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Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

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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Here’s what scripture has to say to me today:

rock withinWhen my heart is weak,
    I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am. [Psalm 61:2, CEB] 

I asked the Lord for a word as I feel so overwhelmed this morning. At work, we are moving into a new building and there is not a moment I am there that I am not pulled from one question to another, one concern to another, one dropped task to another, one solution to another. At home, a renovation project of the house I moved into last February has already presented some old house surprises like rotted wood and archaic wiring. My young adult children are entering the phase of adult problems (welcome to my world). My volunteering is asking for more of my hours and I’ve taken on a year commitment to the Hillsong Ministry School classes. I’m co-sharing a support group for widows and I’m supporting my daughter through the trials of single motherhood, her 6-month old living with me, and a deadbeat baby-daddy.

And so I sought the Lord for balance and was a little embarrassed by the references to “overwhelmed.” It’s not used lightly in biblical stories, it’s much more about life or death, it’s being crushed, it’s about fear and pain. My little life is self-imposed. My lack of balance has crept up onto me again and again by my own choice.

I tease my pastor about being A.D.D. and quite honestly, I’m not much better. I so enjoy novelty and new experiences, too often not counting the cost of living out those interests, pursuits, or circumstances for the distance. I tend to look at my calendar for white space, and fill it with obligation. Nothing new here.

I need to be overwhelmed by the Presence of God. Only then will I breathe easier, choose wisely, trust in the Now of Christ to sustain me in the daily.

 

There is no place to run except within.

 

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mother sacrificeSacrifice is a mystery. One of the many throughout the scriptures and human history. I believe people are wired for life. Oh, I know there is still large numbers of suicides, people who chose otherwise. But still, for now, the norm is to live. Our bodies work hard to keep us alive, sometimes under terrific stress and pain. Stories of torture, starvation, and deprivation abound with the resilience of human courage and yes, even faith.

For this reason, in my view, any story of life sacrifice for the sake of another is hero time: people who leap into rushing waters to save someone or, in broader terms, our first responders and military warriors who go into battle for the sake of others, or parents who die while covering their children from harm, or teachers in the face of murderers shielding their students. Something within causes them to act.

Why do they do it? Love, honor, commitment, and perhaps destiny.

In my faith tradition, the story of Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) is a story of sacrifice for the same reasons, but for the sake of the many, not just the one. In the mystery of God’s story, humanity needed a reboot. And only by sacrifice would it work. This idea is foreign to our modern culture. And yet, for 2000 years, embraced and believed.

sacrifice2For Christ didn’t enter the earthly version of the Holy Place; he entered the Place Itself, and offered himself to God as the sacrifice for our sins. He doesn’t do this every year as the high priests did under the old plan with blood that was not their own; if that had been the case, he would have to sacrifice himself repeatedly throughout the course of history. But instead he sacrificed himself once and for all, summing up all the other sacrifices in this sacrifice of himself, the final solution of sin. [Hebrews 9:24-26, The Message]

None of us know what we will do in the face of emergency. Will we rise to the moment? Will I? I don’t know. But I am grateful for the One who did die and rise, bringing the world full circle. And I thank the individuals who model sacrifice as a way of life, for their actions inspire.

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sit walk standOn becoming commissioned as a lay minister, I have to confess, I had some doubts. In fact, it reminded me of the moments right before walking down the aisle. That voice, “Are you out of your mind? This is not for you! Go back!” But of course, whether for courage or stubbornness, I went forward. I walked it.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called . . . [Ephesians 4:1, NKJV]

On Wednesday last, I had the privilege of sharing my commissioning with five other fellow travelers at Restore Church Campus in Havre de Grace.  We were challenged (and entertained) by Don Cox, one of the church mentors and overseers (don’t particularly like that word, but the thesaurus wasn’t much help. Other choice was “head honcho.”) Anyway, his message was powerful and touched on the very heart of my peek into the future: sit, walk, stand. Don promised to speak on the entire book of Ephesians, and so he did, having put a great portion of it to memory.

The three words are echoed in the title of Watchman Nee’s book, but it is not a book for the faint-hearted. Written in the mid-seventies, the book still resonates today.

So what is this odd sequence of sitting and then walking before standing? Sitting is establishing one’s location. Here, and presumably, in Christ. I have written about this myself and find that phrase to be one of the great mysteries. Before anything else can happen or before any “going,” one has to accept the Christ truth and surrender to it. This is primary to faith.

Now, the assumption might be that standing would be next. After all, once in Christ, let me stand and stretch and experience the feeling. Ha Ha. Not so. It’s a go word: walk! And take Christ with you.

It is in this section that I really appreciated Don’s words as he illuminated Ephesians 4:1: not just to walk but to walk worthy. The newer translations say it a little differently, but this particular phrase will be clanging around my spirit for a while. And it’s not about rules or “do’s” or “do not’s.” Instead, we are asked to make decisions along the way, “is this action or this choice worthy of the One who lives within me, the One with whom I share spiritual space?”

And then finally, the moments of standing. Each and every journey has stopping points. Sometimes, they are places to rest, have a drink, eat a bite, and then take up the hike again. Other times, it’s a great wall of unexpected sorrow or diverloss (actually, joy can stop an expedition in its tracks too). These times are the ones where we are encouraged to suit up for the next leg of the journey. In Ephesians, Paul uses the metaphor of a suit of armor. That’s probably not the best one for a 21st century audience, but we get the idea.

So, in a way, there is a resting as we stand, but there is also prepping. And in some cases, we may need to sit again in order to remember how we have come so far and ultimately, why.

I am no different today really than I was a few days ago except for this one truth. I get it. I am in the process of suiting up. Perhaps a better image would be a wet suit before the big plunge. So be it. Let’s roll.

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Welcome carpet

Who is inviting whom inside? Traditionally, we think of our commitment to the Christ as inviting Presence into ourselves, much like Martha opened her home to Jesus. But what if we are missing something critical in the transaction?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [Luke 10:38, NIV] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [John 15:4, NIV]

Yesterday, I re-discovered a wonderful podcast called “Pray As You Go,” and the question was presented about whose hospitality? For you see, in actuality, it is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit dwells in me and I, in turn, am invited to dwell within the Holy Spirit. I am invited into mutuality.

I am not saying we are equal, not at all. That kind of thinking can get a person into trouble, imagining herself as a God, capable of rendering miracles much like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Instead, it’s another way of thinking about the “secret place,” but more literally, within the heart of God. Because of Jesus’s humanity and godhood, it is possible to indwell Spirit. I am invited. The door is open. And in the same way, I am asked to keep my own doors open to God on earth, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the more we spend time within, the more we become one.

I think I may have misunderstood along the way that this oneness was automatic at my transformation, my first “welcome, please come in” acceptance of Jesus. But more and more, I am convinced that it’s a process of living together, like an old married couple. Sure, we’re committed and it’s forever, but the nuances of relationship and “knowing” come over the years.

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How do we spend our money? How do we spend our time? Are we choosing or just reacting? Are we skimping on the God part of our lives in the name of the human needs? Are we still missing the paradox of faith: where giving is receiving and less is more?

unfamiliar wayWhy spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.  [Isaiah 55:2-3]

I’m faced with a pretty stark budget these days since my house hasn’t sold and I had to buy a car. Boom! as they say. So, I spent the good portion of last night getting back on the Dave Ramsay train; unfortunately, it’s the caboose. I bought a car with payments (verboten) and I still have the house priced in what I think will provide me with the most bang. All common decisions and not out of line with the current norms. But it’s likely, I’m still missing the point.

It’s hard to get the big picture while some part of me is still kicking against the goads. While I am moving on in some ways, I am still in denial about others. I’m just a little afraid of a downward spiral; reinvention of self through appearance is one thing, reinvention of a lifestyle is another.

God is working overtime I know: “Listen to me; listen to me.” God wants to introduce me to a way I have not walked before. The unfamiliar path will take some courage to walk. My heart is beating fast.

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reinventThere comes a moment in a our lives when we just know that something has to change. The same choices are no longer working and circumstances are fraying the edges of what has been familiar for so long. Sometimes, it’s a dramatic event that calls us to lay down our cards. Other times, it’s recognizing ourselves in someone else. And still other times, it’s a slow descent until the bottom looms large before us, sure to cause a crash and burn.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. [Ephesian 4:20-24, NIV]

Before Mike died so suddenly seven months ago, after thirty-two years of marriage, we had fallen into a rhythm of the good life. We had figured out who did what and when; we had quietly negotiated the battles worth waging and those that time would address. We had learned to let go of the “small stuff.” We were committed to both our church and our faith and each other. We were comfortable. We were planning our retirements. We were launching our adult children.

Then everything familiar stopped. Oh, there was some semblance of the old life: the house, the dogs, the young people, the work, the church, and the ever present grass needing to be cut. Dishes and dust and laundry  accumulated faster than I could sweep them away.

transformBut eventually, I began to see that I couldn’t keep trying to keep the old life. I had to allow a “me” to ev0lve that was not defined by the old parameters. I needed to try on some new clothes; I needed to experiment. I needed to move the furniture.

In my case, this has all been about grief playing out and my moving on. But I’m not so sure it’s dissimilar to someone who has yet to consider relinquishing his or her soul rights to God, to the Christ. We can keep on going for a while, but eventually, the tally sheet of good choices and bad choices is weighted to one side or the other. To move into a life of faith takes some reinvention, some experimentation, some practice.

Change comes from within. Change comes with discovery. Change comes with acceptance–of what is now, so that what could be has a chance to grow. But change also comes with stepping onto the stones of the creek, testing the stable ones and skipping over the wobbly ones. I’m just glad I have that Jesus to grab my hand when I lose my balance.

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