Act This Out

Christmas-Charades

Still in Luke Chapter 1, he’s telling you his story, most excellent Theophilus…

jesus

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 

Zechariah_Elizabeth

Back with Zechariah and Elizabeth this morning.   Zechariah and Elizabeth have been waiting their whole lives, waiting on God, waiting for a child.  But they are into their old age now, with no sign of either.

zechariah

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.   It comes time for Zechariah’s priestly division to serve in the temple, a small town priest heading for the big city, Jerusalem, to serve in the temple.  Zechariah’s lot came up, and he is called to go into the sanctuary to offer incense and prayers upon the holy altar.

Zacharias_(Michelangelo)

And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”   An angel of the Lord appears to Zechariah, saying what angels always say – Do not be afraid.  The angel tells Zechariah not to be afraid, then tells this righteous old priest, who’s been waiting for the Lord for his whole life, that at long last he will have a son!   And not just any son, but a son who would be great before the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit, going before the people in the power and spirit of Elijah, the great prophet of the Hebrew people!!   This child whom Zechariah has been waiting for would be the one to prepare the people for the long awaited, long anticipated coming of the Lord!

into-the-presence-of-god

And now the story turns to the comedic – And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”   Sounds like an answer I would give.  “Are you kidding me??!!”  I’m an old man, she’s an old woman.  She’s been barren all her life, now she’s going to get pregnant??   Zechariah asks for a sign, and sure enough the angel gives him one (ever been told to watch what you wish for?).   And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”    What, do you think I’m the janitor?    Zechariah wants to know How shall I knowthe angel Gabriel just shuts him up, just like that.  He stands in the presence of the Lord our God, he was sent by God to deliver this message, he’s not the cleaning lady.

Charades-Cartoon-Book-Cover

 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.    The people were waiting outside, wondering what happened?   Zechariah came out, and tried to communicate with them by signs what had happened.   Imagine trying to act out that message in a game of charades…

zechariah and elizabeth 2

And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.   So Zechariah goes home unable to speak.   Of course, we know men don’t have to talk to have sex, and lo and behold, Elizabeth gets pregnant.   An old Jewish couple has again conceived a child past their child bearing years.  With echoes of Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth conceive a child at a ripe old age.  And their son would join Isaac, Samson, and Samuel, sons destined for greatness born to women who had been barren…

John Lewis

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The Waiting

The Waiting

waiting

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”

advent 1

This past Sunday was the first day of Advent.   Advent is the New Years Day of the church calendar.  The church calendar, a Christ formed calendar brought to you by the same people who gave you the Bible!!  The church calendar is a  creative way of subverting secularism by marking time according to the Christian story.  The Hebrew people have been doing this for millennia, marking time according to the feasts, festivals and holy days according to their story of being delivered out of Egypt, the Exodus.   We have our own story centered in Jesus Christ.  We mark the year telling the story of Jesus Christ.  The church year begins first Sunday of advent, so Happy New Year!!!   We are no longer in “ordinary time”, but a special time.  We are in the season of advent.   Advent means “the coming” or the “appearing”.   So in this season of advent, we are patiently waiting for the birth of Christ, but we are also waiting for his coming again.

luke

Looking today at the gospel of Luke, which begins 15 months before birth of Jesus.  Luke was a physician, which in those days meant he was trained in both medicine and philosophy.   Luke was also a Gentile, which is very significant because he is the only Gentile contributor to the holy canon of scripture.  Every other book in our bible was written by a Hebrew writer, but Luke is one of us, a gentile.   He was an associate and traveling companion of the apostle Paul, and wrote both the gospel which bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles.

advent

The Gospel of Luke was written about AD 70, give or take a couple of years either way.  Luke was very painstaking in his research for his Gospel.  He used the writings of both  Mark, Matthew, and some other sources we don’t know about anymore.

love and the cross metaphor

Luke dedicated both his gospel and its sequel, the book of Acts, to a man named Theophilus, which means “Lover of God” or “God lover”.  He addresses him here as most excellent Theophilusso it’s possible this man was a high Roman official or someone else of some distinction.  But probably Luke here is simply using a literary device.  You could say his Gospel is written to “Mr. Love God”.  Do you love god?  Then This story is for you.

god saves the world

This is the story of how god saves the world.  The story of how god was born as a baby, lived as a man, died as a mortal, and was raised Lord of all.  We tell the story beginning in advent.  The annual re-enactment of  waiting for god to act in history and do what only god can do.  The story begins with a birth.  Not the birth of the savior, but the fore runner.  Not Jesus the Christ but John the Baptist.   We begin with an elderly righteous couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth.

zechariah and elizabeth

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 

king herod

It begins during the time of King Herod, Herod the great.  Cruel,  maniacal, megalomaniac, and a genius architect.  Herod was rewarded for faithful service to the Roman Empire, he was also a military genius and had won many great battles on behalf of Caesar.  He was given the official title “King of the Jews”.   Upon receiving this  title, Herod proceed directly to offer his sacrifice at temple of Mars, the great god of War.

trust-in-God-500x325

Herod has been king for about 30 years.  He is 70 years old, coming near the end of his life.  Brutal and barbarous, Herod was most definitely not the king the Jews had been looking for.

have-trust-in-God

There is a great juxtaposition in Luke’s story – we have brutal, powerful king in Herod on one hand, and a pious, elderly, humble, righteous old couple, a priest and his wife living in hill country on the other hand.   They’ve been faithful to god, had wanted children, prayed for children, waited for children, but have reached a ripe old age and alas, no children.  Advent is about waiting.  Waiting for God to do whatever God will do.  We have our own expectations, our own demands, our own timetable for what we want God to do, Amen!  But Advent is about abandoning  that and saying “God, you will do what you will do when you want to do it.  I trust you.”  But do it soon please…

advent-wreath-nativity-figures

That’s advent,  that’s Zachariah and Elizabeth   They had prayed, were pious, righteous, a priest and his wife entering old age childless.    It’s a picture of Israel itself.  Israel has been waiting through a long season of disappointment.   They’ve been for 600 years with no real king.  Wasn’t there a promise?  Wasn’t there a promise that there would always be a son of David upon the throne…yet there hasn’t been a king for 600 years.   Now they have this imposter Herod?  Living that that whole time under gentile domination.  Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now Rome.  They’ve been an oppressed people without the promises of God seeming to come to pass.  How long???   They’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting…how long will they have to wait???

How-Long-1

How long have we been waiting for Christ to come again?   I guess we are coming up on 2000 years now, aren’t we?   How long, O Lord, will we have to wait??   How long before you do something Lord?

Come-2016_-761x324

How long have you been waiting?   How long have you waited for Christ to do something in your life?   What are you waiting for, what are you praying for?   Advent is the season of waiting.  We patiently (or not) wait for Christmas morning, for that feast and that celebration and the gifts and the joy and the love.  It always seems to come, doesn’t it?

waiting1

But we also wait for Christ to come again.  This we are not so patient for.  This, it seems, may never come.  By never, we mean not in our lifetimes.  This is the hardest wait.  There is no date on the calendar (and no, it’s not next Tuesday.  Or whatever the next date the apocalypse “experts” try to tell us).  We want God to come, we expect Him to come…but we want it to be now.  It should be now.   We want to know, we want to see.  Faith is just so hard.

But wait we must.

John Lewis

Mountain Climbing

mountain climbing

The first week of advent on the church calendar, so Happy New Year to all my brothers and sisters in Christ!   Not exactly an advent message today, but maybe a little talk of mountain climbing…

mt-everest

“The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Isaiah 2:1-5 ESV

http://bible.com/59/isa.2.1-5.esv

mt zion

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”

Hebrews 12:22 ESV

http://bible.com/59/heb.12.22.esv

Mount Everest becomes world's highest traffic jam.

What Isaiah anticipates, the writer of Hebrews announces as gospel, that in Christ we have come to the mountain of god.  The great mountain that is the mountain of god.  Jesus claims the first ascent, he has led the way, fixed the ropes, established the route, that we might enter into the experience of the living God.

Winter at Longs

But we still have to climb it.

long's

Mountains are very prominent in bible  It’s amazing how many important episodes occur on mountains.  There is Noah on Mt. Ararat, Abraham on Mt. Moriah.  We have Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments.   We see Deborah and Barak on Mt. Tabor, Elisha with his sword on Mt. Carmel.

2d2 Mt_ Tabor

Much of Jesus’ ministry also occurs on mountains.  In His story alone we have the mount of temptation, the mountain of transfiguration (also Tabor), the Mount of Beatitudes, the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Ascension.  The Bible is seemingly overflowing with mountains.

mountains surround jerusalem

Mountains in the Bible sometimes represent God Himself, as is very often in the psalms –  “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.” Psalms 125:2 ESV.  

sinai

Oftentimes climbing mountain is a picture of entering into a deep experience of god.   Think of Moses on Sinai, or Elijah on Mt. Horeb  being restored as a prophet.

Mount_Olympus-JP2

Most ancient cultures have held certain mountains to be sacred.  The Greeks had Mt. Olympus, Japan had Mt. Fuji, Mt. Kanchenjunga in Nepal (3rd highest peak in the world), Mt Vesuvius, Long’s Peak (known as “Nesotaieux” to the Native American’s long before we ever got here).   Yes, these and many other peaks have been worshipped by people as sacred for thousands of years.  Ancient people could not help but stand in awe and wonder at the majesty of these mountains.  But if worshipping the creation instead of the creator is a sin (and it is), then so is the secular idea that nothing is sacred.  Because, for example, if it’s idolatry to worship a mountain as God, it’s also idolatrous to destroy a mountain through mountain top removal mining for the idol of greed.  Let that one sink in for a minute…

mount-kanchenjunga

Sometimes when we are in or near the mountains, we just want to stay on the lower slopes.  We don’t really want to climb them, we are just as happy to admire them from the comfort and safety of the valley below.

Mount Rainier Washington

But sometimes, we want to climb that mountain.  Sometimes, we feel driven to go higher, to get above the clouds.  I feel that way about God.  I am still relatively new in Christ (I believe), still in many ways very immature in my faith.  But I do not want to stay on the lower slopes of the mountain of God.  I am not satisfied with simply telling you that Christ died for my sins, I said a sinners prayer and got baptized and now I’m going to heaven when I die.  I don’t know how to express this, but that just feels kind of empty.   Of course I want to go to heaven and not hell when I die (whatever that really means), but is that really all there is?   Is the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ, his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, his suffering, his teaching, “love your enemies” and the golden rule, all this is just about being “in” or “out”?   Pardon me for being so bold to say, I think we are missing something.

DCF 1.0

So I want to climb that mountain.  I want to go above the tree line, get past “in” or “out” theology.  I want to go higher on the mountain than just knowing that Jesus died for my sins (as beautiful as that truly is).  I want to climb higher on the mountain, get closer to what the apostle John saw when he so daringly told us, not once but twice, that “God is Love!”   And I say to all who are reading this, “come with me”.   Let’s begin to climb this mountain, the mountain of God, together.

longs

You can do it.  It won’t  be easy, but you can do it.  But you can’t do it alone.  Novice mountain climbers who want to go it alone can get lost, go astray, and even perish, even in the mountain of a God.

LongsWinter 019

Mountains, if you approach them from different directions, or different perspectives, can give you many different pictures.  Long’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains can appear to be a completely different mountain depending on the direction you approach it from, or even the season you are seeing it in.  Again, God is like this.  Depending on our perspective (and I’m only talking about Christian perspectives here), we can come to God from different perspectives and different places, and see God, differently.

mountain-of-god

We can get into trouble if we approach the mountain of God, think that the perspective we have is all there is to see, then declare to the world that “I’ve found God, and God is ____”   If we do this, and become convinced that our perspective of God is all there is to see, we can become fundamentalist in our views.   Fundamentalism is the belief that one perspective of God (our perspective) is all there is to see of God.  But just as some of our great mountains are for too vast to take in from one perspective, so God is far too vast to see and comprehend from just one vantage point.

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Now, God is not everything we make him up to be.  He has definition.  When I’m talking about God, I’m talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  I’m talking about the God of Israel.  The God and father of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ,  the true and loving God who is Father, Son, and  Holy Spirit.

orthodox

But we many different perspectives of our God, do we not?   We have the Orthodox perspective, Catholic perspective, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, And Pentecostal perspectives.   Each one of them can be fundamentalist.  If a Catholic says “Our perspective of God is the only one that’s valid and if you see God from a different angle the you’re a heretic!”, that’s Catholic fundamentalism, and we must rise above that.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptist, Anglican, we can all go the fundamentalist route.  We must rise above that and learn to be contemplative.

catholic

Our great mountains are so big and so vast that we cannot see all of them from one perspective.  So if we see a mountain like Long’s Peak in Colorado or Mt Fuji in Japan or Mt Rainer in Washington, but come at the The from the north side over and over again, but then come to them from the south instead, we might feel we are seeing a totally different mountain.    If we don’t know it’s the same mountain before we see it, we can be completely fooled and not recognize it at all.  It doesn’t mean it’s a different mountain, just that we’ve come to it from a different direction this time.   We could be fundamentalist about the mountain – “If you don’t see the diamond face on Long’s Peak then it’s not Long’s Peak!”   Yes, Long’s Peak has a diamond face if you look at it from the east, but from the West you don’t see it at all.  It’s still Long’s Peak, just a different vantage point.

methodist

Though we can only see one vantage point at a time, we can go all around the mountain and learn all the different vantage points and get a fuller picture and understanding of the mountain.  In the same way, we can learn to be contemplative as we approach the mountain of God,  as we respectfully engage with other traditions who over the centuries have learned this angle, Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Southern Baptist.  We can learn other traditions views of the living God, and get a much clearer, better, more true vision of the nature of God.

advent-wreath-nativity-figures

So this advent season, as we anticipate the coming of God, let’s understand God is coming.   But while we may see his coming in many different ways, it doesn’t mean one is right (mine) and all the rest are wrong.  But maybe, just maybe, if we can respectfully engage and contemplate another’s point of view, we might get a fuller picture of the God we love.   We have our guides (which we need) on the mountain, maybe this advent season (and beyond) we can open up to another perspective and come to see a different trail, and climb  just a little bit higher on the mountain of God.

John Lewis

In God We Trust

in-god-we-trust1

Looking at Mark 4 today, specifically the story of Jesus calming the storm.

a great windstorm

If you don’t know this story, then here it is.  It is the story of Jesus and his disciples getting into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee when a great storm comes upon them.  On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.   They took him just as he was…Jesus had been teaching the people all day from the boat, so they left without returning to shore, heading for the other side where He would heal a demon possessed man who had been living in the graveyards.   They wind up in a great storm, which is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee due to the presence of the mountains and the up and down currents of the winds there.   This storm must have been particularly powerful to have frightened these experienced fisherman.

Jesus storm

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”    The disciples may have been afraid, but apparently Jesus was not concerned.   He was in the back, sleeping like a baby.   Sleeping like he was unaware they were all about to die!!

do you not care...

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””    So Jesus wakes up, and calmly commands the storm to stop.  To which, the storm listens, the wind ceased, and all was calm.  And Jesus then does something that, maybe, seems a little strange, maybe even unfair.   It seems as though he rebuked his disciples here –  “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   

little-faith

Is it just me, or does it seem like Jesus is a little irritated or impatient here?   Why does he rebuke them?   Their boat was about to sink, was it not?   I would think that would be the perfect time to cry out to Jesus to save them!   What else were they supposed to do?   Didn’t the fact that they cried out in their panic, in their time of desperate need, show that they DID have faith?

trust-in-God-500x325

So here is my take here.  Mark says they went to Jesus and cried out  Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?   Matthew’s account of this event says “And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.””   Matthew 8:25 ESV. The disciples were terrified.   They were panicked.  This is why Jesus asks them “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   Maybe the correct response for the disciples would have been to, calmly, wake Jesus and just say “Hey, we need you to calm this storm Jesus.”   And just expect that it will be done.   Because, what else were the disciples to do but to go to the Son of God in their time of need and ask for salvation?

north-korea-military-march

They were rebuked because of their fear.  Because if we are trusting in the Lord, we should not have fear.  These disciples are a little like us today.  We are freaking out in the world right now, are we not?  We have issues.  We have North Korea, The Donald, and nuclear weapons all around.  Not a good combination.  We have Russian investigation, hurricanes that keep coming, scientists are telling us the earth is boiling.  We have to do something, don’t we??!!

have-trust-in-God

The question is, do we trust God or not?  If we say we have faith in God, then at some point we have to trust God.  We do all that we can responsibly do, but that still won’t calm the fear in you heart, the anxieties that keep you up at night.

in guns we trust

Think about this – every time a human being kills another human being, whatever good reasons there may be, it comes down to not trusting God.  If you have a gun pointing at me, and I can kill you before you kill me, I can only obey Jesus’ command to love my enemies if I’m trusting in God.  There’s no other way.  Because if I die, I die.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s not the end of me.  Do I believe that or do I not?  Our money has the inscription “In God we Trust.”  But, really, should it not say “In guns we trust”?  Because do we not trust FAR more in our guns than in our God?   When we take matters into our own hands because we are not trusting, and we act out of fear, we almost always turn to violence.

In-God-We-Trust-300x226

What exactly are we trusting God for?  We are not trusting Him to get us out of our situation.  That’s not the point.  We are trusting that if this happens, and I die, I’m ok with that.  I’m trusting that God is going to work this out for good, make the best of this situation, and work it out ultimately for good.  Because I believe in life after death, I believe in the resurrection of the dead.  So, if you kill me…then what?  You got nothing else…

hope

The hope of the New Testament is always directed to that ultimate future.  We are not trusting God for a new car, or to pay the bills, or to buy a bigger house.  That is not our hope.  For believing Christians, the worst case scenario is not a bad scenario.  Christian leaders tell us to trust in God, but they don’t tell us what we are trusting for.  So, we think that God is supposed to get us out this our out of that.  But if he does, or if he doesn’t, either way that day is going to come.  It may seem dark, but we will all die eventually.  And if not, scientists tell us the universe is decaying, how are you getting out of that one?  What are you trusting God for?  He may not, he will not, get us out of every bad situation, but we trust that there is a good situation he’s getting us into, no matter what happens.

war zone

The New Testament says the here and now is a war zone.  Bad things can happen.  We might get fed to the lions or be burned at the stake.  But we trust in the character of God, who will ultimately win in the end.

guns

So they can kill us now, but so what???

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””

Mark 4:35-41 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.4.35-41.esv

John Lewis

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!!   Striving to be grateful as St Paul was grateful – for all things, in all afflictions, despite the results he could (or couldn’t) see, and in the face of all challenges.  Paul stayed grateful and in a state of constant Thanksgiving.

May we all be able, at least for one day, to give grace and thanks to our Lord and savior for he has given, all he has done, all he gives, and all he is doing.

Happy Thanksgiving

Love you all.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 1:3-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/php.1.3-11.esv

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1co.1.4-9.esv

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1co.1.4-9.esv

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1th.1.2-3.esv

John Lewis

The Price of Admission

The Price of Admission

man of sorrows

He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

world of hurt

We inhabit a world of hurt.  Pain is an ever present possibility.  Grief stalks us.  We are haunted by the specter and possibility of sorrow.  We know it can strike at any moment.  This reality is not restricted to third world nations, it is not present only for those living under violent dictatorships and backward regimes.

This IS the human condition.  Pain is no respecter of persons.  It comes to all of us.  Most people know this instinctively.  And most, at least to some degree, accept it.

very powerful

But there are three kinds of people who struggle with the real occurrence of pain in this life.  These are the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious.  There are people in this world, perhaps you are aware, that believe that if you have enough power, enough money, and/or the right religion, you can mostly avoid pain in this life.

very powerful 2

Throughout history, the rulers and citizens of the richest and most powerful nations have been especially susceptible to this particular line of propaganda.  With enough money, enough might, and the right kind of religion, we might be able to get out of this thing alive.  Rich and powerful nations feel as though it is their birthright to live above the pain and sorrow that falls upon the rest.   We just need a big economy, a big army, and a big God on our side.  Get enough gold, guns and God, and you can avoid all pain.

I sit as a queen

This is nothing new.   This is exactly what the rulers and citizens of the Roman Empire thought.  This is what John the revelator mocks in Revelation 18 – ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ Revelation 18:7 ESV.  But of course she sees mourning, it’s all just empty propaganda.  The Romans sat on top of the world, the playground bully, they believed pain and suffering were for the rest of the world, to be doled out by themselves upon others as necessary, but never for them to suffer through.   The problem is, they were still left with their own real world hurts and real world pain, but their own propaganda added the additional burden of keeping up appearances…

big economy

Modern Americans are tempted to believe the same propaganda, and propaganda it is.  We have a big economy, big guns, and a big God on our side, Amen!   Things should be different HERE.  We are, after all, the wealthiest, the most powerful, and one of the most religious nations on earth.  But, unfortunately, that is no guarantee (and we do like our guarantees).  But there is no guarantee that tomorrow we won’t face a terminal diagnosis, financial ruin, crushing bereavement, bitter betrayal, personal rejection, or some other event that can cause us to take up residence in the house of pain.

big god

Understand this – the idea that if you can become rich enough, powerful enough, and religious enough then you can make it through this life without pain is a pernicious lie.  We try to live without pain, do all we can to avoid pain.  But to try to be without pain is to attempt to be superhuman, and when we attempt to be superhuman, we wind up being less than human.  We wind up as less than human because those that use power, wealth and religion to avoid pain only end up inflicting that pain on other people.

Syria

Look at what happened in Syria a couple of years ago.  A powerful man who wanted to avoid all pain, inflicting it en masse on others.  How about the financial crisis of 2008?  Very, very rich people acting very irresponsibly in an attempt to avoid pain.  And we don’t even need to start talking about how much pain religion can and has inflicted upon the world.

Las-Vegas-shooting

Or how about the Vegas gunman?  An extreme example, but the last article I read about him talked about how, for the past two years, he had been on a bad losing streak in the high stakes gambling rooms and had lost much of his wealth.  He was at a point where he was about to feel the pain of the loss of his status with family and in those high stakes gambling rooms.   A pain he was not prepared to bear, and so 59 people had to die and hundreds more severely injured and otherwise scarred.  I know, it makes no sense, but the portrait we have is of a man who couldn’t bear even that pain of losing his image.  That burden of keeping up appearances

The-Passion-of-the-Christ-1

Look at the passion of Jesus Christ.  Here you had the whole gathering of the very rich, the very powerful, and the very religious.  Pontius Pilate had the military might of the worlds most powerful army.  King Herod was the wealthiest man on earth.  Then there was Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, at the top of the great religion of the world.  It was these three who were directly involved in the crucifixion of the Christ, it was these three who controlled the money, the guns, and the temple.  And their whole lives , not just in relation to Jesus, were spent dealing out pain to others to insure they never had to experience pain themselves.

superhuman

Attempts to live without pain do not make us superhuman, they make us subhuman.  When we try to be inhuman, we wind up inhumane.   Because pain is the price of admission…

desspised and rejected

In a meditation on the nation of Israel and the expected Messiah, Isaiah wrote He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.   We know this now to be a vision of Jesus.   The word made flesh, God incarnate.  He came and joined us in our humanity, pain and all.   He did not come and take up a partial share in what it means to be human, he took a full share.  He was fully immersed in all that it means to be human, pain and all.   Because pain is the price of admission.

AdmitOne

The price of admission to what??  It is the price of admission to life, to existence, to being.  It’s the price of admission to being real, authentic beings.

Baby being born via Caesarean Section

Have you ever seen a newborn baby?   Not a week old newborn, not even an day old, but two minutes old?   It’s our welcome into this world, but sometimes the poor baby looks like they’ve been in a fight.  Because they have.  We cry tears, but they are tears of joy, because it’s a joyous thing, the birth of a baby.  We want to cry out “Welcome to the world!!”  But the baby just wants to cry out.  Because pain is the price of admission.

pain

It is a traumatic experience, being born.  Maybe that’s why it’s the picture Jesus paints for fellow rabbi Nicodemus in John chapter 3, that you have to be born again to see the kingdom of God, because sometimes rethinking a lifetime of knowing can be a traumatic experience.   But as we say to the newborn baby, welcome to our world!!  The introduction is pain.   Because if there is no possibility of pain, there are no possibilities at all.

Think about this – if you take away all possibilities of pain, then you take away all possibilities.  For God to create beings in his own image involves real risk.  It’s the risk inherent with freedom.  The freedom to be real, authentic beings, the freedom of real choices in life.

let there be

In the beginning, God said “Let there be…”.  And he created the stars and the sky and the light.  He created the seas and the land.  He created the plants and the animals, but something was missing.  There was creation, but it was a creation which, maybe, was missing something.  So then God says “Let us make…man in our own image,”  now He has risked something.   Because God made man, creatures, in His own image and yet distinct from Him.

image of god

He made man, created beings with true freedom, real choices, and now there is the real possibility of sin and death, pain and suffering.  God always knew this was the chance he was taking, but He made us anyway.  Not only did He create man in His own image, making possible for pain and suffering to enter the world, but He comes and meets us in that world right at the intersection of pain and suffering…

every tear

But there is a hope, after all.  As Christians, we do have a great hope for the world, do we not??  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…””  Revelation 21:4-5 ESV.  Christ will come again.  This is our hope.  It is what we confess by faith.  There will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more sorrow, and all things will be made new.

all thing made new

So, how will this happen?  How will all things be made new, and now mankind, with all of our freedom and authenticity, be able to live in that freedom and authenticity without pain??   I don’t know.  I don’t know how the plans and purposes of God are being and will be played out.  But this is what I hope and believe will ultimately happen.

risk

But why risk in the first place?   Why do we take risks?  Why did God risk making us in His own image?    What risk is acceptable?  Do we really even want to live in a world without pain and without risk?   Do we want to live in a world where we could all just live as couch potatoes, fingers on the remote, doing nothing but eating potato chips and drinking beer, then step on a plane, fly to Nepal and scale Mt Everest without any problems?   Seriously, is that even worth it?  Again, without the possibility of pain, are there any possibilities at all?

traumatic

We live in a world where the former things have not yet passed away, of that I am sure.  Maybe we are only in the first stage.   Maybe this first stage was always necessary, something mankind had to go through to get to where God wants us to be in our journey.

christ

The great Christian mystic Julian of Norwich once said “First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God…” Sometimes (maybe every time), we have to fall down before we can look up.  But those of us who have fallen, if we can stay the course and not jump off the ship when we feel it sinking, can look back and say “It was good to fall in the first place.

We have hope for our world beyond hurt.  But we are not there yet.  It is pain that remains the price of admission into God’s good creation.   We do cry tears of joy at the birth of an infant even though we know that baby has just been through a traumatic experience – with many more to come.

“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”

Isaiah 53:3 NLT

http://bible.com/116/isa.53.3.nlt

“As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’”

Revelation 18:7 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.18.7.esv

John Lewis

Chasing Waterfalls 


When I first started writing and sharing my thoughts and discoveries in my own faith journey, my search for spiritual progress, I was in full recovery mode.  Recovery from my own addictions, recovery from the consequences of my own sin. Most of my writing and thought was focused on recovery and hope found in the Bible.

As I’ve gone on, I have gotten away from the recovery focus. It has been nothing intentional, no conscious decision has been made, but the farther I go into the words of God and the discovery of who God is, the farther my own spiritual and faith journey has gotten away from the recovery focus I once had. Because, simply, I’m just not in the same place anymore.  


But today, I am going back to my roots, so to speak. Back into my recovery and the message of the hope and love that only comes through Jesus Christ.



Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
Sometimes, it feels like life is just a waterfall. A waterfall of pain, washing over us. As in this song from the Sons of Korah, which we know as Psalm 42, we are just caught in the waterfall of pain, those waves just keep washing over us. Can we ever stop the waterfall?? The power of the waterfall as a metaphor is that it Just. Keeps. Coming. Sometimes it feels to us that this is how life is. It just keeps coming, one pain, one hurt cascading upon us after another, a never ending waterfall of pain, hurt, and emotion. We can stand under the waterfall for a time, a period, but eventually, the waterfall will always beat you down if you can’t find a way to stop it.


How then, do we stop this waterfall of pain? As much as we would like to, we can’t just stop all the painful experiences. But there are two things, two secrets, I have found about the pain in our life.


First, MOST of the pain in our life us either retrieved from the past or borrowed from the future. Most of our pain resides in our memory or our imagination. It either comes from recalling some bad thing that happened in the past, or it is borrowed from a future which we have not even realized or attained yet. A future, by the way, which is totally out of our control. Our pain mostly comes from our memory or our imagination, not from our present.


Second, and maybe more importantly, we STOP the waterfall of pain by learning to live in the present moment. We stop the cascading waves from rolling over us by living not in the past, not in the future, but in the present. Or, as we in recovery like to say, by living one day at a time.


This is not exclusive to Christianity. Many of the wisdom traditions had discovered this, which makes sense, because before there was wisdom, there was human pain from which that wisdom could be hard won. But the important thing for us is that Jesus confirms our discovery. “”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  


Jesus confirms the wisdom that we should live in the present moment, and he takes us further in. As always, he pulls back the curtain to reveal more. He teaches us that God is our Heavenly Father who loves us. He is not an angry or retributive God, but has one stance toward us and that is love.


Jesus suggests to us that the rest of creation enjoys the peace of being present in the moment with God. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:26‬ ‭ESV‬‬. “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬.  


The birds of the heavens, the lilies of the field, they aren’t anxious, worried, or troubled. They live in the present moment. They are not retrieving pain from the past or borrowing imagined fears of what could happen in the future. But we humans, we are always a special case.  


We need to learn that we stop the waterfall of pain by being open to the love of God in the present moment. There is great wisdom in that statement. In fact, it’s the only thing that I know that works. It’s the only way.


Most other ways of dealing with our pain are simply trying to distract ourselves from the pain or numb ourselves to it. Both of these are destructive. In psalm 42 verses 7 and 8, the sons of Korah use the metaphor of the waterfall. But they find a way to stop the waterfall. “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalms‬ ‭42:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Each day the lord pours out his steadfast love upon me…they discover how to live in the love of God in the present moment.


If we can stop the waterfall of pain by learning to live in the present moment, good things can happen for us. And we can stop the waterfall from cascading upon us, if we can open ourselves in the present moment to the love of God.  
Our future is absolutely unknown. But that doesn’t stop us from our prognosticating. As the Danish physicist Niles Bohr once said, “Prediction us very difficult. Especially about the future.” We waste time and emotional energy, and cause our very own pain, worrying about the future.  


How do we stop? You stop by opening yourself to the pervasive love of God. Here’s a truth we all want to hear – you are loved right now. Don’t forget what Paul tells us – “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans‬ ‭5:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬. No mater what happened in the past, no matter what might happen in the future (What if I stumble?), God loves you. The only REAL truth you need to know is that God is loving you right now. The love of God is the OTHER waterfall, even more ceaseless and relentless than the pain in our lives.


The love of God is not a waterfall of pain, it’s a waterfall of love and peace. The trinity is eternally generating self giving love. God is Love. Not self-centered, selfish love, but self-giving love. By this I mean, the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, the Holy Spirit is that love. BUT – primitive concepts of God, bad theologies of an angry God, can dam up that waterfall of love.


God us pouring out love into you, your life, right now, but bad theologies can act as a dam to block the flow of love into your experience. IF we can remove those dams of wrong thinking about God, it’s then only a matter of being present to God’s unfailing love and never-ending song.


Blow up the dam, restore the river to its natural course, then it’s just a matter of learning to be open to that love in the present moment, right now. Just imagine, knowing that God is loving you, right now. Just imagine basking in the love of God.


What about the past? What about tomorrow? I don’t  know, I’m just here, right now, just being. Being watched over by God, knowing everything is gonna be alright.


Well, ok. HOW??? This is a chief value of using formative (aka liturgical) prayer, that it can lead to a God-filled present. Without the help of a liturgy of prayer, I CAN NOT ever get my mind quiet enough to live in the present moment and thus be open to God’s love. In fact, it’s what I struggle with more than anything right now. I have victory over many problems, many addictions, but what I struggle with most right now is 1) fear and 2) anxiety. Or vice versa. I don’t know about you (but probably I do), but I know it is only with the formation of a good liturgy, the practice of a formative, well crafted liturgy of prayer that I can get my mind quiet and find myself in the present moment. Not in the past, or always in the future, which is where we always tend to live. This is why we need to be formed in prayer, to have a consistent liturgy of prayer.


If we try to be still (Be still and know that I am God…) in prayer in order to experience God’s love without a liturgy of formative prayer, we generally fail to be present in the moment. It doesn’t work, not much happens, so we generally get discouraged and give up altogether.


In other words, it’s not something you’re going to be able to figure out on your own. We all need help (like anything else). We need teaching. We need someone to help form us in prayer. Learning to be present to God in the present moment does NOT come naturally to most of us. There are rare examples, those natural born mystics. These are those who’ve been used by God throughout history to teach the rest if us. You are not one of them.
For the rest of us, this is a skill, kind of like riding a bike, learning to swim, or learning a new language. When you start, it is not a natural thing. Once you have the skill, once you learn it, it becomes super-natural for you. It just becomes a part of you. You never forget how to swim, how to ride a bike. Once you achieve fluency in a new language, and you are just speaking and not translating, it just begins to flow. You’re not thinking about it anymore. But you have to learn first.


You have to deal with fear, pain and confusion. Learn to ride a bike you might skin your knee a few times. You have to ivercome fear to learn to swim, overcome confusion to learn a new language. But you can do all if these things. We can also learn to be present to God in the present moment. No longer retrieving from the past or borrowing from the future, but present in the moment and aware of God’s love for you.


Learning to be present to God in His love in the present moment, present enough to stop the waterfall of pain from the past and future, is a spiritual skill that takes time to develop. Impatience only increases the delay. Take a breath, take time, be patient, learn how to do this. Stop the waterfall.


But I remind you, most of your pain is retrieved or borrowed. What you will find, if you can be still enough to find the present moment, is not the waterfall of pain and anxiety, but the ocean of God’s endless love.


“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭42:7-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/psa.42.7-8.esv

“”Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.6.34.esv