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Saved From… Marley’s Chain

Charles Dickens“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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I recently had a conversation and was asked why it seemed that so much of Scripture speaks of being “saved”. Saved from what? Is it all reference to hell, to burning flames and eternal damnation? It seems SO central a theme that there must be more to it than that, but if so… what? In our lives here and now, being “saved” or “rescued” doesn’t seem a central theme and need, and clearly Scripture is to address our lives now as certainly as in those times, so… what’s up with this?

I didn’t have “good” reply at the moment. I could sense that in the times Scripture was written down, “slavery”, “bondage”, and the ownership (or long term lease, due to debt) of other human beings was a real, relevant, immediate truth in life. “Bondage” means something vastly more significant when it surrounds you every day and war could place you into it with no notice whatever.

For those of that time and place, the Incarnation of Jesus “setting free from the bondage” of sin and evil was an extremely clear and relevant paradigm. Today? Not so much.

Today, while kind of “free worshiping”… this line from Dickens came to me. “I wear the chain I forged in life.”

I sense the immediate, relevant, truth of this in my own life.

Jesus “freed” me, not only from the very common-sensical fear of “hell” and “eternal punishment” that would be a “just” consequence of my own violation of clear precepts of right and wrong that have dwelt deep in my heart since my youngest years…

But Jesus’ Redemption, the power of His shed blood on the Cross… not only “paid the price” of all my own crimes, failings, violations of other sacred people…

Jesus not only fulfilled the foreshadowed role of the First Goat (in the Day of Atonement Sacrifice)… But He also fulfilled the mission of that Second Goat (the “Scape Goat”) as well. Jesus has “carried away” my sins from me, and from “the people”, and the “church”, and even… Our Father.

Jesus not only made the “sacrifice”, but having “made purification of sin” He sat at the right hand of God the Father.

THAT’s the relevance, for me… of “saved”, “rescued”, or “salvation”…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s all about “Marley’s Chain”, you see.

All through my life I have made choices to harm, rather than nurture, others from time to time. To desire or take what is theirs. To offend them. To attack, ignore, belittle them. One way or another to wound them.

In such moments, I ignore and hold Our Father in contempt. I presume upon the grace and love of God. I yield to temptation and derive pleasure and satisfaction from it. I drink from a poisoned well, knowing it is toxic and not caring.

All that wounds ME!

We are all connected! Me with every other. Me with God. God in and through every other. God in me. It’s all one in Him. We are all One Family in Him, we are not members of separate tribes! For me to wound another is to be a “cutter” in the metaphysical sense. It harms me… injures me… scars me.

Such moments forge a link of chain… a wound… a guilt… a shame… a regret… a bad memory… a bitterness… a misunderstanding… a dark mote. And each of these I forge across life, used to link together… dragging me back, dragging me down, pulling me into a shadowy morass without love, joy, beauty, or truth.

What is “Salvation”? To me?

It’s the Glory of Jesus’ coming to “set free this captive”! It’s His heroism and sacrifice to pull that hideous chain off of me (and everyone else, who will release their grasp of it)… lay all of that across His Own Shoulders… and drag all those links to His Cross with Him, to die under their weight and dispose of them totally and finally… as far as east from west… in the deepest abyss of the sea.

I am, once and forever, freed of the weight of “Little Monk’s Chain”… and I for one, am glad that He has rescued me from its dreadful burden.

 

 
 

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Inner Child makes the Flying Leap!

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky/Released)

This will be a very simple, fairly short, post. A few days ago I posted “How to be Great!”  challenging all of us, Gentle Reader, to increase our awareness of the Intimate and Immediate Presence of God through developing (or rediscovering) simple childlike trust, and applying that to Our Father.

I phrased this thought in a comment below the post, thus:

“[Our Father] has LOTS of children! …  It goes on and on and on. All it takes to enjoy that play… those warm strong arms and hands… is a brisk sprint and the flying leap in His direction, trusting that He catch you. He ALWAYS does. He ALWAYS has. He ALWAYS will.”

Our Father delights in children. I’ve said before that the single unrelenting truth I see repeated throughout the Bible from one end to the other, is the ongoing saga of God seeking to live intimately among His children… to provide for us, care for us, protect us, love us… and our equally unrelenting determination to resist or eventually sabotage His efforts.

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But here’s a critical thing I neglected to mention in the challenge to Trust…

In order to know that experience… of being caught and cherished in Our Father’s strong warm arms and hands… we MUST first make that flying leap of faith.

What’s worse… Only our Inner Child can do that!

Think about it. How likely are you, or me, or anyone else… to get a sprinting running start, and then leap out into empty space? How silly do/would we feel? Ever gone to one of those… (I’ve thought of several adjectives to insert right here, but I’m resisting the impulse)... “Teamwork Building Workshops” in management or an organization? You know… the ones with the obstacle course, the ropes course, the puzzles to work out? The ones where you do the “Trust Fall” and let yourself Nestea-Plunge backwards in the hope that your colleagues and teammates will catch you, preventing a heart-stopping diaphragm-paralyzing fall that puts you in traction for a week? Ever been there? So… how silly does all that feel?

You have to “change gears” to get into all that. You have to “shift into Game-Mode”. Remember the folks who seemed to be having a great time, and did pretty well? Then, remember the grumps who just stood off to the side, arms crossed, shaking their heads at all this “waste-of-time-foolishness”?

What’s the difference between those two groups?

The first have discovered and liberated their Inner Child. The second, have him/her locked in their room for the duration (of life).

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So what has any of this got to do with Prayer, with the Bible, with Jesus, Little Monk?

Just this… does God love us any less when we grieve and confine our Inner Child? No. He loves us just the same.

Is there anything “wrong” with behaving like a mature, sensible adult in our lives? No, of course not… that’s why we bother to grow up at all!

Then what are you talking about?

Our upbringings… our parents, mentors, teachers, school, religion… teach us “Da Rules” to constrain and conform our Inner Child to adult norms of behavior. (That is a GOOD thing. Inner Child, left to his/her own devices can become a selfish little monster.) Inner Child is that essence of the “self alone”, of “me”, of “my”, without much regard for others except as they bring us comfort or pleasure. Our “Inner Parent” is the authority, the Rulegiver, the programming we carry with us telling us all the objective standards for right, wrong, acceptable, unacceptable, and what makes us OK or not.

As we grow and develop, these interactions go along, and we become the “Inner Adult”… the personal voice of judgment, reason, consideration, and decision-making on what we do, what priorities we set, what values we adopt, and how we choose to live.

Sooo… this leads into Jesus… how, exactly?

Just this. We can become utterly addicted to our Inner Adult. We can, gradually, surreptitiously, become convinced that our own judgment… our own thinking… our own reason… is the only trustworthy criterion we have for choosing lifestyle. And, to be perfectly frank… Jesus “won’t fit” inside that paradigm at all.

Jesus can certainly “work with” it. We can “believe” in Him with our head. And we can “confess Him” with our mouth. And thus… assuredly… we can be “saved”.

Is that enough?

Yes. Yes it is. That “saves… from the pains of the second death and fires of hell”. We can say all the Roman Road “magic words”… confess our sins, ask Him into our hearts and lives, declare our willingness to be His, and He is EVER and ALWAYS faithful to take that offer, redeem us, and declare us His forever. Yes.

At that point… at that moment… we are “safe forever” from the Father’s Wrath and Punishment Due Our Sin! Yes.

But again, I ask… Is that enough? Is that enough for you? Was it enough for me?

It was not. I want/wanted more. I want/wanted all God has/had/will ever have for me. I want to love God with ALL my heart, mind, strength… to love as Jesus loves… I want so much MORE than “enough”.

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And then one day, God answered the “desire of my heart”. He issued a challenge, I responded, and everything changed. I’m not going to tell you “how that went down” for me, because such words create an expectation that that’s how it “should go down” for anyone or everyone else, and that’s just not true. HOW such things progress is individual… as the Holy Spirit ushers one’s own soul along the right path.

But here was the challenge…

“Only one’s Inner Child can make the leap of faith… the Trust… that you crave, Little Monk. Put aside, for the moment, all that you know… all that you think… all that maturity and training you’ve worked to endure… embrace your Inner Child, and give that permission to leap… unrestrained… into the Void calling My Name. I shall catch you… every single time. There is nothing to fear.”

[NOTE: Please bear in mind, Gentle Reader… though this should go without saying… I speak here of a Prayer Event… a metaphorical leap. This is an experience of meditation and prayer. This has nothing to do with children’s tying a towel around their necks, and plunging off the garage eaves! Please step off no roofs, climb from no boats in deep water expecting to walk ashore… None of that, to be taken from this post!]

There is nothing WRONG with our Inner Adult. But he/she is “limited” by the horizons and boundaries of our own minds and hearts. Only when we embrace and accept our own Inner Child… allowing him/her access to our prayer lives, will we discover the trusting Leap of Faith.

I am reminded of an instruction oft-repeated to me years ago, long before I came to understand it…

“Please stop trying so hard to be Jesus. Only Jesus can be Jesus. Instead, just try to LET Jesus be Jesus IN you, because only He can.”

Jesus never lost His embrace of His Inner Child. His Inner Child always knew the Joy and Love of Our Father!

Now, Gentle Reader… go “play” for a bit!

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Smart Enough for the Gospel?

Last week I faced a middle-aged married couple seeking God.

The husband, clean but grizzled with gray wiry crewcut standing straight up as if gelled, proudly stated that he often went to a church down the street whose name he could not remember, but that he had lived a bad life and wanted Jesus to receive him but wasn’t sure if He would… he still sinned sometimes. He wanted his wife to go to church with him, but she was afraid. She stood there, scruffy clothes, straggly gray hair shoulder length, shamefacedly looking down at her toes.

I took their hands, smiled, and said… “That’s GREAT!” I said that God loves them so much, He is delighted that they sought Him, and He was totally willing to receive them. What seemed to be in the way?

Grace was moving powerfully in the moment, and though we were surrounded by crowds of people, it seemed like we just calmly sat all by ourselves in a quiet park.

They both answered with their most direct responses. The man said, “I’ve done so many wrong things, and I still struggle so… I’m just not what a Christian should be.” His wife answered in turn, “I’ve gone to lots of churches, and been at lots of Bible studies, and it’s just all too complicated. I don’t know enough. I don’t understand the Bible. And it’s all so hard, so much. I’m not that smart… I can’t even understand all it takes to be a Christian… and even if I understood it all, I know for SURE I can’t DO it!”

My heart did a strange thing in the same moment. It broke for the pain these people were feeling, and it soared with the realization of what we were about to do.

I thanked them so much for speaking with me this day… for trusting me with their hearts and spirits in this way. I said I could readily understand and agree with their concerns. Sometimes it is very hard to believe that God, as good as He is, as love as He is, is really big enough to forgive and cleanse us from all the wrong and stupid things we’ve not only done in the past, but that we STILL do, when we should know better. And that I, too, have walked into many churches and listened to sermons that made me feel like I needed a college degree to “get it”. Sometimes it is easy to feel out of place in a Bible Study or Sunday School Class where everybody seems “on the same music” except us.

(I remember a 45 minute Bible Study filled with mature Christian churchmen, where 20 minutes was spent in discussion of the Jewish belief that the soul hovered above a corpse for 3 days, thus explaining Jesus’ delay in returning to Lazarus when He was notified of His friend’s illness. Seriously! That discussion seemed overwhelmingly important to the teacher and classmen on that morning… allowing everyone to display their attainments at having “studied to show themselves approved” as Biblical scholars!)

So here we were, the three of us, as I paused a moment to reflect and pray within myself.

Then I said, “Sometimes, the Christian life can seem very demanding, or very complicated and confusing. But, let’s bring it to some simple basics for a moment. You are parents, aren’t you?”

They brightened, starting to speak of their three grown children…

“Great!” I said, “Now, for just a moment, I want you to do me a favor and cast your mind back to when you first held your baby… Take a moment, think back, imagine him in your arms, and feel what your heart felt for that child. Do you remember it? The tenderness? The love? The desire to care for him? To protect him? To see him grow up strong, healthy, and good? Do you remember your heart that day?”

Both of them, thinking back as I’d asked, smiled gentle smiles and nodded, lost in the memory for a moment, then looking up at each other and smiling with love.

“Well here is the most important thing for you EVER to know about God… THAT is His heart towards YOU! In fact, what you felt was only the teeniest tiniest grain of HIS very heart towards your son. You didn’t manufacture that love, you can only reflect it from Him. And He feels exactly that way about you!

“Being Christian is not a matter of not having done wrong, stupid or sinful things… behaving well enough for God to receive us. Being Christian isn’t a matter of studying enough theology, memorizing enough of the Bible, or being smart enough for God to receive us.

“Being Christian is a matter of adoption into God’s family. It is a matter of relationship. It is knowing that God loves us, has made the way for us to be united with Him, and receiving and accepting HIM. It is to accept and acknowledge God as our Father, Jesus as His Only Begotten Son who saves us by His own loving sacrifice of His sinless self in our place, and receiving His Spirit into ourselves to provide life, light, and love. The issue isn’t HIM receiving US, with all our flaws and imperfections. It’s US receiving HIM with all that He offers and provides, knowing that we cannot provide those things for ourselves.

“Are you willing? Are you BOTH willing… to let Him adopt you fully as His children? To accept and receive Him as Father, King, Savior, Rescuer? Provider of life, light, breaths, and heartbeats?”

They said yes, they both wanted this very much.

I said then we would ask Him for this in a moment, and their agreement would seal their covenant with Him. All it took to do this, was to know… absolutely… that it was available to them, and agree to it. Did they believe, absolutely, and KNOW… that God truly loves them, that Jesus is God, Son of God, truly and actually came from heaven, was born as a fully human baby, lived a sinless life, was condemned, tortured, executed, crucified, died (truly died), was resurrected three days later, and ascended to heaven, again seated at the right hand of God the Father? That He thereby took their sins from them, paid the price for them, and opened the way for their adoption as joint heirs with Him?

They agreed throughout, as this was said slowly and carefully.

Did they agree and acknowledge that they had, indeed, done wrong things in their lives… sinned… as have I… and had need of Jesus redemption and cleansing for making reunion with God a possibility?

Yes, they did.

So, together, we prayed and affirmed all of this, sealing it in our souls together.

Afterwards, we talked a bit more, and I pointed out that being Christian was our relationship with God in Christ, “inside stuff” (as one friend of mine puts it), not “outside stuff” like behaviors, memorization, dressing up, and church forms. BUT!!! Once adopted as the Father’s children, He raises us… trains us… teaches us… and as we walk that, all that “outside stuff” WILL change! It’s not that we “have to do all that religious stuff to be pleasing to God”. It’s that the more time we spend with Him, the closer we walk with Him, the more our “outside stuff” conforms to Christ Himself, and the more “Christian” we look.

But just like any child grows up a bit at a time, you don’t expect an elementary school son to draft a presentation on quantum physics. We learn from basics to more complex stuff. There was nothing necessarily “wrong” with the Churches or Bible Studies they had visited, but perhaps they needed to find something more geared to younger, newer, Believers… and mature their way along to more complex studies.

We parted in great joy as God affirmed in their hearts His total enfolding of their lives. I encouraged them with all my heart to find other Believers who could walk with them and help them along. A Church home that would receive and help them develop at their own pace. There was no question that a local Church family would provide the support this couple needed, and without one they would struggle much more than they had thus far.

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So many times, Gentle Brethren… so many times I’ve heard this same refrain… “I don’t KNOW enough yet to accept Christ! I’ve gone to church after church and each of them say the others are wrong! I don’t want to get this wrong! How do I know which one is right? I open the Bible and it’s so complicated I don’t understand it! I don’t know what to do!”

Do I despise theology? NO! I’ve spent much of a lifetime acquiring a fair-to-middling understanding of it! Do I despise upright living, or seeking to walk in the footsteps of Christ? Absolutely not! My heart yearns to walk pleasing to Him at each and every moment. Behavior, self-discipline, constraint… are all important components of the Christian life.

But beneath all of this… fundamental to all of this… is RELATIONSHIP! To know, first and foremost, that I am the Lord’s beloved and adopted child, creation of His hands, being raised… loved… trained… taught… with infinite patience and mercy to live out my life and Kingdom role as vessel for Him and His love.

And here is a place where it is all too easy for a Seeker, one who desires salvation and its assurance, to experience Churches and Public Christians as “obstruction” to Him, rather than “vehicle”.

This realization is leading me to “study down” in these days. I am coming to see, and will begin to write here, some of these “simple fundamentals” of Christian life as I’ve come to walk it… I find this often helps others, especially those feeling “overwhelmed by public Christianity”. No one, ever, should feel they are “not smart enough” to grasp the Gospel! That… is just NOT… OK. Ever.

Pray for me, Gentle Reader. Very much a work in progress! Blessings and grace to thee – Little Monk

 
 

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