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What is Sin… Really?

accountability pageYou see this article on “Accountability”, and read this Inventory List for Conscience. It helps you know how and when you’ve “sinned” so you can get forgiveness for it. And your heart responds that there’s value to this, it isn’t “bad”… but somehow you feel it hasn’t quite hit the mark.

USCCB You do more research, you find a Catholic treatment for the Examination of Conscience, and you look it over. Again, not that it’s “bad”, but it just doesn’t seem to scratch the itch in your spirit as you ponder the questions of living in righteousness, versus committing sin. Somehow, virtue and sin don’t seem so cumbersome, so convoluted.

You decide to teach on this topic, and so you begin…

Sin… righteousness… love… peace… one day you are sitting and pondering, studying, working on a lesson or a sermon, and you find yourself grieving, praying, seeking how effectively to communicate something you see in your heart as so simple… You lean back, your brow furrows, your eyes close for a moment…

And suddenly, you no longer seem to be at your desk… You realize that God has heard your heart and your prayers, and He is going to teach you something, show you something, to help you understand and teach…

You find yourself standing out in a large empty space, dim but not utterly dark, neutral neither warm nor cold, with just a sense of vastness, not fearful or threatening. There in the distance you see light on the horizon and you choose to walk towards it. Startled with surprise, you find that each step moves you very far, as if your will moves you forward by thought, not physics.

As you approach closer to the light that a moment before was on the horizon, you realize that you are about to look upon the Father… God… the Almighty over All. Somehow, you know you are at the very Beginning, the Before the Beginning. This, is the Void, the Formless Void, and God (in whatever form and manner you perceive Him/Her) is smiling in welcome at your arrival. Amazingly, when He smiles, He smiles all over… His eyes, His hands, His heart… all welcomes you, and you stand just steps away from Him, unsure of whether to look up or down, to bow or to stand.

He takes your hand, raises your chin, smiles, and simply says, “Behold…”

He turns towards the Void around Him, extends His arms, and the radiance from His heart moves outwards reaching to touch all around Him. You realize, you are watching Creation. As you stand there, awestruck, you know that matter and energy have come into Being.

With another sweeping gesture, His arms raise again, and with a pulsing motion forms take shape all around you, near and far. You see planets, stars, sand, rocks, the forms of grass, trees, even animals. But all seems still.

“Now watch…” He says with a smile, as He turns to you, then back to His work.

You see a richer glow begin at His heart, as it flows upwards and outwards through His arms and fingers. You know, without knowing how you know, that He has just brought forth Life… and you see all these living things now begin to move.

Then, in a way you cannot describe, you see Him touching all of this… Everything… all at the same moment, and you realize that He is loving, He is feeding, He is upholding… All that is. All that He has created. That all of this is from Him, part of Him, has come from Him and is yet Him and His.

He turns to you again, and says… “Here is the best part…”

Again He faces His creation and the glow from His heart moves out through both His hands and His lips as He sings forth music unspeakable. Now there appear… “children”… is the word that goes through your mind. You hear Him sing, “My Children”. And you see that He is singing forth everyone, everywhere, everywhen. The beauty of it all leaves you breathless.

He turns to you again, reaches forth, and puts His hand on your chest.

You are filled with warmth, as a glow lights you up and flows outwards from your heart through every part of your being. You can feel and see that this warmth, this glow, are extending themselves from your heart outwards to your hands, and upwards to your tongue and lips.

You feel moved, without knowing why, and you embrace Him… God… the Father… the Lord of All. Fear doesn’t even enter your mind, though you’d never have imagined doing such a thing before. And He returns the embrace, kisses you on the top of the head, and you are filled with a fullness of love, safety, and nurturance such as you have never known before. You realize, for the first time all the way through you, that He is truly, utterly, and only Good… and you never need doubt, never need ever but to trust Him completely forevermore.

He directs your gaze to the world we know. And He bids you observe His children, their hearts, hands, and lips.

As you look at the world, you see people. Myriads of people… good, bad, young… old… confident, frightened, hurting, healing… You see all kinds of people, doing all the kinds of things people do.

You see some people with dim hearts, laying hands on other people who glow a bit, and where they touch their hands glow as the object of their touch grows dimmer. The heart of the takers has a reddish dim glow, while children start with brilliant white and gold.

Here and there you see clusters of brilliance, often among whom are hearts that reach out with pulsing connection with this heart of God alongside you. You see that God continues to touch, to nurture, to maintain all His children, all these people. But there are vast differences among individuals how they respond to His touch.

Some people welcome, embrace, and reach towards it. Others simply receive it without response or seeming to notice Him. While still others, those with the dimmest glow, seek to avoid His touch and His love and life (for you realize these all are one in Him).

But as you watch longer, you see that everyone, even the most golden or brilliant, have moments when their hearts flash red, and they touch others with a dimming effect. And much touching seems not to have impact. And some touching, brings light to others and eases their way.

“What am I seeing, Father? (or Lord?)” you ask.

“You are seeing the answer to your questions, My child. Righteousness, sin, virtue, love, life… all of it. It is as simple as ‘relationship’… with Me, with others, with yourself. I, and Only I, give life through love. That is all I do, always. And life only comes through love. But children of free will as you are, you may choose at any given moment to GIVE life through loving another and giving from Me through your heart, your hands, your words… to love another and so give them life. Or, you may choose to TAKE life from another, deprive, neglect, injure, or wound another… diminishing their life, feeding upon them, to love yourself.

“It is quite simple, but very difficult to put in words. Nothing living stands still. Life requires consumption. I Alone am the source of life. I alone can feed you with love, life, and being. When you feed from Me, (I once expressed this as ‘eat My body’), I can fill you utterly and beyond. Water that you never thirst again, bread that you never die. To let Me fill you, and then to pass along such love, such life, such abundance to those around you through your heart… this is love, this is righteousness, this is virtue.

“But to choose instead to feed on others, to love the self at the expense of others, is to deprive them of life. This is to consume others for the sake of the self. Whether materially, or emotionally… to feed the ego by belittling others and making them smaller, is no less a taking of their life as to wound them physically. This is predation. This is vampirism. This… is sin.

“Not only is it wrong, for it takes life from another. It is also ineffective. You cannot truly live on ‘second hand life’. Only I Alone can give full life through love. To steal the life of another will never fill or sustain a person. It can barely maintain them. Eventually, such predation leaves only the empty shell of a life.

“Sin leaves you empty and hungry, no matter how much you grasp or take. Like ’empty calories’, there is no real life to it. The hunger gnaws, and will continue to do so until real life, real love, real Light is found.

“So there you are, Blessed child. To give life to others through love of them and Me, is righteousness. To take life from others for love of yourself, without Me, is sin. Any questions?”

You shake your head, a bit bewildered. This really is quite simple. He hugs you again, kisses you atop the head, and your eyes open…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You are again seated at your desk wondering how in the world you can ever find the words to explain this.

Then you remember, Jesus said,Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” [Matthew 15:17-20]

And you get it… everything is sacred. It is ALL held together in His hands, His heart, His love. To treat anything, especially ANYONE… as less than sacred… to fail to love anything or anyone that He died to redeem in the greatness of His love… Yeah, that’s just not OK. You get it now. Righteousness is treating sacred things that He loves as precious. Not to do so… well, yeah, that’s sin. And we do it, because sometimes we choose to… but still He breathes us, He touches us, He loves us… and thus, He lives us.

“Ain’t that somethin’?”  you ponder, silently…

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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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No Words Today…

This Gift Box, Ribbon on Top, is accompanied by the Following Note…

This is an unusual day, Gentle Reader.

My town’s churches, CLOSED because of weather and driving danger.

THEREFORE:

  • I got to listen to one of my ministry young people (college seminarian) preach his first sermon on the radio this morning… which was wonderful… THEN…
  • I got to “attend church” with a pastor many hundreds of miles away, listening to this young  (to me) man preach, who I have prayed for all his career, having first heard him give a sermon when he was (I think) 19 years old, or so (more than 20 years ago, now)… as he was giving his life to the Gospel Ministry… and that was wonderful… THEN
  • I got to hear God “put me on notice” that this was Palm Sunday, and that He again (as often in my life) was going to bring about something wonderful in/for me… come Easter Sunday… and that was wonderful.

But somewhere in the course of all that, perhaps in the internet radio portion early on… this song, that I’ve posted here… played. And it absolutely captured me. Moved me to tears, took my heart to the Throne, and took all breath and sensation away.

I have no words to wrap around this moment, this song, these words, this experience for you. All I can say is they rang deeper in me than anything I’ve ever known, and the words “Holy”… and “Glory”… have somehow transformed in me from “words” to “being”. They feel, and felt, like the very blood coursing through my veins, or the air filling my lungs. They were not “Thoughts”… they were “Dimensions in Themselves”.

They were, and are, Beauty Itself! Beyond Beautiful… so far beyond beautiful that there are no words I know to express what they ARE!

This was Gift, Gentle Reader. Jesus, this morning, handed me a wrapped Present, and Inside it, I found this song… these words.

And now, I hand them on to you… wrapped in all my love and care… filled with His Grace… to Gift you for your sacredness. These go to you with all my blessings this day!

Yours, in Him — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2014 in Quiet Time, Uncategorized

 

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It All Begins Here: Birth of the Sacred…

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“It was a dark and stormy night”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

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

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

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

And yet, “Perfect love casts out fear”…

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly not.

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where was your dark and stormy night, Gentle Reader?

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

 

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Sinless Rules — Part II: Illusion of Control

Continuing with the second Rule I referred to in the last post:

Four Rules for Me Never to Sin Again as Long as I Live:

  1. God is Sovereign (“Remember this, Little Monk!”)
  2. Love God with All I Am, Above all Else that Is. (“Revere God = Holiness”)
  3. Love My Neighbor as Jesus Loves Me (“Treat All as Sacred = Righteousness”)
  4. Love Myself as Jesus Loves Me (“Treat Self as Sacred = Humility in Sacredness”)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ [Mark 12:29-30]

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The [a]whole earth is full of His glory.” And the [b]foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the [c]temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” [Isaiah 6:1-5]

7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip *said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.” [John 14:7-11]

9″ Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. 12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” [John 15:9-11]

13″ But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them ]from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 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.

22″The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” [John 17:13-25]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

O Gentle Reader… Thank you so much for your patience, because I struggle so deeply to wrap words around my heart or my thoughts here.

The verses above… they capture me… they draw me inside of them, and have done so since I was a little child. Don’t you find that true? Don’t these words, these incredible words from the heart and lips of Jesus, just grasp you by the shoulders and pull you inside… inside of Him… inside His heart… inside the heart of the Father… through the Spirit?

It is here, for me, where the greatest of mysteries lie in our humanity!

Only Jesus Himself could have made sense of this mystery, or at least articulated it clearly. [Pray God I not muddle it up here!]

Jesus leaves us only two commandments… the first of which echoes from Deuteronomy, that the Lord, Our God is One, and we are to love Him with all that we are and all we have. Yes. But the closer we draw to that God, the more clearly we hear Him, the more clearly we see Him… the more struck we are with His utter HOLINESS!! Like Isaiah, in his encounter, we can feel overwhelmed with our own frailty and shortcomings. We can feel undone. We may collapse in our own clear awareness of our utterly bankrupt identities, our incapacity to stand upright before such holiness.

Ever been there? Ever had one of those Isaiah moments? I sure have!

But unlike Isaiah’s rescue at the hands of his angels… Jesus deals with us in an ENTIRELY different way. Jesus’ rescue is utterly incomprehensible. We see it throughout the Gospels and the Epistles, but nowhere as clearly (imho) as we see it in these passages…

Jesus says NOTHING of the worthiness or undoneness of either His disciples themselves or, by His specific and deliberate extension through their words… of ourselves. His points are extremely simple and straightforward… that as we keep and obey His commandments (to love)… He and the Father will come and dwell in us. He speaks of glory. He speaks of the words and actions of the Father, reflected perfectly in His words and actions. He speaks of going to the Father, of sending back the Spirit, and of He and the Father returning to dwell in us.

Now, here’s the “mystery” part I cannot wrap words around, Gentle Reader… the best phrase I can find for it is:

The Unspeakable Holiness of Love – or – The Incomprehensible Love that is Holy

These two TRUTHS of God… of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit Himself… simply cannot be parsed or separated, no matter how hard we try. This has been an awareness growing exponentially within me for quite a while now. And, I offer no excuse here, but truthfully it has been a startling revelation in my pitiful little soul.

I mean, clearly it SHOULDN’T be! This truth is screamed out from the rafters and rooftops throughout the entire Bible, isn’t it? And yet, all too often, I hear people speak of these two Truths of God… His Holiness and His Love… as though they were somehow mutually exclusive, or in conflict. So many times, there is this spoken, or unspoken, “but”… in the sentence. Like… “God is unspeakably holy, BUT yet He is loving.” Or the reverse… “Ours is a Loving God, but we must not forget that He is Holy, too!”

[Dear Lord, grant me grace to say this next part clearly and cleanly.]

For so long, I had succumbed to a prideful heresy that surrounded me, never examining it or discerning it for the lie that it is… that we can “define” God… assign Him “acceptable boundaries and parameters”… and thus, “control” Him!

That we, as humans, can stand to the side and “judge” what constitutes “holiness” by virtue of whether someone or something meets our “rational criteria” and standards. Like the Pharisees, we can make our rules and lists of “godliness” according to personal or corporate cultural convictions… and pass judgment not only on other PEOPLE… but upon the very expressions of God’s Love in that person’s life… thereby judging God Himself as being EITHER Loving and Gracious, OR Holy and Righteous… in such seeming moments of conflict of interest. Now, don’t get me wrong… this seeming “dichotomy” is seldom experienced or recognized flat out… seldom if ever openly acknowledged… but is more an unspoken or muttered undertone.

Now… there’s no “finger-pointing” here, Gentle Reader. If you’ve never done, thought, or felt this… that’s Awesome! But I can freely admit, I have… it has muddled my relationship with God for many years, and it is no doubt the single most powerful force to undermine my abandoned Trust to the Heart of the Father. Without doubt. And, I’ve heard it spoken in one way or another by other people more times than I can possibly count.

And it is such a SIMPLE error to fall into. When God finally pointed it out to me when I did it, I was amazed. It is simply the belief that we KNOW what “holiness” means. That we can establish criteria of holiness that “make sense to us”, and then judge situations based on those criteria as an exercise of reason apart from His participation.

The early church struggled with this, for example regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols… clearly, for some, this was an unholy act. This was sin. Paul worked manfully to sort this out in Romans 14… one could not judge the holiness of such an act in a vacuum. All depended on the presence and posture of the Holy Spirit, the expression to conscience, for the individual.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, where does all this leave us? Where does this leave me, regarding my “Rules”?

It has become the case that I am to love God with all that I am, and all that I have, and THEREBY recognize and participate in His Holiness. It is NOT an “either/or”… it is NOT a “Love despite His Holiness” or a “Holy despite His love”… quite the opposite. The ONLY way to recognize or express “holiness” is through Love. The ONLY way to truly express Love, is to recognize its Holiness, and rejoice in that.

Does that make any sense, Gentle Reader? You have no idea how difficult it is for me to make words work for me here!

There is no godly way to say, “I can love THIS much, but not beyond that!” That is the same as saying, “I can be THIS holy, I can love God THIS much, but no more.” It’s like saying, “I can be THIS Christlike, I can participate in Him THIS far… I can yield and submit to Him and His Spirit THIS far, but no further!”

Utter nonsense!!

For me to obey Jesus’ command here, to love the Lord My God with ALL… is to embrace Philippians 2:5-8: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Obedient to the point of death, empty… no brakes, no chocks, no limits, no boundaries, no walls. Nothing. “ALL”, Jesus said.

There is no “untangling” of the words “Love” and “Holy” with regard to our relationship and experience of God. To attempt to do so does violence to our souls, and to our walk.

I obey my second rule only as I love with “reckless abandon”, unlimited by my own fears or any mistrust. And, only as I love with such prodigal recklessness, do I truly perceive, recognize, and worship in the Holiness that surrounds Him!

Doing so… transforms

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you, Gentle Reader, for your patience. Please pray for me as such a work in progress! Blessings and Grace to thee! – Little Monk

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Martha… Mary… and Sleepwalking

In recent days after the tragic school shooting in Newtown, we’ve seen a marked change in people all around us. Often, those who were irritated or annoyed at the scamperings and antics of small children have become much more patient and tolerant. Many of us have treasured our own families and youngsters more. Countless thoughtful people have pondered how such a thing could happen, and how a repetition might be avoided.

In a Bible Study I attended that following weekend, the question was asked, “How is it that such events have such a profound impact on so many people?”

It seemed like people tend to draw together, to become more thoughtful, to treat one another better, after any earth-shattering tragedy, whether natural or man-made. I’ve seen this with hurricanes, with tornadoes, even severe winter storms. We saw this in the wake of the Towers coming down, the Oklahoma City Bombing, (for those old enough) the Challenger Shuttle Disaster, or (for the even older) the Assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King.

There is something utterly arresting about inconceivable tragedy. It draws our gaze hypnotically. We tend to watch the event over and over again on our television screens. We hover over our news outlets to glean every new detail as it surfaces. We start conversations with total strangers in public places, as if hungry for the simple human contact, like needing to assure ourselves that we are alive but the event really happened. And then we often close up into some nook or cranny for private reflection for a time. We have to process this… somehow we have to weave this anomaly into the fabric of our lives and sense of reality.

I won’t pretend to know the answer to “Why do we do this?” But I’ve observed one thing, whether a tragedy is individual and personal, or whether it ripples across an entire culture, country, or the world…

That is: Shocking tragedy focuses the attention on a single point and issue, like a laser beam.

It seems as if the event, whatever it is, sits in the middle of a table in front of us, like a gigantic centerpiece. We can hardly take our eyes off it. We can hardly discuss anything else. All the other events of our lives that go on around us, seem filtered and interpreted in light of this Centerpiece Event.

My personal theory is that we relate, personally, to such an event as Newtown. We see our own children or grandchildren as having been potential targets. We feel the pain of heartbroken parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. We hug our own loved ones just a bit closer, grateful that we are where we are, and Newtown is where it is. Suddenly, nearly instantly, these sometimes “annoying little people” are SIGNIFICANT! These relationships are the most important things in our lives, and everything else seems a bit trivial. Little handprints on windows and mirrors can be wiped off, broken lamps can be replaced. But these precious loved ones, these relationships… THESE are fragile. These are irreplaceable.

There is a profound truth beneath all of this, that we seldom see so clearly. The truth is: These relationships are real and important, and our “stuff” with which we usually keep ourselves so very busy… is not. Each of us are granted one single “lifetime”, and we have absolutely no idea how long or short that is. It is measured, moment by moment, in breaths and heartbeats granted by our infinitely loving and gracious God, from His breath to ours as free gift. And we, unutterably privileged as we are, get to decide how we spend them.

Centerpiece Events, like Newtown, tend to remind us of this… and prompt us to think and deliberate just a little bit, on how we spend them. It’s as if we spend much of our day sleepwalking, just doing what we do because it’s there in front of us to be done, with little reflection or question. Then a Centerpiece Event explodes on our horizon like a thunderclap, suddenly jolting us from our somnambulence and reverie into uncomfortable wakefulness.

There’s the fundamental battle of the Christian Life. The constant tension between the Significant and the trivial, the Important and the meaningless, the Truth and the facts. It doesn’t seem to matter how often we hear the lesson… sometimes we just need to hear it again, don’t we?

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a certain village; and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But The Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 38-42

As with all scripture, there’s a vast array of Truth contained in this narrative, but The Lord focuses me here on just the issue at hand. Jesus quietly contrasts the Significant from the Trivial in His response to Martha. I hear this message echoed throughout these days both individually, and institutionally.

There’s a few things to notice here, between Mary and Martha. One, it is clearly Martha’s house, that is, she is the elder of the sisters. It is SHE who invites Jesus in, and scripture says she “welcomed him into her home”. Of Mary we see two things… both what she DID (listened to the Lord’s word), and where/how she did it (seated at His feet, a posture and location of a student or child). We see her fixed attention on who Jesus is, what Jesus is (teacher and Lord), and what Jesus says. She chooses to spend her time, her heartbeats, on her relationship with Him, on the attention she can give to Him as He speaks, and the blessing she can receive from Him as she hears and learns.

Martha, on the other hand, chooses to expend her heartbeats on different priorities. Please notice, these are not BAD priorities, not “wrongful acts” or what anyone could consider “sin”. They are just different than Mary’s. Martha is the hostess of The Lord, and goes about the activities appropriate to the role, preparing the place, the meal, possibly His lodgings if He is staying for the night. The Gospel tells us these preparations “distract” her, taking her attention away from focus on her Guest directly, placing her “preparation agenda” higher than her “relationship” directly with Him. When she DOES address Him, in fact, we see a remarkable thing. She tries to “use” Him, to “leverage His authority” to get Him to enter into her agenda, and rebuke her sister, forcing Mary to aid in her work.

Just short of rebuke, we see Jesus respond with a simple, “No.” No, He will not yield to Martha’s will here. Mary has got it right, Martha has missed the point, and Jesus will not “play her game”.

In short, Mary has chosen the “Significant”, Martha the “trivial”, and Jesus is not about to move the right person the wrong direction. Mary rests in her relationship with Jesus, listening and adoring. Martha seeks to “work for” Jesus, doing all these things she can do to be pleasing to Him and to look like a good hostess in His sight.

Jesus says Mary has chosen the “good part”.

Now, this passage is often preached and taught in terms of the contrast of time expenditure between “prayer” and “ministry of action” or “works”. And that is certainly true. For traditions that recognize the distinctions between the contemplative and the active in ministry, this passage is iconic as illustrating that contrast. All such teaching is true, good, and real.

But for just a moment let’s look at this another way. As individuals, especially in light of these momentary “wake up calls” we get when we focus on shocking tragedy, don’t we seem to experience these “Mary/Martha” moments? Don’t we tend to live our lives, day to day, in something of a “Martha Mode”? Aren’t we constantly keeping ourselves busy and distracted, even as Christians, “doing stuff FOR Jesus”, rather than focused on just “being WITH Jesus” and enjoying the fellowship, the close intimacy, of that?

In terms of the current discussion, by the way, I’m not talking so much about “prayer” or “religious” activity as being Jesus’ focus. To show my age, for a moment, I’m saying “The Medium is the Message”. That Jesus said the Significant was “relationship and intimacy, mutual enjoyment”, and what was trivial was “preparation, busy-ness, and activity”. THIS is the truth we are reminded of in a tragedy. When there IS something concrete and helpful to be done, as in the aftermath of a disaster, by all means we do that! But even there, even then, we tend to be more focused on people, on their hearts, on their needs for comfort and fellowship, than simply on their hunger or thirst.

Institutionally, as we gather as “Church”, do we not see this same dynamic at play week after week? Is it an uncomfortable question to ask, “Are we, as a Body of Christ and local church, more concerned with our busy-ness, our activities, our schedule, our ‘preparations’, than we are about our relationships… both to the lost and the community around us, and among ourselves?”

It is SUCH an easy slippery slope to slide into… at least for me! Like gravity pulls the chocolate to the bottom of a glass of chocolate milk over time. Tragedy seems to “stir the glass” from time to time, emulsifying and rebalancing the Significant with other activity. Reminding us of the sacredness of people, and the importance of relationships and touching hearts, beyond simply “maintaining the mechanics of our ministries”.

Need concrete examples? Am I sounding too “theoretical”? Well, I’ve caught myself becoming so enslaved to my daily calendar that I’ve sometimes hesitated to respond to someone’s urgent need for a counseling appointment because my calendar dictates that that afternoon I’m doing shut-in visits. Or I’ve seen a query made to a vibrant adolescent youth ministry in a church (touching teens who are often the “only Christian” in their unchurched homes) from church financial leaders asking, “How often do your youth go get seconds at the Wednesday night supper, and why?”

Gentle Reader, so often I am asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “How can a loving all-powerful God allow such tragedy and evil?” I make no pretense of having the answers to these questions. I bow my head to the nature of “mystery”, and to the Father’s thoughts above my own. But I can tell you this… I can see one “effect” of such things… they are huge wake-up calls to the “Significant” versus the “trivial”. Am I saying this is “Why?”, or that “God does or allows this for such and such reason?” Absolutely not! No such thing! Only He can answer for Himself in such matters…

But, Gentle Reader, I am so a work in progress… yet so frail and subject to the trivial… and, from what I observe, I am not alone in this. So, in my own life, such events provide FOCUS on what Jesus declared to be the “good part”… the relationship, the sacredness, the fellowship. And that I should never EVER see my relationship with Him (or, frankly with anyone else) as a simple “means to an end” of executing my own agenda and To-Do List.

Are “activities” good things? Are there real chores in Kingdom? Of course. Jesus had the disciples do many things, conduct many activities, perform many chores. But each of them were in response to relationships in two directions: One, obedience to Him. Two, meeting the needs of others. Relationship is the “good part”, and “activity” is in the service of the former.

My prayer, then is: “Dear Lord, please use me to extend Your love and grace to others through relationship as the most important item on my agenda. Help me attend to the Significant, rather than getting caught up in the trivial. When I pull all my activities and busy-ness about me like a cloak, I only puff myself up seeking Your recognition of my merit and my significance, and that is foolish illusion. Let me treasure Your sacred children, and relationships, with Your heart and Spirit… without having to rely on the reminder of tragedies to waken me from my sleepwalking. Amen.”

Please keep me, and my frailty, in your prayers, Gentle Readers! Grace to you all.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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