Thursday, April 30, 2009

The View From The Wilderness

In the New Testament Greek the word erhmos occurs a total of forty-seven times in five forms. Although most often it is translated as wilderness, in some forms of the scholars have felt the word is more appropriately translated as an isolated or remote place, in essence a place of voluntary solitude: this is the exception being translated this way only nine times.

A most interesting exception to this is Luke 15:14 which in modern translations is translated as open pasture or open country. The translation note I read from the NET translation pointed out that this was an editorial decision because they did not like the sense the verse left when wilderness was used. I am no Greek expert at all, having barely passed it 14 years ago, I am still quite bothered by editorial decisions that are not reflected in the text. So I decided to use my gifts where they lie, and consult a database for further enlightenment. Liddell, a secular lexicon, has no such definition for the word.

At this point you may very well feel I am nit picking a word, and the editorial decision is harmless and changes nothing. In fact we like the idea as insiders on this "God family" that God leaves us nestled away in the safety of our open pasture while he treks out to find other lost sheep. Yet the language of Jesus, a master of story telling imagery, does not leave a crowd of insiders safe inside the sheep pen. Instead he leaves us in the wilderness, the same wilderness that he was driven off into to be tempted, the same wilderness that symbolizes the barren woman's desolation.

The wilderness is not a welcoming picture at all. In fact scholar Roderick Fraser-Nash in his work Wilderness and the American Mind points out that our word wilderness "comes from the concept of wildeor, used in the 8th-century Beowulf epic the word is a mixture of “will”—self-willed, uncontrollable nature and deor, meaning savage beast. So then the “wilderness” is the place where uncontrollable dangerous beasts lurk, it is dark and threatening place. It is the kind of place where mythical horrors like Sasquatch and Chupacabra lurk. It's the kind of place where the son of God goes toe to toe with his enemy. This is the place the Great shepherd leaves his flock.

The abandonment in the isolation of the wilderness, is not unfamiliar to anyone who has been in this Christianity thing for long. Honestly speaking, I am here in it right now. A year ago our plans were to be in Swaziland, ministering to orphans. Tonight, I still sit here in Chicago, same house, same job, same...., The isolation of the sameness is a wilderness, a year has come and gone and the work I long to be doing for the Kingdom, still sits miles away on the other side of this wilderness. It can be depressing if I allow it to be.

Yet for here, and for now I take comfort. Though I am out here in the wilderness, it is just the place the Great shepherd left me, and he is still about the business of rescue. I am in a desolate place, but remain in good hands.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Do It

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end - Hebrews 3:12-14

"the point of intersection of the sovereignty of God and the collective believers’ subjective state is an intersection of the Father’s decision to act, and our fully recognized state of utter helplessness until He does...As long as we imagine that God is awaiting our facilitating of His purpose, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are not, in fact, spiritually bankrupt in and of ourselves and bereft of any ability to contribute to the doing of God" - John Gavazzoni

I am not inclined to be helpless. It is not in my nature to wait. I would rather do! Yet, it is our calling to just BE! In the words of my friend Jed Brewer, "I bring nothing to the table. We could never split the tab." This is a truth I know in my head, yet struggle to migrate into my heart. God is initiation to me is "Don't do it, just learn to be in me." This is the sanctification that enables love, joy, and peace. I can not do love, it is to BE lived. I can not do joy, it is to BE lived. I can not do peace, it is to BE lived. I can not DO for I AM, I can only BE His!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Parable of the Leaven - Fr. Thomas Keating

He told them another parable: 'The kingdom of God is like yeast which a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.' (Matthew 13:33)

Jesus says the kingdom of God is like leaven. In the ancient Mediterranean world as we saw, leaven had very negative associations. It was the archetype of uncleanness and corruption. Leaven was made by putting a piece of bread in a dark, damp place until it molded and stank. Both leaven and the process of leavening were symbols of corruption.

In the Jewish tradition men were considered ritually pure and women were ritually unclean. As a consequence, rabbis were forbidden to speak to women in public. No rabbi giving a formal sermon would cite a woman as heroine of any story. Jesus frequently did so in his parables, however, ignoring the stereotypes of his day.

In this parable Jesus addresses the popular idea that the kingdom of God is holy, good, and triumphant. The kingdom turns out to be active in the marginalized and the poor, both of whom regarded in Jesus' day as objects of God's abandonment. The state of poverty was regarded as the result of sin and hence was a symbol of corruption. Natural calamities"

I have had this wonderful story sitting in my drafts for over three years. I keep meaning to post it and write a reflection on it. However, really what could I add to such a beautiful commission.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bart Campolo - I'm Gonna Kill You

One 14-year-old boy in the program had shot and killed an innocent teenager to prove himself to his gang. At the trial, the victim’s mother sat impassively silent until the end, when the youth was convicted of the killing. After the verdict was announced, she stood up slowly and stared directly at him and stated, “I’m going to kill you.” Then the youth was taken away to serve several years in the juvenile facility.

After the first half-year the mother of the slain child went to visit his killer. He had been living on the streets before the killing, and she was the only visitor (in jail) he’d had. For a time they talked, and when she left she gave him some money for cigarettes. Then she started step-by-step to visit him more regularly, bringing food and small gifts.

Near the end of his three-year sentence, she asked him what he would be doing when he got out. He was confused and very uncertain, so she offered to help set him up with a job at a friend’s company. Then she inquired about where he would live, and since he had no family to return to, she offered him temporary use of the spare room in her home. For eight months he lived there, ate her food, and worked at the job.

Then one evening she called him into the living room to talk. She sat down opposite him and waited. Then she started, “Do you remember in the courtroom when I said I was going to kill you?” “I sure do,” he replied. “I’ll never forget that moment.” “Well, I did it,” she went on. “I did not want the boy who could kill my son for no reason to remain alive on this earth. I wanted him to die. That’s why I started to visit you and bring you things. That’s why I got you the job and let you live here in my house. That’s how I set about changing you. And that old boy, he’s gone. So now I want to ask you, since my son is gone, and that killer is gone, if you’ll stay here. I’ve got room and I’d like to adopt you if you let me.” And she became the mother he never had.

May the God of all love, joy, and peace transform our hearts like he did this woman's

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brennan Manning - Furious Longing of God - Quote

Jesus Christ has irreparably changed the world...His sentences stand like quivering swords of flame because he did not come to bring peace but a revolution. The gospel is not a children's fairytale. But rather a cutting edge, rolling thunder, convulsive earthquake against the world of the human spirit.

This is not the God of the philosophers who speak of a supreme being. A supreme being would never allow spit on his face. It is jarring indeed to learn, that what he (Christ) went through in his passion and death is meant for us too; that the invitation he extends is, “Don’t weep for me, join me.”

The life he has for Christian’s is a life much like he lived. He was not poor, so I could be made rich. He was not mocked that we might be honored. He was not laughed at so we would be lauded. On the contrary he paints a picture that includes you and me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Now That's What I Call Nutritous

Over the past eight years I have been through periods of intense health consciousness, and periods of slack dietary habits where I consumed the Standard American Diet. I have read and listened to the work of a number of health food practitioners including Dr. Joel Robbins, Rev George Malkus, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr Gerson and Dr. Mercola. I do believe their research which proves that we are in the best health when we eat a diet of raw plant based materials. Although I agree with this, the invitation to the wonderful tempation of Portillos, and the convience of processed foods has often seduced me back to the S.A.D. so easily available around me.

Over the next several weeks, my wife and I have committed to participating in a juicing fast, to provide our bodies not only with an intense burst of nutrition and healing, but to once again help propell us into a lifestyle of better health choices. This is not a total fast, in the fact that we will eat a cooked starch based evening meal. This fast is not like a "wilderness fast" where we are being devoid of calories and nutrition, but instead has a strict regimine of ultra-nutritious freshly made vegetables juices.

Here is my "consumption schedule" for each weekday during this period of nurtitional revitalization.

8:00 - Wake Up! - Consume nothing first hour awake.
9:00 - Vegetable Juice - Today I started with a carrott - beet juice to get some sugar in my system.
10:00 - Barley Max - A manufactured version of a wheatgrass like beverage.
11:00 - Vegetable Juice
12:00 - Barley Max
1:00 - Vegetable Juice
2:00 - Barley Max
3:00 - Vegetable Juice
5:00 - Barley Max
6:00- Vegetable Juice
7:00 - 1 Large Baked Potato or 1 Cup Brown Rice

This in addition to all the water we want to drink, is our total consumption for the five workdays each week of the fast.

On weekends we still won't consume anything the first hour we are awake and we will use the Barley Max only twice each day for those two days. Our food on the weekends will still be all plant based, but it will involve more traditional cooked foods, rather than just the juices.

Personally, I feel there is more than just the benefit of the healing power of great nutrition. We live in a society of on demand pleasure. If my tummy rumbles, I fill it. If my sweet tooth suggest, I comply. If I smell it, then I taste it. Although this is not "evil" per say. For me, it steals an awareness to the needs of others around me. Since I quickly and thoughtlessly meet every perceived need as I experience it, I am blinded to the needs those surrounding me can not meet. It is my prayer during this exercise in nutritional fasting, that God will use the pangs in my tummy, or the neglect of my sweet tooth to give me his vision into the pangs and neglect of needs that I would normally walk past.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Holy Week Thursday: Dirty Feet

"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took off his outer robe and bent down to serve, washing his disciples feet he said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” - 1 Cor 11:13 (with liberties)
John tells the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet, in about the same place in the storyline where the others tell about the institution of the Lord's supper. I find it interesting that John doesn't mention the actual passover meal at all, and yet details a good portion of the dialouge in much greater detail than the other writers. By conclusion I figure the feet washing affected him more profoundly than it did Matthew, who by profession we know was a wealthy educated Jew. Matthew was caught up by the now realized fulfillment of the Passover meal. The son of thunder was caught up by the master choosing to be the slave.

John has come a long way in his life from the "son of thunder" we meet at the beginning of his life with Jesus, to the aged saint and elder of the church who writes 1 John, the epistle of love. I wonder how profoundly this act has much to do with that.

I have read authors point out that the feet washing instruction Jesus gives is about service within the family God. This is not to say that Jesus did not want the church to serve those outside the "church", since he makes that clear in many other place. However this act, this is about how the people of God treat each other.

I get the idea when John writes, "whoever has stuff and sees his brother in need without caring, how can he call himself a lover of God" (1 John 3:17 paraphrased) he is thinking back to this example Jesus set.

For John, in the entirety of his writing, we see that love for one another actualized through service to one another, is a sacramental act. For John, having his feet washed was a saving moment.

Holy Week Prayer: Lord Father, remind me constantly that loving my brother, through actual sacrificial service on my part, is an act of sacrament in your Kingdom.

An Observation on John 13:1-17

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Holy Week Wednesday: Busy

Busy! It's a painful word today. I broke my Holy Week fast because I was too busy to fast. Let me explain before you take me for a total wash up. This morning was my third day without eating and as I was attempting to work I could not form a cognitive thought. So at lunch time I decided to go ahead and resume eating as normal. I figured that a one week fast would be great for people able to sit in a cabin and commune with God, but I needed to work.

Then when it came time for my reading today, I read the parable Jesus tells of the Wedding Banquet. The one where everyone is too BUSY to come to the kings banquet. Immediately I was convicted by the decision I had made. I had chosen the common, my oxen and my farm, over the feat of the Spirit. It is true a man needs is farm and his business, but he needs to dine with his King more. It is true I am in a place in life where I have responsibilities at work, but still I need to nourishment of God's provision more!

Please understand, I am not beating myself up, and I am not dwelling in regret, but more to the point I am reminded that it is SOOOOO easy to feel our need for the physical, but yet it is the Spirit, when we feast on him, that gives us all good gifts.

HOLY WEEK PRAYER: Lord God, may I live my life knowing it is your Spirit I need to empower my mind. I desire to feast on you, and believe in your provision of all good things.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Holy Week Tuesday: Obsession

Fasting is an intriguing practice to me. It is not a particularly "sacred" practice. When I am doing it, I do not feel more holy, more in touch with the Spirit, more apt to touch the fingers of God. I can not remember ever having a great Spiritual epiphany while fasting. On one level I approach fasting as a discipline to be practiced, with bewilderment about whether I am missing something that everyone else gets.

Then there is another side of fasting. No, I am not negating the things I said in the first paragraph. The other side of fasting is the battle it creates in me. When I fast I have my obsession for pleasure exposed in open awareness. Like I said above, this is not a particularly "spiritual" exposure. It is a physical reality. As I pass the candy jar on other's desks in my office, I realize how mindlessly I stop and pick a little piece out of each bowl. As I walk into the kitchen to refill my water bottle, I see the nicely prepared fruit trays where each day I take a plate of wonderful sweet nutritious fruit, purchased by my employer and prepared by a few coworkers. I receive the pleasure of great flavor and nutrition at no cost and no effort to me. At home, I smell the wonderful aroma of my children's dinner. I think, "just a small taste of that marinara won't hurt, I'll still be hungry."

Fasting has little to do with hunger pangs for me. Perhaps it is the fact that a "long" fast in my book is a week, so I never really get to the point of real hunger. No, it is about obsession, it is my taste buds that long to be appeased with something tempting. In the moments before I sat down to write this post, I had picked up a bottle of habanero sauce that was sitting on my desk, I removed it's lid, breathed in the scent of it's peppers, and thought, just a dab on my tongue to pacify my pallette.

My reading today took me through the seven woes. I read them in this strange setting I find my mind in. I am torn between an obsession by my senses for salt or sugar and an equally constant obsessive thought process about a friend who I believe is self destructing. It is here where the Spirit speaks to me in these seven woes.

Heavy loads, swallowed camels, white washed tombs, Gehenna's judgement; the terms reorient me to my own frailty and brokenness, as my own addictions for self indulgence beg me for anything sweet.

I do not fast to enter a sacred space with God, except for the space made sacred as I acknowledge we are fellow travelers, and I would be selfish, and self indulgent to not bend over, and help my friend carry his load.

HOLY WEEK PRAYER: Lord God, Expose to me every lie and addiction I harbor so I am free to be fully consumed by you. Let me be active in that consuming obsession by seeing through faith the need to lift not judge my brothers burden. Your Kingdom come, on earth AS IT IS in heaven!

A personal reflection on Matthew 23:1-36

Monday, April 06, 2009

Holy Week Monday - Cigarettes & Sacraments

I Found God on the corner of 1st & Amistad.
Where the west was all but won.
All alone, smoking his last cigarette.
I said, "Where you been?"
-The Fray
I found God in the flames of a camp fire when I was 8 years old. He spoke to me from that fire and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God in the hand of friend as I held a fork intended as a weapon in my own strung out hand. He spoke to me from the friends hand and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God on a tennis court 2 days before my 18th birthday. He spoke to me in a 45 minute experience of perfect communion and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God in the backyard my apartment complex while a cigarette hung from my lips and obscenities we shouted at the heavens. He spoke to me through my own tears and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God in the message of a book I picked up on the $5 rack at the Family Christian Store. He spoke to me through those words and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God in the broken body of small girl dying of AIDS on my wife's lap. He spoke to me through her frailty and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God speaking, freeing, changing, leading my wife from the grips of abuse addictions. He spoke to me through the bandages he placed over her wounds and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God on a sand bar in Georgia, alone and protesting the emotional toll of this Breakthrough weekend. He spoke to me in healing prose and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God in a conversation with my friend working on his GED at 45 struggling that math is hard. He spoke to me through these simple equations and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God yesterday as I took a bite of stale communion bread. He spoke to me though the gross cardboard I was chewing and told me we had plans together he and I.

I found God last night smoking a Marlboro all alone. He spoke to me in the stillness of my patio and told me we had plans together he and I.

HOLY WEEK PRAYER: Lord God, may I have the grace and faith to find you and participate in your plans together for you and I.

An Avant Garde Commentary on Matthew 21:28-32

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Holy Week Sunday - Hosanna

Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey - Zech 9:9
As the crowds surround this radical rabbi Jesus, waving palm branches, shouting Hosannas, proclaiming this to be the hour their messiah, their deliverer, begins his conquest against the occupation of Rome's empire, he sits on a donkey. Other kings entering the capital city to launch a coup against a great military power would enter riding on the majesty of a Horse, but this king, he is not like the others, so the revolution begins on a donkey's foal.

He rides through the streets of the city to the gate of the temple. It is the time for a national festival, and the merchants and vendors have set up shop to sell their wares to the pilgrims here to celebrate the Passover, this year in Jerusalem. Scholars tell us the market place was in the court of the Gentiles. The outer most court of the temple, a place God has ordained as a location where race, creed, and gender do not hinder - a place where all can come and worship God. Those accompanying him in the parade expect him to cross through this outer court, to proceed immediately into the inner courts where the men of Israel are gathered. The revolutionaries gathered around him, expect him to muster an army. The chorus of Hosanna is a war chant.

Jesus however does not pass through. He does not proceed through to the court of men to gather his troops. Jesus stops, and offers the enigmatic words, "My house will be a house of prayer!" Jesus does not move through the rabble of merchants, women, Gentiles, children and outsiders. Jesus stops! Jesus looks at this court meant as sacred space for the entire world, and will not stand to have it marginalized into a public marketplace. In this space, in this abuse of God's temple Jesus goes postal.

As this street preacher who only moments before was the assumed Messiah begins to overturn table, free captive animals, drive out the merchants, and desolate the marktplace, the people scatter. It's an everyone for themselves free for all to get out. Soon the mayhem is over, and the outer court is a post riot disorder with only Jesus and those who could not do themselves to get out!

Jesus Stops, empties the place of his definition of the rabble till all that is left is the lame who could not run for themselves, the blind who could not see to make a break, and the children left abandoned in the mayhem. In this audience, the King who rides into the coup against the empire on a donkey's foal heals their lameness and heals their blindness as these little children chant the war cry of "Hosanna."

Hosanna, The empire will fall!

Holy Week Prayer - Lord God let me be in the place in where you are healing, the place where the children sing Hosanna.

Story Adapted From Matthew 21:1-17