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Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

turning pointOnly in the re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew, do we see a seemingly direct response from Jesus. He wanted to be alone and I can assume, he wanted to pray and contemplate the implications of John’s death. Not long after this self-imposed sequester, the crowds find him, he heals a ton of people, he feeds a ton of people, and he is basically “outed” as more than the average human.

When Jesus heard about John [the Baptist], he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived [landed] and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. [Matthew 14:13-14, CEB]

The death of John the Baptist was a turning point in Jesus’s ministry. No longer a game of secret miracles and teachings on the hill, Jesus went into overdrive, preparing his teams for the next round in transforming the way humans would engage their God. John’s execution is approximately the midpoint in Jesus’s three-year crusade. From this moment on, I believe Jesus saw his work in the light of life and death, not only for himself but for anyone who believed.

John the Baptist died for unabashed truth-telling. He was not terribly diplomatic or politically correct. In fact, he was brash and tactless, a veritable bull in a china shop. Whether at the hands of Herod or another, John would have been killed sooner than later. He was a fish swimming upstream all of his life. He saw the world in black or white terms.

I believe Jesus was much more measured in his dealings with people of all stripes, colors, and persuasions. Even at the end, he often chose silence instead of outspokenness.

But I am getting away from myself. Turning points are important to see clearly in our own lives, but unfortunately, we can only see them in hindsight and not by foresight. All the same, those moments are meaningful and we should all take the time to evaluate our own. Take the time to write them down. Usually, they are fairly easy to identify — those moments where we took the left road instead of the right.

But the biggest question for me today is whether I have reached that turning point in my faith. Have I reached the ultimate understanding of what it means to follow the Christ? Life and death. Total abandon. All in.

 

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waterI am not really that good at breaking down knowledge into sequential bites. Teachers, for this reason, are truly amazing. They understand what a student has to learn first and then second and so on. It’s hard for me to analyze what I know and then back up to how I figured something out or how I learned a particular task or took advantage of an inborn talent.

But this much I know, in order to “come to the water,” a person must realize he/she is thirsty, in other words, in need. Meaningful change cannot happen without acknowledging the status quo as a) not working or b) not acceptable.

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!
Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!
Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
    and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy? [Isaiah 55:1-2a; CEB]

Part Two: Once a person figures out that he/she is thirsty and starts looking around for something to quench that thirst, this is the point when circumstances and people play a vital role.

When I am thirsty, I don’t always pick the best thirst-quencher. Intellectually, I may know that water is probably best, but I am guilty of popping a beer or soda instead. Sometimes I choose badly because of convenience, sometimes I choose badly because I am offered something else from a person nearby.

And lastly, accept the paradox of God’s offer: water where there does not appear to be water; food where there is no money to buy food, etc. God, through Jesus, is continually offering and calling and drawing Human to the Godhead, to a life of Spirit, where thirst is perpetually quenched. We are so used to living a life of unmet needs and wants; we can barely comprehend an existence or space in which we would be completely satisfied. This is the life within, not the daily grind. If the Spirit is quenched, the 3-D life can be conquered, the journey can tolerated, the sorrows born, the disappointments made powerless.

Why spend money [time, energy, etc.] for what isn’t food? Believe in a better way.

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prophesyProphecy, predictions, and fortune telling: do we really want to know?

Amaziah said to Amos, “You who see things, go, run away to the land of Judah, eat your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s holy place and his royal house.” [Amos 7:12-13, CEB]

We check with the local meteorologist/weatherman every day; we are obsessed with knowing the weather forecast. Most people have it on the home screens of their cell phone. Will it rain? Will it snow? Will my life be changed by either? Nope.

We say we want to know but then, if it’s not what we want to hear, we speak against it. Chance of rain today, 53%  Oh, please don’t rain, I want weathermanto take a run or a bike ride or a walk or go out in my boat. Tomorrow, warm and sunny with only 3% chance of rain. Of course, the day I have to work indoors, it’s going to be a beautiful day. Yada, yada, yada.

And if the message is particularly grim, the messenger’s credibility is immediately suspect.

Originally, predictors about our world’s atmosphere called it “global warming,” but then the naysayers used every snow storm as an example to the contrary, as though their local snowstorm can counter the scientific evidence that our planet is warmer than ever. So, the analysts switched up the label and now use “climate change” to speak to the future. All the same, very few want to hear this prophecy. Like Amaziah, they say, go somewhere else to tell your tale, we’re all just fine here.

fortune tellingAre you curious about your own immediate future? How many fortune tellers grace our city streets? In some areas, they proliferate more than others (New Orleans has a high number of soothsayers on every corner in the French Quarter and Bourbon Street). Is it a game or do we really want to know? Do we believe these strangers have access to the string of our future? Or do we hope for a tantalizingly dark handsome stranger to be in our stars? Something or someone we can keep a look out for.

Not long ago, I finished listening to a new sci-fi fantasy book, Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price (first in a series, of course). The book has some issues, but I love the way it digs into the idea of time, both future and past as well as alternate lives and worlds, seemingly existing side by side. It’s pretty exquisite world building. For one of the characters, it’s Groundhog Day on steroids, but he doesn’t become a nicer and nicer person, he just kills people sooner to get it over with, etc. He is doing his best to manipulate the present and the future.

We are all manipulating our futures by the decisions we make today and living out the decisions we made yesterday.

There is an exercise in which you can do a review of your past and snip out the pieces that you would (if your could) remove from your past. It’s illuminating actually because few of us can do it. Why? Because every snip would change today and the now becomes too similar to the unknown future we struggle with each day. Would I like to snip out my bi-polar mother? Sure. But then, I would not be in the United States because it was her extreme personality that under girded our emigration.

Why did God provide prophets in the first place? And then, why did they disappear after the coming of Christ?

milk and honeyIn the Old Testament, it’s as thought God acted like a Father, giving fair warning about the consequences of certain choices. There were a lot of “if you do this or that–expect this result.” God tried to lay out the benefits, a land flowing with milk and honey, and yet, it was never enough. Once acquired, the people rejoiced, but it wasn’t long before the land was treated like a entitlement and not a gift. And so, God tried a different tactic, and provided one last prophet, one last shepherd, one last message.

Unfortunately, despite knowing and reading and seeing how things have gone in the past, we continue to make the same mistakes. God says: Accept the Spirit of Christ and “heaven” is a given grace. Follow Christ and live differently, sacrificially, in love and forgiveness and the world will unfold in a completely different way, an incomparable future. And yet, despite the prophesied future, we choose idols instead. We choose our immediate desires over a promised future.

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Art by David Lawson.

Art by David Lawson.

Are you the observer or the participant? We don’t see much ecstasy in worship these days. Oh, there’s a lot of loud music and wild lights like a rock concert and occasionally some roaring and clapping and shouting, but the spectacle of David and the transporting of the ark is beyond words and unlikely to be repeated in our age.

When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,  while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. [2 Samuel 6:13-16, NIV]

The journey, about 12.5 miles, was interrupted every six steps for a sacrificial offering. If this is true, they stopped about 4,000 times, and it would have taken almost a month to make the journey, assuming they stopped for 10 minutes for each sacrifice and went day and night. Not likely.

But, is the point of this story in the details or the implication?There are two distinct responses to the return of the ark: the participant and the observer.

King David led the procession as a worshiper dressed in an ephod (similar to a front & back apron), like a prophet, for Samuel also wore such a garment. He modeled, with apparent abandon, the joy of having the ark, a representative resting place for God on earth, returned to its origins, to the center of Jewish life and government. This day was his greatest accomplishment and gift to his people up to that point. He exhibited the fullness of his joy and pleasure and it burst out of him in dancing with disregard for how he might look or sound. He was that happy.

But from another vantage point was Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife for whom he paid the bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins, which suggests he killed many men to win her. And back in those days, she loved David as well. He was her hero, her “knight in shining armor.” But when his attention turned away from her and wholly unto his God, displaying himself transparently to everyone, she lost respect for him. She was embarrassed by his display of emotion (and evidently, he may have also displayed his private parts in his frenzy – see vs. 20-21). She watched and she judged.

It’s a dangerous thing to cast judgment on the behaviors of others, whether it is in joy or grief. We cannot know the depth of their feelings or what is needed to express them in that moment. Perhaps I don’t believe the machinations of others are authentic. So what? What does it matter? Who is harmed by displays of raw emotion or spiritual manifestations (from speaking in tongues or a whirling dervish)?

But even in less significant ways, I’m afraid we have become a culture of passive observers. I think we might be missing out on a entire array of experiences because we pre-judge even ourselves. We imagine observing ourselves and do not act.

When was the last time you experienced emotional abandon? Or unrestrained spiritual expression?

 

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miracleIn currently voguish vernacular, if something is unbelievable in its stupidity or absurdity, someone might say, “Really?” and pitch the voice very high. This is how I imagine Jesus alluding to the people from his hometown, Nazareth, who could not accept the reality of his miracles.

Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief. [Mark 6:4-6a, CEB]

Anyone can reject a miracle.

I suppose a miracle can still happen without you, but how you or I respond to a phenomenon is personal and somewhat subjective. If it’s important to you to dissect the event, to find a scientific reason or explanation, to question it’s integrity, then it can be a non-miracle for you. But to assume that your understanding of an event is the only way to see it is absurd and unrealistic, whether from the side of science or faith. People interpret events according to their “Weltenschauung” [a comprehensive conception or image of the universe and of humanity's relation to it].

It’s up to an individual to change or adapt the conception of what is possible or impossible. Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible for human beings. But all things are possible for God.” [Matthew 19:26, CEB] It is the biggest leap of faith, to accept that all things are possible with God, to accept that nature can be manipulated, to accept that there is a reality outside (or beside) of our own.

But if there is a soul, if there is a spark or Qi or spirit that is not limited to our five senses, then God is possible too. And if God is possible then miracles are possible, by definition.

I am open to miracles. I am open to the hand of God in my life.

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adoptionTen years ago, we met our daughter-to-be through a wonderful organization called KidSave that provides summer opportunities for adoptable older children from around the world. Back then, the country of favor was Russia, but they have since closed their doors and their orphaned and abandoned children languish in bulging institutions. Since Liliana was already a young teen (13), she had a say in the matter. She had to choose.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship [The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ . . . [Romans 8:14-17a; NIV]

The choice Liliana made to permit us to proceed with our adoption was only months after another decision she had to make back in Russia. At that time, she was living in a teen crisis center and the director believed it would be to Lily’s best interest to legally sever her birth mother’s rights. As a result, Lily found herself in a courtroom, her birth mother sitting opposite from her, and the judge asking Lily if she wanted to go through with this legal procedure (this is after months and years of emotional trauma, drunkenness, and verbal abuse). She said yes, not so much to a cutting off from the parent, but that life, that life of sorrow and hopelessness.

You would think she would have jumped at the chance to be adopted here in American. But really, she would have to leave everything that was familiar to her. There would be no going back. She was unsure and afraid. She had no way to know that her new family would come with more than just two parents and two brothers, but would also come with a new history and a new future. She would inherit from us all that we had to give. She would be fully ours.

God does the same for his adopted children. When we turn away from the old life, the old “leadership,” we are children of God. We have legal rights in the family of God. We inherit all that God has for us. But we must choose.

 

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Painting by George Oommen, 1997

Painting by George Oommen, 1997

How often do we have the revelation of God’s presence right where we are? Isn’t it more likely that we, too, have missed God and the experience of sacred?

When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. [Genesis 28:16-17; CEB]

Jacob had arbitrarily picked out a place to rest. He selected a rock for a pillow. There was nothing in the physical place that would suggest divine properties. And yet, he dreamed. In that dream he saw visions of holy things and messengers and even a representation of God himself, perhaps in the Christ form (since Jesus is the physical manifestation gifted to humans to “see” God). But most importantly, Jacob recognized the time has holy.

So much is unknown about our dream lives, our sub-conscious existences, our personal spirit time. I have had some dramatic dreams in my life and they remain with me still, in some cases, thirty years later. I know those dreams to be holy, to be sacred, as offerings from God. And from them, I have made choices and decisions, the greatest one, to follow Christ and not a life rooted merely in desire.

But how many dreams have I lost? How many moments have I missed or forgotten?

Truthfully, if I could be more present in the moment, more mindful (as the Buddhists say), I would recognize God’s presence daily. If, like Brother Lawrence, I could practice prayer throughout the day, then I would recognize God’s presence by the hour or even by the breath. God’s promise to be present came as part of our covenant, when I accepted Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Within me lies the sacred. And I keep missing it. For this reason, I have started praying the hours once more, to bring myself back out of the busyness and into the divine.

 

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