Archive for December, 2007

Walking With Jesus

December 31, 2007

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” John 6:66

The Bible says that “Enoch walked with God”, it says Noah and Levi did too. That phrase, “walked with God”, has intrigued me for a long time. As far as I know those are the only  individuals that scripture singles out as having “walked with God”. Many “walked before” Him, “walked in” His ways,  but only those three “walked with” Him. It implies, at least to me, a certain intimacy between them.

It’s the same in our relationships with others. Walking with someone is an intimate thing. Young couples walking hand in hand, in quiet conversation, oblivious to everything and everyone else around them. Older couples in the park, still holding hands, but now each quietly comfortable in knowing, and being known to the other. Little boys following along after their Fathers, watching and then imitating every move. Or tragedy striking, and someone you love facing hard times. You can’t do much, just be there and “walk with” them.

Jesus starts his earthly ministry asking John and Andrew, “What are you looking for?” They respond, “Where are you staying?”  “Come and see.” he says, “Walk with me”. Later the call is the same to the others, “Come and follow me” and they do. Many others do, as well, over the next few months and years. Each with their own expectations, hopes and agendas.

Then a “hard saying” from Jesus, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Most of those who were following him couldn’t accept it. And so, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”

Hard. In the Greek (skelos) the word means harsh, stern, rough. Literally “dried up and rough to the touch”. From it we get our word skeleton.

Interesting, Jesus speaks of flesh and blood, food and drink, Life. All they can hear is dried up bones, death.

Skelos, “dried up bones”,  reminds me of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was brought in the Spirit to a valley full of “very dry” bones. God asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” His answer is a model of wisdom and humility, “Oh Lord, you know”. He doesn’t say “I don’t know”. He puts the focus, not on himself and what he does or doesn’t know, but on God and what He knows.

God then shows him what He knows.

What seems to be death comes to life, and flesh grows on dry bones, and “breath” (Spirit) fills those new creations.

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’….Thus says the Lord God: I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people….. And I will put my Spirit (breath) within you, and you shall live…. Then you will know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I shall do it, declares the Lord.”

Jesus, after almost all of his disciples had turned back, turns to the Twelve and asks them, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter, in the wisdom of Ezekiel, answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Come to know”, it’s a phrase that means, “We’ve walked with you long enough to know.” 

Have we walked with Him long enough to know that what He asks of us, even though it looks and sounds like death, is really Life?

What “hard” thing is he saying to us now?

Do we turn back and no longer walk with Him, or turn to Him and say, “Where else can I go? You have the words of eternal life, and I have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“WWE- Smack Down At The Stable”

December 27, 2007

I don’t quite know what to say about this, but I agree with Brant Hansen. It sounds very Monty Python-ish.

Advent Meditation From An Unlikely Source

December 19, 2007

I found this short piece a couple of years ago on Sacred Space  as part of an Advent retreat. I think what struck me most was the amount of time that Sartre, an atheist, had spent considering what it must have been like to be the Mother of Jesus.

While I obviously don’t agree with Sartre’s atheism (or even all his imaginings in these few paragraphs), would that we Christians spent half as much time meditating this advent on the incarnation. That we might be able to say with wonder, “He is God and He [became] like me.”

“In his Christmas play Bar-Jona, Jean-Paul Sartre pictures Mary, Jesus and Joseph:

The Virgin is pale, and she looks at the baby. What I would paint on her face is an anxious wonderment, such as has never before been seen on a human face. For Christ is her baby, flesh of her flesh, and the fruit of her womb. She has carried him for nine months, and she will give him her breast, and her milk will become the blood of God. There are moments when the temptation is so strong that she forgets that he is God. She folds him in her arms and says: My little one.

But at other moments she feels a stranger, and she thinks: God is there – and she finds herself caught by a religious awe before this speechless God, this terrifying infant. All mothers at times are brought up sharp in this way before this fragment of themselves, their baby. They feel themselves in exile at two paces from this new life that they have created from their life, and which is now peopled by another’s thoughts. But no other baby has been so cruelly and suddenly snatched from his mother, for he is God, and he surpasses in every way anything that she can imagine. It is a hard trial for a mother to be ashamed of herself and her human condition before her son.

But I think that there are other rapid, fleeting moments when she realises at once that Christ is her son, her very own baby, and that he is God. She looks at him and thinks: This God is my baby. This divine flesh is my flesh. He is made from me. He has my eyes, and the curve of his mouth is the curve of mine. He is like me. He is God and he is like me.

No other woman has been lucky enough to have a God for herself alone, a tiny little God whom she can take in her arms and cover with kisses, a warm-bodied God who smiles and breathes, a God that she can touch, who is alive. And it is in these moments that I would paint Mary, if I was a painter, and I would try to capture the air of radiant tenderness and timidity with which she lifts her finger to touch the sweet skin of her baby-God, whose warm weight she feels on her knees, and who smiles.

So much for Jesus and for the Virgin Mary.

And Joseph? I would not paint Joseph. I would show no more than a shadow at the back of the stable, and two shining eyes. For I do not know what to say about Joseph, and Joseph does not know what to say about himself. He adores, and is happy to adore, and he feels himself slightly out of it. I believe he suffers without admitting it. He suffers because he sees how much this woman whom he loves resembles God; how she is already at the side of God. For God has burst like a bomb into the intimacy of this family. Joseph and Mary are separated for ever by this explosion of light. And I imagine that all through his life Joseph will be learning to accept this.”

Prince Caspian Trailer

December 18, 2007

Looks pretty good to the kids (all three of us). 

Be Amazed!… Or Bored…Or Whatever

December 16, 2007

I’m still trying to work through this post, so it might sound somewhat dis-jointed, but the main idea is the need to recapture wonder and mystery in our everyday lives. In other words to begin living contemplatively. The lack of these things has greatly reduced the God-awareness in our lives.

The Shattered Lantern, by Ronald Rolheiser, which may be the most important book I’ve read in the last five years, has this as it’s theme.

Rolheiser observes three characteristics of our culture– pragmatism, narcissism and an unbridled restlessness– that are both cause and effect of this death of God-consciousness in our lives.

Pragmatism reduces worth to utility, and truth to whatever works. Something only has value if it produces, and if it works, well it must be right, Right?. Thus beauty has worth only if it can be used toward some end. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it”… or sell it… or manipulate with it, but you can’t just appreciate it. 

Narcissism takes a famous hymn and changes it a little, “Turn your eyes upon yourself, look full in your own wonderful face, and everything else will grow strangely dim…”.

Combined, these two reduce our lives to a search for the answer to this question, “What can it (God, others, the world) do for me?

The unbridled restlessness has us searching for something, we don’t exactly know what, but we know it must be out there to be learned, or experienced. Often this means crossing traditional moral boundaries and pushing experiences to an earlier age. 

Here are some quotes from others, and a few thoughts on the subject.

“H. L. Mencken said, ‘The problem with life is not that it’s a tragedy, but that it’s a bore.’ A child who is filled with wonder is also filled with a sense of enchantment, a sense of significance, a sense of meaning. When wonder ceases, boredom and emptiness begin to stalk existence.”

-Ravi Zacharias

Boredom and emptiness sure describe a lot of folks these days. And wonder and amazement seem to be in short supply. “Nothing tastes”, as Marie Antoinette once said.

“The greatest of all illusions is the illusion of familiarity.”- G. K. Chesterton

The illusion of familiarity, thinking we actually know it all about anything, causes loss of wonder. Kind of a “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” view of the world around us. “Show me something I haven’t seen” seems to be one mantra of the age. The problem is we’ve seen it all, a thousand times or more… by the time we’re twelve.

“By age 18, a U.S. youth will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence.” -American Psychiatric Association

We don’t even bat an eye at things that would have horrified us in earlier days. Familiarity doesn’t breed anything, it deadens.

“For youth who reported being sexually active , the average age of first sexual intercourse was 14.1 years for boys and 14.5 years for girls.” Canadian Council of Ministers of Education, “Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study 2003”

“The average age at which teenagers have their first sexual experience steadily decreased during the 1990s, according to background information in the paper, and now almost half of American adolescents report that they have had sex by the time they graduate from high school.”- New York Times

Something about “Don’t awaken love before its time” comes to mind. 

Another mantra of the age-“Tell me something I don’t already know.”

Another mantra, another problem.

Exploding amounts of information and easy access to that information mean that if we don’t know something we can sure find out about it in a hurry with almost no effort on our part… If you can wade through all the info that we are flooded with. 

“Print, film, magnetic, and optical storage media produced about 5 exabytes of new information in 2002. Ninety-two percent of the new information was stored on magnetic media, mostly in hard disks. How big is five exabytes?If digitized with full formatting, the seventeen million books in the Library of Congress contain about 136 terabytes of information; five exabytes of information is equivalent in size to the information contained in 37,000 new libraries the size of the Library of Congress book collections. “- How Much Information? 2002, U. C. Berkeley Research Project

Is there a way forward, or even back? Yes, but this post is long enough already. More later.

Under Construction

December 14, 2007

I’m working on a post, but I’m not done with it yet.

In the mean time here’s something to ponder, be amazed by, wonder at.

“Fellow Losers…” Real Honesty In A Used-Car-Salesman World

December 8, 2007

Two of the bloggers I read have been talking about how real life is not as clear cut as we sometimes would like it to be. As a matter of fact, it’s down right messy, broken and confusing. And if anyone offers you easy answers…well… like C. S. Lewis said, “Let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies – these over-simple answers.” 

Brant Hansen has come back from a short blogging hiatus with two posts (must reads, in my opinion) about his own stuggles, and it turns out, lots of other folks’ same stuggles. “Fellow losers” comes from his second post.

Dan Edelen posts here about using the words “I don’t know” when trying to answer the question, “What’s God trying to teach you through this circumstance?”

Both really speak, in different ways, about our compulsion to tidy up our messy, unfinished lives so that we look like we’ve got it all together to anyone who happens to be watching. We’ve all done it, most of us have done it so long we don’t even notice it anymore.

The problem is, it’s a lie, and it makes us a lie too. 

For a lot of years I dismissed the “Because you’re all a bunch of hypocrites” standard reason why folks don’t go to church, because I thought they were using it as a smokescreen. Of course we’re all hypocrites, that’s a given. They just didn’t want to deal with God and their own messes.

I still think it is a smokescreen, sometimes. But I also think that there isn’t much that is as unattractive and repulsive as a sales pitch from someone you know is a fraud.  And they know we are frauds.

We tell them, “You need Jesus. Just trust in God and he’ll make your problems disappear. Your marriage will be better, your kids will have straight teeth and straight A’s, and you’ll get that promotion. Oh yeah, remember to tithe and God will pour out the financial blessings, pressed down and shaken together.”

Then they look at our lives and know it’s a lie. The divorce rate among evangelicals is a little above national averages, our kids need braces and tutors too, most of us dislike our jobs as much as they do and tithing usually results only in having 90 % of our income to live on.

I’m not saying God doesn’t help with at least some of those things, sometimes. I’m just saying God isn’t as easy to pin down as we lead folks to believe.  Psalm 77 says, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen…” Isaiah 55, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” His ways are past tracing out according to Paul in Romans. But we think the only way people will believe us is if everything has easy answers… and six steps to an easy life. 

I think about the only thing we (us, not Jesus) have to offer this world of brokenness is the truth. The ugly, rough edged, I need prozac, I don’t know the answer, I’m a mess and that’s who God prefers to love, truth.

A little honesty, that’s all. 

Wouldn’t you breathe a little easier if this Sunday your Pastor got up in the pulpit and started his sermon with the words, “Fellow losers…”? I mean, after the shock (and the laughter) wore off, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to carry around the heavy load of pretending everything was fine? If the “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” face we put on when get out of the car and walk through the parking lot wasn’t needed, wouldn’t your step be a little lighter?

Do you want to know what is attractive to this world? Having real hope in the midst of the same trials and tribulations everyone on the planet shares. Being honest about what a life trying to follow Jesus looks like. Cavities, warts, confusion, chemical imbalances and all.

When we show that to those who are watching, then they might just listen to what we are saying.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Eveybody’s already seen it…

December 7, 2007

…but it makes me laugh everytime. (and these others do too.)

On Being Satisfied…Or Not

December 5, 2007

Here’s a question for you.

Are you satisfied pleasing God?

Are you really? Or are the things you do designed more for pleasing people (your self included)?

Think about that for a while, and I’ll do some confessing in the mean time.

Lately God has been dealing with me in three areas. He’s been gentle, and even though I’m seeing more of the way I really am, there’s no condemnation. It’s as if he’s saying, “You’re now ready to see a little bit more of what I see everyday.”

It’s a humbling thing to know more about yourself. Humility ought to make me shut up. Lack of it makes me, like Job, utter what I do not understand. So I think I’ll try more quiet & listening, and less speaking. At least the kind that comes from thinking I’m further along than someone else. 

In a nutshell, he’s showing me that I’m…

1) …very fallible and incompetent.   I was under no delusion before, but I had hoped I was closer to swapping the prefix in- between those two words. There are some good stories connected with this one. (More later…)

 2) …not usually brokenhearted over my sin. I’m more irritated and frustrated, so I “try to do better”. But “sin management” doesn’t work too well. On the other hand, when I have been brokenhearted about some besetting sin, I’ve seen much more real change in my life. But that’s a scary prayer, “Lord, Break my heart over my sin.” (see Psalm 51)

3) …not satisfied with pleasing Him.  This one was really a question, “If I called you to a life of hiddeness, and I was most pleased by that, would that be enough?”

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to please, or impress the people around me. But my greatest pleasure  -and ultimately it is about my pleasure. Pascal said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.”, and I find no reason not to believe him.-   should come from pleasing God.

I know that.

We all know that, at least in our heads. I don’t know about you, but my problem isn’t that I don’t know. My problem is that I don’t trust Him enough to quit “spending [my] money on that which isn’t bread, and [my] labor on that which doesn’t satisfy.”

Let’s see, Holiday multi-culturalism plus religious ignorance….What could possibly go wrong?

December 5, 2007

kosher-ham1.jpg

(HT, BHT)