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3 x S = 42

Have you ever wanted “The Answer”?Cosmic Twist

“What answer?” you reply.

THE Answer. You know… THE ANSWER.  Like the Answer to The Question. The Great Question. The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!

For those of us who are Douglas Adams fans, we know how he dealt with the Question and the Answer… thus:

 

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Well, this has never entirely satisfied me, though I applaud Adams’ willingness to take on the subject. Libraries for centuries untold have been filled with the efforts of sages to solve the Mystery of Life. And, while my conclusions may well differ from Sage Adams here, I must say that a lot of my cogitation shares some strong commonalities.

So, here and now, I’d like to submit my own, subjective, non-scientific, anecdotal, take-it-or-leave-it-as-you-please, contribution to…

The Answer… to Life, the Universe, and Everything…

It is… 3 x S (Read as: “Three times S”)

[Consistent with the style of Adams, we will first describe the Answer, and then consider… What is the Question?]

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S1 = “Superabundance”

The First “S” is “superabundance”, the provision for needs vastly beyond the degree of need. Quantity, quality, diversity… so overwhelming that the result is not merely satiation and satisfaction, but actual delight. Take the Garden of Eden, for example… all the foods available there, all the grains, grasses, fruits, vegetables. The delight and companionship of animals of every description. The mist of the morning, the clarity of the stars, the cool of the evening, the wonder of the sun and moon. Or Psalm 23, being led beside the still waters, sitting at a prepared table, being comforted.

This is to be free of need, and free of greed.

Could it be that the very first requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be free of need?

S2 = “Safety”

The Second “S” is “safety”, the protection from or absence of anything that could threaten or cause harm. Was there anything unknown in Eden to be afraid of at the start? It has never ceased to amaze me that God set man to nurture and tend the Garden (often super-interpreted to mean “God sent man off to WORK, first of all!”… but… what was the “work”? He was assigned to do two things… tend/serve/nurture… and protect/hedge about. But, what did Adam need to DO? Mist rose in the morning to water all, the soil was rich with the vibrancy of pure primal life, there were as yet no “weeds” or “bad plants”, nor any pests or predator bugs or animals. A Garden initially arranged and landscaped by God wouldn’t require a lot of transplanting and corrective design. All that “sweat of brow” and “thorns and thistles” thing came AFTER the fall.

This is to be free of threat, and free of fear.

Could it be that the second requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly safe and free of fear?

S3 = “Significance”

The third “S” is “significance”, the sense that one is meaningful, important, and treasured to at least one other person. In the Garden, there was first… Adam. Adam and God, there they were. Made in God’s image, male and female, Adam and Eve created in God’s own image. Given free reign of the Garden. Able to eat of all but one tree. Naming each animal as presented by God. Called forth to walk with Him in the cool of the evening. Important to God, you think? Significant? Treasured? Or as in Psalm 23, sitting down at a table prepared for man by the Lord in the presence of enemies? Head anointed with oil? Cup running over? To dwell in God’s house forever?

This is to be acknowledged, important, treasured. This is to be free of the all too common fear that we and our lives are meaningless, that we are but cattle in a herd, a nameless cipher among a crowd of equally insignificant parts.

Could it be that the third requirement of true “Happiness”… of “Wholeness”… is to be utterly significant and treasured?

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As I pondered these potential “Answers”, and began to focus on the “Question”, I realized that this is a bigger answer than I can even define. This seems to hold true on every scale, in every application. Countries, races, kingdoms, empires go to war over a lack in one or another of these. Wars and genocides happen when a people gathers strength in order to meet what they consider a “need”, or a “threat”, or the hunger for “prestige”. States go to civil war for what seem to be the same reasons. Families feud, political parties wrangle, and individuals fight, maneuver, argue over these same perceived places of emptiness.

What to do? How do we promote joy, happiness, peace… “Wholeness” and Love?

Each of us have our own piece of Kingdom, our own relationships, our own sphere of influence. Whether this is community, home, workplace, church, or even one relationship at a time…

We know we are to “Love”, but that often breaks down at the “How do we do that?”

What if we try these three…

That every encounter be nurturing, meeting what need stands before us in the moment? Often the need is just some time and attention. Perhaps it is a meal, or a cool drink of water, or a gentle touch, or hug. (Obvious professional cautions apply, depending on the nature of the relationship.) Sometimes, the need is just silent presence.

That every encounter be safe, free of fear? Not just fear of physical harm or danger, but fear of being made to feel bad. Fear of being judged. Fear of being shamed or made to feel small or wrong. What if in each moment, someone felt their burdens lightened in your presence, rather than made heavier?

That every encounter be important and significant? That in the moments of interaction, the other person, group, party, were treasured as relationship to you? As if they were treasured by God Almighty? What if no one were an “interruption” or an “annoyance” or a “burden”, but rather they were a blessing to you as you are meant to be to them?

What’s the question, then?

What if the question is, “How has God always intended us to relate to one another?”  What does it take to live a blessed joyful life? The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything…

And, how do we bring this about in our homes, our days, and our churches?

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3 x S = 42?

Maybe so. I just ponder these things now and again…

Grace to you, Gentle Reader! Bless! — The Little Monk

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Always Safe, Never Alone!

Life can feel scary, lonely, sad, and very very empty. “Beyond here, there be Monsters”! Grief from loss, fear from a bad medical appointment, pain from a broken heart and relationship ruptured, heartache from a loved one careening towards disaster, the stress and anxiety from professional or financial reversals…

Worst of all… the teeny tiny niggling nagging fear that sometimes assails… that we dare not even ADMIT because we are… in our own eyes and those of others… people of HOPE…

The worst one… the wee small voice that comes in our darkest nights and lowest moments saying… “It’s all empty you know. You’re really just alone and floating, drifting, randomly… on the surface of time. There’s nothing and no one else, it’s all just a great cosmic joke.”

If you’ve never heard this little temptation, this voice of internal despair, with its message of either “there is no God”… or “God really despises you, you know”… then I applaud you. There’s fancy names for this… “Existential Angst”, among others…

This is very powerful in our world. In fact, this, the “deadly despair” that can arise… the call to action prompted, and the depression and suicide associated with this channel of thought, are costing countless lives both young and old.

The most frightening words we can know?

“Abandoned!”   “Betrayed”   “Unclean”   “Cast Out!”   “Unworthy”   “Alone”

These are “Killing Words”… These are “Murdering Words”…

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” [Matthew 5]

Strong words, Our Lord uses here. But I think He knew (knows) and could see the sort of harm, the damage, that happens to people when they are isolated, separated, cut off, declared “good-for-nothing” and valueless… in relationships. To be cut off in a relationship is to be wounded, to be judged, to be condemned, and to wither and shrivel.

In our own world, our own time and space, we see people choose to end life, rather than continue in such a state of shadow being. For those who base their hope, their trust, their sense of being anchored and well, in the human relationships around them, there is a danger. People can fail. People are frail and faulty, and sometimes, for whatever reason, we can cut others off… leaving them alone with their fears and concerns. Wrong? Of course! But yet so much a part of being human! So much a part… of US.


I woke this morning with David Wesley’s song in my ears and spirit. It’s not that I am particularly depressed or anxious in these days (as far as I know). Stuff happens, of course, and I have my tense moments… but nothing profound.

Nonetheless, in these times, these days… where we ask meaningful questions like, “What is Church as God envisions it?” “What is a Christian, how do I live that?” “How do we walk in the intimate Oneness of Christ, here and now… moment by moment?”

This song just rang on and on in my mind, my soul, and I realized something incredibly simple, yet absorbingly profound…

When these lyrics wash through you… Here is God’s ministry TO YOU… Here is your hope, your faith, your life, your breath! Here is the embrace… the absolutely unrelenting love, embrace, support, presence, and affirmation of God FOR you! You are Safe! You are Never Alone!

And, at the very same moment, HERE is the Gospel!

Here is OUR grace towards OTHERS! That God’s love through us, never fails, never gives up, never runs out on others. That’s more of a challenge in practice, I know. But just like Sermon on the Mount, or I Corinthians 13, that is nonetheless the Truth of how God touches others through us when we allow.

When we allow…

The answer is love. What was the question?

Enjoy the song again. Now, go love somebody!

Joy, blessing, and grace to you!

The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Spiritual Warfare: Authority, Part Deux

In an earlier post on Spiritual Authority, I leapt over a huge amount of narrative and explanation because I wanted to avoid a convoluted discussion into which I am easily sidetracked and swallowed up. But I knew, even as I posted that, that I would need to follow up with some more concrete discussion. A few of the comments reinforced that.

So I’d like to sit back a moment and, without letting this get too tangled up, just look at one way of considering the whole matter of “Authority” as a whole. I want to consider our general, human, normal, relational experiences of authority… and then, from that perspective, look at the divine. I’m not trying to limit God to a human template, but I feel confident that especially in matters such as this, our social nature made in His image, and frequent scriptural referents and instructions on the conduct of such fundamental relationships as parenthood and marriage, along with the profound use Jesus Himself made of these two relationships, validates this discussion. As ever, though, if these words do not ring true as the Spirit guides your heart or conscience, cast them aside.

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First of all, what is “Authority” anyway? Well, we can look it up in the dictionary of course, but in general I teach that it is the “ability and right to impose one’s will onto and over the will of another.” The idea of “authority” has no meaning without the idea of “will”. Authority is only an issue where there is choice, or the possibility of a contrary action or thought.

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OK, so let’s consider our human experience on Jesus’ illustrations for a moment. How do we see “Authority” as relating to these two critical human relationships — parenthood, and to marriage?

I propose that we can see human development, relational development, the development of relationships in four distinct stages:


First: Childhood Stage. In the first seven or so years of life, children cannot provide for themselves, protect themselves from danger, or make considered judgments of prudent action based on experience, reasoning or wisdom. Even the legal system does not yet consider them responsible for their own actions or consequences. The parent(s) hold responsibility for all that.

Parent(s) exercise authority over their children, being responsible for them and their actions, and for their well-being and upbringing. When the will of a child differs from the will of their parent(s), the child is expected (scripturally, morally, and legally) to honor their parent(s) and obey. That is their will is to yield to the parent, and penalty or punishment is a reasonable expectation for defiance of that authority.

Children’s initial experience of “authority”, then… (and thus, the experience all of us share)… is based in “Fear”. Children (all of us), initially learn to yield to authority by being programmed with a fear of punishment.

Four scriptural verses address the “beginning of wisdom”, and all of those associate it with knowledge or understanding. Three of those four, associate “fear” or “fear of the Lord” as well. That is, “fear” may be seen as a legitimate BEGINNING point, but that’s all it is… the beginnings of an infant or child, whose knowledge and understanding is only beginning, not yet matured. (Cf Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 4:7; Proverbs 9:10.


Second: Transactional Stage. When a youngster is “too big” for physical pain or superior size to generate fear to enforce authority in a conflict of will, and (on a more positive note) when communication and reasoning skills have improved, resolution is more likely to come from “bargaining” or “transaction” rather than “threat”.

While this is easy to relate to when we think of dealing with adolescence (or remember being one), it is important to note that this same approach to authority persists well into early vocational and professional maturity as well.

A parent or a boss CAN enforce their will in a conflict by using authority to threaten or generate costly punishment, generating fear. But it is more likely, before reaching such a pass, that a system of incentives and “earned privileges” is in place  That is, there is reasoned dialogue and negotiation, setting up a mutually beneficial transaction.

“If you yield and submit to my will, then these benefits will ensue. If you do not, then those benefits will not result, or these detriments will ensue.”

Like… Parent to Teen: “If you do your chores and keep your grades up, you may access our computers, game systems, and drive the car on Friday night. But if you defy me(us) or you fail in school, you will lose your privilege of playing in sports, or your curfew will be lowered.”

Or… Boss to Subordinate: “If you perform your duties well, dress appropriately, report to work on time, and follow my instructions, you will get good job performance evaluation reviews, a steady progress of pay increase and promotion. But if you do not follow instructions, perform according to my expectations, or execute company policy and procedure, you will receive a verbal warning, a written warning, and then be terminated from our employment.”

Both of these expressions and exercise of authority are “Transactional”, a “trade” based on the child (or subordinate) wanting to acquire something of value (whether liberty and privileges, or professional earnings and prestige)… in exchange for their compliance with the will of the superior.

We see this type of authority expressed a number of times in scripture, but perhaps the clearest of such expressions as God trains His children is

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. [2 Chronicles 7:13-15]

Here we see this very clear “carrot-and-stick” transaction of authority and obedience, very much as we (as parents) could imagine ourselves dealing with our developing teen, or an employer dealing with a new employee.


Three: Exploration and Honeymoon Stage. Let’s change gears, change generations here for a moment. Let’s move from the “Parental” paradigm to the “Sweetheart” stage of intimate relationships. (Bear in mind, this really has no gender significance, particularly. There are no erotic overtones here. Jesus used a marriage and wedding illustration often as He considered growing intimacy and commitment between Himself and us.)

Authority, as the imposition or subordination of will, becomes very interesting when “opposition” is no longer an issue. If you have ever been married (as I suspect most of Jesus’ listeners had been), it is not hard to remember or relate to a time when a committed relationship had been formed, but partners were yet coming to know and understand one another.

Here again, “fear” becomes a factor… but it is not a matter of “fear of punishment”. When one is committed to the happiness and well-being of the other, but does not yet KNOW them through and through completely, then there is effort made not to do something that causes the other (the beloved) discomfort or displeasure.

Early years of a marriage of partners in love, or early years of a professional who loves and is deeply committed to his/her company or employer, doesn’t see a lot of overt “exercise of authority” between the superior and the subordinate. Rather, one seeks to consciously align the will of the self with the will of the other in order not to displease him/her. When there is anxiety over a decision, it is based on “not doing the wrong thing”, “not making a mistake”… but not out of fear of consequence in punishment, rather out of “fear of displeasing the valued other” (whether the partner or work colleague).

This is a “functional” stage. Many long term marriages never progress beyond this stage. Many career employees stay in this perspective all the way to retirement. And it has been my observation that a vast number of Believers attain this degree of intimacy with the Lord, and never ever get past it. Such people are adult enough to get beyond a fear of childish punishment, loving enough to get beyond bargaining and negotiation for advantage, and are deeply committed to the happiness of the significant other. But what “constrains them”, what exerts “authority over them”, is the fear of causing the significant other displeasure… of “hurting their feelings”.

I remember, when I was young, being told that “every time I sin, I add to the scourging of Jesus”. The thought horrified me. I vehemently sought to reject sin in all forms… “not to hurt His feelings”, and despised myself and my own frailty when I failed in my efforts. Only VERY recently, did I finally come to understand the Truth… that He has always known, and embraced me WITH all my frailties. I finally could embrace an instruction, a correction, I must have been given 100 times when I was an intern under a very wise mentor/boss/pastor who repeated over and over… “Little Monk! God is not NEARLY so concerned with your getting it all RIGHT! As He is concerned that you learn to relax, and simply enjoy His love!” (That made no sense to me… I could not grasp that… couldn’t embrace it. Decades it took, before Jesus Himself finally helped me see the truth of it.)

I present Stage Three to you with NO disrespect whatever! I lingered there for more years than I will admit. It is often marked with a tremendous sense of “rules and regulations”, of “do’s and don’ts” lest we displease Him. It is not BAD. But it is not yet complete. It contains fear, it contains shame, it contains a degree of mistrust for our total safety in Him. It is adult, yes… but not yet fully matured.

We want to unify our wills with God’s, but we haven’t yet learned and practiced the relaxed surrender of conscience to the Holy Spirit, so we cling fearfully to our “religious report cards” and “Do/Don’t” Lists. Paul seems to address this…

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? [Colossians 2:20-22]


Four: Unitive Stage. Harmony. Here is a fascinating stage of “Authority” where the word itself seems to disappear. Why? Because the exercise of authority only emerges when there is a conflict of will between two parties, and when relationship is close enough, intimate enough that one party knows exactly what is pleasing to the other… and when the love and commitment is so strong that the desire of each is to create, to generate, pleasure on the part of the other… there is only harmony.

I described this to a friend the other day as, “remember the early stages of marriage, where we worked so hard to learn, to realize, what pleased and displeased our partner? We were more concerned not to inadvertently hurt their feelings, than anything else. And that was good. BUT, let a few decades of ongoing love, commitment and intimacy go by, and we learn them… we know their will… we know what pleases or displeases. And when you look at one of those incredible, grace-filled, beautiful marriages of half a century or so… when the partners are still as in love (or more so) than when they first met… there is no more fear. Each partner lives with the simple goal of pleasing the other, of making him/her smile. They look for little ways to surprise or delight the other. THAT’s the mature state of love… no more fear, simply the enterprise of walking pleasing to the other, because that is what is most pleasing to the self.”

I have seen this in this life. Haven’t you? Here is the living out of the intimacy of Jesus and the Father… all through John 13-17. Jesus only does His will, does His works, speaks His words. Why? Because the Father has “Authority”, and requires this of Jesus? NO! Because this is the JOY of Jesus, He is so intimately One with the Father that to see Him, He says, IS to SEE the Father!

“Well!” one might respond… “That’s all well and good for GOD! But what about US! This can’t possibly be something WE can aspire to, or live in! Where’s your humility!?” But see… Jesus disagrees.

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” [John 17:1-3]

That’s US He’s talking about, Gentle Reader. You, and me, and him, and her… right here, right now, just as we are… “that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” And that word “know” there… is “intimate know”… as in biblically knowing… all the way through.

So many shy away from this thought. “Too intimate”, “too close”, “not reverent enough”, “need more distance”, “He’s too holy”, “He’s too scary”… so strange. Some paint this incredible revelation of grace and available relationship as some sort of cheap grace or feel-good message. Well, grace it assuredly is, but not the least bit cheap… It cost Jesus’ life to provide. Is it “feel good”? Well, I certainly hope so! The JOY of the Lord is to be our strength, not some sort of “no pain, no gain” hubris. The Gospel is GOOD News, and the churchy-folk leaders of His time killed Him for preaching it.


Here is the challenge God issues to my own life, and I pass it along for whatever use you choose to make of it. Embrace it, or cast it aside as the Holy Spirit leads you in your life and conscience.

“Do you want to love God with all your heart, mind and strength? Do you want to love others as Jesus loves?

“Then you have to mature beyond fear. We cannot…. CAN NOT… fully love what we do not fully trust. We can never feel truly and utterly “safe” with what we cannot trust without condition or flinching. And we cannot utterly trust, anything or anyone, we fear.”

Simple truth that. Obvious and self-apparent. The Apostle John got this utterly. He wrote the Gospels that most clearly documented the Lord’s teachings on all this. Ultimately, he left these words in legacy to the generations of his churches as he sensed the end of his own earthly life drawing near….

Consider this, and see if it does not summarize all I am saying here of “authority”, “harmony of will”, and our loving relationship with God…

By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. [1 John 4:17-19]


Bottom Line: “Authority” only has meaning when there is a conflict of wills. As to Spiritual Warfare, there is always a conflict of wills between unclean spirits and the will of Our Loving Father, Our Lord, and His Spirit. God has invested the fullness of His authority in and to us, by virtue of our Love of Christ and belief that the Father sent Him forth. That authority can and does flow through us unimpeded when our will aligns in faith with His.

But BEYOND that is the richer truth of “authority” and OUR relationship with God. Union, the union of will, love, knowledge of Him… complete with His words, works, and will… is not only our EVENTUAL destiny “up there, out there, somewhere…. in heaven… after we’re dead”…. but rather it is the living, here and now, process we are going through and intended to fulfill in all its richness, as we learn simply to trust Him to do what only He can do in and through us. How?

Paulfg says it the most directly of anyone I know…

“The answer is love. Now, what is the question?”

I hope this is some help on the whole issue of “Authority” and God.

Grace to thee, Gentle Reader.

The Little Monk

 

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Spiritual Warfare – The Medieval Meets High Tech

candle book Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. [Matthew 19:8]

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ [Matthew 28:16-20]

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I have… “struggled” seems too dramatic a word… but I’ve seriously pondered whether or not to pursue a line of discussion that I’ve felt called to engage for a very long time. I’ve decided to open the question to you, Gentle Reader, and listen to your response(s). Feel free, if you wish to remain private, to direct any thoughts to me directly by email at Little_Monk_60@yahoo.com if you wish.

Spiritual warfare is real. Personalities of darkness and shadow are real. All of us interact with such shadows daily to some extent or another. (Do we experience temptation? Yes? Is that from God or any other entity of Light? No? Well then…)

K, now, having said that… there is lots and LOTS of drama that can be made from this fact, and lots and lots of stories, books, movies, and (nowadays) reality TV that can exploit that drama.

Right about there, all consensus falls apart on this subject. From that point forward, worldviews vary along a spectrum of “the collective consciousness of human ‘bad intention'” to the wildly frightened seeing of horned beasts behind every closet door and the need to wrap the self in bubble wrap and cotton wool before getting out of bed.

THEREFORE, the general “polite Christian response” to such matters… is to ignore them utterly. Pray privately, yes… preach by strict scriptural quotation, yes… go with the flow of the politically and socially correct fotm on matters of Halloween or the hottest paranormal movie, yes… but, in general, just hope all this goes away quietly when it comes up.

THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is a real problem.

This “blind eye to the glass” approach leaves lots and lots of hurting people, really struggling in battles of spiritual warfare, cast off out there in a sea of uncertainty as to where and how to get help or support.

As a counselor, a minister, a pray-er, I am periodically deeply involved in spiritual warfare. Whether in the dramatic or the mundane, I feel that it is of paramount importance that Christians be aware and knowledgeable on this.

The problem is… how? The fundamentals of worldview difference means that “dialogue in common language and understanding” is very difficult. Holding the “respect line” when speaking with someone of a radically different worldview is challenging. Denominational, historical, cultural difference… both on the fundamentals of cause, effect, etiology… and in the response and mechanics of ministry to need… The challenges to meaningful dialogue can seem insurmountable.

At the same time, the reality that there is “something there”, and the adventurous spirit of the young and their boldness… combined with the “spiritual vacuum” so often experienced from the public face of the Christian community… have made a situation where this deeply religious matter is more and more entering our homes and minds through the “scientific” application of technology to spiritual entities through prime time television.

For professional reasons, I watch such programming fairly diligently. I’ll be frank, some episodes just scare me to death. NOT as to the “reality” or “power” of the entities involved… I’m painfully aware of that quite on my own, thank you. Rather I am terrified for the risks many of these adventurous and curious persons are taking, often with only minimal awareness or acknowledgment.

Ironically, the “young and the bold” who undertake such endeavors, within a season or two, quite apparently “learn” to have respect for these risks and dangers, as “on the job training” bears fruit. You see initial postures of arrogance or omniscience, fairly quickly be tempered by learned respect for significant forces beyond one’s own control. My general response is to pray for these investigators, and those they help.

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This blog seems a unique venue, if any exists, gently and carefully to begin such a dialogue. But I seek your input on how to meet a number of challenges…

How do we discuss such things without offending one another’s traditions or worldviews?

How do we discuss “experiences” without concern for mutual judgments of one’s “sanity” or lack thereof?

How do we discuss mechanics and realities of such warfare, as a matter of “equipping the saints”, and not see such discussion devolve into either a set of lessons on “DIY Exorcism” (disastrous)… or encouragement to “fear” (which is no part of the Christian walk)?

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I don’t have the answer to these questions, and I’ve known I didn’t have them for a long time now. This is not a “comfortable” area for discussion.

But now, I feel better at least to throw a light on this “elephant in the room”… fling it on the table (a big, sturdy table for this mixed metaphor)... and open the DISCUSSION to possible discussion. I don’t have a solution, but I’m at least “brave enough” (at last)… to ask the question.

So… *BONK!*… ball is served and in the air… heading for your court. Any ideas? By the way, about half our readership is “professional” in ministry, and about half is not. That’s PERFECT! It’s that MIX of viewpoint I so seek to hear!

So, please let me know what you think!

Grace to you — The Little Monk

 

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NOAA 42 — IFR Living

hurricaneOnce upon a time, a lifetime or two ago, I used to fly airplanes. Little airplanes, I’ll grant, but still… I flew them.

I’ve also endured a hurricane or two in my time, (totally as a ground-dweller!)

But I’ve watched a program about an aircraft dubbed “NOAA 42”, where grown men in (ostensibly) their right minds actually and on purpose fly their airplane INTO a hurricane (often at laughingly low altitude) to acquire scientific/meteorological data to predict the behavior of a given storm to predict landfall and severity. (Please bear in mind, while this sounds dare-devilish… this exercise saves lives as these storms bear down on us landlocked.)

But as I watched this program… an episode about a flight that went in a distinctly UNscripted fashion as they explored Hurricane Hugo a while back… I found myself echoing with how apt their experience is to life itself.

I mean, there they fly (willingly! knowingly!) into the outer wall of Hurricane Hugo… from a gorgeous blue sky tropical paradise day over the Caribbean… into the violence of total gray out, wind, waves, storm, at 1500 feet. Into a storm that can fling them down with a 1000 foot slap, or up 500 feet, faster than a pilot can react. “White knuckled” doesn’t begin to cover my own vicarious feeling about a flight like this.

But once they are THERE, once they are INSIDE this thing, this monster, there is nothing there that their own senses, their own eyes, ears, backsides can tell them… no sensory input or reasoning between their minds and their bodies, that they can rely on to manage the situation. There is total lack of sensory data for them, and they must rely… with absolute confidence… on their instruments and the information those instruments give them, to manage their aircraft safely.

This is the ultimate form of IFR Flying — Instrument Flight Rules — and this is the skill set needed when the pilot simply cannot see anything helpful outside the aircraft. Whether it is night flying or foul bad weather, when a pilot can see for a distance of 3+ nautical miles, they may fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). If not… it’s IFR or stay on the ground.

Now, I myself, never undertook the discipline of acquiring an IFR ticket, never took the rating.  But I did have a marvelous instructor who, a couple times, brought the training “hood” out with us and let me experience what was required to control the aircraft by instrumentation, without reference to outside aids (like the horizon, landmarks, etc.) (By the way, an obvious caution, never do this solo unless you ARE on IFR and transponder equipped. My instructor was there and maintaining the visual scan diligence needed, to watch for hazards or other aircraft. Right, ’nuff said.) But, it’s an incredible sensation… as alien as, like, walking around your house with a cane, blindfolded.

Anyway, as I watched NOAA 42 in the midst of a hurricane, I was overwhelmed with a new appreciation of “Faith”.

In the moments they are in that storm, they are utterly blind, deaf, and helpless. They are totally at the mercy of the wind, waves, the storm. In those moments, their crew simply “switch over” in their heads, to radar screens, attitude indicators, altimeters, pitch indicators, and they stop trusting anything their senses tell them, if sensation conflicts with what their instruments say.

As I realized this… God just seemed to “interrupt this program with an important Truth”… as the obvious parallel to Life just lit up.

I know you see it too, so I’ll not belabor the obvious, but just to sum up…

At the most vibrant degree of living… at the point where we can fully live in the embrace and trust of God… sometimes we can walk in harmony with life by “sight” and feel confident that we know what’s going on and can manage our affairs, our behaviors, our feelings participating with our own wills, thoughts, reasoning. Yes. Much of the time we can do this.

But there are other times, other situations, other phenomena… that either we can avoid, because we simply don’t have the personal resources adequate safely to navigate them…

OR, can we develop another skill set… a “Faith Life Rules” set… that allows us to navigate storms, darkness, times of (yes) stressful, perhaps painful or even dangerous phenomena… that we can pass through without harm? Can we disengage from our own fears, anxieties, predictions of probable outcomes, passions, adrenalin, sentiments… and just focus on what we know that we know… the truths of the Gospel, the words and acts of Jesus, the convictions and infusion of peace through the Spirit within?

I ended up with this very strange impression, that we can trust to the bright sunny skies, and EQUALLY we can trust to the hurricane… if we see both as expressions of Life Himself, and are determined to live by trust to His embrace. (I know that makes no sense.) But I just can’t shake the feeling that living in that trust, accepting and embracing even that apparent “danger”, gives us the freedom and joy of High Flight.

Just a thought… Gentle Reader.

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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When the Stars Grieved

Sunrise CrossHoly Saturday — An Intermission… the space between the tremendous drama of events in the past two days, and the unknown of Jesus’ promise of something more dramatic three days after His death.

We have spent these days walking alongside, or a little behind, the Disciples Party as Jesus directed them into Jerusalem for the Passover. It is regrettable that the vicissitudes of history, politics, and economics have so divorced Christian worship and rhythms from our Jewish roots. Easter is inextricably woven with the Passover, the dramatic high points of Jesus’ ministry are woven with Passover, but unless we are blessed to know and have walked with Jews in our time who love and worship God, we can easily miss all these connections.

Across this day, this quiet day, I have been steeped in the awareness that today I “celebrate” or “commemorate” Death. Not “the dead”, as in the Feast of All Souls or All Saints. And not “Dying”, as in Good Friday, and the Lord’s surrender, willing surrender, to becoming sin and letting darkness come that He might pay the price, collect its wage. But rather, this is the aftermath. This is the silence after the tumult. This is the grief. This… is the Death.

We are disciples, you and I. At least I know that to be true for myself, and for those who have corresponded with me from these pages. We seek eternal life… we have it, and we seek to comprehend it, to cooperate with it, to serve Him… “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” [John 17:3] I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but as we approach Easter, my heart seems to settle its pulse into synch with His Companion Disciples, and vicariously I experience much of what I suspect I would feel had I been there and then.

And today… today… just seems to be such a “trembling” day. Were we walking with the Companions, we’d have watched our most terrible nightmare come about. Our Master, Our Teacher, now Our Friend… God, Son of God, this incredible Rabbi… the Messiah from whom we expected such great things… arrested, shamed, tried, condemned, rejected by the multitudes in favor of Barabbus of all people! Finally stripped naked and crucified with criminals!

Did we keep thinking this wasn’t real? Did we think there would be a last minute rescue? Did we think He would pray, and stretch forth His hand, and speak to the Father, (as we have seen Him do so many times), and power come forth from Him to change all of this? And then we were afraid! So very afraid! The Romans, the Temple Guards, the Pharisees, Scribes, and finally even the Mob Itself! It seemed Jesus had just given us over and gone His way! He was being KILLED! Were we to be killed as well? How could everything have gone so very wrong in only the week since He was proclaimed through the streets as “Blessed… who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And our fear rendered all but the most loving of us… fugitives. We melted away from the crowds, and fled for safety and cover. Only the women held the faith. The women who traveled with Him from the beginning, who supported Him with their means, who wiped His feet with their tears, and His bloodied sweating face with their clothing as He stumbled along on His last Journey to the rocks where He would be slain. Are we ashamed of ourselves. we burly Companions, we whom He authorized to travel in His name, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out the demons, as we see these mere women with the courage to stay alongside Our Lord, where our fear of death turns our knees to water and we slink away to melt into anonymous crowds and shelter?

Yesterday, the Day Jesus Died, was an incredible day of such fear for us! Fear, confusion at what was happening, and Death! When He was taken down, two men stepped forth and did something unthinkable. They were, of all things, Pharisees. Here we are in the Passover, about to enter the Sabbath of the Passover, for which we have spent 5 days of purification and cleansing and preparation… and, as Jesus is lowered from the Cross as a corpse… these men (Nicodemus and Joseph) gain permission to take custody of the body and lay it in a new cut tomb.

BurielNow, publicly, they have become Unclean. They cannot enter the Temple to worship. They cannot sit to the Passover. They cannot traffic with their peers or those they lead and teach. They are now no better than lepers in their community… not until they have purified themselves from handling the dead. They, these religious men, must come and deal with Jesus’ body first, washing him of the blood and the filth, restoring His modesty and dignity, before the women can come and anoint Him with herbs and ointments for proper interment. There is no time! There is so little time! Unclean or not, women or not, they must all be back to their homes before the sun sets.

So it is a hurried job to prepare the Lord’s Body to be sealed up, until the Passover Holy Sabbath is past, and they can return to the Tomb. They do their best. He is washed, anointed, and wrapped in a winding sheet. Sadly, they all leave Him. The stone is rolled into the entrance to seal His grave, and they all go home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now… there is nothing to do… but wait.

So here we are… waiting. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Just the waiting, feeling the grief, feeling the confusion, feeling the fear. Jesus… is Dead.

This is the “mood” that has pervaded this day in my universe. Rather than “fight it”, I simply “embraced it” and offered it up to the Lord saying, “OK, if this is what I am experiencing… if this is what the Companions experienced… where is the grace here? What purpose, what light, what are You teaching here?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It seemed that my focus, so tight and intense on the Cross, the Tomb, Jerusalem of that time… “panned outwards” to a visage of the region, the hemisphere, the globe, then onwards out beyond the solar system, galaxy, to encompass all of the universe before me… and all of that… ALL of it… stood poised and silent… frozen in the reality of the Death of Him in whose hand all of this was held together. It was like inhaling, and being unable to exhale. It was a sense of “trembling anticipation”.

This… is a miserable feeling. Don’t you agree? That sense of “this is terrible”, but “something else is fixing to happen”, but “I don’t know what that is”, and “I don’t know if it will be better or worse”. It’s the pain of the present, combined with the fear and uncertainty of the future!

Where I sought that the Lord would RELIEVE my discomfort, I was surprised that He seemed to INTENSIFY it, MAGNIFY it. I knew He was in charge of whatever He was doing, so I did not resist. But it was to be totally immersed in Death, the full experience of the grief, the pain, even the texture and odor. Not pleasant, as learning experiences go, but I could sit still. Now I, Gentle Reader, like most people I know, have a natural revulsion and aversion to death. For many years I despised and “fought” it, feeling a a personal sense of defeat when someone in my care succumbed to death. As I matured, I came more to “accept” death as a necessary transition from here to There. But I still didn’t “like” it. At this point in my walk, I have come to realize that there are times when Death is a welcome relief and release from the intense labor and suffering of captivity in this body. But I cannot say it was ever something I “embraced” with my heart.

That was the challenge of this day.

The Lord challenged me to “embrace” Death altogether. So to enter into Him and His heart, that I could see that He did so… and allow the Him in me to do so again, and take me with Him as He did.

Does this sound strange to you, Gentle Reader? It certainly did to me. After spending an entire day “immersed” in Death… the Lord now asked me to “embrace” that as wholeheartedly as I did Life, Love, or Joy. It made no sense! I could not understand or comprehend this. Still, clearly, He had done this from the Cross… there was nothing to this directive that seemed inconsistent with Him or Love or scripture.

So, given that I’ve found “faith” to be my willingness to embrace a truth I could not comprehend… I obeyed.

I endeavored to “relax” in the immediate intimate presence of death itself. Like learning to “float” in water, it’s not an application of effort… it’s the refusal to apply resistance. It crystallized into ceasing to judge “Death” to be “bad”, just accepting it as a part of the experience of life God grants to us, and thanking and praising Him for making it part of our lives. The very strange instruction to my heart seemed to be to: “Trust Death”. Strange, no?

After yielding into the stream that the Lord seemed to direct, some interesting truths seemed to become apparent. I don’t offer these here as “grand answers to mysteries”. It is all yet quite mysterious to me, but I offer “food for thought” here, as we have spent this extraordinary day… rather like Noah and his family shut up in the Ark, sealed in, days before the Flood began… just waiting… waiting… on a promise… confused… in a box.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Jesus did not refuse the Redemption in that He did not refuse or flee from the Death that came for Him. He embraced it. He surrendered to it. He trusted to it, that the Father (who He could no longer feel, hear, or sense), was Sovereign over all… and He could trust to that. Jesus indeed had exercised authority over Death many times in His ministry… but not today.

Jesus had taught strange things about death through His travels…

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:34

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:35

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:24

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” [Acts 2:22-24]

Here, the truths of this passage, seemed to be where my ponderings brought me.I realized a simple series of things:The great “Tyrant” of our lives, the force that impels people against faith and into selfishness stems from the apparent power of death. Not so much death itself, as the FEAR of death. To acquire things, to bully others, the lie, cheat, steal, kill… all seems to bolster an illusion of our invulnerability, our potency, our power. Why do we need such things so desperately? Because they meet our deepest insecurity… the knowledge of our mortality… and our fear of everything having to do with that. Humans not only fear death because of the implications of the Afterlife… but because of revulsion to Death Itself!

As always, Jesus deals with this head on. He doesn’t do a lot of “teaching about” Death in His 3 years of traveling. But He teaches multitudes by direct confrontation. He raises the Dead. More than once. (Fairly impressive, no?)

He SAYS, simply, “you must die to live.” He instructs His followers to let loose their fear of death, embrace it, take up their cross and follow Him. At the Last Supper He instructs His to eat His body and drink His blood, by which He has earlier taught they will have life within them.

Then, Jesus MODELS His teaching. He surrenders to Death, laying down His life of His own initiative.

Today, this Silent Day Between, it is ever so tempting to sneak a peek forward to the rising of tomorrow’s sun… to “borrow forward” into tomorrow’s joy.

But if we can refrain… if we can hold our self control… an incredible thing happens right here. People are bullied, their whole lives long, by the FEAR of Death. What if we lost that fear? What if we could embrace the whole issue of Death as one the Lord absorbed and now rules, that we are to embrace it, in all ways, in order to follow Him?

What would it be like if the greatest fear in our personal universes, just evaporated? What if we simply trusted Him? Would we find it easier to LIVE in and for Him, not just die? Would we be less shy in our communities about our love for Him, or His for us? Would we be more loving, more giving, less attached to our material possessions? Would we be less concerned about “what other people think?” of whether we are keeping all the rules, and be more attentive to the hungry, the sick, the incarcerated, the sinful?

I’ve said before, we cannot fully love anyone we do not fully trust. As long as we see Death as a thing apart from Him, apart from His love, but yet present in our lives… can we fully trust or love Him? And what happens when we release that?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Were the First Century Christians so extraordinary because they had seen with their own eyes, and lost entirely their fear of Death? Could they openly follow Jesus into the joy, the light, the love, the power of the Holy Spirit, because they had lost all fear of death, persecution, or the power of the state?

What would our days, our walk, be like if we could do the same?

 
8 Comments

Posted by on April 19, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds

 

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It All Begins Here: Birth of the Sacred…

sun He has sent redemption to His people;
He has ordained His covenant forever;
Holy and awesome is His name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;
His praise endures forever.  [Psalm 111:9-10]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“It was a dark and stormy night”…

Yes, yes it was. A dark, stormy, Texas summer night… with no stars… no moon… because the sky was filled with thunderclouds. There is nothing… anywhere… like a Texas summer lightning storm. No rain, air barely moving, and it starts…

chain lightning 2Mighty thunderbolts shoot above, below, and through the billowed silhouettes of the thunderheads… flashing blue, and violet, and sometimes even green! Huge, massive, jagged spears of pure power. And the sound… the crashing… like a thousand train wrecks, all in a jumble.

You wait for it. You know it’s coming and you wait… and suddenly there it is… Chain Lightning… It starts in one huge thunderhead, and shoots to the next, then the next, then the next… sometimes as many as six or eight links in the chain…

Magnificent. There are no words for it. It is bechain lightningyond awesome! It is… GLORIOUS!

It is like standing in the midst of angels dancing in all their glory… hearing their footfalls… feeling their rhythms pounding on your chest, not just your ears.

You stand, oddly enough, in the midst of death. You realize you are in the presence of power beyond your imagination… and yet your pulse races with the sense of being immediately, presently, ALIVE, and somehow sharing in the moment.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The phrase had been haunting me… haunting me for weeks… it stood, stark, like a rock wall square in the path of my journey. I didn’t understand. I COULDN’T understand. But somehow… I HAD TO understand…

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

How could this be? I sought wisdom. But I knew no fear of Him. A brilliant teacher, an Uncle in the Lord to me, once remarked that speaking to me was like, “speaking to the boy Jesus at the Temple.” That I had no religious training, upbringing, or church… but I knew Jesus and the Bible as if I’d been there. But then he added that there was only one thing wrong… one thing he didn’t understand… “Little Monk, you have no compunction whatever.” Lol… I had to ask him to define the word for me. I’d never heard it. He said, “Filial fear of the Lord.”

I remember pausing to reflect, then answering… “You’re right. I cannot imagine that. Oh, I can fear His anger… but not Him. Never Him. He’s held me on His lap since I was 3. He’s sung to me in the night. Dried my tears, and healed my hurts. How, after all that, how can I begin to ‘fear’ Him now? Can’t be done.” And I couldn’t get it, as I left Uncle’s office.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

Years after that conversation, but still, nearly 40 years ago, now… this line came back to haunt me. I sought the Lord’s face. I trained in ministry. I sought after wisdom diligently. I learned prayer, meditation, contemplation, worship, spiritual disciplines, the art of spiritual direction… all that.

But yet, I did not understand “fear of the Lord”, and I felt that hampered my quest for “wisdom”.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

And yet, “Perfect love casts out fear”…

I could not make sense of it. I prayed to understand. I’d studied the verbiage, I knew about “awe” versus “terror”. But I still couldn’t “GET IT”. I felt I was missing something terribly important, basic, fundamental here. Something I was called to understand, and yet failing to grasp. I prayed, I waited, I listened… God answered…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One glorious night on a flat brown Texas field… no stars… no moon… no streetlights or houselignts. Just the pitch black darkness… and then… then… the Dance of Angels in Chain Lightning.

Louder than a battlefield. Mightier than Niagara. All around me… over me… soaring…

And out of that, God, in a quiet voice saying, “Do you like it? Do you feel it? Do you feel Me here?”

The thrill of it, Gentle Reader. The awe and worship of it… No words for that.

He went on, “This could kill you, you know. This is but a ‘flex’ of My arm. But what would happen if one of these bolts hit you, standing there? Would you survive?”

Clearly not.

“Do you realize the power here? You stand in death. You realize that, don’t you?”

I did. But I was not afraid. (Perhaps I ought to have been, but the prayer, the presence, was so powerful. There was no room for fear.)

“Now, Little Monk, understand forever more… that thrill, the pulse in your chest, this awe, this worship of My very Magificence… you realize the danger here, you are not silly… but you are awestruck, dumbstruck, with the Glory that is Me, and this small illustration of it. This… THIS, Little Monk, This exhilaration that you feel right now… THIS is David’s “fear of the Lord”… and it came from nights very much like this, in his fields, with his sheep. I could make storms like this for him, too.

“This is just an expression of Me. A picture of My power and grandeur. That feeling in your chest, is ‘worship’ and ‘awe’. That is a GOOD thing. Right now, you deeply sense the ‘Sacred’… if I asked you to kneel, right there, you’d fall to your knees in a heartbeat. This is what it is, to feel the Sacred in My presence.

“But the fact that I have such unrestrained power, does not mean I ever would or will, turn it against one of My children. You have it right, Little Monk… you have awe of Me, but no fear of Me, no terror. Never change that. Just worship Me in all things.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The word “sacred” has become very important to me these days. It seems to define the essence of “righteousness” and of “sin”. It summarizes all of the Law, and reflects the Gospel cleanly and clearly.

To be righteous is to treat others as sacred. To sin, is to do otherwise.

Herein lies what seems to be all that is wrong with our lives, with our children, with our families, with our government, with our world.

How has everything seemed to get in such a mess? It happens when we lose our sense of the sacredness of others, of life, of other’s rights to live free and without fear. When people become “objects” rather than sacred others… When we become “users” and “operators” rather than stewards and guardians of the sacred… life loses meaning.

But… but… we cannot, as Christians, as parents, as ministers, as teachers, as friends… promote and nurture the Truth of sacredness in and for other people, or even ourselves, until the Sacred is born in us to begin with.

That’s been an amazing thing I’ve recently discovered. I asked God where I ever got this “sense of the sacred”? For it is deep in me. Deep in the soil of my heart.

And He brought me back to this Texas field on a dark and stormy night…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

God said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

And wisdom begins, when you discover the heart of the “Sacred”…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where was your dark and stormy night, Gentle Reader?

 
3 Comments

Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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