Yesterday was a true day of rest. God imposed it upon me. That happens and I roll with it. My agenda did not work. Today is a new day. I've been up since a little before 3 and I've had three cups of tea. Why do I mention that? I do so to say that there is a flow with which we must go and it is better than the one we planned sometimes, even if it is not comfortable or pleasant. Some folks learn to swim, but not float. Sometimes, we just need to float.
I was shocked to see how lomng it had been since my last blog entry. i post daily to Facebook. All Facebook posts go to Twitter. All blog posts go to Faceboook, but these do not reciprocate to the Dream Factory. I need to work on something to make this work better.
In the meantime, here are a few and anyone can follow me any time on my Facebook page: TOM SIMS
We all profile people. We do it as a knee jerk reaction. We do it quickly and we do it for reasons we do not always know. We size people up and put them in boxes of our minds. We categorize them and assign them motives and characteristics based upon what we see filtered through the stories we have heard and the stories we have lived.
Occasionally, we are somewhat correct. The problem is, we are often wrong. We cannot quickly change our knee jerk reactions, but we can train ourselves not to so readily believe and act upon them. We can remember how often we have been wrong. We can think before we act. We can listen before we speak. We can deescalate rather than "standing our ground." We can learn new stories and discover new and more interesting profiles.
I have profiled people and I have been profiled.
But I am learning ... have been ... will continue to be learning.
There is no escaping that we are, in part, products of our environments and the shared assumptions of those who surround us. We are always at the mercy of limited knowledge IF ... IF ... IF we allow ourselves to be.
We are also capable of stepping back, reaching out, learning, growing, and loving.
I am so sad about the times I have blurted out my pontifical pronouncements based upon prejudicial assumptions. Mine are different than yours, perhaps, but they are still very, very dark. I am grateful that, in those times, I did not have a weapon on me other than the soul piercing sword of ill conceived words. I am grateful for the restraining Hand upon my shoulder of One who does actually know me very well (and love me very, very well) to say "STOP! You are getting this all wrong."
What wonderful lessons of life I have learned from folks I might easily dismissed as having nothing to say.
And what a blessing it is in life that we can keep rewriting our own profile --- like on Facebook.
God bless you all. I am operating on the assumption that we are all here for a reason, uniquely and wonderfully made, passionately loved by God, and immeasurably valuable to each other. Thanks for being my friends.
Quote from "What's So Amazing About Grace"
On Prejudice and Fear
We often think of prejudice as merely manifest in angry avarice and dislike of people from other cultures, races, or ideologies. That is certainly one such manifestation, but it is not the most prevalent. If it were, many of us could dismiss ourselves from the indictment with the words, "I hate no one" and be perfectly sincere, honest, and innocent.
However, there is a glitch in that thinking. The most common manifestation of prejudice against people is not hatred; it is fear. Fear is a powerful force and can express itself in fight or flight. Fear based upon generalized, false, or stereotyped assumptions is dangerous, ignorant, and hurtful, but it is also curable.
It can be cured by exposure, conversation, knowledge, and experience.
That is why Mark Twain said, ""Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. "
The cure: Get out among some people who do not look, talk, think, or believe like you this weekend and spend more time asking questions and listening than giving answers and making assumptions. Then, report back what you have learned in a few days.
A Bright Idea
Public people make big public blunders and big public bad choices and sometimes, their sins look very ugly amplified in the multiple media.
Sometimes they really are ugly, almost as ugly as mine. Our instinct is to hide pour ugliness. We do not want it seen, known, scrutinized, criticized, ostracized, or categorized. We don't want to be boxed in.
We want to create the image that everyone sees in us and that becomes the source of our identity, strength, confidence, and purpose --- sometimes, even our income.
When a public person tumbles, fumbles, or humbles himself or herself, I hope for the best, for them, for all. I tend to look for that. I tend to withhold judgment and stand with those who declare their innocence.
When public people fall, they fall hard. The inclination is to scrutinize, criticize, ostracize, and categorize. Why?
For one thing, it is safe to do it from afar. We don't know them. They don't know us. We are far more forgiving with those we know.
Second, and this is the best part, we want to learn from their failures and not make the same errors. We want our children to learn, "Don't do that." We want our neighbors to learn. A bad example is still useful.
Mostly, it just brings out some sense of indignation, superiority, or curiosity in us and we are tantalized by the whole thing and react.
I can understand all of that, but I am a pastor and I cannot maintain that stance for long. I've known some public people and they are people. I've known some not-so-public people and they are people too. I just assume that at any moment, I could be called upon to pastor that person and, if I were called upon, I'd want to meet them ... really meet them as person to person.
It starts with meeting and meeting is a place of empathy, caring, and intercession.
So, I tend to be reminded ... after an occasional foray into delusional moral superiority.... that I am an intercessor and can pastor people from afar. Any of us can. So, I pray. I may not pray well, long, or with intensity, but I pray in my way and it brings me into a curious contact with that person and I start to really care about his or her well being.
I am a conservationist and I do not think anyone belongs permanently on the scrap heap. Everything can be used in some way. Everyone has a purpose. Everyone is redeemable and I do not want to be the guy that got in the way of that because I had something clever, perhaps true, but totally unnecessary and vitriolic to say about that particular child of God.
We do need to be occasionally prophetic, perhaps often prophetic, but we do not need to be jerks. Some old preacher said, "Brothers, tell the truth, but don't be mean for Jesus."
Sure, these folks a big targets and have big potential to lead many astray before disappointing them. That is all the more reason to intercede for and with them.
Everybody is somebody's child ... even the meanest man on earth. And everyone is God's child.
Let us find it in our hearts to lift up all the people we meet, and those we don't, from afar, in prayer.
Darkness and Light
Isaiah 9:2-7 King James Version (KJV)
"(2)The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (3) Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. (4) For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. (5) For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. (6) For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (7) Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."
Isaiah conveys a word He has received for the people around
him who are crushed, broken, despairing of life, depressed, rejected, and
oppressed and out of ideas for how to fix things. In a leadership vacuum, they
have no voice to call them or unify them. They have known success and seen
success depart,. They have had victories without deep satisfaction. They have
experienced defeat and they have known slavery. Like many today, the people
walked in darkness. Like many today, there is a crying need for light. We hang
lights on our trees, but we are called to carry the light on our persons.
Light has come to the world in the person of Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus the Christ. He has saved us and filled us with His own Spirit so that we might carry His light in the world where there is a deep and absent void.
I. The ABSENT VOID - There is darkness and it cannot be disputed or denied. Nor need we attack it at its roots because its roots are in the absence of light. It is the absence into which light pierces the walls of the void and the result is rejoicing.
What is life like in the Absent Void? The passage tells us it is a dark walk, a death walk, and it is a deafening walk of war.
A. It is a dark walk by definition. It is dark to the mystery to dark to morality. When we are in darkness we are blinded to reality. In fact, just a few minutes ago, in my house, I ran into a wall I did not see and bumped my head. I do not make the best decisions in the dark.
B. It is a death walk. In the shadows of death there is little hope. People walking in darkness experience a despair that is deathly and death is the common denominator of humanity. If there is no intervention of life, death is our permanent outcome and we experience some of it in the shadows here and now.
C. It is a deafening walk. The KJV translation of v. 5 refers to confused noise in battle. There is so much noise that the ears are deafened to any clear direction. Have you not been deafened by the cacophonies of dissonant battle cries around you so that nothing makes sense at all?
Another way of looking at the void is to create an acronym of it.
It is a V- Vicious darkness.
It is an O- Oppressive darkness. It
is an I - Insidious darkness. It is
a D - Deep darkness, but it can be
To follow Jesus truly, we must be willing to be present in the absence.
In the Absent Void of darkness comes the ACTIVE VOICE of light.
II. The ACTIVE VOICE - Light simply and powerfully penetrates darkness and that is that! He comes as a child. He comes to be seen. He comes to break the yoke of oppression. He comes to rule with justice and truth. He speaks through light and that light, according to John 1, is the Light of men. Let's look and word, voice.
A. First, it is V - VICARIOUS by nature. The word is from Latin, vicārius and it means "substituting." The government, which is a heavy weight, lands on His shoulders. He takes on our pain, suffering, and bonds to break them. He enters in to our life with us. Are we willing, as His representatives, to enter into the dark places and bear the suffering of the world to speak and to be?
B. Second, it is O - It is OBVIOUS - it is no secret coming when He enters a space. There is an obvious contrast between light and darkness and people notice. If we are the light of the world in Him, how obvious is our presence? Do we bring light to darkness just by being their? Does the voice of our lives speak as He did?
I - Third, it is I -It in INVASIVE. Light invades the darkness and He speaks to powers and systems, dismantles the weapon of destruction, liberates the captives, and sets up His rule, not as a mighty warrior, though He is capable, but as a child. Are we willing to be the childlike representatives of His Kingdom to light and speak with a gentle, yet powerful voice the confusion of the battles in our midst?
C - Fourth, it is C - a COMFORTING voice. He is the counselor, comforter, one who walks beside us as Prince of Peace. People do not necessarily understand this peace because it comes as incarnation. The message of the gospel is that those who are redeemed have this Comforter to come and live inside us, transforming the darkness of our interior lives into habitations of peace, joy, light, love, and the Christ Himself who can live in us, with us, and through us. What sort of comforting presence brings peace to the turmoil around us, through us as Jesus lives out His life and speaks His voice through us?
D - Fifth, it is an E - ETERNAL voice. There is no end to His Kingdom. The kingdom of darkness will cease, but the Kingdom of God is forever, embodied in a Child - a child in a manger in Bethlehem. His first whimper was a welcome sound for in His humanity, we discover divinity. He is our connection to eternity. Everything about this baby's life is God speaking to us, calling us, inviting us, living among us, tasting death for us, rising to raise us, and living forever within us. To come to Him like the shepherd and wise men, to welcome Him like Mary and Joseph, to worship Him, and to receive Him and follow Him is life itself and life eternal. It is also the beginning of our mission in the world to carry His presence into the darkness.
When we hear a word of admonition, we either desire to act or we bury the thought. But if we desire to act, to change, or to create change, we come up against an insurmountable wall of hopelessness and despair. What can i do about the world when I cannot even change myself?
This is my sermon for Sunday, December 16, 2012, just the rough notes and subject to change and reflection ... probably full of mistakes. It is in process. It is based upon the lectionary scriptures for the morning.
What should we do then?” (Luke 3:10)
This is the question prompted by the “advent” preaching of John at he announced the coming of the Messiah. People were hungry and expectant. Paul was addressing the believers in Philippi with some “final” words. They too were living in expectation and in a world of turmoil,
Philippians 4:4-7:"4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Luke 3:7-18: 7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? 11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. 14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. 15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: 17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. 18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.” -
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” - Isaiah 12:2-6 (NIV)
- Rejoice with GENEROSITY (Notice he says it twice). We may have to work at it. He gives it generously. Let us receive it in abundance.
- Rejoice with GENTLENESS. Let’s become known as gentle people. It is so tempting to be harsh and judgmental. But the world is fragile sometimes and people need a soft touch. Even in our rejoicing, let us not be loud, obnoxious, intrusive, and insensitive.
- ANXIETY and cares. In every situation, we release everything in prayer and petition, presenting it all to God.
- ANY sense of entitlement. Thanksgiving acknowledges that what we have is a gift and gifts do not come to us because we deserve them.
- It TRANSCENDS understanding. We can be at peace when it makes no sense to be at peace to ourselves or to others. Our circumstances add up to trouble. Our lives multiply into shalom.
- It TRANSFORMS us by guarding our hearts and minds. We don’t need to have our peace protected by anything else than the very shalom of God itself. It stands century over our souls so that we can sing, “It is well with my soul.” As we read in our lessons this morning,
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD. - Zephaniah 3:14-20 (NIV)
As the people waited expectantly, John said that all he had was water. What they needed was Spirit and that is what the Messiah would bring. John and Paul gave us a list of “should”s. Think of all the things in the world we should do if we could do them. But we fail. John says, “You need the Spirit. You need the Christ.”
- He comes to BAPTIZE – but not with water or anything material. With Spirit we shall be baptized- cleansed and buried with hope of new life. Paul says that we are buried with Christ in baptism unto death so that we can be raised with Him to walk in newness of life. In that washing/burial, sins are forgiven, hearts are cleansed, and we are made holy before God.
- He comes to BURN -With Fire we shall be baptized – and all the junk will be consumed. We shall be set free from the dross in our lives. It is a purifying flame and sometimes is a painful, but it is a necessary process to get rid of all in our lives that is not fit for Kingdom living. John and Paul both list some of the dross in our lives that needs to go.
It is a world of worry, a world of anxiety, a world of despair into which the Advent candle shines with waiting expectancy and hope that there is One who can bring the Spirit and baptize us in the Spirit and fire. There is much we should do, would do, and could do and much we cannot seem to be able to find the strength, will, and wisdom to do and these things ought to be done. The gospel is and always will be “good news” and that is what both John and Paul preached. That is what Jesus brought by His own presence, good news, the good news that repentance is possible in the Spirit. It is the good news that liberates us to rejoice in the midst of turmoil, release the things that bind us, and receive the peace that passes all understanding.
Again, when we hear a word of admonition, we either desire to act or we bury the thought. But if we desire to act, to change, or to create change, we come up against an insurmountable wall of hopelessness and despair. What can i do about the world when I cannot even change myself?
The Presence of Jesus answers that question once and for all. His baptism enables the change for which we long. Come to Jesus and find that hope, light the candle, and live in the Light.
I posted this on Facebook for my new friends at Heald College - Fresno,
who I was honored to speak with yesterday at the Mentoring group. This
is from my napkin ... some "P"s for starting a new business or
non-profit venture (or any bold initiative):
1. A Purposeful Product --- What are you bringing to the table and is there a real and perceived need with the right timing?
2. Passion - Does this ring your bell, ignite your fire, and tug at your heart. Can and do you believe that this "product," visible or invisible, can change the world and make a difference in people's lives? If not, find something that fires up your passion.
These words are a big deal in Ezekiel's prophecies:
"This is what the Sovereign Lord says ..." and
"... you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”
Sometimes it is "they will know."
Lots of really tough love in this book ... lots.
It seems like sometimes God is saying, "I will strip you down to nothing to bring you back to the place where I can love you well. You are going to figure out what is really important and that I am all you really need."
Do I like it? I don't have to like it. That is what it says. Do I understand it completely? Not necessarily. Have I experienced a tiny little bit of it in my life?
We will let "the day" declare that :)
Or we can schedule a one-on-one and I will tell all or most.
The point is that there is no particular point.
There is an historical drama that we get to observe from a distance so that we can better understand the drama around us. Namely, God is present in history and will be known. God is Sovereign and really does not respect our labels, or denominations, our affiliations, or our definitions of who we are.
God wants to be known and will be known and it has nothing to do with politics or race or ideology or even what we call our "religion."
As a follower of Jesus, I have already labeled myself somewhat, but that is what I am, it is not my job to correct or condemn everyone else. It is my job to live and speak as a follower of Jesus. That is what I do and who I am.
I may be a Baptist, but that is a function based upon history and conviction. It is not the core of who I am. I may be an Evangelical because that comes pretty close to summarizing many of my beliefs. I am a Christian, but that is confusing because in some places that means culture or ethnicity. At the heart of what it meant in the early church, I like it. Protestant - Yes. I value the heritage and courage of Luther, but I also am a little "c" "catholic," part of the universal and invisible Body of Christ. The Sovereign God will be known -- by His deeds, by His witness through us.
Is revelation progressive? Does God feed us in doses till we get the big picture? Is that not what Jesus is saying when He calls Himself "fulfillment?" Is that not what He is demonstrating as He absorbs the blunt force trauma of the inherent wrath of trying to pound against the Truth of God? He absorbs it because He invites it that He might destroy death ... That the Sovereign Lord might make Himself known.
Then, He sends us to tell and to teach ... whatsoever He commanded ... which He summed up in the two-fold law of love that envelops all other laws --- Love God --- Love others!
"Baptize them ..." He said... not in the name of your church or denomination, but in MY name! Our Name, father and Son and Holy Spirit. If ever there was a call to water things down ...
Bring people to faith and following because they hear and see and are called to come.
Ezekiel faithfully represents this "side" of God's character as He seeks to explain the Exile. He lets God speak, but the recurring thread is historical grace and redemption. Is it enough to fully understand the character of a God with no three dimensional "sides?" I tend to believe we need the Christian scriptures as well, for it is there that everything is interpreted through the lens of grace ... radical and unrelenting grace.
Am I making a point? I hope not. That would be too one-dimensional. Am I stirring something for someone? That would be fine, but this is mainly me reflecting with the Sovereign Lord.
Yes, it is Halloween - not my favorite holiday - not my favorite season as a rule ---- getting used to things getting darker quicker. It always gets better. All these weird costumes. I can cope with Halloween Baptize it, shake it around, redefine it, utilize it, do what you will. It is what it is. We are what and who we are no matter what we put on and pretend to be. It is the day of alter-egos. It is the day of confronting fears and turning them to humor. It is also Reformation Day. Luther finally, reluctantly, and fearlessly came to a line that he could not cross and declared, "Here I stand; I can do no other."
Where do you stand so that you can do no other?
What in you/me needs to be re-FORMED. God is forming us and we can cooperate if we will - be pliable, flexible, and moveable.
People put on costumes for Halloween. I used to dress as a hobo when was a kid. We are usually just putting on a show. We don't really become goblins and hobos and zombies. But there are things we put on that form us and we become because we are always becoming.
Some stuff needs to be put off . They tend to stick to our skin and form us wrongly:
Ephesians 4:22: ... put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
Colossians 3:8: But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
Colossians 3:9: Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
Other things, according to scripture, Jesus followers need to PUT ON. It is more than a costume. These things shape us:
Galatians 3:27: put on Christ.
Ephesians 4:24: And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Ephesians 6:11: Put on the whole armour of God,
Colossians 3:10: And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Colossians 3:12: Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Colossians 3:14: And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
Halloween, pagan, earthy, sometimes offensive, fun, opportune, present in-your-face, and not really going away reminds me to check my costume with regard to my own reformation. What am I putting on and what am I putting off. Is it only a PUT ON or and I being REFORMED.
Something is shaping you right now. What is it?
Some say that blogging has faded in impact possibilities with the rise of social networking popularity. I am not sure about that, but anyone who follows me can see that most of my posting lately has been on Facebook where the feedback is immediate and conversation around topics is easy. However, even when I do not post, my blog site gets traffic ... perhaps because the posts have a more accessible permanence than social networking posts. So the question is ... What will I do? I am going to run a test and if you are reading this, you have already contributed. The numbers do not lie. If this completely meaningless piece of pondering gets traffic, I will see. If not, I will see that too ... and then I will see what I see. Blessings! And here is a little gift to make your visit worth your while:
The blog I've not written, but know that I must has a title and a theme thus, a thrust ... to be just. In a word it is to love that which is above us, surrounds us, envelops us, has created and is creating us and to love those who also are created and are being created ... But it is an unjust world, you cry, protest, and flail. We can try, resist, and ultimately fail to live justly in such a world ... and I say, "Hogwash!" If it were not possible to swim against the tide, there would be no more salmon on the planet. Grant it, it is hard and our charred, scarred, burned and battered selves must energize, prioritize, and optimize, but we can live justly in an unjust world. In the end (and at the beginning), it is all we can do ... and what we cannot be stopped from doing.
Today, I am renewed in the knowledge that my steps are ordered of the Lord. I am in covenant with Him and with His people. I have been called to be peculiar and I have no higher calling than to follow Jesus. That is the choice I make by grace and the identity I bear through faith. I honor those who follow other paths, but this is mine and the call to come along is ever on my lips. I would love to have the company and God is waiting to welcome you at any moment.
I desire no power to coerce, shape, or regulate you. If you come into covenant with God through Jesus and with me in koinonia, we shall then hold each other accountable to a higher standard that may, at times, seem severe, demanding, and constraining. Yet, it shall always be bathed in grace and infused with joy. That covenant shall shape us and prepare us to be light in the world and salt in the earth. It will form us into the image of Jesus that we might be His presence in the world - He, who sought no earthly Kingdom and exercised none of His rights to silence His enemies.
The kingdoms of this world are what they are, agents of civil order. I owe them whatever loyalty they require and the influence of my presence and participation; but they do not define my life, my discipleship, or my calling. They are incidental and contextual. Those of us who choose to follow Jesus live by the Kingdom ethic and behave counter-intuitively, governed by the law of love for God and for others. We live in the culture, but the culture does not ultimately shape, govern, threaten, or limit us. We can expect to be considered odd; let us rejoice when that happens!
Culture wars? That is not our calling. The church of Jesus has always been counter-cultural. There has never been a truly "Christian" culture. We are always amongst and against the tide. If we do not stand out, we cannot be seen. Ours is the culture of radical grace, radical love, and radical discipleship. It cannot be imposed on others; it can be witnessed, testified, and consistently lived in public, but it can never be imposed through cultural warfare.
Our warfare is spiritual and it is against spiritual forces, never people.
The bigest problem with the whole issue of sexuality in our society is that we have allowed it to become so central, so public, so pervasive, so out of proportion, and so defining. We are bombarded with images and ideas that titilate our sense, but they cannot become central to our thinking. It is all part of the backdrop against which we bear witness to Jesus. It is part of our challenge not to be shaped by our surroundings. Sexuality is part of our lives that we bring into submission to God in discipleship and He blesses that part of our being. We seek to live our lives in a state of purity, not out of pride, bigotry, or arrogance, but simplicity, devotion, and witness. If we can have integrity in our private lives, without flaunting or imposing our values, we can be more useful to God and others.
We are called to love people and reflect God's presence in whatever culture surrounds us. Love often involves accepting people where they are, in what they believe, and in how they live because that is where God meets each of us and calls us. That means being with and among the people, bearing their suffering, hearing their cries, celebrating their successes, laughing and rejoicing with them, and weeping with them in their pain. I will not meet a single individual today who is not precious to God.
He knows each soul with whom I will connect. He knows them well. He loves them deeply. He is already at work in their lives. He is drawing them to Himself and He may have even given them an insight that I need to hear --- whter or not they are aware of it.
I must listen to each voice I hear because God speaks where He will and through anyone or anything He chooses. If I do not hear you, I might miss something God is saying to me. Therefore, I shall not compartmentalize you, marginalize you, or label you. You are an intricately woven tapestry of God's creativity. You are loved. You are invited to an eternal feast of grace.
I am a Jesus follower. That is who and what I am. I am many other things as well, but their significance pales by comparison. Whatever my political leanings, personal interests, life choices, affiliations, denominations, or opinions are secondary and being formed and informed by this high calling -- to simply follow Jesus.
Jesus saved me. This I believe... from my sin, my narcissistic inclinations, by abject poverty of meaning, the vacuum of purpose, my sensual obsessions, and my wandering lostness. He rescued me from the eternal abyss of empty despair, the eternal void of loneliness, and the eternal torment of separation from the True Source of my being, His Father and mine. This, He accomplished through personal sacrifice and life giving death. I trust this reality and I trust Him. I proclaim this message as the good news of the cross.
"For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." I must die daily in Him who died for me. I cannot ask for the culture or the kingdoms of the world to support me in this decision to follow. I cannot expect special treatment from the world or a comfortable path. I appreciate, but cannot demand any consideration given along the way, but I cannot expect it. I am a servant in this world. I show God's love by doing what loving people do.
So I need to be more concerned about the things that concerned (and concern) Jesus and, with no ulterior motive by love, feed the hungry, heal the sick, raise the dead, speak hope into the ears of the hopeless, visit the imprisoned, work for peace, and live a life above reproach.
I did not intend to write all of this, but I felt such clamor and concern over issues that divide our society today. I do not believe that, as a Jesus follower, I can side with any faction in any ultimate or defining manner. I must walk in the midst as a witness to truth and grace. There will always be a separation that results and it will be the only one that counts. At times I will sympathize with one cause or another and work for righteousness and truth in the midst of that cause, working along side others who do not share my specific faith ... But I must guard against the temptation to be defined by the cause or the "party," or the "movements" with which I find some sympathy. My marching orders come through the Kingdom of Love and, to that extent, I accept the role of outsider.
I am a servant. I am a citizen of another Kingdom and am living here for now, working for the shalom of the city, representing my King, enjoying the good things of the earth, and making precious friends among the people down here.
I am a servant to you, your cause, your need, and your deepest aspirations to be all you were made to be .... because I am a servant of God.
So, that is my refelction. I am neither overly exhuberant nor profoundly distressed by what transpires in society. I expect a bumpy road. I enjoy the ride. But mostly, I walk.
God, help me to walk in the steps You have ordered for me, to think the thoughts you have for me to think, to feel the pain and the joy You have ordained for me to experience. Give me strength, wisdom, and grace for the day. I am Your servant. Help me to represent You fairly and to show Your love too people. I have as much capacity to be angry, bitter, discouraged, obstinate, and obnoxious as anyone. I have been known to exercise that caacity. Forgive me and renew me in Your grace that You might shape me into something more, something that more faithfully represents who You are. Love people through me today. Help me to serve You by serving them. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
It is planting season again.
It is my third year of gardening and I keep expanding, experimenting, and extending my faith.
I find that I pray differently while tending my garden, planting my seeds, pulling my weeds - Yes, MY weeds, breaking the soil, and watering, watering, watering.
I look and listen more and talk less.
My hands are too dirty to take notes, so I just try to remember the lessons and ask God to remind me later. Some things are not so much for remembering and teaching as they are for transforming us... transforming me.
As a pastor, I am sort of a gardener.
As a person, I am sort of a crop ... and sometimes a weed ... and sometimes a seed or the soil into which the seed goes.
Lord, help me not to be a weed to often and, when I am, make me good fertilizer as the weediness in me composts into something useful.
I really should be taking more notes, but I get dirty and tired and invigorated and cleansed all at the same time.
I used to hate dirt, but I just did not understand.
And this gets me on my knees, literally and figuratively.
I do pray. I pray for guidance, because this is tricky stuff. I pray for miracles because I have no idea what is happening underground. I pray for patience and patient faith because there are somethings I just cannot make happen.
I pray for seeds to grow and for myself to plant seeds in people's lives that will grow.
I pray constantly in that dirt and it is pretty earthy prayer.
More to come ... I suppose.
This sort of comes out of it ... sort of .... but it really is a different post:
A Non-Believeing Pastor in the News
Here are some thoughts from a discussion initiated by my friend, Mark Jackson in response to the story of a pastor who declared herself an atheist. The store is HERE.
There are other good comments, including Mark's excellent observations, but they are not mine and you can read them here: Mark's Discussion on Facebook
Very interesting story and it will come up and be utilized as an argument. There probably needs to be a "safe zone" to discuss doubts before they develop into unbelief. "I believe; help Thou my unbelief," is a useful prayer. Also, Thomas, who would not believe "until ..." was the first to utter, "My Lord and my God." This is a very sad story. She has taken the path of least resistance. I sense that someday she may return to faith.
I could have, at times, almost abandoned my belief in deity ... but only briefly. Like Job, I have seen too much "face to face." However, what really clings to me and draws me back is my love for Jesus. If I were an atheist, I think I would still love Jesus and aspire to the Sermon on the Mount.
The problem is that without God, I would fail every time.
The things that fascinate my atheist friends, who are many and who are largely wonderful and ethical people - often very, very generous, those things that create a sense of wonder in them, touch my "God-gene," the "imageness (my word) of God in me," distorted, fallen, latent, but alive. I could not live without the sense of awe and wonder and for me, everything that baffles and boggles deepens my faith in God.
I feel for this woman, but I agree with you that the community that loved and nurtured her should have heard her confession before the world did.
Another thought ... there is an option - believing agnosticism. The agnostic is one who does not know -a(not)-gnostic (knowing). And that is fine! We don't know much about God compared to all there is to know about God. We know enough to know Him experimentally, redemptively, and salvifically. But not enough to discern His ways and cease wondering. In order for us to know Him, He had to take on skin and bone. It was a rarity in the Hebrew scriptures for a man to see and know God. It becomes common place in Jesus.
Yet, the not knowing agnosticism lingers and propels. I just think that many do not realize the worshipful power of it.
I believe. That is experiential knowledge, faith (without which it is impossible to know, please, or come to Him), and awe. Gnosticism is empirical. With Abraham Heschell, I choose wonder. With Martin Buber, I embrace a holy/wholly "Other." With Rudolf Otto, I resonate with "The Idea of the Holy."
I have no room for personal a-theism because I don't know enough to declare there is no God ... and I know too much to suspect it.
So, when Jesus comes to me and says that when I see Him, I see the Father, I am convinced enough to follow ... and have ... and will.
The "a-gnostic" part of me is pretty excited about the gnosis that will eventually get dumped on me and is drizzling in little by little.
In the meantime, for the next few months, I will be accumulating insights from the soil and having some pretty amazing two way conversations with God. I really, truly look forward to the process and to the harvest.
I have been preaching a series of series(es), progressing through a continuum of red words that I have called The Red Zone. They are the words of Jesus in the Gospels (and most likely those quoted in Acts and the Epistles). I have come to the Crucifixion and will break it into three or four parts. Today, I will preach from Luke 23:26-43. Jesus speaks three times in this passage ...
Once, he speaks, on the road to Calvary, to sympathize with the pain of the women who are weeping. He adjures them not to weep for Him, but for themselves. He enters into the pain that He knows they will experience in the future. It is an outward focus. He is bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows.
Then, He speaks of His tormentors and asks the Father to forgive them. He says, "They know not what they do." He enters into their hearts and seeks to view their reality. It is an outward focus. He is bearing the sins of the world and speaking forgiveness. "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him."
Finally, He speaks to the thief on the cross who has taken responsibility for his own sins and chosen to identify with Jesus. Out of His own agony, He again has an outward focus and He speaks hope, embracing the one hangs on the cross next to Him, He includes Him and says, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." The focus is outward and redemptive. He is bringing another along with Him beyond the suffering, beyond the condemnation, beyond the indignity, and even beyond the grave.
The question is, how does this apply to us? This is what Jesus did and it is done. He identified with us to redeem us. He denied Himself as He declared each of His followers must do. Then, He took up the cross as He said we must do. This self-denial, for us, is a sort of forgetfulness, leaving behind our petty concerns and egocentricity.
But, to take up my cross with the words and sentiments of Jesus? What is it to me? Outwardly focusing, I stop weeping for myself and weep for the suffering of the world. I must bear the griefs and sorrows of others.
Outwardly focusing, I must forgive and ask God to forgive all who have sinned against me or who are trapped in a cycle of ignorance and addiction to anything that oppresses the human spirit. I must stand with them in a priestly garb to speak words of liberation, grace and mercy. The cross is not merely an historical event or a metaphorical icon, it is a living, vicarious reality into which I have entered by faith. It is present in me, in you, and in all who so identify.
Finally, if I will identify with Jesus and bear, by His example, my own cross, whatever the cost, I must bear the burden of hope and speak the word of hope. I must embrace the thief who is next to me and welcome him into Paradise. His cross has been his own burden, his own guilt, his own shame, his own earthly concerns. We have died to that already and Jesus has born it. Our cross now, is to take his and invite him to be our brother. Our cross is momentary because we known that the outcome is resurrection and life. Our cross becomes a cross of joy that transcends pain and disgrace.
These are my thoughts entering into this season of remembering His words. He is inviting me to speak those words as well and stand with Him, bearing the pain of the world, announcing forgiveness, and inviting thieves and outcasts to His grace party.
King James Version (KJV)
26And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
27And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.
28But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
29For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
30Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
31For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
32And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
33And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
35And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.
36And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,
37And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.
38And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
During the Reagan years, some economists attributed a much older aphorism to John F. Kennedy who said, in a speech about a dam project in Arkansas, "A rising tide lifts all boats."
They, in turn, used it to emphasize that a healthy economy helps all people. Therefore, we ought to build the economy and let the economy take care of the people who are at the bottom of the heap.
There is truth in the fragment. A rising tide, does indeed float all boats .. all boats in the water. Here is the problem. Not all boats are in the water. If one is disenfranchised or marginalized, that one may not even be able to get to the pond.
Our great challenge is not charity. It is certainly not to provide an ongoing system of dependency. Our challenge, as a society, is access. Access is a justice and fairness issue. Sure, we might need to help people learn what to do with their access and provide sustaining support while their boats are getting seaworthy and ready to launch, but the idea is to get everyone in the water ...
OR ... at the very least, to remove obstacles to the point of entry.
The ancient Hebrews understood it. It was written into the Torah. It was reflected in the laws of gleaning and the years of Jubilee.
People need access and many do not have it. There is no point of entry to healthy and affordable food, to business and job opportunities and to adequate, quality, efficient, and economically sound health care.
Access takes up-front investment of money, time, energy, and, most of all, imagination. It requires engagement at all levels of society, preferably from local upward and outward. it requires collaboration, cooperation, and a degree of collegiality.
Access can open doors to sustainability. It takes a while, but with access to ideas, services, products, and people, individuals and communities can assume more and more personal responsibility for their own sustainability.
People can agree about access. I live in a community where left wing political types have joined hands with right wing political types to fight hunger. We all agree on the project. It is non-partisan. There are many opportunities for our ideological paths to part, but when they intersect, access happens.
People can grow some of their own food in the inner city, but sometimes they come up against local ordinances that restrict their ability to sustain themselves.
Hospital emergency rooms are nightmares. People are crowded into waiting rooms hoping to get expensive treatment for ailments that could be treated better by a nurse practitioner during normal business hours. Our policies and business models, however, restrict access and all of society pays more than fair market value for the product delivered.
Providing access can look like charity at first, but if it leads to empowerment, it can be as self-serving a deed as the best supply-side economist could desire. In the long view, building productive, sustainable citizens rises the tide as well, and floats even more boats.
What floats your boat?
I participate in several community benefit organizations. I sit on the board of some. Most are faith-based. Our supporters are motivated by many factors, but primarily by stories. The stories are those vignettes about what happens when people can get good boats to the water. Many give back. Stronger families make stronger communities. Stronger communities mean greater productivity and fewer remedial supportive services.
Do all give back? No. Out of ten lepers healed by Jesus, only one came back even to say, "thank you." But one can make a huge difference. Our volunteers do not primarily work for the thanks or the recognition, but for the results. The same is true with donors. They want to make a difference with their efforts and with their dollars.
Access is a justice issue, but it is also a pragmatic way of looking at the world.
It takes patience to create entry points and then to help people realize that gates which were previously closed are now open. Some people have been trained on dry land and, even though they long for the pond to fish and float, they need some guidance and encouragement to get there and to do the things that must be done to be successful.
The stereotype of the poor is that they are lazy and want handouts. I don't see much of that. I see generous people who want an opportunity. Yet, they are so accustomed to doors being closed or blocked that they have learned survival skills that sustain them, but keep them from thriving. If a crack opens in a door, some of the more energetic and motivated souls may find it and excel. Others just will not see it. They have been conditioned to exclusion and they are conditioning the next generation the same way.
We have ongoing issues, but even in these, an access-oriented approach can be pragmatically and compassionately effective. We will always have people with "disabilities." They will need special access. Children cannot make their own way in the world and some will, through no fault of their own, have parents with "grown-up problems." We will, most likely always have to deal with mental illness, addiction, and people in society who refuse to cooperate or help themselves. But we can create entry points for them as well. However, my focus here is on the majority who simply need for us to stop blocking the entry points.
How do we create access? That is the question and if it was an easy question to answer, I would not take your help in figuring it out. But it is not easy and it does require your help. It requires all of us, asking hard questions and working together to build bridges, on-ramps, and launching points for those who are disengaged, disenfranchised, and discouraged.
For my Christian friends, be motivated by this. Access is a big deal too God who invested everything to give people access to Himself.
" ...through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God." (Romans 5:2, NIV)
"For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." (Ephesians 2:18, NIV)
I appreciated hearing this interview with Jimmy Carter and offer it simply as a resource for some of my friends who collect such things. You can use it to refute or embrace. It is your choice. I have a deep admiration for President Carter's integrity, faith, humility, and commitment to peace. No two people on earth will agree about everything ... nor should they
President Carter addresses many of the issues with which church and society wrestle here. Whether or not you agree with him on each point, this is offered as a reference for those who want his views in his own words. One of the points of view he offers is one with which I was raised as a "traditional" Baptist from Virginia. It has to do with how we reconcile a cosmic world-view represented in scripture with the insights and evidences of modern science. Essentially, the point we learned in our Sunday Schools was that it was no big deal. The scriptures were not written to define or deny the scientific understanding of any people at any specific time in history, but to enlighten us to the larger and deeper issues of what God was up to in creating the heavens, the earth, and us and His purposes in history pointing to eternity.
"The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork."
Jesus knew what we should learn ... We can start an argument on any good point, but we can only be effective in a few areas of attention. If we let others set the agenda of our attention, we will soon be diverted from the key points we need to make. So, God does not always call His messengers, the prophets, or His Son, to clarify our misconceptions about cosmology. He calls us to follow Him and to keep our hearts and minds open to Him.
Jesus came "to seek and to save that which was lost."
In our lives, we have a lifetime to develop our understanding of whatever is in our capacity to understand, but we need to get the big things right first. And the development of understanding will extend far beyond our time and generation. It will continue.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth ... my thoughts are not your thoughts."
For me, every unfolding of history and scientific understanding, is a confirmation of the goodness, grace, glory, and wisdom of God.
In this interview, Carter, whether or not you agree, connects the dots of his public, private, and spiritual views back to his basic commitments to Jesus. He is deeply rooted in Baptist tradition in his approach and he remains a Baptist, though not identified with Southern Baptists any longer. He expresses his personal and spiritual opposition to abortion, while explaining how he focused on trying to prevent the "need" for abortions as president.
He also draws a line of separation between civil marriage and policy and the church's role in marriage , affirming that his church does not participate in same sex marriages, and that he believes that all churches should be autonomous and none compelled by government or any other entity to perform any marriage ceremony that violates their convictions.
"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's"
He answers criticisms on the authority of scripture. I am not sure that what he allows others to characterize about his views is correct. He allows the use of the term "errors" to describe his understanding that "stars do not fall." I think it would be safe to refer to that as metaphor.
He handles the criticism that he is a "universalist" directly and makes it clear that universalism is not his theological position. Rather, he states that people come to God through faith in Jesus and that God knows and handles the fate of those who do not reject Him, but simply have never heard of Him. Baptists have never come to a common agreement or understanding of this point in hundreds of years of seminary and Sunday school discussions.
After listening to the interview, you can click the full text and save and a PDF file. It is well worth having on your hard drive.
This is a very simple presentation of some very complex issues. It should be helpful to many.
Go to the interview.
Our communities need Cinderella stories. Here in Clovis, CA., we get to see one staged next week at the Mercedes Edwards theater, directed by Julie Andrews. For more information, see this coming Saturday's edition of Kings River Life Magazine. Below is an interview with Mrs. Andrews.
What was it about Cinderella that attracted you to choose it?
What would you like for people to know about this production and cast?
When we say that this is a Buchanan Performing Arts Production, we really mean it. We have a full orchestra in the pit, being conducted by Mr. Matt Dean and all of our musicians are Buchanan High School Symphony members. The staging is great, and the Mercedes Edwards Theater staff is really enjoying creating the Fairy Godmother’s magical effects. Our cast is predominantly pulled from the Buchanan Choir and Theater Departments. Mr. Roger Bergman is our choir director at BHS, and he is also the vocal director for the show. The Ball Room dance sequences should be very fun for our audiences now that “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” have educated American audiences regarding the difference between the Fox Trot and the Viennese Waltz. (Both of these make an appearance in the show.) Our choreographer is Mr. Derek Goldstien, who is also the Buchanan Color Guard Choreographer.
How do you cope with the grueling schedule during rehearsals? What are the challenges and rewards?
I must say that it is much easier to direct, costume, or do props for a show when you aren’t teaching a full load of high school theater classes and trying to do all three jobs. My technical theater students have taken on a huge part of the prop construction and costume pulling for the show so that has definitely made it easier. My Buchanan performing arts colleagues are also shouldering a good portion of the creative work as well.
The challenges are that most high school students don’t have enough hours in the day to truly be trained triple threats. Singing, Dancing, and Acting, are all dependent on technique. With today’s academic requirements, it is very difficult for students for take all three electives and a full load of college prep academics. Although, for many of these students, their performance classes are college prep. So some of the greatest enjoyment for me as a director is helping these incredibly talented young specialists develop their other talents for musical theater performance. I think the audience will be very pleasantly surprised by the performance abilities of all of our actors. Our step-mother and step-sisters are very beautiful girls, so it took quite a bit of work by our costume and make-up crew to get the appropriate look for these very talented actresses.
Do you perceive that there is a message, lesson, or "take-away" in the story of Cinderella?
I think that during our current economic situation in Fresno County, it is very easy to see the dark side. Cinderella has a pretty tough life, yet she knows that good things eventually come to good people. I think the idea that “Impossible things are happening every day” is something we all need to be reminded of from time to time. It is also an iconic American Musical Theater production that can be shared by many generations. This is a great opportunity for my generation who remembers those first couple of television productions of R& H Cinderella to share this cultural experience live with our youngsters.
Is this production appropriate for families and children?
Definitely! The show is one of the all-time favorite Fairytales and runs 1 hour and 45 minutes with the intermission. We start at 7:30 so the show is done by 9:15. Of course if you want a picture with the Prince or Cinderella, you might be waiting around a bit longer.
What are the greatest challenges that you have in directing a production like Cinderella?
The magical elements are probably the most challenging, but having a great creative team at the Mercedes Edwards Theater in CUSD to help, really took that off my to do list. Everyone always thinks of Sports when they hear the name Clovis Unified, but the Theater Production team here is just as excellent.
What are the greatest rewards that you have in directing a production like Cinderella?
Taking a show from the page and bringing it to life, so an audience gets to experience this fairytale world come to life. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a new person who sees live theater as a really cool experience and something they want to have regularly for the rest of their lives. After all, as Cinderella says, “If you wish hard enough, and believe in what you’re wishing, even foolish dreams come true.” --
Genesis 35:16-18: Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.(NIV)
Background: Genesis 35-41
Benjamin was Joseph’s little brother, but in many ways, his name was a template for Joseph’s life. The sons of our sorrow become the sons of our strength through the transforming power of God in our lives. In his father’s house, Joseph learned these lessons:
1. To shepherd sheep – Thus he learned the basic laws of leadership.
2. To dream great dreams … and yet, one more …
3. To be in the pits of rejection and despair … and still not to surrender ones dreams.
In Potipher’s House, he learned these lessons:
1. To manage a great business and the people in that business.
2. Agricultural principles which would later be employed to save an entire region from famine.
3. To resist temptation with integrity and yet, one more …
4. Not to be concerned that someone else received the credit and benefits of his work.
In jail, he used and developed all the lessons he had previously learned and more:
1. To manage people who did not want to be managed.
2. To make the best of a bad situation without growing bitter.
3. To help other people understand their dreams, and yet, one more …
4. To deliver bad news honestly and promptly.
All of these lessons brought him to Pharaoh’s house where God could use all these lessons and here he learned one more:
• How to speak truth to power with courage.
As a result, he was able to exercise the greatest leadership skill of his life: INFUENCE! And, by exercising influence, he was able to lead a nation and, indeed, many nations, through a time of famine.
© 2012, Thomas B. Sims
Expanding across a grey sky
Dispelling darkness in a
Festival of spectral colors.
Into these eyes dimmed and
Heart quenched in the
Calcifying hardness of my
Stubborn stillness and
Disturb me, God of Light.
Trouble my soul from false and
Superficial peace and
Pastel imitations of Light
Until I ...
Seek and Find ...
I have been negligent about posting, but I intend to come back. Here is my message to you.
Anthony “Ap” Armour, Bryan Feil, and Garth Richards cannot tell you who “runs” Neighborhood Thrift. What runs the organization is a sense of mission and a vision for what the ministry can and does accomplish in people’s lives. Read More
There are several bald spots on my metaphorical head from metaphysical head scratching. Mind baffles have frequently made me drowsy to the point of stupor. Not everything adds up because, to embrace everything, one must also embrace unknowns and unknowns challenge our sense of control and self-sufficiency.
"Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it." - Psalm 139:6
"Yet in the midst of my madness, God had been making himself known to me in profound ways. In my drunken prayers, God's presence was ever-captivating. My journal would reveal tears of desperation and longing for God. I couldn't reconcile the fact that I was doing something wrong and the fact that God was showering me with love. I have a tendency to view life in terms of black and white, good and bad, happy and unhappy.. I was finding life to be filled with shades of grey and God ruled over it all. I was starting to come to terms with the fact that I didn't have all the answers." - Nathan Foster, "Wisdom Chaser - Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet" (IVP - ISBN 978-0-8308-3630-7)
I am captivated by Foster's story of hiking high peaks with his famous father and spiritual "giant," Richard Foster. The authenticity and raw honesty have drawn me into his story of hiking 14,000 foot peaks with his dad and the lessons both were learning. I was drawn into the story of this young man's spiritual growth ... gradual and steady ascent.
I was not prepared for turning the page to 105, chapter 13. You'll have to read it yourself, but you may find your story there. You didn't know anyone else had lived it. You were making such progress with God, in so many areas, but there was something, a drag, more than a drag, something yanking you down.
Not all progress is steady and it is seldom neat ... usually very messy.
Mystery. What sort of God is this? Job thought he knew Him but realized he knew only OF Him. When they finally met "face to face," it was not to impart all the answers to this faithful servant. The truth was in the encounter. The reconciliation was in the relationship.
Every day of our lives, we are surrounded on all sides by knowledge we do not possess, swimming in a sea of wonder, marinating in questions we do not know to ask. We possess less understanding than we will have tomorrow, but vastly less than the universe holds -- much less the God of the universe.
We can skip some steps and slip through a spiritual wormhole emerging, through folds in space-time continua to that lace on the other side of the creation where we can meet the God who knows and bends reality to His own purpose.
But we still won't know everything.
And cllimbing willl still involve struggle.
And we will have some bad days, some very bad days ... and some good days ... and some that don't seem to fit any category at all.
But if we keep climbing we will find we are going somewhere. Along the way, some of the answers will be clearer. At the summit, there willl be a very clear perspective.
I am convinced that the Somewhere and Someone of it all are worth the climb and I have chosen to continue. Who will go with me?
The heavens tell the glory of God.
Though I write and post daily on Facebook, I have not blogged since June. I know my blog posts end up on Facebook. This is an experiment to see if it can work both ways. Check out my profile.
Laughter us a great gift for celebration, not a weapon of denigration.
It is the natural spill-over of the joy that wells up inside of us and in response to surprise, absurdity, and silly wonder.
It can be an offering of praise or a response to relief.
It is something to be cherished and employed wisely.
It is an activity in which our Father participates, with us and which we can enjoy together.
Here are some reflections on laughter from The Message.
19 But God said, "That's not what I mean. Your wife, Sarah, will have a baby, a son. Name him Isaac (Laughter). I'll establish my covenant with him and his descendants, a covenant that lasts forever.''
5-6 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born.
God has blessed me with laughter
and all who get the news will laugh with me!
1 Hannah prayed: I'm bursting with God-news! I'm walking on air.
I'm laughing at my rivals. I'm dancing my salvation.
15-17 Mordecai walked out of the king's presence wearing a royal robe of violet and white, a huge gold crown, and a purple cape of fine linen. The city of Susa exploded with joy. For Jews it was all sunshine and laughter: they celebrated, they were honored. It was that way all over the country, in every province, every city when the king's bulletin was posted: the Jews took to the streets in celebration, cheering, and feasting. Not only that, but many non-Jews became Jews—now it was dangerous not to be a Jew!
1-2 On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter,
sing yourselves into his presence.
don't hold a grudge against us forever.
You aren't going to keep this up, are you?
scowling and angry, year after year?
Why not help us make a fresh start—a resurrection life?
Then your people will laugh and sing!
Show us how much you love us, God!
Give us the salvation we need!
17-18 Don't laugh when your enemy falls;
don't crow over his collapse.
God might see, and become very provoked,
and then take pity on his plight.
“I personally believe that each of us was put here for a purpose -- to build not to destroy. If I can make people smile, then I have served my purpose for God.” - Red Skelton
So let's take a few moments for a smile and a belly laugh. We are never poor if we have laughter in our lives. That is especially true if we can learn to laugh at ourselves.
The longer I live, the more, not less, I make the same request to the Master, "Teach me to pray," sometimes realizing that such a request is also a prayer. If I can pray no other in the moment, for ignorance or willfulness, it is a place of meeting and if a place of meeting, a place of instruction, and if a place of instruction, a time of listening and increasing.
This year, as I intentionally pray this prayer, the Master is teaching me the prayer He gave His disciples in response.
He is teaching me daily.
I am the guy who squeezed 4 years of college into 6 and 3 years of seminary into 5 and a half. I need a lot of schooling and am like Andrew Murray, "With Christ in the School of Prayer."
No need to graduate until I stand in His unfiltered presence.
Peter Brietbart, of Brighton, in England, is a writer for the Freethinker Magazine and a self described, skeptic, atheist, humanist, secularist and President of Sussex University Secular Society."
That is fine.
He is also a budding film make on a shoestring budget.I complement him for his entrepreneurship.
He has zeroed in on a quote from C.S.Lewis in his soon-to-be-released film, "Madman or Something Else."
Here is the quote (and I have used it often to call people to faith):
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell."
"You must make your choice"
"Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
As much as I respect C.S. Lewis, to allow this quote of his to define the entire debate over the ethics of the Kingdom of God that Jesus summarized in the Sermon on the Mount is faulty (even though I may have used the argument myself a time or two). Peter Brietbart does.
Even if I were not a Jesus follower, I believe I would be attracted to what I intrinsically perceive as true in principles of fidelity, non-violence, heart-origin of violence, forgiveness, and the other issues addressed there.
Brietbart says, "Jesus of Nazareth was an awful moral philosopher. He compares badly to such modern greats such as Mill, Rawls or Ross and also to historical thinkers such as Aristotle, Diogenes or Plato."
I never got the same sense of intrinsic truth and balance from these other great thinkers. Why I perceive tJesus' teachings as intrinsically true and truth is another discussion. Why did Ghandi? I sense that it has something to do with an implanted seed of response-capacity within us .... but there I go getting all spiritual.
All that aside, Peter Brietbart, producer of the film, in the trailer (which, in all fairness, is all I can evaluate at this point), zeroes in on the issue of mortality and immortality while proposing to criticize Jesus' ethics. That seems a tad incongruous to me. Jesus' teachings on immortality were quite clearly not a denial of death, but a defiance of death while confronting it, validating its reality, and experiencing its pain fully. He never minimized its impact or taught His followers to devalue the reality that we must live with a sense of the finite nature of time.
The teachings on eternal life, namely that one aspect of eternal life that speaks to life beyond death, is an encouragement to live and love morally, but not the only reason He gave for doing so.
Perhaps I have played into the usual strategy of film-makers to get free publicity by creating controversy before the release of their films. I am neither encouraging nor discouraging viewing of this one. I am merely pointing to what I see as flaws on the front end.
To quote from the web site, "God is little more than a pleasant fable for adults, a pacifier for the mind that quells the nervous forebodings of death. "
I find that simplistic and uninformed. Jesus wept and agonized over death. He was not pacified.
Nothing in the God-message of the Bible has ever pacified me within my soul. To the contrary, divine comfort has tended to stir me, move me, and motivate me to disturb the status quo and keep questioning myself.
"His moral contributions are not original, and his original contributions are not moral. "
I am curious to see which teachings the producers are referring to here:
Love your neighbor?
Forgive and keep forgiving?
Your sins are forgiven; go and sin no more?
Love one another?
Perhaps he is speaking of the call to give, be peacemakers, live non-violently, welcome children or Jesus' example of treating women with dignity and respect. I am not sure.
Had no one ever hinted at these things before? Maybe. Certainly some of the prophets did. Had anyone embodied or clearly presented them as a whole with such impact? Who? When? Where?
In an out--take frame on the web site, a character is viewing a book with a chapter title, "The Law of Reciprocity," which we have come to know as "the Golden Rule."
Was it original to Jesus' teaching? No. We do not claim it to be so. If is in the Hebrew scriptures. It has its versions in other religious traditions. It is a universal truth, not a hidden mystery.
I applaud Peter Brietbart for getting down and dirty with the debate. At least he is honestly disclosing his position and his influences. I have read some of his Twitter and blog posts. He is not a light-weight thinker, but he frames the arguments selectively and, I believe, erroneously. Perhaps this is the next and last arena of debate and maybe Lewis is keeping us all honest.
Yet, I think it is still possible for those who struggle with the claims of Jesus with regard to immortality and the nature of God, to stick their feet in the cooling waters of His moral teachings and find something refreshing that rings true. That is what Brietbart is questioning here and I believe he is on shaky philosophical ground in doing so.
You can make up your own mind, but I am sticking with the skeptics of Jesus' day who said, "No one ever spokethe way man does." Bible Gateway passage: John 7:46 - New International Version.
I can hear a storm coming :) I encourage my friends who jump in on this to be respectful of each other. I have no quarrel with honest skeptics.
See it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sZBgdGRhDQ
Tongues of fire descended ...
and something individual happened.
Lighting upon each ...dividing ...
They united all in one Spirit.
A paradoxical contradiction connected multiple languages,traditions, and customs
into curious Oneness.
What could not be achieved by ingenuity,invention, or inquisitive cogitations became
Obvious in a Divine Moment.
One Divine Moment of Descent.
One Holy Moment of Movement.
One Direct Intervention of Eternal Fire.
Welcome Holy Spirit!
We welcome You!
I see that Harold Camping, a man for whom I experienced a couple of days of deep sympathy, is at it again - revising his dates, missing the point (The point being that this is not about points, that the kingdom of God is more analogue than digital), and hoping that he can get the same momentum behind him that he had last week.
In the meantime, we have wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes in diverse places, and all the other sorts of trouble we've been having for the last 2000 years since Jesus predicted it and admonished us not to be disturbed -- or impatient.
We may not be able to expect Camping to relinquish his stubbornness or his board to fire him. We may not be able to rescue those who will continue to follow him or those who have lost their faith as a result of doing so. We may not be able to stop all the prognosticators, usurpers, or manipulators of the world, but we can keep on keeping on.
We can be assured that God is still as present among us as always, that God is still working in this world, that good news is still good news, and the kingdom of God is still about light penetrating darkness, good overcoming evil, grace winning over judgment, love conquering hate, and God's Messiah being Lord of All.
It is still about bearing a cross by bearing the burdens of others. It is still about proclaiming a righteousness that comes through faith, and it is still about serving the poor in spirit and in this world's goods.
We are called to live in compassion and integrity and to bear witness without asking for special favors or preference. We are called to be the people of God.
And some day, in His own time, and His own way, in a way we can neither predict nor prevent, God will bring all of this to the appropriate fruition and evaluation when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of of his Christ and He shall reign forever and ever - King of Kings and Lord of Lords ... forever and ever.
There is much talk about the rift in American life - left and right - blue and red - on and on.
I was watching a report from a major news source where the commentators were suggesting that it is irreparable and deep. Furthermore, according to them, it goes to our deepest values so that we have no more shared values, principles, and worldview.
Right AND wrong.
In one sense, it has always been so. Jesus Himself said that the good news of His kingdom was divisive - but that is not what is dividing America at the moment. This is no God versus the world thing. The division between light and darkness has always been present -- but there is light on both sides of this rift. There is also darkness.
This is a division of perceptions, politcal philosophies, and priorities. Some are profound. Some are vital. Some are not. Some breaches can be mended. Some can be tolerated. Some can be celebrated. Some must be endured.
It is also a wrong assessment to say that we are divided on every crucial concern. Since the rift in American political philosophy cuts across religious convictions (perhaps not evenly, but nevertheless, genuinely), it is not an ultimate rift. One cannot identify God's Kingdom with either "side" of this division. At least I cannot.
Who says we are two Americas? I have dear friends who are Democrats and dear friends who are Republicans. We can talk. We agree on many, many important things. We all love our families. Many of us love God and embrace the same moral values. We all value honesty, integrity, kindness, concern for broken people, and many other things.
We may differ in implementation or perspective, but we differ without being all that different.
Likewise, I have valued friendships across the lines of faith and non-faith. While my faith is an ultimate value in my life - actually THE ultimate value in my life, it touches to commonalities of humanity that I share with all humans. From my perspective, each of us is made in the image of God and thereby reflect common questions and yearnings. From the perspective of my non-believing friends, the cause for our commonality is described differently, but acknowledged nevertheless.
Why can most of us get along with people who differ in opinions from ours and our leaders find it so difficult - at least publicly?
While I believe that common folk drive culture in our world (or should), leaders have the high profile positions that enable them to set the pace by setting examples.
I probably cannot influence representatives of an opposing party as well as those of my own, but I can influence whatever party with which I affiliate. So, here is my challenge:
Forget the nastiness, unfairness, and unwillingness of the other side for a while and reach out. Insist that your representatives in Congress and Senate, those of your own party, reach out to the other side in friendship.
Reach out and keep reaching out. Reach out when the reach is rejected. Reach out when the criticism is unfair. Reach out when the issues are deep, divisive, and bitter. Reach out when the other side is perceived as uncooperative, unbending, and ruthless. Reach out and don't stop reaching out. Make friends with your opponents.
Don't look for the speck in your neighbor's eye. Look for planks in your own.
Make friends with your opponents "on the way to court."
Jesus said to do it.
You can do it, as He did, without backing down from principle, without compromising truth, and without losing your negotiating edge.
Here's where I would start if I were king of the legislative universe: Reorganize the seats! End this custom of parties sittting together. Mix and match. How riddiculous to institutionalize a divide like that. There are no parties in the Constitution. We should not be organizing the seats that way.
I expect our leaders to set an example to heal this artificial divide. If they don't, we'll start moving into red and blue neighborhoods and shopping at red and blue stores.
If we can be friends on Facebook, Congress can make friends in Washington!
Let's insist on it.
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
I am praying for our President this morning. I am also praying for governors, mayors, and all elected and appointed officials.
I am pulling out all the stops and utilizing all means to lift this leader: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanks.
This is the same prayer arsenal that Paul urges first, for all people.
Peterson translates it this way, "Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know."
Barack Obama, a man vilified by so many of my brethren, would come under the category of "kings and all who are in authority." Kings included Nero who was running rampant persecuting the church, burning Rome, and blaming Christians. Our President is no Nero. In fact, he is a brother in Christ.
It included all in authority, (και παντων των εν υπεροχη), "and all them that are in high place."
It is for these that Paul gives us a reason to pray. The rationale is:
Politics is becoming less dignified in some circles by the minute. Popular commentary has become strongly influenced by the forces of entertainment and bombastic outcry. Assumptions are exaggerated; pretensions are generalized; vitriol is homogenized - and let loose on the Internet.
We lamblast Congress, the Supreme Court, the President, the military, the police, the mayor, the governor, the legislature, and our next door neighbors. Seldom is there heard a clear and compassionate call for prayer. Our excuse for criticizing is often rooted in a sense of threat to our lifestyle and our ability to live out our piety in peace.
Paul says that living out our piety in peace is a worthy goal ... but that the means to that end is prayer. If we pray two things may change, first our circumstances, but more importantly, ourselves.
I've posted this before, but you and I need it today as we often do. Be encouraged by this scripture set to music. Whatever you are going through, remember that the key word is the preposition, "through!" It is not your destination; it is a passage. The resurrection says, no, shouts, "This isn't all! God gets the last word!"
So keep on keeping on.
Focus on the "to" and not the "through.:"
"I remembered you, God, and I groaned. I meditated and my spirit grew faint." - Psalm 77:3 (NIV)
What about the comfort, assurance, and peace pour quiet times are supposed to give us?
What aboout the nurturing, loving, contemplative moments that we are told we will experience daily through the spiritual disciplines?
This sounds like work. It sounds soul-wrenching, agonizing, and spiritually surgical? Groaning? Fainting?
Read on to see doubting, complaining, and restlessness.
The psalmist wrestled with his heart in prayer to God. He went deeper. He dug into the rocky soil of his soul and extracted ... dirt!
But every geologist knows that dirt isn't just dirt. it is minerals and organic material. It is microscopic life. It is nutrients.
You can't grow much of a garden in a sanitized pool of water.
So, the question is: Do you want to grow something inside of you, and thus, grow yourself or do you want to lulled, rocked, and soothed?What do you want from your quiet time? If you meet God, you muight also bump into yourself. There might be a collision. There might even be a transofrmation.
I don't often call it a "quiet time" any more. It is a devotional time. It is "dropping anchor." It is a meeting with God. It is all those things, but it is nbot always quiet within me. I get disturbed, shaken, rattled, and inspired. I also get shaped and encouraged.
Read on. Read the whole psalm. God wins and the psalmist is ultimately comforted and encouraged.
But it wasn't easy.
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm. 1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted. 3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked: 7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” 10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” 13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. 16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen. 20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77, New International Version, ©2011)
A note; It is Palm Sunday. On the outside, it seemed that everything was affirmative and welcoming for Jesus. i suspect even He enjoyed the moment. But He also knew what lay ahead and that it wasn't going to be an easy week ... but it would be a transforming week ... and what would be acccomplished would change everything forever.
7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7, New International Version, ©2011)
If only for selfish reasons, let us seek a pray for even the cities where we are exiled.
So often, we have this stranger-exile complex that separates us from the daily concerns of the people of the cities where we dwell. After all, we are "pilgrims and strangers" in the earth, a holy people, a kingdom of priests. All these things we are as God's people, but they are reasons for engagement rather than isolation.
Here is a key phrase:
"... to which I have carried you."
We are here, in this time, in this place, for a purpose higher than we can know.
The cities where we live are our own. Our lives, prosperity, well-being, and peace are intimately interwoven into the same fabric as our neighbor's. We are people of God, but we are also people of the city. Incarnational witness means that we rise or fall with the tide that moves all ships.
We shall transcend and we shall rise, but, in the meantime, we sink or swim with the poor, downtrodden, oppressed, and repressed people around us at every place on the social or economic strata.
All the people around us are our people.
We must seek the peace of the city and pray for it. Notice in the text how seeking comes before praying. This may be merely a literary device or it may be an intentional reminder that the prayers of those engaged in active seeking are more heartfelt, specific, and effective than those of the passive and unconcerned. Our passion arises from our engagement.
Our involvement is our witness as much as and, probably more than, our words. Let us present ourselves to God during this season of Lent, and always, as instruments
through which our prayers for peace can be used to bring shalom to our cities.
“We are a colony of heaven on earth.” (Philippians 3:20a, Moffatt translation)
20 Remember the agreement you made with us,
because violence fills every dark corner of this land.
21 Do not let your suffering people be disgraced.
Let the poor and helpless praise you. (Psalm 74:20-21, New Century Version)
There is this recurring theme in the scripture of justice for the poor. We are called to be fair and compassionate in our attitudes and actions toward the downtrodden and marginalized. This is the work of God and God works through us. At the same time, there is a theme of acknowledgement that we are all, somehow, in some way, poor ourselves. So, what we wish for them, we wish for ourselves.
This prayer, possibly from the days of exile, intermingles praise and lament in a cry of hope for the oppressed.
Tables turn, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. It is crucial that we invest our confidence in what is worthy of our confidence.
Real estate, once thought to only increase in value, can become a bottomless pit of devaluation. Stock markets fluctuate and individual stocks in companies with great assets and greater possibilities, can plummet to near zero. People may fail us; they may move away; they may die. Careers may crumble. Our carefully honed skills may become obsolete. Guarantees made my insolvent guarantors gravitate downward to an abyss of worthless promises.
But there is a covenant that is sustaining and sustainable. There is a guarantor that will never lose power, authority, and ability to remember that covenant of love. There is One who is faithful and whose providence emerges amidst a backdrop of hopelessness to lighten our loads and lift our broken souls. The poor and helpless join the chorus of praise because they are not disgraced.
Violence fills the dark corners of our planet and seeps into hamlets of perceived safety and isolation. There is no isolation from the decadence of our day, only insulation. Our bodies may be bruised; our purses may be emptied; our homes may crumble with our false securities, but the covenant of hope and grace continues because the One who made it is strong and faithful.
Great is God's faithfulness. This season of lent lengthens our perception of the degree to which our God will go to reach us, teach us, and redeem us from destruction. God descends into the darkness and illuminates our spaces and places with abundant graces. Like the psalmist, we are invited to cry our in utter honesty, but also to affirm faith - audacious and irrational - the kind that activates our side of the covenant, reis thy faithfulnesswhich is to receive with gratitude, the gift. of hope.
It was 1961. Laws were different then. Some were inherently wicked because their sole intent was to keep people down. That is happening all over the world today. Jim Crow had a franchise on the South. Businesses could decide, based upon genetics, whom they would serve and whom they would exclude. To defy these laws and break these barriers was risky. It would require some folks standing together, sitting together, and moving together. It would require some blood, some bruises, some jail, even some death mingled with a lot of uncertainty, much fear, and even more faith.
It would require getting on a bus and riding in the freedom ride to the heart of darkness, deep into Alabama.
There would be joy and singing on the bus, but the looming reality of danger was always present. It would change the lives of those who took the ride, but the courage it took to get on is beyond imagination!
It took a decision. Once the decision was made, that decision informed a person's feet and one got on the bus. Then the bus itself moved the travelers along.
But they had to get on ... and many did.
Recently, an historical researcher asked the question of some students, "Would you have gotten on the bus?"
The answers were mixed.
I heard this report in those moments between sleep and awakening with the news in the background and they startled me to wakefulness. The question was personal and much in line with the season of Lent.
Would I get on the bus?
Will I get on the bus?
Jesus got on the bus.
What is the bus I need to board today? What sort of courage and resolve will it take? What will be the risks? What will be the joy of it? What songs will I sing? Who will be on the bus to share the ride? What will it change in me?
Will I get on the bus?
In the KJV, this verse reads that folks, blessed by God will have "sufficiency in all things" so that they may "abound to every good work."
In these days of perceived deprivation and desperate anxiety over economic concerns, one takes comfort in knowing that God always resources His mission. That includes His calling for you and mission for your life, for His church, for His sacred work in the "secular" arena, and for the totality of His Kingdom enterprise.
"Thy Kingdom come" is shortly followed by, "Give us this day our daily bread."
The sufficiency promised was an assurance given to a group of poor but generous believers whose hearts were touched by the needs of their starving spiritual siblings separated by miles, language, and culture. They begged to give and the Apostle Paul encouraged them that God would supply them with that ability and with their own needs.
In fact, they would abound. Sufficiency is one thing, but abundance is a step beyond.
At energy's end, resource depletion, and the deserts where new ideas are like dry river beds, God is able.
At the end of the road, there is an unexpected bend and the road continues.
At the intersection of hopelessness and despair, there is an encouraging word.
In the pits of despondency, the caves of darkness, and on the very gallows of death, God shows up with something new to renew us.
Lent comes, etymologically, in the lengthening of days when the doors seemed to be closing on the life, mission, and ministry of Jesus - when in reality, His reach was extending. Things are not always as they seem. When our own capacity is spent, God is only beginning to reach into His wallet of possibilities to supply His sufficiency to abound.
Let's start with this: I like birds and I don't want to kill them. So, "killing two birds with one stone" is a metaphor that is unfortunate, but descriptive.
I also like to multitask and I plan certain things in life to maximize effort by combining task and building multiple purposes into one activity.
Yet, it seems, without a primary focus, it is very easy to lose all sense of purpose and the activity itself becomes primary rather than what it is, a tool.
I can't find the word "focus" in the bible translations I normally use, but the word "seek" is very prominent.
So, I have spent some time seeking this morning. It may seem that I've been playing on Facebook and Twitter, but those activities have been peripheral to the primary focus. (I also PRAY on Facebook - I have found it a powerful too-l for intercessory ministry without getting in anyone's face about it).
I am seeking through the things I read, through prayer, through meditation, through what I write, and through thinking.
I woke up with all of this on my mind because there is so much to do and so little time. Because of the rush, I felt led and compelled to slow down and build this space into my day. I am expecting lots of birds to fall - poor little birds.
I am not sure we often have the luxury of doing one thing at as time with full concentration. When those times come, savor them and embrace them. In the meantime, we need to focus on the primary and include the peripheral. That is life.
Take comfort, birds, I am not going to kill you. It is just an unfortunate expression.
In the meantime, we have to find the One thing of the moment and let that be our compass.
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:1-9, New International Version, ©2011)
Jesus is confronted with the deaths of some people that His countrymen assumed were evil. They wanted to know if it was God’s judgment. He read the intent of their questions and replied that they were no worse sinners than the other Galileans, but cautioned the folks that unless they changed their living and thinking (repentance), they would die like the others.
Notice how he is always personalizing things, taking the onus off of the “other guy” and bringing it back to our choices.
Then He ups the ante and refers to some very fine people who had died. The question is rhetorical. Of course these did not have tragedy come into their lives because they were worse sinners than anyone else. That is not the meaning of tragedy – then or now.
Trouble comes to everyone, sometimes it just seems random.
Again, He points back to them with a life lesson – Indeed, however, lack of change (movement, repentance, elasticity in our lives) will lead to death. Here, He refers to death in the spiritual dimension whether He is referring to a last judgment or just to death for all intents and purposes in this life. In either and both cases, the loss is great to ourselves and to others who would benefit from our living. Above all, as He will indicate, the loss is greatest to god Himself.
R – Resiliency in the face of tragedy.
E – Effort extended when ease is expected.
P – Progress when it is easier to sit, wait, and let the world pass you by.
E - Exiting the arena of negative habits and entering the realm of new possibilities.
N – Nagging the part of ourselves that drifts into routine ruts of negative thinking.
T – Tickling and teasing our thinking so that we are always moving to the edge.
A – Accepting diversity and ambiguity as part of life.
N – Noticing the changes around us as the signs that call for adjustments of our courses and the urges through which God may be speaking.
C – Calling on God in confession and contrition for constant conversion to His image and purposes.
E – Ever energizing ourselves in the power of the Holy Spirit to be stirred, moved, disturbed and empowered to LIVE (opposite of DIE!) as people who make a difference …
OR .. we can …
DIE – We can die through …
D – Decline. We just die a little at a time, drifting away from the source of life and vitality into a dark abyss of disconnected despair.
I – Inactivity, irrelevance, inertia, or inward focus. These sap our lives in an endless loop of selfish hum-drum-ness.
E – Extinction of all that makes us alive to God, ourselves, and others.
BUT – Then He tells us a parable of a farmer and a fig tree. The fig tree story reminds us that God takes no joy in our death and has not given up on us. He is extremely reluctant to do so and stalls to give us ample opportunity to find the place of repentance (life and mind change).
We can change or die, but to change is far better. The resources are available. The grace is free. The power is abundant. The choice is ours … daily.
Hard times are creeping all over.
Everyone looking for a four leafed clover.
Life as we know it isn't so easy.
Verses like this getting mighty cheesy,
Days are long. Rewards come slowly.
More time to waste, less time to be holy.
Everywhere I go, huddled masses huddling
Folks talking about hard times and muddling.
They're just trying to make it, fake it,
Shake it, bake it, and rake it in.
Preoccupation with lack of occupation
Lots of people on a forced vacation.
Where two are three assembled be
There's an "Ain't It Awful" assemble-ly.
(or a discussion of the economy
with a large dose of "woe-is-me")
Here's the challenge as I see it play out.
And you can either agree of call it way out.
When hard times come, we can let them define us ...
Or ... we can lean in, leap forward, and let them refine us.
( http://youtu.be/4n9mCcpatig )
"See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction."
Yesterday, I wrote about foolishness ... the good kind and the bad kind.
I posed the question, "What kind of fool am I?"
I feel most foolish when I make pronouncements, applications, and pontifications on faulty premises that time, memory, and mush have mixed into one cognitive soup that has hardened into a slab of concrete assumption over the years.
It is the dark side of getting older and wiser.
Alas, I have become my own illustration and I find it humbling.
Indeed, I did become pastor of my current church on April 1, 1996. Indeed it was April Fool's Day. Not so indeed, it was not Easter Sunday. That was a week later. Thanks to a new friend for pointing this out. Thanks to wonderful internet sources for confirming it.
I am humbled. I didn't seek humility. I stumbled onto it. I suppose that is a good thing.
"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." (New International Version (c) 2011)
It is April 1, 2011. That means it has been 15 years to the day since I became officially the pastor of Baptist Temple, now the Fellowship of Joy and 4141 Ministries in Fresno, CA.
It was Easter Sunday, but it has never escaped my attention that it was also April Fool's Day.
Proverbs 1:7b says, " fools despise wisdom and instruction."
I am not there, and I have not said in my heart that there is no God.
So, what kind of fool am I (Not even considering the possibility that those who invited me were ... no, not that!)?
Of course, I have also read these:
1 Corinthians 3:18 “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:19 “ For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”
1 Corinthians 4:10 “We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised.”
And then, there is, II Corinthians 11:16, "I say again, let no man think me a fool ..."
The deal is that there is foolishness and then, there is foolishness. We want to shun moral-ethical foolishness and willful ignorance and avoidance of knowledge and counsel. We do well to embrace wisdom and pursue understanding.
What we can't afford to care about is the evaluation of the masses, especially if the masses are wearing glasses of distortion, limited thinking, and extreme conventional "wisdom" that discourages all innovation, introspection, and reflection.
I am OK with any implication that April Fool's Day marks my anniversary in Fresno and defines some dimension of my ministry if what is really being said is that I make it difficult to enforce categories on myself and the work of the kingdom here. No problem. If that is what it is, fine ...
But I'd do well to keep everything under constant evaluation.
I make plans and I plan things to make.
Sometimes I follow through.
Sometimes circumstances cooperate.
Sometimes it all seems to fall apart.
I am reading family history. Some folks had plans go terribly awry. In fact, their lives fell apart ... or so it seemed.
But if they hadn't, I would not have been here.
Personally, I am glad to be as long as I can be useful.
Use me, Lord. Here are my plans. Here is my life. Take me; make me; shake me; make me pliable and reliable.
Do you make notes to yourself?
I do and sometimes I read them.
Then, sometimes, I respond.
Sometimes I dispute, but the act of writing things down has always been helpful to me. It clariies things. Scattered thoughts come together. Extraneous ideas are filtered. It works for me.
There are many biblical examples of a person receiving an insight or even a revelation and writing it down. Sometimes, it is is even a command. One example, however, stands out.
Jesus was being manipulated ... or at least they tried ... by detractors and critics. They were trying to control His agenda in order to discredit Him. He took His time, made the dirt His paper and His finger a pen. Then He wrote. We don't know what. It is fun to speculate. Maybe folks could read His writing; maybe not. It possibly wasn't for them.
John 8:6: " They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger."
The fact is that when He was done, He knew what to say and what to do.
I can't think of a better endorsement for making notes to myself in all of history, literature, or scripture.
Make a note of that!
I am at the Richmond International Airport transitioning back to California time, which is frightening because it is 2:50 A.M. there and I have been up for hours.
What is nice is that we have internet access. We have grown so accustomed to that convenience of modern times -- and we like it free and fast.
Free and fast access -- to information, news, email, friend updates ... the world.
I like it, but what I really like is the access I had at 3:00 A.M. EST before I even thought abvout turning on the laptop. That was the access I enjoyed as I sat on the side of the bed with an open bible and an open heart. It is the access I had as I laid my head on the pillow last night and all through the night.
It is the access that continually transitions and transports me beyond time and space. It is the access that I have had fpor so many years to One who knows me, accepts me, loves me, and walks alongside me.
" 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body ... " - Hebrews 10:19-20
I have been on vacation and, according to the purpose of such, I have been reviewing and renewing my life, my goals, my routines, and my activities. I've been getting up early - just like at home. I've been reading, walking, praying, preparing, visiting, and refreshing, but without hurry or expectations.
Reviewing, renewing, and refreshing - sounds like a pretty good sermon or something.
Maybe I will work on that.