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Tag Archives: Lent

It’s Not the Feet and Hands, but the Eyes

earth beautifulHere we are in Lent. That’s a different thing for everyone. “Seasons”, Liturgical Seasons, are wondrous times, opportunities for the Holy Spirit to focus our interior eyes on a particular aspect of grace and our relationship with God. Such seasons as Lent, or Easter, or Advent, or Christmas, or the Pentecost… all allow us to concentrate our gaze on some facet of this “Crystal Rose” in our Garden of Prayer, the King of Kings. Generally speaking, the Lenten Season is somber, reserved, reflective, looking forward through the great trials and sufferings of Christ approaching the Crucifixion, as He draws to His climax in Jerusalem and the Cross.

What should Lent be like? Well, if the rhythm of this season resonates, the experience should be whatever the Holy Spirit calls for it to be for you in your own unique journey with Christ. For some, it is a time of recollection of our own need for grace; reminder of our frailty and fallenness, sense of responsibility for our wrong decisions, and awesome wonder at all the pain heaped upon our dear Lord in our place, in payment for our own regrettable actions and decisions. For others, it may be an intense awareness of Jesus’ passion, of His strength, courage, determination to do the will of the Father no matter the personal cost. Lent may generate the intense response of admiration and worship for so noble a Lord who struggled and overcame so much to honor the will of God.

There is no “right” way to experience Lent, and no “wrong” way, as long as the Holy Spirit is given free rein to prepare straight paths for the renewal of the Truth of the Resurrection, and the glory of Jesus’ triumph over Death itself on Easter. Traditions, customs, denominations, cultures, and eras are incredibly diverse in their observation of the Lenten Season. Across my own life, the experience has been tremendously different from one year to the next, one decade to the next.

So let me invite you, let me encourage you, to make way for the Holy Spirit to use this season to bless you. Let me invite you to enter into the Scriptural experience of these days approaching Easter, making straight paths for the Holy Spirit to show you whatever nurtures your relationship and awareness of the immediate and intimate presence of Christ in your life and spirit. Your experience doesn’t have to “look like” that of anyone else, as long as the focus is on Jesus the Christ, and the scriptural elements that so richly fill these days and these pages.

This one thing I would note in addition.

That there is no meaning to Lent, no meaning to the suffering, no meaning to even the “forgiveness of sin”, or the “payment for sin”, or the “satisfaction of God’s justice”, or even the “extension of grace and mercy to man”… if those are seen as merely “functions”. If those are seen as “things God did” or “things God does”… When we see these things as simple “extensions of God’s methodology”, we miss the point entirely.

All these things… ALL that we see of grace, of God’s workings…. is direct expression of His Infinite Love and nothing less.

Embrace the awareness, the sorrow, the contrition of knowing He took our own just punishment for our own willful and willing sin… yes. Don’t reject or resist that, if that is what the Spirit leads. Embrace the awareness of His suffering, His pain, His humility and obedience, His submissiveness to His destiny and the Father’s will, in the blood and the nails… yes. Don’t reject or resist that movement of your heart into His on the Cross, if that is what the Spirit leads. But in all of that, just don’t get so fixated on the blood, the scourge, the thorns, and the nails… that we neglect to look at His face, His eyes. They radiate with the reason for it all… His Infinite Love, Our Father’s Infinite Love, the Spirit’s Infinite love… for you, personally, individually… and every other child He has fashioned as well.

Let us not gaze upon the mysteries of Lent, these incredible 40 days, or Passion Week with its horrors, spectating like onlookers at the scene of a great train wreck. If we fixate, fascinated on the scourge, the thorns, the nails, and the blood, and we miss the wondrous theme playing just below that surface… we simply witness a deep drama of horror and cruelty.

Even in grief, we want to remember that undergirding all this… is unspeakable Infinite Love. That’s what all of this is about. This is the act, prepared before the foundations of the cosmos, that embraces all of creation in the arms of Infinite Love… by the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amazing, isn’t it? Amen.

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Journey – Giving Up Gravity

Desert CaravanWe travel towards the Temple in Jerusalem with greater focus, as the middle phase of this journey draws into its close.

There seems to be less chatter now. All is just as friendly, all are just as kind. But perhaps we’re a bit more introspective. There’s a bit more gravitas than there was in our opening days.

Did the guys, the Disciples, experience this as well? As the days of Jesus’ last Passover approached, as He became more focused on the events of these last days to come, did they feel the tension? Certainly He did! Time after time in these last weeks, He would unexpectedly make some allusion to His approaching death. It concerned them, it worried them, it grieved them. Making it all so much worse, of course… the grief and mourning over something they by no means could understand!

Jesus was strong! Jesus was healthy! Jesus was at the absolute epitome, the top, of His power and authority! He had escaped death now many times. He had just raised the dead. He cast out demons so totally and authoritatively that it seemed old hat, nearly routine! And yet… and yet… NOW He spoke of death. He spoke of the end. It was… disturbing.

It all seemed so… so… so backwards!

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Backwards… like so many things Jesus taught. So many things He teaches. So many things that He even taught from the very first!

Sermon on the Mount! “Blessed are those who”… appear the most accursed. How can this be? All those conditions… mourning, poverty, powerlessness, those whose circumstances are unrighteous… those are not GOOD conditions, but BAD! And Jesus called THESE people “blessed” and promised that because of where they were, and what they needed, and what they wanted… God would then provide and bless! This is upside down! This is backwards. This is like water running uphill. This makes no sense.

Simple justice… simple fairness… common sense. Love your friends and hate your enemy. Treat others as they treat you. Deal with one another with simple fairness and reciprocity! This is simple fairness and justice. This is the Law! This is the will of a Reasonable and Just God!

But NO! Jesus says, “NO!”… this is NOT the will of God. God is NOT reasonable, logical, or what common sense would tell us is “Just”! Get that out of our heads! We are to look towards God Alone as providing for us, as blessing us, as “treating us rightly”. We are NOT to expect that from anyone else! We are to receive our grace, as grace, from God Alone. We are then to dispense that same grace, as grace, to ALL who surround us… friend and enemy alike.

We are not to “score” or “sort” or “label” our encounters and relationships as “good or bad”, “friend or enemy”. Not even so simple and obvious a distinction as THAT… friend or enemy… between people we know. Later on in fact, Jesus even removes the label “family” from our vocabulary. (But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” Luke 8:21 and Mark 3:33 and Matthew 12:48.)

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I mean… this makes no SENSE, does it? It’s all so upside down!

The last shall be first and the first shall be last… (Matthew 20:16 and Mark 9:35)

To live is to die, and to die is to live… (Matthew 16:25 and Mark 8:35 and Luke 9:24)

To be greatest in the Kingdom of God is to be the most powerless and servile… (Matthew 8:1-4).

That Jesus Himself is the Greatest of All because He lowered Himself to be the Lowest Servant of All… (Philippians 2:5-11)

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How many times? How many times have we seen these truths? Read these truths? Studied these truths? Heaven help us… even TAUGHT these truths to others? And yet… yet… how hard do we yet struggle against them? I know I do…

Don’t we yet yearn for that recognition? That token of esteem? That “honored seat” at a committee meeting? That acknowledgment or applause at a community function? That satisfaction at sitting in the President’s Chair on the Platform during service, or that front pew for the Church Leaders? Do we grasp the edges of our pulpits as we preach, with just that flash of a moment of satisfaction that “this is MY church… MY pulpit”, and feel the accomplishment as we look among the sea of faces before us? Or, in other contexts, do we strive after that next promotion, that next raise, that bigger office?

Why? Why is this so? Because we are trained and conditioned from childhood that this is the “natural order” of things. We learn to measure our own value, to ourselves, based on the “value tokens” we receive from others… particularly our “judges”. We are conditioned to strain for the “good grades”, the “great report cards”, the “honor roll”, the “Dean’s List”. Then, the “good job”, the “high salary”, and “great perks”. We learn that the world and the authorities of the world (bosses, community leaders, church leaders), will “score and evaluate” us… and that it is Good to score high with great recognition, and it is Bad not to. To be the innocuous and inconspicuous servant, in terms of our conditioning, is to become an utter failure.

So we are trained, from cradle to grave… Amen.

It’s all as natural and self-evident as Gravity!

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And then along comes Jesus… and it all falls apart.

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So what, on this day of our journey, has Jesus pointed to for me to be rid of?

“Little Monk, if you are ready, I want you to let go of Gravity. It is so obvious. It is so THERE. It draws you towards its heart every moment of every day. But Little Monk, even though every fiber of your being screams out that it is real, it is meaningful, it is obvious, it is important and it is True…

“I tell you, it is NOT True. This gravity that you know, this natural force of ‘cream rising to the top’… is utterly false. It is an illusion of the Enemy that continues to delude My Children every day.

“Embrace the counter-intuitive Truth that I have told you, I have taught you, I have repeated to you and to all My Children innumerable times… Embrace that My Kingdom is Upside Down!

“Because as long as you accept the reality of Gravity, then every day your mind and your will are in conflict. You know and accept My Word(s), But you keep trying to accept that gravity is real as well, so you try to “bend your life” into some shape or configuration that makes them both work. You try to reconcile your identity as servant with your ambition to greatness and success.

“Give it up, if you are ready. You’ll find life more comfortable. What’s more…” as His voice dropped to a nearly conspiratorial tone, “once you truly let go of it, you’ll find that I can teach you to fly!

“Now, it’s your call…”

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I have left Gravity by the side of the trail. (It was too big to fit into the fire pit.)

 

 

 

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Journey – Spring Cleaning

Desert CaravanAs we approach the halfway point of our journey, my packs are getting a bit lighter. It’s as if the smaller “easy stuff” has gone by the wayside, but the deeper encumbrances are more of a challenge to dig out.

It seems an appropriate time to just sit a moment and ask, “what are we doing here? Really?”

I mean, yes, here we are in “Lent” and all… and so we’re “giving up” stuff… Right… but… but really… WHY?

Is there anything innately “meritorious” about “giving up stuff”? I mean, are we supposed to “impress God” with our “strength of character”, by giving stuff up in this season? Is that what it’s all about?

Of course, when I was quite small I was in a part of the country where most of my classmates were either Roman Catholic or Jewish. (I was actually quite jealous of them… Catholic students got a “half day” of school every Wednesday for “Release Time”, when they went to Church for religious instruction. Jewish Students got like twelve additional “holidays” off school for a variety of their religious observances. It just didn’t hardly seem fair!)

I remember “Lent” quite distinctly, for as Ash Wednesday approached, one of the hottest of conversation topics was… “What are YOU giving up?” There were the “good kids”, from the “proper” homes, who boringly gave up really cool stuf… Ice Cream, Chocolate, Comic Books, one most heroic ascetic actually admitted he was going to give up Television!

Among my own personal CIRCLE of friends, more “creative” choices were likely. Friends who chose to give up things like… homework, liver, vegetables… And, my personal favorite, the young man who tried to swear off “baths” for 40 days. He regretfully reported that he could not sell his parents on this sacrifice.

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Of course, my playmates and friends had rather missed the point of the exercise. Many of their examples are simply funny… and I tell these stories here (true stories, btw!)… to share the humor. HOWEVER…….. I’m not sure most adults, religiously sincere beloved people, who engage in Lenten Fasting aren’t themselves just about as confused regarding “what’s it all about?”

Now, I truly want to be careful here. I am NOT being critical of the theology or dogmas of others. I have mine. You have yours. God blesses piety as expression of love for Him. It is vastly above my pay grade, here or anywhere else, to engage in “comparative religions class”. That’s NOT what this is about.

But a meaningful point to look at here… is “Penance”.

Now, before anyone gears up for dispute… (we’re NOT going to go reaching for our spiders or scorpions here… lol)... I’m about to express some principles I have been taught and believe to be true in and of my own background. The fact that these may be principles of worship or piety, does not mean that they are “exclusively true”. That is, just because these may be valuable principles for me in my own prayer life, that does not mean that they are universal… or that if you live by OTHER principles, I imply that you and yours are wrong. Not at all.

Right…

So, I think one of the major “disconnects” among worship cultures such as the Liturgical and the Evangelical, is on this issue of “Penance”, and “formalized contrition”. This tension becomes apparent in consideration of “Confession” or the “Rite of Reconciliation” leading towards sacramental Absolution. It also emerges to a lesser extent in the issues of Fasting, or Lenten or Advent preparations for Easter or Christmas.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9]

I’ve really struggled with how to say this next part without getting all bogged down in theology or comparative religion. I guess I’ll just say it, lay it out there on the table, let ya’ll poke and prod at it to your heart’s content, and have done.

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The underlying and mistaken belief of my childhood friends regarding Lent was that it was a season to “do penance”, to suffer, to endure deprivation or perform a sacrifice, to pay for sin and wrongdoing in their lives. It contained a grounding principle that implied Jesus’ need for them to add something more, some degree of “punishment”, to THEIR lives… in order to be clean and purified from sin before God.

This SPECIFIC outlook was itself grounded in a broader worldview that because of our frailties, fallenness, and sins… we are not only unworthy, but UNABLE, to stand transparently and directly before Holy God. That we can only approach Him in a “grovelling, penitent” posture. That, therefore, if we hope to approach God in a near and intimate way at Easter, we must “purify ourselves” all the more strongly through Lenten sacrifice. So, the more horrid one’s Lent, the more joyful and blessed one’s Easter. This is a transaction with God.

THIS is grounded on an even more fundamental belief, usually left unspoken and  unexamined, that the experience of the Immediate and Intimate Presence of God… is to be dreaded as something that will fill us with fear, shame, and guilt. That we worship a “joyless” God, who cannot wait to catch us out and point to all our shortcomings.

Here’s a great commentary on that: A Mardi Gras Season Thought

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But here, today, at this “halfway point” of our Journey through Lent, I would like even to go a bit past that author’s point, past our typical understandings of Lent, past the usual views whether Liturgical OR Evangelical…

What if Lent… indeed what if ALL “Penance”… were nothing more nor less than, “The grand celebration of our freedom from tyranny… even the ultimate tyranny of ourselves.”

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” [2 Corinthians 10:3-6]

“Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

HERE, it seems, is a meaningful reflection of “penance”.

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Penance is NOT “punishment for sin”. That was already taken care of, in vastly more capable hands than ours. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” [2 Corinthians 5:12]. “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” [1 John 4:17-18]

Often, Penance is a gestural representation of sorrow and repentance Like one may send a card or give a gift to represent love and esteem on a holiday, the gift given is a “token of representation”. The gift is not designed to “assign value”, or “pay for” the value of the relationship. It is a “gesture”, not the measure of one’s weight in gold or silver. We can affirm our entering into the joy of an occasion (say a birthday, wedding, or anniversary), through offering a gesture of gift.

Penance can be a “gift of godly sorrow”, in the sense that Paul says here…

I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” [2 Corinthians 7:9-11]

It’s important here, I think, to distinguish this from a very wrong type of repentance and penance… that which tries to “fix it all”, and “undo the wrong”. This is the repentance of Judas… which flat doesn’t work.

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to that yourself!’ And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.’ And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” [Matthew 27:3-7]

See that huge difference? I mean, beyond Judas’ suicide, of course. Repentance for Paul is “FORWARD LOOKING”… it is to set a new and more loving godly direction for present and future action. One acknowledges failure of the past, but only for the purpose of present gratitude for grace and future increase in love and godliness. Judas’ remorse however, his “sorrow that leads to death” as Paul would phrase it, is “BACKWARD LOOKING”. It is fixated and obsessed with the wrongful act, seeks to reverse the act, to make reparation and restore the status quo ante. Forgiveness is sought from man, not God. And… bottom line… it doesn’t work. (Far too many Christians get themselves caught in this trap, by the way.)

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So right here, at what has been our halfway point of this journey, I wanted to state “why I am here”, and invite your comments to do the same.

It’s so simple….

A while back, I came to realize that “I am a Temple”. Not just my “body” or my “soul”, but my ME. My Life. My Being. My Self. I have been fashioned in the very Image of God, with a destiny to house Him and His love and authority in their fullness.

I am the “Keeper”, the “Custodian” of this Temple. I can choose to take into it what I wish, store it as I wish, and keep this environment orderly or messy, as I choose. I can “construct and configure” it as I choose. My free will manages this environment with little constraint. But there’s only so much “room”. I have only so much “attention” and “consciousness” to offer.

If I become a “spiritual hoarder”, an “emotional cripple”, clinging to every shadow and illusion that moves me deeply… I will have no room, no freedom, no space, no attention… with which to receive and house Almighty God in all His Magnificence.

For me, Lent is simply “Spring Cleaning”. Here is this wonderful time available to move through my House, room by room, finding “false treasures” that I thought had value for me… and sweep them away to make room for True Treasure.

Is this “Penance”? Well, I suppose… to the extent that I yet experience foolish desire and attachment to issues, feelings, habits, attitudes that have no truth to them… just by my own habit or willfulness. But if casting away that delicious poison tests my integrity… well GOOD! It’s a good thing for me to “flex those muscles” from time to time.

As I said… Penance? Token gift of affirmation, gratitude, and agreement with the grace and forgiveness of God. But ALSO, a grand celebration of my own freedom from tyranny… even the tyranny of my own appetites and foolishness.

I love being “free in Christ”! How about you?

 

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The Journey – Standing Still

Desert Caravan“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” [Exodus 20:8-11]

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All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [Matthew 11:27-29]

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This is an unusual post, Gentle Reader. I welcome you to this journey, this caravan, as we take this special time this year… this Lenten Season… this 40 day period… and head into our own spiritual Jerusalem for our Passover sacrifice, our celebration of the Resurrection at Easter. We began last Wednesday, 5 days ago.

In my own life, the Lord had again placed me on notice that come Resurrection Day, He would again show me something new and spectacular that I have never seen, never known, of Him before. He has done this from time to time in the past. But there is always this “run up” to that awareness. The epiphany ALWAYS came after a time of preparation. But I did NOT always KNOW that. In some years, it just happened… I’d have this extraordinary, often quite painful, process of “spiritual housecleaning” and “preparation”… but WITHOUT knowing that the Lord had something special in His hands come Easter.

So this year, there are these two massive differences from years past.

One, that each day the Lord Himself has chosen simply to identify something in and of me, of my life, my spirit, that encumbers me. These encumbrances are “my stuff”… stuff I grasp as treasure in my hands, clutch as treasure to my heart, that are empty, meaningless, and that build a barrier between me and Our Lord. Even more amazing… He is NOT going to take these things away from me. He’s not going to love me less, think less of me, if I cling to the emptiness of “my stuff”. No. He is choosing to leave it to me, after He identifies the item, after He speaks Truth over the item… He is leaving it up to me to choose to cast it away… or not.

Two, the other big difference between this year and past years is… we are inviting others… any others… all others… to travel with us. This is a journey in company, a caravan of companions. This is quite new for me. This is rather transparent and vulnerable. Nothing inappropriate, of course. The invitation is out here, Gentle Reader, to enter in fully to this journey. Feel free to share anything you’d like about letting go “your stuff”, if you identify encumbrances.

So there is our context, Gentle Reader. Last Sunday, at least in my little section of the universe, here in the Buckle of the Bible Belt… God called a “Snow Day”. In this city of 100 churches… they ALL closed, because of dangerous driving conditions. Amazingly, that turned into an incredible day of worship, right here in my home. It was a simple day, a quiet day, music, internet contacts with other worshipers, prayer… all that… but the Lord came in a massive and incredible way with prayer response that just overwhelmed.

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Today, fellow travelers… do not strike camp and saddle up. I didn’t realize that, though probably I should have… but we’re not traveling today. Nope, as the day started, the Lord came striding out among the tents, calling out for everyone to hold fast.

He cheerfully gathered everyone around Him, had food brought to Him prepared at various hearths, blessed it, divided it up, and served us all breakfast. As we all sat together, we chatted, laughed, enjoyed one another’s company. I’ve never so relaxed.

As Jesus ate, He spoke. He spoke of the Father, the Father’s love, for Him, for us, for all. He spoke of His love, for the Father, for us, for all. He spoke of the Spirit of Love, from the Father, of Him, in us. It was amazing. It wasn’t like any “sermon” you’ve ever heard. It was wonderful. He spoke of us as His children, His brethren, His family, His friends. Wondrous…

As He closed, He invited us all to “lose something” today. He said He was going to ask us for something, and then He was going to give us something. That His gift was for us, whether we chose to lose what He called for or not. This was not a “deal”, and His gift was not conditional. Both matters were simply appropriate for today.

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The Lord said He wanted us to consider holding on to today in our hearts… remembering… replaying… reliving… how wonderful it was when we simply sat down, let Him feed us, rested, and enjoyed one another’s company. THIS, He said, was “Sabbath”. This was what it was always intended to be. That we were to stop, for just one day out of seven, and TRUST HIM to run, not only the Universe-at-Large, but also our own little corner of it.

What did He challenge us to give Him? To cast away from us, and drop along the trail today? Our “Control Key”, like the Remote Control we use to manage and micromanage all our circumstances and activities for every day. Our worries, our work, our stresses, our planning, all that. Just to take our hands off the control panel… at least for one day each week. He challenged us to Trust Him to manage that day, and just rest from all our work of the rest of the week.

That was what He asked me to drop today… not as a “big deal”… but just as a reasonable ongoing part of what He has made into a wondrous day to begin with. I have done that.

But then, without waiting for our responses or answers, He did this incredible thing. Just sitting there with us, all circled about… He said He wanted us to try something. For these moments, He wanted us just to sit, to feel the love present here, and behold Him. Just look upon Him, see Him, and Know Him as He sat there loving us.

Then He said, as we did that, as we quieted our hearts, minds, selves to simply see Him as He is, in all that love… we would come to see the Father Himself.

His closing words, as we began, were… “Be still, and know that I AM God…”

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We are still there, Gentle Reader. What a wondrous day this is.

 

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Journey – Losing Isms

Desert CaravanThe woman *said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” [John 4:19-26]

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This has been an interesting day on our travels towards Jerusalem. A fellow traveler brought forth a discussion, the sadness, between those who know and believe in Our God, and those who do not. (See Seriously…? in Life Reference, by Don Merritt). A gauntlet had been thrown down by a non-believer. False words, hurtful words, words attributed to believers that are light years from our hearts.

Politicians, theologians, and other propagandists know this technique well. It goes by many names: “straw manning”, “demonizing”, “hyperbole”… a form of “false logic”, doomed from the start by the assertion of a “false premise”. A debate technique used and often documented against Jesus Himself, well known to religious leaders seeking to condemn Him.

Seeing this… seeing this affront… hearing the reactions of brethren… feeling both the anger and the grief in my heart at such false and empty words…

At the end of this day I was sad, and I was angry, and I wanted… (as so often I do)… somehow, to “fix it”. I wished I could confront the liar and “set them straight”. I wished I could somehow “make” people see love, truth, light. All those feelings, jumbled together.

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As the Lord walked among us in the cool of the evening, I sat staring into my firepit pondering all of this. I struggled with my feelings and the adrenalin they produced. The Lord sat down and stared into the fire with me, at first saying nothing. I knew He was here for me to throw something out of my pack. But I’d not “meditated” on that today. I’d not reflected on how to improve myself for the sacrifice at Passover. I’d been too absorbed in the “us” versus “them” of children denied access to love, light, and truth. I thought He would correct me for my negligence. I thought He would say I ought to have “focused better”, “prayed better”, “reflected better”.

He did none of that. (He often surprises me this way.)

Instead, He gently asked, “Little Monk, may I please go get something from your pack? You have uninvited guests stowing away with you.”

I nodded, a bit confused, as He opened my bag, gently reached in with each hand, and came back. He carried a scorpion on one palm, and a tarantula on the other. Carefully, He set them down a few inches apart in the light of the fire.

Both are deadly venomous desert dwellers, accustomed to clinging to life by mortal combat. Instantly, they prepared for battle as they perceived one another so close on the sand. The scorpion, swinging forth his pincers,  arched the barbed poison tail at the ready position above him. The tarantula leaned back, extending his forelegs and exposing his fangs, ready to defend or attack as his six eyes glinted red with the firelight, seeking an opportune opening.

“Little Monk, which do you want to win? Whose side are you on, in this upcoming battle?” Jesus asked, in the calm tone we reserve for questions like, “would you like lemon or milk with your tea?”

I said nothing. (You may find it hard to believe of me, speechlessness… but still…) I had no words. I had no idea how to answer His question. But that was not good enough.

“Little Monk! Who do you want to WIN here? They are certainly going to fight! Whose SIDE are you on?”

Knowing He demanded an answer, I said, “I don’t know what to say, Lord. I’m not on either one’s side. I have no desire for one to win and the other lose. I don’t even want to see them fight.”

“Ah”, He rocked back on His heels, “and why not?”

“Because likely one would die, perhaps both. And there is no food here, no mate, no reason for them to fight. Death is not something I want to see this night.”

“Thank you. I rejoice that you are not one who would want to see them fight and die, simply because you have the power to make that happen. These, too, are sacred. I have created them, and they serve their purpose. Entertainment, amusement, recreational death, is NOT their purpose.” And ever so gently, He reached His fingers out to them and touched them, He blessed them, and waved His hands outwards into the darkness of the night in different directions. They skittered rapidly away, and again we just sat, looking at the fire.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Little Monk, you may want to rid yourself of your spider and your scorpion. Simply to SEE the other, is to prompt weapons, venom, and a fighting stance. Like a flag before a bull, there is no thought or reflection, just reaction. Both are sacred. For them to fight is to bring forth violence, wounding, venom, and even death.

“You turned from that this evening. But you do not always do so. Sometimes, you care. Sometimes you take sides. Sometimes you cheer one on against the other. But that is no more right then, than it would have been now. It is still venom, wounding, and death in some form.

“Senselessly to watch them kill repulsed you. GOOD! You could not choose sides between the spider and the scorpion, because you saw something beyond that which was vastly more important. You saw that they were filled with Life, that I made them, that they were sacred because of their Life in Me, not their species.

“Spider or scorpion… this or that ism… this or that ology… this or that position… this or that error… whether right or WRONG, My children are sacred. When words become weapons to wield and wound, it is no less desecration than any other violence and wounding. You have grown a bit. You do this far less than you used to. But now see past it altogether… spider or scorpion… Temple or mountain… apple or orange. Wrong dimension, wrong fight altogether. Don’t take part, not even as a spectator, let alone participant.

“The Samaritan woman asked Temple or mountain. I did not even address it, I simply spoke Truth and ignored the dispute and debate. Elder churchmen brought Me the woman caught in adultery, asking ‘do we kill her and obey Moses? or do we not, and break the Law?’ No… no… I will not debate, I would not play their game. I spoke Truth of Our Father, that only the Pure can judge the sins of others, and no one there was pure enough for that!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“It is up to you, Little Monk. You may carry your spider and your scorpion, your adrenalin, your cleverness with words as weapons, your verbal violence, and your skill in debate for as long and as far as you wish. But realize, it is venomous. And although you may never know it or feel it, it poisons you yourself. It slows you down, wastes your time in foolish emptiness, and weakens you.

“Would you move faster, lighter, calmer, freer? Then leave these deadly pets aside here tonight. Do not destroy them. They are what they are. Simply bless them, send them their way, and move on. Not your role to judge, even THEM. Just consider no longer letting them ride along with you, invited or not.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yes, I could see the Truth in what He said. I had no answer, but I simply bid them goodbye, and have resolved to nevermore collect their poison in little flasks… or keep any on hand in case my daggers called for them. I have cast aside my daggers. I shall keep a sword, but it needs no poison or venom.

It is lighter, traveling less armed. And it is faster, moving on without the momentary skirmish to distract. Hmmm, who’da thought my teachers today would be a spider and a scorpion?

 

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Journey – It Didn’t Look Heavy

Desert Caravan“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’” [Matthew 11:16-18]

Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Matthew 9:10-13]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Our third day of travel was pleasant and productive, though perhaps a bit slower than I’d have liked. My beast of burden seemed to labor more heavily than I thought needful. As we camp for the evening, the Lord walked among us. He drew me aside to my baggage, looked into my pack, and commented that He would like to see the gift I planned to present.

This was awkward, for my gift was a pearl I intended to give. It was a lovely pearl, multicolored, round and smooth. I had sought this pearl long and hard, and offered it as my most treasured possession. But… but… being round and smooth, it had worked its way to the bottom of the pack. I could not reach it. I could not even see it… hidden as it was beneath all my belongings.

The Lord peeked in to my bag, smiled, and said, “You’ve packed too much baggage. These things encumber you. Why not use this journey to rid yourself of these things you have no more need of? Why not learn to travel faster, lighter, more nimbly than you ever have before? These things, this debris between you and your pearl, is a waste of space.”

This seemed harsh to me. I protested, “But Lord! I NEED these things. I’ve always had these things. They are part of me. How can I live if I rid myself of them?”

Gently, smiling, He said, “Little Monk, you don’t need nearly as much as you think you do. ‘I am sufficient for thee’…” He quoted. “And that is TRUE, Little One. Tell you what. I’m not saying to dump out this whole bag right here. I’m not even saying you HAVE to rid yourself of these at all. But how about considering ridding yourself of one piece of this meaningless debris at a time… one item per day… but only as you yourself SEE that you no longer need these things? How’s that?”

Um, Gentle Reader, it rather shames me to admit… but, while I agreed to the Lord’s terms, my tone was not exactly a hearty “hail fellow, well met” about it. It was a bit more timid a whisper of… “Um, sure, Lord. If that’s what You really want… I guess that will be ok.”

Why? Why all that timidity and hesitation? Well, because, strange to say… I didn’t and don’t KNOW exactly what that is in that pack. I know ABOUT it, but not specifics. I know that it’s the “stuff” I consider indispensable to me and my life, my ego. It’s the stuff I think I cannot live without, but which isn’t really needful. Imagine our lives being a Temple of Holy God in our own universe? Well, this stuff is the “clutter”… those items we acquire, collect, and treasure for reasons that satisfy or glorify ourselves, but not Him. See now, my hesitation? These are my “Teddy Bears”… my “Blankies”… my “Binkies”. And we all irrationally cling to and treasure such things.

But Our Lord has asked me, challenged me, to “trust Him” here. He has assured me He will not violate, not “tear anything from my grasp”. Rather He is going to point items out, one at a time, let me ponder them, and see if I still see them as needful. If so, I may keep them. If not, then I alone will choose to release them and cast them out along the path here.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He pointed to a scroll atop the stack of my stuff. I knew this scroll. It is one of my most prized possessions. It is like a certificate, with my name writ large on the top, signed by leaders, friends, persons of stature… proclaiming that “Little Monk is hereby recognized as respectable, orthodox, legitimate in humanity and ministry!” This scroll is my “‘I’m OK’ Certificate”.

The Lord POINTED… at THIS! The Lord bid me GET RID… of THIS! I was horrified. I protested. He answered.

“Little Monk, it is not that this is a BAD thing. But, in you, in your life now, this is a NEEDLESS thing. THIS… this is ‘your reputation’.

The Lord went on, “This was built through the first half of your life, as you had no regard whatever for YOUR reputation, but only for MINE. And you were successful. But suddenly, one day, you received this scroll. And you were proud of it. All right. Not a bad thing in itself. But… but… NOW, you begin to be concerned for this. You begin jealously to guard this. You hear the voices of the hypocrites, who say, ‘Don’t jeopardize your reputation, by going to wrong places, being with wrong people, doing things others may judge to be wrong.’ Little Monk, you are beginning to hear those voices, consider their counsel, and constrain your steps to retain their approval.

“Little Monk, I… when I walked the earth…. never HAD their approval. They tested Me, they tried Me, they tried to trap and catch Me out, ultimately they tried, convicted, and murdered Me. Every moment of My ministry, they tried to constrain My steps, and I would not allow it.

“You are beginning to do so. You have begun to succumb to the siren’s song of specious argument… ‘what would the community think?”… “what example do you set?”… to churchmen, to youth, to the community at large. The answer to those questions is simple and straightforward… the example you are to set is as it has ever been… Me! You are to let Me walk in you, speaking My words, loving with My heart, touching with My hands. I have never changed nor wavered, and I never will. They judged Me as Me in My time. They will judge Me in you the same way.

“Release this, Little Monk. Let go your love of your reputation. Let Me simply be Me in and through you, and stop constraining My steps, My love, or My hands for fear of “what others will think”, or your concern over your reputation among churchmen. Release your reputation, Little Monk. Trust Me, and know, when you love as I love, do as I command, you WILL be rejected, reviled, and persecuted by those who love themselves, their darkness, their control, and their boundaries. They always did, they always have, they always will. That just goes with the mission.

“But it is your own choice. Embrace all that, and release this concern for your reputation. Or, don’t. Hold on to this instead. I’ll not love you less nor think less of you. But know this… this weighs us down, constrains and fetters us. And you will be much happier as My free child, than as their fearful puppet.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This made sense to me. I picked up the scroll with one last look. Realized how empty and meaningless it was, and placed it in our evening fire. As the parchment ignited, glowing red, then curling to black ash… I felt as though a shadow had left my heart, and it felt lighter and more free. Freedom is a wonderful feeling.

My reputation… meaningless… burnt to ash… an empty illusion. Being true to Him… following Him… going where His feet lead me… taking Light into dark places? THAT is real. That is joyful. THAT is free!

This has been a good day on our journey.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Anyone else have anything for the campfire?

 

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Journey – Settling In

Desert CaravanHere we find ourselves on this Journey to the Temple in Jerusalem. 39 more days we will travel together.

What your journey entails, Gentle Reader, is entirely between you and the Teacher.

I myself, have been trying to “listen” for what the Lord has in store in my own universe.

As best I’ve understood this trek, I am heading towards the Temple to give a gift… to offer “sacrifice”… as “gift”, not “payment”.

In the process of the journey, I discover that I have “overpacked”. (We’ve never done that before, have we?) Anyway, it seems that I have begun this journey carrying vastly more baggage than I “need”.

This trip is not meant to be “sad”, “burdensome”, “somber”, or “depressing” by any means. This should be, in fact, a time of rich fellowship and sharing with this company of travelers. We go to commemorate and celebrate “Life”! The Passover is celebration of Life, of Rescue, of both the power and determination of God to rescue His Own from bondage and abuse… and His resolve to do so by “any means necessary” AND avoid “friendly fire” in the process.

As to over packing, I will discover “excess baggage” along the way, and jettison that by the roadside. There are things in my packs, investments of heart as if treasure, that are meaningless. I will come to discover that, and cast them aside.

The first thing I’ve discovered on this journey is what “Gift” I shall offer. I know it’s at the bottom of one of these packs somewhere!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship [Romans 12:1]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There’s my gift and offering, Gentle Reader. This should be an interesting trip. For the moment, it seems, my gift is not yet ready to offer.

 

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