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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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What’s Your Name?

How often do we pray… “Dear Lord… thank You for [fill in blessing]… and please [intention, intention, intention]. We ask this in the name of Jesus… Amen.”

We say or hear this as often as Christians gather, do we not? Nothing wrong with this at all.

But lately, over the past couple years, my “prayer circuit” has been modifying somewhat. I sense far less call to “direct God and His grace” through the micro-management of my prayer, and far greater call to “ride the wave” of His love and care from the voice of the Spirit within my heart, as He expresses Himself back to the Father. I guess you could say I “amen” Him, far more than generating my own words.

I have become vastly less concerned with “persuading God” to move in blessing with power and grace, and far more concerned with simply “loving” the object of my prayer, and experiencing that love in real live-time, with a view towards opening the windows of space/time to admit the power and grace God already has available.

It is very difficult to find the right words to express the difference here.

But I think it’s more a change of perspective, to where the task isn’t to “move God”, but rather to “authorize, permit, allow” the universe, this material world of “stuff”… to “accept the grace”, the blessing, the expression of God’s will.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Does “praying in Jesus’ name” mean that we tack this phrase (“we ask this in Jesus’ name”, or “we ask this in Your precious name”) on to the end of our own mentally generated list or intention addressed to God?

or

Does it mean that we ourselves step into the persona, the authority, the identity, the Spirit of Jesus the Christ, when and as we address Our Father?

Jesus told the Companion Disciples:

23 “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full. 25 These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. 28 I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.” [John 16:23-28]

Now, up to that time Jesus had already taught the guys to pray, they knew the Lord’s Prayer, they’d been going out announcing Him, they’d been healing, they’d been casting out demons in His name.

Yet, He says that up to then they had asked for nothing in His name.’

jesuspraying

How is that possible?

I suspect that, just as so much of this discourse in John addresses the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost… so does this. What if, once one changes identity from “me in here, and Jesus out there” to “me in Him, and Him in me, and together we in the Father”… then the whole perspective, the nature, the authority of prayer itself changes?

What if one day we came to our prayer intentions with the attitude that when we put on our “prayer robes”, our “authority and identity of Jesus to pray”, that the Father has already said “Yes” to those intentions, and we apply our faith simply to move the material world to accept the blessings?

And… the world HAS to “move aside to accept”, simply because the universe must respond to the authority of Jesus, because He upholds it all within His will and His word?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

These struck me as strange thoughts one day, when I started wondering about all this. And yet, the Lord seemed to be leading this ponder step by step. He was challenging me to “pray in His name”… to “pray from WITHIN His name”. Pray as though I had taken on His name, as a wife typically takes on the name and authority of a husband. The two become one, different than either alone.

I had this image of the parting of seas, or mountains moving. I thought, “prayer can be that powerful”. But I wondered “why” and “how”. How does faith make prayer that powerful?

And for some reason I thought about police officers… A law enforcement officer pins on their badge, straps on a weapon, and begins work in a vehicle with siren and flashing lights. They are still the person they were when they woke that day, but… when they do their “function”, when they do what only they can do as sworn peace officers, they act “in the name of” the Law… the state, county, whatever. They are not just Joe, Jane, Bob, or Betty… they are authorized to stop, detain, arrest, or use adequate force to protect society.

Why is this so? Because they have entered into this relationship with the people, and the laws people create. What token marks this incredible responsibility, privilege, and authority? Their badge, their shield. And when they raise that shield above their heads in a crowd as they chase someone, shouting “Make WAY!”, or when those lights and siren go off behind traffic on the highway… we part, we pull over, we yield right of way… not so much to THEM, as to the BADGE they carry. To the function they are discharging. To the authority with which they are (in those moments) exercising.

Suddenly, oddly, I had this image of prayer working something like that.

When we function “in the name of Jesus”, we exercise an authority in prayer to which the material universe itself, the world, must yield.

Anyway, it makes for an interesting prayer experiment to approach prayer with some preparation of “taking up one’s token of authority”, and exercising our perquisites, our duty and privilege, to alter reality and usher forth grace and blessing… simply because it is what we are called to do, in those moments when we take on His name and act in His name.

Prayer Experiment…. Question: How would you pray today, if you knew… absolutely KNEW, that TODAY your prayers are uttered in the fullness of Jesus’ authority? As if He sat right alongside you, and petitioned Our Father for whatever you ask?

Would you pray any differently? Would you expect any different results than otherwise?

Grace and blessings to you, Gentle Reader!

 

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To what shall I liken the Kingdom? — The Faberge Egg

egginside I awoke this morning with this phrase ringing through my mind, “To what shall I liken the Kingdom?”…

And I remembered, when I was a little kid, the fabulous Easter Egg Dioramas. Remember them? They were made of sugar, spun sugar (the expensive real ones), and then when my daughter was a child they were often styrofoam. But there was a little window on the end, and you would look in and see this fabulous scene!

Maybe it was a circus, maybe Disneyland, maybe an airport. The “eggshell” was thin white, or decorated some, but light would show through at this wonderful magical scene inside…

I may be showing my age here, because I cannot find any images of exactly what I mean, so perhaps you’ve never gotten to see or hold one. If that’s the case, just imagine with me a moment then…

As I woke, it came to me… One could liken the Kingdom to holding this fabulous Faberge Egg in their hands, looking through the window at all the tremendous joy, blessing, and promise contained therein.

But wait, there’s more… It’s as if, when we looked inside, we were drawn within. That all that joy, blessing, and adventure were there… accessible to us… merely by prayer. That when we “look inside the egg”, when we “pray”, when we focus on the things of Kingdom rather than the mundane things of our lives… we got drawn INSIDE, and could spend the entire day in celebration, in joy, in loving abandonment of all worries, concerns, anxieties, simply safe and celebrating inside the safety of that Egg, securely held in the hands of our Love Father and Jesus.

But wait, there’s more… It’s as if, when we get the the end of this day of celebration within the Egg… when sadly we reflect that it is time to go… it’s time to return to the mundane world of our everyday lives… Our Father and Jesus and Their Breath tell us the Most Wondrous Part! We get to take ALL this BACK WITH US!

How incredible!

To find the Egg. To find the Treasure. To find the Pearl of Great Price… REALLY to FIND IT… is to realize that, however wondrous is our time INSIDE the Egg when we have the freedom to go and do that… We have the unutterable privilege, the unspeakable joy, to BRING ALL THAT OUT WITH US!

I woke this morning, laughing. Not derision, just pure joy.

We never have to “sadly return” from the Joy. We never HAVE to be “exiled to this valley of tears”. We have been given permission to BRING Kingdom here, into our days, into our homes, into our workplaces, among those we love, among family and friends, into the community among acquaintances and strangers… into our streets, among even the odd or the evil.

It’s an amazing truth of what Jesus did… But so many Christians… wondrous, loving, spirit-filled Christians, SEE the inside of that Egg and eagerly await being set free of this earthly tent and mortal frame of our bodies, that in heaven we may celebrate the fullness of Kingdom, once we die and go to heaven.

And yet… and yet… my heart so yearns. Jesus has brought it HERE. That we HAVE Life, and that more abundantly! That God so loved the ENTIRE WORLD that He gave Jesus to bring “the life of heaven itself”… HERE!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where do you keep your Egg, Gentle Reader? Take a moment, get apart, go find it. Find the box, find the sock, find the old briefcase, find that hiding place in your heart where you hid the treasures “too good, too fragile, to share with anyone else… lest they get broken”. Go, just for a bit, and pull out your Egg. (I know you have one. Our Father has given each of us one.)

Go find your Egg for a bit. Stare in that little hole/window. Let Him pull you inside to play for as long as you need to. Laugh, play, be His child… no work, no worries, no hassles… (just for a little while).

And then, when He says, “It’s time to go  home now,” and stretches out His hand to leave for the day… When you feel that moment of childlike “heart sink”, thinking you have to leave all this and return to the drudgery of “the world”…

Watch Him turn and ask, “Would you like us to take all this back out with us?”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What do you say?

Grace — LM

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2016 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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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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God Is Eternally Giving Away God

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Grace: Week 1

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National September 11 South pool, New York, New York, April 2012. Photograph by NormanB.

Monday, January 25, 2016 – (Feast of St. Paul, the Apostle of Grace)

It is by grace that you are saved, through faith, not by anything of your own, but by a pure gift from God, and not by anything you have achieved. Nobody can claim the credit. You are God’s work of art. –Ephesians 2:8

By grace you notice, nothing to do with good deeds, or grace would not be grace at all. –Romans 11:6

Happy are those servants whom the master finds awake. I tell you he will put on an apron, sit them down at table, and wait on them. –Luke 12:37

I think grace, arising from God’s limitless love, is the central theme of the entire Bible. It is the divine Unmerited Generosity that is everywhere available, totally given, usually undetected as such, and often even undesired. This grace was defined even in the old Baltimore Catechism as “that which confers on our souls a new life, that is, a sharing in the life of God himself [sic].” [1] We always knew it on paper, but much less in experience and conviction.

In the parable of the watchful servants (Luke 12:35-40), God is actually presented as waiting on us–in the middle of the night! In fact, we see God as both our personal servant inside our house and the divine burglar who has to “break through the walls of [our] house.” That’s really quite extraordinary and not our usual image of God. It shows how much God–the “Hound of Heaven,” as Francis Thompson says–wants to get to us and how unrelenting is the work of grace.

Unless and until you understand the biblical concept of God’s unmerited favor, God’s unaccountable love, most of the biblical text cannot be interpreted or tied together in any positive way. It is, without doubt, the key and the code to everything transformative in the Bible. People who have not experienced the radical character of grace will always misinterpret the meanings and major direction of the Bible. The Bible will become a burden, obligation, and weapon more than a gift.

Grace cannot be understood by any ledger of merits and demerits. It cannot be held to patterns of buying, losing, earning, achieving, or manipulating, which is where, unfortunately, most of us live our lives. Grace is, quite literally, “for the taking.” It is God eternally giving away God–for nothing–except the giving itself. I believe grace is the life energy that makes flowers bloom, animals lovingly raise their young, babies smile, and the planets remain in their orbits–for no good reason whatsoever–except love alone.


Gateway to Silence
Open me to grace upon grace upon grace.


References:
[1] The New Baltimore Catechism of yesteryear; the more recent catechisms say essentially the same thing.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2007), 155-156.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Refrigerator Magnets — and Acid Rain

 

Spine of a BiblePsalm 8

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Lord’s Glory and Man’s Dignity.

For the choir director; on the Gittith. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

OK, so some morning this comes into your heart and you just SOAR… right? I mean, for a moment, just the barest fraction of moments… you are utterly rapt in true praise and worship… right? But then… then… the moment drifts away… as the leg cramps, or the chair is uncomfortable, or the day’s appointments intrude on consciousness, or the coffee pot burps, or the dog barks… and the moment is gone, like a soap bubble popping in a stiff breeze.

Gentle Reader, it should come as no surprise that I am a bit strange… that my prayer life is a bit strange. I mean, if the TITLE of this blog doesn’t give a clue, certainly the years of blog posts within it have…

So it won’t come as a shock to anyone here to say, I had a strange thing happen the other day, as God gave me one of the oddest moments of encouragement I’ve ever known. I invite you into this moment, though it may well stretch the imagination a bit. Forewarning, you want to pull out and dust off your “science fiction mind” for a few minutes. You’ll need some of that “physics – edges of the universe” thinking for just a bit.

Anyhow… the moment started, typically enough, with an instant of pure, clean, clear praise/worship prayer. Kinda like what the heart feels/experiences with we gently move through that 8th Psalm up there… just this beauteous, lovely, moment lost in Him…

So far, so good… for like… nanoseconds…

Then, it starts… all the little frailties, foibles, distraction, sparkly bits, chaotic cats… like my mind/spirit is a little bar magnet tied on a shoelace, being dragged through a pan full of metal shavings! By the time I come to the “Amen”, I can scarcely recall the essence of the Heavenly Throne where I started…

And that depresses me. That disturbs me. I… ** watch me draw myself up in my very best monastic dignity here **... I… am a GROWNUP, gosh-darnit! And I should be capable of maintaining a train of thought longer than my  caboose linked directly to His locomotive.

For I realize that it is the Lord Himself, who BEGINS every worship, praise or prayer. It is the impulse of the Holy Spirit, towards His Own Person… the Father… through the Son… that sets up the “cycle”, the “convection” of prayer, thanksgiving or praise that we are privileged to “ride along with”, like surfing a wave of grace that upholds the omniverse.

I realize that!

I just get so frustrated that before hitting the beach, almost at the same moment I catch the initial wave… I suddenly have to pull every bit of seaweed, flotsam, jelly fish, seashell, foam… and every other thing I encounter, up onto the board with me. I NEVER get there with a “pure intention”… with simple, straightforwardness… with a clean heart.

(You may recall, for years I really felt down on myself for that. Then, a couple years ago now… Jesus sat down alongside me when I was in one of these mini-tantrums, put His arm around my shoulders, and said, “Little Monk… I KNOW this. I’ve ALWAYS known this. And I embrace and treasure you… AND this… always! Now, if I embrace this truth of you, don’t you think you can too? Without all this regret?”)

So, I learned to “shrug” rather than condemn, accepting this frailty as my human condition, knowing by faith that the Lord receives the “prayer of my heart”, my “will”, my “intention”, despite all the debris I hang on it by the time I release it.

So, the other night, I found myself “shrugging this off”. As simple praise that started so clear, got tangled in other thoughts and ideas by the “Amen”. I didn’t fixate on it… I just “shrugged” and carried on, wrapping a silent “I’m sorry” around my thoughts, as I continued to pray.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That’s when God did this incredible thing.

He stopped me.

“O Little Monk!” He laughed, compassionately. “You try so hard, you work so hard, and you SO miss the point. Let Me try to fix this a moment!

“Behold… here is what you see…”

And I saw my “convection” model… like rain forming in the clouds. The water up there, in the atmosphere at high altitude, is largely crystal. It is pure, it is clean, like “ice”… it is pure water. At some point, temperature, humidity, pressure, wind, come together in just the right proportions and “rain” begins to descend from the heart of a cloud. THAT is pure water. Like the environment impels the cloud, and the cloud responds releasing a drop of pure water.

Like, the Holy Spirit impels the heart in God, and the heart/mind/spirit responds releasing a drop of pure… “prayer”.

But then, as that drop from the raincloud falls, it passes through haze, smog, dust, dirt, smut. It picks up “stuff”, some of which is really “bad stuff”. These days, the world is losing (every day) irreplaceable artifacts, architecture, and art to “Acid Rain”. By the time that raindrop falls to earth, it picks up enough pollution and toxicity that it’s dissolving the details of stone carved hundreds or thousands of years ago.

This is sad. This is how I saw my prayer. God agreed… this made me sadder, not relieved! I was confused.

“But wait!” He said. “That is only how YOU see it. How YOU experience it, Little Monk. Your drop has to ‘fall down’, has to filter on through your own mind and consciousness (complete with all your ‘stuff’), before YOU get to your ‘Amen’. So YOU experience it as polluted, watered down, and vastly short of what the Holy Spirit called it forth to be.”

“Yes, Lord. That’s true.” I nodded, not quite following Him.

“But don’t you see, Little Monk? I am NOT you! I do NOT work that way! I do not have to ‘wait for your Amen’. For Me, I am there, I am present in the moment of your RESPONSE. Let Me show you.”

And He showed me an “impulse of the Holy Spirit”… Um, imagine a “spark”, triggering a “heartbeat”. So there is a moment of a “call to worship”, or a moment of “thanksgiving”, or a moment of “loving petition or intercession”…  like a laser ray, shining like a beacon towards the Father’s heart.

And, for a moment of response, I JOIN with that. For a time, however brief, my attention is focused entirely on Him, and/or on the person being loved and prayed for. For however brief a time, *I* am OUT of the loop. The prayer is “selfless” in the right sense of that.

But then, as I watched this “reconstruction”, I started moving further down the timeline, to where it gets polluted, and He said…

“STOP! Don’t DO that! THAT’s what you are not understanding. That’s what I want you to see here and now. That is what YOU do, what YOU experience… but not Me. Let me show you how I see that same prayer…”

** Now here’s where it gets a bit more weird, Gentle Reader. Just try to ride with me here **

But imagine a visible “time line” in front of you. Like a “number line” back when you were in grade school math. And imagine that on that Time Line you can see the… whatever the period was… lots of seconds, a few seconds, one second, nanoseconds…. whatever… where that RESPONSE to the call of the Holy Spirit (that “pure prayer of will and heart”) was demarcated, before magnetic sticky stuff started to glom onto it.

Right… now imagine that God just “magnified” that section of the timeline in front of you, so that it wasn’t just “inches” anymore, but “feet”, then “yards” then “miles”…. Now imagine that instead of just ONE dimension… (a time LINE), it became TWO… a surface, like a landscape of miles…

I watched this. I watched this nanosecond, become an entire landscape… a landscape of worship of Him, praise of Him, submission to Him, adoration of Him. It became light reflecting His Light, and He “reveled” in it. He wrapped Himself with it like a coat, and derived great joy from it.

“THIS, Little Monk. This is how I see everyone, anyone’s, response to the Spirit’s impulse to prayer, praise, or petition. Time means NOTHING to Me. I am NOT subject to Time. I capture and treasure moments when My children simply love and trust Me. No matter how short those moments seem to them.

“I can come here anytime. This nanosecond of yours, is like a millennium to Me. I take such moments as these, and preserve them in My heart… like you take the drawings of your grandchildren, and stick them on your refrigerator door… as you did their mother’s before them. Little Monk… EVERY time a child of Mine responds with love to a moment of Spirit… I capture and treasure that moment, like a canvas. I save it in My ‘forever’… like you on your refrigerator door.

“Try to stop focusing on the Acid Rain. I know you see it, but I do not. I see this… and in My House are many refrigerators… and the doors… the doors are huge. Think of those, and enjoy the moments.

“We’ll discuss the Acid Rain more later. But for now, just keep making the artwork. I’ve plenty of room left on your refrigerator door.”

And He hugged me, and returned me to my regularly scheduled dimension.  I felt much better. How about you, Gentle Reader?

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2016 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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