Monday, November 19, 2007

Lenses


“Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corintians 13:12 – NLT

On my Driver’s License is a notation, “RSTR: CORR LENS.” It means, of course that the lenses built into my eyes are not capable of bringing sufficient clarity and acuity for me to operate a motor vehicle safely, in the opinion of the State of California. Indeed, the State has mandated that I augment my fallible vision with some sort of visual enhancement device… I choose to wear glasses, making a spectacle of myself as it were (sorry, sometimes I just can’t resist! ;-)

I wonder if in our endeavor to “see each other as Jesus sees us,” if our “spiritual operator’s license” ought not to have a similar notation… I question the acuity of the “eyes of my heart,” my ‘spiritual eyes’ in so far as the ability to truly SEE others.

Good lenses, those perfectly made, are without flaw, without contamination or aberration; they bend the light passing through them with precision, ultimately achieving a perfect focus… Sorry… my lenses just don’t seem to be able to do that! I "see through a glass darkly."

The flaws and aberrations in MY lenses seem somehow to obscure that perfect “Jesus-vision” of others that I seek… I mean I go out well intended, on my spirit-led journey, seeking encounters with my fellows that I might bless [recognize the God in] them, but I can’t see it: the crud (hmmmm… plank?) in my own eye distorts what I see. Sometimes, I unwittingly add filters to my already blurred attempt… the “historical” filter (using all the stuff that happened before… good and bad), the “expectation” filter (this is how this person is supposed to be, supposed to behave), the “selfish” filter (this is what I need from this encounter, or this is how I would act in this circumstance… that’s the RIGHT way)… all these filters to color my vision… perhaps because I’m unwilling to accept a clear, clean… perfect image.

This quest of blessing others, of seeing them as Jesus sees them, and then treating them accordingly is not an easy one. My sense is that I don’t need a “spiritual optometrist…” I don’t need correction – I need perfection in my vision. Prayer would seem the optimal solution.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Conception of Refuge

From the Concise Oxford Dictionary (What else??!?)
10th Edition, Online:

sanctuary
• n. (pl. sanctuaries)
1 a place of refuge or safety. > immunity from arrest.
2 a nature reserve. > a place where injured or unwanted animals are cared for.
3 a holy place. > the innermost recess or holiest part of a temple. > the part of the chancel of a church containing the high altar.
– ORIGIN ME (orig. ‘a sacred place where a fugitive was immune from arrest’): from OFr. sanctuaire, from L. sanctuarium, from sanctus ‘holy’.


Last week, a small group of us were spending some time in the early morning, praying for our church. We’ve established a focus to “impact… families with the transforming love of Jesus Christ,” and were seeking God’s will and mind in what that means, and perhaps how we are to go about same. It was a truly sweet time, and God led us individually and collectively to realize that a big part of this task has to do with extending ourselves outside of our campus, reaching into the neighborhoods surrounding… showing and sharing His love of people. This was heartening, as He was not talking about programs, schedules, or plans, but about attitudes, hearts, and sharing.

So in the middle of all this, I asked, “God, if we’re supposed to be extending beyond our campus, beyond our property, beyond our grounds, then what’s the purpose of gathering here in your sanctuary? What are we supposed to do here, in church?”

Have you ever been praying and had God chuckle in response? No, really, God chuckled and said, “Kit… my sanctuary is not a building, it’s in my people.”

Oohhh! God, I see! (Albeit through a glass darkly!) You say in your word that our bodies (and our hearts) are your temple… and the sanctuary is the holiest part of the temple; we carry your sanctuary with us! So then, I thought, sanctuary is really a state of being, a state of mind… “Yes,” said God, “that is why the Christian martyrs in the Roman coliseum, were able to sing, while being torn apart by lions.” They were in sanctuary… the holiest part of the temple; a place of refuge and safety. And sanctuary is in the mind of the occupant… the one who is safe… the one who is protected; he or she can be in sanctuary regardless of the environment or the surrounding circumstances… safe in the Father’s arms.

In musing further, I put this in the context of my last post. What about that place of ‘unconditional acceptance,’ of ‘unconditional love,’ and universal positive accord… not a place where people ignore our faults, but where people appreciate our strengths (which are used to build one-another), and where people stand by one another as they grow through their faults and weaknesses, depending entirely on the strength of the Lord… is that not sanctuary?

As he quotes someone much wiser, I'm increasingly convinced: Dallas Willard is right… “The Kingdom of Heaven IS at hand.”

"When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny." -Psalm 73:16-17

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Magic Mirror


“Romper, Bomper, Stomper, Boo.
Tell me, tell me, tell me, Do…
Are my friends havng fun today?”

Miss Rosemary would sit on her Romper Room couch in her Romper Room classroom in the TV in our living room, and recite this incantation as she gazed through the screen (and through an empty, circular frame), at her “magic mirror” that enabled her to see many of her small fans at home as they sat, raptly watching her.

“I see Billy, and Susie, and, oh! There’s Fred… I hope you’re feeling better Fred! And there’s Ann and Taylor, and…” Miss Rosemary would run down the roster of urchins in attendance (some of whose parents must have dropped her a line regarding the status of their offspring so that she could be more specific.)

I confess that I wasn’t much of a Romper Room fan, and I didn’t pay much attention to Miss Rosemary. Possibly because she NEVER saw me… but the idea of a magical device that would allow one to see others across vast broadcast distances did hold some appeal. It seemed too, that Miss Rosemary’s mirror not only enabled her to bridge distances, but it somehow filtered what she saw… there was never a “Uh Oh! I see little Dennis sneaking into the cookie jar!” or “Woops! Kit is NOT doing his homework!” (I told you she never saw ME!). Miss Rosemary, employing her mirror only seemed to see the positive and the good in her young audience. There’s something to be said for that.

I’m not talking about some syrupy, sugar-coated distortion of reality, where all is goodness and light, but an honest, and real assessment of who it is that God created when we look at the people around us.

Our high-school small group has embarked on an adventure (or at least an experiment) recently, in which we’re attempting to look at those around us as Jesus would see them, and then to treat them accordingly. This by no means requires seeing only the good, or overlooking faults or errors, but rather, “considering the source” of all these… a source that is the Creator of everything in the universe… a source that is ultimately and infinitely good… and loving. Imagine, just for a minute what it would be like to be in a room full of people with Jesus’ perspective on one another… recognizing that each person is in fact, one of the best creatures that God ever created, and holding each in a regard that is founded in complete and unconditional love and acceptance…

What would that feel like, how would it be to know that even if we messed up, that there would be loving correction and forgiveness? That we are accepted, and valued not for who we think we should be, not for “measuring up,” but for simply being what we were created to be. And imagine the incentive to discover the extent of that creation… to actually strive to live out the life set before us… completely free in that love.

Not possible? Well, in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 4, Verse 17, Jesus tells us to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Dallas Willard teaches that we have a lot to do with where we stand in relation to the Kingdom. Our attitudes and consequent behaviors determine how close we stand to or within that Kingdom… so perhaps our adventure will offer at least a taste, if not a sojourn.

It isn’t easy though… the temptation is to forgive too quickly (which isn’t really very loving), or to fall into the trap of “societal norms” which condone sarcasm, and put downs, and ‘one-upsmanship’ humor. Fundamentally, seeing and appreciating each other AS WE WERE CREATED, is pretty tough stuff… but then, I guess God made pretty tough folks… stay tuned.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Passages...

I’ve been listening to the Mosaic series “Passages,” where Erwin McManus will take a particular passage from Scripture and discuss how God is speaking to him/us through it. That’s really not at all what I was expecting…

I was thinking of ‘passage’ in the sense of moving from one place to another. And “passage” is a kind of romantic way to phrase it, in the sense that one “takes passage” on an ocean steamer to go adventuring off into some far-away, exciting place.

There seem to be many such ‘passages’ recently. Toph is off to Canada, Brady to Virginia, Chris to Orlando (!), Chad to Azusa, Andrew to West Valley (well, perhaps not SO romantic…). Passages… probably leading to metamorphosis, growth, change… I think about the new frontiers that Ryan is scaling at Crossroads…

And I wonder what God is saying to us in these passages…

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Island Odyssey

Sometimes, I’m just not very clever. The last two weeks in July, my wife, Wanda, and I are celebrating our 30th Anniversary in Hawaii. A few really glorious nights on the back-side of Oahu, and then nine nights on the Valley Isle, Maui. When we arrived in Maui, we set about purchasing our own snorkeling gear. Hawaii is really the only place we snorkel… warm water, amazing marine life, and… good company, but we finally decided not to rent any more.

So we visited the Maui Dive Shop. And next thing we knew, we had snorkels, fins, diving masks (mine actually has corrective lenses), and a document safe. A document safe is a little plastic box with a hermetically sealed top (‘o’-ring and all) used to store critical documents on your person while you’re in the water… that way nothing important gets left in the car (to be stolen). Armed with my gear and my safe (safely keeping my driver’s license, credit card, and hotel room key), we swam into the waters just south of Kaanapali Beach… wonderful tropical fish, flora, and five or six sea turtles… really close to shore. It was a delightful afternoon.

Sometimes, I’m not very clever. I had stowed my safe in the back pocket of my swim trunks… the one with the zipper. I knew the safe was still there, ‘cause the pocket was heavy. Yep… reached right back there, and came up with a handful of… sand. It’s probably best if you zip the zipper… Yep… not very clever!

Well, we searched around the beach, and Wanda even swam out with her gear to search, but… nothing… nada. We went back to our condo and called the credit card company. “No problem sir! We’ll cancel the card and send you a new one by express… it’ll be there in three business days!” Well, at least that was reasonable.

Then there’s the matter of the driver’s license. It seems that getting a replacement is a simple matter, you just fill out a form and show up, in person, at the DMV office, pay the fee and voila… in two weeks you get a new photo ID. Photo ID… did I mention that we flew to Hawaii? It seems one needs photo ID to do things like board airplanes. This could be interesting… Oh… did I mention that the day after we get home, I need to fly out of state on business, and rent a car? It seems you need a driver’s license to rent a car.
Photo ID in two weeks. Yep. Sometimes I’m not very clever.

Wanda and I prayed. We asked our friends (via phone and e-mail) to pray. We prayed some more. And some more.

Fast forward two days. We’ve returned from an afternoon of snorkeling (Nope, didn’t have a document safe… didn’t have anything to put in it!). The phone rings, and it’s the lady at the front desk. She tells me that someone has found my safe, in tact, and has left her name, phone, and hotel information so that I can go claim it. I called Terry and she indeed had found my stuff. Since the hotel key was in it, she called to see if we were here. We were. We made arrangements to go over to her hotel… picked up a bottle of California sparkling wine (a nice Domaine Chandon Etoile), and headed out.

Met Terry and her husband rich in the lobby of their hotel on Kaanapali Beach. As you’d imagine, we asked where they found the little box. Apparently, Rich found it that morning at a place called Shipwreck Beach… on the island of Lana’i, across fourteen miles of open ocean channel. Seems they took the ferry 45 minutes to the neighboring island, took a tour bus to the top of same, and then rented a jeep, and drove down to this beach. Apparently, it’s not much of a swimming beach, but before they left, they wandered over to the water, Rich looked down, and there was my little box, having sailed itself across the sea.

Some might say, “What a coincidence!” Me, sometimes I’m not very clever… I’d just say God is unabashedly awesome!

Thanks Lord! (And I hope Terry and Rich enjoy the Domaine Chandon!) This picture is taken from where I lost the 'safe.' You can see where it was found in the distance.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Good Things -- Small Packages

There’s an old saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy man [person!].” I’m also familiar with a corollary axiom, “If you want something done, ask a lazy man [no PC clarifying remark].” The implication of the latter being that someone who is lazy will automatically know the easiest, fastest way to complete something so that the he might return to his indolence. Teaching fifth grade Sunday school, one often encounters the ‘lazy man’ when it comes to memorizing Scripture. 10 year-old boys often gravitate toward a strong sense of achievement, garnered while seeking short and easy verses to remember. I think beyond John 3:16, which seems requisite to any young life aspiring after Christ, then next most popular verse is John 11:35; renowned and appreciated for its brevity, if not downright terseness. In this verse, John writes, “Jesus wept.” Interestingly enough most of the contemporary translations of the Bible set forth this verse in pretty much the same way.

Well and good. The ten year-olds have a corner on “the shortest verse in the Bible.”

I encountered this verse the other day, of course in the larger context of the eleventh chapter of the Book of John. In this chapter, John’s narrative describes the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, and the reactions of those impacted by his death… Jesus, of course, Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, and some of the neighbors in Bethany where the “Lazarus Family” lived. The tale talks ultimately about Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. We know that Jesus’ intent was to do this because early in the chapter, when told that Lazarus is very ill, He says, “Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. (v4).” Jesus knows at the outset that He will have this opportunity to bring glory to God through the miracle of resurrection… he delays his departure to Bethany for four days… in essence assuring Lazarus’ passing… and yet, when the reality of Lazarus’ death actually confronts Jesus in Mary’s tears, Jesus too “weeps.” The question that arose for me was, “Why did Jesus weep?” Certainly not just to provide ten year-olds with a short verse.

Prayer, reflection, and some discussion led me to a more revealing conclusion. Let me offer the context of verse 35:

30Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34“Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Then Jesus wept. 36The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them. But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.” 40Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”


Two facts spring (at least for me) from the page... one, as the 10 year-olds note so well, "Then Jesus wept." When confronted with the pain and anguish of Lazarus' sisters and neighbors, I believe His heart overflowed with compassion, and He wept with them. This short, tiny verse speaks volumes about the heart of our Lord, and his true empathy with, and compassion for us.

John also tells us that Jesus was angry. Verses 33 and 38 attest to his ire -- so we're left with a question for the next post... Why was Jesus angry?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Everything is Possible....


I first ran across Benjamin Zander at an event for senior leaders for my employer. The event, among the first in an annual series, was held, according to custom, at a smallish golf resort in central Florida, a site particularly preferred by our company president. Each year is themed, and we try very hard to present a different or unusual experience for the participants. At the meeting on the year in question, participants came into the resort ballroom for the opening session to encounter the entire Orlando Philharmonic arrayed about the room, appropriately for an orchestral performance. Seats were available to the new arrivals, scattered among the various sections and players. Some delighted, some bewildered, everyone found a seat.

Preliminaries accomplished, Maestro Zander raised his baton, and we were instantly surrounded by the cannonade of the opening passages of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony… DA DA DA DAAAAAAAAH, DA DA DA DAAAAAAH… I had heard the piece performed many time on recordings, and even once or twice live, but I had never heard such a thing as one experiences from among the players of the orchestra… it was a magnificent assault, not only on the ears and eyes, but upon every fiber of my body… sitting among the celli and the basses, I gained a whole new appreciation for “resonating” with the music!

For the next three hours, Ben Zander walked us, step by step, phrase and passage, through all four movements of Beethoven’s iconic piece, pausing, digressing, discussing, and cajoling along the way, sharing his insights into the music, the elements of the orchestra and the ways in which they interact to create ‘symphony’ (or possibly not!), all as one enormous metaphor for human existence, society, and harmony. This was indeed leadership of a caliber and order of which I had been heretofore essentially unaware. Those fortunate enough to attend this session, now some ten years ago, still talk about it… more significantly, they still exercise what they learned that day!

Over time, the glow of that Florida afternoon gradually dimmed, and although I too remembered the lessons, I thought of Zander only as a wonderful memory… a one-time experience. Then, several months ago, I had an opportunity to attend a ‘corporate training’ experience offered by one of our vendors, and low and behold, they used some video material from no less than Ben Zander… coaching and cajoling and leading and teaching and inspiring various young musicians. I was again delighted and captivated.

After the session, I rushed right off to the internet to see what resources might be available from Mr. Zander… the videos were available, but FAR too expensive, but it seemed there was this book… The Art of Possibility. Now recognize that Ben is a secular author in a secular business, firmly ensconced in a secular world… but also recognize that in some, even without awareness, there may be a spirit that transcends those secular boundaries. I believe it is so with the spirit of Benjamin Zander. Honestly, I really did find myself at times laughing out loud, and at times experiencing tears of joy as I thoroughly enjoyed my way through the pages and chapters of the work of Ben and his wife Rosamund. The book enlivened and renewed my perspective on my role as a leader and as a teacher… and with such a unique approach that I found the book a perfect solution to a perplexing problem…

The Beach boys graduated from High School last Saturday, and I was faced with the seasonal conundrum of providing each with an elegant, meaningful, and yet thought provoking gift… what to do… what to do. Remarkably, Ben and Rosamond’s book a beautiful treatise on a vibrant and vital approach to life, also follows a wonderful, indeed masterful musical metaphor throughout… in the case of the Beach’s, something for everyone. I’m hopeful they enjoy the work as much as I did… I kind of think of it as an extension course in World Views.

Over the few days since completing the book, I’ve also found at least two other significant and apt applications of the practices, and then Toph (Beach) went and mentioned the book, so I thought I’d plug it too! Also, Ben has a website with his journal in it, which makes for fun and interesting reading. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

To Make Much of Time...

John Keating, in Peter Weir’s “Dead Poets Society,” begins his fateful year at “Hellton” by asking one of his students to, “open your hymnal to page 542 and read the first stanza of the poem you find there.” The student, the unfortunately named Mr. Pitts, reads… “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time?” Keating replies, “Yes, that's the one. Somewhat appropriate, isn't it?” Pitts goes on with the opening stanza of the poem:

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles to day,
To morrow will be dying.

Keating launches into his famous “Carpe Diem” speech… urging the students to “seize the day” — advice that ultimately is his undoing. But let’s go back to the rosebuds… Symbols of life, youth, and vitality – borne of seeds.

In literature, and in life, we often encounter metaphoric seeds. In the Parable of the Sower, the Lord Jesus used seed as a metaphor for the Word, falling upon various ears.

In a recent post, Matt Jordan expounded on poor Holden Caulfield, who wanted to be a Catcher in the Rye… Holden’s misquote of Robert Burns’ Comin’ thro the Rye. Rye too, is an interesting seed… Apparently it is more tolerant of variable weather than wheat, and thrives in eastern and northern Europe… hardy and with a distinctive taste. Interesting that Burns, and consequently Salinger/Caulfield would choose this particular grain as a setting for meeting and for rescuing children… or perhaps one’s youth.

Matt speaks eloquently of his thoughts at his esteemed grandfather’s passing, and chooses to come close to him in a field on his grandfather’s farm in Virginia… a place where seeds can grow, and a place where one might reclaim fond memories of youth.

This is a season of passings. Many who read this are affiliated with school in one form or another… students, teachers, parents, and May-June is always a time of transition…. coming home from college… leaving home (after the summer) for college, kids coming home, kids being home… a break, a respite, a vacation… the death of the academic year past, the birth of an ephemeral freedom. The rye seed must die and be buried to give new birth as next year’s crop: fields in which the children will grow and flourish. Old, beloved sages pass away, leaving something of themselves for the next generation. That cycle, almost as old as time, sustains us, and offers hope that we can be more.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Perspective

In the last few weeks, I've had several experiences I found... meaningful. They lent me a sense of competence, and thus, perhaps some security. My Heavenly Father, in conversation, suggested my attitude, rather than feeling competent, or self-satisfied, might be...
profound gratitude. And in humility, I am satisfied.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Love Will Keep Us Together (Concluded)


Love is… a relationship, a feeling, a disposition. Interesting nouns to be sure, yet somehow still… less than satisfying in connotation, in richness, in character. Though seeking an essential definition, simple, sterile concepts fail to do justice to this idea – perhaps a primal element of our existence.

I’m particularly drawn to the idea of a bond… not a note that earns interest (although there may indeed be some interesting parallels… hmmm), nor a “binding agreement” under which one agrees to perform a specified act (like showing up for a court appearance… again, though, the potential for some relevant parallels…. Hmmm again!).
No, I’m thinking of a bond like in chemistry, between atoms in a molecule… like a covalent bond… a bond that represents a force joining two entities…. not though, a physical connection, with a specific device or mechanism actually touching and connecting the elements, but some sort of attraction or force-like mechanism… a bond. The best analogy I can come up with is gravity… a force between two entities, proportional to their mass, and inversely proportional to the distance between them; gravity is a bond that, although we can express the force exerted on the two bodies, we really can’t describe the bond… other than to say that this attractive force exerted on the bodies can indeed be characterized as a bond. I propose that love is, in essence a kind of bond… a force, kind of like gravity, that draws two bodies, two personalities, two entities together.

From Oswald Chambers, the idea that love is elective is, I think, also essential. In earlier posts and discussions, we’ve talked about the idea that God gave us free will in order to choose to love Him. It would seem that a key part of love is the fact that it must be chosen.

Now here is where I depart from Oxford and the secular authorities. It’s an easy leap to make, after the post and discussion regarding “Mongo Theology” and the roll of emotion and intellect in our relationship with God. In the first post in this series, I concluded (to be redundant) that…

“we are continually and unceasingly to “love the Lord our God with all of our… 'heart, mind, strength, soul, passion, emotion… aggregated and interchangeable or not… in intimate partnership with Him, as the tapestries of our lives unfold.'”
Amongst the Christ-following community, there is consensus that we were indeed created to love God. God is a transcendent being, He exceeds, surpasses, and overflows the boundaries imposed by our finite minds. I believe, therefore, that since ”God is Love,” that love itself must have the transcendent nature of God.

The definition of love I would offer then is:
“Love is the elective bond that defines and characterizes our relationship with God and in God.”
Love, like gravity, binds us to God, and in the nature of that relationship, binds us to one another (in and through Him). An obvious conclusion here is that love cannot exist independent of God…. there may be affection, lust, desire… but love can only exist in a relationship founded in God.

Love Will Keep Us Together (Part 2)

In seeking definition, one often looks to others, or to an authoritative source. My favorite source for definition is the Oxford English Dictionary, a fine and weighty tome. Oxford’s first definition of love describes it as a “disposition or state of feeling,” based on, or arising from the “recognition of attractive qualities.” This is a worthwhile start, because the definition does not simply list characteristic behaviors or manifestations that are the result of love; we’re actually making a stab here at really saying what this thing called love IS. Oxford (remarkably enough!) falls short in that I believe love goes beyond simple attraction. As I intend to explore later, I believe there truly is a transcendence in love… but that’s later.

At my wife’s suggestion, I investigated a somewhat less secular, yet no less authoritative source, the Works of Oswald Chambers. In his discussion in “The Love of God,” (December 14, 1916), he offers this definition:
“Love is the sovereign preference of my person for another person, embracing everyone and everything in that preference.”
Mr. Chambers includes the concept of preference or choice as a component of love, and notes the completely inclusive, comprehensive nature of love as a relationship. So for him, love is a chosen and comprehensive relationship. It is an easy jump to 1 Corinthians 13 to examine the nature and characteristics of this relationship, however, my sense is that this serves to exemplify, rather than to describe the relationship itself. Splitting semantic hairs? Perhaps, but I can’t be comfortable with patience, kindness, gentleness as synonyms for love… they tel me about love, but not what it is.

To Be Continued…

Love Will Keep Us Together

I consider myself fortunate that I’ve found myself in this “Blog Circle” of folks who are thoughtful, critical in a positive sense, and willing to put their thoughts and ideas into a forum where we can all consider and grow in our understanding… hopefully.

The last post raised some really fascinating ideas, and brought me, at least, to a conclusion other (and, I hope better) than where I started. My conclusion was in my last comment:
“And now that I’ve had to walk around this block a few times, I guess my conclusion goes back to the post that really started this discussion… are we pawns in God’s cosmic chess game? Now the conclusion I’m compelled to draw from thought, prayer, and the loving commentary of my brothers and sisters is that as we’re moved around the board, as we live our lives in our squares, that we are continually and unceasingly to “love the Lord our God with all of our…” heart, mind, strength, soul, passion, emotion… aggregated and interchangeable or not… in intimate partnership with Him, as the tapestries of our lives unfold.”
So the whole thing comes down to loving the God who created us… in everything we do... actively, and in intimate partnership with Him. Danny might say that we can offer continual worship to Him… Paul the Apostle might consider that continuous prayer.

All of this, of course, raised a question for me… what IS love?

Well, the first and most obvious biblical response is from 1 John 4:16: “God is Love.” This forms an essential part of the premise, but for me, it is still somewhat undistilled. God IS indeed love… yes, a part of the essence of God is love, but He is so much more… And I have difficulty if we take this simple truth as an identity… God is love, but can we also say Love is God? Again, this just doesn’t seem complete. Love is a facet of God, but saying that Love is the same thing as God, and that provides a complete, working definition doesn’t, for me, satisfy. Now maybe this is my arrogant intellect, but I need more…

To be Continued…

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Confluence of the Spirit

I am truly indebted to Danny Bridgens… a master of supra-Socratic dialogue, who asked the simple question of my last post… “What are you saying here?” It is indeed always a worthwhile investment of my time to go back and figure out what I said, and even more important… what did I mean? Mean indeed…? Well, clearly I said more (or perhaps less) than I intended; Danny’s question forced more (and deeper) thought.

And it’s interesting… I mean have you ever fasted? When you do, it seems like in VERY short order, every billboard on the street is advertising food… and all the commercials on TV are suddenly about nothing but food! (And not diet food, or Weight Watchers, but about restaurants and steak, and pancakes, and sumptuous desserts!) And then there are the magazines, and the restaurants themselves that suddenly spring up on thoroughfares you’ve driven hundreds of times… and never saw the eateries…

Of late it’s been so with the Spirit, and with these questions. Every conversation I’ve had, each article I’ve “chanced” across, the movies I’ve watched, the discussions over coffee… intentional and otherwise… all have drawn me to these questions… and shown me additional facets, and begged more questions… Truly a “Confluence of the Spirit!”

The down side is that the Gordian knot just keeps getting larger and more complex, and I have more to say, and more questions… The challenge: “When do I ‘put down the paintbrush’ and post something?” I guess the answer is… today. At least get something out there and see what folks think… I’ll pick up the brush again, and just keep on “keepin’ on.”

So what of Mongo, pawn of life? And what of us, beloved children of the God who grants life? Upon (much) greater thought, prayer, and consideration, I find need of reassessing our relationship with our Creator, and much more, HIS relationship with us! I began with a consideration of what God has given us… welk, OK… pretty much everything… but specifically, I began with free-will: absolutely requisite to love. Previously, I discussed the need for love to be an elective choice, not original with me, but a concept to which I’m fully subscribed. But to go on… He also gave us intellect, emotion, passion even… and why? To what purpose? In my thinking, I don’t believe these are requisite to love… they enhance OUR experience of it perhaps, but I believe we could love our creator successfully without them. So why then are we “endowed by our Creator” with these gifts?

Several reasons come to mind… first of all, God chose to “make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26), and He certainly possesses both mind and passion. A reasonable assumption would be that we’re granted these gifts, reflective of Him, to be able to relate to Him on a more intimate plane… intellect and passion for a more intimate relationship, OK… in fact, it seems that’s God’s command to us…

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” –Deuteronomy 6:5

Thinking back to the Mongo-Pawn analogy, we could interpret that as God expecting (and equipping!) us to make a significant contribution when He “moves” us, and also that we’re expected, nay required, to glorify Him when we’re in our ‘little squares’ on the board. But I have a sense that there’s more…

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Interlude


When I began this Blog, I agreed with myself that I would post each week. You may have noticed the date on the previous post… March 10. This hardly qualifies as a post each [and every] week… I had one other, apparently conflicting agreement… it’s actually something I picked up from Tom Lehrer (Toph, I’d advise Wikipedia). The agreement in conflict is… “If you have nothing to say, don’t.” So I’ve just had to learn to live with my tension… and I guess so have you. Hopefully though, my choice to refrain from posting nothing was the right one. No.. wait… I did post nothing… Oh well...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Mongo Theology

Reading Toph Beach's adventures in RobBellLand, and addressing the question of predestination with our limited, finite little brains reminded me of several conversations I've had over the years of my walk, following Jesus Christ. So many of us struggle with the oxymoronic puzzle of how to reconcile our free will (and all of the difficulties that come with it), and our Lord's sovereign will and plan for each and every one of us. How do we make this work? How do we understand?


I'm often drawn to one of my favorite characters in a fine, biblical film released back in 1974 (whew!) by that esteemed theological producer, Mel Brooks. I refer of course to "Blazing Saddles." There is a sage character in the film who, sometime after punching a horse in the nose, utters the incredibly insightful and profound pronouncement, "Mongo merely small pawn in great game of life."

Small pawn indeed. In our exercise of free will and our dominion over the world around us, we often mistake ourselves for knights, bishops, or even kings and queens. I think it's important to remember that, although we are each loved, esteemed, and valued more than we can ever possibly comprehend or appreciate... we're all just pawns of the Father who created us... we serve at His bidding, at His pleasure, and at His will. We move, breathe, think, and exist because of His grace. To believe in our own importance and ability is supreme arrogance.

That is not to belittle or underestimate the value of His gift of free will and choice for us. Indeed, we'd be incapable of loving our God if not for that gift. It is, of course, a double-edged sword, for with the ability to love comes the ability to reject... and each of us has felt the pain of rejection as well. I guess I believe that it's not nearly so important for us to reconcile or unravel this mystery, so much as to embrace and understand His phenomenal love for us, and to understand how a pawn can play a strategic and tactical part in His grand plan... being alert to his words and available to be moved in accord with His will.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Rock and a Hard Place

One would think that at my chronological and [supposed] spiritual age that I would be quite sage and insightful in God’s word. After all, He crafted every single amazing word, and nothing in it should surprise us… I mean GOD wrote it! And, over the last uhm… few years, I’ve had the opportunity to read the whole thing… several times… and in several ways…. Some parts, many times. Some of it, I’ve managed to capture “deep in my heart,” and some of it… say the “begats” I’ve struggled through, and honestly, maybe haven’t ‘savored’ as much.

But it seems that no matter how often we read and study God’s word, no matter how fascinated (or not!) we are by Scripture… He still manages to astound us with not only the incredible truth put forward, but with the intricate and well, awesome way that the warp and weft of the text is woven.

I tread lightly when commenting on Scripture, as it truly is “Holy ground.” My friend Ryan Paterson quotes someone when he cautions, “And God spoke — the rest is just commentary.” Commentary, taken in the appropriate vein however can often open new perspectives, and bring us to a point at once alternative to our own and of deeper understanding.

Having read and been excited and influenced by the writings of John Eldredge (clearly not one of the Bible’s authors!). I was at once struck with his position about the human heart: he says that once we have accepted Christ, that we’re given a new and a good heart:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Eldredge’s commentary on this concept is a source of serious and ongoing debate between his detractor/critics, and his followers. The Ezekiel passage is often contrasted and compared with the prophecy of his contemporary Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Prayer, meditation, and contemplation on the idea lead me to believe that God has indeed done a work in my heart. Yet, being human, and not choosing/able to walk continually in the Kingdom of God, I fall short of His Glory, of His standard of perfection. (No great revelation to any who know me!). But clearly, God is at work! I guess this has left me in a quandary of “spiritual anatomy…”

If the heart is good, where is the ‘residual evil?’ Paul says in Romans that it’s resident in our flesh. (And it’s important to distinguish between the “flesh” of which Ezekiel speaks… and to which John the Apostle refers (John 1:14), and Paul’s reference to our flesh, our “sin nature.”).

Now at this point, I think I come down on the side of a good heart… my heart couldn’t hold the message or love of Christ if it wasn’t a “good” place for him to write… Paul tells the Corinthians that:

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)

Some insist that the new ‘core’ of our heart is good, but that there is still residual “stuff” there as well. Again, a question of Spiritual anatomy… but back in Ezekiel, we’re told, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them;” and we’re told, “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19). “An undivided heart…” a whole heart, containing a new spirit… a heart of flesh… “And the word became flesh.” (John 1:14). I am not a good man, but within me is a new heart, crafted by God, indwelt by Jesus.

And here’s where God’s Word just blows me away… all this talk of hearts of flesh and stone… Go back to Exodus for a minute… after God led His people out of Egypt, out of bondage and captivity, he explained to their leader Moses, what he planned to do with them, how he wanted to continue in relationship… he made a contract, a covenant if you will, with them:

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

Soon thereafter, God called Moses up to meet with him on Mt. Sinai, and gave Moses the Laws that would govern God’s people under His covenant:

“Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” (Exodus 32:15-16)

The Law, which God engraved on… stone. The repository for God’s Law under His covenant with His people was… stone.

And when God established a New Covenant with His People, he wrote his Law on flesh… (Remember? “The Word became flesh… and made His dwelling among us.” – John 1:14).

Somehow, I always knew and understood the connection with Jesus in the New Testament and the “heart of flesh” in Ezekiel’s Old Testament prophecy… but I’d never made the connection backward between the Mosaic Law (carved into stone), and the heart that God told Ezekiel that He would remove from us. Right there, in the middle of the Holy Book… a waypoint, a sign post that “connects the dots” for us…

God just blows me away sometimes!
(or... maybe I'm just a little slow! -- I'm indebted to John Coe for the connection with "Heart of Stone.")

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sunset as a .sig line

I am a sucker for a sunset. Whether its an amazingly colorful display of yellows, golds, pinks, reds, and violets, or a simple golden orb dropping through the Pacific... I am struck by the idea that each time I see the sun go down, it's a one-off. There will never be another just like it... it is indeed an ephemeral masterpiece, painted by the Master Artist, unique to this time and this place... It occurs to me that, usually, I'm the only one there and then to enjoy that unique and specific perspective.

I'd like to believe that He planned it that way... that the panorama I see before me is a message, specifically from my Creator to me.

Not long ago, I spent the weekend up in Tahoe. Returning to our lodgings on the east shore of the lake at the end of the day, I was treated to one of the best, one of the most breathtaking... OK, one of the most spectacular displays it's been my privilege to share with my God in... well, I guess most of my life. It wasn't blazing like the picture above, it was delicate and carefully crafted, shades of pink and red, skillfully woven into the deepening blue field behind. A blend of pale oranges and purples, gently wafting among the incredible pastels of pale blue and aquamarine. Now, normally, I'm a prettty bold-color kind-of-guy. But this... this unspeakably beautiful and gentle tapestry literally took my breath away.

And as I stood there, mouth gaping, eyes dancing, and heart leaping, my Father came to me, gently, and whispered in my ear...

"You see, Beloved Son, I love you. This is how I see you, how I hold you, how I love you... with a caress at once soft, beautiful, and unique. I'm glad you enjoyed our day."

And with such a close to the day, God signed his name in the sky... once again.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Make Room For Daddy

It gets harder.

Having discussed the place of the human father in his young son's life... the place that belongs to God, it's clear that the human dad becomes faced with some interesting challenges as his son grows and matures. As the boy reaches adolescence, manhood in the Jewish tradition, his relationships begin to evolve and to change...

The sweet boy who kissed his dad goodbye when dropped off at school, now would just as soon have dad "drop me off a couple blocks from school." There are mood swings, awkwardness, and... hair(!) as hormones begin to kick in; and junior is no longer firmly rooted and attached to his family and the individual members thereof. In fact, one of the major challenges a youth faces during this tempestuous time is separating himself from his family and establishing an independent identity of his own. As his peer relationships become the most important in his life, the residual members of his family feel literally pushed away. For a mom and dad who've always been close to their beloved offspring, this can be challenging at best, and very painful at worst (depending on how hard junior pushes). All parties concerned often feel that the others "just don't understand." And to some degree, that is true.

It's just impossible for someone who has not raised a son or daughter to really know the depth of the bond of love that often grows... after all, this bond was created and is modeled by God (Matthew 3:17); to feel that bond being pulled apart can indeed be traumatic, and the "new man," at age thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen has no context to really comprehend the impact of his independence or even rebellion. Likewise, although almost all parents survived their own adolescence, their experience and the context in which they grew up is often not really analogous to that of their offspring... they may well not be capable of understanding the son's difficulty and/or angst either. And the trust, often painstakingly established over the course of childhood is often eroded through misunderstanding, and poorly defined and enforced boundaries... and the separation between family and child, between father and son is... hard.

The point here is not to suggest that it can be easy (oh, sure, miracles DO happen on occasion), but that as our sons grow and seek to establish an identity apart from the family, that both parties-- son AND father have important and key roles and responsibilities. As the son grows and 'pushes back,' the father's role does not diminish... it evolves. As the son is establishing himself as an individual, as a man, the boy still has a critical need for validation, and, although he may not recognize it, guidance and support as he makes choices. This process is not instantaneous; great insight and sensitivity is required from both the son and the father if their contributions to it are to be truly complementary. And dad, what your son needs is solid advice and supportive reasoning, not evaluations, or worse, condemnation. Caveat: of course there must be boundaries, and the possibililty exists for poor choices. The need for damage control will arise, in some form or another... and both of you... both of you will need to recognize that of youreselves, you can do nothing (John 15:5). There's another player... a key player: the Heavenly Father that created you both.

Which, after a lengthy introductory discussion brings me to the point... it does get harder. It gets harder because one of the most important tasks a human father needs to accomplish is to evict himself (perhaps over time) from his occupation of the role of God in his son's life -- in order to make room for the son to establish a real and lasting relationship with his Heavenly Father. Done well, the human father's tennancy in this role has shown the boy what love, and justice, and compassion, and understanding look like, maybe not in perfection, but in honest faithfulness to our Heavenly Father. Done, not so well, the son will have perhaps, a somewhat skewed vision of his Lord. The really good news is that once the link between Father God and His beloved son is forged, and no matter how severely it is strained and tested, God won't let go. And with prayer from human father and son, the new 'adult' relationship between the young man and his Father will grow and will flourish... over the course of a lifetime.

The boy's human father continues to hold a key place and a key role in his son's life. He must still provide advice and counsel. He needs to get out of God's place, yet he must still set an example through his own relationship with God. He must still cover his own beloved son in prayer as the young man matures in life and in Christ. How does he go about doing all that? Perhaps another chapter...

Friday, February 9, 2007

In Loco Deus...

In our men's group, we're holding a study called "The Masculine Journey." Not particularly original, nor unique, yet timely, and somehow, needed. It's a chronological series, following the stages of life for men from birth through 'elderliness.' We're up to adolescence now.

An of course, as you teach, you learn...

This past week, we discussed the role that a father has in his son's life. At the outset, a human father acts in the place of God to his young son. He is, from an earthly perspective, the boy's (co)creator, the giver of the law, the provider of sustenance, the ultimate authority, and the supreme protector. It's pretty easy for a boy to see God in his dad. Now bear in mind, I'm certainly not asserting that dad is God, but rather that that is often and easily the boy's perception. And consider that much of what we know of God early in life comes to us through the teaching, example, and life that our earthly fathers set before us. For better or for worse, to the boy, dad looks like God.

In my thinking, I explored the possibility that maybe a human father acts as a sort of an old testament ‘high priest,’ acting between the son and God… but I don’t really think that fits the real perception that the son has… Dad really seems to be God, especially to a young boy. Oh, sure, if the lad goes to church or Sunday school, he hears about God, but if he really gives it any thought (or more likely if he doesn’t really think about it), in a boy’s perception, his human father occupies the role of God for him.

This can be sobering for a dad, should he choose to recognize the phenomenon... especially a dad who follows Jesus Christ. In humility, the tendency might be to deny the role, but the simple fact is that the boy's perception will not change... to him, dad still looks like, acts like, and feels like God. There will come a time to 'set the record straight,' but in the interim, denying appearances may not be wise. Oh... be sure, dad, not to believe your own press! (You are NOT God for the boy, but you ARE acting in His stead... that's part of the charge He gives you when you assume the role and title of 'father.' But during that interim, dads have special and significant responsibilities. The book of Proverbs overflows with guidance in how to discharge those responsibilities. A good friend pointed me to a song by written by Dan Dean and Joy Becker (performed by Craig and Dean Phillips), called “I Want to Be Just Like You,” which is a father’s prayer to Christ to mold, shape and guide him, because the man’s son wants to be just like his dad… a significant responsibility.

So we dads press on, as Dean and Becker's song says:
“Got to admit I've got so far to go
Make so many mistakes and I'm sure that You know
Sometimes it seems no matter how hard I try
With all the pressures in life I just can't get it all right.”


…knowing that we’re not perfect, and lamenting (and repenting of) or mistakes, seeking after Christ, and leading our son toward Him by our example, words, and attitudes. It’s a hard job.

And then, it gets harder!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Genesis

I confess to being seriously intrigued by the whole concept of blogs. An open, public forum that is accessible by and for anyone in the world. When I first read Card's Ender series, the idea of world opinion being swayed accross the "nets" seemed pretty far fetched to me... and now, here we are.

Well, what an adventure!