Posts Tagged ‘John’

Anointing His Feet 2
by Wayne Forte

Worship, in English, can mean to “declare worth.” That’s comfortable. However, in the original Greek, proskynéō means to kiss the ground while falling prostrate to a superior. When was the last time you fell to your knees before someone or something of such awesome worth or value?

Revelation 22:8b-9
I [John] fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them [the prophecies] to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

The angel is saying to John, don’t fall down before me, but fall down before the One God, individually and corporately.

In some ways, the Muslim expression of worship is more in keeping with the intent of the word. Other faiths like the Orthodox denominations, Catholics, and some Eastern religions practice deep bowing and submissive movements. In recent years, some charismatic believers have found their deepest experience of prayer when it is coupled with lying prone, face down.

But most of us have lost the physicality of worship. A high church may still have kneelers (to make the submissive act more agreeable) but generally, the most common form of respect is standing up, not kneeling. Some church congretations stand to sing and some stand to pray while still others stand to hear a gospel passage spoken. There are denominations who do lots of standing up and sitting down (with a kneel or two in between) and there are denominations who have made the standing part optional, for those who find standing difficult.

And yet, for little children, the cliche for night time prayers is on the knees at the side of the bed. Perhaps even that has gone a bit out of style, I don’t really know, although figurines still abound with cherub children, hands sweetly folded, and eyes closed. It’s sweet. It’s innocent. But is it worship? Is it prayer? Is it surrender? Why do we encourage children to do this kneeling bit but not we ourselves?

In more contemporary churches, worship has come t mean the singing part of a service: a series of songs, starting with fast praise and then followed by a gradual slow down into devotional melodies and words of adoration. And repetition has become a sign of a deeper experience.

I’m not putting any of these “expressions” down. I faithfully attend a contemporary church. I’m right in there.

But, if I take any time at all to think about it, I do find most forms of Western worship to be very predictable and perhaps, if truth be told, a bit colorless and watered down. We keep boiling down the experience of worship into the most common denominator. Whether the service is a lively 60 minutes or a filibustering three to four hours, we are no closer to kissing the ground before God in adulation and acknowledgment of a divine presence.

After visiting several churches of the Middle Ages up through the Renaissance periods in Europe, I can understand why they designed them that way: they were attempting to remind us of the enormousness of God and smallness of Human. Whether sitting, standing, or kneeling, a person feels the divergence between self and the vaulted representation of all that is above and beyond. What do we have in the U.S.? Mauve chairs, blue carpet and artificial flower arrangements. Comfort, comfort, comfort, to the eye as well as the buttocks.

Everything is so controlled in our churches. Either it’s a repetitive liturgy or it’s an “order of service” that is constrained by the clock. Even those services not confined to time are confined to set rituals.

How many times have I really felt and expressed my absolute surrender to God, Spirit God, Father God, Holy God? When has my body responded spontaneously to my soul’s understanding? When did I ever put my life in danger and touch the hem of the Master’s cloak or wash His feet with tears and dry them with my hair? When did we moderns lose our ability to relinquish self to the Holy Spirit?

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Once upon a time, there was a river and on each side, a single tree stood bearing fruit and healing. The only way I can imagine it is as a great giant tree straddling the flowing waters. In a way, it makes a type of cross, the vertical tree whose limbs reach to the sky and roots into the ground, while the river acts as the horizontal uniting creation. Both are needed to heal our land, our souls, our earth.

Revelation 22:1-2
 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

A river is dynamic. It is constantly changing as it flows with new waters replacing old. It manipulates the environment, shaping the ground to its own plan. It appears to meander, curving through the landscape, but really, it’s just touching more and more of the earth. It’s in a constant state of flux. It cleanses itself. It is a type for love.

A tree is fixed. It doesn’t really walk about like the trees in the Lord of the Rings. It is solid within the parameters of its designated location. It can grow fatter, taller, and deeper. There is a stubbornness in a tree, quite similar to the stream. It does not give up easily. In my own yard, lightning struck and damaged a very old beech tree. The tree people came and sawed off all of the branches but one that stuck out awkwardly from the top of its mutilated trunk. And yet, it lives on, from season to season. It is a type for life.

Love and the will to live, two of the most powerful forces in the universe. These are both gifts from God and they will not be taken away from those who desire it. The key is to experience them both, for one needs the other, intertwined forever.

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The Bible is rich with measurements, from paces and handbreadths to ephahs and hins. One of the first things described in cubits [generally considered to be the length of a forearm] was Noah’s ark. And here, New Jerusalem is described in stadia [generally considered to be 600 feet, give or take]. But really, who cares?

Revelation 21:15-16
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia [1,200 miles] in length, and as wide and high as it is long [a cube].

Some people seem to think these measurements confirm, by specificity, the reality of what is being written about. In other words, the ark must be real, why else describe it in such detail? Some people have taken these descriptions and measurements to such “lengths” (pun intended), to recreate the items or places, either in life size or intricate models.

Another set of folks are fascinated by the actual numbers in scripture (a type of numerology if you will), citing the repetition of certain numbers and their implication.

I’m sure all of these studies are fascinating and may even give additional insights to the richness of the text. Of course, there are a number of holy document that have received the same treatment. Numbers, measurements, dates (and dating) are just a few of the ways that humans establish themselves in space and time.

Personally, I’m still trying to come to grips with the relationship between the European kilometer and the mile, or the length of my son’s ship in the Navy in relationship to something I know (it’s about two football fields, he finally said). I can barely figure out if a chair in the store will fit in my living room, much less the size of the ark, the temple, or the New Jerusalem. In the old days, when I felt much more compelled to diligently read every word of scripture (including the begats via the King James), I tried to picture every length, breadth, Old Testament celebration and sacrifice. I was determined to figure out the secret meaning or mystery embedded there.

I confess, today, I’m much more cavalier. I’ve been through the Bible, from front to back, more times than I can accurately count (another falling down, I’ve stopped keeping track), and honestly, I’m no closer to uncovering the ultimate number or truth. If anything, I’m backing off the detail and looking for the big picture. In the same way the Pharisees were chastised by Jesus for trying to tithe on spices used in foods [Matthew 23:23], I’m letting go of it too.

I’m not counting how many people I have “brought to Christ” or with how many people I have shared the gospel. I’m done with measuring my effectiveness as a human being by how many people I speak to or speak to me, or how many agree with me or how many people read my blog. I will not be running for office so I won’t need to count how many people vote for me.

My faith and my ability to love others is not really measurable, so why try? The size of my church doesn’t really tell much of a story either. It’s time to give up the cubits and work the quality of the event, the encounter, the moment.

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The bride or the “body” of Christ is also the New Jerusalem, a city. Jerusalem of old was selected to be the place of the Temple where God would dwell among the people. It was a place of connection and interaction, devotion and sacrifice, symbolism and authority. And now, we are looking to the New Way.

Revelation 21:9b-10
“Come, I [the angel] will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me [John] away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

The New Jerusalem, although described as an object with gates and walls and jewel-like appearance, it is clearly John’s effort to describe the indescribable. It’s still a dwelling place, but different.

I am always reminded of one of the best sermons I ever heard on the resurrected Christ, that He was the same and yet different, in the form of a human, but with traits that exceeded anything observable as human: appearing and disappearing, solid but not solid, not confined to time and space. If the resurrected Jesus would be so different, doesn’t it make sense that the “bride” would be equally different.

In my mind, there is a foolishness to any attempts to truly understand the supernatural relationship between God and human. This binding is unique. And we can choose to be bound or be loosed from God.

Am I a spirit being or not? Is my essence within or not? I cannot convince another person of that reality through words alone because it’s not a “word” kind of thing.

Have you ever tried to remember something and seems to literally dance around the edges of your consciousness? This is how I think about the Spirit self. It’s there and not there. It’s tangible and not tangible. It’s the ultimate paradox.

And perhaps, whether it’s hard to imagine, there is something important to the otherness of Christ uniting with human. I think about the symbolism of Christ as male and the bride as female. There’s something in this oppositeness that changes the equation, that creates something new, that “New Jerusalem.” Marriages of today are experiencing a stretch beyond anything we could have imagined. Sexuality is also reaching past comfort boundaries of the past. But does that change the relationship of the Christ and the bride?

In Galations 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.” These human differences do not exist in the Spirit realm, the ultimate relationship. So, despite the fact that it’s nice to have the symbolism of the traditional couple, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s necessary for the ultimate union. Just saying.

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Painting by Carmela Brennan

There is always a “last battle.” Not just in the heavenly realms, those extra-ordinary places that we can’t feel or see, but in our own world as well. In our individual lives, there is one last struggle. It can come in a moment during a car crash or it can be a lingering battle in a hospital bed. But it will come.

Revelation 19:11, 19
 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. . . .  Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.

Throughout my slow read through the book of Revelation, I have been determined to find something personal in the global end time story. Otherwise, it becomes an exercise in the esoteric.

And so, as I draw to the end of the visions and prophecies, the sorrows and judgments, I am confronted by this final battle. What makes evil press on despite the odds? Why does an enemy still do battle although the end is clear? Why do they fight to the death?

I’m guessing it’s the experience of previous skirmishes won. It’s an addiction, like gambling. It’s quite illogical, since a previous win gives no advantage. Each game, each battle stands alone. There may be some experience gained, but ultimately, the outcome is not directly influenced. Look at sports teams. They can have a long list of wins and still lose the championship game. There are so many other factors.

In the last battle of a human life, the end is clear: the body will die. The battle is manifest, perhaps, in the body, but really, the battle is within. It’s the battle of the soul. With whom have we aligned that spark of energy and essence?

The battle is waged whether we engaged in spiritual things in our waking state or not. I’m sure of it.

I discourage anyone (and everyone) to dispense with these inane questions about a person “knowing” or not knowing Christ before the last hour. What the soul and inner spirit know and how that battle will be waged is not merely dependent on a deathbed confession. Each life is built on an array of experiences. That which is within stores them all: the kindnesses, the stories, the pain and the joy. It is all within and it is all part of the last battle.

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” [I Timothy 2:3-4]

The last battle is different for each person. And I do believe that people who have aligned their hearts and minds as well as their souls and spirits, will have a different kind of battle than those who have not. But God is sovereign. And none of us can know how the battle will go for others. There is strength and power in the King of Kings that may draw many more out of the fire than we can imagine. I believe in a just God. None will perish who God desires to embrace. For in this way, it is still possible, that the “last shall be first.” [Matthew 20:16]

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Can I say it? Can I look at my yesterdays, my now, and my tomorrow and say, “Hallelujah!” Can I speak it for my family, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere? Am I at peace with my life and my God? Am I convinced? Or, is there still a part of me a little disappointed, a tad resentful, a bit unyielding? Am I kicking at the goads of seeming unfairness?

Revelation 19:1b-2a
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,for true and just are his judgments.

I have been traveling for the last three weeks. It has been a glorious adventure that included several parts of Estonia, Latvia, and Germany. I was re-connecting with my extended family, the ones who, until 1991, were behind the barriers of the “iron curtain”, cement walls, and miles of barbed wire. It’s hard to believe that was twenty years ago. And yet, the remnants of that desolate time remain, both in the buildings and the hearts of the people, despite the outward signs of robustness: copious McDonalds, modern shopping centers, grocery stores, and, of course, tourists.

Somehow, we all arrive at today. Whether the march went through struggles caused by the power of governments and dictators or the addictions and violence within our immediate circle. Human continues. Often, the way is unclear until we can get a birds eye view, the hindsight look, the review of the paths that led to now in order to see the patterns of God’s making.

It could have been me. Only by the constant movement of my parents’ displaced persons camp did they end up in the American sector of Germany and that, coupled with the stubbornness of my mother who believed they could emigrate to somewhere, anywhere, but there. She would never speak of the divine during those years. But I know, serendipity is Spirit led. Chance is channeled.

God is sovereign.

For me, it has been one kind of a journey and for my family, another. For my adopted children, yet another. Each life is amalgamated by the choices and circumstances of “before.”

Justice and truth don’t necessarily manifest on my time table. This is the mystery. And so, it is faith that sustains us until they do. It is faith that believes evil will not overpower good. Not forever.

And for this reason, I must continue to say, “Hallelujah! Glory belongs to God, who is just and true and avenges the blood of his servants, the losses of the poor, and the sorrows of the fragile.”

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This was a hopeful moment for me as I read forward from verse seven, that the angel would explain the mystery. Isn’t that what we all want in end? Don’t we want to understand the mystery of life, of pain, of danger, of sorrow, of hatred, of love? It’s all mystery.

Revelation 17:6b-7
When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. . . ”

But alas, even if that angel would come into my office and sit next to me and hold my hand: I would have no clearer understanding of the “woman” or the “beast” or the heads or the horns. This is puzzle for the academicians, the students of the Bible, the prophets, the eschatologists. I don’t know about you but phrases like, “[the beast] once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction,” is not very helpful. Just more mystery.

I don’t think anyone can explain the mystery. If it was possible, then the mystery would stop being a mystery.

Oh, I know people read mysteries because they like trying to figure it out. And they are all so gratified when the story is wrapped up at the end. But then, what do they do? Go out and buy another mystery.

Like a small child, we keep asking “why” to questions whose answers cannot be fathomed.

It’s a mystery because it’s outside of time. It’s a mystery because it’s not human. It’s not gravity or E=MC2. It’s like wrapping our minds around eternity or the universe or a quantum. The scientists are working hard to “understand” the mystery and many religious are working equally hard to quantify what cannot be quantified, to “prove” creationism or “end-of-the-worldism.” It all falls in the same pot for me.

I believe God wants me to embrace the mystery. That’s all. So simple. Another way to do that is to live in the moment and accept it for what it is: now. God has me here now. I am in this chair, I am writing these words, I am tired, I am with God and God is with me. And isn’t that just as much a mystery?

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