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Joyfulnouncing! The Gospel!

A week or so ago, I posted “Joyfulnouncing Jesus!” and ended that with a question:

Schnauzer Who Rules

“Commander Samuel L. Vimes” (“Vimes” for short. My resident Joyfulnouncer.

How do you personally, define “the Gospel” (feel free either to include that in the comment section, responding, below… or just note it down for yourself for next time.)

Thank you, for considering the question and for the responses that came. They were wonderful, spirit-filled, responses, and I am grateful to have prompted the reflection that yielded them.

I mentioned last time that when the Lord prompted me to go to scripture to find the “Biblical definition” of “The Gospel”…

As I started to work, and dug into scripture a bit, I discovered some amazing things about these two words we use…. “the Gospel”…

What I discovered was that when we go to the New Testament in original language, there’s this “gap” anywhere the English translations say “the Gospel”. There’s just this big white space corresponding… that what the Gospels SAY is this really cool descriptive VERB of the action… “happy-good-true-heralding”.  (Hence the post “Joyfulnouncing”.)

But here’s the thing… the “joyfulnouncement” is always “arrival”, “come-to-us-ness”, and “celebration”. The “good news” part of euangelizo CANNOT be “separated” as an “object” from the “joyfulnounce” part. But often, in English, we do that.

So, the essence of “proclaim the Gospel” (which can never be separated as a concept… the Gospel must ALWAYS be ATTACHED to “announcing”) is something like…

“Hey! Listen! He’s HERE! Love has ARRIVED! Your Lover has arrived!”

So, you see my problem with the “Index Card”/”Elevator Gospel” situation. The “announcing” is of a “relationship”. Just as my old friend put it, when I asked “what someone needs to know for baptism?”…  the answer isn’t WHAT they need to know, but WHO they need to know.

This got me thinking two different things…

The first, doesn’t help me at all as “an evangelist”. In the terms my former Pastor/Boss was thinking, an “evangelist” needs to have a “message”, a “script”, a “set of doctrinal propositions” to communicate and persuade someone to adopt. I could never develop such a script.

Nonetheless, there definitely IS, an “essence” to “the Gospel”. I’ve always “felt” it… (messy, sloppy word that, I know… “feelings” not a good guide, etc., etc.) but deep in the soil of my heart, I’ve always “known” it. But when I chase this cat, when I became utterly determined to “find ‘the Gospel'”…

I discovered myself at the foot of the Cross.

And this is true of every other single person I’ve ever known who “gets it”… who has entered into the beams of “grace”… who has gotten past the elementary principles of the world and eats meat rather than drinking milk. There is an “experience”… in every single one’s life that I’ve ever known, even though this experience can happen in a vast array of symbols, environments, traditions, styles, idioms, cultures…. every person who brings this testimony seems utterly unique,  yet utterly parallel, that…

There is a one-to-one encounter with Jesus, and in this encounter (which is undeniably REAL, though seldom, if ever “material”), Jesus’ love in its Infinite magnitude, washes over and through the person.  We can never effectively speak of, describe, the experience of another in these moments… but for one friend it was at their kitchen table one evening… for another, it was at the edge of the Miami River after throwing themselves into it to drown three times, and failing… for me, it was in prayer, at the Cross, looking at His eyes, face, hands, and hearing those words “Father, forgive them…”

In each and every case, what came about was the absolute “realization” (as in… “a truth becoming REAL to the individual”) of Jesus’ specific, individual, personal committed Infinite love for that person. It’s the “supernatural spark of the living connected relationship” between person and Jesus! It is a “moment”, an “experience”, a “realization”… after which, life is utterly changed and can never go back as it was.

And, of course, that spark, that moment, is “ineffable”… no matter how hard we try. That MOMENT, that RELATIONSHIP, is… as I’ve come to embrace it… “the Gospel”. And THAT, is simply lightning I’ve never managed to put in a bottle. I can talk “about” it. I can describe the circumstances, even the “feelings” to some extent. But the experience? The reality itself? No way… no words I know can wrap around that living Divine Spark.

The closest I’ve come is to invite someone to consider the following notion… “Jesus’ love for you, personally, is so great, so committed, so passionate and intense, that if you were the only person in all of time ever to have fallen… He would BEG Our Father for permission to come, take your place, and suffer all that He did… leaving His throne, living a sinless life, being rejected, betrayed, tried, condemned, tortured, and murdered in disgrace… all of that, just because He loves you that much, and wants you seated with Him at His throne.” Just imagine!

And, even more challenging for many… “The Fathers’ love for you, personally, is so great, so committed, so passionate and intense, that if you were the only person in all of time ever to have fallen… He would grant that permission, and DESIRE that Jesus… His Beloved Firstborn Son… leave His throne, come to earth as mortal man, take your place, and suffer all that He did… just because He loves you that much, and wants you seated with Him at His throne.” Just imagine!

Now, I’ll be honest… I “got” the first part of that… the “Jesus loves me this much” part… when I was very young. But it wasn’t until I was older… much older… and my daughter was grown with children of her own, that the FATHER approached me with the extent of HIS love! He challenged me… I could imagine, fairly readily, giving up my OWN life for someone I loved, yes. But! Could I imagine, even for one moment, loving someone so much that I would turn over MY DAUGHTER… my most beloved, who has never deserved such treatment… to the sufferings of Jesus, not for her own life debts… but for the sins of others?

Gentle Reader, that was a hard afternoon for me. I had never thought in those terms. I had never imagined the true depths of the FATHER’s love for us! For YOU, alone. For ME, alone. For him, and him, and her, and her, and them… alone.

Why? Because this is Who He is, and WHAT He is… He is not merely “a loving god”. He IS LOVE! Love Himself! He has no other way to be. No love happens but from, by, through Him. No one and nothing can love or be loved but by the “wiring” and “energizing” of Grace, of God Himself!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anyway, sorry, Gentle Reader. I get carried away with the magnitude of it all… God’s love… just… wow.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But as to the Second Thought on Evangelism… on euvangelizo… on joyfulnouncing…

Suddenly today, I realized that my problem is that it’s like a “Fanfare!”, a “Trumpet Call” like Reveille, or Taps, or Ruffles and Flourishes, or Call to the Post. Here is a particular and peculiar sound, that has a specific meaning!

Well, for some reason this morning, this concept of “Fanfare” kept kicking me as I thought of drafting this post. I didn’t know why, but just let it roll on.

And then… the “trumpet will sound”… at the coming of Jesus ahead of us…

And then… the trumpets of Jericho…

And then… the Shofar… that the shofar or shofars travelled in front of the Ark of the Covenant, playing fanfare and calling the people to worship….

And something, suddenly, went “click” for me. (And I share it here, not to convince you… or persuade… or even “educate”… simply to share this thought, and see if it “fits” for you. If not, throw it away…)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Suddenly, John the Baptist lit up in my spirit as a human “Shofar”… like the trumpet call in Godspell that introduces… “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”  There he was… John, the Herald… a human ram’s horn… making way for He who would follow… for the joyful arrival of the King!

A “voice crying in the wilderness” announcing… not a new “religion”… but the person… The Person… The Relationship of Unimaginable Inexpressibly Infinite Love and Embrace of Love Himself!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And, what has all this got to do with us? Simply this…

Perhaps we are all called to be human Shofars… perhaps we joyfully announce the Arrival of the Beloved… and embrace one another, and total strangers, aliens, sinners… in the grace and acceptance of our expressing the Spirit’s Infinite Love for them. Perhaps we transparently reflect and refract that “lightning in our own bottles” to light up the dark places.

The Good News isn’t Bad News! Thieves, cheats, fraudulent tax collectors, adulterer’s, prostitutes… didn’t go traipsing miles up and down dusty rocky hills to John at the Jordan to be made to feel bad, guilty, miserable and worthless. Zaccheus (a wee little man), was bubbling over with joy upon being called down from his perch by Jesus, even though he was so snubbed by his townspeople they wouldn’t even let him get a view of the street!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anyway, that’s getting into the next post… This has just been about the “Lightning in the Bottle”.

Next time, a bit more on, “The Good News isn’t Bad News!”

Let me again, leave you with a question…

I’ve heard it said that “repentance” has to come before “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”.

Think a moment, and ask yourself…. is this true? Or not?

Until next time then… Grace to you — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Joyfulnouncing Jesus!

Schnauzer Who RulesI have this little gray dog…

When ANY of us come home, this little guy loses his mind with joy! He will wake from a sound sleep, or run in from the back yard, or leave his food bowl… anything at all… to leap up and down as high as he can jump (whether on you or just up in mid-air) to say, at the very top of his doggy joy….

“You’re HOME! FINALLY, you’re BACK! I MISSED you SO much! You were gone FOREVER!… (I counted)…”

And his overwhelming love is so clear and so profound… all the way from his wet black nose to his stub tail wagging faster than the speed of light… that no matter how tough a day it’s been, you just cannot help but smile, put your stuff down, and sit so that he can have a moment or two just to “worship you”… which he insists on doing.

Why is he so happy? Because you WEREN’T here… and now you ARE here! Now, his world is OK again. His life, his house, his security… are all OK again. When you WEREN’T here, he had to watch everything for you and keep it safe. But now you ARE here, so everything is safe, and so is he.

——————

Sometimes, little dogs can preach very well.

——————

I have recently discovered “The Gospel”. That may sound strange, but bear with me a moment.

For all my life… (a significant number of years)... I have “known”, The Gospel. But if you asked me to “articulate” it, I was hard-pressed. I could tell you a lot ABOUT it… but I was never satisfied, the Spirit within was never satisfied, with any articulation I could make of it… any words I could wrap around it.

My most recent “Church Boss/Pastor” got really frustrated with me one day, when he wanted all the Staff to be able to state an “Elevator Gospel”. (That’s a “sales” term, where a salesman, offering a product or service, needs to be able to rattle off the significant benefits and a strong close for sale of their product, if all they had were a 60-second Elevator Ride to present to their customer.  All the rest of the staff wrote up a little 1 minute presentation… basically Roman Road tract… and I could not. I wasn’t being smart or defiant… it’s just that “there were no words there for me” when I went inside my heart looking for them. All I found was the question, “What do you need?” That THAT was the essence of the Gospel as I know/present it… “What do you need to be whole? Where do you hurt? Where/What is the Void for Light to fill?” I tried to explain this to him… that any time I “do evangelism”, it’s always different, because it has to depend on where the person is empty… He didn’t understand, and I couldn’t make him understand.) Church Boss/Pastor was frustrated, but just wrote it off to my being “the weird Little Monk”… because I couldn’t prepare my own “canned gospel”. I couldn’t “write the script”. And he… “forgave me”… but he wasn’t happy.

And I wasn’t happy, because he wasn’t. I felt I had disappointed him, or defied him. And it wasn’t defiance. It was simple failure. My hands could simply not find any script I could write or type, and title “The Gospel”. And I checked and rechecked as I tried… and the Spirit was unyielding here. No matter how hard I dug, it was just an empty hole. There were no truthful words there for me to scribe. Not in “my own voice”… which was the essence of this task.

That “surprised'(?) me. I nearly say “worried” or “disappointed” me. I checked for if I were out of order, experiencing some quiet form of “snit” or “attitude” or something, resisting his authority. You know… “who does he think HE is, to assign me such a homework task!”… etc. But no, Spirit was clear… not the case. It was simply that *I*… my hands, my lips, were simply not permitted to do this. And if it gained me censure… oh well.

But it left me with a puzzle across these years. I learned to identify the puzzle as… “I cannot find, or have not found yet, my own ‘Elevator Gospel’.”

Now, perhaps my comment about FINDING my Gospel will make more sense.

“I’ve now FOUND my Elevator Gospel”.

And…

I know why I’d not been able to do it before…

A number of years ago, a young woman with special needs asked to be baptized. There was “resistance” among some staff, because she could not “pass the entrance exam”, and articulate the doctrinal requirements typical and customary for church membership. She had very limited comprehension… she couldn’t pass the customary “Sunday School Knowledge” test. So… powers that be wouldn’t move forward. She spoke to me about it, and I was tasked to do some research and look into this by Church Boss/Pastor… (since I knew some folks in Special Needs Ministry).

One of my mentors, in fact, was a national expert. So I wrote to him, asking… “What does a candidate have to know, to understand and comprehend, as far as doctrine or dogmatic competence… for baptism?” (with reference to a young lady with developmental and cognitive deficits.)

I expected a list of the doctrinal, dogmatic points that defined “minimum competence”…

  • Jesus begotten by God the Father
  • Born of Virgin Mary
  • Messiah, Savior
  • Sinless Life
  • Condemnation, Crucifixion, Death
  • Resurrection by God
  • Holy Spirit and Indwelling

You know… “The GOSPEL”, right?

His response to my question blew me away for its simplicity and accuracy!

“Salvation is a person, not a plan or a set of doctrinal statements.  Does the individual have capacity to know persons?  Does the person have an experience of Jesus as a living presence?  Has the person known Jesus’ love for him and responded by loving Jesus in return?  That’s it!  His grace needs no more than an opportunity.”

I blush to disclose…. I had forgotten this. It’s not “theology”, or “doctrinal competence”… it’s RELATIONSHIP! His response reminded me, ever so gently, that I’d been hanging with the “wrong crowd” for too long. Even to frame the question in the terms I had used, highlighted the wrong thinking habits into which I had slipped.

And there is the same essential insight I came to realize on the morning I discovered My Gospel! Looking into His face, experiencing His love wash over and through me… IS “The Gospel!”… “God holds His children in His Infinite Love. To this end, beyond all imagining, He came… sending His Son as Son of God/Son of Man… entering FULLY into our existence, with all it’s joys, sorrows, frailties, temptations, triumphs, and sufferings… to express fully and engulf us in His Infinite Love Everything… despite our pitiful and piteous needy nothing.”

I knew that this… this “Gospel Thing”… is important. The words… “the Gospel”… are often misapplied and abused, causing wounding, offense, tribalism, and fear.

All too often, this “Good News” is presented as… “You [sir or madam] are a worthless no good piece of evil trash… a sinner… rightly damned and doomed to hell on your own. BUT… right here right now, if you will cry out for rescue by Jesus… He will come and save you from burning forever… IF AND ONLY IF… you surrender and turn over your own worthless and helpless self to His Lordship. THEN He will protect you from the wrath of His Father, who will otherwise send you into the eternal death of hellfire your sins have earned as their just wage!”

So I started to draft a post titled… “The Good News is not Bad News”… trying to focus on the Gospel as a Living Relationship of Infinite Love… as expressed through the Cross and Passion… rather than either a set of doctrinal propositions, or even a “set of books”… worthy as they are… of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

As I started to work, and dug into scripture a bit, I discovered some amazing things about these two words we use…. “the Gospel”… but those are for another post. This is enough for now.

Let me just build a bridge to a next installment asking this question:

How do you personally, define “the Gospel” (feel free either to include that in the comment section, responding, below… or just note it down for yourself for next time.)

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2016 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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In Love We Trust…

ring-for-wedding“I still LOVE him/her, but I just can’t TRUST her/him anymore…”

So often I have heard these words. So many tears, so many hearts broken when trust and love become sundered from one another.

Why is there such anguish? Why is there such pain?

Because this is impossible. Because people cannot do what cannot be done. We cannot love what we do not trust. We cannot trust what we do not love.

When we try, we cram the heart and soul into a contorted dimension, a false condition, a form of self-denial, that does not fit and never can. Like trying to wend our way through the stairways of an Escher Drawing, we pass through some mobius portal of feelings that leave us turned inside out, vulnerable, and exposed.

When we first begin to fall in love… that’s SO scary.

Why? Why is that so fearful?

Because we risk. We risk such anguish, such disappointment.

What if we finally acknowledge that we have “fallen in love”, that our hearts are now in the hands of another… and they do not feel the same way?

Who will be the first to say, “I love you?”

Who can’t recall the incredible gush of relief when we find the beloved DOES love us back?

That is a tremendous moment in life.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But then… what about the NEXT layer of trust? The NEXT risk taken? Not just to risk trust to the “unknown”… but to trust in the “committed unknown”?

It is one thing to trust to love when there is not yet a commitment, but there is another whole layer, a whole dimension, of trusting to love when there is commitment, a covenant to faithfulness, that involves what we cannot see.

Here is where many relationships stumble… “I just worry all the time, Dr. Monk. What is he/she doing when I’m not there? Sometimes I call and there is no answer.” or “He/she calls or texts me 20 times a day, wondering where I am, who I am with, what I am doing… It’s driving me crazy!”

There is no “trust” here. There is the ongoing need for “control” here. There is only the “safety of being in charge” or of “ownership” here… Not “love”.

How do we “trust” to what we cannot “see” or “control”? How do we grow to love that much?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And then… there’s the last layer… the final layer that sunders us from all that “makes sense”, all that is “rational”, all that is “clearly apparent”.

How do we “trust” in the face of apparent and obvious “betrayal”?

It is one thing to trust to the unknown without commitment. It is another thing to trust to the unknown WITH commitment. But it’s a clearly different thing indeed to CHOOSE to trust, in the face of an apparent KNOWN of untruth, infidelity, in a covenant relationship of commitment.

To be frank, most people consider this simply impossible. So many, particularly Christians, will say they “forgive”, but cannot “forget” and therefore cannot ever restore “trust”.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So… “What’s going on here today, Little Monk?” you may ask. “Have we dropped through some warp from The Postmodern Mystic to an episode of Dr. Phil?”

Nope.

This post follows up from the Sizzling Bacon, and addresses the question… “How?” A few weeks ago I was intrigued by  “A Challenge”, written by Don Merritt,  wherein a listener came up to him after he had delivered a truth-filled sermon and asked, “Why don’t we believe you?” This addresses that question as well. Last, but not least, this post addresses a discussion I had with Susan Irene Fox one evening (about Don’s question), where I proposed that the answer was that “we refuse to surrender control… we are selfish”, and she disagreed, believing that, “people are simply fearful, they’re afraid.” (OK, so now you know, Susan is a kinder, more charitable, person than I…)

That conversation, those questions, kept mulling in my brain as I could sense truth in all of that, but could not put my finger on it…

Then, along with “Can You Hear the Bacon Sizzle?“, Jesus highlighted the piece I was missing… the issue is “Trust”.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Few of us have trouble relating to love, trust, romance, in the terms that open this post. But now, for Christians, the transition to our relationship of intimacy with God can be a bit more tricky. But think about it, Jesus has “wedded” us, we are at a Marriage Feast, we are His Bride (NOT just “corporately” as part of some anonymous “herd” or “flock”… but individually as well). To attain eternal life is to KNOW the Father, and the Son, with the intimacy of a spouse…

What is the “limit”… the “constraining factor”… the “conditional boundary” of our “Intimacy” with God?

Our decision to limit our Trust of Him.

“But I DON’T ‘limit my trust’ of Him!” one would protest! “I trust Him UTTERLY!”

I can say that. I can truthfully say I have done so always. BUT, at the same time, I have NOT.

I can only “trust” to the extent that I see the challenge to trust, acknowledge that, and make a conscious choice to do so. (And most of the time, reacting to situations moment-by-moment as I do, no such thing happens).

So let’s take our romantic illustration above, and apply it to our intimacy with God for a moment…

Trust to the Unknown without Commitment: “Who will be first to say ‘I love you’?” The risk of that, the daring to the unknown of that. Consider…

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He *said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. [Matthew 4]

I propose that we see “trust to the unknown yet uncommitted” here. Bold trust. Daring trust. Yet, all unknown as yet. So much of relationship to be discovered, uncovered, committed to.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Time goes on, commitment grows (both directions in relationship), fealty is exchanged. There is now the “expectation” of fidelity. We see that in human romance. But how do we remain assured and at peace with what we CANNOT see, what we DO NOT understand? We see the Gospel of John highlight such a moment when Jesus speaks of eating His flesh, and so many disciples fall away. Their orthodoxy… their religion… all those rules about blood, and flesh, and what is holy and unclean… They can no longer trust Jesus. Jesus is speaking of unclean things, of abomination, of cannibalism. They can no longer walk with Him. He has ventured into the unknown, the untrustworthy. And yet… yet there are the few, there is Peter in their midst…

66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” [John 6]

They trust in the midst of the unknown. They CHOOSE to trust, they DECIDE to trust. They could have walked away, but they did not. They simply loved Jesus too much for that. They loved Him beyond their ability to understand or know… this is Trust.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But… But… What about the third case? What about “betrayal”? Jesus never “betrayed” them, did He? Well, no. He did not. He never did, He kept His word(s) always… BUT… it certainly did not SEEM that way to them, did it? The “facts” of the matter, the “evidence”, the “appearance”… certainly lined up a convincing case that He had abandoned them, leaving them to their fate at the hands of the Pharisees, did it not?

I mean, think this through. Palm Sunday, triumphal entry into Jerusalem… “Hail! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”

What a high!

Then, to the Temple… driving out the money changers and animal sellers!

O My!

Then this week of controversy in Jerusalem. What confusion did they know? Prophecies and rumors of assassination plots against Him. The acclaim of the people. People giving livestock, goods, meeting rooms “because the Master has need” of them. Then… that mysterious Last Supper Passover meal… then the Garden… all His promises… “I will never leave you for forsake you… I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be… I lay down My life, no one takes it from Me…”

Confusingly, He tells them outright that He is going to die, but that because of that they will live. That they are His, in His hand, and they need not fear. That they will be scattered, but… He challenges them… TRUST Him!

And then… He dies!

This.. this… Messiah. This Son of God. This Resurrector of the Dead. This Healer of the Sick… Caster out of demons… Feeder of the Thousands!!! Dead! And they… were… left… alone! And scared. (Now, lest we cover this over with a “gentle Sunday-School haze” of… “well, yeah… they were alone, but, after all, they KNEW better… they KNEW He’d be back… and there was nothing to be anxious about…”)

19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.” [John 20]

These people were clustered together behind locked doors, locked in by fear. John speaks of fear of the Sanhedrin, but can we even imagine the other fears that flowed through their hearts in those days? A bit further in that passage, John tells us that they came to believe only when He showed them the wounds in His hands and feet!

They knew doubt. They doubted the reports of the women from the tomb. They doubted their own eyes until they saw His wounds. Thomas doubted even THEIR report, until he plunged his own digits into Christ’s side.

So… if even THEY doubted, what made them so special to Jesus? What sets them apart, has always set them apart, as disciples then Apostles? What are we, here and now, to see and realize from their ever-so-human frailty and relationship with Him?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Disciples did not know, they did not understand, they did not feel “confident” or “holy” of “faith-y”. None of that! They were scared, and lonely, and felt betrayed. But still, they did not CHOOSE to QUIT!

They remained. They remained in relationship with (as they thought at the time) a Dead Christ… buried and stolen. They CHOSE to TRUST, even in the face of evidence contrary to all they thought possible. They chose to remain, and to continue to love Him, continue to fellowship together, continue to encourage (literally) one another… even if He had lied to them, and had now abandoned them as orphans.

(Please understand… I know full well He HAD not…. that He ALWAYS keeps His word, and NEVER abandons us!) But realize, the Disciples had no EVIDENCE that attested to that as they huddled behind those locked doors, and frankly… you and I go through many days in our lives, where we can seem just as alone as they thought they were.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And look what happened…

21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [John 20]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Do I “trust” God? Do you? Yes, assuredly we do. And, to the extent that we trust Him, we love Him and experience His love for us.

But true though that is, I can testify to the fact that over time my “trust” has grown! Not because I ever intend to withhold trust from Him, but simply because until challenged by fear, I am not aware that there is greater trust to be had. Does that make sense?

I have discovered that my best “response” to fear… any fear… all fear… big, little, petty, grand… is “Trust”. He is there (here), He is perfect, He is powerful beyond any measure of adequacy, and He is dedicated wholly and totally to my good! I can trust to that, whether I understand it or not.

But it is only when that trust is tested…. only when circumstances seem to belie the safety of my trust… that my love and trust can grow.

It is only when I “seem” to be betrayed, wounded, lied to… when the “evidence around me” would indicate that I CANNOT trust someone… that I can freely CHOOSE to trust them, and the love of God (Father, Son, Spirit) fully flow through me. THAT is freedom! That is grace!

And, by the way, THAT is how God loves US in the first place… regardless of how much we betray Him, wound Him, or lie to Him… or even, to ourselves.

Amazing… grace…

Love = Trust = Love = Him

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Quiet Time, Reverse Polarity, Sermon Seeds

 

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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

 
4 Comments

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

 

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In Memoriam: Light from Darkness

Robin WilliamsI am not a big fan of “Bandwagons”. I’ve never really liked them, never followed them, seldom jumped on them.

The tragic death of Robin Williams this week is definitely the hot topic of conversation for many, and I don’t doubt that his name will find its way into many pulpits and sermons come Sunday.

I really had to think long and hard about this post before deciding to type. I’ve been deeply affected by this death. I saw Paulfg’s post this morning about the nature of being a “public figure” and how we… the “public”… tend to encroach on the private grief of family and friends who truly knew a celebrity who has passed away. There is a truth to that, yes.

On the other hand, “celebrities” (whatever that means), who earn their livings by moving us to identify with them, laugh with them, listen to them, cry with them, or otherwise enter in to an emotional (and therefore somewhat “intimate”) relationship with them… especially when they employ OTHERS (PR professionals and such) to bind together our lives and interests with those of their client… well, such people DO enter in to some form of “relationship” with us. Not that that relationship should give us access and entree to the private, family, personal environments of their lives and mourners, but it certainly explains (perhaps legitimizes) the true and heartfelt grief we feel at their passing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, ever so briefly, I want to address the loss of Robin Williams, and the grief I feel at his passing…

But right here, right now, and as I hope his name will be mentioned among Christians, I choose to focus not on “death”, but on “Life”. There’s a ton of reporting, and speculation, and discussion surrounding the mode and manner of Mr. Williams’ death. which the sheriff’s department released as being caused by “asphyxia due to hanging”. I leave all that to others, as millions of words are being generated as we speak regarding depression, substance abuse, emotional distress, copy cat concerns, and social media.

Suicide is an ugly word. It is seldom heard in Church. It is seldom discussed by “good Christian folk”. It epitomizes “darkness” and somehow seems to negate the very Gospel and mission of Christ.

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” [John 10:9-11]

I have no idea what was going on in Mr. Williams’ life, what was in his mind, what was in his heart, in his last days, hours, or moments on earth. It would be the height of presumption for me to address that. But I am deeply and passionately involved in ministry to others who struggle with the decision to end their lives, and with families and friends who seek to recover from the grief of such a loss. I speak, teach, counsel, belong to committees and organizations, aid survivor efforts… all of that. For more than 20 years, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has involved me with churches and people touched by suicide loss.

I want to take this moment to grasp and bring “Light” out of this Dark Moment.

Normal people, ordinary people, non-professional people, are being touched every day by friends and family recovering from a loss to suicide. You may have heard me mention before that in this county, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people between 10 and 25 years of age… and is staggering in its prevalence across many age groups. Suicide is the 7th leading cause of death overall in this country, last I looked.

There’s no “Jerry’s Kids” here. But there should be!

Normal people, normal families, normal churches, can have a positive impact in bringing life to people who struggle with that decision. There is community based training available for non-professionals that can take as little as 90 minutes. I am such a trainer, and I’ll make it public right here… I will come to any church or group that wants to bring me… to train folks in suicide prevention!

Two things I hope get discussed with Robin Williams this week:

(1) Hopelessness… the sense that “this pain” will never end, there is no relief for this… is a hallmark of the decision to end one’s life. A friend of mine observed this morning, as we discussed this, that Victor Frankl had this right… that people are capable of enduring unimaginable pain, as long as they cling to hope. The sense of hopelessness is perhaps the most oft-observed characteristic of the decision to end one’s own life.

Our BUSINESS!!! as the Bride of Christ… as an Holy and Royal Priesthood… is to communicate, affirm, and embrace people with HOPE! “Christ in you, the hope of glory”…. to Love one another, as He loves us… Life, and that more abundantly… these ARE the Gospel!

And I encourage EVERY Minister… clergy or lay… preacher/teacher or otherwise… boldly to proclaim that Life is filled with Hope… and Hope is central to Life Himself!

(2) To be Alone, Abandoned, Isolated… Some people have described it almost like a sort of numbness, like being emotionally wrapped in cotton wool… unable to feel others. There is the creeping conviction that the person is quite alone and isolated in their pain, and that no one else is touching them.

My friend noted a wonderful observation made in some posts he was reading on this today, from people who suffer from depression at times… who said these wonderful words (we both agreed).

Advice from a depressed person: “Please don’t try to ‘fix’ me, lecture me, or ‘cheer me up’. Just BE WITH me”

How wondrous and profound those words! For those of us who do shut in, or nursing home, or hospital ministry at times… how well we know that often our most powerful ministry — perhaps often our ONLY MEANINGFUL ministry — is simply the “Ministry of Presence”. There are times that no words are “right”. Simply to BE, to be in the presence of another, to be in the presence of their pain, and offer the tacit service of bearing part of it… yes, sometimes this is the most valuable thing one can do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We all know people, know stories, know churches… that have encountered the challenge of suicide recovery in the past few weeks, months, or years.

I encourage discussion on this. I encourage training on this… (QPR or ASIST are great programs readily available).

I encourage “judgment free” embrace of families grieving in recovery. (One great tragedy of the social stigma still associated with suicide is that churchgoing families who suffer such a loss, often feel so embarrassed and awkward that they cease fellowship. More tragic, their church family, often not knowing what to say or how to help, just watch them slip away to the margins of church life, then beyond… without embracing and accompanying them on their road of grief.)

And, naive and simplistic as this may sound… please pray as you feel led. For those in pain, for their families, for recovering families, and for those who help.

What to pray? Whatever your spirit leads… but for me, beyond all else… Light… that Light and Hope shine out and break through in dark and shadowy places where no one but God and grace can reach. Dying can be a very lonely business. Light and hope are wondrous things!

Grace to you — The Little Monk

 
11 Comments

Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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That’s What Kids Do! – Part II

Spine of a BibleSo they were saying to Him, “Who are You?” Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning?I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. [John 8:25-30]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

EarlierI wrote about a 5 year old (and his older sister) who simply did “what kids do”, and astonished an observer with their kindness. Their mom quickly pointed out that she didn’t feel there was anything extraordinary about their training or education, and she felt uncomfortable when their parenting was specifically praised.

A few weeks ago, Paulfg (“Just Me Being Curious“) was pondering the age old conundrum of Free Will versus Predestination, and I was pondering his pondering. My reveries led me to John Chapter 8, and to Jesus highlighting the concept of “family” in me.

That may seem strange. I know it did to me at the time.

But the first thought that clearly came, about how to understand… or how to embrace ideas that don’t seem compatible… was this from John 17: 20-21 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

Now, if you just sit there for a moment, Gentle Reader, and let those words sit and stare at you… you realize… they make no sense. They CANNOT make “sense”. We have no psychological preparation or paradigm for this kind of “multiple personality”. We’re talking about two/three consciousnesses occupying the same space (person) at the same time. Beyond even the incomprehensibility of THAT, is that One of these CoHabiting persons is God the Father (Fully Deity)… One is Jesus Christ, God the Son (Fully Deity/Fully Human) Son of Man/Son of God/Son of Man… and one is ourselves (Fully Human).

We don’t even have a semantic or grammatical structure to express ideas like this.

So Jesus seemed to ask how do I, in the here and now, teach a concept that cannot clearly be comprehended or expressed? How can I help people come to the experience of the Immediate Intimate Presence of Christ in Us… (the “state” Jesus describes there in that passage)… when I cannot even clearly SAY or describe what that passage means or denotes?

It’s the ongoing challenge of all teaching or communication. So… how did Jesus look at this? How did HE deal with it? How did He explain it?

Clearly the most tremendous teacher/preacher of all time was Jesus Himself. Yet, equally clearly, some responded to His teaching with all their hearts, and others were so unmoved they went on to help murder Him. So… since… clearly… it wasn’t anything that HE could have “done better”… what makes the difference between those who “get it” and respond to the Gospel, and those who do not?

These reflections led me to look very intently there at the whole chapter of John 17, trying just to “steep” in it, and “feel my way” to the key insights… rather than to study, analyze, and exigete to a “solution”. What I sensed, was this fundamental element that Paulfg was pondering. This sense that God Himself places His hand on us, and His word in our hearts first, and that then… when we are willing to let them flower and embrace them… when we hear or see them from an “outside source”, as when Jesus preached, or when we hear great words of evangelism… it’s as if something inside us just “vibrates with the harmonics”, as the strings of a piano can hum along to the played notes of a violin alongside it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It all seems (like Free Will/Predestination) to be a problem of TIME… of SEQUENCE… of “which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg?” Do we “decide” first, then God knows what that is, and weaves reality and “destiny” around that decision? Or does “destiny” first have us situated in precisely the right spot that our own spontaneous free-will decision will harmonize perfectly with His plans? Or do those questions have any real meaning at all when we are discussing the “Infinite”?

My issues, of “learning to experience God”, seem to be parallel. As we look at scriptures where Jesus discusses those who “get it” versus those who don’t… it seems like there’s a similar pattern. And this is all I want to highlight here today, manfully resisting dozens of other important and wondrous insights contained in these passages.

Oh… and here’s the kicker… as God worked to “unfurl these petals” in front of me… (the phrase “explain it to me” just implies too much that I actually “understand” this in any analytical way. That’s just not the case. It seems I can “apprehend” this as true, without “comprehending” HOW it is true. Faith, I guess.) Anyway…

God illustrated the truth of this with that 5 year old as an illustration.

Here’s what the scriptures seem to point out, both in Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, and in Chapter 8:

God the Father reveals Himself all the time. He plants the words of truth into the hearts of people, where they may or may not recognize them. But Jesus, specifically articulating the Truth, in a way that they can HEAR it, makes it possible for them to respond, to embrace or reject, those words. Some choose to embrace, some choose to reject. That choice embodies our choice of household, of legacy, of father. We can choose to respond to Truth, choose God as Our Father, become truly Abraham’s Seed (righteousness, faith accounted to him as righteousness)… or we can choose to follow the illusion of the world, choose the Adversary, the Father of Lies, as our household, legacy, and parentage.

When we hold to the household of faith, we hear truth. When we embrace the household of illusions, shadows, and lies… we cannot hear the Truth.

It depends on the house we grow up in… Light… or Shadow. (And by this I mean “spiritually grow up”, not just what earthly family we are born into.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

How did God illustrate this with little 5 year old “Loud”?

Loud never “pondered” what to do with Timid. He just acted out of what he knew, what he figured, to be true and right. Where did that come from? Where did those values arise? From the very home he lives in. His mom didn’t even know how to respond when complimented… she never thinks about it. They endeavor to keep a home of love, grace, light, and mutual caring. They try to treat others with the grace they experience from God. They don’t breastbeat or soulsearch over that.. they just walk through it day by day as a lifestyle (including both good and bad days).

God’s point to me was that Loud acted in truth because he lives in a family of it, and comes from a father and mother of it. It is simply all he knows to do.

THIS is what God the Father has for us, His children, as well. We can choose to “abide”, to “house our souls”, in “environments of truth, grace, light”… in the choices we make day to day. Or we can choose to live not only IN, but OF, the world… and try to keep God confined in His polite “Sunday Box”, where we drag Him out for our “holy brownie points” and dress up, tithe, carry our big Bible, and parade off on our weekly pilgrimage… then return to “the real world business of practical living” for our other six days.

The first group is likely to “hear and resonate” with the Gospel when it proclaimed around them. They are likely to “seek and find” the face of God. They are likely truly to experience the immediate and intimate presence of Christ in the here-and-now, and find the fullness of their hearts desire. The second group? Not so much. Too busy to deal with God on His own “messy” terms… much neater to just keep everything pristine and polished.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Not sure my words are making sense. If not, I apologize. But it seems such a simple thing, yet hard for me to express.

I think “Loud” demonstrated it much better…

 
 

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What is Your Gospel?

This morning, I read and commented on Don’s terrific “ongoing Journey” post in his blog Life Reference. It is a fantastic read, better than I have ever done or could do in “synthesizing” the fundamental Christian theology, and I recommend you peruse it after this.

My eye fastened on the title of another blog in his sidebar list of follows called iChristian, and when I chased that cat I happened upon, Lying Religious Leaders, posted yesterday.

Steve’s post ends with the following:

2 Timothy 4:1-4 Easy-to-Read Version

4 Before God and Jesus Christ, I give you a command. Christ Jesus is the one who will judge all people—those who are living and those who have died. He is coming again to rule in his kingdom. So I give you this command: 2 Tell everyone God’s message. Be ready at all times to do whatever is needed. Tell people what they need to do, tell them when they are doing wrong, and encourage them. Do this with great patience and careful teaching.

3 The time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching. But people will find more and more teachers who please them. They will find teachers who say what they want to hear. 4 People will stop listening to the truth. They will begin to follow the teaching in false stories

Now, these verses echo richly and dig deep into the soil of my spirit, as probably many others here. These were read, as my “charge”, my “commission”, a pronouncement of the will of God over my life, on the day I was ordained to the Ministry of the Gospel. These verses state clearly, Paul’s expectations of Timothy. In my own heart, I believe they state the expectations of my “Pauls”, those who have poured out their lives investing in my formation. But beyond that, they very solemnly proclaim, in a deep and intimate way, GOD’s expectations of me.

And… of you. Of everyone touched by the charge, the great commission, of Christ. And this struck me very deeply this morning. I heard echoed a question you’ve seen addressed here from time to time… “Proclaim the Gospel! YES! But, what IS… YOUR… Gospel?” That is, what is YOUR Good News, the Good News as you own it, perceive it, as you have experienced it? Because if whatever Good News you proclaim is not deeply relevant to you, does not express your love to and from God, AND your love for the person you speak with… well, without the love… it’s just a brassy clang, not a proclamation.

Well, I cannot answer that question for anyone else. That is wholly in that sacred space between you and God. But over the past week, with an intensity I have never known before, I have seen Jesus crystallize to a diamond’s point…. to a laser’s precision… what is my OWN Gospel. I now know what *I* am to proclaim, and it is a matter of what Richard Rohr calls the “Jesus Hermeneutic”.

These verses fit right up there alongside Paul’s charge to Timothy…

Luke 4:18-21 Easy-to-Read Version

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me.
    He has chosen me to tell good news to the poor.
He sent me to tell prisoners that they are free
    and to tell the blind that they can see again.
He sent me to free those who have been treated badly
19     and to announce that the time has come for the Lord to show his kindness.”

20 Jesus closed the book, gave it back to the helper, and sat down. As everyone in the synagogue watched him closely, 21 he began to speak to them. He said, “While you heard me reading these words just now, they were coming true!”

Well, Gentle Reader, God is very kind and gracious, very patient and understanding of the flaws and frailties of this Little Monk. In that kindness, He has shown me here, in simple terms, the six lines of “my own Gospel”. This is the message I have shared since my teens. This is the message I will continue to share to my last breath. “That God so loved the world that He sent Jesus to embrace us in His Name, take on all our frailties, faults and sins without committing any of His own, paid the price for them, removed them utterly from us, and now offers us induction into the Father’s House, Kingdom, and Family that God Himself provide for us, protect us, and nurture us as His Own Children. That all we need do here, is acknowledge our need for such embrace, and accept it… relax, and allow HIM to hug us, feed us, and transfuse us from our own death, to the blood of His life.”

I OWN those statements. I have walked through those statements in my own journey, wanderings, triumphs and failures. Thus, that is, My Gospel.

How about you? What is yours?

Pray for me always, Gentle Reader. Always a work in progress. Take and enjoy what suits and rings true in your spirit. Dismiss what does not. God is “ever speaking” in your own heart your own way. “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 🙂 Grace to thee!

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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