..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Truth in Another Direction

Day to day, week to week, month to month or even year to year, our beliefs can remain fixed in a certain ways.  We "believe" things because that is what we were raised with, what we feel life has taught us, or that is what our family or church has taught us.  We form our lives around those beliefs but I can guarantee you that they are incomplete, and being incomplete, they distort and limit.

I hate to tell  you this, but your beliefs about God are currently constrained by what you think you know. What you know may be true, but it is incomplete or your experience of it is incomplete. Paul writes, "we see through a glass darkly" 1 Cor 13:12.  When Jesus spoke with and taught people you will notice that He was always telling parables that would interrupt old patterns of thinking so that His Truth could find a way in. He knew that He had to overcome the layers, and to be so bold, the lies, of what people had been taught about God.  Let me tell you a secret: Jesus is still doing that with you right now!

For all the truth that you have, there is truth to be found in the opposite direction.  If you dwell in the truth, the good and beautiful truth that God is love, then one day God will take you into the fields were He hates (Proverbs 16:6-9) and makes war (Ex 15:3) (Matthew 21:12-17) all with good reason.  There are untold facets of God that we will miss if we live in the shallows.  We tend to settle into those places, into those beliefs, into those verses, that we are comfortable with: but God loves us enough to hate that!  He wants to show us that He is the I AM. That He is beyond our categories and our current thoughts  about Him.  In the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis writes this:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”  

Do feel both alarmed and comforted when one day, perhaps  this day,  you hear roaring coming from the back of your wardrobe. It is God coming to take you into truth in a seemingly opposite direction.  It is God coming to show you the fullness of who He is.  He is not safe, but He is good.  Prepare for take-off.>

Monday, January 01, 2018

Thoughts as the Old Passes into the New

It has been an interesting year.  Somewhere along the line  I felt like I have fallen through the back of my wardrobe into a landscape much wilder than Narnia. The prophet Isaiah, had a year like that, only I imagine it was even more intense, "In the year King Uzziah died, he writes, I saw the Lord high and lifted up and  His train filled the temple." (Isaiah 6:1) .  His look at God spun him around and threw him to the floor. There was nothing much left of him but his eyes and his ears.

A seraphim approaches him and puts a burning coal on his lips, and while this purges him, it makes him aware that his speech does not do God justice. And all that he hears spoken around him and by him falls far short of the glory of God. His own lips are not prepared to be in the Presence of God.  And yet, he sees God and God sees him and his response is to want to speak purely of God and for God.

I'm not sure what I've seen this year, but its like having spent a long time climbing to a top of a very tall mountain, a mountain that has to be climbed with trepidation, step by step, and takes all of your attention so that you cannot look around til you reach the summit. And then, the last step, as you stand and look to survey what you have climbed up there for,  is one vast, immense panorama of incredible splendor and beauty and order and wonder as far as the eye can see. Yes, that's where I've been. 

To have a place to stand and see oneself in perspective is an INCREDIBLE gift. One that has blown me away to the degree that I have dared to look. There are things in life that tend to close down our vision of God and ourselves. We end up with a kind of a tunnel vision born of fear. We can only see a small section of the path straight ahead and sometimes that is all we need to see, but there are also times when the blinder's come off and we are allowed to see the whole panorama, all of it at once, for God only knows entirely why, but definitely for a reason connected with one's destiny.

Last year I had the pleasure of visiting the Isle of Man. I don't know who named it that, but on the ground it's beautiful but normal.  It's Man. It's what born of man, and belongs to man, and is of man: just like so much of our experience. There is a mountain peak on the Isle called Snaefell. Its the only place on the island where you can see seven kingdoms just by turning around : England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Mann, the Sea, and Heaven! To see the panorama from the top is to somehow change you, to pull you out of Man and to bring you up to a higher place.

I'm acclimating to the higher place, I'm acclimating to the great expanse of Heaven, to the Kingdom of God unfolding in ways that I could not see a year ago.  I'm acclimating to being mostly only eyes and ears, and having angels touch my lips with coals, and seeing the train of God's glory fill the temple.  If you know what I'm saying, you have been there, and if you don't quite know what I'm saying, I'm not sure I can explain it.

I intend to let whatever is happening have its full work! I intend to stand and breath in the thick smoke of God filling the temple. I intend to let God change me and use me in whatever way He chooses. I intend for 2018 to be an amazing year. Lord, make Your dwelling place in me as I make myself a fit dwelling place for You!  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Leadership Lessons from Return of the Jedi

I'm going to post a few notes each day about what I learned about leadership from Return of the Jedi. *Spoiler Alert*

 The first one is this: Good leaders, even if they have fallen out of the saddle, and retreated to sort things out, are willing to get back up on their horse and lead when the time is ready.

 The older Luke Skywalker is found hidden away, far from the madd'ing crowd, on an island far from society. Ironically, in real life, the site where they filmed Skywalker's hermitage is Skellig Michael, one of the earliest monastic locations in Ireland. You had to be brave to live there but you went there to get away from the world and focus on God. It was for extreme seekers. You had to know how to dig deep to make it there. Luke Skywalker had long retreated from the public eye. He's tried to forget that he's gifted. He's tormented by his failure. When Rey comes and starts to feel the Force, she stares at him boldly and says, "but I couldn't feel you in it, you've cut yourself off from it, haven't you!?"

Luke knows that being on the razor edge of fighting for good puts you up close to bad, and that you can lose your balance. But he has cut himself off from the Source of his life. He is trying, like the prophet Jonah, to run from his call and bury his gift. Good leaders deal with the mess of sorting this out in their own lives. Sometimes it takes time. Working through the process of failure is what makes them good at leading when they get back up! Good leaders acknowledge that spiritual battle has real dangers and work through it. It makes them more aware of their need for God. Good leaders don't go forward in their own power, they know when to retreat, but they also know when its time to rise back up.

Sometimes they need help, a mentor like Yoda, or a reason to do it, like the young Jedi warrior Rey showing up on his proverbial stone doorstep asking for help. Rey knows she has a gift, but she needs "someone to show me my place in all this." We all need that methinks. We don't care that you've failed, we want you to use what you have to help us because if we have come asking for help we recognize that you still know more than we do--even when you have failed. If your heart is right, you get past the failure, learn from it and become a better warrior, even a mentor. If it's not, you die on the island alone and let the world fall into the hands of the enemy.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

My Christmas thoughts...A Testimony from Bethlehem's Shepherd

A Testimony from Bethlehem’s Shepherd

It feels as if it were yesterday, that wildly unexpected visitation in the fields, when the Angel of the Lord came to us. Now is the time of year, your earth years, not heaven's time, where my story is told again and again, as it should be. But allow me to share it myself as the exact facts are more glorious than you know. And please, I say it is "my story" because it is so precious to me, but it is our story, us shepherds in that field near Bethlehem, and it is your story and it is, most of all, our Jesus' story.

We were sitting around on that dark, brooding night, passing our time by whittling, or chatting, or daydreaming of better days. We did not realize that the most incredible wonder was about to happen. I was not sure if I was dreaming or awake when I first saw the Angel, but one's mind would not have the material to create a dream of such a glorious being. He was majestic, clothed in a great light that seemed to push us back and down to our knees. He was suddenly there, far taller than a man, shining like the sun, staring deeply into my eyes. I was terrified. My heart was beating so loud and fast that I thought to run but could not move my legs. His gaze held us there. His words astounded.

"Don't be afraid," he said, "I am sent from God to bring you some very happy news: In the City of David your Saviour is now born, and not just your Saviour, but the Saviour of all people. The sign you will look for will be in an unlikely but fitting place --for you will find the the Baby from heaven wrapped in lambskin swaddling clothes and placed in a feed trough."

I know that your nativity scenes feature a little wooden stable, or perhaps, your tradition suggests a cave, or perhaps your imagination suggests the backside of a very full country inn, where the donkeys who accompanied the travelers were housed. It was not like that really. You see, I was a special kind of shepherd, still quite looked down on, but less so than the ordinary shepherd who sat keeping sheep safe In the middle of nowhere. You see, that night I was tending the flocks in the shepherd's fields outside Bethlehem watching over the lambs that were born for temple sacrifice. I worked at Migdal Eder, which nurtured and cared especially for the Passover lambs, the ones that must be perfect and without blemish.

Migdal Eder was where Rachel gave birth to little Benjamin "Son of My Right Hand", the youngest son of Jacob (Gen 35:21), you will see the hint that God put in that! Migdal Eder means "the tower of the flock" because there was a tower there and that is where we cared for the newborn lambs. The chosen baby lambs were wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger so they would not hurt themselves--they had to be perfect for the sacrifice! The prophet Micah was the one that linked Bethlehem with Jesus -- “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah,Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” (Micah 5:2) but you missed the hint of the exact spot--Migdal Eder!

The prophet Micah, it seems to me, refers to Migdal Eder when he writes: “And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8). From this verse grew up the understanding amongst our people that the Messiah would first be declared here. And so He was!

Oh my! I bow my knee to God when I think that He came to us shepherds, came to us nobodies, to tell us our King had come! Who was I and Who would write such a story? Only God! Blessed be He!

I find it amusing, now, in looking back, that we who earned our living as shepherd's, were not considered trustworthy enough to bear witness in court and yet the High King of Heaven's courts trusted and blessed us with the announcement and the announcing of the Messiah! That is what our God is like though, yes? Always confounding the high and mighty and revealing Himself to the humble of heart.

Please believe me when I tell you that it was sometimes hard to be humble after the events of that night--so privileged did all we shepherds feel! But what mystery is this? the High King of heaven, born of a woman, a baby wrapped safely in lambskin like a sacrificial lamb? and put in the feed trough like those destined to be sacrificed?

Now and forever it is the first duty of the shepherd to keep the flock safe, the little lambs....I cry when I think that He is My Shepherd, just as I, for a few blessed moments, was His shepherd. I cry when I see how He shepherded us in His low estate, giving Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Who could have thought this story up?

The Angel came and spoke, his voice like a thunderstorm, and then behind him the heaven themselves opened to reveal a great multitude of heavenly beings--more angels and God knows who, singing in the most incredible harmony of love and adoration: "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill toward all people." Do you know what it is like to hear heaven sing?

We ran to the tower to find them--you know it was not December-- and there they were! The same glow that was with the angels was resting on the little One in the manger. My heart turned over within me when I laid eyes on Him--so small and serene yet so full of something so large, so very large.

His parents looked up, startled to see us, we were so bedraggled and bug-eyed, standing before their Baby in awe! We tried to explain, tried a hundred times before it made sense to us or to them--our words tripping out of our mouths...but they would get very used to odd stories and unlikely spokesmen. Mary looked at Joseph, then down at Jesus, for that was His Name, and started to cry. Joseph just looked at us like he had seen a ghost.

We could not contain ourselves, I'm not sure how far we ran that night, telling everyone what had happened, babbling the story out like mad men. Of course you can guess the ones who believed us and the ones who did not. It did not matter--we had seen the Truth! We had heard heaven sing! We knew! God, we knew! The Little Baby, wrapped like a sacrificial Lamb, the angels, the Light, the Glory! We could not really have known completely how it all fit together, but we knew our lives had forever changed!

I tell you all this to remind you that there is always more glory to the Story than you know. I tell you this to remind you that God comes to the lowly and the humble and the forgotten and not to the high of heart. He does this because that is what He is like. So as you celebrate His birth, please remember what I have told you and let your heart kneel before Him....perhaps the heavens will open and you will hear the host and inhabitants of heaven praising Him. Forever praising Him.

Won't you join us?

my story here is fictionalized but based on some very interesting facts.... if you want to read more about Migdal Eder, check out Alfred Edersheim's, "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah's" commentary on Migdal Eder, and read various other commentators various takes on the subject. I'm going to love to hear what actually happened from the shepherds themselves one day.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Just One Look

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)

It often seems like personal transformation takes a long time, sometimes a lifetime, and in some respectable way it does. We are always journeying deeper into God and thus being transformed by that process. But in God's design there are spiritual wormholes of a sort-- strategic moments that can take you quickly from one place to another, even though the distance traveled is quite vast. If God fixes his eyes upon us, we will be overcome by a mighty interaction that can forever change us, and change us quickly!

 In Mark's gospel we see Jesus gazing upon a spiritual inquirer, with a transformational offer: The rich young man was not seeing the big picture of his life and came to Jesus-- seeking, yes, but seeking in his own small box, for a small answer from a small God. He knew he lacked but couldn't imagine what that lack really was. He thought he wanted to know how much more religious he would have to be to get rid of the dull ache in his quickly emptying soul. Jesus calls him to give up his money, not to Jesus ministry, but to the poor.

Jesus knows he will need a personal gobsmack, and not like what he was getting from the "we'll take your money for God" types, but something truly earth shattering, to ever have hope of being able to fly free. The real bounty here is the gaze of Jesus opening an opportunity to risk it all to get something far better.

 Ponder with me for a moment, these words, " and Jesus, looking at him, loved him"---Can you imagine the power of that look? Can you imagine the compassion pouring forth from the heart of the Father through the eyes of Jesus? Can you sense what Jesus saw as He looked, knowing, understanding, all that stood in this young man's way before He could truly enter the kingdom of God?

Dear ones, one look like that could transform your whole life. Know deeply that God is looking at you with that kind of compassionate gaze. He sees the obstacles, he sees your humanity, he understands all that is clouded and broken. And yet in one instant His look of love has the power to heal and transform.

Gaze upon us, O God!

 And not only that, God wants to impart that same powerful ability to us to gaze compassionately into the eyes and hearts of those around us. There will come a day, and may it be very soon, even today, that we as followers of Jesus are able to gaze into the hearts and souls of men and by one look, bring the opportunity for transformation. May we make the Father's love so apparent to each that we encounter that when they look at us, they see the love of the One who can change impossible situations, the One that can by one look, call us forth and bring that which is dead to life. May we as the corporate people of God look with great compassion on others, and truly love them, so that they find courage to follow Jesus into the life the are meant to lead.

 Can you feel God looking at you in that way?

I can..... and you can, too.

Open your heart. Jesus is looking at you, dear friend, right now.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Notwithstanding, Joseph

from Matthew 2

Merry Christmas, Everyone! here is something I was pondering from the Christmas story in Matthew's gospel today...

In this portion of the Christmas story, this difficult and heart wrenching portion, we see God's sovereignty and His Provision amidst the humanity and nobility of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. God must have loved and respected Joseph very much for the place that he is called to stand in was a very difficult one. Yet, we see the character of Joseph rising up to meet the challenge in the best way he knows how. God does not have perfect people to work with, the only perfect One in this scene is still a vulnerable Baby who is put into the hands of the two people God felt would do Him right.

The Holy Family is off to a difficult start. An entourage of wise men show up in Jerusalem inquiring where the "King of the Jews" might be. Scripture says "When Herod the king heard of this, he was
troubled and all of Jerusalem with him." Oh dear. This one statement most likely sums up a scene of complete uproar. Herod is not so stupid as to dismiss the Magi as misguided mystics. They know something he does not and he demands they, and the local priests, tell him the truth so that he can make evil use of their spiritual gifts. He feigns spiritual interest in wanting to worship this king and you see the cinematic closeup shot of his face twisted in jealous horror hidden by a wan grin. The Magi have come in good faith, they do not, it appears, understand the rotting political and spiritual milieu of first century Israel. There is no king but Herod. There will not be another king if Herod has anything to do with it. Then God begins to intervene. He warns the Magi and they escape by another path, leaving a tricked-by-God Herod angrily left to vent his cruel anger.

God then warns dear Joseph, to take the sweet family to Egypt. "To Egypt?" echoes Joseph, but he has already faced far more difficult things to believe and so to Egypt they go. All that "it might be fulfilled." Meanwhile, Herod, possessed with indignant, vengeful rage, decrees the horrific slaughter of the holy innocents : no child under two years old escapes Bethlehem and the surrounding towns alive. No doubt "the lamentations of Rachel weeping" are heard all the way to Egypt, Joseph pondering and worrying and keeping watch over his adopted, precious Son: each night never really sleeping soundly but listening for things that go bump in the night.

 Later, another dream comes, the angel of the Lord announcing the "all clear" to dear Joseph. "Return to Israel, for those who seek to kill the Child are dead." And now here is my point in all this: Joseph takes Mary and Jesus back to Israel "not withstanding" says the King James version. Joseph only half believes that God has gotten it straight. After all, Archelaus, Herod's son, was now king, and does the fruit fall any closer to the tree than that? Cruel and tyrannical; murderous and treacherous, Archelaus was not exactly safe. "Does the Good God have all the facts?" thinks Joseph. So just to be sure, just to be safe, Joseph heads not back to Bethlehem, where the only two year old boy would stick out like a sore thumb in the bereaved township, but into the backwoods of the Galilee. And who can blame him? In this we see that God is watching all the way, guiding Joseph as the leader of his dear family, and that even when God says it is safe, overcautious Joseph is obsessively diligent: no one shall hurt the boy on his watch! Dreams are dreams, and guidance from God a luxury mostly for the rabbis, but in the real world of carpenters, knives and swords are real dangers and death a real possibility. And thus unfolds the heavenly story come to earth and the fulfillment of scripture even because of Joseph's overkill. Matthew records all this and notes "so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "Jesus comes to live in Nazareth for the prophet says, "He shall be a Nazarene."

 Can you see yourself in this story of Joseph? I can. When God says, "Go!" it is easy to ask,
"But are You sure?"
"Yes, I AM"
"But are You, sure, sure?"

 I am not condoning questioning God when He tells us something, but our response may not always be an expression of rebellion but of the very human feeling that we do not want to endanger those in our spiritual care or the work of God given to us. To the degree that this is predictably how decent humans think and not open disobedience, God weaves our moments of hesitation and the resulting detours, into the grand story of His Redemption, "notwithstanding". I reckon He weaves all our downright failures in too, for "all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose."

 What is beautiful, and fearful, about this story is that we can see God being God over tragedy and over the tiny, narrow, glorious road that led to our salvation. In all our humanity we try our best, we put our trust in God and obey, sometimes a bit slowly, a bit to the left or a bit to the right, but God is still well in control, well overseeing the details, well able to perfect all that concerns His kingdom. 

The more we see this truth, the more we see that it is really all God and very little of us, and because of that we can really start to enjoy the bit parts we play in the Kingdom of His Dear Son. So find your place, and say your line in the Christmas play, and rejoice in God and celebrate that He is the One who scripts the Christmas and Easter and Happily- Ever-After story
for His People. We are blessed. So very blessed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Greater Than all My Failures

 Some One larger than all of my failures is stirring inside of me. .. Let the Holy
Spirit  arise within you and do His Work. God is not worried about what you are not or not
yet. He is jealously guarding what He has planted within you. Let it rise up amidst the weeds.
His life will mold you and make you even  in challenging circumstances. It is immutable life.
It is eternal.