back… and he answered (the first of my calls he’s answered directly for weeks). I said…

“Please hear me out and don’t hang up. I’m not going to yell at you, preach at you, and I’m not mad at you or disappointed. OK? I just want to ask you a question…”

“OK, so ask…”

“OK. How much money, how much would it be worth, how much of your resources would you spend, if I could put one human soul in front of you… just ONE… who was destined to go to hell for eternity, but you could write a check and buy him/her out and head them to heaven, instead? What would that be ‘worth’ to you, of your holdings and accounts, or your reputation, or whatever?”

…. long silence… then a weary sounding, “I don’t know… I can’t answer that…”

“Well, *I* know… because I know you, I know your heart and its generosity and what you give, and have given, all your adult life to rescue souls from hell. And here’s why that’s important…

“You, at this moment, are buried in pain so terrible that you despair of life and hope all together. I understand that. I’m not denying it, or minimizing it, or any of that. Life, right now, is walking across glass shards into blazing coals. I agree…

“But here’s the thing… we, you and I, are here for a very specific purpose. A purpose of rescue. ALL Christians are, actually, but most aren’t aware of that. We ARE aware of that. If you die today… your timeline, your road, comes to an end in this world. Your pain would end, true.

“BUT… so would your encounters. You and I are not here for the ‘pretty cobblestones’. We are here because we carry Him in us, and we love, and we encounter people in their darkness with hurts as deep as any we’ve ever known, and we can offer them Light, and Love, and Hope, and Life. Not only in the here and now, but in eternity.

“If your life were to end today, there are people God has stationed along your future road, encounters He has planned to happen, people He has intended for you to love and lift up Christ to and for… who will never encounter you. They will never hear you. They will never be loved by you, and perhaps they will never hear and see the Christ you would show them, to embrace Him.

“You are here, you live, dedicated to rescue of the lost. You’ve done it your whole life. You  know what I’m talking about. You can remember those you have personally loved into the embrace of Jesus. Well, my brother, they are not the ‘only’ ones you are destined to meet.

“There are more, there are others, but they are stationed on the other side of this pain you have now. How much pain would you endure, what would you suffer, what would you pass through… how much glass, how much flame would you walk across… if I stood at the end of that track with a group of broken, suffering, lost and damned souls that it was your destiny to love, heal, and let Jesus rescue… through you and your presence in their lives?

“How much pain would you bear? How much resource would you spend?”

… long pause… hoarse whisper of response… “Everything, anything… I’d give anything…”

“Good. THAT is all I called to say. Your pain is horrible and real. I don’t deny that. I just deny its relevance to our lives. We are here to carry what dwells within us to people who desperately need to see, feel, be touched by that… through us, and embrace… Him. And when everything, and I mean EVERYTHING else is stripped away… even our “gracious feelings” and our piety, and our devotion, and our sense of His presence…. When we are left naked and whimpering in a darkness so thick we can’t even BREATHE for its choking us… when religion fails… intelligence fails… sentiment fails…

“Sometimes all we have left is sheer ‘stubborn’. You NEVER quit. You never EVER quit. If not out of obedience, or devotion, or even ‘love’… You are a competitive man, I know that. You are as stubborn as I, I know that. You simply cannot quit, because underneath all of that, ‘faith’ will energize the ‘good form’ of your pride… if you quit, the enemy wins. Ministry stops. Grace and love through you and your present life here, stop. And he, the enemy, wins.

“I am going to let you go now. I don’t know if you’re comfortable or not, but I have faith that you are too competitive, too stubborn, too proud… to quit this contest and walk off the field, losing by forfeit. If you cannot continue to rescue people out of obedience, or duty… then do it out of love. But if even THAT cannot be felt in this moment… ask yourself if you really want to throw up your hands, forfeit this battle, and concede… letting the enemy win.

“I know you. You can’t let that happen. There’s just too much to be done yet, and too many out there to love that you haven’t met yet.”

…. and we blessed one another and hung up.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gentle Reader, I don’t know if you personally have ever been in that dark place. I have. I pray I never need to return, but I know that place. We can be stripped, just like Job, of every sense and sentiment of grace and blessing we’ve ever known. When all the trappings, all the ‘stuff’ of our Christianity, all the percs and comforts, are removed from us and all we feel is abandonment, despair or hopelessness…

Within us, there is yet a Flame. Within us, there is yet a Servant. Within us, there is yet Love that Gives Life. He can resuscitate life within ourselves, but only when we acknowledge and embrace that our Purpose is to share Life with Others through Love.

I hope this has not come off as a “depressing” post, or even a “depression” post, because that is far from my heart…

My heart proclaims a wondrous Truth…

The God of Hope dwells in every Christian, seeking and saving that which is lost, lonely, hurting. He does this, amazingly, through our frail and fragile selves as vessels of love. When we lose sight of this, when we become distracted by mirrors or the barns of our stuff, we can find ourselves dizzy, disoriented and confused. But when we embrace the Light within us, when we cherish Him and rejoice in His embrace, then our feet find our right road and we encounter wondrous adventures of rescue all the time.

This is not the “Minister’s Job”, or the “Pastor’s Job”, or the “Preacher’s Job”, or the “Counselor’s Job”, or the “Deacon’s Job”, or even the “Churchgoer’s Job”… This is not a “job” at all…

This is a “definition” of our very Selves. This is Who we are, What we are, called and anointed, commanded, simply… to love.

Every one of us, when we love another and connect heart to heart, provide the conduit of Light necessary for Him to reach across and spark Life in the other. For some, for those also dwelling with that Light inside their spirit, such touch offers comfort, encouragement, endorsement, affirmation of Life. For others, for those who have never trusted to or embraced that Light and Truth, this touch brings Life Himself. We offer love, that the other may receive, embrace, reflect and refract love, and thus live..

Why are we here? To love and carry Light, Life, Love in our steps. There is Purpose in that. There is Meaning in that. There is Life in that. There is Love in that. And there is Joy in that. This, to me, is the deepest meaning of “Grace”.

Why are we here? To bring Life through Love. Why? Because we can, and we are privileged to do what Our Father does… always. Little else is worth worrying about. And, oddly enough, when we remain focused on our purpose, other worries seem to fade into insignificance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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God of Life in Love

hurricane[Written a few days ago…]

A very strange thing happened today… as I slept far too long. I wrote it off simply to recovery and recuperation, but this was not the only strange thing. Last night, when I retired, God broke upon me with a powerful new thing. It is not at all unusual for Him to do this when I wake, or even to wake me with… some new thing. But normally, once I nest into Him for the night… that’s it. We may do things, fly, music, whatever… but not teaching. Not new things. This time, was different.

This time, as my soul tried to quiet, He became very active, very… effervescent is I guess the closest word I can come to this. The “statement”, if one can be made without sheer irreverence to these moments… the “statement” was… “I am the God of Life! I am Love, the God of Life! and Life and Living Only! NOT Death!”

Now, needless to say, that is a simple statement. And, cognitively, we can readily assent to it. We can nod, with some intensity, and pronounce, “Yes, of course, Lord… that is True!” And so, of course, I did.. though a bit taken aback. But that wasn’t nearly enough. That… that… awareness… simply went on, becoming more and more intense and more and more clear.

The Truth became bigger and bigger, faster and more powerful… like a tornado growing to encompass all of me, of my life, of my universe, then all of this time, this space, then all of time, space, life, existence and Being. This Truth became The Communion, the Church, all of mankind, all of Life Everywhere.

And then, just as this Tornado had become huge, like a hurricane, embracing and engulfing all… It focused “down” again, into a pinpoint of accuracy and specificity… It came to the Cross 2000 years ago… It came to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“I AM the God of Life! Death is meaningless to Me. Man brought Death into being by believing in it, by believing in something Other than Life! Something Other than Me! The Serpent exists to promote Death, to bring My children to believe in it… engage in it. But to believe in Me is to embrace Life through Love. SEE this!”

And sleep totally escaped me as I sat up and “waited out this storm” to see what I was to understand. I just tried to be still and calm, and wait.

And what came was… Easter…

Our entire Christian existence… our Lives… are made meaningful by Easter. The God of the Resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus, the Raising of Jesus… God Himself… by the Father… God Himself… in Love… God Himself. Yes.

That Jesus became “dead” by accepting into Himself… Death.

He “captured” it… He “engulfed” it. He “embraced” it. By doing that, doing that without resistance, He could and did bring all of that within Himself… all sin, all fear, all mistrust, all dissonance, all darkness… and thus… being God Himself, being the contrary of all that, in Infinite Selfhood… All that was utterly destroyed.

Dying, He destroyed our Death. Rising, He restored our Life.

And then… the Father… the Source… the Giver… the Lover… Raised Him up again from Death to New Life. Yes.

But also… this is the story of the Christian, the simple Christian… dead, then raised by the grace and power of God Alone into Life.

And the story of the entire Cosmos…. Dead, by the fall in the Garden… raised to new life by the Power of Life and Love that is God.

It just went on and on… but always, in those moments after waking, the focus was “God of Life through Love”… and it reverberated unceasingly.

He bid me go to my tools, and check out “raised from dead” in Scripture. He said, and I had no reason to doubt Him, that Paul… over and over again… repeated this Truth as the anchor truth of our Way. The Theology of the nature of God, or Christology, or Trinity, or church organization and discipline, or even works, signs and wonders… all these were important things, yes.

BUT… THE most important thing, mentioned (apparently) in every document Paul ever laid his hand to… was the “Resurrection of Jesus”.

God pointed out that in all these years I had missed even the critical nature, the right-out-there-in-the-open statements of Paul when He said, “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” [Romans 10:8-10]

If there is a single Truth that is the most critical as the statement of faith for union with God… it is this truth… That God is God of the Living, not of the Dead. That the Nexus of Time… the Setting Right of the Cosmos… was not only The Crucifixion, but inextricable with The Resurrection.

Have I “seen this before”? Could I have said this is/was true in terms of theology?

Yes, of course. Is it, therefore, “new”, in that sense? I guess not.

But what I had NOT seen, not understood so viscerally, is God’s Name as Life Not Death, and that when we yield in Him we promote life. That it is the enemy’s agenda, ever and always, to promote and try to “dress up” death in some way to make it appealing. (As the Serpent did in the Garden). That to sin, to choose “not God” in any given moment, is to choose death in that moment and bring shadow, darkness, into our world.

I’m liking Paul the Apostle more by the day. He got this. He really had this.

What a shame… So many people terrified of The Father. So many people who hate Him, or flee Him, or mistrust Him, or choose… like the children of Israel at Sinai… “you go listen to Him, and tell us what He says. His voice frightens us…”

How heartbreaking for Him… when all He wants to do, all He does, always… is Give Life through Love.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on April 1, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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