the Elixir

 Then he went down to Capernaum . . .  he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.
In the
synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon . . . 
“Come out of him!” Then the demon . . . came out without injuring him.
All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and
power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!”  -Luke 4.30-37  

Today is intentionally brief on my part because I want you to do the hard work of reflecting and acting.  Seriously, the sum total of all your reading and whether it will breach from the underworld into the world may come down to this moment here.  

Your wilderness jaunt, that time spent in the underworld was not for naught, you possess an elixir, a gift, an authority and power to use for the freeing of others.  The question is not if but when.  The secret to you bringing deliverance to others is in your identity.    

So today we are going to reflect and affirm and act.

REFLECT:  what was transformed about who you are and who you are becoming?  What little gift do you possess now?  Why is the Spirit on your life?  You will be tempted to minimize it and discount it, by default you will initially look for a power of possession, prestige, and politics as you think about answering the question, but remember those are foils.  The power, the Spirit's power, is something different, the Spirit's power is in coming into your own authenticity, trusting who God is revealing you to really be.  So who are you becoming?  What are the new desires forming in you?  What decisions are you being emboldened to make?

AFFIRM: confess them out loud.  listen to your voice saying, prophesying this over you.  

ACT: today, not tomorrow, but today, act out of this new understanding of who you really are.  

Isn't This Joseph's Son?

This was a spoken word piece on gave on a Sunday after reflecting on the constant barrage of the world to attack our sense of being children of God.

“Isn’t this Joseph’s Son?”
Furrowed brows.  Mocking gestures. 
Arrows aimed to belittle my Nazareth debut.
A question meant to expose the legitimacy of my Oracle. 

Your hushed whispers, awkward giggles, 
A synagogues jealous contempt
Undermine the message,
discredit the messenger, 
bring the Kingdom to a screeching halt.

“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
I mean no disrespect to the dad
                   cradled me and fled
                  the tyranny of Herod
A refugee on the lam,
hidden in the shadow of the Pyramid
To fulfill the Father who said
Out of Egypt have I called my son.

"Isn't this Joseph’s son!"
This dad’s integrity I would never twist
A shield to my mother from gossips ugly hiss
Dreaming of angels.   Courage to risk. 
I cannot disrespect this. 
The dad who understood what I meant when I said
“Didn't you know I had to be about my Father’s business?”

But when you chide, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  
I sense the tone of shame, dishonoring.  
Gawking.  Mocking. Defrocking my homily.  
Discrediting.  The legitimacy of the Message
I am.  
Mitigating your responsibility. 
A feckless, reckless, senseless, denseless, pretentious
pack of jackals nipping at my heals

"Isn't this Joseph’s son?"
Yes, indeed, as you well know
But I am so much more than the designation
with which you seek to pigeon-hole

The Jordan washed off my youth
And embraced me as a man
The river of yesterday, today and tomorrow
Revealed Son of God.  Son of Man.

A Phophet-Baptizer
Voice glowing with coals of fire
Announcing to a wilderness nation
God’s lamb.  Winnowing fork in hand
Emmanuel.  Prince of Peace.  The Great I Am.
Jordan’s shores burned in waves of revelation
God’s society arrived .
Fire from Heaven anticipation.   
I came to give men life.

"Isn't this Joseph’s son?"
Nazareth’s small town cacophony
dared and scrutinized
by the sky’s gash and laceration,
hushed into whimpering humiliation
clouds clapping in thunderous ovation

The sound of the Blue Sky Voice
Eternally ringing in my head
Heaven’s Son
In Earthy waters.
Beloved Heir.  
Dotted upon by a proud heavenly father.

“No, this is my Son!”
Announced in wild eternal epiphany
Brooding over the moment the Spirit’s feathery reverie
While sons of Adam and daughters of Eve
Stunned into silence by this holy ancestry

But you weren’t there
And you would never go.
You prefer labeling from a comfy village
Chattering in smutty prejudice

"Isn't this Joseph’s son?"
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree"
Pegged, boxed in my future
The definer greater than the defined
You meant to label me by another man’s name
and limit me to another man’s life

My dad was a carpenter and his dad was one too
A genealogy of hammers and stone masonry tools
Society says, “Be content with the builder’s guild.”

But clouds brooding over the Negev are witness
As a thousand doves flying in formation testified
The thunder pointed a boney finger and the cosmos prophesied
And this little Jesus boy experienced inside
what only
the
only begotten son understands
when the Father boasts,  “You’re mine!”

I'm still Drenched in that moment
Sopping wet in royal dignity
Draped in heaven’s Seraphim enthronement
The son of God’s identity
Frees me
to really be
the only possible me.   
My own recapitulation of humanity

With scepter in hand I turn and face your rejection
Satan’s new twist and trap at defining me
Victimization.
A codependency on the world feeling pity for me
Not even a Nazarene stampede, a public shaming can eclipse my real identity
 

Who I am is bigger than what you do
Who I am is more defining than what you say
Who I am is more eternal than this momentary blip
I know who I am and I am the way...

To the year of the Lord’s Favor
to your freedom from being defined
by your family generational superstitions
I am the Christ hacking the hexes and curses
Rest!
Release from Debt!
Return from lonely exile!

There’s another family out there
Capernaum, Samaria,
the Decapolis and Bethany
Of Syrian Lepers, Sidonian widows, Zacheus Tax-Collectors
Prodigal orphans, whores and harlots, demon-crazed fugitives, 
The misfits of our illustrious society, thieves on crosses
blindman beggars, untouchable lepers,  the mary magdalene’s,
blue –collar fishermen, Samaritan businessmen,
the diaspora on pilgrimage return

There's a whole family of others about to discover
they too are God’s beloved sons and daughters,

alea iacta est

Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee,
Now Jesus came to Nazareth,
where he had been brought up,
and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day,
as was his custom.
He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.
He unrolled the scroll
and
found the place
where it was written,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.”

The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled . . . "  -Luke 4.14-21

In January of 49 BCE Julius Caesar paused and debated what to do at the edge of the Rubicon River, a tiny bridge extended its way over the boundary of Gaul into Rome proper.  The bridge marked the point of no return for the Roman General.  Caesar's popularity and wartime heroics threatened the Roman Senate.  They had sent him a letter demanding his resignation as governor and disbandment of his army or he would be an enemy of the state.   The Roman Republic and its laws declared that all generals must disband their armies at the Rubicon before returning home. To cross the river with the army intact was treason and a declaration of war against the Roman State.  

Suetonius, the Roman historian said,

Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and said, "We may still draw back: but, once across that little bridge, we shall have to fight it out."

 As he stood, in two minds, an apparition of superhuman size and beauty was seen sitting on the river bank playing a reed pipe. A party of shepherds gathered around to listen and, when some of Caesar's men, including some of the trumpeters, broke ranks to do the same, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran down to the river, blew a thunderous blast, and crossed over.

Caesar exclaimed: "Let us accept this as a sign from the gods, and follow where they beckon, in vengeance on our double-dealing enemies. Alea iacta est. (The die is cast)."

Caesar had fought in the Gaelic Wars for eight long years, they were his wilderness, now he was returning.  The question he was faced with at the Rubicon was how was he going to return?  The same way he left?  The wars had changed him, emboldened him, and readied him to come back differently.   But he had one final decision as he stood on the banks.  Was he coming back the old Caesar or the new Caesar?  And how he returned would not just define Caesar but would define Rome.  As he crossed the river with his army he seized his destiny, defined his history, marked Rome and everything that it would become.  

Every hero in Scripture has a Rubicon they must cross, a place where all eyes are on them, a defining moment that seals their fate, a point from which they cannot return.  Great people often have several thresholds, moments of crossing over.

Abram leaves Haran. (Thomas Cahill shows this as a radical departure from the Sumerian norm, a foolish and irrevocable decision leaving the world of the circle to walk a linear line, defining him as a man of faith.)
Jacob Crossing the Jabbok. (Jacob crosses the Jabbok after wrestling with Angel, to face his brother, Esau, is a point of no return).
Moses stands before Pharoah.  (When Moses said, "Let my people go!"  He would never be able to go back to the bucolic and solitary life, he crossed a line, he was now a prophet.)
Joshua and Caleb bringing back the minority report.   (Joshua and Caleb present a report to the people of Israel that pushes back against the other 10 spies.  They mark themselves as unconventional, out of sync with group-think).
Ruth leaving her homeland of Moab.  (Ruth's poetically rich words, "Wherever you go, I will go, your people will be my people, your God my God" was a Rubicon moment.)
David stepping out to face Goliath
Esther appearing before the King uninvited.  (The moment she stepped into the King's chamber uninvited, she did so at her own peril, Esther would either be killed or heard.  There was no turning around, taking it back withdrawing into her private quarters.)
Elisha burning his plowing tools and sacrificing the oxen.  (Elisha was a farmer.  Elijah walked up to him and called him to follow him into a prophetic ministry.  Elisha builds an altar, burns the plowing tools and sacrifices the oxen, and once he does, he has nothing to turn back to, its a threshold).

I grew up in Stockton, California, was hired by my home church as a youth worker, and over the next 15 years worked my way from youth pastor, to college pastor, to college administrator, and to Vice-President of the college.  The next move for me was President.  And the opportunity was offered to me on February 21, 2003.  I spent that Friday evening in prayer.  If I took the position I was locked in and would probably never leave.  I knew in my heart what I was supposed to do, I knew it, like I knew it.  

Saturday Julie and I started packing.  We got boxes, took the beds off their frames, started moving everything into the living room.  We had no idea where we were going.  We just knew.  On Monday I sat down with the President and informed him that I was resigning.  That conversation was my Rubicon.   Avoiding that conversation, refusing to cross my Rubicon, would have meant sequestering the transformation in the underworld.

Thresholds are a necessary part of transformative journeys.   Thresholds must be crossed if we are to mature, move on to what's next, and become our true self.

Growing up Jed had a paralyzing fear of heights.  When he was 14 he told me he wanted to overcome the fear, we decided we would tackle the fear by climbing Half Dome.

We camped in Yosemite Valley, woke up at 2am and started hiking toward Half Dome from Happy Isles.  He was pumped, ready to seize the day.  

By 9am we had reached the subdome approach to the cables.  We scrambled over 500 vertical feet up the steep granite incline

The heat was coming on and the altitude was getting to us.  Jed was tired but determined, until . . . 

 

 

 

 

 

We reached the cables at the base of Half Dome.  He sat down put his head in his hands and told me, "I don't think I can do it."  We saw others turning around and heading back.  A lady a quarter of the way up the cables was screaming at her husband for making her climb it and yelled at him as she turned around to come back down.  Jed was really disappointed in having hiked 8 miles up to this point only to realize he couldn't do it.

"Dad, I know you'll be disappointed in me, but I just can't do it.  I'm afraid."

"Hey, don't worry about it.  It was a nice hike and we can totally go back now if you want.  This is your trip so it's up to you.  Think about this, though, tonight when you lay down and go to sleep what will you wish I had said to you in this moment?"

"I will wish you had encouraged me to do it, to face my fear, to make it to the top."

As soon as he said that he got up and started making his way up to the cables.  And that was his Rubicon, once he started up the cables, he faced his fear and made his way all the way to the top.  When we arrived at the top he said to me, "You know how I made it up to the top?  I took a step and said, 'Jesus died and then came alive after death so that I would see that death is nothing to be afraid of.  I said this each step all the way up.  Over and over."  

When we come out of wildernesses there are always thresholds that must be crossed.  Fearpoints. Bringing to the very public world that reality that is within. The only way to bring to the surface the victories from the underworld is by crossing a threshold, bringing the invisible into the visible, the spiritual into the material, the eternal into the temporal, by the "word becoming flesh."   

Lookback.  The underworld was the place we became aware of the Spirit's power, and we observed that it wasn't held hostage to possessions, prestige or politics.   We may have been duped into thinking that the Spirit's power was a spiritual force aiding us getting the 'real' power of possessions, prestige or politics, as if the Spirit's power was a kind of utility, something useful but not beautiful, rewarding in and of itself.  

The cultural-world proposes a power through "the quality and quantity of possessions that can make us or make our family happy."  The work-world suggests a power through "ascending the pinnacles of prestige, the corporate ladders of influence as the way to significance."  The societal-world demands a power by "taking control of our external worlds through politics or positions as the way to freedom and security."   And it's easy to see how without an underworld exposing us to these sinister entrapments even we as Christians can think that the Spirit has brought us a power to competes against the world in some kind of quest to arrest these other powers.  

The wilderness exposed those powers as lies and revealed the truth that the Spirit's power is something internal empowering our weaknesses not by making us strong but by making our weaknesses strengths.  The Spirit's power is the internal blessing and approval we live in, not because we are prestigious or applauded by the world, but because the Father blesses and approves of us in the baptism of Christ.   The Spirit's power is the Kingdom of God that is within, not the political clout without.    

Before we traversed the underworld we too defined power by the world's contagion.   But all of that is changing.  We are aware of a different kind of power, the Spirit's power.   We are aware of a different kind of kingdom, Heaven's kingdom.  Armed with this new awareness we are called to cross the threshold.

Jesus shows us where the thresholds often lie, how we cross them, and what happens when we do.

In full awareness of the Spirit's power, Jesus returns to his home.  On the Sabbath day he stands to read the Scripture.  He finds the place where Isaiah prophesies about the Spirit's power (61).  He reads it, all the gloriously shocking details of the Messiah's inauguration.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
. . .  to proclaim good news to the poor.
. . .  proclaim release to the captives
 . . . regaining of sight to the blind,
 . . . to set free those who are oppressed . . . 

You can see it if you look closely.   The antithesis of everything he was tempted with in the wilderness right there in prophetic prose.  He has refused the world's powers and the Scriptures on that Sabbath, coming from his lips are declaring the Spirit's power.   It's a power of using his voice rather than politics, prestige and possessions, a voice for good (news), for release, and for freedom to oppressed.

"The eyes of everyone were fastened on him."  (i.e., this is a threshold moment.  What will he do?).
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled . . . "   (Boom! He crosses the Rubicon.  There is no going back.  He has just declared that today is the day.  Now is the time.  He is the man.)
"But isn't this Joseph's son?!?!" (The buffeting, the pushback, the resistance.  This is to be expected.  They are the same ol' them.  You are different you.  Much water has passed under the bridge between the last time you saw each other.  Crossing thresholds can be jarring, confusing and bewildering to the eyes fastened on you as you reenter the new world.)

Five minutes later the men of the synagogue are pushing and shoving, thrusting and kicking Jesus out of the synagogue, and they don't stop.  Their rage and anger escalates into a contagion as the mob pushes him out of the town limits.   A violent judgment possesses them as they rush to perform a public execution.

"But he passed through the crowd and went on his way."

And those are the words of passing through the threshold.  And just like that he is on the other side.  He will walk 10 miles, adopt a new family, Peter's household and the world--you and me--will never be the same.

A Different You, But the Same O'l Them

Here's the thing with transformations in the heart--you got the same skin, the same countenance, the same history, the same family, the same personality, and at first glance, your world in its mindless and hypnotic state has no other recourse but to react to this alien-you.  What they cannot see, but what you know is that deep down in the utterly naked part of your soul you are different.    Y O U    A R E      D I F F E R E N T ! ! !    Down in that memetic core where desires are forged and decisions are blaze to life you are not the same.  You are not reflecting, imitating the rest of the world, you are reflecting and imitating Christ's heart.  You are not striving and stressing for approval and glory, you are resting in the Father's blessing.  The only tactic Satan is left with, at this point, is to get the crowd and the mobs, Legion and various group-thinks to challenge your identity and in doing so to get you to question it.  Because the Spirit's power lies in the identity, and the only way to stop its force is to April Fools you out of it.  

So where is your rubicon?  Where is your threshold?  What line marks the demarcation between underworld and world?

 

This week . . .

So this week I will begin posting as I wrap up the 50 days in the underworld journey.

Tomorrow:  alea iacta est.
Wednesday:  I'm not Joseph's son
Thursday: the Elixir
Friday: Becoming the Mentor

Coming out the 50 I got super busy.   Tried to wrap it up last week but to no avail.  I feel the Spirit tugging at me to finish this and begin phase 2.  So lets do this-this week.

In preparation read with me Luke 4:18-19

 

Satan in My Dust

Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!    . . . .  Then the devil left him, --Matt 4.10-11

The Lord God said to the serpent,
. . .  cursed are you . . .
On your
belly you will crawl
and dust you will eat all the days of your life.--Gen 3.14

Happy birthday to my sister, who has been reading these along with me each day and sending me encouraging texts along the way.  I love you, you are a wonderful person and sister.  So proud of you.  

 

There were two defining visions that were part of my spiritual formation.  

My sophomore year of college was this kind of cyclical trudging along in joyless obedience, begrudgingly yawning my way through in half-hearted attendance as I studied for my B.A. in Theology.   My G.P.A. was a 1.8, I skipped classes, pulled pranks, and forced myself to volunteer at the local church's youth group for credit.   I felt stuck and really wanted to be somewhere else(that's another story).

The first vision came in the form of a dream.  I had returned from a Sunday morning church service, laid down to take and nap about 3 in the afternoon, and fell asleep.  Instantly I was awake, wide awake in a cosmic state.   My existence suspended in this vast expanse of God.  I felt exposed, soul-naked, my life in minute detail was scrawled out over the length of what seemed to be a mile, and I was standing before the Life (that's the best I can do at describing what God seemed to be in that moment).  The evidence, my story, actions, and attitudes disappointed me to no end.   Detailed in minute-by-minute logs was my story,

Sunday May 1, 1988
10:00... slept in
11:00... went to church, sat in back, slipped out early . . .  sermon was boring, 
12:30... went to eat with _____ gossiped and made fun of _______, he's weird.
1:45...  saw someone in need outside restaurant, but too busy to buy food or sit and listen.
2:00... wasted time playing games and listening to radio
3:00... took nap

This kind of blather went on and on, year after year... a story of self-serving, half-heartedness, living for me, living in the gullet of lukewarm monotony, unaware and uncommitted to the Kingdom of God, just building my own little empire in the sand.

Two haunting movements happened in the vision that live with me.  First, I tried to back up, hands behind my back as a way of covering up the evidence. (Kind of like a kid with his tiny frame obstructing his mother's view of the cookie crumbs, where evidence of his little rebellion lies.)  As I backed up I was aware that the evidence, a minute-by-minute log, was a mile long and my existence was a speck of sand, the smallness of my existence could not cover the vastness of my evidence.   

Second, I crumbled to my knees, and then into a fetal position, and begged the Life to give me a chance to go back and relive my life.  I pleaded for mercy, for one more chance to get it right.  I experienced this deep awareness of the finality of it all.  
There
was  
n o t h i n g  
to go back to.
Time was done. 
And what was done was done and in the books.  I begged, I acknowledged how wrong, how selfish, how foolish I was.  I was horrified by this thought, I will have to live forever with that life.  

Instantly I came to on my knees.  And there was this overwhelming sense of gratitude that somehow I had convinced the Life to give me another chance.   That moment I resolved to begin living wholeheartedly.   It would take many months, a couple situations, and a lot of stumbling, but I was stirring awake.

The next vision happened more than a year later.  The more awakened I became, the more fear I possessed.  I had turned the corner of not caring and now I cared so much that I was afraid of failing.   I woke up one night in that familiar state of paralysis that many people experience, frozen in dark fear, terrorized by the lack of control.  My body could not move an inch and my voice could not speak a word.   

I heard this voice, coming from the dark closet in my periphery, a manipulative and sinister whine, "Give me his soul!"  

Dear God, Satan is in my closet!  Why is this happening to me?   

"No!" Said this peaceful Presence that flittered over me.
"I want his soul!"
"No! You can take his health, wealth, his successes, but his soul is mine!" (I sensed the Father was revealing to me what Satan wants and can't have.  Not so much what God's will was for my life.)

This wrangling and bantering between the Defender and the Accuser went back and forth for 3 minutes or so and resulted in the darkness from my closet walking out and praise and worship coming to my lips.  (I sensed the Father possessed my soul to free it, whereas Satan would possess it to bind it.) 

These visions made me aware of several realities but for our purposes here these are the few I will share :  (1) I am not sure if the Life was demanding an account of my life, but in that cosmic moment that is all I wanted, with everything in me.  Just facing the Presence changed all my desires to wanting to please Him more than anything.     (2) I was not certain that Satan was a self-autonmous personality in my closet, but I was certain that the nagging accusations filling me with fear and shame were satanic, I was certain that those accusations were REAL and they demanded to possess my life from the dark and closeted space.   

The Bible gives voice to realities that our imaginations cannot keep up with.  The war of the spirit worlds, vying for our essence, thru the capture of our desires and lusts, are described with very real and otherworldly language.  This contagion of desire and vociferating antagonism, the sense of guilt (wrong-doing) and shame (wrong-being), the Bible articulates with courtroom language as a violent drama, suspended somewhere in the dark underworld.  The cast in this drama includes:

Satan, literally, "prosecutor," accuser.  The voice of accusation.  Matthew describes him in three movements:  

  • Tempter:  (exciting within us the desire to act independent of God and seek to be gods through power, prestige and possessions).
  • Devil (fr. Greek meaning adversary): the relentless pressure and anxiety on our soul that tells us we need to do more to be more, we need more to be more fulfilled, we need to be over more to be more secure.
  • Satan (fr. Hebrew meaning accuser):  the constant voice of accusation and condemnation that rails on our soul once we have caved and fallen, that then tells us, "You are what's wrong with you!"  "You are guilty!"  Or get's us to turn that rage and ache on others around us, blaming them.

Paraclete, literally, "defense counsel," A defending attorney, (the Holy Spirit takes this posture)
World, the voice of the masses, the mob, weighing our life in the temporal scales of power, prestige, and possessions.
Yahweh, God's place as the ultimate and final voice, authority, deciding our innocence or guilt on the eternal scales of loving mercy, doing justice, and walking humbly before God.

Matthew concludes the temptation narrative with these words, "Get behind me Satan!"  And then continues, "Then the devil left him."

And he walked out of the wilderness and the Spirit's power was on him.   When you face the adversary and the accuser and you hold to the Voice of being God's Beloved, with the value of a thousands treasures, you encounter a different kind of power, not money power, not fame power, not politcal power, but Spirit power.   The Holy Spirit is on you, yes You.  Not your accomplishments, your possessions, or your empires, but your essence.  And now you know the difference between the Holy Spirit and every other spirit.

And just like that, likety-split, you have left the spirit of Satan in the dust and been hoisted up to the kingdom not of this world.

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.    
Prayer.  Pray a transforming prayer from "and the Spirit's power was on him."
Conversation.   Cleapas with someone about the real source of power.

 

 

The Return

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. --Lk 4.14

Returns are the outcome of wildernesses.  

Theophilus would no doubt have been familiar with the Illiad and its sequel the Odyssey, where  Odysseus the Greek hero returns home after the war of Troy.  It takes Odysseus 10 years to make it home, and once he gets home he has to set his family free.  Luke tells Jesus story in such a way that Theophilus would have immediately seen the parallels.

The return is part of the journey.  This week we will be taking up our time talking about the return.

Where do you sense a greater power at work in your life?  Where do you see the Spirit working?

Think through this and jot some words down.   It's time to return and help your family, people, and those in the scope of your world.  It's time.

Please throw a few lines out at me.

Narrow into the Heart

 Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Luke 13.24

It was a wonderful Sunday today.  I am a bit exhausted from a long weekend so please excuse my first draft and unedited feelings this evening as I write.  (I will likely wake up in the morning and clean this up more, but here is what I am really, strongly sensing and feeling right now).

In all the Gospel accounts the crowds always, always get it wrong.
They are flighty, unstable, shifty, trendy at their VERY best! 
At their worst, the crowds are driven by mob mentality, 
Crowd-think, group-think, at the best is mindless detachment from the real and at the worst, it is at the heart of destruction and evil.

"We are legion," roars the demoniac! to Jesus.  This is another way of saying, "We are the voice of the mob, the crowd, the disembodied presence of the masses living inside of one man."

And Jesus sends them into a herd of pigs.   The mob mentality is for the pigs.  

Mimicking the crowds, following the crowds is our default.  We follow political crowds, trends and style crowds, consumer crowds, religious crowds, whatever is "all the rage" and wherever "the latest and greatest thing is happening."  The crowds blame the last president, the current president! Groupthink means we don't think for ourselves, someone else thinks for us, the media-right or left.  

Rene Girard, the great anthropologist, in his theory of mimesis, says we do not know what we desire, what we want until someone else gives voice to this--a parent, a professor, a pastor, a peer--and once we hear this in the crowd we know what we want and we begin to hate those that are opposed to this, possess this, or what postmodern literary criticism calls the Other.  That entity or group, that our entity and group hates, despises, rejects, and scapegoats.  

I've seen this at work even among pastors and churches.   (sadly, I have participated in it).  And even in talking about it I must keep checking my heart that while I warn, discern, I am not judging or creating another mobthink.

Jesus over and over refuses to commit himself to the crowds because he knows what is in a crowd spirit.  He knows that anonymity gives permission to the individual to be evil without consequence, to stumble forward unindividuated and in a drunken stupor.  It also gives the individual permission to join in a mob like chorus of judgment and close-minded thinking as it reduced humans made in God's image to ideas, images and everything we hate about ourselves. 


Even when the crowds chant, "Hosana, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" on Palm Sunday, Jesus restrains himself, and cries over the city, saying, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem you kill the prophets . . . you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

When the demoniac says. "We are legion!"  This is another way of saying, "The demons are in the crowd-think and mob."  

Have you ever seen a mob?  There is a mindlessness, a hypnotism, a raging energy driving the individuals out of their individual senses, away from personal, intimate oneness with God and into an impersonal inhuman oneness with the masses.   

Jesus says to make every effort to enter in through the narrow gate.   Having experimented with this in prayer, I really sense this is the call to step forward through the heart.  The narrow-gate of the soul, the inner portal of access into the landscape of the Kingdom.  This cannot be accessed through a mob, only through the heart.  "Broad is the way that leads to destruction, but narrow, in the heart is the way that leads to life."

This past week I did some transformative praying on the following:

“No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”  (Deut 1.35-36)

I was drawn into the wholehearted life, over and over.  I saw Jesus as a wholehearted human, I saw myself as a wholehearted human, I saw you, as a wholehearted human.

Caleb was a man who differentiated himself from the crowd, bringing back a minority report, his individuation, faith-filled and wholehearted was through the heart and into God.  It's the only way one can follow God, wholeheartedly, through the heart.   

This is Jesus as he walks out of the wilderness, this will be us as we walk out of this season.  We are NOT legion!  We are ecclesia!  We are called out of the crowd, awaken from the hypnotic drone to a vibrant followership of Jesus.

 

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading?   
Prayer. Pray a transformational prayer about wholeheartedness.
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.

The Pregnant Pause

 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.--Col 2.17

 

I woke up that morning, it was a typical day, everything seemed ok except for Julie and me having a 'discussion,' she was anxious about something and left early that morning to take the kids to school.  I went about my typical Tuesday then I got hit with this bombshell. Jerusalem, our 16-year-old daughter, on a Tuesday around lunch time sent me this text.  I remember where I was at in my office, I remember what I was doing, I was traumatized.

 I stared at the text with a blank look and here's what rushed through my mind, I'll slow it down so you can read it, but the thoughts went 0-to-60 in a nano-second.

Thoughts:
What the?!?!?!?!?!
Oh God, no! No!

I didn't even know she had a boyfriend?!?!  
Am I that out of touch?  Apparently so.
she was doing so well in our family devotion discussions
She's not ready to be a mother and I'm not ready to be a grandpa

I will find that guy and I will . . .
Voices and faces, lots of them, from the church I was raised in:
          "We told you not to move to San Francisco."
           "See this is what happens when you raise your kids away from the Bible belt!"
           "You missed it, God never called you to San Francisco, now your family is suffering."
           "If only your family was a priority, raised in a church with youth programs . . ."
           "This happened because you left your denomination."

Me:
Crying.  
Panicking.  
Staring at my white desk in disbelief.  
World crashing in.
Chest feeling tight.
Crying again.  
Stomach in knots.
Accuser: you have let your family down, you have let your church down, you are lousy!
Accuser using Scripture:  [a pastor] must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him.  For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?  1Tim 3.4-5
Accuser giving solutions: you need to resign from Lighthouse, draft a letter to the Board, you need to move away and focus on your family, you are so out of touch.
Thoughts again:
Jeru would never send a text like this to me, she would tell me in person.  I have too close of a relationship with her.
Wait!  This must be God!  She meant to send this to the boyfriend but accidentally sent it to me.
God intercepted this and it got sent to me.
So that's why Julie was so upset this morning when she left the house!  She knows about this.
So much is starting to make sense.
How will we make it financially?
What should I do, I need to get in front of this.

Planning:  
Julie and I need to talk.
Meet with Jeru tonight and assure her of our love and support.
Call mom and dad.
Draft Resignation letter.
Figure out where to move.
Beat the @*%#  out of the kid who did this.

 

It took me about 10-minutes to rush through those thoughts and emotions.  My stomach was in knots, my eyes all red, and my reality was rocked.

I hate confrontation.  Hate it.
Picking up the phone I dial Jeru.

"Hey, Dad!" (I can hear a bunch of girls giggling in the background).

"Jeru, this really isn't funny.  This is serious.  Your whole life is going to be impacted by this.  I don't understand why you are laughing.  Do you realize the gravity of this . . . "    (awkward pause)   "Am I on speaker phone?"

More giggling and laughing.

"Jeru, I'm serious, this is serious!"

"April Fools." (click)

And that's exactly how it went down.   There I stood an emotional mix of anger and relief, joy and plotting revenge my revenge, thankful and bewildered, gullible and not laughing.  Here's the crazy thing for 10 minutes my reality was what Jeru told me.  For 10-minutes she controlled my reality and by controlling my reality she owned me.  It was only two words: I'm pregnant.  But that news, bad news, shaped my reality and wreaked havoc on my emotions (anger, depression, discouragement) and my physicality (crying, stomach in knots, loss of appetite).   It doesn't matter that the news wasn't real, the fact that I believed it, gave it the same power over me as if it were real.

Perhaps the two most disturbing outcomes were: (1) I began interpreting the world around me based on an illusion, a lie.  I concluded that Julie's behavior and anxiety were due to Julie knowing about Jeru's pregnancy.  I interpreted the unconventional text from Jeru as some kind of intervention from God.  All the facts were skewed to fit into this new illusory reality that I believed.   And, (2) I started making decisions about my future, life-choices that would affect our church and our family based on these illusions.

Here's the thing, whatever you believe to be real is your reality.  It doesn't matter if it's a lie or an illusion if you believe it, you will interpret history and facts based on these illusions, you will manipulate life to fit into these lies.  These lies and illusions can affect your health and physicality, your emotions and demeanor.  In fact, because this is the lens through which you are looking at reality, you will look for more evidence and proof of it wherever you look.   And then, here's the scary part, you will begin to make decisions based on these lies and illusions and those actions and choices will perpetuate the lie, sustain the illusion because they now will become part of the narrative, the proof.

Jesus unmasks the illusions of desire, acclaim, and ambitions.  He shows us that his reality is the Voice, the Blessing, the Father's love, and the Presence.   And then he steps out of the wilderness and says, "The Kingdom is here, now.  Open your minds and believe the 'Good News'." 

In other words, quit living in the illusions of the world, conforming to it.  Finding your identity in your addictions and desires.  You do not have to be forced into the illusion that your life means something, is valuable because of your celebrity status.   You do not have to live under the illusion that freedom means control over others.   All of that is bad news and it will perpetuate itself in your life.   The Good News is the Father loves you, for you!  The Good News is the Father blesses you.  The Good News is the Father delights in your presence, just you being with him.

The questions is: what are you going to believe?  illusion or reality, bad news or good news?

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading?  What evidence of good news and kingdom reality is happening around you?
Prayer. Take a moment today and thank God for something he is doing in your life.
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.


 

 

Wilderness Q & A, pt 2.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone . . . "
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God . . . "   

Tomorrow we will continue with a discussion on the power of reality.   I will share with you a day that will go down in Garner Lore as an instant classic, comical classic.

 

There was a moment, an aha epiphany, when all the pieces came together, the little words, the joyous experiences, and the recurring patterns.   This is the third time I have referenced the two cooing doves.   Each morning from 5am -7am, these two snow-white doves, perched themselves on an old telephone line outside my Presidio sunroom window.  They would coo as they faced our little brick house.   This went on for several weeks, day after day.  I sleepwalked through the whole thing, hearing them, seeing them, but in another very real sense not seeing them and not hearing them, their presence muted and muffled into a white noise of unimportance (Which reminds me of the time.... 

January 2016, reading from Acts 2:17  "young men see visions, old men dream dreams..." in a Sunday sermon, talking about how visions and dreams were the way in which the Spirit moved, transitioned the church into new frontiers.  

+Stephen's vision... frontier of the churches diaspora.  
+Peter's vision... frontier of gentiles inclusion
+Cornelius' vision... frontier of an entire household.  
+Paul's vision on Damascus road... frontier of a new kind of apostle
+Paul's dream of Macedonian Call... frontier of Gospel crossing from Asia into Europe.  

And then I said, "If God gave us a dream or vision how many of us would follow it?"  "Well, let's just ask him right now."   We stopped right there and asked.   Sunday evening I had a dream vivid and clear.   But on Monday when I woke up, although I remembered the dream I forgot about the prayer and didn't even pay attention to it.  Several days passed where I spent my time each morning asking God about what he wanted to speak to the people in the coming week.   Nothing.  Wednesday or Thursday, someone asked me something and Sundays public prayer rushed back to me.   I had already forgotten.  Was thinking about the future and not living in the present.   We miss so much.  And that's why Jesus says over and over "watch and pray")

Back to the cooing epiphany.  So one day I'm on a call with my mentor and I offhandedly mention the doves.

He asks me, "Interesting.  Where in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Christian Scriptures are doves mentioned?  I wonder if the Spirit is saying something to you, seeking your attention."

As soon as that window was flung open, heaven rushed in.   I noticed them.  Really noticed them.  (I remember the Sunday after Jed and I standing outside and gazing at their perched message,  I pointed up the long alley leading to Julius Khan Park,  there wasn't another set of doves to be seen all the way up the hill.)  

This message triangle is a tool that helps with listening, discerning, and moving into action.  Here is a Biblical example of it at work.

Here is a personal example of how it works for me.

Grabbing my Bible I read the two dove stories (Noah, Jesus)  listening to what the Spirit was saying.  The word transition hit me so hard.  Both stories were stories of transition from the waters of covenant to the land of wilderness.   Both dove stories were a reminder of grace, the Spirit's presence, in the midst of change and transition.   Once that window was open I could see and recall so much more.  I recalled seven years prior when we moved into the Presidio a similar sign,  two doves cooing, and how I had pointed out their peaceful presence to the family.  

As all of this was piecing together, I heard the Spirit say, "You are getting ready to go into a season of transition.  You will come through it safely and transformed.  I brought you to the Presidio seven years ago to teach you how to rest.  You have learned that lesson, now ready yourself for transition."

The Scriptures, as we have already pointed out, play the role of clarifying exactly what is going on, directing Jesus how to be and what to choose, and transitioning the role of the Spirit from guide to empowerer.   Finally, the Spirit's presence in the Scriptures is the tandem through which the Kingdom awakening happens.   

 

How did Jesus know what Scriptures to use against the Devil?

In the immediate moments leading up to and into the wilderness thrust here's what's going on:

  • John the Baptist prophesies over Jesus, that he will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matt3.11)
  • The setting of the epiphany is the Jordan River out in the wilderness.
  • The Voice speaks from the Heavens, calling Jesus "Beloved son."
  • The Spirit leads Jesus to fast for 40 days and nights in the wilderness and be tested.

Where did John's prophecy point?  Exodus (20.18) says, "The people saw the voice and trembled in fear."  How did they see the Voice?  Jewish Rabbis said the Voice came down from the mountain at Sinai and split from one language into 70 voices and 70 languages at once, a thus creating a thunder.* The words God spoke were also on fire and the fire rested upon each person present at the mountain. (Shemhot Midrash Rabbah 5:9)   Jeremiah describes it as “Is not my word like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?"  The image here is sparks flying from the pounding of a hammer on rocks, so that these flying sparks, words, flickered a flame over each person.  John's prophecy of baptizing with fire is an echo of the Voice on Sinai.    

Considering the prophetic moment with the Baptizer, the epiphany in the waters with the Father, and the message of sonship the Father speaks, the kairos happening in that moment would have led Jesus to begin interpreting it all with the Torah, but where would he go?  He would have first looked for where all the signs were pointing:   

  • "Voice" is mentioned 35 times in Deuteronomy. (most of any book in Torah)
  • "Presence" the way the Spirit is described in Torah is mentioned 22 times (most of any book in Torah).
  • "Jordan River" is mentioned 31 times in Deuteronomy. (most of any book in Torah)
  • "Wilderness" 13 times, second only to Numbers.  
  • "Promise" and "power" are mentioned more in Deuteronomy than any other book in the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • Picture of the Fatherhood of God comes from Deuteronomy, "and in the wilderness . . . God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” (Deut 1.31)

So if you were standing in the Jordan, being baptized and you saw the Spirit and heard the Voice say, "Son" and then if that Presence filled you and led you out into the wilderness.  If you had memorized the Torah you would immediately make the connection to Deuteronomy, recalling the writings, taking mental note of where there was a convergence of these themes and patterns and you would then meditate, engage in transformational praying in these Scriptures, listening for traces of the Spirit as He speaks, directs and guides.   

All the signs pointed Jesus to the book of Deuteronomy as the place he should go for instruction and guidance in the wilderness.   When Jesus faces the temptation in the wilderness he knows the temptations are categorically the same as what Israel faced and failed.  Jesus refuses to imitate Israel and chooses rather to imitate the Father.

We infrequently do this kind of processing intuitively, but Jesus did it intentionally.   We can learn and transform by adopting this discipline.   In fact, Jesus challenges us to discern the kairos and watch for the signs.

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?  (Luke 12.54-54

Jesus says we can intuitively discern weather by observing signs, but we do not intentionally interpret the "kairos" (the moment, the now).  The skill of processing the now, looking for the signs of the kairos, is absolutely necessary to encounter the Kingdom, for it will be "good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes." All of this discerning the kairos is said in the context of watchfulness (Luke 12.35-53).

Three times Jesus says, "It is written" as he pushes back against the devil.  Each time he speaks from a specific instruction within the Torah, from the same book and even the same sermon.   The words Jesus quotes come from Moses' final words on how to transition into the Promise Land, as they stand in the wilderness, on the other side of the Jordan river.

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading?  Any signs or kairos to interpret?
Prayer. What Scriptures are you drawn to as an interpretive grid for your transformation?  Pray them.
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.

 

*Hebrew 'qol' is the word for thunder and voice.   It's also worth noting that in John 12 when the Voice booms over Jesus saying, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again."  The people simply heard thunder, Jesus interprets the thunder.  

Wilderness Q & A

"Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit." Luke 4.14
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”--Mark 1.15

I figured we could do a little Q&A on Jesus in the wilderness today, as we look for clues as to what our seasons of transition, our journeys in transformation are meant to do for us.   I've heard my mentor say from time to time, "God leads us into the wilderness for revelation, and ushers us into the Promise Land for possession."  

 

Why does the Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness?

If you missed "the gate of heaven is everywhere" then you will want to read it since my reply here will not make sense without it.

Why does the caterpillar go into the cocoon? To become what it is.   Why does a student go into medical school?  To become who she is.   Why does Israel go into the wilderness?  To become the nation God is calling it to be.   Why does Jesus go into the wilderness?  Jesus goes into the wilderness to become who he is.   We see the full expression of this in noting the differences in the pre-wilderness Jesus and the post-wilderness Jesus.   

The baptismal-water revealed Jesus' identity, but the wilderness reveals Jesus mission in the light of that identity.   The one speaks about who he is the other about how he lives.    The three environments--barren wilderness (scarcity), platform of a crowded temple (illegitimacy), and a glorious empire summit (inconsequentiality)--provide three settings for God's kingdom to be contrasted with human systems, constructs and empires.   Jesus, mentored by the Spirit, responds to the three propositions and another kingdom emerges.  A kingdom that is not are built on bread-making, brokered through temple-pleasing, and ascended through a game of thrones exposes the the kingdom that are dependent on such as temporal, shallow, and empty.   Jesus' transformation in the wilderness was a transformation of reality.  

For example, in the first test, we see the world as a kingdom trudging along in the unchallenged hypnosis of consumerism and productivity, under the blind assumption that "making bread of stones" and feeding the "hunger" is what is real.   But Jesus exposes this as an illusion by choosing the Voice over the hypnosis, and when he does he see a different kingdom, heavenly, godly, eternal and all within the now.   

The wilderness then reveals the mission:  To bring awareness of the Kingdom of God and help people become citizens of the Kingdom of God.    

What I am suggesting here is that just as the Holy Spirit mentored Jesus into identity, the Holy Spirit then mentored Jesus into mission.   Only in the light of who he was could he understand what he was to do.   And it was in this dance of being in the waters (identity) and becoming in the wilderness (transformation) that he came to doing (mission) in the world.    The Kingdom of God was revealed in the contrast of everything Satan offered.

 

What Kingdom message does Jesus experience and then give voice to?

“The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!”--Mark 1.15

Through the years I have preached from the lectionary, preached catchy sermon series, and preached exegetically through the Bible.   I can tell you from experience by far the most transformative sermons are not sermons, but messages that God through the fire of experiences and the transformative work of his Spirit had worked in me.    I'm saying anyone with public speaking skills can preach a sermon, but a message is something only those transformed by God in the wilderness can give and share.

Jesus walks straight out of the wilderness with a message!  He's not studying for a sermon, prepping for a lecture, researching a topic, exegeting the Hebrew Scripture, at least not at this point. He has experienced the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit revealed to him the Kingdom of God vis-a-vis the kingdoms of the world, and this was good news!  Notice Jesus' Gospel, at this point, is not "death, burial and resurrection" it's Kingdom, God's Kingdom.  

So what was the kingdom message?  Whatever it was it was something he had just experienced, something that had transformed him.

Rene Girard, who will go down as one of the greatest philosophers and thinker of our time, said, "when you are with the crowd you are possessed by the crowd.  The Gospels show us from an anthropological perspective that the crowd spirit is a real power on earth, a force, that conquers even Peter when he betrays Jesus."  The Good News gives us power over the crowd, over the mimetic forces, so that we can self-differentiate from the crowd into our true selves.

-Jesus' cultural and societal news, his crowd noise, was fear-based and said scarcity in one's life was a sign of being orphaned from God.  If one was not able to satiate his appetites he was cursed to unhappiness.  The myth was if I can have whatever I want then I am really God's son.   The good news of the Kingdom was the Voice is the sign of sonship in God, and we already have the Voice.  The sons of God live by whatever the Voice declares, not by making bread.  This is the equivalent of the old proverb, "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime."   Jesus is saying the Voice sustains for a lifetime, turning stones into bread sustains for a day.

-The cultural and societal norms of Jesus' day claimed that one's notoriety validated and legitimated one's worth and proved God's blessing.  That is, if one was forgotten in obscurity or unapproved of by the Religious Elite and the Temple faithful God's blessing must be absent.   Jesus exposes the Kingdom of God as a kingdom above these laws and demands, it just does not follow these norms and expectations.  It's such good news because it declares God's blessing booms from his voice, and satiates us deep within, and we know because it's in us crying out, "Abba Father!"  The religious icons and cultural gods can never give us the worth that we already possess in our heart with God.  

Ethnic voices and national masses of the day had only one paradigm for freedom, promise and eschatology and that was world domination.  This societal bent demanded that a nation needed become the world power and only then would it be free.  The way to be a person of consequence was to deliver your people from the occupational forces of Rome, deliver your people from the invading terrorist groups, wrest the power from the powerful and then freedom would be won.   In the moment of Jesus' face off against Satan he exposed political power, imperial power, economic power, cultural power, military power as an empty and temporal sham.   The real power, the power that lasts beyond here and now, and yet is here and now, is the Kingdom of God, the power of the Spirit.  And the good news is you don't have to overthrow Rome, Communism, Democracy, or a Monarchy to finally have it.  The Kingdom of God is now,  here or as he will preach, "within you."

 

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading? 
Prayer. Offer a gratitude for how the Gospel has changed your way of looking at the world, overcoming the world, and engaging the Kingdom.
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.

He is the Promise Land

These notes were jotted down from Angela, one of our leaders at Lighthouse, last year as we reflected on the Wilderness.   I've been saving them for this moment.

Jesus defeated the temptation, not the wilderness. Jesus entire journey was transitional. He came through it but kept going back to it. He went to it for life. For rest.  It's not the wilderness, or transition, that we need to defeat. We have been given the power and authority to thrive in the midst of transition, like Jesus. To get life from it. To see the miracles of God in it. To welcome people into it and help them walk in it. But not defeat it. The end goal is not to "get through it." It's to get life from God in it. It's to have victory over the temptations and animal instincts, the matters of the heart, IN THE MIDST OF IT. It's to have a relationship with God through the uncertainty of transition. He is in the wilderness. He IS the promised land.
 

I love that last line.... "He IS the promised land."

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading? 
Prayer. Pray a prayer of gratitude on why and how He is the Promise Land
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.

 

Stopping the Shame Cycles of Massah

The devil [said] "For it is written . . . "

 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

In 2002 I was in my third residency at Gordon-Conwell as I finished up my Doctorate.  The first day of class Dr Haddon Robinson, the seventy-one-year-old distinguished professor, gave his famous opening lecture to a classroom full of doctoral pastors.  I was taken in by his Charlton Heston voice, natural movements, and his winsome illustrations.  He opened with a story about his first day as a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois with his advisor and classics scholar Dr. Otto Dieter. 

"In the eerie classics library sat Dr. Dieter, a chain smoker wreathed in smoke. I went in, and he said to me, ‘Well, what do you want?’ I said, ‘I want to preach.’ ‘Preach, huh? You believe you need the Holy Spirit to preach?’ ‘Yes, I do.’ ‘You’re out of luck,’ said Dr. Dieter. ‘He hasn’t been on campus for fifty years.’”

On the long library table between the two of us lay a pulpit Bible, covered in dust. Dr. Dieter pointed at it and said, “You know how that book differs from Aristotle, Quintilian, and Plato? I’ll tell you: that book’s alive. I don’t know anybody whose life changed by studying those books, but I do know some people whose lives have been changed by studying that book.”

“That was a word of grace to me, Here I was alone, facing this hard-bitten German professor. And that was like God saying to me, ‘Robinson, you need the Holy Spirit, and you need the Bible, don’t forget it.’”

Haddon's lecture continued as he talked about the task of handling a Living Word, the integrity and honor, the commitment to not dissect the life out of it, any time you dissect something you kill it, but let it live in its own natural habitat.   As he moved toward his climactic point the room became tense, at least for me, "Listen, pastors, each Sunday you stand before God's children and speak on God's behalf, this is a terrible responsibility.  When we preach the Bible, we preach with biblical authority. And like Augustine says: What the Bible says, God says.

  "You better make sure the Lord said thus when you preach from the Thus-saith-the-Lord words because if he didn't you have committed the ultimate rape of Scriptures.  If you are not interpreting God's word with an integrity on par with the kind of sacredness of God's voice, you are raping God's word."

So if, for example, you take Ruth and preach on how to relate to in-laws, the person hearing the sermon thinks, If I don't deal with my mother-in-law this way, I am disobedient to God. To me, that's a rape of the Bible. You're saying what God doesn't say.  

That moment was a watershed moment in my life.  I couldn't stop crying. I was keenly aware of this tension in my life between what I knew to be Truth and how I was living that truth.   There was a kind of dissonance between what God was revealing to me from Scriptures about his Spirit of love and grace and what I would get up and say in the classes, chapels, and Sunday worship services.   An inner tug-of-war stretched my soul and my existence into two halves.  

"Thou art the man!" Nathan's words to David were inescapable.  I felt singled out, exposed before the Eternal.  I felt like the lone culprit in the room.  The lone Jonah on the ship.   

I got up and walked out of class freighting this heaviness of dishonesty with God's word.  I found myself in the beautiful chapel, sunlight streaming in through the stain glass windows, sitting in the shadows and asking myself over and over, "What am I going to do?"  I knelt, then prostrated myself on the floor.  I cried and cried under the heaviness of the words I had just heard.  I had preached, taught, guided from these Scriptures and knowingly misapplied them, knowingly misused them, proof texting and eisegeting.  

I realize you may be thinking that I am being way too harsh on myself, over-burdening myself or simply just being too sensitive.  But here's the thing, I knew this wasn't me being harsh on me, this was God confronting and calling me to change.  There is a difference.  The former lurks under the despair that nothing will change, dis-courages you from taking any risk, and you are left with a denial of all new possibilities, as you seal yourself behind the dank cellars of fear.  The latter is an audacity challenging you to change, en-couraging risky faith, and calls you to step through the fear into the beyond.

All that said the initial engagement of God, to jar be free in my thinking, free in my spirit, and free in my living is heavy, existentially angst-filled.

I ached with the thought that I derived my income, supported Julie and our 2-year-old and 3-year-old, from preaching things that supported an image of God as being transactional, legalistic, demanding, and hard-to-please.   My eschatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, Christology, pneumatology.... all of it was under the microscope.   Jesus' woes directed at the scribes, lawyers and Pharisees targeted my heart.   This was my humbling Damascus Road moment, God was unapologetically confronting my life with his love.  

I stayed there in that prostrate posture well into the afternoon.

When I got back to my dormitory, I couldn't sleep.  I laid down on the bed and again started crying, staring up at the wooden rafters above my head.  I prayed and reflected, asked God to help me know what to do.  How would I support my family?  What would my friends and colleagues say?  Something had to be done.  Something would be done.  The Voice always moves us into life, moves us forward in resurrection.  Satan always holds us captive to our fears, shame, and distrust.

Satan's interpretive schemes perpetuate the status quo--deal with your shame by playing the devil's game.  Jesus is going to jettison this game, and open up a new world of shamelessness, freedom, grace, and love.  If Satan can loop Jesus into the human games of shaming, blaming, grandstanding, people-pleasing Jesus will simply provide us just another coping mechanism for the kingdoms of this world, the status quo.

Satan hermeneutic fetters us to the cyclical worlds of shame, the world where we read the Scriptures as though they are a primarily a checklist of things we are to do to deal with our shame.  Jesus, on the other hand, interprets the Scriptures as Good News about what God has done and is doing to deal with our shame.   This idea of Good News will be central to Jesus' message coming out of the wilderness.  The Gospel is good news, not a to-do-list.  It's history, what God did, not steps, what we do.   When we read Scriptures through Satan's hermeneutic shame is never dealt with, we're just given some busywork to perpetuate it: 

1. shame (I'm not enough) >
2. get-the-world's-attention (do something great to mask that feeling) > 
3. show the world that God reacts to my doing (if I jump he sends angels)
4. despair (realize how fleeting and temporal that moment of attention getting is) >
5. fail (realize the feeling of not being enough is still there) >  

Jesus says, "Do not put God to the test."

Once again Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6.  Moses is speaking to the next generation of Israelites as they prepare to go into the Promise Land.  He reminds them of their father's generation who tested God at the waters of Massah, and Moses says, when you go into the land that God promised you do not go back to that "testing" disposition of your fathers.  

When Israel got to Horeb there wasn't enough water and instead of praying and asking God to guide them, which is what God wanted to teach them, they demanded Moses magically make water appear as proof that God was with him.  They filed a legal complaint against Moses and Aaron, threatening them with capital punishment for bringing them out into the wilderness.   Moses cries out to God and God has Moses strike a rock with his staff and water comes out of it.  

What ends up happening is a precedent and pattern is set in motion for the next 40 years that whenever there is not enough they demand Moses do something to prove that God is with them still, and the cycle continues over and over.   Hitting rocks, demanding quail, begging for Manna, victory, clothing, the list goes on and on.  Because the first generation of Israel doesn't trust God, they go through these cycles and never enter into the Promise Land.  

Moses says to the next generation, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah."

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading?  Think through how you would fill this in:   If only I had _________________'s attention then I would be enough.  When you are not abiding in the Shadow who's attention do you think will make you enough?   Reflect on the places where you have sensed you had God's attention and how that made you feel.
Prayer. Pray a lectio divina prayer with Deut 6:16-19
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.

 

Interpreting the Shadows

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.--Psalm 91.1

"This was your great-grandmother Sophie's favorite Psalm.  She had it memorized.  Your grandfather had it memorized. I have it memorized and now you both are going to memorize it."  My mother had my sister and me dutifully commit to memorizing the 91st Psalm.   I think it took us a couple of months, I cannot remember how old we were, it seems like we were still in the single digit stage.

Through the years the final verses of that chapter have faded like cheap ink from memory.  But the first 5 are chiseled in stone.  I suppose that has something to do with the rote memorization technique.   We started by memorizing verse 1, then verse 2, then we would go back to verse 1 so we didn't forget it.  It looked something like this:  1; 1,2; 1,2,3; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4,5; 1,2,3,4,5,6; 1,2,3,4,5,6,7; and so on until we completed verse 16.  That means that we really, really knew verse 1 and we only kind of knew verse 16.   I am sure there was some kind of incentive for all of this, but for the life of me I cannot remember what we were incentivized with, I just know the Scripture.  Thank you, mom.   The 91st Psalm has been a real gift and treasure to me through the years, especially vs. 1 and vs. 14.

I did go through a brief moment in Jr. High, however, when I tried to distance myself from the Psalm.   A Sunday School teacher taking us through Jesus's temptation at the Temple in Jerusalem pointed out how Satan used Psalm 91.  I was kind of upset about that.  Like why did Satan use the one I had memorized.  My black-and-white mind wondered if there was some kind of shadowy darkness to this Psalm since Satan knew it and used it?  

Somewhere in my college years I picked the Psalm back up and found comfort in its first few lines, I even remember praying and asking God if he would grant me access to"abide" my whole life in that "secret place" and "shadow" of God.   My roommates, Kevin and Mark and Darrin (all pastors now) were exceptionally gifted.  Kevin preached like no one I knew, Darrin was the student body president and an exceptional leader and gregarious personality, Mark was a creative genius (he could play any instrument, write, sing, and teach).  I didn't feel confident in any of those capacities at that time, so I searched out the "secret place of the Most High" hid out in that shadow;  I discovered when I was in that space nothing else mattered.  In that space, I was ok with not having a clearly defined role or recognized place in the college.  I volunteered as asistant to the youth pastor, I was like Dwight K. Shrute, wasn't the assistant youth pastor, just assistant to the youth pastor.  :) 

The secret place, that mystical abode tucked in the shadow of God from the notice of others, but aware of his eyes doting and countenance assuring the path.   The paradox of a soul shrouded in sanctuary, vulnerable yet invincible, a reality that eclipses the games that people play and the illusions the ego creates. 

The context of the 91st Division of the Psalter concerns the contemplative and humble frame, the life tucked in the shadows, free from the hustle-for-applause.  The thrust of the Psalm is about living in the shadow, finding life and purpose, identity and meaning in the secret place of the Most High.  The Psalmist then takes the remaining 15 verses to unpack the blessing of Shadow-dwellers.

So when the devil says, "It is written, he will give his angels charge concerning you and they will bear you up...."  He is removing the promise from its context of living in the Shadow.   The Devil contorts the promise into being about people who live in their own light and in the light of the applause around them.  The hermeneutical grid that Satan uses is ego-centrical, and suggest the individual and not God is the center of the universe.  Satan uses the props of Jerusalem, Temple and pinnacle and the act of grandstanding to confront human-shame, and even provides Scriptural justification for this very selfish act.  

There is something very, very transformational teetering from the walls of Jerusalem's Temple.  The exchange between Satan and Jesus, the dialogue and rhetoric require a certain kind of 'hermeneutical,' skill, which basically is a wit and craft in the art of interpretation.  One of the most significant transformations happening in the wilderness is we get put in touch with the spirit of the Voice, not just cold words, black ink on white paper, formulaic hacks to a lifeless existence, not just letters jumbled together forming words and sentences, but in the wilderness we come to know the difference between the Voice and an echo, the Divine meaning and deceitful spin.  We are able to discern what the words mean, how they are interpreted in life-giving ways, and how God speaks through them.   This ability to interpret is not just limited to Scripture; it also includes reality, life, people, and situations.  

We do this all the time with people we know:

Julie says, "You don't need to get me anything special this year for Christmas."
Interpretation:  Get her something special.

Jeru texts: dad, call me ASAP!
Jeru 2nd text, 1 minute later: ?!?!?!?!
Jeru 3rd text, 2 minutes later:  OMG, dad, what's taking so long.
Interpretation:  She needs some $, I can talk with her tonight its fine. 

Jed:  Hey dad, what do you think about capital punishment?
Interpretation: don't answer.  Just listen to everything he says, he has really thought this out and has more to say about it than you do.

Because I know these three people intimately I know what they mean, I don't just listen to their words, but their voice and their meaning, the context and body language.   The wilderness will give us this skill, this hermeneutic for life, a way of seeing and interpreting the world and Scripture, and significant moments.  The wilderness puts us in touch with an interpretive grid, giving us a sense of what is really, really, real versus what is illusory.  Because here is the deal, it's not just about seeing it, it's about how we see it.  The wilderness will transform how we see it, how we interpret it, how we derive meaning from it.

Jesus puts it like this in Luke 11:

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your way of seeing is enlightened your whole life also is full of light. But when your way of seeing is dysfunctional your whole life also is full of darkness.  See to it, then, that the way you see comes from an enlighted place and not from a darkened place. 

Jesus is saying, how you see things is really who you are.   I've noticed this when leading people through lectio divina, there is a kind of self-disclosure that happens as we share what we are reading in the text.

What does this test reveal to us about Jesus, and hence about ourselves?   This test reveals to us that the kind of transformation and power the Spirit brings into our life allows us to stand in the presence of what matters most to our contemporaries, peers, and world and find that what matters to them just doesn't matter to us.  A sneak-peek at the wilderness-walk-out and we see a unique kind of power on Jesus, the Spirit's power; this is not political power, not intellectual power, monetary power, religious power, but the Spirit's power.  

How's Jesus gain this?  He interprets everything through the lens of the Voice that spoke the Father's love and delight (at the baptism) and through the lens of the Spirit (at the baptism).  

I cannot stress this enough, if Jesus would have interpreted Scriptures through the lens of nationalism, nationalism would have been his power.  He would have seen the State of Israel as the solution to the world's problems.  He would have come out seeking to overthrow Rome, topple Hellenism, oppress the Gentile nations and make Israel the leader of the Free World.  

If Jesus had interpreted Scriptures through the lens of his shame, his illegitimate birth, his uncredentialed rabbinical status, his backwoods, village-thinking upbringing he would have used Scripture and influence to bolster his sense of worth in the world, comparing and contrasting how he was better than other teachers, competing and vying for larger crowds, shaming the sinners and distancing himself from the prostitutes, avoiding being seen with charlatans and tax collectors.   But because he interpreted everything,
absolutely everything through the lens that he was the Father's Beloved,
he served rather than lorded,
he shared rather than hoarded,
he spoke about who he was in God rather than who he was in the world.  

How you interpret reveals the power by which you live.

Because here's the thing, if deep in your heart the stuff that matters to the world, matters to you; if what is most real to you is the beasts of scarcity, the monsters of power, and the wild hordes of applause -you will find a Scripture to justify feeding these forces, you will find a trace of God's voice written down somewhere that you can mis-take and misappropriate.   You will use something, Scripture or philosophy, to justify your self-loathing (as a means of dealing with shame), your discrimination and resentment of others (as a means of dealing with your guilt), and your greed and hoarding, consumerism and addictions (as a means of dealing with your fears). 

Holy and God-breathed Scriptures have been used to start wars, oppress the marginalized, justify slavery and perpetuate racism and gender inequalities.  Constantine turned the sign of the cross into a sword, changing Christianity from God's victory through powerlessness to religious victory through overpowering your enemies.   The Crusaders used Scripture to pillage, rape, murder and kill Jews and Muslims.  Hitler used Scripture to validate the Holocaust.   Business leaders have used Scripture to justify oppressive business tactics for the marginalized.   Priests, pastors, and religious leaders have used Scriptures to strike fear in their people, abuse their followers, and protect their coffers.  People have used Scripture justify their discrimination, to legitimize their spiritual abuses, to claim their hatred of people from other religions is merited.   Satan has no problem using Scripture to achieve his ends.  

The wilderness is about getting a hermeneutic from within the Shadow of the Almighty and not one outside of the Shadow.    What does that mean?  It's a hermeneutical lens that sees everything through God's love, that doesn't see everything in Scripture and life as needing some kind of proof of love, proof of grace.  Because here's the deal, if I know, deep down that you love me, you can say something critical and even negative and I will see it through the lens of love.  I will trust and thank you.   And if I think you don't love me, that you have something against me, I will read every kind deed and good word you say as an evil, conniving and manipulative.

 

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in th reading?  
Prayer.  Ask God for wisdom in interpretation.  
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.

Braving the Gargoyle Pinnacles of Shame

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.--Luke 4.9

 Today I want to approach our time together with more space for reflection.  

You'll need a bit of imagination for this.  Let's start by making some associations.  Look at the following and replace the names in the text with your context.

  1. Devil* = Voice of Accusation.  (that voice in your life that suggests you need to do more to prove yourself and then when you do it accuses and shames you for not doing enough, or doing it wrong, or doing it and then pointing out how shallow you are).  For most individualistic cultures that voice will likely be your darker self, but it could be a parent, a leader, a negative friend, etc.)
  2. Jerusalem = Most dominant city in your world (could be your hometown or the big city next to your hometown, or current city of residence.).  
  3. Temple = Either your corporate, academic, or organizational world that your family or peers may want you to climb in order to legitimize yourself in their eyes.   
  4. Highest Point= The ascent to the highest position, lifelong achievement, or VIP status within that community.   
  5. Jesus = the spirit of Jesus that lives in you. 
  6. Throw yourself down = what you would do with this achievement that would get everyone to really notice you.

Now recreate this scene with the new information.

Got it?

Now meditate through this reimagining it in your context:

The devil [voice of accusation]  led him [your inner Jesus]  to Jerusalem [your city] and had him stand on the highest point [greatest accomplishment] of the temple [in your world]. “If you are the Son of God,”  [questioning your inner-Jesus] he said, “throw yourself down from here. [what would you do with your ascent to the top].

For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
[imagine saying this to the Devil voice].

See yourself making decisions and taking actions in your life that are not tethered to people-pleasing, or affirmation seeking.   

Satan says the following, "If only you were connected/approved of by ______________________ then you would be significant."  

Say out loud: "It is written, Do not put the Lord your God to the test.  I am already connected to God.  I am already approved of by God.  He has affirmed my life in Christ.  I do not have to test this, prove this, achieve this, or get the world to notice this for it to be validated.  It's in writing." 

Here's the truth of it.  God has already spoken.  He has already approved of you.  You don't have to do, achieve, earn, merit, any of this from Him.  You are his joy and delight!   Everything you need, everything, you already have in here (heart).  All the approval to last a thousand lifetimes is bound up in that little heart of yours.  Your God, and Father, approves of you, you don't have to legitimize yourself in any way.

There is nothing wrong, bad or weak about needing affection and approval.  That is part of being human, it's just coming to see that this is something already met and given in Christ.  And it's learning how not to be driven to do things based on earning someone's approval. Make decisions and choices with your life from the heart that you already have the approval you really need.

The movie Chariots of Fire came out in 1981, winning an Oscar for best picture, it's the true story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who both won gold medals in the 1924 Paris Olympics.  Both the athletes wanted to win the gold, but both for very different reasons.  Liddell was a devout Scottish Christian and Abrahams was Jewish.  At one point in the movie they both express why they run, what motivates and pushes them.

Harold Abrahams is asked, “Why are you running?” He replies with something like, “When that gun goes off, I have 10 seconds to justify my existence.”  He is largely motivated to overcome the pressures and anxieties of his world, he wants to prove his worth to the world.   

Eric Liddell explains why he runs with, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” 

They both ran but for completely different motivations.  They both won gold medals.

By the time Chariots of Fire was made Eric had passed away.  His sister was interviewed about the movie and she pointed out that the there was one thing that bothered her about the movie, it didn’t show how every time Eric ran, he always ran with his face straight up to the sky and his mouth wide open, looking like a crazy man.  She said this crazy and eccentric countenance he had when he ran was his way of worshiping.

 

THE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the the exercise?  
Prayer.  Go back to the baptismal event.  Pray those words over you in a transformational kind of way.
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about all of this.

 

* שָׂטָן (Satan) means accuser and adversary.  A fitting image here is a prosecutor.  And "devil" comes from the Greek and is a Greek compound from "dia" meaning 'across' and "ballien" meaning 'to hurl'.   Again the notion is to accuse, to hurl accusations across the heart.

The Eyes of If

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here...--Luke  4.9

High School can be tough, really tough.  All of these physical changes, emotional changes, and social pressures as one desperately tries to discover identity, purpose, and place in the world.  And all of this can come at you pretty fast so that you feel like you are just reacting to everyone around you.

Jeru* had finally got into the high school she wanted, she set out to make new friends and start a new life with all the excitement that comes from new places, faces, and expectations.   Fairly quickly the dye was cast as to who were the popular girls, as cliques were formed and social orders were set in the high school game of value, worth, significance, and importance.

Thinking the best way to make new friends was through extra-curricular activities, she decided to try out for the lacrosse team.  Jeru had never played Lacrosse and was a bit nervous, not knowing how to cradle, throw and catch, or even what the rules were.  She got this really cool hot pink stick, hot pink goggles, and mask, and was set to make her lacrosse debut.

A_________, one of the girls on the LAX team who had played lacrosse before and was popular, observed how Jeru was a novice and eager to fit in.   A_______ started ordering Jeru around, "Get my water."   "Grab my bag and carry it for me."  And the usual mild hazing.  

A couple days into this social-pecking-order-game Jeru stepped to the sidewalk on one of the SF hills where the girls were waiting for the practice field to open up.   She hadn't quite learned how to cradle the ball and A____________ made sport of the fact, knocking her ball out of the stick's pocket so that it rolled down the hill.  The girls laughed, as she ran down the hill trying to get the ball.  The humiliation was now going on its fourth day.   

That night she came home crushed and angry.  

"Whenever I am around that group I feel so ugly inside.  I feel really bad about myself.  Why?  Why are they doing that to me?  What should I do?"

She talked and processed through much of it.  I listened.  I worked really hard at trying to control my emotions, I cannot tell you how angry I was getting.    The usual reflection questions were proferred.  What do you want to do?  What would make this right?  Tell me about this girl?  Why do you want her to be your friend? 

Jeru explained how everyone wanted to hang out with her, and how the girls in that group were liked and viewed as popular.

"Why is it that I want to be around people that make me feel so bad? And how is it that I only feel bad about myself when I am around them?  I don't feel that way when I am with you or mom, or people from church, or family.  Only when I am with them.  And when I am with them I do whatever A___________ asks me to do, even though I don't feel like doing stuff for her.  Why?"

"Interesting," I said, "Let's do an imagination simulator for a moment.   Close your eyes and let's replay what happened on the street.   Let's start with everyone in the crowd.  Tell me who they are from most to least important.  Tell me why they are important, is it their appearance, athleticism, money, brains, personality?    Now replay the what happened and tell me who's laughing and why they are laughing."  

This as always is very telling, very revealing.  But I wasn't done.

"When this happened who's eyes were you really seeing yourself through?  Obviously not all of them, but there probably was one person who you saw yourself through her eyes."

"A___________."

"Here's the thing, Love.  We tend to see ourselves through the eyes of the person that is the most important person to us in that room.   If I was standing there when all of this happened you would have a different emotion.  Because I am more important to you, you would see yourself probably as embarrassed but for a completely different reason.  You would be embarrassed that I saw it, not that it happened to you.  My presence would change the whole event because you would see yourself through my eyes.  The reason we often feel crappy about ourselves and then make crappy decisions and choices with our life is because we live our lives through the eyes of the most dominant person in the room or on the field.   We view our value and worth through the eyes of the most important or significant person in our life in a particular season.   If they see us as crappy, we feel crappy."

Can you think of a time when you acted different based on who was in the room?  How your decisions, worth, personality and thought-processes changed based on who you were present with?   The reason I could speak to Jeru like I did, was I had once witnessed my behavior and sense of self devolve during a one-on-one dinner with a billionaire.  What about you, how do you change based on who's in the room?

The wilderness goes about resetting this shifty nature in our decision-making core, by giving us a sneak peek of our selves through the eyes of the Father and testing that in a non-threatening environment.   One glimpse through the Father's eyes and we value our personality, giftings, uniqueness, and presence as of infinite worth.   This is what the word redemption (revalue) really means.  

I've noticed that when I am not secure in who I am in God I live down to the eyes of the next most powerful, important, significant person in the room.  Usually, this is the person who is higher up the temple's pinnacle.   Approval ratings can be largely based on popularity, who likes or dislikes me, who accepts or rejects me, and before I know it I am making decisions and choices that affect my family and my future based on getting someone's approval.   

My friend's daughter, when she was in first grade, attended a private school.  They didn't have much money.  They saved and worked hard to put her in the school.   She was an only child and the apple of his eye; he doted upon her and bragged on her all the time.  Going into second grade they realized she needed a new uniform; she had outgrown the first-grade one, but they really couldn't afford it.  

So he pulled her aside and said, "Sweetie, this is a big year for you.  You are going into the Second Grade and now we get to take the hem out of your uniform skirt for the second grade.  We are so proud of you.  And so excited to do this for you."

They ceremoniously took the hem out.  And ironed it as best as they could.  The 1-inch hemline could be seen all the way around the skirt.  He said, "I could tell she was proud of all of this because she kept leaning into me as her mom took the thread out to lower the hem.  She couldn't wait to wear that old uniform with the unstitched hemline with pride.

Her confidence eeked out, she acted like Joseph with the coat of many colors, but hers was an unstitched hem.  She wore that skirt with such flair that several of the other girls in the class starting taking the stitching out of their skirts.  They sensed her confidence and wanted that too.   At that age, though they couldn't grasp that was that she got that confidence from her mom and dad, not from her old, too short uniform.  She saw who she really was through her dad's eyes--loved, delightful, joyous.

Who's ever approval we want is the primary shaper of our identity, of who we see ourselves to be. "If you are the son of God..." is Satan's use of the power of suggestion to lure Jesus into considering his sonship as a conditional relationship.   The location of the "pinnacle of the Temple" is an attempt to get Jesus to act and live as though he needs the approval of others to have the approval of God.  The whole episode is an attempt to get Jesus to see, act, and view himself through the eyes of the religious elite, the most important and significant and famous people of Jesus' world.

The Eyes-of-If are those eyes, wherever upon whomever's face they may be, that upon entering into a room cause you to question all the good, beautiful and realness of yourself.   The Eyes-of-If can with one glance make you question the Voice, doubt the Presence, and fear the worst.

ThE FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading?  When you are not seeing yourself through God's eyes whose eyes are most dominant in your life?   
Prayer.  Do some lectio divina with Luke 4.9-12
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about the Eyes-of-If in your life.

 

FYI: i have jeru's permission to share the following.

 

 

BECOMING THE GOLDEN GOO

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, 
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.
..-- Rom 12.1-2

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes
it has gone through to achieve that beauty.~Maya Angelou


This journal really came about through a series of events.  One of those events happened on a Sunday about two weeks before Jeru had to declare what college she was going to attend.  There were several schools on the table, and even though everything seemed to be pointing to St. Mary’s, for some reason Jeru hadn’t declared, and each time we brought it up she would just say, “I don’t want to talk about it.”  I started pushing for a gap year pretty strong.

Julie and I talked offline and decided with a little over a week to go we needed to make the big push.   That Sunday after service we went out to Spinnerie and got some rotisserie chicken for lunch.   About halfway through lunch, I said, “So, Jeru have you decided what school you’re going to declare as your college?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.  Why are you guys stressing me out with this?”

I pulled the dad-for-18-year-card I had been saving for just such an occasion.  “Jeru, we have fed, clothed, supported, loved…”  (I droned on for about five minutes of this preachy guilt-driving nonsense)  “I am not telling you where to go, or at this point, asking you where you are going, I just want to know how you are making this decision?!?  I’m also trying to discern if we have given you the proper tools for making a decision.” 

I asked out of my fears and insecurities as a parent.  Bad move. Bad, bad, bad move.  (Lesson about to be learned).

She put her head down and started crying.

“Why are you guys trying to get rid of me?  Why are you pushing me out?  I don’t want to leave?  I love my family, my church, my home, can’t I be afraid?”

Julie gave me the look like now-you-have-really-done-it.  Fix it! Now!   I was up, jumped around the table and had my arm around Jeru, consoling her.  I had completely misread her procrastination as disinterest, lack of ambition and drive, and laziness.   And really I was just reading my fears into her behavior.  She was dealing with a whole other set of fears and issues.  She was in the middle of the biggest transition in her life; it was scary, foreboding, an unknown on every level.

Transitions.  We all go through them.  Some are fearful.  Some exciting.  Some dreadful.  Job transitions.  Housing transitions.  Graduating from middle school.  Moving to a new city.   Theological shifts.  Worldview changes.  The move from one church to another.  The transition from single to married, from married with no children to married with children.  From married to divorced.  First day on the job transitions.  Death in the family transition.  Promotions.  Demotions.

All of these transitions no matter how big or how small mean we are changing, we are powerless to stop it.  We begin to discover that the transition is changing the way we think about parenting, God, relationships, the world, work, the church and how we see ourselves in the context of all of that.

And really what is most important in all of these transitions is not so much what school you will land at, how you will be received on the new job, what the new neighborhood will be like, but, What kind of person are you becoming through this?  Will this grow your character and develop the true you?

The first time I was given a professorship of a course at Western Seminary a significant change began in me.  I had taught at another seminary but it was smaller and extremely familiar, easy, and I knew the culture.  But Western was way outside of my comfort zone.  I only knew one professor on the campus, no students.   My stomach was in knots all the way to class.  What if they didn't like me?  What if I said something wrong?  What if the reviews came back at the end of the semester and the students said, "He's not that smart, he's not qualified to teach this course, his Greek and Hebrew skills are elementary, this is the worst class we have had at the seminary."   

There was a temptation for me to change my teaching style to fit in with the culture of the seminary, for me to find their voice, to be an academic.  To be someone other than me.

I got there 3 hours early.  Setup.  Went into a small prayer chapel area knelt down and begged, literally begged and begged God to help me.  I have done this enough, it comes pretty naturally.  I confessed how lost I was.  I cannot remember the exact words, but the spirit of my prayer was something like, "If you don't come through I am done."  Moments like this I feel very close to the 17 year-old me, who sensed a call, but was scared to death.  It's a vulnerably safe space.  I feel secure in my begging and pleading. The more I begged the closer I felt to him.  I felt courage to be just me. I found my voice, my rhythm, my passion and in this new context became confident in it.

Stop for a moment and reflect on the most significant transition you have been through in recent years.

What was it?_________

How did it change you?_________

It’s crazy when you stop and think about it, but transitions are spaces where we are going through changes.  Transitions are like wildernesses, and will either function as a wilderness space that transforms us to our real selves, or conforms us to the fake selves, an image of what we think the world wants us to be.

Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology Notre Dame, in his groundbreaking sociological work on millennials, titled the book “Lost in Transition.”  He says that between the years of 18-30 today's Millennials are in an unprecedented wave of transition and that they are finding it difficult to become, but wander in a state of lostness.  The picture I have when he talks about this is Israel wandering in the wilderness transitioning from one camping spot to another, day after day, having left, but never having arrived.  No significant character or spiritual formation and change taking root.  Just surviving to eat another meal, find another camping spot, and live another day.

There is, however, a fitting metaphor for what I think describes the kind of work God seeks to do inside of us as we walk through seasons of transition: the metamorphosis of the caterpillar.

NPR’s Radiolab did a series on nature’s black boxes.  Black boxes are places science has identified as mysteries—“those peculiar spaces where it’s clear what’s going in, we know what’s coming out, but what happens in-between is a mystery."  The cocoon is the most notable black box of nature.

Radiolab entered into a butterfly lab where caterpillar, pupa, chrysalis, cocoon, were transitioning through metamorphosis.   

I am not a scientist or biologists, so I have always assumed that the caterpillar enters into its cocoon state, goes on a diet and loses weight and then grows some wings out its back and what you see when you look at the body of a butterfly is just the trimmed down version of the caterpillar.   I was way off!

Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar liquefies.  Everything is turned into liquid.  The crawler loses all form and shape and becomes a golden goo.  The lumpy little fella melts.  Then the golden goo gurgles around as molecules realign and morph, rebuild and reform into colorful wings and beautiful flight.

At this point I am thinking, well if it melts down to goo, then it probably has no sense of ever being a caterpillar.  All it knows is the butterfly and the former existence is completely washed, forgotten.  Wrong!  I'm wrong again.

There were two studies this episode referred to that were fascinating.  First, a Georgetown University biologist discovered how laboratory caterpillars, conditioned to dislike certain smells, were able to retain the memory of those smells into their metamorphosis state.   The golden goo had not lost the memory in the caterpillar's liquidation.   In other words, in one sense the caterpillar died, completely liquefied, but when it came out of that deadness of sorts it had retained its memories of its previous life, but not its limitations.

I'll let you make the connections.

The second study cited was by a Dutch microscopist, Jan Swammerdam, who dissected a caterpillar and placed it under a microscope revealing tiny thin microscopic wings, tiny antennae, and legs of the future adult butterfly inside the caterpillar.    Swammerdam pointed out that the caterpillar is simply becoming what she has always had inside of her.   It’s just that the internal leg, antennae, and wings are moving from this microscopic place in her inner self to an external place, for the whole world to see.  Ghosted on her soul is the imprint of who she is to become, just waiting for a transition that will morph her into what she is about to become from the stuff of what she already was.   

This is so cool!

Romans has this lengthy buildup from chapters 1-11 as it navigates through the work that God has done for us through faith, and our back-and-forth struggle with our real selves and our false selves, and the how this plays out in both individual and collectivistic settings.  Then Paul swings the hinge into chapter 12 with a reflection on how to transform (literally, metamorphoó) this struggle.   The words seem tethered to Jesus' metamorphosis in the wilderness with Satan and is the same word used for Jesus being "transfigured" in the wilderness.   The idea of bodies-in-living-sacrifice and worship echo Jesus' words of "worship the Lord God and him only serve."  The language of "be not conformed" (literally "identified with outward forms and patterns") reminds us of Satan's suggestion to Jesus that he identify with the world's forms of overpowering others=control, consumerism=happiness, and proving myself=honor, as a means fo both proving he is God's son and making his life relevant to the world.  

Then Paul, who was three years in the wilderness (Gal1.15-18), reminds us of where the metamorphosis takes place.   "But be transformed by the renewing of your mind" Paul calls us to transformation by engaging our mind in a renewal.  This is transformational praying, this is the contemplative space where God's will is revealed and tested in our thought processes, our will centers, and our affection zones.    We are being challenged to bring the mind into the ebb and flow of Christ.   For it is in that space that we are in touch with who we really are inside and that we begin to experience the golden goo at work as it transforms our real being into our real doing.

FOUR GESTURES

Read Devotional.  
Prayer.  Pray a transformational prayer with Romans 12:1-2
Conversation.  Have a conversation with Cleopas about a recent transition and how it changed you.
Reflection.   What stuck out to you in the reading?  Why do you think you were struck by this?

 

Sunday Reflections

OBSERVE:  

where did you feel closest to God this week?  what patterns or themes came up throughout the week?  today, as you gathered in worship, what themes, words, feelings emerged?

REFLECT:

what do you think all of this means?   why do you think these observations stand out to you?  what do you sense God is saying to you in to-day?

CONVERSE:

do one of the following:
*text your Cleopas (spiritual conversationalist) what your takeaways from last week are.  then ask him/her, "where did you feel closest to God this past week?"
*talk with your Cleopas (spiritual conversationalist) and share what you sense God is saying to you.  then listen to their comments.

Into the Underworld Recap, Pt 3

Saturday, May 13

Thank you Deborah!  Love the conversation and energy.  And so, so excited about what you are experiencing in this season of life.  Can see the Father's love and delight, grace and nearness coming thru you.

 

 

 

(if you cannot make it, no worries.  we will video and post.)

join me here at this link

I am inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. 

Topic: Into Underworld Recap 3
Time: May 13, 2017 12:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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King of the Mountain

By this point, we should be aware that the transformation that God is seeking to do is within you.  We don't need to make dough from rocks to be happy.   And we don't need to control the kingdoms of this world to be free or secure.  Many untransformed Christians think they have to control the presidential election in order to protect their freedoms.  Jesus was tempted with this very thing, control Rome and bring freedom to the world.  He chose God's kingdom.   (I'm glad He did).