On the Road 1.2: Mercy

            Glen crossed the road carefully.  The traffic was slim in the snow, but still coming and likely to slide out of control if he stepped out too soon.  He felt better when he was moving, though he had no feeling in his feet, but at least his gloved hands held tight to his bags.  He looked briefly into the sky once again where the dismal gray and the snow that poured out of the grayness showed no sign of a break.  He imagined it was warmer than it might have been because the fresh snow was insulating everything.  At least he told himself that.  Then again, he imagined when his gloves got wet enough, his hands would freeze off.

            The entrance to the highway was not far from the bus terminal.  He could hear the traffic on the bridge above.  People were trying hard to get home before they got stuck in the storm.  He hoped the traffic was slow enough where some kind soul might be willing to stop for him.  The College of the Lion was the next exit down, but Glen knew he would never survive the seven mile walk to get there with all of his things.  He prayed again.  He seemed to do a lot of praying lately.

            The wind picked up as soon as he reached the highway.  He thought he was still technically on the entrance ramp, so perhaps not doing anything illegal, but honestly he did not care.  He was freezing and imagined he might die if he did not get help soon.

            The cars went by.  Several sloshed that extra cold snowy-icy mix on to his shoes and jeans.  His jeans stiffened as they began to ice over.  He feared he might lose his feet, and perhaps his ears.  He smiled, because the traffic was not that fast, but not one driver slowed for him.  He was going to die.

            A tractor trailer pulled over up ahead.  Glen did not really pay attention, in part because he imagined the truck driver just needed to check something before continuing or he decided to pull over and wait out the storm.  In part, Glen’s eyes were no longer focusing well and his mind was freezing over.  The man in the truck leaned out of the passenger side.  He may have shouted several times before it registered.

            “You want a ride?”

            Glen picked up his bags and walked carefully to the cab.  He said nothing in return and let the man put Glen’s bags behind the seat.  When Glen crawled into the heated truck and closed the door, everything began to sting like a million needles sticking in every corner of his body.  He still could not feel his feet, but his ears turned beet red and felt like they had a fever.  And all Glen could do was rip off his gloves and breathe on his hands and fingers.

            “Thank you.”  He finally got that out between lips that were so cold and dry they were bleeding in several places. 

            “Where to?”  The driver asked as he pulled again into traffic.

            “The College of the Lion,” Glen answered, and when they had moved about five miles along he decided the kind man deserved a better explanation.  “I had a bus ticket from the airport, but the bus driver abandoned the bus in Jack’s Town and the bus company locked the terminal and told me to go away.”

            The Driver said nothing, but handed Glen a cup of hot coffee he had taken from his thermos.  Glen said “Thank you” again  and fought the temptation to gulp it down.  He sipped slowly for fear he would burn his lips and mouth and not know it until later.

            The driver pulled off at the exit for the college and drove up the main street to stop finally right in front of Glen’s dorm.  Glen never asked how the man knew it was his dorm.  He never lifted his shivering head long enough to actually look at the man.  He got his things, slowly, and the man was wonderfully patient.

            “Thank you,” he said a third time as he climbed down from the cab.  “You saved my life.”  The cold was bitter, but it had stopped snowing.  And the driver waited until Glen got everything up on the sidewalk.  Then he drove off.  He never gave his name.  Glen never asked, so he never knew who this angel of mercy was to thank him properly later on.  But then, he got the feeling the man wanted it that way.

            Glen felt a couple of tears fall.  He was still in danger from the cold, but it was a short way up the walk and steps and into the building.  He wasn’t dead yet.

.

Advertisements

Discipemakers: The Relevant Church

.

The question asked:  Is the Church relevant (these days)?  In a word, no. 

 

            The relevance of the “Church” as an institution in American life passed away long ago.  Sometimes Catholics or Baptists or Evangelicals are spoken of as blocks of voters but the terms are so loose these days they are honestly meaningless terms.  They are not blocks of uniform believers as evidenced by the fact that so many flit from denomination to denomination – or hold tight to their institution even when they no longer believe a word of it.

            We live in a world of choose your own truth.  We are diverse, multi-cultural and tolerant which is defined as believe whatever the hell you want and no one has the right to tell you that you are wrong..  A man and woman may sit next to each other in the same pew and one of them may be worshiping Satan, but these days … that’s okay.  Maybe that’s a churchy version of don’t ask, don’t tell.  We wouldn’t want to be intolerant. 

            The institution is just a building.  It no longer defines the faith.  It no longer guides the faithful.  It no longer promotes unity.  People buy their own snake-oil spirituality these days.  The institution called the church is just a big, dead building to house the snake-oil salesmen.

            The Church as an institution – a monolithic block of believers is dead.

            The relevance of the “Church” as a way to reach the needy and make a positive difference in this world, well, that is no longer a Christian activity.  What work has not been bequeathed to the government may still carry the name First Something Church, but it has been secularized to the point where God, Jesus and the gospel are conspicuously absent.  We don’t want to offend people who may need help and might not be Christians is one line of thinking (for example).  There are plenty of other such thoughts but the result is God is no longer part of the work.  

            The good work of people may carry on under the banner of the institution and people may claim to be inspired by their faith, but the details are sketchy at best.  Our Methodist and Presbyterian and Pentecostal Christian Associations have become the YMCA.  It is just so many letters.  It no longer carries the name of Christ.

            The Church as an avenue to help those in need is dead.  It might as well be the Wally World feed the hungry program.

            The Church as a community of the faithful is dead.  We are talking the individual congregation now of whatever denomination.  The Church within a given community has some relevance, but it really isn’t Christian relevance.  It is mostly social connections, like linked-in live, all about business and networking, with plenty of facebook live, like what I fixed for supper last night. 

            Some still go to Sunday School, but for most it is in one ear and out the other.  The Bible is no longer the Written Word of God.  It is no longer what John Calvin called it: THE story of God and ourselves, though plenty believe it may be one of many such stories these days. 

            Some still keep the rituals.  Grandma insists on the baptism where neither parents nor child have any interest in the church.  Susie, who never set foot in a church still wants a church wedding.  Louise wants the pastor to say nice things at the funeral of her flaming atheist husband.  Carmine eats the bread-cracker, and maybe a spit worth of grape juice because Mama always said it was important.  Honestly, for all too many these things mean no more than the Jewish rituals back in Jesus’ day meant to the average Jews.  Oh, we have our Pharisees too who can cross the Ts and dot the Is on all this, but that doesn’t make it relevant.

            Then there are some who pay attention Sunday morning.  They may wander all over town to find a church that “speaks to them.”  That invariably means a church that tells them what they want to hear.  It may be conservatively clinging to guns and Bibles or some liberal pap about social justice and collective salvation, but Jesus generally isn’t involved except maybe as a bludgeon. 

            Then, some pick a church for the music, like maybe classical.  Some pick the experience, like praising, hand waving, dancing in the aisles.  That is sort of like a roller-coaster ride, but when it is over it often doesn’t have any real affect on the rest of life. Then there are the hypocritical parents who choose a church because they want their children to have a good upbringing and solid moral foundation which they have zero interest in for their own lives.  So it goes.

            Even in the most evangelical, church-growth congregations, people talk about new members, not believers, and they talk about plugging them in, not to the faith, but to some churchy activity or some churchy worky …

            All of the above is the church under the sun, as Solomon would call it.  In itself it is vanity, which is empty and futile.  The wisest man in creation understood that without God it was all irrelevant.  God alone can satisfy.  If we will be his disciples and follow him, he will lead us to that place of relevance, purpose, meaning and, coincidentally, happiness.

            Look, there is only one thing Jesus did.  There is only one thing the apostles did – Peter and Paul and the whole lot of them.  There is only one thing Christians should be doing today.  That is?  Make disciples.  That’s it.  Disciples make disciples.  That’s the job.  Everything else is under the sun.  It is irrelevant.  It is window dressing.  You want to sing?  You want to dance?  You want to share some bread and a bit of wine?  Great, but that is not the job.  Make disciples.

            Disciples make disciples.  It doesn’t happen in isolation.  It is inevitably public (people will notice); but as Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst”  That is the true church, the only church.  You want relevant?  Find two or three gathered in Jesus’ name and become a disciple.  Then make more disciples.  That is the only relevant church in the history of eternity, and it is the only church the world needs, and perhaps desperately needs.

.

On The Road: 1.1: Cold, near Death.

 

           It was much colder in this northland than home.  It felt cold enough to snow.  Fortunately, he was able to find the bus quickly, get his bags aboard and find a seat by the heater and by a window.  The window was dirty, streaked with rain and dust that made muddy rivulets across his vision.  But he was not looking out.  He was looking in, and this time he stared long and hard at his reflection.

            The bus started to move at the same time as his thoughts.  Glen wondered what his roommate might be like.  He was not a person with tons of friends.  In fact, through High School he could count his real friends on a single hand.  Then again, he could count his real enemies on the other hand so things tended to even out.  He was known, but often forgotten, living in the middle of the mass of High School faces. 

            Glen wondered if his roommate might be a friend.  He imagined his roommate would be an acquaintance, on a different class schedule so they rarely interacted but for bedtime.  He prayed that his roommate would not be an enemy.  He heard about such things.  Some kids did everything in their power to drive their roommates away, like turning off the alarm so they missed their early morning class, hiding research notes under the bed where “they must have blown by accident,” making lots of noise late when you have an early class and they don’t, and the like.  All this was presumably done with the hope of driving you out so they could have a single room in the second semester.  Glen was not sure anyone actually did those sorts of things, but all the same he felt it was prudent to pray that his roommate not be an asshole.

            The bus made several stops in the city, and each time several people got off and the bus driver came back in rubbing his hands harder and harder like the world was getting colder and colder.  It began to snow, lightly at first, but Glen saw them get on the highway and that meant they were half-way there.

            Glen fell back into his introspection about what college might be like.  He was really only guessing.  His older brother went to a different school, one of his choosing, and was not the type to share personal experiences so Glen was going in blind.  Still, he thought he and half the student body or better would be in the same boat.  In the end he knew he would just have to wait and see.

            The bus skidded to a stop in Arborville.  That left only Jack’s Town before The College of the Lion.  Glen looked out the window once more.  The snow was beginning to come down hard, and the streets in town were getting a nice coat of ice over all.  On his own, Glen might have become concerned, but as he looked around at the half-dozen passengers still on the bus, he saw that they were not worried in the least.  Then he saw a truck out spreading a good sand and salt mix liberally on the road so he supposed there was nothing to worry about.

            Once again Glen’s mind took him into himself.  Glen did not have the maturity to be off on his own in school the way he was, but he felt he might be alright as long as he stayed focused on the school part.  He did not have the least idea what he wanted to do with his life or how he might reasonably balance his artistic soul with a job, but as far as it went, he did not have to pick a major until his junior year so there was no point in getting upset about it as a freshman.  Glen also knew he had no say in who the school assigned him as a roommate.  The person might well be a jerk, but then it was really up to him to make the best of it, regardless.  It was also up to him to let the housing people know if it got really bad, though he supposed he might not do that.  He was not the kind of person to snitch or complain, and he believed people should be able to reasonably work out their differences.  He did not expect great things from his classes or professors.  He believed that the material for freshman was going to be college prep classes that everyone should have already taken.  That is how more than one person back home painted freshman year to him. 

            Glen sighed as the bus slid into the Jack’s Town station.  The bus parked outside since the station had no indoor terminal.  All it had was a ticket office and a small waiting room with a couple of vending machines.  Glen had to go to the bathroom, but he could wait until he got to the college.  He thought that was an appropriate first act at the school.  He did not belong there.  He honestly felt he should not be there, that college at this point was not what he was supposed to be doing with his life.  That was a real spiritual conviction, yet he did not know what he was supposed to be doing so it left him in the middle of nowhere.  “God,” he often asked, “If I am not supposed to be here doing this, then what do you want me to do?”  All he ever heard in return was deafening silence.

            Glen was not worried about the school work he might face.  If anything he was worried about being bored to death and figured it was designed with the terminally stupid in mind.  And he was not afraid to be alone and on his own.  He spent his whole life alone and on his own even when he was in the midst of his family. 

            “Hey kid.”  Glen shook himself out of his introspection and looked around.  Everyone was off the bus.  “Hey kid.  End of the line.”  It was the bus driver.  He was standing up front on the exit steps with only his head sticking up above the seats.  “You have to get off the bus.”

            “But this isn’t the college.  I got a ticket to the college.”

            “I’m not driving any further in this.”  Glen looked out the window and saw it was really coming down hard.  The snow was already a couple of inches deep.

            “But how am I going to get to the college?”

            “You’ll have to take that up with the ticket office.  Get off the bus.”  He disappeared.

            Glen stood slowly and realized the bus was turned off.  He got to the front and started down the steps where his baggage was on the sidewalk being covered in white flakes.  He saw the bus driver go in the station door, and he planned to follow as soon as he gathered up his things.  It was cold, intensely cold.  In just the few moments it took to try and pick up all his bags, his ears and cheeks turned pink and his toes went numb in the snow.  His fingers began to sting by the time he got to the door.  He was about to set some bags down to open that door when the bus driver came barreling out.  Glen smiled, but the bus driver did not hold the door for him so he had to set down the bag in his right hand and under his right arm after all.  As he pulled the glass door open and propped it with his foot, he looked back.  The bus driver closed the bus doors, stepped into a car parked alongside the terminal and drove out into the snow, to vanish in the white.

            Glen started the struggle of getting his bags into the station when a man came out of the back and locked that door.  He noticed Glen and shook his head.

            “You can’t come in here.  Station’s closed.”

            “But I have a ticket to the College,” Glen protested, half in and half out of the doorway.  “How am I going to get to the college?”

            The man stepped up to the door.  “Come back in the morning, or take a taxi if you can find one running.”

            “But I don’t have money for a taxi.”

            “The station is closed,” the man repeated.

            “But where am I going to go?” Glen asked.

            “You can’t stay in the station.”

            “But –“

            “Not my problem, whitey.”  The man pushed Glen back out into the storm, closed and locked the door and went out the door on the far side which he also locked. 

            All Glen could do was stand there and freeze.  He looked up at the sky where his free, white puffy clouds had knitted themselves together into a gray, foreboding mass.  He felt the snow reach for his eyes.  Already he could no longer feel his toes.  And he asked, “Why?”  It seemed a reasonable question even if he got no answer.  And then he asked why the airline could not have had the decency to lose his luggage.  

 

###

Next Time:  1.2: Mercy

 

Forever, On The Road 1.0: Head in the Clouds

 

There’s a thorn in my side,

A pain in my hide.

I can’t get it out,

Or find it

I tried.

###

            College was a big step for someone who was just seventeen in 1971.  Glen was not ready, and he knew it, but family had a way of getting under the young man’s skin in those days and the manipulative guilt he grew up with was unbearable.  Uncle Dick went to so much trouble to get him in.  Actually, Uncle Dick sat on the college board and probably just told someone to do it.

            Glen sat on the plane and fantasized about losing his luggage.  He thought without all of his things he might have to go home and restock.  More likely his parents would make him stay, send him not nearly enough money to replace his things and he would be stuck wearing the same flannel shirt until Christmas.  He decided to gaze out the window.

            The clouds were white and free floating in a blue sky under a warm sun.  They were utterly unaware of the big metal box in their midst, and utterly unconcerned.  Glen wanted to float free.  He felt trapped in that big metal box, forced in at gunpoint, or tongue-point and with his own family holding the lid closed.  The prospect of Freshman English galled him.  He imagined it was word review for the terminally inarticulate.  Freshman Biology, Freshman Algebra, and whatever else he was going to have to suffer through sounded like a repeat of the tenth grade.  They all told him he would have to suffer through those courses at first before he could take the courses he really wanted.  It sounded stupid, and Glen wondered if he could skip straight to graduate school – not that he knew what he wanted in graduate school.

            Glen caught sight of his own reflection in the window.  He tried, but no matter the angle or how much he squinted, he could not picture himself riding away on a cloud, so he looked more closely at his reflection.  He tried to look himself in the eyes, an exercise he always found uncomfortable.  He looked away and finally closed his eyes altogether.

            Glen did not know who he was.  He needed to find himself, as they said.  He felt he was headed into some kind of purgatory because he had no clear alternative.  He did not know what he wanted to do with his life.  He wrote a song about it.  He wrote a bunch of songs in High School.  He wrote two plays.  He wrote some stories. He spent plenty of time acting on stage, played drums and then keyboards in a rock and roll band, and he was not bad with a canvas, though he never went much further than watercolors and pen and ink.

            He was an artist in his soul, not strictly a geek, but where he could go with it, what he could do with it and how he could make a living at it was beyond him.  He did not know the right people.  Truth be told, he barely knew the wrong people.  He was not exactly mister popular in school.  And anyway, he had it driven into his mind, deep as crucifixion nails, that writing, music, theater and art was fine if he wanted a hobby, but he needed to do something real with his life, not just dream it away.  The pain and unhappiness that caused him over the decades to come was incalculable – but they nailed him to that cross.

            The plane touched down when Glen was staring at the seat in front of him, wondering what he did that was so terrible his own family gleefully sent him into exile, so far from home.  He knew perfectly well he would sleep through classes, not do well on any work he saw as pointless – which is what he expected for most of his freshman year – or he would not do the work at all and more than likely flunk out.  The truth was, he was not ready for college and he was convinced he was being set-up to fail.  Though it is not a word common among teenagers, Glen knew he did not have the maturity to succeed in college.  He tried to explain all this to his family, but they would not listen. Now this would be one more failure and it would feed into the poor image of the useless loser his family already had of him.

            Glen sighed.  The airline did not lose his luggage.

 ###

Next Time  1.1 Cold Near Death

.

Word & Spirit: A Very Merry Christmas to All

Merry Christmas to you and to everyone. 

To those of you who are not Christians or perhaps don’t believe in God, what I mean is may your days be filled with love and joy and may we all have peace on earth, good will to all.

To those of you who are offended by my saying Merry Christmas, you are the reason the world is not filed with love and joy and we do not have peace on earth.

Sigh …

Merry Christmas anyway …

Disciplemakers: Christianity Without Religion

            Religion, by dictionary definition is  

1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

            Christianity certainly meets the definition because it has all of these things.  It has a set of beliefs regarding creation.  It has devotional and ritual observances.  It certainly has a moral code.  And while some are more “fundamentalist” than others, all Christians share in belief in God and Jesus, in salvation unto eternal life, in the general outline given in the Apostle’s Creed and (normally) the Nicene Creed, and so on.  Christianity certainly has plenty of creeds, doctrines (teachings), catechisms, and Sunday School lessons.  So Christianity has all of these things, but it is not any of these things.  At least God does not define the faith by any of these things.

            Religion, via Wikipedia:

Religion is a collection of belief systems, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.[note 1] Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the Universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.[1]

Many religions may have organized behaviors, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, holy places, and scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include rituals, sermons, commemoration or veneration of a god, gods or goddesses, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, prayer, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religions may also contain mythology.[2]

            Again, Christianity certainly qualifies here.  But again, having these things: beliefs, cultural and world views, spirituality, moral values, narratives, symbols, traditions, sacred histories … clergy, holy places, scriptures, rituals, sermons … does not mean it is any of these things or even all of these things put together.  None of them answer the question, “What is Christianity?”  All of them may have a place and some relative value, but none of them really defines Christianity.  Indeed, these outward things only make sense when you get at the root reality of “the Christian Faith,” and in that sense I would argue that all of these things, dictionary and encyclopedia alike, miss the point of what Christianity is because Christianity has these things but it is none of these things.

            The definition of Christianity is not found in any of these outward things, because it is only found in inward things.  In that sense, it is not a religion at all.  It is instead a relationship.    Beginning with Genesis and working all the way to Revelation we see the testimony, much of it eyewitness testimony, of the relationship between God and ourselves.  John Calvin, the reformer said the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments tell us about God and ourselves.  And that testimony, even eyewitness testimony, has not ceased with the Revelation given to John.  If anything it has increased in the last 2000 years.  Roman Catholics call those who have shown in manifest ways that they were in an extraordinary relationship with God, Saints.  The reformers countered by saying that all who are called into a relationship with God are saints, whether they manifest that relationship in some way or not.   

            The point is, in a very (most) real sense, Christianity is not a religion.  It is a relationship between us (personally and corporately), and Almighty God through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is nothing less and nothing more.  Everything else associated with the faith, every outward thing by dictionary or encyclopedia is window dressing.

Killing the Nativity: Think About It.

 

            Killing in a grade school.  Killing in a movie theater.  People killing others and then killing themselves.  Children killing their parents.  What kind of world are we creating here?  What kind of society do we really want?

            The idea of taking away the guns is simplistic at best.  I recall Lizzy Borden who took and ax and gave her mother forty whacks.  She was clearly insane, of course.  But recently, I have the impression that these modern versions of mass murderers are not insane so much as they are looking to go out in a blaze of glory.  I agree with Morgan Freeman as far as it goes.  Our media is complicit, making the names of the murderers household names.  And it is better to be remembered as a horrible monster than to be forgotten as a nobody.

            My question about all this goes a little deeper: Why have we grown so many horrible monsters in our modern world?  My answer is because we have deleted the Judeo-Christian tradition from the public square.  People have been left without boundaries, and become (so-called) free to decide for themselves what is right and wrong, free to blow aimlessly with the wind.  Without a firm foundation in universal values, some all pervasive in the culture reminders of the restraints by which we must live to survive in community, we are left with anarchy, horrible monsters and mass murderers who have no sense whatsoever that what they are doing is evil.  There is no guilt, no pricking of the conscience, no need for restraint when everyone is (so-called) free to make it up as they go along.

            It is no good repeating the LIE that it was always this way in the past only we did not know about it like we do today.  That is patently untrue.  As little as fifty years ago, people used to  leave the car running while they ran into the drug store, they left their doors unlocked while they went to the market, they left their doors unlocked at night, and the windows wide open.  Children, young children used to go down the street to the playground unattended, and ride their bikes all over town without their parents being filed with fear and worry.  It was never like this.  Don’t believe the LIE.

            We have removed morality from the public eye and made it all relative.  And we are reaping what we have sewn.  We have given the nation over to individual jerks and idiots and allowed them to sue and have every vestige of the Judeo-Christian tradition of morality and restraint removed from pubic – and thanks to political correctness, we have even made people afraid to mention it

            So the town puts a nativity scene on the public lawn.  What does that really say?  This is the season for love, to love family and neighbor.  This is the season for giving, for peace on earth, good will to all.  This is the season to try our very best to be good, kind, and hospitable to the stranger and the less fortunate.  Where is the evil in that?

            But we remove it, and what do we have left?  A time of stress-filled greed, crass commercialism, short tempers, people fighting each other in the stores – it really does not take a rocket scientist to see this.  Unless, of course, leaving people groundless to fall into despair and hopelessness and hatred for others in the perception of unfairness in life is what you are after.  Unless the creation of more horrible monsters is what you want.

            Do not think that the separation of church and state or freedom “from” religion gives the high moral ground.  Quite the opposite.  For two hundred years, no one ever said prayer in the public schools or prayer before the meeting of everything from city councils to the United States Congress was unconstitutional.  No one ever said posting the ten commandments in our state and federal courtrooms or nativity scenes on the front lawn in the public square was unconstitutional.  Good grief, the state of Massachusetts collected taxes to support the Congregational Church up until the 1920s, and no one said it was violating the separation of church and state.  In those days, even people who did not believe in God accepted the moral self-restraint expressed at the root of Western Civilization in the Judeo-Christian tradition 

            You cannot really believe that the removal of the Judeo-Christian tradition from public life is morally right unless you believe that every American in the past was a deluded idiot and now, suddenly and miraculously, we know better.

            There is a Biblical phrase that is true about life regardless of what you may think of the Bible.  “By their fruits you will know them.”  History is clear about America grounded in Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition.  We see the prosperity, the liberty, the greatness as well as the struggles to overcome slavery, to live up to the ideal that all people (men and women) are created equal.  We can also see what mulit-culturalism, diversity, and ethical relativity have gotten us: horrible monsters.  Clearly we are being ruled by a small minority of short-sighted, intolerant, anti-Christian bigots who sue at the drop of the proverbial hat and who, apparently, want an America filled with horrible monsters so they can live (so-called) free.

            To quote C. S. Lewis: “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”            

            Thus in my progressive best I say to everyone, Merry Christmas.  To those who understand the love, joy, peace and goodness that phrase stands for, I say Merry Christmas again.  To those who are offended by my saying that, well, if you are an American you still have the right to be offended.  You do not have the right nor the power to prevent me from saying it, however, and yes, if it comes to that, if we plummet off the cliff into pure anti-Christian hatred, I will go to jail before I stop saying Merry Christmas.

 

Disciplemakers: God’s Will Be Done

            We say this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  But do we mean it?  Do we even understand it?

            There is one person who both understood it and meant it: Jesus.  After the Last Supper, Jesus retired to the garden and asked his disciples to stay up with him while he prayed.  For the disciples, it was an epic failure, but for Jesus it was in many ways the final battle.  He knew what he was facing and the agony he was going to suffer.  He foresaw his arrest, his scourging, his rejection, his crucifixion.  He saw the sins of the world laid on his shoulders.  They say that night he sweated blood.

            “Lord, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me.”  He prayed as no one prayed before, but the crux of it was “If it be thy will,” the will of God.  And in the end he confessed in great courage, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thy will be done.”  How could he say this, knowing all that he knew?  How could he pray this?  Because he knew above all and without any doubt that ultimately the will of God was the best for him, for his life, and for the whole world. 

            We might remember this when faced with something we don’t want to do, some persecution, some difficulty, some hardship.  “Nevertheless, thy will be done.”  Say it with courage.  It is the best for us and for the whole world.

            You see, God made us and so he knows exactly how each of us functions and what each of us needs to live a life worth living.  It is like the NASCAR mechanics I know.  They work on those cars and engines day and night to squeeze out peak performance.  But when it comes to the race, they are not the engine.  That engine must function on its own.  They know exactly the mix of gasoline needed to insure peak efficiency and performance.  But if the engine decided on its own that it wanted to run on pure kerosene or pure ethanol, it might go a little distance, but not very far, and the performance would be anything but peak.  If the engine decided it wanted to run on water or pink lemonade, it probably would not work at all and that would likely damage the engine.

            Walking in God’s will, intention for our life, desire and plan is like putting the perfect fuel in our engines.  The one who made us knows exactly what we need.  God’s will for us is for us to function at peak efficiency and performance our whole lives.  As you may have heard, God loves us, and thus he wants us to walk in that love – love for God and love for others.  He made us and so he knows exactly where our happiness lies and he will lead us to it if we follow him to it.  And not only happiness, but true joy that is only glimpsed in the distance, just over the horizon in this sinful, weary world.

            In general terms, it has been said that God’s will is for us to grow and bear fruit.  Indeed, we are warned that those branches that do not bear fruit will be cut off and tossed into the fire.  But believers, or rather disciples need not worry if it truly is our desire that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” 

            So what are these fruit?  Paul’s list (briefly) is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control.  Are these not things you would have in your life?  Elsewhere Paul speaks of faith, hope and love, but the greatest he says is love.

            In specific terms, however, which is to understand God’s will for each of us, individually and corporately, we need to look at many things.  But first we need to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.  The disciple’s first task is to sit and watch, listen and learn.

 

Disciplemakers: Permissions and Blessings

 

            What is it about children that Jesus blesses them so?

            Above all, I feel it is because children still have the capacity to believe.  Their worldview is still developing so they have not yet formed boxes around reality.  They don’t yet live in boxes.  Children can still believe in Santa Clause.  They can believe that fairies and dragons and that unicorns are real.  They can also believe that God is someone they can talk to and who will also talk to them.  Children can believe in magic and miracles, and if they don’t recognize any serious distinction between those two things, I don’t believe it really matters.  The thing is, what is impossible for adults is still very possible for children.  We might say children still have an open mind and a willing heart, and most adults don’t, usually and especially those adults who claim the loudest that they do have open minds.

            Listen.  An open mind is not being tolerant of other people’s boxes.  It is being able to accept reality at face value in a universe where no boxes exist at all.

            So children have both open minds and willing hearts and they also have the capacity to believe in Angels and demons.  Children don’t mix good and bad.  They know nothing about nuances or however many shades of gray there may be.  Like puppy dogs, they can almost see inside of people and know the good and the bad.  And children cling to the good and are shocked and terribly hurt, internally, emotionally and psychologically when they are affected by the bad and bad people.

            It is true that children live in more of a black and white universe than we do, but Jesus blesses them in their capacity to believe.  Children have the capacity and the desire for all things good, right and true, especially when they are very young.  By contrast, adults construct boxes around themselves which limits their contact with face-value reality.  Adults decide for themselves what they will do, what is important to them, what they are willing to believe and what they are going to call crazy-talk.

            And here we get to permissions and blessings.  And it is very important to understand this, not simply to be offended by it because it pokes holes in the box.

            Jesus said divorce was permitted because of the hardness of our hearts.  And he spelled out for everyone what God’s intention and desire is: that a male leave his father and mother and be united with a female as one flesh, for a lifetime, not to be separated.  This is God’s plan, his desire for us and his intention.  Anything else is falling short. 

            Of course, we human beings have come up with a thousand different ideas from adultery, homosexuality, living together without being joined in the sight of God and witnesses, multiple divorces and multiple remarriages, multiple wives.  But just as God did not condemn Jacob for having multiple wives, so he is not going to condemn us for any of these other things – or more I haven’t named. 

            Jesus Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the whole world might be saved through him.  And there is only one unforgiveable sin – to reject Jesus and the forgiveness he offers.  Otherwise, if you come to Jesus, he will forgive and accept you.  Period.  However, that does not mean he will bless you.  And that is the great bone of contention these days.

            People not only want acceptance and no condemnation, but they also don’t want to have to be forgiven.  Forgiveness rubs people the wrong way, because it is admitting that their lives are not consummate with God’s will.  Many people refuse to admit that.  And indeed, most want God’s blessing on their lifestyle – whether it is God’s design or not.  The attitude is if God doesn’t like it, God should change his mind.  I’m sorry, but God is not under any compulsion to bless anything that deviates from his will, his intentions for us, his desire and plan.

            Do you remember the rich man and the widow in the Temple?  How the rich man made a great show of putting all that money in the offering.  If that had been in our day, I imagine he would have held a press conference with plenty of cameras.  The widow, by contrast, put only two pennies in the offering, but Jesus praised the widow because the rich man, he said, gave out of his abundance while the widow gave all that she had.   That is what God wants from us: all that we have, and not only money, but our hands, our feet, our lives, our minds, our hearts.  And not just 10% of it either. 

            The point is, greed is permitted, but don’t expect God to ever praise or bless the greedy.  God is not under any compulsion to bless anything that deviates from his will, intentions for us, desire and plan. 

            Do you remember the slaughter of the innocents at Christmastime?  King Herod sent men to kill every newborn child in Bethlehem under the age of two.  Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt.  Do you remember?  God did not strike down those men or Herod.  So in a sense he permitted it to happen, but don’t ever think he might bless such an action.  These days we have terrorists all around the world slaughtering the innocent.  Don’t for a minute believe God will bless those deluded souls.  He might not condemn them if they turn to Jesus.  He may forgive them and save them in Christ.  But God is under no compulsion to bless them. 

            God does not bless murder, stealing, covetousness, envy, jealousy, lying, bearing false witness (which is usually gossip or slander).  He will not bless the worship of other gods, or forgetting to take a day of rest, or dishonoring mother or father.  Why do you think he gave us the ten commandments?  You can make your own list, because I am sure you know what I am talking about.  But in Jesus, he will not condemn us for such things either.  God permits such things, he permits us to go our own way, but don’t ask for his blessing.  Indeed, generally we need to ask for his forgiveness.

            Jesus blessed the little children.  Why?  Because not only do they not live in self-made boxes, but they are not doing any of these things and so they are not asking or demanding that he bless them and bless their sin – their deviation from his will, intention, desire and plan.

            Too many these days like to imagine that Jesus, that God is wishy-washy.  They hope or even insist he will say things like this:  “Yes, I know the circumstances of your divorce and it was terrible, just terrible.  Of course I will bless you to kind of make up for it.”  Or, “I understand you two men love each other so of course I will bless your union.”  Or, “I understand you love him so you were right to run off with another woman’s husband.”  Or, “It’s okay if you took only what you needed from that store.  They make plenty of money and can afford it.”  Or, “It’s not a problem if you take books, movies, music off the internet for free.  After all, if it is on the internet it should be free, shouldn’t it?”  Or, “I understand you were mistreated.  I feel your anger and upset, and I think it is perfectly reasonable to steal their identity or post one little white lie on the internet to ruin their life.  Bless you.”  That is what too many people hope for.

            But God does not work that way.

            No is the answer.  To all of these things and more.  The answer is no – unacceptable.  Seek blessing elsewhere.  Fine.  But understand that God is not under any compulsion to bless anything that deviates from his will, intentions for us, desire and plan.  Children don’t deviate.  They don’t know how, yet.  The only thing children can be is victims of things like divorce, and they can be hurt terribly by it.

            True.  There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, as the Apostle said.  But if we would see God’s blessing in this life, a separate issue, we must first of all find our way out of the box we have made which blinds us to what God is doing and makes us deaf to what God is saying, which is to say, we must believe that God does reward those who diligently seek him and are called according to his purposes.  And then we must walk in his purposes:  His will, his intentions, according to his desires and his plan for our life.  The one who made us knows where our happiness is hidden.  He will show us and lead us to it and give it to us if we only believe and follow after him. 

 

Storyteller Monday: Ghosts 17

            Mya was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident.  She ran the whole way and was not tired in the least.  She never ran in her life before, her foot being the way it was.  Now, maybe she was making up for lost time, or at least she never before had such a reason to run, and she grinned at her own thoughts. 

            She stopped just before she got to the gate and noticed something she had not expected.  The young man and the suicide bomber were sitting side by side on the curb, talking quietly.  She could not hear what they were saying, and she did not intrude, knowing that would be rude, so she did what she could.  She said a little prayer that somehow they might find a way out of the pit they had thrown themselves into – that they might find a solution to the mess they had made of their lives.  Her heart went out to them, but she could do no more.

            Mya looked down and saw that her high heels had become flats, and she was grateful, knowing that she was going to have to climb up the grassy knoll that held the park bench.  She stepped up to the gate and smiled.  It was not that long ago she would have had to stand on tip-toes, and even then it would have been hard to open that big, heavy iron gate.  Now, she simply reached out, and it was an easy thing to do.  As she stepped on to the grass, she was filled with joy and gently closed the gate tight behind her.

            She noticed right away that the park bench was taken.  The minister was there with his newspaper neatly folded beside him, and she almost clapped to see the burly man beside him.  The man’s arm looked fully restored, and most of his face was whole as well.  “Thank you, thank you.”  She lifted that prayer as well.  Clearly, the minister still had some work to do, and just maybe he could add another name to that book of his in heaven.  She thought it was good that everyone had someone, and she had Nathan, except right at the moment she did not have him.  She nearly doubled up for want of him, and she cried out.

            “Nathan!”  When she heard no response she almost collapsed.  She yelled, “Nathan!”  It was as loud as she could, and then she heard an answering call.

            “Mya!  Mya!”  He had come in the other gate and he was running to her.  He was running!  Mya jumped and started to run as well, but she did not get far before they were wrapped up in each other’s arms and he was kissing her everywhere on her face, on her forehead, eyelids, cheeks, ears, on the tip of her little nose, and he did not neglect her lips, and she kissed him right back before she finally pressed her head into his chest and shoulder.  They were crying, but there were no more sad tears left in them.  These were tears of pure joy.  They had found each other and they held each other so tight it was almost as if they were trying to absorb each other into the depths of their souls. 

            “I am so happy.  I am so happy.”  Mya kept repeating her words into his chest, and he also kept repeating the same phrase.

            “I love you.  I love you.”

            After a while, Nathan took a step back in order to look into Mya’s eyes where there was no hiding that special smile that showed everywhere on her face.  Nathan returned her smile as they wrapped up in each other’s arms and kissed for a very, very long time.  When the earth began to tremble beneath their feet, they thought it was only a result of what they were feeling.  When that trembling increased, though, they thought they had better look.  There was a hole opening up on the green between this world and someplace else, and they separated to stand side by side and watch in wonder, though they never quit holding hands.

            Neither knew where that other place might be, though they both knew very well.  All they could see was a brilliant light, pure and holy so it made them tremble, but warm and inviting so they knew they were welcome.  As usual, Mya was the first to speak.

            “Perpetual light,” she named it, but it sounded like a question so Nathan responded.

            “It is.”

            “Do you know how much I love you?”  Mya asked.

            “I do.  And how much I love you?”

            “I do.”  Mya and Nathan squeezed each other’s hands.  “But I was thinking, now that I know what love is, do you know how much I love the one who first loved us?”

            “Exactly.”  Nathan affirmed her feelings and confirmed his own.  “With all your mind and all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”

            “That is the first commandment.”  Mya looked up at Nathan once more to seek Nathan’s assurance, just in case she got it wrong.

            He nodded for her and that brought out her most radiant smile, and  they turned and walked into that perpetual light, side by side and hand in hand, forever.

 

END