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Slice ‘N Dice – The Rest of the Story

Spine of a BibleSome of us remember Paul Harvey, a wonderful radio broadcaster and author who specialized in looking beneath the headlines of major stories or characters, and painting a context… a background… often surprising, that helped us better understand the story itself.

Most all those who read or follow this blog love the Lord, love the Bible, and seek to let the Word of God (in every form) grow our intimacy and relationship with God. That humbles me. Often, when I sit to type, it almost scares me. I want to know, with confidence, when I push that “Publish” button, that I’ve prayed, heard, and typed as clearly and cleanly as I am able.

Many of you, Gentle Readers, know this feeling very well. About half of those who follow this post preach or teach through the Word of God on a regular basis. THAT knowledge humbles me even more. One of the reasons I try to post here regularly is an interesting statistic I recently heard, but don’t know the footnote to.

Question: “What internet sites and search questions get the most hits on Saturday nights?”

(*No, it’s not pornography, which was my first guess when asked this question*)

Answer: “Sermon Notes. The highest traffic on the internet on Saturday nights, are from preachers seeking to draft their sermons for the next day.”

(This was told me by my homiletics professor, with whom I still take clinics from time to time. Learning this, I included the category “Sermon Seeds”, hoping to address some of that need.)

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Anyway, a couple years ago I preached a sermon that keyed on our freedom in Christ and our freedom from fear at the judgment. One of my key verses was this, Hebrews 9:27: “And inasmuch as it is [y]appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…” and I put it in its place there, and went on with the rest of my structured message.

This particular sermon was very important to me, laying out a critical truth, so afterwards I forwarded a .wav file of the message and my notes, for comment and feedback to an old friend… The Pastor (you’ve seen referred to here in different posts from time to time). He was kind enough to reply, affirmed the point and teaching, giving generally positive feedback. But he also was kind enough to point out that there was a place he recommended that I consider a possible improvement.

(I cannot express to you how gentle… how many words he uses to “buffer, insulate, and soften”… anything he says that could possibly be interpreted as “critical'”, in order not to wound or offend the other.) Anyhow, in his reply, after dealing with the “softening introduction” to his critique, I found I had pushed one of his “Hot Buttons”… through my own lack of academic, intellectual, theological… rigor. I had “cut a corner”, and thus expressed less of the truth than I want to do.

Please note, my Hebrews snippet expressed an entire VERSE of scripture, yes. HOWEVER, I did NOT present the entire SENTENCE. In doing that, in that “Slice ‘N Dice” moment (as paulfg calls it), I failed to express the full meaning of the statement. I used the clause that bolstered my position, but I slanted the meaning of the words as originally expressed by Hebrews’ author.

I had used the phrase, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”…. to focus the listener on their own mental image of the judgment (and fear thereof)… for oratorical, homiletic, reasons. It was a “speaker’s trick”. This was dishonest. This was not the intent of the author, as is made clear when one finishes the sentence. The full sentence is this:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. [Hebrews 9:27-28]

Do you see it? Do you see my mistake? In doing what I did, I actually REVERSED the intention of the author. I used the clause to generate fear. But the author states the full sentence to generate confidence, hope, and assurance in Christ at the moment of judgment.

My friend did NOT accuse me of laziness, sloppiness, or dishonesty. None of that. He simply stated that there is a subtle trap inherent in quoting, teaching, or preaching from a scriptural sentence fragment, and that he had seen it done so often with this particular passage that it had become one of his pet peeves. He suggested (gently) that in my own teaching I consider a resolve never to quote or teach from a scriptural sentence fragment… especially when doing so changes the inherent meaning of the sentence. Either quote the entire sentence (even if that’s more than one verse)… or move on and find another passage.

Joyfully I embraced that resolve, and have tried never again to quote less than the scriptural sentence.

Why am I discussing this? Because Paulfg’s post this morning, again has brought it to my mind. It is a perfect example of this problem… and Paul did NOT do it, by the way. It’s in one of his quoted discussion passages!

I had, just yesterday, been discussing his very passage from Hebrews 10 as I wrote, “many preachers and churchmen LOVE to admonish and rebuke people about church attendance by repeating, ‘do not forsake the assembling together as is the habit of some’… laying a burden of guilt upon those who don’t come to the church building every week, Bible under their arm, all dressed up, checkbook in hand!”

In my writing I pointed out that this “scripture sentence fragment” in fact reverses the intention of the author, (just as I had done years ago). That the entire passage gives a totally different texture and feel to these words. Behold:

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

See it? See the difference? There are those who quote the fragment as if to say, “we are doing CHURCH and we keep people in order because they come. You aren’t coming, so you are out of order.” While the passage actually talks about what keeps the CHURCH “in order”… the passage talks about the purpose of church in its fundamentals, why it is there, what it is supposed to do! What is that, you ask? Glad you asked.

We see three things here as the “purpose” of “assembling together”:

  • stimulate one another to love
  • stimulate one another to good deeds (love-in-action)
  • encouraging one another

In my experience, there are very few churches who see this as their fundamental purpose. Rather, many churches focus on “repeating the rules, and pointing out all the places they are broken” either by their own sheep, or by all “those sinners out there”. Many churches engage in what some have called the “Preacher’s Lie” or the “Church’s Lie”, which is a control game… controlling the behavior, attendance, and money of a congregation through either the generation of guilt over their frailties, or the generation of pride and false camaraderie of pharisaical self-righteousness.

Sorry… had a “moment” there… but anyway…

And here, in Paulfg’s post this morning, “In every moment we are together“, I find this same Hebrews 10 passage blockquoted.

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So, fellow travelers, especially those of us who teach… I recommend Paul’s post to you there. I recommend Hebrews to you… (all of it). And I place before you a possibility to consider… that whenever you teach, consider always using the whole sentence, and never a clause alone. It’s often very important to hear The Rest of the Story.

Sometimes, it just changes everything!

Grace to you — The Little Monk

 

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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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Two-touch Jesus

This is absolutely awesome. Those of you who “preach”… look at this take on the “trees”! Never EVER seen this possibility before, myself. Wow… just… Wow!

Just me being curious

We have a dog. She is a ball a muscle, full of love and energy. She would love nothing better than to roam all day in the woods. She often has. With us tagging along behind trying to get her attention to come back, that it is time to come home. She is deaf. No one has ever told her she is deaf. It’s just someone told us. And now she stays on a long lead.

The reason for mentioning our canine this morning was today’s verses.

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I…

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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Couldn’t Eat Another Bite…

Ever said those words after a fabulous meal, Gentle Reader? Have you ever been so full you couldn’t partake of a marvelous dessert because there was simply no room after the dinner itself?

Well, this morning over coffee, the Lord brought that feeling to mind as He discussed the following phrase that He kept rolling through my mind…

“The Kingdom of God is not something you achieve. The Kingdom of God is something you can simply receive by grace and love.”

And as He let this soak into my yet a bit drowsy brain cells, He called to mind His encounter with the “Rich Young Man” in Mark 10.

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” 21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words [g]he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

No big discussion here, Gentle Reader. Just a couple points for your reflections and meditation, or perhaps some of ye may want to flesh it out into a sermon sometime… but Jesus just made a couple simple points as yet I ponder this:

  • This fine young man came sincerely seeking spiritual growth and perfection. He yearned for that “deeper walk” with God that so many of us seek.
  • Jesus was NOT condemning wealth here with His instruction. He was trying to help this lad receive and enjoy the blessing he sought, but could not yet receive.
  • It is all too easy, in our societies of “attainment by wealth”, to mistake industrious work ethic for holiness, or diligence with righteousness.
  • This young man was not only “rich”, but “industrious” and “diligent”. He had earned much of his wealth. He had attained and achieved a great deal for his youth. He was very grateful to God for his blessings, but he was very filled with those very blessings…
  • Yearn and hunger as he did, he was “full up”… he had no “room” simply to “receive”, in that he was already so filled with all he had “achieved”.

Jesus bid this young man to “start over again”. Rebuild his life now, rather than on all the wealth and power that he could achieve by his own industry and hard work… to release all of that, and build from the ground up… simply to follow Jesus and receive and embrace the Kingdom of God.

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Ah, Gentle Reader… Do you yourself struggle with this simple lesson? I know I do.

It is so easy for me… so much more appealing to my healthy little ego… to think I “work” towards my attainments or achievements of, or in, the Kingdom of God. It is so frequently that the Gracious Loving Lord has to remind me… it is ALL GIFT! It has NOTHING to do with me, my works, my efforts, my exercises… none of that. I get simply to receive and embrace the grace and love of dwelling in His Kingdom… and SECONDARILY… as FRUIT of that unmerited gift and favor… my life reflects His love and the relationship I enjoy with Him. So easy for me… so easy to get those “Upside Down” and think “my stuff” causes “Him to react”… Ah me… well, I’ve admitted before that I can be very foolish.

This meditation rolls on, Gentle Reader, so please have a blessed day as I pour a second cup of coffee here…

“The Kingdom of God is NOT something we ‘achieve‘… blessings of Kingdom are something we can only ‘receive‘ by His grace, which is ALWAYS present.”

Blessings and grace to thee, Gentle Reader… Little Monk

 
 

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The Problem Is…

I think I’ve figured it out…

“Figured what out?” you ask? Glad you asked.

Now, I’m hoping I’m not just having a backsliding attack of “Omniscience”… (see earlier post). But I’ve been wracking my brain for a while now, trying to figure out what’s wrong. What’s wrong with the world? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with the Church? What’s wrong with my clients? What’s wrong with life?

All that.

I know I share those questions with a lot of people. Grandparents, pastors, teachers, ministers, moms and dads, civil servants, even teenagers…

A lot of the time, I hear people opt for the answer, “Culture”. That what is wrong with all those things is our “Modern Culture. The degradation of moral values due to the proliferation of electronic media, materialism, instant gratification, television, internet, etc. etc. etc.” Dunno about you, Gentle Reader, but I hear this argument all the time. Pulpits, talk shows, you name it….

Never been a big fan of this position myself. For one thing, “culture” is inescapable. Anyone’s culture is comprised of the norms, values, and mores… the folkways and traditions… of a particular people in a particular time and place. If you or I suddenly found ourselves in 18th Century Japan, we would not “fit with the culture”, we would be considered “odd”, and if we refused to adapt we would be considered, at best, “handicapped”. Religious practices are an element of one’s culture, but do not comprise a culture in and of themselves.

Nope, never been a big proponent of “throwback vintage” philosophy… “If only life were like the ‘good old days’ (whenever those were)… everything would be fine.” OUR “good old days” include things like Viet Nam, World War II, the Nazi Holocaust, the Russian Revolution, The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl, The Great Influenza Epidemic of 1911-1918… just TONS of “good ‘ol stuff” I’d just as soon give a miss, thanks.

Somehow, deep down, I’ve always known (even as a little nipper) that the key to “what’s wrong with stuff”, wasn’t a matter of culture, nationality, or era. It was deeper than that, simpler than that…

And finally, today, as I helped another counselor understand their client’s needs… it just slowly dawned on me. God just rang, in that still small voice He uses sometimes, and I felt such a solid affirmation on this that I knew I had it. I had the answer. And it was now, for me, forever more “figured out”.

The answer is deceptively simple, and I think I’ve even mentioned it here before… God’s said it to me before… long about New Year’s or so I think.

What’s wrong with…. fill in the blank?

We are systematically losing our sense of the Sacred.

We are raising entire generations without ever communicating to them the truth that, being created in and by the Holy Hands of God, ALL creation… ESPECIALLY PEOPLE… wondrously and marvelously fashioned in and by His Potter’s Hands… are SACRED!!!

A friend told me today how amazing she found it, that people all around her were such “Takers”. That their entire value systems were based on the presumption that they were entitled to take as much from as many as they could, without being stopped. This doesn’t just mean illegal activity… this is a worldview. This is the worldview of entitlement… that for whatever reason or justification someone puts on that… education, occupation, breeding, good judgment, or just blind luck… that that person is innately better than someone who does NOT possess those traits, characteristics, or blessings. And, in that view, the “superior” is entitled to more than the “inferior”, and even entitled to take what “lesser beings” have. She noted that people were incredibly obsessed with only the “Now!”, no past or future, just what they could have and get for themselves right now. .

Some of this rang with me. Some of this didn’t. I admitted that the Lord has been spending many many months now, helping ME learn to focus on the “Now”. But in a very different way than she meant it. God focuses me intensely on the “Now”, because THIS is the only moment we have… to be Present with Him… to love Him… to flow His love and grace forward to others. That so much of theology and religion loves to focus on the “then” (in the past), or on the “out there” (in the future in heaven)… that we utterly neglect the Now… this moment… this person, this relationship, this love, this grace, this blessing, this mercy. It is so easy to be a “theoretical Christian”, rather than a “practical one”. James addresses this with eloquence.

I told my friend I knew what she meant, but I didn’t so much see it as a problem of the “Now”, as a problem of the “Take”, rather than “give”. “Now” is the moment God gives us, gifts us with, to pour ourselves out in blessing to others. It is NOT the moment to exploit others and the world for our own use, pleasure, gratification. That is the essence of Vampirism… to draw life into oneself at the expense of another. We are to provide others with waters of life, welling up from an inexhaustible spring within us…. not draining others dry.

Told her just what’s being said here now, that it seems that the single, simple, “problem” with… well… EVERYTHING really… is the loss of the awareness of the sacred… and, with that… the treatment of all things, and people, as “profane” and insignificant.

Whether on the world stage, in the national arena, our communities, our homes, our workplaces… when is the last time you saw true acknowledgment and reverence to the sacredness of anything or anyone at all?

I’d love to say our Churches were a key to reversing this trend… the lynchpin of the solution. I’d love to say that… but is it not the case that for all too many churches, we are not so much part of the solution as we are of the problem?

Oh yes, we may hear the WORD “Sacred” within such hallowed halls… but listen more closely and see WHO is sacred. God… yes, certainly. And then “Our Clergy”… ok. And then “OUR Members”… all right. And then MAYBE “Other People Like Us, who Think like us, who worship like us!” And… that’s about it. Anything and anyone not “In Here” in “Our Sacred Space With US”… is soiled, profane, sinner, wrong… to be shunned or “ministered to” with rubber gloves, spiritual disinfectant, and a ten foot pole. THEY… are NOT Sacred. They will BECOME Sacred when they “get like us”, “sort themselves out”, “surrender to us”, and “enter our sacred space”.

I’m not saying this is true of Your Church, or My Church. I’m just saying it is true of a multitude of churches I see, hear, and pass through. Oh, you won’t see it on their bulletins or leaflets… but you’ll see it in their foyers and doorways when “the wrong sort” deigns to try to attend. You’ll see it in their deacons’ or ministry meetings. And you’ll CERTAINLY see it in their Business Meetings. When I trained as a “Program Evaluator”, we were taught to “read everything, all the promotional material a program wants to hand you. But, when you want to know what their REAL values are, don’t labor over their ‘Philosophy of Care’ or their ‘Official Statement of Values’… spend your time analyzing their Budget. THAT’s where you see the Board’s real Values reflected.” That’s true of more than community programs.

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Anyhow, just thought I’d share these reflections with you, Gentle Reader. Want to change the world? Treat EVERYONE as the sacred child God has fashioned them to be. Sinner or saint, they are more likely to respond to love and respect than to anything else. Let young people know, there is not only a “God out there”, but that He is here, too… and we are surrounded by the wonder of the sacred.

And if, just maybe, you happen to be in or near one of those “There’s US…. and There’s THEM” type Churches? Well, maybe you can help them remember who Christ came to heal, to save, and to live among. (The sick, the sinners and lost, US!) How amazing is it that the King of All, the Lord of Hosts, would lay all that down to come be Light in OUR darkness.

How fabulous… that while we yet rejected and despised HIM… He and His Father freely chose to treat us as Sacred.

I’m yet such a work in progress, Gentle Reader. Keep me in your prayers, and thank you! Blessings and Grace to thee!

Little Monk

 

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