Monday, April 27, 2015

"Insight................................."

I sat down with some good people for a few moments yesterday afternoon, church “family” who were gathered to celebrate a special event and the conversation turning to such that I finally just arose and strolled elsewhere. Politics and current news events had brought forth discussion that disregarded the character of others; and, while this old man certainly can’t claim complete victory over such charges as addressed here, on this occasion he did opt for another table, another topic to share. People tend to ridicule what they don’t understand and all too often condemn what they, themselves, carry within their own identity. Humanity as it exists: a condition common to all of us. My granddaughter turns fifteen in August and is “her own person” in terms of holding no desire to be but one more of the “socially accepted” among her peers. No tattoos. No piercings. Beautiful auburn hair and a smile that owns my heart. Yet if I point her attention toward some individual at the mall sporting a Mohawk, wearing green lipstick, and adorned with a studded dog-collar around their neck, she always calmly replies that she sees nothing wrong with such style statement. To me there’s room for debate; but maybe the two of us are merely expressing the same observation from different perspectives. Inside, underneath all that exterior, is someone who is searching for meaning, an answer to those questions that come to us all in this stumble down the path, even if some of us have our insecurities well hidden behind a false exterior not quite so “in your face”. In that sense, for me it all comes down to attitude on both sides of whatever is being criticized. When anger and “I’m right!” are the main ingredients fueling the disagreement, whether from the point of judgment or from the position of rebellion, little is accomplished; and, while Bible chapter and verse may serve one well as checkpoints for their own life, using the Word to stone others never knows an anointing to bring light into darkness. Grace is not just a blessing received. It is also a divine force meant to flow through us unto the world around us…….

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Idols..................................."

We took our granddaughter to a dermatologist Thursday. McKenna’s not so much into the “girly” aspects of her gender, a Ninth Grader and going solo to the church school prom last night, opting for the customary dress that goes with the event, but choosing a small Tin Burton adorned clutch purse that looked, to me, more like she was carrying a canteen. She and her cousin Cody are their own person. The office visit, though, was a matter of having a large wart on her elbow removed, whether requested out of “beauty” concerns or it just being annoying, I know not. Beth, however, in conversation with me, recalled waking one day with the above-mentioned grandson years ago and him showing her several of such growths across his knuckles. The solution on that particular occasion? – She prayed with him, then and there, and later that week he would show her his hand now completely void of offense…
Nearly a hundred pages into “Between Cross and Resurrection”, the author speaks of God in terms of His identity being a “unity of opposites”; and, while I can agree to the truth of our experiencing His reality through multiple contrasting characteristics, that doesn’t extend to us any freedom to assign Him concrete definition out of our own choosing. To say that He is “balanced” in judgment by His grace is to suggest that He must also be evenly proportioned to do evil as He is to perform goodness. Better to confess His omniscience, in a belief that, whatever He does, it is accomplished out of His wisdom (“All things work together for good”) and we are safely held in the palm of His hands whatever the situation around us. To say that Calvary’s Gospel, once secured by Christ, somehow changed the Father to the point that we can now simply ignore all that we read of Him in the Old Testament only speaks to me of humanity as sit exists, indeed, as it always has been, attempting to create our own deity, rather than submit ourselves unto the One who is. Can we “know” the Creator? Yes; in an on-going relationship where we continue to be shaped by Him, not the other way around. I know He heals, because He HAS healed; but that doesn’t always make tomorrow’s event mine to command. He is – who I find Him to be in a prayer closet. He meets me as I go. My faith is in who I have found Him to be in the past and it does not diminish any if, for some reason, the next problem in my path is solved in a different manner. He is a “knot inside” that He, Himself, has tied; and I am the only one who can undo the connection. Why would I do that?.......

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Hyphenated................................."

”Hearing the (Easter) story the second time around, and every time thereafter, we encounter a grave standing on the boundary where defeat and victory are intimately juxtaposed. This time, on the second day, we are privileged to know already that after yesterday’s defeat, victory tomorrow is secure. Yet we are compelled to know, too, that it is the finally victorious one who even now lies decaying in defeat; and we must face the shocking truth that the seeds of victory lie in both the grave’s defeat and nowhere else, that the only flower of victory is one which germinates and grows in the darkness of a tomb.” – Alan E. Lewis, “Between Cross and Resurrection”

I’m but a few chapters into the above author’s book and, while already questioning his perspective thoughts in at least one paragraph, find myself nonetheless enjoying this plunge into the depths of the Christian narrative. For me, the Gospel has never been “settled”, in so far as my initial point of entry providing all the answers to this mystery of life, and in the truth that the journey since, at any point along the way, has yet to capture God “in a box”. That which continues to draw me into pursuit, however, was never born out of any wish of ever being able conquer all knowledge of who and what He is, but out of a hunger and thirst to experience Him in all that His resurrection extends unto me. Maybe such desired can be better explained by referring to a couple of terms utilized by Lewis to emphasize the importance of that day dividing the securing of our salvation. In speaking of a “theology of the Cross”, he assigns it “abundant social and political consequences through its iconoclasm (attack against) all (other) human concepts” of religion. Nonetheless, in crossing the gap to discuss a “theology of glory”, he requires a “pneumatology” of Calvary subjecting “all the gifts of the Spirit and their application to a radical critique of Christ’s own experience of suffering, weakness, and crucifixion.” If I’m with him thus far, though, he has me wondering if that middle section he is about to explore with me, that time between where Jesus, far from held prisoner in a tomb, is putting His signature on a New Testament covenant in the depths of hell, doesn’t relate to another theology, one yet under construction. In 1st John, the apostle brings forth a “triangulation” connecting heaven and earth, Trinity somehow more than simply “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”. If Paul’s proclamation of the mystery of the “Good News” is Christ “in” me, do I blaspheme if I suggest that me “in” Christ is no less an enigma that each of us must entertain and explore daily? Is there any credence to the possibility that, even if the stone has been rolled away from our heart, in the commandment for us to pick up our own cross and follow Him there is a space wherein each of us “conquer the grave” through a continued surrender unto the tug on our anchor-line……

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Ennui.........................."

”A writer stops writing the moment he or she puts the last full stop to their text, and at that point the book is in limbo and doesn't come to life until the reader picks it up and the reader flips the pages.” – Alberto Manguel

Beyond its assigned definition applied by the Roman Catholic Church, limbo is “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition”. I’ve often utilized it to speak of that yearly pause between Christmas and January 1st. It occurs to me, however, that we often step into such an existence from time to time, much as if our journey loses meaning, as if all the everyday events that beset us suddenly become a noise in the background. The river, itself, still holds us; the clock yet ticks; but the point to everything, the “why”, suddenly holds us in its grip and it takes a bit of effort to break free of the logjam. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian professor of psychology who immigrated to this country in the fifties, speaks of a state of consciousness called “flow” wherein people are completely absorbed in an activity. The “key to happiness”, supposedly, is in our ability to control that portion of our identity by not allowing external forces to interrupt it. It is up to each of us to prepare for such attack by cultivating challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple to achieve. I’ve another suggestion: When our story comes to such a dullness, when, in looking back, we wonder if there’s any real sense to our stagger down this path, try turning inward to another God-given “flow”, to a stream in whose depths we might discover refreshing, renewal, and a redefining of our worth in the middle of this whole mystery called life. Whether just a drink from His well or a dip in the pool, ankle-deep, knee-deep, or totally submerged, His “flow” reinforces us for the other flow and “life” begins again…….

Monday, April 20, 2015

"Vision..............................."

My church seats close to a thousand three times on Sunday, with the evening service and the eleven a.m. not necessarily the same crowd, but both probably a few more than the early morning congregation. My wife and I “left” it twice, the first time for five years to help plant an inner city outreach in Cincinnati, the second occasion for about a decade and for no other reason than this old man needed “space”. Birthed in a tent meeting, moved to a chicken coop, then a barn before Beth’s parents were part of that bunch who built that original small facility that housed us back in ’72 when I started taking my kids there for Sunday school, it is a part of her “history” and my “roots”. At no time in either separation was it completely abandoned. While anymore we number more than my ability to contain everyone’s identity, some are part of those who have known me from the beginning and, among the rest, are a significant few whose contribution to the package as a whole gives me witness enough to retain their names. At one time this was “family”, not so much in the truth that many within the sanctuary were indeed related to one another, more so in the sense that the seventy some people usually present were bound together not just in Christ, but in the work, itself. Now we are “mass” and broken into our individual commitment to the whole. There is a widow who wears a new hat each time she comes, who sits in front and rises to greet visitors with a pre-assembled welcome packet when directed. There is another woman, small in stature, whose perpetual smile helps finds seating for late arrivals. We have people who operate cameras for the broadcast, regulate sound and computer screens, not to mention a vast multitude of singers and musicians; and all this merely constitutes worship. Multiple ministries, directed toward both outreach and within our own ranks, are available for any who feel led to volunteer. Still, the pastor’s son, in his father’s absence yesterday, pleaded for more members to tithe, since our own eighteen percent is but six points higher than the national twelve percent. The wallet, it seems to me, is attached to the heart. Just sayin……..

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Navigation..................."

”Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat. Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there. Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn’t there and shouting ‘I found it!’ Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.” – ranked as the most popular post on Google’s social network

Yancey begins his ninth chapter in the book, entitled “Is There Anyone Else? The God Question”, with the above quote. Obviously written by someone who holds no faith at all in a divine Creator, the paragraph may well give one pause with its analogies, but fails in providing any of the basics upon which the scientific community works in seeking truth. From what I remember of the process, they begin with a question, form a hypothesis, experiment, and state results, which, if one cares to look up the definition of that second term, means that the final product is something not proven to be fact, but only left open for further exploration. In truth, Christianity is not searching for some black cat, but that “Light” which is “Life”; and that is not accomplished with a couple of double A batteries, but a willingness to accept that its “darkness” will always be in need of His penetration if it is to begin to understand anything at all… I was privileged to substitute teach the upper level kids at the church school yesterday. Two of the classes dealt with Bible, specifically the Book of Jonah, and two with civics (one American politics and the other world history); and all somehow “fit” together in a discussion of how God’s will in our life is a matter knowing Him in our “belly”, not just our head. Indeed, what “spilled over” there in an attempt to define “love” as “a knot inside that God, Himself, has tied” went with me last night to the men at the rescue mission. How is it possible to combine political affairs with our possessing assurance of our redemption? When men profess God out of no more than a expressed commitment to the Bible, their reasoning going no deeper than what rattles around in their cranial cavity, their affairs remain under the domination of their own humanity and, always, a mess is created somewhere down the path. It’s a stumble, enough, even with our reins held by the Holy Ghost in an inner reconnection with the Father. Spelunking this present “womb”, however, will eternally be an easier undertaking when men recognize their limitations and surrender the journey unto His wisdom…….

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Candles......................."

In Yancey’s book, he speaks of people in history who have served to witness for Christ, some who were utilized by God to merely prod a nation’s moral existence at the time and others whose legacy, for whatever reason, more resembles that nail Martin Luther drove into the wooden door, changing the Church thereafter. In suggesting that while there is a prophetic moment when God may, indeed, call any of us to fulfill either analogy, the author declares that, for most of us, divine appointment will amount to something like “scribbling in the sand”. There should be no “tinge of shame” in knowing such assignment, he says, for it equates to Christ ministering individually to that woman brought before Him, taken in adultery. Around us, daily, are those who are crying “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?” Not audibly, but out of an inner void needing to be filled. Most are so busy and burdened with surviving that their own knowledge of such pleas, if realized at all, comes only in the middle of a crisis too big to face, or at night as they lay there in the darkness unable to sleep. Is heaven beyond hearing their petitions? In my own opinion, the problem is not that God is deaf, or that God doesn’t care, but in the truth that humanity is unaware that there is possibility of “contact” available unto them via Calvary and the resurrection. The problem is in the Church, not the world around it, who for the most part has failed to bring forth evidence of the very doctrinal foundations that form the very basis of their faith. When we reduce the Gospel to theology, to not much more than just another religion, or when we, on the other side of that coin, claim for ourselves the identity of the Holy Ghost as if we control Him instead of the other way around, unbelievers see only our “flesh” and judge us therein. Honesty helps. Convincing others of His reality, however, can only come through a “drawing” of His Spirit; and that means we must be vessels surrendered unto Him. Flow comes from our “belly”, not our head. Witness entails a whole lot more than knocking on doors with a verbal reference to chapter and verse. The event is not always appointed unto us to address the mass. Most of us will not become martyred for such cause. Each of us, however, if we will receive it, will know many one-on-one opportunities where all that is required of us is a few words spoken under His anointing……….