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Posts Tagged ‘christ jesus’

John 10:1-18
The popular metaphor of the shepherd, the gate, and the sheep: what does it speak to the believer, to the reader?

sheepIt’s a simple but powerful edict: listen, understand, and follow. It has three parts that work together as one. I must listen, to understand and I must understand, to follow, or at the least, to avoid following blindly. Jesus never asks us to follow blindly. Perhaps the way may appear dark and even fearsome, but God promises to go ahead of us, to lead, and therefore, we are asked to trust.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. [vs 3 & 4]

Note that we come out of the pen first and gather together and wait for the shepherd to finish the work of calling out his own, those that recognize the voice. Do I recognize the voice of Christ? It is a nagging question. And yet, I am still here. I am still a follower. I still trust God’s Presence. But I also know that I can hamper my own progress when I don’t “practice the presence” of God, when I don’t still my mind in meditation, when I don’t listen. It’s not that I will fall down or go over a cliff, but the way could be smoother if I would spend more time in prayer and stillness.

What do I know about the Shepherd or the sheep? The shepherd is different from the sheep. He knows the ways of sheep; he knows what sheep eat and need to survive; he knows how to protect them. He is an expert on sheep. But sheep still see the Shepherd as other. In fact, most sheep probably see other sheep as other. Sheep are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. More facts about sheep: they have good hearing and are sensitive to noises, they have good peripheral vision, they have poor depth perception, they prefer light over dark places, they have an excellent sense of smell, they are “flock” animals and very gregarious, they do not do well separated from the flock, and sheep, by their nature, tend to follow a leader (whether a strong sheep or a shepherd).

Sheep need other sheep. Sheep need a Shepherd. I think I sometimes think I can go against this basic; I imagine I can go it alone or I imagine I don’t need that Shepherd. Experience has shown otherwise. But I can still stumble along.

Sheep do have long-term facial recognition. So, that means, they can know their Shepherd. But it takes time. And effort.

Intellectually, I know this metaphor can break down here and there. After all, the Christ Presence is ultimate patience. God in Christ is unrelenting in love. The question is whether I can be taught? What is the best way to learn from this face, this voice, this Shepherd?

Repetition of contact. Learn the commands, the basics. Listen. And be gregarious with other sheep. Sometimes, we may need to follow the flock who hear better than we do.

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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confessionA “good confession,” as a phrase, has been pinched by the Catholics and any Internet search will teach you how to make a good confession in the confessional and thereafter make penance etc. But in this case, Paul is referring to a “confession of faith” which has been appropriated by yet another clerics to represent a formal statement of beliefs by one denomination for another. They are crafted documents and in most cases, cover a wide range of potential controversies discussed by believers through the centuries. But honestly, the confessions of Timothy and the Christ were much more personal. They simply acknowledged who they each were and to whom they belonged and gave fealty.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you [Paul to Timothy] made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. . . .  I command you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and Christ Jesus, who made the good confession [Paul about Jesus] when testifying before Pontius Pilate. [I Timothy 6:12-13, CEB]

There are people who get all “hinky” about the term, saved, as in “Are you saved?” But I think it’s really just a shortcut question about one’s confession. They are asking, “do you profess the Christ?” Do you follow the One God? Do you believe that Jesus was God in the flesh during a particular period of history and yet died and resurrected into a different kind of “body” and heretofore communes intimately with the God of the Universe to this day? Or, even this, do you believe in the Presence and transforming power of a Holy Spirit who lives within, upon invitation, and opens a Way to heaven on earth in preparation for eternity?

What do you believe? What is real to you? Who is this Jesus to you? Whom do you confess?

“This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day.” [II Timothy 1:12, CEB]

 

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Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. [Philippians 2:5-6, The Message]

cursillo crossFor many years, Mike and I served in a variety of para-church organizations whose mission was to create a once-in-a-lifetime 3-day retreat based on the Cursillo model. While in Georgiain 1984, we attended our first Cursillo weekend (#14) and thereafter served on a number weekends sponsored first by Atlanta Christian Cursillo, emmaus crossthen Walk to Emmaus as well as Tres Dias. When we moved to Maryland, we served in the Delmarva area for Walk to Emmaus and eventually found Maryland Emmaus (the weekends are numbered and although they are in the hundreds now, our weekends were #5 and #6). These retreats were a lifeblood for both the attendees and the “servants.” It was on these weekends that we learned about servant leadership and sacrificial service. Later Mike moved his energy to yet another outgrowth of these weekends into the Maryland prisons, and kairos crossserved on several Kairos weekends. There also evolved weekends, called Chrysalis for teens. Together, Mike and I contributed and served on over one hundred weekends. And we did this out of love. chrysalis cross

It was here that we experienced the joy of serving, where each and every person on a team gave 110% of their time and commitment to the weekend and its preparations (anywhere from a 12-25 week commitment, depending on a person’s role). There was structure and yet there was creativity, laughter, tears, music, clowning, teaching, sharing, and great food (or at least, lots of food).

Being a project-oriented person, the process appealed to me from beginning to end. Being a results-oriented person, I saw changes to both team and participants. And several of the relationships formed on those retreats lasted far beyond the weeks of direct service. One of most popular jobs or roles on the weekend was the “cha.” This person demanded the most of the person physically, running errands up and down the hill, setting up chairs and tearing them down, moving sound equipment, delivering gifts, dressing up in silly costumes, waking up very early and going be the churchto bed very late. The focus of every retreat weekend was the participants who were first-timers. At the heyday of the movement, people would be on waiting lists for years, to attend. The weekend experience was life-changing.

These retreats were the best of Church.

the-80-20-ruleBut they were never intended to replace the local church. And often, the men and women (who attended separate weekends) would return to their home church, ready to serve. Unfortunately, in churches everywhere, everyone who attends church is not on the same page. And so, the people who are willing to serve freely often serve into burn-out. It’s so much harder to serve in a community when only a small percentage (often the proverbial 20%) of the people are actively pulling/contributing the bigger share (time, money, energy, etc).

decoloresI cannot imagine what serving on an Emmaus weekend would have been like if every team member didn’t know what his/her role was, didn’t give that role his/her 100%, and didn’t understand how that role impacted the experience of the pilgrim participants. What teams did understand was that each person has a gift to give and each gift is like a different vibrant color, the same kind of rainbow of color that typifies the love of God shining through the prism of Christ. DeColores.

The message of each servant/team member was really the same: “I am here serving you because someone served me.”

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prayer bwPray continually. Are you kidding? Who can do that?

Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. [I Thessalonians 5:16-21, CEB]

I mean it! Outside of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite “lay brother” (not even a monk because he did not have the necessary education), who does that? It was Brother’s Lawrence’s words, maxims, and prayers that were compiled after his death into the Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. And what does Brother Lawrence “do” most of any day? He was the cook and bottle washer in the monastery, and all the while, he practiced awareness of God and ultimately, prayer. He prayed continually. Yay Larry.

But what about you and me? I can barely manage to remember to pray the hours, that’s one prayer every 4 hours during the day.

So, just to get a little break from this guilt-producing mandate, I googled it. And there might be a reprieve of sorts. One writer suggested that this passage could have more to do with consistency than non-stop talking (although, I have been known to do the latter under certain circumstances). Another writer advanced that the passage could mean a “ready response” to circumstances, so that the first comeback is a prayer instead of a smart remark. And yet another writer proposed that the verse could refer to an awareness of the beauty around us, thereby giving thanks or when tragedy strikes, ask for mercy, etc. Or, perhaps all of these together make for continually?

Or, perhaps, it’s the goal. Is this verse any more difficult (or easier) than this one, “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48, NIV]

And for this reason, I pray this prayer willingly. Join me. Daily.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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200135310-004I would not want to know or meet God when God is feeling provoked. I believe in a loving and kind God, a Presence of patience and kindness and understanding. And yet, there is a part of this same God that knows anger, a truly righteous anger that I don’t want to imagine, an anger in response to willfulness and stubbornness. Let me not be part of that scenario.

“I was ready to respond to those who didn’t ask.
    I was ready to be found by those who didn’t look for me.
I said, “I’m here! I’m here!” to a nation
    that didn’t call on my name.
I extended my hands all day
    to a rebellious people
        walking in a way that isn’t good,
        following their own plans;
people who provoke me to my face continually, . . .”  [Isaiah 65:1-3a, CEB]

God is ready to be found at any point in person’s life. God even provided a human form, Christ Jesus, to insure his message could be heard and understood: life is more than this body, the battle is for the spirit, eternity is a choice–a matter of surrender. Each day, God is asking, will you see Me; will you hear ME? Will you answer?

Or will we provoke God instead by making the same choices over and over again. Will we choose, like a delinquent kid, to sit in the back row of the classroom, our body slumped over, our senses numbed by self-medication, our ears filled with jammin’ sounds, our eyes with decadent delights?

I understand, I’m not “that” bad. I have chosen to follow Christ into the arms of God, but not fully. I am still holding on to some of the old ways, the old sounds, the old pleasures. I am still looking down at my feet instead of watching the horizon for the signals God provides to walk this way and not that way; don’t look down. “Lift up your heads, you gates;  lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” [Psalm 24:9, NIV]

 

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I suppose it’s been foolish of me to imagine that there aren’t degrees within the broad umbrella of service to God. I enjoyed the openness of acceptance, the equality I found in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And so I had imagined there was an across the board sameness to us in the eyes of Spirit. But then, I was reminded by my own pastor that there are promises of “crowns” in heaven for some and not for others. Initially, this message made me uncomfortable. I have spent so many years trying to let go of a performance-oriented faith, a weighing in of the value of my response to grace.

Reality check: Some people deserve recognition for their faithfulness. They may be choosing more wisely how to use their time and energies than me.

Just one day in the courts of Your temple is greaterMotherteresa and child
    than a thousand anywhere else.
I would rather serve as a porter at my God’s doorstep
    than live in luxury in the house of the wicked.
For the Eternal God is a sun and a shield.
    The Eternal grants favor and glory;
He doesn’t deny any good thing
    to those who live with integrity. [Psalm 84:10-11, The Voice]

The point is the paradox that the choice is not the “Martha” one of scurrying about and being busy for Jesus. It’s sitting at the feet of the Christ, it’s holding the door, it’s being present and ready when a need comes up and then simply saying, “yes.”

As Pastor Jess taught, if we have accepted the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit in our lives, then we are “saved,” meaning we are bound to the Spirit and our own spirits will live forever in heaven, in perpetual unity with the Holy Spirit. But the sweetness of that union depends on my devotion, my surrender, my confession, my poured out life.

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