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Ripples and Birthdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Your Highness.

 

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

 

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Spiritual Gifts — Contagious

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

 

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The Journey

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Remember, O man, that: “dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

These words, these Garden Farewell words, open Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.These were the last words we heard from the lips of God as we were clothed by His compassion, and sent forth from our access to the Tree of Life so that we did not destroy ourselves further.

Gentle Reader, if you come here often, you know that this blog is, in part, an “Experimental Laboratory” of prayer, and that together we explore new and different avenues for the experience of the Holy Spirit teaching and guiding.

The Lord is challenging me this year, as in some (not all) past years, to journey through the next 40 days towards Resurrection Sunday (Easter), in a special way. That I will discover something new and wondrous when I reach the Empty Tomb that day.

Every other time I have made this journey (sometimes terrifying or grief-filled, btw), I have traveled this road alone, or with one other for protection. This year, I invite companions, that we make each our OWN journeys, but we can do that in company if you would care to travel together.

We are headed from our homes to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration at the Temple, before the Ark, at the Holy of Holies. I go to present my gift. I shall come away with Greater gift. I know this, for so it has ever been. But I do not present mine IN ORDER TO receive.

That is important. I do not invite you on a “Trade Caravan”. I invite you on a “Pilgrimage”.

If you would like to come along, to join this caravan, then welcome to you. Feel free to pitch your tent over there for tonight, and tie your camel or donkey up yonder. Enjoy the time, the company, and the food.

This should be a very interesting trip.

Blessings and grace to thee — The Little Monk

 

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The Jeweler’s Tale — A Fable

Desert CaravanOnce upon a time there was a rather foolish, but lonely, man named Elias. He was not the eldest son of his family, and had no fortune to claim. He had a craft, being a jeweler, but always wound up working long hours for others and never getting ahead. One day a trader came to him with a proposition, that if he would invest in a shipment of precious metals and gems to come by caravan from the East, he would make his fortune with his skills.

But what to do? He had no capital, no property, no equity… not even any livestock. He could not raise the funds among friends or family, so finally, in his desperation to make his fortune and his reputation (which he felt sure would solve all of his problems), he took out a loan at usurious rates with some disreputable money lenders. Having no collateral, he wagered his freedom against his debt. He made his investment. He cast his lot. He hoped for the best.

Fate, however, was not kind to poor Elias. (Or, so he thought.) As he waited, day by day, for news of the arrival of his fortune. He worried his way through every report of distant wars, distant sandstorms, and bandit activity. Unseasonably harsh weather made everything even more risky, and at long last, with his caravan weeks overdue, a poor survivor finally made it to his city… only to report that the caravan had been waylaid by highwaymen, and all was lost.

His creditors’ “representatives”, big surly men with markedly bad attitudes, appeared at his doors that same day, to claim him and his tools. A quick stop by the Temple and magistrates, to make everything legal and tidy, and *poof*, there he was, sold into slavery, working for the next 7 years for his creditors. Well, he had no one to take leave of, he owned nothing to “shut up” or settle accounts for. So, by that night, he just settled into his new quarters, having “changed employers” in his mind.

Life for poor Elias was not “happy”, but he was not “suffering” either. He was a fine and skilled jewelsmith, and his masters had considerable wealth. For the first time in his career, he had nearly unlimited resources. Between that, and no longer being distracted by the worry of how he was going to make his fortune, suddenly he began creating real masterpieces. His work far exceeded anything anyone had ever seen him do, or even that he ever thought he COULD do. He changed. He changed from “craftsman” to true “Artist”. As he developed not only skill and creativity, but also logistical and administrative skills.

Well, by the end of his first year of servitude, little Elias had indeed made an enviable reputation for himself. His work traveled far and wide through the kingdom, on only the most noble of customers. One day, an ambassador of the king himself came to the home of Elias’ owner, seeking to buy out Elias’ indenture. The offer was so good, along with the prospects of good will from the crown, that Elias was sold on the spot. Immediately, his little shop and tools were packed up, a royal coach was waiting, and Elias found himself on his way to his new home at the King’s Palace.

“Six more years,” Elias thought, as the royal carriage rolled along the marketways and streets to his new home. “Six more years before I am again my own man,” he sighed. “Well,” he thought, with resignation, “it could be worse. I could be cold, or hungry, or they could beat me. I am well fed, well cared for, and generally well treated. Life is not so bad. Empty, perhaps, but not so bad.” And so the horses clip-clopped on.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Elias was shown to his new shop and quarters, he thought he was dreaming. It was magnificent. Every forge, kiln, furnace… every sort of tool… every surface, curve, anvil, and vise… all there for his shaping and crafting of metal or stone into beautiful shapes. And his STORES!!! Gold, silver, bronze, and access to the Royal Treasury for gems of every description. It was incredible, it was unthinkable, it was… wonderful! His own chambers were comfortable, verging on opulent. He had his own chamber servant to deal with housekeeping. There was space to work and think, to draw, his own fireplace, his own bathing room. Poor Elias had never imagined he’d live in such luxury.

After reporting to the Chief Steward of the Palace, little Elias was presented to the King and the royal family. The King was kind, but stately. He made clear that Elias had cost him a great deal of gold, but that the work he had seen with Elias’ hallmark would make the investment worthwhile.

Elias had only one command from the King..

“Do your best work.” He could take all the time he needed for a piece. He could requisition anything he needed to do it. He was to be honest with his accounts. But he was to create beauty, of the finest order he could muster. Just “do his best work.”

At first, Elias scarcely knew what to do. He had never EVER had orders like that. Customers always had something specific in mind. Either a piece that “looked like” another piece. Or a family crest of some sort. Or a cluster of fruit. Or something… But slowly, gradually, he began to let himself dream of beauty and beautiful things, shapes, motifs, curves… and bit by bit, day by day, Elias began to do his best work. Masterpieces flowed from his shop.

A year passed. Elias was very comfortable, well respected, and the King loved his work. The King had even begun an account in Elias’ name, that when he was free, he would have capital to start his own business with. All this, and he was satisfied, but he was not yet truly “happy”. “Five more years,” Elias thought. “Five more years until I am my own man. Well, things could be worse.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Chief Steward would visit him in his shop from time to time. Even the King or members of his family would come visit from time to time. They enjoyed his quiet company, and his unceasing attention to creating beauty. But they always went away realizing, Elias was never yet “happy”.

One day, the King came to Elias’ shop accompanied by a beautiful young woman named Miriam and her two small children.

“Elias, may I interrupt you for a moment?” the King asked.

“Of course, Majesty,” Elias replied promptly, leaving his workbench and stool to bow as he approached the party. “What brings you, this day?”

“Elias, you craft beautiful jewelry that adorns me, my family, and my home. But you work alone. And it is not good for a man to be alone. There is beauty in you that you’ve not yet touched. This is Miriam. She is the widow of a faithful retainer of mine who gave his life in my service. She and her children are now under my protection.

“Miriam is also an artist. She can draw and paint with such passion and grace that from any distance it is easy to confuse her flowers or birds with the living thing. If you are willing, I should like to see what the two of you could create together… she aiding in the design… you applying your talent in the crafting… together to create greater beauty.

“I would place her quarters down the passageway here, and she could draw and sculpt, as you mold, forge, and smith. Would you be willing to try such a collaboration?” the King proposed.

“Of course, Majesty, if that is your will,” Elias responded.

“Good, then,” the King answered, inclining his head to them as he made to leave. “I’ll let you all get acquainted then, and see to the arrangements. Do well.” And he left.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now poor Elias wasn’t entirely sure what to do about all this. He was, after all, just a slave. But, it turned out, Miriam was also. She and her husband had belonged to the King, but he treated her more as family than servant, so she seldom thought of it. Her children were well cared for, and just as spoiled as those of the royal household, so she was quite content.

For many days, Miriam simply sat and watched Elias work. She watched him heat metal to brilliant red or white brilliance in his furnace… then draw it into wire, or spirals… or pound it into plates, or leaves, or even foil. She watched him seat gems, precious stones, cut, uncut, semiprecious, pearls, chips… all forms of glitter and glint in gilt. Sometimes, when it would not disturb him, she would approach his bench, his work, and just rub her hands along his pieces, as though she could learn something from their very feel.

Elias had thought her presence would disturb him. But she was so quiet, so attentive, so focused… he found she did not disturb him at all. In fact, he rather liked her being there. He enjoyed her attention, not so much to HIM, as to the work. That felt… “gratifying”… to him, somehow. Then, one day a couple weeks after her arrival, he found it disturbing when she did not come in and sit at her accustomed spot as he worked. He… he wondered where she was, though he would never admit that he cared.

At the end of that day, she came in to the workshop with a parchment in her hand. She sat silently on her stool and waited for him to finish his work. When he did, her gentle voice called out…

“Elias, may I show you something? I’d like to know what you think.”

He came over as she unrolled the scroll and he saw her work. It was a beautiful rendering of one of his favorite masterpieces. It was a Rose broach… beautiful hammered petals with pearls inlaid at the center. The beauty of the sketch, it’s detail and realism caught his breath. He’d never known an artist of this caliber before. But, seeing his joy and amazement, she smiled and felt encouraged to unroll the scroll further, and he saw that she had drawn a matching necklace or multiple roses, chained together like a wreath of diminishing size, and delicate earrings, and even a diadem that could be made, all in the same design. He had never thought of this before, but what a tremendous set this would make!

Without uttering a word, yet in the sheer shock of joyful discovery, Elias threw his arms around Miriam and laughed. Together, nodding and laughing, they began to chatter about the designs. From that moment forward, they never worked their arts without the other’s help and cooperation.

The year cheerfully came, and went. On his anniversary, Elias said, “Four more years. Life is not so bad. Four more years and I am my own man again.”

Days came and went. Masterpieces, the envy of the entire kingdom, flowed through the hands of Elias and Miriam. Their lives, their minds, their hearts drew closer. Ultimately, they seemed to think and feel as one, and Elias grew as fond of her children as if they were his own. The year flew by, until Elias could not remember what life was like without this shop, or without Miriam, or without the children.

Elias asked Miriam to be his bride. Joyfully, she said, “You must ask the King for my hand. He is my guardian. But if he says yes, then I am willing.”

So Elias prepared a magnificent bracelet for his King… with panels in it for each of his children and scenes of the family. Miriam sketched the designs, and Elias crafted the molding and polishing. Gems punctuated the piece, without rendering it gaudy. No one had ever seen a “Family” presented in such a way before. It was the finest, most beautiful piece, Elias and Miriam had ever crafted.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“My dear Elias! You have asked for a private audience, and it is my pleasure to oblige! Your work is unparallelled. But where is your partner? Why is Miriam not with you in this appointment?”

“That’s what I wanted to speak to you about, Majesty. Thank you for seeing me and for your kind words. But I would seek a further boon, if you are willing. I ask for the hand of Miriam in marriage. She completes me, I have grown to love her. I cannot imagine life without her. I seek your permission to wed her. She is willing and joyful, if this meets with your approval.”

The King nodded, and had Miriam called to his presence along with his own family. Together they sat and talked. The King heard Miriam appeal as well, for permission to wed, and granted his approval joyfully. Elias and Miriam gave the King his gift of the family bracelet, and all together they began to plan a great celebration and wedding.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next three years past in what seemed a flash of joy. Elias no longer marked his anniversary of enslavement, but only his anniversaries of joy… his wedding, the birth of his two children, the births of his eldest children. Elias and Miriam had never known such peace or happiness in all their lives. But then, one day…

The King summoned Elias to his presence, and said, “Elias, it is time for you to prepare to leave my service. Your indenture is finished, your servitude ended. You may now return to your home, and I will send with you this sizable fortune with which to establish yourself.”

Elias was crushed… “My lord… Majesty… No! No! I am at home here. My family is here. Your family is here. I am happy and satisfied here as I never imagined I could be. You have taken me into your home as though we were kin. No, Majesty… I do not want to leave. Let me stay, let me continue to serve you. THIS is freedom, not life out here. Allow me, please to remain.”

The King was very solemn as he answered, “Dearest Elias. This cannot be. You came to me a slave indebted. Your term of service is ended. You have more than repaid your debt. What would my people think, knowing you entered my service for a term… believing I refused to free you? That is contrary to law and to custom. That cannot be!”

“Majesty, can you not retain my service? Can’t I tell the people that this is MY choice? That you offer me my ‘freedom’, but that I CHOOSE to remain, because I love it here? I love you and your family? I love my family, and we are all together here? This… this house… this service… is where my joy is! I would remain here! If you will allow it…”

“Very well, Elias. If that is your choice, I will arrange it. But your choice must be made public. Do you make this choice freely, for your whole life? Do you choose my service for your lifetime, and foreswear your freedom out of love alone, not fear?”

“I do, Majesty. I love you, and this house, too much ever to want to leave.”

“So be it, then, Elias. Craft for yourself a single ear ring or stud, and in one week, my arrangements will be complete.”

“Yes, Lord,” and Elias bowed, returned to his shop, and told Miriam of all that had transpired. She was delighted, for she, too, never wanted to leave the royal family’s service.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next week, the King and his family, and Elias and his family, all went together to the Temple and there was a great assembly of the kingdom, come to see what all the fanfare was about.

There, before God, the King and Elias exchanged words of covenant and mutual commitment. Elias abandoned his “rights” forever, foreswearing his freedom, surrendering to permanent servanthood in the household of the King, out of love alone. The King, for his part, swore to care for Elias and his family as “his man” forevermore, providing for them and treating them with fairness and kindness as long as they lived. The people witnessed this, and said “Amen”, as the families returned to the Palace.

When they reached the door of the Palace, the King stood solemnly with Elias at the doorpost of the main entrance.

“Elias, you have sworn me your lifelong service this day. You have given up all right to freedom and choice for the rest of your life. You have promised, before God, to enter this house as family forever, and never to leave this threshold without my will, my word, my authority. Do you remain determined in that?”

“I do, my Lord.”

“Then stand here, and endure…” and the King placed Elias’ ear against the doorpost, took an awl from the Chief Steward (who had himself, years before, stood right where Elias was standing)… placed the point at Elias’ earlobe, and with one swift sharp blow from the heel of his hand, pierced his new Bondservant’s ear.

“Welcome to you, Elias… now of my very family. I have myself drawn your blood this day, and it now rests in the threshold of my house. Your blood will be a testament, marks a covenant, between you and me. We are now bound together, for the rest of our lives. Congratulations.”

Everyone hugged, laughed, and cried as they went inside to a magnificent banquet always thrown at the induction of a new bondservant. Miriam helped Elias put the special ring into his ear, and the King blessed them all, as family, as for the first time, they all sat down to eat together.

Without a doubt, they all lived, quite happily, ever after…

The End…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well, almost… There is another way to tell this story…

21 “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them:

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently. [Exodus 21]

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Cabbage Patch?

Cabage Patch DollI am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. [Romans 9]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Remember Cabbage Patch Dolls? A few years ago, no Christmas was complete without at least one such doll under the tree in nearly every American (at least) home. So cute, so squishy… and the BEST part? An Adoption Certificate! Every Cabbage Patch Kid was an orphan, officially adopted and taken into the child’s family to be loved, complete with Certificate.

How many of us heard (lol, or even preached) sermons and messages around our “adoptions as sons, joint heirs with Christ”, and saw Cabbage Patches used as illustrations? Much of my life, I have looked at these various “adoption” scriptures, and felt a bit “cabbage-like”… grateful waif, fortunate to be adopted by so gracious a King, not left bereft to wander the earth a pitiful orphan.

Yes… yes… yet… yet… it didn’t feel right. It seemed not to fit, somehow. To be adopted into God’s Family, snugged up close in and to His heart, joint heir with Christ… yes. Yes, that fit. That felt right.

But somehow, beyond that, I could never quite capture the sense of having ever been “alien”. I could capture “rebellious”. Yes. I have no difficulty identifying as a “brat”. (If you’ve followed these posts very long, you know this well.) I could relate to that, even to being a “runaway”, yes. But, I know Who created me, Who fashioned me from before my mother’s womb. Who designed me from before the beginning of time. If not He, then who? Who else could possibly have created me, if not God? So, while I could understand the “enfolding” of my adoption, I could not quite grasp my having been “orphan” in the first place.

And yet, what else could these “adoption” verses mean?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, I want to be very careful here…

Prayer and Bible Study led me to a realization and conviction I found utterly amazing and life changing. THAT led me to some “theology study”, exploration and examination of commentaries and other authorities wherein I discovered that I was not alone in having seen and considered this new perspective. In fact, I was stepping into something of a small, but hotly contested, debate of some very technical historic and linguistic minutiae.

Like Don Merritt, I do not debate “any more”*. So, I just want to tell you about something I’ve come to consider true in MY universe, in MY Bible, in MY spirit and relationship with God. This truth has caused great “settling” and “peace” in me, feeling parts settle into place more comfortably than I’ve ever known before. However, as I share this, I don’t intend to debate or enter into any dispute. If your prayer life, Bible study, scholarship, or affirmation of spirit do not lead you to the same realization that mine did me, please feel free to cast this aside, and follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit for your own life. That’s really important to me. Thanks.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

OK, I was working on preparing a message, and the text was in Hebrews, and I came upon the author’s discussion of us as “sons” rather than “illegitimate children” regarding discipline. This led me to reflect on the concept of our “adoption”.  And, contrary to the need of my sermon preparation, Jesus just focused my attention deeply on this word, “adoption”, and go look it up.

The term appears in Galatians (4:5), Ephesians (1:5), and Romans (8:15, 23; & 9:4). Each time, English Bibles translate this term… “adoption”. In Greek, (and we’re not going to get lost in Greek exegesis, I promise)… in Greek, the term is “huiothesia” (various endings). StrongNotes tells us that this word is a compound translated as meaning “placing (or positioning) as a son”, and interpreted as meaning “adoption”.

Now, after looking at this word very closely, God posed a question to me. It was… “Given that Paul was a skilled lawyer, trained under Gamaliel, careful with words and concepts… did Paul discuss this word and concept as a Gentile? or as a Jew?”

At the time, I assure you, Gentle Reader, I was as confused as you might be right now, reading that. Upon further pondering, I realized that perhaps there was a “traditional Hebrew” meaning to this term “adoption/positioning as a son”, that differed in some way from our modern understanding.

To make this long story a bit shorter, I discovered that indeed there was. There’s actually quite a bit written about it, but it is “controversy”, and I’ll not present it that way. Let me just lay out two different perspectives for interpretation, and leave you to examine your own spirit (look upon your own Rose), and determine which is the better “fit” for you.

Roman Law, which evolved over time in many ways into our own Common Law, and modern law, saw “adoption” as a process by which an alien child, a child of a family outside a particular bloodline (often an orphan), was legally brought in to the lineage of a family. One family embraced and enfolded the child of another family (or no family), and they took on the status of an heir, deriving the benefits of family membership and name.

Hebrew Law, Jewish tradition, however, has a different process for “son placing” than this. This term, to Paul as a Jew, was vastly different than “taking in an orphaned waif”. This term was used to mean something much closer to “investiture”. Each family had a patriarch, head of the family. When he was ready, and when he felt his selection ready, he would select his “heir”, his “legatee”, to follow him as head of the household. It is reported that this was most typically the first son (the double-portion son), though he did not have to be from inside the family.

The most worthy son was generally selected, typically at about 30 years of age, formally laid hands on his shoulders and publicly identified as the “heir”. He was “placed in the position of sonship” as fully adult, fully competent, fully selected, and now… fully empowered by the father to do business in the name of the family and commit the family by his word. This was not bar mitzvah, the “coming to adulthood” of all males at 13. This was the assumption of legal primacy and legacy over a family, the assumption of inheritance. Interestingly, this could be of a biological heir, or otherwise. Most commonly, of course, the firstborn son. But it could be an unrelated son, “adopted” and elected by the father, to head the family.

* I just spent considerable time out hunting down footnotes and such to back that up… but realized… No, that’s not what I’m doing here. For those who want to study the technical theology of this, that’s fine. The references are out there. Just explore the Hebrew traditions surrounding the recognition of the principal heir, the holder of the legacy, and you’re good. But this is not a “term paper”, and I shall not make this into one. *

Here is what resulted in and for me, from this study. The term “joint heir with Christ” took on an entirely new meaning. Jesus alone “earned” the role of Preeminent Heir. There is no question possible, of His Primacy of Place as the Firstborn, Only Begotten Son of God. What amazes me… alongside that… alongside His determination to rescue us and bring us life in place of death…

As if that were not wondrous ENOUGH… He, the Father, and Spirit… have chosen out of their Infinite Love and Grace to “invest us fully” as His Sons… “son place us as joint heirs” with Christ HIMSELF! There are no words for this. No words that make sense of this for me. He raises us as fully His children in His house, and, when we attain “maturity”, when we are “ready” or “finished”, and the tutors and managers have done their work… He is prepared to invest us with the authority and endorsement to “do business in the family name, in His Name.”

But NOT as “red-headed step-children”. Not just as “foundling neighbor kids”. Not as “homeless waifs left on a doorstep”. We were “related family” already, “natural born” to Him. He created us, He sustains us always, no other. But, when He “adopts”, He takes us by the shoulders, declares us ready to claim our legacy, authority, responsibility, and accountability… and sets us on our feet, now to conduct the Family Business alongside, in, and through, Jesus the Son Himself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This “paradigm shift” has been very significant for me. Not so much as to what I DO… that has not changed. But it has been significant in the increased intimacy and closeness I’ve experienced with God. In some way I cannot explain, it was rather like I was always told I was an “alien”, though I never sensed that… and then suddenly I’ve found I was not. It’s like a tension that used to be there, and has now disappeared.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Whichever way one looks at “adoption”, Gentle Reader… marvel at the wonder of it. Who could possibly imagine such a thing? That God Himself would order reality such that we, plain old you and me, might be adopted as Joint Heir with Christ, Him as Firstborn among Many Brethren. No words for that… just fills me with awe… Isn’t that something?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

* “Why I don’t debate any more” Don Merritt, Life Reference, October 13, 2013.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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“Give Us This Day…”

Soda-Bread-1024x839 “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’” [Luke 11]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] [Matthew 6:9-13]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We are exploring the unfurling of a wondrous Rose, in our gardens of spirit, considering the Lord’s gift to our lives of the Lord’s Prayer. We have acknowledged that there are two iterations of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave an “amplified version” to the Multitudes in Sermon on the Mount, and a much leaner version in the Gospel of Luke to the Disciples. We have noted that “thee, thou, thy” is a more familiar form in older English, than “you, your” as we use the words today.

As we look at the Lord’s Prayer, one line per post, today we will consider:

‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Multitude’s Version

‘Give us each day our daily bread.’ Disciples’ Version

I’m not going to elaborate on these differences but to say that these differences are real, they are there in the original texts. The phrasing of the first version seems to imply a “ration” or a “fixed quantity” of bread, one day at a time; while the second version uses a more “general span” term for each day, and a “variable quantity” of bread… sort of like, “whatever I will need day-by-day, whether that is more, or less.”

Again, the word “give” in both versions is one of those “magic Greek thingy” words, that cover vastly more than a “command” or a “suggestion”, both in time frame and in scope.

I shall leave you now, with this twirl of your own Rose, as I state that one of the coolest challenges Jesus ever offered to me was when He asked… “What if, Little Monk, you went through this whole prayer, instead of seeing all these lines as ‘petitions’ or ‘requests’… What if you saw them as ‘statements of what IS’? What if they were simply ‘affirmations’?”

It changed a lot of MY prayer life, I’ll tell ya…

Enjoy, Gentle Reader, and feel more than free to comment and discuss! Grace to thee — Little Monk

 
 

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Here and There… Now!

arcPray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
‘Give us this day [e]our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] [Matthew 6:9-13]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This evening, (or afternoon, or morning, depending on what quarter of the globe you inhabit) we will continue exploration of Roses. Jesus left us the tremendous gift of “schooling” on “how to pray”. He shared what we call The Lord’s Prayer both with the Multitudes at Sermon on the Mount, and a leaner form of this prayer with the Disciples privately, when they asked Him to teach them to pray.

Unlike a number of Christian blog posts, however, this is not meant directly to “teach”, or engage in exposition of Scripture, as much as this is a reflective study, line by line. The post is meant to “set a stage”, place some background, set some lighting and positions… for YOU as “Director” to shout “action” and watch the scene unfold.

The line we consider here is unique in the Lord’s Prayer, because it is present in the Sermon on the Mount teaching, but totally missing from the instruction of the Disciples.

Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. [Matthew 6:10b]

It was mentioned in an earlier post, that it seems like the main difference between the longer and shorter forms of instruction, was not in “main ideas”, or major issues of content, but rather in “commentary” or “amplification” and description surrounding those main ideas. The Multitudes needed “specifics”… “What Father?”  “OUR Father, THE ONE IN HEAVEN”, and so on. Jesus, walking alongside His disciples 24/7 obviated the need for a lot of explanatory insulation of clear statements, His very presence defining His context clearly.

This line under consideration is unique in that it is totally omitted from the Disciples’ Version. That would lead one to conclude that this line is “amplification”, or “commentary”, rather than being a “key idea”. I’m really not comfortable to conclude that. This line reflects a DEEPLY key idea, but one that would indeed be so innate in the nature of relationship with Jesus on a day to day basis… that this could, indeed, be something He chose not to say to those He worked with daily.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, as I gently grasp this lovely Rose, this Incredible Gift of Jesus, Son of God Himself, instructing us… both Multitudes of those interested in hearing what He has to say, and committed Disciples… on how to pray… how to lift our hearts and minds and love to God the Father… some ideas arise. Thoughts unfold like petals uncoiling. And I encourage you to allow your own Rose to unfold in your sight, and see what the Holy Spirit shows you.

I should love to hear what petals, what patterns, what colours you find in your own Garden time.

One main idea wove throughout these words… and that word was “Sovereignty”.

If you’re like me, you hear this verse in your head as… “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I’ve not mentioned this before, but “THY” (the old fashioned pronoun) is actually DIFFERENT, subtly different, from “YOUR”. If you ever took Spanish, or French, or Italian, you may remember that whole “familiar” versus “formal” thing. There were words you used when you spoke to a close friend or family member (like those you’d address by their first name, or as Auntie or Uncle), and there were other words you would use in a more formal relationship (where you might use “sir, ma’am, Mr., Mrs., or Ms.). Well, English once recognized the same distinction, and in this ironic reversal of meanings… “thee, thou, thy” were reserved for the intimate and informal… and “you, your”, and such were for the formal and stilted. Prayer, was intense, personal, intimate… a matter between “He and thee”. Somehow, our language evolved around the reality, and the close family relationships retained in the “words” of prayer, got lost in the march of time in language. Nowadays, we often hear or use “thee, thou, thy” as indicating great pomp, circumstance, and formality… when in fact they used to mean the exact opposite.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It has been difficult to write this post. This has extended across a couple days. My “difficulty” has been how to express this huge “taproot truth”, this great thematic fundamental statement, with its harmonics as it thrums across my spirit… without trying to sound “directive” for others. For one thing, this phase, “Your will be done,” uses that same interesting Greek form that encompasses many things at once.

Your will IS done, has been done, is being done, will continue to be done… etc. Along with, “Let it be done… It is done and covers me…” you can hold and turn this aspect of this Rose in dozens of ways, and watch the Light glint from it like sunlight through a prism crystal. I cannot offer advice or teaching on “what this means”, because my own mind cannot contain all the different meanings, all the depth of meaning, these words express.

“On earth as it is in heaven”… Wow. Just stop a moment, and LISTEN to that. No difference, no gulf, no veil, no separation… Just as Jesus said He comes to bring “eternal life”, the “life of eternity” into the here and now… here it is!

I can’t explain this, Gentle Reader. I won’t try. But Jesus demonstrated to the Disciples every day, the nature of His relationship with the Father, His authority, and His Perfect Expression of the Father’s will. As the Disciples’ training drew to a close, just before the Crucifixion, Jesus said straight out that He had manifested all of this to them… they had seen all of this.

To the Multitudes, at the opening of His ministry, Jesus simply makes this statement… that the Father’s will is, and will be, done in each moment here on earth just as it prevails in heaven.

Only word I know for this… Sovereignty… and, when you place these petals on the Rose among which they are nested, they embrace the listener, the pray-er, right in the big middle of God’s relationship as Father, His Kingdom and domain, and now His Sovereignty and authority.

See where these words, these petals, lead you, Gentle Reader.

 
 

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