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Sidekick

There’s not much glory in being the sidekick, particularly if the person is true to his/her mission.

A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light. The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. [John 1:6-10, CEB]

It’s an interesting story, this tale of John the Baptist, who made such a huge splash (pun intended) in Judea, living on the fringe of society, prophesying endlessly, drawing colossal crowds, and calling on the people to ceremonially cleanse themselves in preparation for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He was all fire and determination. But he was also a catalyst.

John did not ride with Jesus and yet he was one of the key disciples. John moved things along. He challenged the norm; he challenged Jesus himself. (See Matthew 14.) John instigated the situation with Herod and knew that condemning a leader’s actions would get him put into jail. He was no fool. But he also knew he had to step away from the limelight in order for Jesus to take the reins of that moment in history.

Up until then, Jesus was doing a lot of teaching along with a few miracles and he built his team of twelve and even sent them out to try their hands at ministry, but he hadn’t really inflamed the leadership. But after John was in prison and eventually beheaded, Jesus began manifesting a series of fantastic unexplainable miracles from feeding thousands of people to walking on water and even transcending our three-dimensional world on Mount Tabor during his “transfiguration.” He stepped up his game.

John was the sidekick who was willing to sacrifice everything for the mission of Jesus. John the Baptist had been in the limelight and turned that light toward his cousin Jesus.

In our modern world, people are not always as willing to step aside or step down for the sake of the friend or partner or colleague.

I complain so often that my young adult children still believe the world revolves them. But perhaps I am no better. Can I learn from John and say, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29b, NIV]

Turn your eyes and look with me this day.

Advent: Day five.

Understanding Light

Word, God, Life, and Light. From the beginning, and yet misunderstood.

Art by Jenn Bowers

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome [or understood] it. [John 1:1-5, NIV]

Of course, the key here is beginnings. None can seem to agree when it all began, whether you are a traditional biblicist, big bang theorist, or some conglomeration of the two. But if we can simply agree that there was a beginning, sometime, then it might be easier to agree that “something” was there at the beginning. At the least: light, a manifestation of energy (but I am no physicist, so please, excuse my simplicity). I just like these ideas swimming around in my head.

Light, the spark of life then.

Now, the difference between an old believer like me and someone else is that I have made that leap of faith to believe in an intelligence at the beginning as well, an order, a motivation, or an intent from which sprang Word (or identity). For it is Word that establishes boundaries or describes a thing and thereby, gives it a name.

Most translations of this verse imply that darkness (what is that? Is it like anti-matter or the absence of light?) cannot extinguish or overcome it, as though it’s a battle of some kind. But if darkness is not light, how can it begin to understand? But I wonder, is darkness dynamic at all? I don’t think so. I believe I may have given the idea of darkness too much power and ability.

And yet another implication or long-standing interpretation of this verse is that the Word is Jesus, the son of God, the physical reflection of God, the ideal human, the template for the rest of us, present in the beginning in a form unknowable or understandable from without because, quite honestly, of the darkness. But Light is strong and the Word is astute and Life came forth all the same and whether we understand it or not, every human has the Light, for we were created from it. What we have lacked over the centuries perhaps, is the Word, the identification of Light – Jesus.

This is the time of year when the sunlight grows shorter and shorter for those of us in the northern hemisphere, but soon, as the Earth continues is lopsided rotation, the days will grow longer again. This is the time of year that we see the change in light. It’s a symbolic representation for the coming of light.

Let’s celebrate the coming of Light, God, the Word, and Life.

Watch!

Photo by  Cliff Vestergaard

Often used as a metaphor for the unknown timing of the return of Christ, but for me something else stood out: not just watching but the work of everyone in the house.

Be on guard! Be alert [some manuscripts, alert and pray] ! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back . . . [Mark 13:33-35a, NIV]

While contemplating this verse, I was reminded of Nehemiah and the re-building of the walls of Jerusalem; when they became aware of the enemy’s intent to disrupt their efforts, “. . . only half of my workers continued in the construction, while the other half held the spears, shields, bows, and body armor” [Nehemiah 4:16, CEB]. In both cases, each person had a job and not always the same one. In Mark, each person had an “assigned task” while another stood by the door to keep watch. In Nehemiah, they divided the duties between working on the wall and watching for attack. Today is no different.

It takes a village, as they say, to raise a child and it takes the same cooperative efforts to build and sustain an organization, whether it’s the local church or a business. We must trust one another and share the burden of the work but we must also respect the differences.

 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.”  [I Corinthians 12:19-22, CEB].

But clearly, some are called to watch! Is it you?

What does it mean to watch in today’s world? We have no ramparts and few of us have mountain views or apartments on the 96th floor. But there is an element of alertness no matter where the watching takes place. And in this I think we have fallen short. We take for granted the normal and oftentimes monotonous repetition of our daily lives. We stop looking. How many guys shave off their beards and people look at them and barely notice? How many women cut their hair and we know they look different somehow, but how? There is a theater game I used to play with my students in which they would pair off and one would look at the other one for about 10 seconds and then I would have them turn around back to back and describe what the other person is wearing. The results are pretty telling. (You can try this at the dinner table without warning.)

We are not alert about the world around us much less the deeper things manifesting around us through the workings of that other realm (We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12)

Too often, we depend on our pastors to do most of the watching but I think that’s unwise and unrealistic. Perhaps they are watching over the whole, but we must be watching in the smaller areas; we must watch for and with each other.

What are we looking for? Anomalies and brutalities, lies and deception, darkness and camouflage, pretense and counterfeits. The list is endless.

What do we do after we see these things? Identify and then pray. Oh, are you surprised? Did you think we would draw our swords and run into the fray. Not yet. Because we must be united first. All of our eyes must be opened. Evil is not vanquished in a day.

Take a Breath

Advent : Day Two

Image by RHADS

Art by RHADS

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. [I Corinthians 1:4-7, NIV]

I imagine what it would be like to have someone send me this message. There is so much promise in these worlds: the promise of someone praying on my behalf, the promise of God’s presence, the promise of God’s grace, the promise of God’s gifts, and the promise of a personal revelation of Jesus Christ. I am comforted and encouraged.

So often, I see myself sucked into a habit of self-condemnation and perfectionism. I feel inadequate and unable to accomplish anything. I am overwhelmed by the daily demands of my life, much less trying to add outreach and ministry to others. And in the midst of this comes the holidays and all those questions about trees and decorations and shopping. Even the church itself has its pressures to serve and plan. Julian of Norwich

If I could just hold on to this prayer for me. For you.

For this reason, I believe Julian of Norwich wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”  It’s the grace. Everything will work out. As a friend of mine has always said: worry don’t work.

And so, for this day, I will take a breath and do what I can. I have everything I need to accomplish what is needed today. And God has tomorrow.

Wake Up Twice

wake up 2I was so proud of myself a couple of months ago. I set myself a goal to wake up at 5:30 a.m. every day (even non-work days) and I did it. Someone asked me why I bothered with this exercise and I explained that I was trying to find another hour in my day. But the part I didn’t understand then (which I learned this week from Pastor Jess) was that I didn’t use that extra hour to wake up the second time.

The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. [Romans 13:11b-12, NIV]

Beginning today, we are entering a time of year called Advent, a time of waiting for the arrival of Christmas, the time the Church has designated to celebrate the birth of Christ, our long-awaited Messiah. Advent (and Christmas, for that matter) is a purely man-made time of year and yet, I’m glad of it. I need to direct some energy and preparation to my spiritual awakening. That is what the Christ was all about, that is why Jesus came into the world, to wake us all up.

But there is a challenge for believers to see past the tinsel and the commercialism and the anxious Martha-type shopping and planning. After all, families will gather and great amounts of food will be eaten and gifts will be collected and distributed (some well chosen and others not so much). It’s not that such things are inherently bad at all. It’s just that we need to balance these external activities with some inward contemplation. If we don’t . . . if I don’t, then I will make the same mistake I made two months ago and miss the point.

Sometimes it’s more than just busy-ness that overtakes us. For those who have little money, it’s a heartbreaking time in which blinders and dark glasses are a necessity to shut out the cacophony of the marketplace: “buy, buy, buy” or “lay-it-away” or “charge it.” Every sign and commercial is telling people what they want, whether they want it or not. And soon, everyone groans under the weight of wishes and wants they cannot have or cannot afford. Our eyes are not open; not the eyes that count.

Open your eyes 1It is for this second awakening that I want to engage our hearts and minds during this season. Pastor Jess talked about the ever-present armies of God surrounding us and our circumstances (see II Kings 6:15-17). Elisha prayed that his servant’s eyes would be opened to see them, to actually see through and beyond the enemy soldiers camped nearby. So it must be with our Christmas season.

We must wake up and look beyond and through the difficulties, the depression, the expectations, the clamor, and the demands of others and focus on the coming (and present) Christ, whose birth we celebrate.

How often do mothers post their birthday wishes to their children and include a picture of the child when he or she was just a baby or toddler? Those were the innocent times, the days and weeks and months when the future was unknown and the child had a world to explore. Jesus came into the creation just so.

Come with me on this Advent journey. We will wait together and prepare and when we come to that day, we will see the light that broke through the darkness.

Just give a little time to your inner life. That’s all it takes to wake up again.

Jerusalem and the Titanic

New JerusalemI have read (Bible Study Tools on Jerusalem) that there was a time that Jerusalem was invincible. I can certainly understand how that could happen, just thinking of the miraculous creation of the temple and the tangible presence of God there, how could any enemy prevail?

Jerusalem is built like a city joined together in unity . . . It is the law for Israel to give thanks there . . . Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” [Psalm 122:3, 4b, 6-7, CEB]

But not unlike the confidence in the Titanic, the unsinkable ship of wonder and power, people abused the vessel itself. The Temple was the core of Jerusalem, it’s lifeblood issued from its center, but the leaders and kings continued to misunderstand its role, the basic requirements of worship and faithfulness. As a result, they began to undercut its effectiveness. So it was with the great ship whose design was flawed and never fully tested, whose strength was challenged by boasting and unnecessary risk. Both Jerusalem and the Titanic suffered due to the pride of its caretakers.

And I wonder, are we doing the same thing with our religion? Are we borrowing from the texts the parts we want to use as a hammer against others and setting aside the words that condemn our own actions? Are we elevating our own understanding above the understanding of others? Are we so sure in the details?

And what about the Church itself? Have denominations and preferences become silos from which we are no longer able to see clearly? Now we have a myriad of “Jerusalems” into which we are endowing superiority and funds for the sake of our structures and mindsets.

God promises the earth, the peoples of this earth, a “New Jerusalem.” I do not believe that this is necessarily a humongous cube that will drop down out of space (the heavens) and we’ll all take a ride. Instead, I see it as a unified peoples, living for the sake of others, honoring humanity and the God who made us. The New Jerusalem comes at a cost, the paradox of letting go and surrendering to a different way of living and thinking.

Jesus was on a mission to bring us closer to the New Jerusalem. We’re not there yet. We may have to sink the ship a few more times before we are able to build a structure that can be inhabited by Truth.

Uphold Holiness

holinessBecause I find new understanding when I use a variety of translations, this day I see a glimmer in the Lord’s Prayer that has eluded me all these years.

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.  Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’” [Luke 11:2-4, CEB]

In this translation (Common English Bible), the verb “uphold” is used along with all the other requests: do something, do this.

Usually this section is translated as “hallowed be thy name” or “may your name be kept holy,” but this is a rare version in which we can ask God to act in such a way that the name of God would remain pure and holy and full of power. We are saying, “Lord, do whatever it takes to remain holy,” and in mind, I am letting God know that this relationship of God’s holiness and my lack of it are critical to the order of things. Without the holiness of God, I am lost.

“Oh God, hear me. No matter what I say or do, no matter how the world distracts itself from your Truth, uphold your holiness, because in this way, the kingdom of God will come and reign and goodness will triumph. In the meantime, keep my body whole and when I personally choose badly, forgive me. I promise, I will do my best to do the same for others. And above all, don’t let me mistake your way but strengthen my resolve to be steadfast.”

This is my prayer.

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