Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Visitation.................."

Exercising on my treadmill and needing a change of pace Monday morning (that phrase utilized not to suggest any altering of my gait), I switched from another Ravi Zacharias sermon to Jimmy Swaggart preaching on the present day status of the Church. No doubt there are those who would find him nobody to be addressing that particular subject, but separating the man from the message is something the journey taught me long ago. If humanity, as it exists in all of us, suspends grace, then the Gospel has lost its power. Redemption is just a word we, ourselves, have created, defined by our terms, not His. We’re good at that, it seems to me; and, over forty-two years down the road, while I find myself still seated within the ranks of Pentecost, enough has changed along the way, in both my thinking and theirs, that it’s no longer the same experience, service-wise. I watch from afar, content to wait on Him, wanting the “connection”, not just emotional exuberance. In other words, faith is not a matter of how much “grunt” one puts into their “name it and claim it”, praise should come up out of an inner well if it’s genuine, and worship is a surrender acknowledging His omnipotence. Anything less is just “us”. No foul assigned if freedom is permitted; no restriction necessary if common sense is observed; and, to be honest, pursuit rather than atrophy seems to me a good thing. Knowing Him in a “fusion”, however, whether to be used in a gift of the Spirit or to simply be immersed in the reality of all He is, doesn’t require any physical act. There is “stirring of the water”, a warmth that touches you from two flames becomes one, a bit of a breeze, perhaps, that takes you unaware; and suddenly there is no denying His presence meeting you right where you are. Healing. Assurance. Hope for whatever. Holiness is just another name for the Holy Ghost; and I’ve seen Him so thick over a congregation that people had to run for either the altar or the back door, one. It’s been a long time since such a manifestation has so enveloped us, so long that few are left who remember such occasions. My heart cries to know it again……..

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Fusion.........................."

For the first time in a long time, even though we were there occupying another church’s spot on the schedule, my group had the Youth Detention Center alone, as it fell to us, anointed, appointed, and split into three cell blocks, Liberty and Debi with the girls, Tony and I ministering, each to a different boys’ unit. My own “congregation” amounted to seven individuals, all in their late teens, less than half claiming any prior encounter with Christianity beyond what came to them here while incarcerated. Mostly I sat at that front table, talking to them, unable to get much dialog, questions or otherwise, yet, to a lad, all of them soaking up what I had to share. Never did there come any point of real conviction. Nonetheless, we laughed together at some experiences out of my own life, got serious with the Gospel, and enough seed was sown for the Holy Ghost to use when buddies weren’t there beside them, when evening “lights out” left them looking at the ceiling of their cell, when life as they knew sit began to be mentally pondered. Pushing with a “raise your hand if you want this” has never been where I operate, having seen too many accept the moment only to lose roots in the journey afterwards. “Peddling my totem pole” isn’t my passion. There is a reality one can acquire, a “hook in one’s belly” that secures the soul on high, an anchor-line relationship we might know in the midst of the storm. Tonight, in our evening service, while the sanctuary crowd, en masse, did not find itself submersed in the Spirit, at one point a handful of people stepped out to express that which was bubbling up within them, running, shouting, dancing in the altar area. It was Tom Smith, though, who connected with me. Never, in all the years I’ve known him, has he so emerged from the sidelines, quiet, humble, a worker, not just a “pew-member”. Now, before my eyes, he walked the aisles, hands trembling, gratitude pouring from his heart, worship who he was, not just part of the program. It fed my soul. This singularity was where I walked in at forty-some years ago. If much has changed along the way, this, at least, remains: Heaven and earth yet come together in Him. That is my focus. That I pursue......

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"Exploration......................"

About a year ago Sam’s had a book by Stephen Hawking on sale for twelve dollars. It had lots of pictures, was a hard-back copy, and the title “A Brief History of Time: The Universe in a Nutshell” led me to think the average mind might be able to, at least somewhat, grasp its content. The enigma of all that’s out there has long provoked my curiosity as well, so I bought a copy and stepped into waters that are, literally, “over my head”. The author might as well be speaking in Chinese. If the illustrations succeed in giving at least some minute understanding of some particular subject he’s addressing, the caption beneath (i.e. “The intense gravitational field of an orbiting black hole rips matter from the companion star and creates an accretion disc which spirals in towards the event horizon”) leaves me scratching my head, lost in space. Here and there, however, digesting chapters in small doses, I have underlined bits and pieces of the cosmologist’s explanations in an attempt to hopefully capture knowledge. Surely this is the nuts and bolts of my existence. This is the whole enchilada! If Hawking has not yet encountered the God who created it all, that doesn’t dismiss my faith nor give me reason to ignore the heavens. Indeed, it was humorous to read this morning of a conference organized in 1971 by the Jesuits in the Vatican, one where, seeking advice on such matters, they invited some of these scientists to attend. At the end, the participants were granted audience with the Pope. He told them it was “all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but not to inquire into the big bang, itself, because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God.” Me? I’m more in line with Ravi Zacharias, who seeks truth, but then demands relevance, putting the former in a state of always being beyond us and the latter as an inevitable “next step” letting us know that, whatever “facts” we think we possess, we haven’t yet begun to realize it in its entirety. Jesus said “Follow Me”. Somehow I don’t think he meant I could stop at the third pew back from the front, satisfied with John 3:16 declaring my faith…….

Friday, August 29, 2014

"Spot Check........."

On the treadmill once again and listening to Ravi Zacharias speak on whether it’s possible for a man to “walk closely with God”, I was struck by a quote, something an 18th century Scotchman once said concerning morality and politics. “Let me write a nation’s songs,” Andrew Fletcher did opine; “and I care not who writes its laws.” Such statement, quite obviously, was made long before Elvis swiveled his hips and led this country’s youth into rock and roll rebellion, eons before heavy metal and eventually rap entered the picture, however; and there’s probably more truth to the idea that our music flows out of that innermost part of who we are as it faces and reacts to all external forces facing us in the journey thus far. Give me, therefore, the reins that hold a man’s heart, that which feeds him and directs his path; and it will not be hard to predict, not just the sort of tune he hums, but also his path in other areas as well. What’s on the inside, no matter how hard we try to hide it, bleeds to the outside whether we’re sitting in Nashville or Washington, D.C., whether we frequent the corner bar or the parish pew. The question becomes, then, if grace is to be given in so far as this stumble down the road, what is it about any believer that gives witness of Christ “in” me? If, as Paul says in Ephesians, truth “holds up my pants”, me dealing with me as well as my image in front of others, what is it that maintains my integrity? Some seem to think it their works. Others would declare it their faith. I would point to that which inhabits the vessel. Resurrection needs only my willingness for the stone to be rolled away, His glory reflected in my humility, His power manifested via my surrender unto His reality. He confirms Himself…….

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Posterity.........."

”Many good, sincere persons struggle today with their faith and with their churches. Lots of things contribute to this: the pluralism of an age which is rich in everything, except clarity; the individualism of a culture which makes family and community life difficult at every level; an anti-church sentiment within both popular culture and the intellectual world; an ever-growing antagonism between those who see religion in terms of private prayer and piety, and those who see it as the quest for justice; and a seeming tiredness right within the Christian churches themselves. It is not an easy time to be a Christian, especially if you are also trying to pass your faith on to your own children.”……. Ron Holheiser, “The Holy Longing”

Wednesday evening’s Bible Class feeds my soul, not so much that what comes forth matches my own theology, nor that the lessens, themselves, provide revelation. The teacher, in my opinion, is fantastic, well-read, in no way “up-on-a-self-constructed-pedestal”, and open to discussion. What develops, therefore, is a multiplicity of perspectives, all important because each individual shares from his or her own present position in this journey. We minister to each other, young to old (and vice-versa), “seasoned” to new convert (and vice-versa). We even dismiss the gender-gap, having long ago abandoned mental “sexual harassment”. What develops, then, within this ninety minutes or so of common focus upon, not just the Word, but the reality of Christ “in” me as well, isn’t an answer to all our questions. Humanity remains humanity. Divinity remains a “point” yet beyond any light any of us have individually gained while there. What has been gained is seed sown, the combined connection each of us have momentarily found in Him. We learn from each other if we are open to each other, sorting it all out later in personal prayer closets, allowing the Holy Ghost to instruct us as we go. When this becomes no more than a religion, a structured doctrinal check-list whereby we count ourselves as having already “arrived”, what is it that we really possess in so far as in wishing to transfer it to our posterity? Our kids aren’t interested in dead dogma; people outside our sanctuaries want neither our pomp nor our pride; but if they can see the “light” shining in our eyes, hear the “life” bubbling in our witness, and feel the truth of a “Holy Ghost overflow” tugging at the emptiness they know, the torch can be passed. It takes more than a sermon. Thirst is contagious……

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Perception.........................."

This is the second week of an attempt to lose fifteen or twenty pound. No running record of how many calories taken in each day. Just eliminating all snacks, eating smaller portions, and twice a day working up a good sweat for thirty minutes on my treadmill. The computer is nearby and it’s been my habit to utilize You Tube for either some Gospel music or somebody preaching to occupy my thoughts during that time. Today I listened to a fellow, passionate and anointed (I believe) in his delivery on Ezekiel prophesying to those dead bones, yet also (again, in my opinion) “missing the mark” in so far as “nailing down the truth”. Can that happen? It depends on how deep one is immersed in the river at the time. It depends, in fact, upon how one defines the very verse shared in that discourse, Paul in Ephesians declaring God’s ability to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in you”. If the highlighted word refers to nothing more than the believer, himself, swinging a Scriptural sword, “faith” achieved via some mental grunt worked up in the effort, then maybe the guy behind the pulpit is correct in directing his flock to “name it and claim it”. If, however, the term is understood to be the Holy Ghost, alive in the individual, all authority His to claim, it now suggests my efforts in “moving any mountain” must be focused on stepping into His flow, not taking on the problem in my own strength. In a way, it’s like me and that treadmill. Losing weight could be attempted standing there beside it as it runs, working myself into simply rebuking my girth down to an acceptable size, or step up into the kinetics that can make it happen. I lean toward the latter……

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Confusion............................"

After being assured that the latest “up-to-date” schedule was now in my possession, I drove to the Youth Detention Center with three others Sunday morning only to discover another church group already there waiting for their special speaker from the Cincinnati Bengals to arrive. We conceded, seeing as how it was a little too late to cancel their intentions; but a phone-call early today revealed that it was indeed they who missed the memo and another would, with no hard feelings between either of us, get us their spot this coming week-end. Miscommunication. Last minute changes from those in charge. Humanity in general to blame for but one more miscue in the state of affairs with this particular program. Take whatever, government, education, and yes, even church, insert man with all his potential for error, and what one gets is better understanding of the Bible verse “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” just gets multiplied when there are greater numbers of us involved in anything. For that matter, at least so far as my last item on the above list, it seems to me that “organization’ isn’t all that’s susceptible to our “faulty wiring”. In our religious pursuit of Christ, just like those of old, if we aren’t chasing the celebrity, the commotion and the noise, the “fishes and the loaves”, we go off the deep end on the other side of the fence, reassuring ourselves of our righteousness through ritual, works, and commitment to doctrinal totem poles. I like what one pastor recently preached: “If you’ve got the anointing, you don’t need to push it!” By the same token, however, if Christ really be “in” you, then surely the invitation has been there from the beginning to “explore the deep”. Indeed, in the middle of all the mess, what the believer has to maintain balance, correct his course, and breathe in life.....is the Gospel in its simplest form: the Holy Ghost, peace in me.