Precious Cargo Basket On The Nile

I don’t know how this life is going to shake out.  I feel reasonably sure I will lose some family and friends to this plague, and it could be me.  And here in the back half of my middle age, my wife (A NURSE on the front lines of the pandemic, btw) and I decided, before all the mayhem broke out, to foster and adopt babies.  Now my wife goes in to the hot zone every day to fight the virus while I have become the 24/7 baby care provider.  Two of them are permanently mine!  My babies!  Innocents who have no idea what is happening!  My children with all the love, all the hope, all the dreams and investments any good parent puts into their children, their family.

Now I wonder, every day: Will I watch my children die?  

Will they be taken away from home and die alone?

Will I die and leave them without a parent?

Will they survive this without me?

I’m not sure which scenario is worse.  I am stunned that the beautiful choices Mrs. Agent X and I made over the last five or six years now put me in this hellish position.  I am overwhelmed.

I take seriously the STAY AT HOME orders.  I wash my hands, some hours as many as eight times.  I go around cleaning door knobs and cell phones.  I am vigilant.  And I am behind the eight ball, just like everyone else.  I feel guilty every time I catch myself rubbing my tired eyes.

I turn to God in prayer daily.  He invented the love of a father for a child.  He knows better than anyone the pain of child sacrifice.  And so I read his Word looking for my place in it.

My kids watch the Prince of Egypt video at least a couple of times a week.  I go and read the story for myself too.  But the movie music has become our soundtrack of life here, and I feel it, really feel it, when Moses’s little mama puts that basket in the Nile and prays for God to watch over it as it passes the crocodiles, the hippos, the fishermen’s nets, and then gently floats down into… into… into… Oh My God!.. into the bath eddy of Pharaoh’s house!  The very heart of darkness!

How many Hebrew babies do not survive the crocs?  How many do not survive the execution orders?  How many do not survive the current of the flowing waters?  But this one navigated all of that and somehow in one of the most ironic moments of all of world history finds favor in Pharaoh’s house where God plants his time bomb of deliverance.

Our little stories of a parent’s heart and an innocent child’s complete dependence don’t compare.  In fact, hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent children will die and won’t even get honorable mention so that God can be God and do God’s thing which, we believe, in the ultimate end of things will far outweigh the sacrifices we pay.  (For the joy set before him???)

I am a middle aged man with a life time of wisdom and Bible education, but when I go read about the faith, the utter trust, in God we find in Mother Mary who in a most untimely way is promised a Son only to watch the way God leads him past crocs, hippos, fishermen and henchmen – to watch the slaughter of the innocents back in Bethlehem as her son gives the henchmen the slip one more time – all the way into the heart of darkness – the condemnation of his own people who would not receive him or recognize the day of their visitation, I am in awe.  But right there, right amid the contempt, scorn, hate, and indifference of his own people, God makes him King of the Jews and brings salvation to the world even Moses had not dreamed.

And breaks Mary’s heart the whole way there.

Just in case my babies survive me, I hope someone will step in and care for them.  They are so young.  My kids have some mild (hopefully mild) developmental delays.  We don’t want to make perpetual excuses for them with this, but the whole reason they are mine and do not belong to their biological parents is due to the drug addiction(s) those people suffer – which was also inflicted on these children in the womb.

Mrs. Agent X and I snatched them from the fires of hell when they came here, and we have loved them and celebrated them through every first crawl, every first step, every first word, and many, many, many other first experiences.  Of those legally and permanently mine, I have a little boy who is three (going on four soon) and a little girl who is two and a half.  Neither is of my ethnic background, and thus may face challenges of racism in this life.  They both exhibit signs of hyperactivity at least some of the time, and thus bring those kinds of challenges.  Basically, they have already dodged a lot of crocs and other dangers to get here, and bear the scars of other people’s sins, which likely they will deal with all their lives.

But…

But they also are incredible human beings.  Beautiful people to look at (they both had the same pretty mama), they both are quite smart (even if delayed and not well self-disciplined).  They both have big hearts.  They both love to sing, to pray, to snuggle, to run and jump and slide and kick a ball, and play with toys, dirt, and water.

My little girl will run up to me and throw her arms up over her head like a cheerleader, and this is her signal to give me a hug.  Please don’t leave her hanging if she does this.  You should feel deeply honored that she will share that with you.  It is one of God’s most precious gifts to my life that she gives it to me.

Please read Hop On Pop to her and read a Beginner’s Picture Bible to her also.  She loves the word “yellow” and will repeat it a lot – sometimes holding up red objects only to say “yellow” which in her mouth sounds like “lellow” or sometimes blue objects.  Also watch out for her since she is a climber!  She can get herself into trouble climbing if you are not watching her constantly!

My little boy LOVES to ride the school bus.  He loves his teacher, Mrs. R, and wants to learn, when you can get him to sit still.  One of the best disciplinary motivators we have found for him is to allow him to watch “one” – just that one word often conveys the idea to him.  If he gets a good report from his teacher, then at the end of the day when we lie down for bed, I will let him snuggle and watch one child video from YouTube on my phone.  He really likes the videos about construction trucks or maybe toy cars.  One of our favorites is the one about the “excavator” – the one with that ridiculous song!

Oh… now for my confession.  He sleeps in our bed now.  Part of his developmental delay (both kids, really, but my boy especially) manifests in chewing on things excessively.  Odd things too.  Books are a favorite, so don’t let the kids run off with a book; they will chew it up if left unattended.  But when he was just a little guy, we put him in his crib at night with a video monitor and watched when he woke up in the wee hours with anxiety and began chewing on the crib rail.  In a few nights, it appeared he had gnawed half way through it.  It looked like a beaver had chewed it.  Eventually, and especially since the virus epidemic (since mama – Mrs. Agent X, the nurse) has taken to isolating in the back room away from the rest of us, he snuggles on me all night.  It’s heart breaking to wake to him crying for her in the night as he sleeps.

I have hopes and dreams for my kids.  I dare to hope that when God navigated the basket(s) they drifted the proverbial Nile in and found their way to this house, that he had plans for them.  I tried to treat this house as if it were the very HOUSE OF GOD in which I am the door keeper warned to be alert and ready.  And so I opened the door to these ones with expectations of God.

Now the world outside our door is chewing up and spitting out people by the thousands every day.

I would not have got into this baby ministry without Mrs. Agent X, and now she is one of the most vulnerable of necessity workers in our community leading a team of nurses in the PICU – the very place they actually gather the very sickest of virus-infected people in one area.  She is dealing with incompetent stockpile preperations – lack of PPE, shortage of supplies, and like soldiers facing a war, she is leading young nurses into the fray and very will might not come home one night. (I often think of those 9/11 firefighters climbing flights of stairs with hundreds of pounds of equipment as if they were going to rescue people – when really they mostly just showed up to die with them instead.)

Did you ever see that movie Three Men And A Baby?  Well, in this house, it’s three babies and a man!  And if Mrs. Agent X doesn’t come home, I am in real trouble here.

Of course, alternatively, she might well bring home a viral hitchhiker that will infect us all, and then who knows what happens?

All I know right now, I am putting my babies in the proverbial basket and floating them out into the proverbial Nile.

Oh… the foster baby you ask?

Yes.  I have one of those too.  I cannot talk about him though.  She is spoken for by another, another who yet hopes against hope that he will return to that family.  That presents ironies and challenges I am not at liberty to talk about, but a thoughtful reader here can probably begin to imagine.

Look.  I am fully aware that others in this pandemic are facing realitiies I likely never will.  I shutter to imagine our little family in an apartment building in New York about now.  We are blessed with a high fenced backyard here which we take advantage of just as much as we can.  In fact, I need to get off here now because it’s almost warm and pretty enough outside for us to take advantage, and I don’t want to waste a moment of precious time I have with these God-given blessings talking about this to strangers.  But even though our story is not the worst, I hope to give voice to others.  Maybe your story resonates at some key points with mine.

This is sort of a message in a bottle.  An S.O.S. of sorts.  A desperate prayer, and a plea for my brothers and sisters in Christ and in battle to think about how we care for one another as we go through this thing.  I am betting that if I survive this as door keeper at the house of God that more Angels of the Lord will come knocking here, and I pray I am alert and ready when He comes.  Yet, if I don’t survive, I have these precious little ones who have these little personalities and special needs which I pray find love and attention.

Thanx for reading, and may God bless and keep us all.

 

 

After Mammon Ruled The World

Taking care, in my last post, not to suggest that I am exhausting the entirety of reasons for the apocalyptic tumult our nation and the world is undergoing just now, I have, nonetheless, featured the greed of the rich, the proud, and the powerful and the subsequent mistreatment of the poor and needy with biblical support as at least one key element.  It is time to take Jesus more serious than we have before.  He is not just some bumper sticker, tee shirt, or jewelry decoration on our lives; he is the very source.  And, AND, and he is the way of life as well – life abundant.

It doesn’t take much searching of the Word of God to find God’s special care for the poor and needy – the most vulnerable people among us.  It doesn’t take much searching (though it does require breaking through our own denial) to see that care for the poor is not primarily a matter of “fixing” the poor (as in “effective” charity) but rather a matter of making changes in the rich, the proud, and the powerful.

In light of all this wake up call which overwhelms the world, I point readers now to repentance.  What does that look like?  Well, let’s talk about it.  I want to hear from you.  No doubt thoughtful responses from other disciples stand to enhance this post.

That said, I nonetheless have an idea I want to share – perhaps just to get this started.  I got my idea from God.  I have talked about it before, but hopefully the world is in a better position to see with open eyes and to listen to God as we collectively fall to our knees than we were in recent years when we were driving distracted to all manner of distracted ambitions.  Here is the idea I offer:

Forgive the Debt

Pretty simple right?

Right.

You would think that such a “Christian nation” as ours and the thousands upon thousands of pastors daring to stand up and give voice to God’s Word before their flocks each week that it might have made bigger headlines.  So maybe it’s not so simple.  Or maybe we have been living in denial and very double-mindedly.  Thus, I am thinking more the latter.

This notion, the key feature of biblical Jubilee, dates back to Moses in Leviticus 25.  And while it appears the people of God BEFORE Jesus never actually observed this God-given celebratory practice, you would think that those of us “in Christ” after having believed in the resurrection of Jesus would find this practically second-nature – especially considering that Jesus characterizes his whole mission with it as he introduces his “earthly” ministry with it in Luke 4.

For those of us “in Christ,” THIS IS WHO WE ARE!  THIS IS WHAT WE ARE ABOUT!

So… why is this not who we are?  Why is this not what we are about?

Consider it carefully.

I posted a while back (seems like two years or more now) and told a story from 2008-09 about a gathering of Christians for lunch at a restaurant after worship one Sunday.  One of the ladies in that gathering worked as a loan officer at a local bank.  She was dealing with a down economy on the one hand, but had repossessed some construction equipment from a man whose business, she believed, had tanked due to no fault of his own.

That “no fault of his own” part was the part that won him sympathy with this loan officer who was feeling spiritually burdened by the fact that she was doing her job by repossessing on the defaulted loan.  She felt deeply  conflicted over it.   She had exhausted every tactic she could find to avoid it, but she still felt troubled in her spirit over this, and so she shared the story with those of us Christians gathered at the table to share a meal just after an hour of worship.

Turns out she was not seeking advice; she was seeking validation.  And that is what she got.  Lots of sympathy both for the man in default and for her just doing her job.  Yet at this table surrounded by Jesus-people sharing a meal and having just come from an hour of worship together, not one person there gave voice to Jesus’s own mission statement or how that might impact this poor man’s life and our world.  Not even just for hypothetical consideration!

When I gave voice to it, I was immediately shot down.  The proverbial wagons circled, and the oxygen I gave to God’s Word on this matter was suffocated just as fast as it could be.

I was amazed at the response I got on the blog just talking about it much later, in what by that time amounted to a hypothetical idea.  That woman seeking validation that day was making decisions on the fly, feeling alone in them, and thus might be pardoned for being on her own learning curve.  But those of us so far removed from the heat of the moment still could not imagine a bank officer forgiving the debt.  The biggest argument was that it was not her money!  She was accountable to her boss!!  And thus she was just doing her job!!!

That was the excuse the Nazis gave at Nuremberg too.

We Christians believe in resurrection!  We believe that this is our Father’s world!!  We believe that man, that woman, and that construction equipment all really belong to God to begin with!!!

The real question isn’t “Whose money is it?” but “Who’s the boss?”!

The bank works for Mammon.  Mammon rules the world in debt-creating, debt-collecting, whip-cracking debt.  There is fear and oppression in it and it rules the world accordingly.  The idea of Jubilee and debt forgiveness only dawns on the people of God at the defeat of empire – Egyptian empire.  In ten plagues, God judged Pharaoh is not in charge of this world after all, and as Israel leaves Egypt on its knees in smoldering ashes, the idea that in God’s world the debt gets forgiven was born in human imagination!

We are there again today.

Back in 2008-09, the economy stumbled – stumbled badly, and required a monstrous “bail-out.”  But no one dared imagine that we would cancel football for the year.  No one dared to imagine we might cancel all of sports (including the Olympics) and all of music concerts and Broadway shows and air travel and churches shutting down too.  But we see it now!

Now we have an opportunity to imagine our world differently.  Actually, we always did, but given the apocalyptic curtain raising on the futility of empire we have before our eyes right now, it is like eating the fruit from the forbidden tree and having our eyes opened or like breaking the bread with the Stranger at Emmaus and having our eyes opened.  The world is NOT what we were making of it.  It does not have to be like this.  In fact, it never really even could, though our imaginations were trapped.

Let us REPENT now.  And let us forgive the debt.

Talk to me…

Why?

Maybe you’re there already.  Maybe not yet.  I think a lot of us are sheltering in place, eating on one another’s nerves, twitching as we watch the reality TV go from entertainment to prophetic judgment.  But some of us are there at the gates of hell already.  And soon, between the financial crash and the health conditions, in the late of the night, those of us left alive to ask will start to wonder: why?

Why? is the question of the suffering.  We ask, “Why me?” as we freefall into pain and bewilderment  I am thinking that since the whole world is plunged together into this one, we may broaden the question to “Why us?” or maybe just shorten it down to “Why?” and let that cover it.

Suffering has a way of bringing that question close to home.  Chronic pain or sudden tumult feels like a judgment and seeks cosmic connections.  Most of us don’t talk that way anymore.  Maybe more of us did in olden times, but for more than fifty years now, alcohol consumption has moved from being a sin to being a disease and homosexuality moved from being a sin, through being a disease, to being an alternative you can’t choose – meaning it is now thoroughly baptized.

I am not here trying to debate those issues, but merely to note the changes in the ways we deal with them over time, and to say that along the way we tried to blunt the idea of judgment along with these other changes.  Thus, I figure there will be a slow burn for this to come home to roost.  Probably many of us will sit with it in the wee hours long before we openly talk about it.  It’s not a socially acceptable idea – not even at church.

But I am thinking that like the Roaring Twenties gave way to the humble thirties, our hedonisms will be tempered by downfall of our modern Tower of Babel.

So… why has this happened?

(Do I need to specify what event(s) I am talking about? – NO.  No, I don’t. And that gives me reason to believe I can say what I am about to say, and you will understand.  This is not so foreign to you that you don’t know.)

Why?

I want to think biblically about that.

In the Bible, God brings judgment on Israel, on nations, and on individuals.  Certainly Israel played a very integral role I God’s answer to all the world’s problems, and so his judgment against Israel is problematic and shocking.  I think it is for the modern world too, and especially for Americans – many of whom claim we are a “Christian nation” or even “God’s chosen people.”

We Americans tend to think God blessed America and that is the end of it.  Bumper sticker theology concisely encapsulated and ready to go.  Recent events make that a lot harder to say convincingly, though, and for those of us left wondering what happened – those of us beholding to a biblical worldview – can find answers from God.

Right off the top, I am mindful that there are numerous reasons God gives for the judgment he brings on his people at various times in various ways.  One moment it is because of sexual sin, another it is God’s answer to idolatry.  Sometimes a prophet tells God’s people they will suffer judgment and THEN THEY WILL KNOW I AM GOD.  Taken out of context, that sounds particularly arbitrary and even mean.  But this blog is concerned with one reason in particular that the prophets revisit many times over.

Why?

Because the rich, proud, powerful leaders of Israel failed to shepherd the flock and mistreated the poor and needy.

I find it interesting that in recent years leading up to this apocalyptic moment in world history, many in the church began turning away from this and assuming they need to fix the poor and needy rather than the rich, the proud, and the powerful.

But you know what reason the Bible NEVER gives for God’s judgment on the people of God?

He never tells Israel it is because the poor and needy brought it on themselves.  He never tells Israel it is because the poor and needy have become dependent on the rich, never because they are addicted or lazy, never because they just don’t care.  NEVER.

No.  Just the opposite.  Every time God connects the poor and needy to the Judgment befalling his own people, it is due to their mistreatment at the hands of the rich, the proud, and the powerful.

Maybe I am wrong about that, though.  Maybe I read my Bible wrong on that point, and if you think so, please take a moment and set me straight.

Meanwhile, check out these passage citations I jotted down just off the cuff:

Isaiah 2:12; 3:13-15; 5:8-9; 9:17; 10:1-2

Jeremiah 5:27-29

Ezekiel 22:7; 34

Amos 2:6-7; 3:15; 4:1-2; 5:11-12; 6:1, 4-7; 8:4-14

Micah 2:1-2; 5:2,4; 6:12; 7:3

Zephaniah 3:3

Zechariah 7:8-14; 9:6; 11

This list is not exhaustive.  There are OTHER biblical reasons for God’s judgment on his people anyway, and this list only covers the treatment of the poor and needy by the rich, the proud, and the powerful – and the Bible has more to say on that too.  But this list is enough to get you going.

I hope you will ask: WHY?  And I hope you ask God.  Turn to him  now and ask, and listen to his answer.  This is his world, and we are his subjects.  It could be we have some learning and some repenting and some work to do.  I have some ideas about that too.  So if you join this conversation, be ready for that soon-coming post.

 

…For The Joy…

I often wonder about the moment I die.  Typically, I live like and presume that moment is a long way off.  Several years ago, I confirmed Catholic after a lifetime of Protestant faith, and one of the religion/culture shocks I experience in that transition is praying Hail Mary, and the part petitioning for prayers both now “and the hour of our death” is the one part that gives voice to this wonder I have.  I am assured that hour, that moment, will come – yet aside from this Catholic ritual, there isn’t much occasion to care for this part of my life.

Now the world is plunged into a crisis, people dying untimely deaths in the thousands every day.  The culture shock to the whole global society gives us cause for pause, yet there are not many rituals, other cultural artifacts or expressions which aid the of the pain and fear the world is going through now.  There are, of course, lots of coping mechanisms from sex and alcohol to drugs and denial, and the wide world of market solutions, politics, as well as religions (including paganisms, Islam, Judaism, and various factions of Christianity as well) all clamor for attention.

I am one who goes to the Bible.  I’m not the only one, nor am I the best pastoral guide through the Bible either.  However, during this time of global struggle, with all the anxiety and the stress on my community, my family and myself, I am going to the Scriptures for devotional time.  I invite you to join me.

One of the little passages of Scripture I find speaking to me – echoing in my heart – in recent days is that little phrase in Hebrews 12:2 where it says, “…he endured the cross for the JOY set before him….”  It is just one little phrase, but there are none like it (that I know of) in the Bible except here.  Such a compact little phraseology which pacts such a punch.

Jesus endured the cross for the JOY set before him.  There is so much packed up in that thought which we will do well to meditate on – especially today.  I find help for my soul as I give it my attention and care, I sense that I need to share this bit of good news with others too.  Maybe in this time of stress, if you find this post, hopefully you can meditate with me here and find some relief and hope for your soul too.

Let’s get into this:

One of the dangers we always face when talking about the Bible is that it is easy to lift a text out of context and then abuse it, make it bend to our will, make it say practically anything.  Such abuses of the Bible have, on the stage of world history, been known to justify slavery or to control slaves – as just one strong example.  Let us, therefore, take a moment to ask God to guide us as we listen to his word.  Even the Gospels, quoting the prophets of old, tell us that some people, at least some of the time, will look and not see, listen and not hear.  Thus we will do well to begin by asking God to soften our hearts and open our eyes.

Prayer:

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord; we want to see Jesus.

For the Joy:

The text I have chosen is seriously just one small phrase amid a much longer sentence.  A sentence in a much longer chapter.  One chapter amid a much bigger book.  There is a lot of context in which to situate our devotion just now, and in fact, there is so much to say on that that we might bog down in just this concern.  There is an art to the way we read Bible and various interpretations.  No doubt my devotion will leave some of the stones unturned.  However, in general terms, I will say this much: The writer of Hebrews (many have thought it was St. Paul, but that is not settled) appears to be concerned with equipping his (her?) readers confidence for endurance.  There are trials to endure, and this book addresses them specifically.

The trials the original readers endure are not those of global pandemic.  In fact there is much to speculate about exactly what those trials involve, but nonetheless it is clear that those of us reading this text today are enduring pandemic.  We need to keep in mind that though there are important similarities, there are also important differences.  We will want to read over the shoulders of those original readers to the extent we can.  They appear to be Jewish Christians, people called to hold fast to Jesus as the point of their Jewish faith despite the fact that most of Judaism (as we are apt to call it) does not share this view.  It is likely that these Jewish Christians face many upheavals, possibly even persecutions, AND scorn of fellow Jews who do not share their faith in Jesus.  Thus, they endure trials.

Let us keep in mind such matters.  If this, or something like it, is the setting for the first readers, then we will want to be sensitive to that level of context.  A conservative reading of our text must be able to echo with harmony in such chambers.  We will want to adjust our devotions so that the word of God will speak fresh to us in our context, yes, but not at the expense of the meaning(s) it had for those original readers.  If the meaning we find does violence to that context, then it surely cannot be God’s word for us today.  (So goes conservative ideals, anyway, and I am beholding to them as best I can.)

That said, we can see that our little phrase falls in a sentence talking about Jesus’s crucifixion.  We know a LOT about that context.  And it tells us that Jesus endured that horrible event “for the JOY set before him.”  That is, actually, quite a lot to consider right there!

It also raises a vital question for me… a question ripe for devotion.  A question that my soul longs to ponder.  A question that ushers me through the veil of prayer and into the throne room of God where even deeper, metaphysical and existential considerations for HOPE await me at the core of my being and of God’s.  So what is the question?

What JOY is worth that???

Yeah.  This is where I start recalling a sermon I heard many, many years ago.  It wasn’t a preacher; it was a doctor.  A doctor, who was also a believer, attempted a “medical exegesis” of the crucifixion.  This, of course, is a very modernist approach to the Bible.  However, it helped, in my view, capture the imaginations of modern people to really understand what Roman crucifixion was all about, and particularly the way Jesus endured it.

The doctor explained that it’s not the nails in your flesh that kill you.  We can drive nails in your hands and feet, and you almost certainly will survive it.  In fact, you will suffer tremendously, but that will not be your cause of death.  When it comes to Roman crucifixion, the thing that finally kills the condemned is the collapse of the diaphragm, the exhaustion, because as a crucified person hangs nailed to a cross, they have to push with their nailed feet and pull with their nailed hands to raise up and take a breath of air.  And young farm boys, carpenters, and prophetic messiahs typically have the strength to do this for days on end.

Then the doc looked at the circumstances unique to Jesus, as we find accounted in four Gospels.  Before he was crucified, Jesus was mocked, spit upon, and verbally, psychologically, emotionally and otherwise abused, falsely found guilty, and then beaten with fists, mocked some more, then whipped and scourged in such a way as to make his back (from head to toe) open up with fresh wounds – perhaps with the look of hamburger meat.  Then when they finally nailed him to a cross, as he took leverage from the nails to raise himself up to take a breath (which he expended offering forgiveness of sins), he also dragged his back against the splinters of that old rugged cross.

Are you in tears yet?  I am.

THIS is the horrible thing Jesus endured.

And the writer of Hebrews comes to that most potent of little phrases and tells us he endured the cross FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM!  Yeah, the JOY of the Lord was his strength, and I want in on that.

And I wanna know:  WHAT JOY IS WORTH THAT?

Did you know your Christian faith orients you toward such unspeakable JOY?

What is this JOY?  I can hardly imagine.

In fact… how can we know?  Some stuff is just God’s mystery which he can grant to anyone he so chooses.  I personally have not seen this JOY.  I can’t hardly imagine it, even.  But suddenly this passage is sounding just a little like another one which seems to explore such rich possibilities, turn over to First Corinthians 2:9-10 (and keep your finger there, because shortly we will look at the fuller setting of those two verses too).

Here in I Corinthians 2, St Paul (we are sure it is him this time) quotes a couple of passages from Isaiah which attempted to just glimpse the depths, the fathoms, the riches of JOY and goodness God has in store for his children.  Yeah, it turns out, God has plans for us which are so godly, we struggle just to imagine.

Here is a look at that ancient text:

  …as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of humans, all that God has prepared for those who love him… For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.   (I Cor. 2:9-10).

Wow!  I am thinking you could read First Corinthians all your life and not really grasp the thing Paul is talking about.  Perhaps the Spirit of God might talk some spirit-language with your spirit and convey SOMETHING of this message to you that way, but it seems clear you will not be able to snap a picture of this mystery or to dissect it like you might a butterfly.  There is only so far your empirical, scientific analysis is going to take you here, and that ain’t far.  But there are OTHER senses which might – just might.  And we need to put those feelers out as best we can here, for this kind of passage is full of hope you can’t explain!

Oh man.  Where do we go with this now?  I don’t know.  Perhaps if you had a seasoned pastor guiding you about now instead of a street prophet, you might get a better, richer, more hermeneutically sound tour of the Bible.  As it is, if you are still reading this far, you have chosen to let Agent X take you for this little tour of heaven, and it is just about here I am thinking of that passage from Revelation 4 where John, the Seer, when caught up in the Spirit (perhaps his spirit communing with God’s own Spirit in that spirit-language), he steps through a door into the throne room of heaven and sees indescribable things which he describes nonetheless, which are too staggering for your imagination to fathom.  We see Ezekiel’s four creatures, we see lightening and thunder, we see rainbows and jewels, and there are twenty-four elders on twenty-four thrones who can’t seem to stand on their own feet as they keep falling down before the big throne and casting down their crowns.

I mean, there is JOY here which is hard to see, which is hard to make sense of, but which is so JOYFUL that these men of God can’t even stand up on their own feet as they encounter it.  

I have experienced some rich joys in my life… some I am quite fond of recalling when I get time and quiet where I can go there in my memories.  I remember eating snow ice cream with my grandparents as a child.  I remember going to the amusement park the first time.  I remember the seventh grade dance when Agents J and M taught me to dance, and I was so impressed with myself for holding these young girls in my arms.  That, of course, sends me to even more intimate joys and memories of getting married, and so forth.  Mountain sunsets, camping trips, motorcycle rides…  Some of these are my most treasured memories of some of the richest joys I ever experienced.

Some of these joys were foundational to who I am, who I have become.  They are indispensable, as far as I can tell.  But none of them measure up to the JOYS our texts describe.  Jesus did not endure the cross for the chance to dance with Agent M.  No.  There was some OTHER JOY which blows that away.  And besides, the joys of seventh grade just did not have the staying power of eternity.  Agent J broke my heart a year later, I grew up and started paying my own way to the amusement park, and it is more a joy now to share that with my kids than it is for me to ride the rides.  Also, my grandparents are gone now, RIP.  No.  We are talking here about some JOY I can only barely imagine.  A JOY so incredible that the twenty-four elders in heaven’s throne room can’t stand for it.

Jesus endured a cross for the JOY set before him.  What JOY is worth that???  In fact, we are beginning to open our imaginations to such a degree now that we might ask: WHAT JOY IS SO WORTH IT AS TO MAKE CRUCIFIXION A SMALL PRICE TO PAY???

Ooooooh….  Dare we even ask?

We are now at the outer edges of our ability to consider such things.  We are at the end of us, but we can see from here that the JOY keeps going and going and going and going.

Wow!

I need that.

I grew up Protestant, and I remember in years gone by nearly all of the “effective” and powerful preachers tended to preach a variation on the same theme which could be summed up in this question:  If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?  I can recall preachers laboring the point, saying in evermore creative and powerful ways that NOTHING is more important in all of your life than settling this matter right now!  Why wait?  And of course in the faith tradition I grew up in, this was followed by an appeal to baptism for the forgiveness of your sins.  Other traditions would come to that point and have you recite “the sinner’s prayer” and receive salvation.  Others still might expect you to breakout speaking in tongues.  All of them, in their own way, though were leveraging you with the fear of hell fire.  Such preachers tried to quite literally scare the hell out of you.

That is NOT what the writer of Hebrews is doing, not what St. Paul is doing, and not what St. John is doing.  Not in the passages we looked at, anyway.  If you look close enough in each of these books we have touched on, you will find some bits which MIGHT lend themselves more toward such a notion, but the passages we look at in this devotion go quite the OTHER way.  They point us gravitationally to unfathomable JOY rather than repulsively away from hell, and Hebrews in particular tells us that Jesus endured the cross for this JOY set before him.  It tells us this in a sermon where the overriding concern is to equip the original readers with confidence to endure the hardships they are facing too.  They will do this, the passage says, by fixing their eyes on Jesus, who for the JOY set before him endured the cross….

Fix your eyes on Jesus:

Here is a central irony.  We fix our eyes on Jesus who is dying a horrible death on a Roman cross.  That is where he is being disciplined, where we are being disciplined, and it is not immediately a sense of JOY to be disciplined (12:11), but the discipline prepares us for the endurance.  It is part of the package deal.  And meanwhile, we look at Jesus as he dies on his cross, and we fix our eyes there.

Part of the irony in that, for me at least, comes to mind when I recall my Baptist friends criticizing my interest in Catholic faith, and one of the criticisms (among many) was the difference between a decorative cross, as you find in Protestant churches, and a Catholic crucifix which bears the image of Christ on it.  Thus my Protestant friends told me that the Catholics keep Jesus crucified, and thus never really experience the liberation of resurrection which comes only after he is taken down from that cross.

I, on the other hand, note that St. Paul (back in I Corinthians 2, just a few verses ahead of the passage we just looked at above), says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (2:2).  We know Paul held a similar conviction with the Galatians before whose eyes he portrayed Christ crucified (3:1).  In fact, on page after page of Paul’s letters he keeps talking constantly about the crucifixion of Christ!  It is quite crucial!  And the passages we have been looking at reveal a powerful irony.  There is discipline in fixing our eyes here which leads to indescribable JOY!

I want to know what JOY is worth that?

As I see it, there are two ways to consider this: 1) is the counterbalance of endurance with JOY and the 2) the other is the paradox of coronation and the execution of a condemned.  I personally am more mystified by the second, but I am in no way convinced we should neglect the first.  But again, if you were getting a more pastoral tour of these matters, you might get a richer experience.  You are here, assuming you have come this far with me, with Agent X, and so we are not on THE USUAL tour, that is for sure.

Counterbalance

First for the counterbalance:  As I see it, the JOY God has waiting for us who love him far exceeds any joy I have ever known.  I have had some rich experiences, alright, some which I find foundational to my life and identity.  But no matter how rich my memory of the seventh grade dance, it was a temporal joy, one which has even been undercut by subsequent life events.  The JOY God has instore for us surely exceeds that beyond measure.

So how might we quantify such JOY – if it can’t be measured?

Well one way to do so is to point out the cost of it.  The cost acts like a counterbalance.  Jesus was crucified in a most horrible death.  But he was willing to do it for the JOY set before him.

It turns out, I have some sense of the pain, the agony, the shame, and the despair of crucifixion.  Not that I ever experienced it, but I have spent a lifetime fearing it.  I have SOME sense of it.  Certainly, St. Paul portrayed it before my very eyes.  He taught me to proclaim it until Jesus comes again.  And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all give us their play-by-play accounts.  So, yeah… in this fallen world, I have SOME sense of the horrible pain while the JOY seems a bit more illusive.

Now… to be honest.  Those first century readers didn’t have to have it portrayed before their eyes in a letter.  The Roman world was full of crucifixions.  In fact, in SOME regards, the crucifixion of Jesus was kinda light.  Not where it counts, but one of the things crucifixion was meant to do was to be a cruel deterrent.  A billboard of agony.  And the Romans NORMALLY insisted that the condemned not only die on a cross, but rot there too.  (Jesus did not do that.)  Thus the smell of the dead would waft on the wind for days and weeks afterward.  The shame of their death was left there long after they died.  And these executions typically were carried out near the city gates, public places where the whole community would see it together and take heed not to mess with Lord Caesar.

I, on the other hand, born all these eons later and at least one whole ocean removed too, have soaked in a few images in paintings and movies, but I must confess that when CNN ran a story of the ISIS rebels in Aleppo, back in 2014, the first-run, un-sanitized, unedited for TV pictures that broadcast of the upheaval featured a couple of Christians enduring crucifixion in the city center!  I saw it!  I was stunned.  I was horrified and mortified.  I was scared.  It jarred me, and all my Christian life had not prepared me for it.

But if the writer of Hebrews is credible, then Jesus endured the cross for the JOY set before him, and I wonder what JOY is worth that!  There is a counterbalance effect to this.  I may not know what the JOY is, but I have a sense of the very least it might be since Jesus was willing to endure such agony for the goal of obtaining this JOY.  It has to be at a minimum THAT JOYFUL.

That is the counterbalance approach.  And I think it is worthwhile.  It allows me, even instigates in me, the question: What JOY is worth that?  And that is a great place to spend some devotional meditation!

Paradox of Coronation and Crucifixion:

But there is that OTHER approach too.  That approach to looking at the cross of Christ and seeing, of course, the horrible execution of a common criminal – AS IT WAS INTENDED BY CAESAR TO DO!  But as I LOOK and LOOK, as I fix my eyes on Jesus as he endures that, alright, I might, just might, with the eyes of faith and with the help of the Spirit, see in it the coronation of God!

God takes Caesar’s worst, endures it, and turns it inside out and upside down.  God turns the execution of a common criminal into the crown-taking, throne sitting, moment that God comes back to be KING of his people.

Let’s look at I Corinthians 2 one more time.

We saw above that St. Paul came to Corinth determined to have his own eyes fixed on Jesus (which we may presume means he intended to fix their eyes there too).  He is not, in that case, addressing a church enduring persecution, per se, but more likely a church which enjoys a lot of freedom and maybe even wealth to a large extent.  The parishioners Paul is addressing here consider themselves well educated, smart, and they are taking advantage of Grecian wisdom to get ahead in life.

I’m thinking that up until about a week or two ago, we Americans probably would have found we had a lot more in common with this group than with those addressed by the sermon we call Hebrews.  NOW, of course, we are enduring hardship, but Paul seems to have tailored the same idea about fixing our eyes on Jesus for this OTHER circumstance.  Look what he says:

I was with you in weakness and in far and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory….(I Cor. 2:3-8).

Wow!  This is starting to sum up everything we have said so far.  We have it all here.  Jesus is crucified.  There is mystery and wisdom beyond our telling, but we can open it up to the mature… to the disciplined.  Fix your eyes here and see what JOYOUS work God is doing in the unfathomable mysteries words can hardly express.

This message – this small phrase – we started with in Hebrews appears to find connections in St. Paul’s letters to Corinth and Galatia, in the prophets of old (Isaiah and Ezekiel at least), in St. John’s Apocalypse, in the four Gospels, in the endurance of hardship and in us.  What JOY is worth the endurance Jesus underwent?  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and contemplate that.

I don’t know what you endure at your house today.  Some of you are having a troubling, nagging cough.  Some are merely fearing it.  Some of you have already sent a loved one to the hospital, and you wait hoping against hope that this doesn’t end in death.

All of us have our lives in jeopardy today.  When will the money run out?  When will the power get shut off?  When will I go to work again – OR ALTERNATIVELY – I keep going to work wondering when I will catch the bug!  What happens to my babies if I am gone?  How will I cope if I lose my babies?

Whether you are Christian or not, the coronavirus does not discriminate.  We all face these issues and more.

I keep wondering where my college kids is going, and why can’t she stay put.  Come bedtime, she is gonna want to belong here in this house with us, but who coughed on her while she was out?  Did she smooch her boyfriend?  And did he stay in and observe social distance?  Did he wash his hands after pumping gas and before picking his nose?  When she comes home, will she pay the price for the decisions this twenty year old makes?  Will my three year old pay the price for the decisions this twenty year old makes?  This nineteen year old makes?  We are not used to paying such steep prices for the foolish choices one another makes, and it is turning our world upside down!

Will there be a stock market left if we survive?  Will there be a doctor to take care of me this time next year?

There is so much uncertainty at least, and a whirlwind of suffering kicking up around us.  Now is the time to endure.  It is the only thing to do.

But the writer of Hebrews wants to equip the readers with confidence for patiently enduring hardship by fixing our eyes on Jesus.  And as this writer prepares us for this, that awesome little phrase comes bursting out of the edges – FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM, HE ENDURED….  And that raises such a profound question: What JOY is worth that?

And if you are still reading here, you have begun asking that question with me.  You have begun fixing your eyes on Jesus and the Spirit of God for the last half hour at least has begun communing with you.

There is a JOY set before us too.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and HOPE for that JOY with him as we are now called to endure.

Let us encourage each other in this.

I hope that both now, and at the hour of my death, I have my life devoted to the JOY set before us and that I am equipped to endure whatever cost as I obtain it.  I might need your encouragement along the way.

I hope to share that JOY with you on the other side.

God bless…

X

Social distancing

Street ministry amid coronavirus epidemic in Seattle looks like this:

STREET MINISTRY STORIES

The first week of street ministry with social distancing was challenging. How do you minister to people on the street and avoid contact with people? Monday evening, I went to Pike Place Market. There were a few shop vendors open for business. Some were closing their booths and looking quite worried. The only people downtown were homeless people. One of the community dinners was passing out to-go boxes, so that’s where I went. I talked with my friend Carl who was barefoot. He gave his sandals to a friend and said, “I have another pair of sandals in my backpack!” His bare feet reminded me that homeless people have big hearts and lots to worry about. I prayed with Micah, who asked for a closer relationship with Jesus. “I need help. I need to be grounded. Being homeless is like being in a constant war for survival.” His mental health…

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“Parenting From Home”

Perhaps this FEELS new, but most of the conditions we are currently living under are not actually as NEW as they may seem.

Work from home?

My grandparents (born 100 years ago) lived and worked on a farm.  They worked from home.  On those special occasions when they went into town – other than for church – they shopped at stores and used services of business people that often lived in the back room or upstairs.  Those people worked from home too.

Shop from home?

Yeah.  Speaking of my grandparents AGAIN, they didn’t really have toilet paper, as we know it.  They used the Sears catalog.  Of course, they used it once they were done shopping from home with it.  (Yeah, Amazon did not invent this.  It’s truly ironic that Amazon helped to finish off Sears using a business model not terribly different than the one that Sears practically invented 100 years before!)

School from home?

To my knowledge, this is actually a fairly new phenom on the stage of world history – especially as done with the internet.  However, I am mindful that for the last two decades, more and more colleges and universities have begun offering classes and even whole degrees on line.  If anyone should be used to this notion, it should be the young, I would think.

Parenting from home?

Yeah.  Just heard the phrase on the lips of a national newscaster.

Boy… here’s a thought which should never have been lost on us, but the fact that it comes up at all is an indication of how far astray our culture (both global and local) has fallen.  Parent from home – IMAGINE THAT!!!  Parenting as it was meant to be!

Look, if your kids are being raised by the daycare, the local school, the TV and internet, and subject to the child molester around the corner, then perhaps we need very seriously to COME HOME again as a society.

I have been thinking for a long time that street homelessness is really just the end of the spectrum… a spectrum we are all plotted on, and one which is too heavily weighted at the homeless end.  Parenting from home…  Let’s get back to that.

And while we are at it, let’s get back to loving our wives, turn off the porn, and celebrate your wife instead.  Make a commitment to HOME and then BE THERE.

Just a thought.

A bit of perspective…

Just sayin’.

School of Hard Knock’s Teacher of the Year: Coronavirus

Coronavirus, among other things, is my teacher, and I am a student learning.

Here is some of the things I learn from Prof. Virus:

I learn we are connected to people and in ways previously hidden from me.

I have heard of six degrees of separation before, but now I find just how close that is to me.  Someone halfway around the world develops a little cough and two months later, it’s all the news media, the politicians, the preachers, my friends, and even strangers too can talk about.  In fact I can’t tell where the danger ends and the hysteria begins.  We are connected to people we had no idea.

I used to drive down the street, and when I rolled up to a stop light where a homeless person stood begging, I raised my window and locked the door.  I thought I had nothing in common with that bum.  Now I feel guilty because I know in my heart that person is fully vulnerable to every wind and wave of virus, is probably exposed already, stands to be contagious, and will both die and kill me if I try to care.  I can’t get far enough away from the bums.  I cling to “social distance” like a virtue now, but two weeks ago it was a sin.

I learn that healthcare is OUR problem.

I worked hard, got a job with insurance, and negotiated a plan with a low co-pay.  I thought I had done my part to take care of my health.  I felt it was a social – even civic – responsibility to take care of me and mine.

But then Prof. Virus taught me that taking care of my health is a matter of caring for yours too, and that taking care of yours is a matter of caring for mine too.  We are in this TOGETHER in ways I never dreamed.  I used to think that the poor were freeloaders undeserving of the care they get at the ER and the expense they create which taxes the healthcare system.  I used to think the right politicians with the right plans would fix it.

Now I see that if even one person halfway around the world develops a nasty little cough, whether they have health insurance, a doctor or a medicine man, we are all in this together!  That person’s health – or lack of it – will be ALL we can talk about!  That person’s poor health will be my worst fear in a generation!  Oh… if only we had a system which had isolated and paid the bill for that one person all the way back at the start (just two or three months ago)!

Who knew OUR healthcare could be so Apocalyptic?

The local newscasters add to the list every day of places where investigators have traced down public exposure!  Churches, restaurants, the airport… hot zones are popping up everywhere.  I have visited some of them in recent weeks, now I am racking my brain trying to think if I was there before or since the outbreak!  That bum’s health is now MY PROBLEM!

I learn the COST of healthcare.

I don’t know how we are supposed to pay for basic healthcare.  That’s why we have insurance.  But politicians have been confusing this in my mind for years.

You do know, don’t your (or did you forget?) that Obamacare was not actually invented by Obama, but by Republicans who so viscerally oppose it!  What’s up with that?

Well, I don’t know, to be frank.  The whole thing is just too confusing and too confused, but I must say it sure LOOKS to me like that black man we had for president (whom a lot of us hated and still hate) suddenly championed the idea, and THAT triggered a wholesale abandonment of the idea from politicians who profited from all that hate.

But here is the little irony in all that which I just can’t figure out.  If we make it a law that all Americans get insured, isn’t that a win/win for the insurance companies?  And isn’t win/wins for insurance companies a GOOD THING for insurance companies and Republicans who serve them?

So isn’t all this scorn for Obamacare a front?

Yeah… that all USED to be my thoughts on the cost of healthcare.  I thought all the dishonesty and hate, all the political maneuvering and betrayals, and all that stuff were driving up the cost of healthcare.  But Prof. Virus taught me I was thinking waaaaaaaaay too small.

Turns out the cost of healthcare is a shut down economy.  A stock market in utter free fall.  And finally, and most importantly, doctors and nurses frantically overworked, under protected, and dying themselves like lambs going to slaughter as they manage the deaths of hundreds and thousands of sick people.

Notice I did not say as they heal them.

No.

I said as they manage the deaths of people.  The tsunami of sick people with their overwhelming contagion, is killing the healthcare workers like soldiers on the front lines of battle.

This isn’t a Republican problem.  It’s not a Democrat problem.  It is not a health insurance problem.  It is an APOCALYPTIC problem.

I learn to pray.

There are no atheists in foxholes, and Prof. Virus is ushering me into my prayer closet.  I was too busy before.  I had it figured out before, and advocated for the Republicans to pass bills which would finally fix these problems… before.  I slept fine before knowing I was insured, and that I lived in a nice clean home, all but hermetically sealed off from bums and sick people.  Now I have dreams about my children asking for toilet paper (and it’s a nightmare, not some funny thing!).

Today I know none of that happy security.

Today, I am learning to pray.

Today, I am learning that I can’t not pray – despite myself.

Today, I am pleading with God to come and sort this stuff out.

I am learning these things from Prof. Virus.

He teaches me.

 

A Boat Ride Through Baptism

When God called Noah to build his ark, he put the whole world through a new-creation, baptism.  Those few people and all the animals loaded on that boat ride, hunkered down in quarantine, isolation, and did not come out until the whole world had been destroyed and re-emerged.  I often think about what that is like.  What is it like to be locked down in the ship’s hold while the world dissolves in flood waters outside.

We know something about those deeps which that ark passed through.  We read about the Spirit of God hovering, like a brooding hen, over the waters of the deep – out of which then comes forth all of God’s creation!  The destructive flood Noah and his family are delivered through is the undoing of that.  It is not merely water rising, it is a death, burial, and resurrection.  It is New Creation!

Just remember how St. Paul calls Jesus the “Last Adam.”  So often we moderns mistakenly read that as “the second Adam,” but that is not what it says.  It says, “Last Adam.”  To my way of counting, Noah is the second.  This is New Creation, but not the Last New Creation.

Look, there is more there to explore than I am currently chasing.  I merely mean to hit on the point that the world dissolved outside that God-closed door.  Those being saved may have heard the destruction going on outside it, but they were inside the ark.  But being in that ark while the whole world undergoes destruction is not necessarily a confident thing.  In fact, I would bet it is terrifying.  A fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.

I am isolating in my home behind a locked door and the world is undergoing the Apocalypse outside.  I hear it, I feel it, I fear it.

I am certain that those of us being saved must trust God to lead us into the next new world.  We are as powerless to stop this as those ancestors before us.  They trusted God, and so must we.

The creation itself feels corrupt and untrustworthy.  Put my hand on a doorknob and withdraw a germ.  Put my lips on my lover’s and incur the infection.  I can’t baptize my hands and my whole self enough to take comfort in what I see.  The world feels utterly hostile at all levels.  It is convulsing in corruption.

And honestly it has for a long time.  I was insulated from a lot of it, but I knew it.  I was guilty of doing things in the dark which corrupted me, those I influence, and the world around us.  I looked at things I should not have; I said things I should not have; I touched things I should not have; I did things I should not have – and then I profited off it too!

I helped to make this world a worse place a long time before I ever heard of coronavirus.  I helped a drunk fall off the wagon once.  I helped a smoker fall off the wagon once.  I slaughtered a persons soul once so I could attempt to get a laugh.  No wonder the world is so hostile!  I played my part corrupting it.

I am sorry for my complicity.  I wish I had been more careful with the gifts God gives us.  I wish I had shared more with those in need.  I wish I had not stolen private indulgences in secret passions, but instead shared my meal with Jesus.  I confess; I am not worthy.

And now, I this sinner, go to this new baptism where the old man dies and a new one is raised to life.  It is risky.  Faith involves risk.  But I want to live LOVE, and so I write this post inviting anyone humble enough to come here and read to join me in devoting ourselves to that.

The prayer starts by laying claim to “OUR FATHER…” who as Father, loves his kids whether they do right or wrong.  Thus claiming our Father as Father gives us access to his heart of hearts.  I do not have to take a number to see “Our Doctor” or “Our Congressman,” but rather, I come to talk to “Our Father….”

And the first order of business is: Hallowed be Thy Name.

It is his NAME that matters… his reputation.  His status as seen in how I honor him.  May I honor him now and evermore.  May my honor for him bring honor to him and not be in vain.  But somehow that seems outside the realm of possibility, so I take comfort that my Father’s Name is Our Family Name.

May Thy Kingdom come and Thy Will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.  This is a matter of putting God in charge of me and all the earth.  It also involves trust, faith, risk as I determine to be in his will and under his kingship despite my wayward wisdom or desires to the contrary.  He runs heaven, and that is … well HEAVEN, so he surely can handle things on earth too.  Thus as I say these words, I invoke and entrust him with being in charge.

Give us our daily bread… reminds me of a different baptism… one the children of Israel underwent at the Red Sea.  And once they were free of the world of slavery, they ate the bread from heaven which they called: What is this stuff?  That was its name.  What is this stuff?  The name was a question!  And they ate it and lived.  And in the wilderness I face today, that is what I will eat, assuming I get to eat.  It will be the body of Christ, and I will wonder what it is.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive others.  I need forgiveness, as I confessed above, but I need to be forgiving too.  And I have prayed on this for years.  Especially as far as this blog goes, I have held the church to account for kicking me out when I stand up for Jesus among the least of these, and yet the church does not care either for the poor or that I hold them to account.  But now is not the time for me to count their wrongs and hold them against them.  I don’t want to miss out on the good things God has in store because I was too busy licking my wounds or nursing my hurt pride.  No.  I want to be ready, willing, and able to join Jesus in his mighty reconciliation of all things when that move comes!  May I be forgiven, and may I in turn forgive.

And lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one… including coronavirus, including Democrats, including the terrorists, including math tests, including starvation, war, or even Republicans.

The world is dissolving outside my door.  I wonder about those homeless zombies with their nagging cough and no where to be.  I remember South Park making a spoof of them and changing the mantra of the homeless zombies from “Brains” to “Change”!  I fear that we should do more to hold the hand of the dying, and I hope someone holds my hand when the time comes.  And now we plunge into the waters of creation hoping against hope that the Spirit of God still hovers there calling forth New Creation.

Let us pray…

Selling Hope and Buying Lies

“Two weeks…” they say.  It takes two weeks of isolation, of quarantine, of sheltering in place.

Two weeks.

Meanwhile we are no longer talking about “market corrections” and “the Dow was spooked by coronavirus” or any such fear-curbing analyses.  Instead, we are comparing our current situation to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  I heard one doctor on TV this morning describing other doctors sleeping in their cars at the hospital (like homeless people!) for fear of taking the infection home to their families.  I see pictures of patients lined up in beds and gurneys with bubble helmets and overworked healthcare workers desperate to keep up.  I see all these things while talking about the stock market analysis on TV in between disaster segments.

Also meanwhile, this analysis “is brought to you by March Madness and your local Nissan Dealer.”

Who is buying Nissans right now?  Where are you going in it?  To the March Madness game???

The first casualty of war is the truth.

Here is what I’m thinking (…well, here is one thing I am thinking among many…), authority without trust is not authoritative.  It’s false.  It cannot stand.  If you cannot trust the authority over you, then the authority has no real authority.  Such is my thesis.  However, in a world created by Mammon (the Market Place), you will scramble to live the illusion.

But Mammon did not make this world, and Mammon is not in charge.  Withdrawing global human allegiance to Mammon will shake the foundations of every lie, and construction of the Tower of Babel will come to a grinding halt, and that will feel like the end of the world, but it is not.  Walmart, Target, and Amazon MIGHT survive this in SOME form or fashion, but my grandfather would be shocked to know that Sears is gone… so let that give us a little perspective.

What is orienting your life in this crisis?

Are you taking cues from the prophets of infection control?  The profits of market disasters??  Or the revolution of the Creator God come in the flesh of a crucified Jew-boy???

I remember when I was in school studying Bible and a philosophical argument arose between my best friend and me.  Are we “selling” the Gospel?  Or what?

This question was all the more complicated by the fact that we were signing financial aid papers each semester which allowed us to sit in those lectures where the mysteries of God and the universe were unfolded for our full-bodied, robust enjoyment and engagement.  We were very obviously “buying” it.  We were developing career plans which never strayed far from orienting concerns about how we would “make a living” with the knowledge and skills we were developing and “buying,” not least so we could pay for the experience of learning it.

I kept insisting we were not in sales.  My buddy insisted we were.  He insisted that no matter how you slice it, at the end of the day, we are asking people to pay us for our presentation of the Gospel.  I didn’t have a leg to stand on as it felt my position was just sadly unsubstantial and actually sentimental.  I could not make a convincing case opposing this cynical idea.

It felt thin.

But it pushed me.  I was committed to the idea that God is not for sale, nor is the Gospel.  The gathering of money and resources is involved, but not the point nor the driving thrust.  The Holy Spirit empowers this enterprise, but how is that not a matter of sales?

All the pushing and insisting, coupled with honest humility, left only one option: Revolution.

It’s not just any revolution.  There are two categories of revolution; one for a category of one, and one for all the others.  But they are still revolutionary.

Joining Jesus is signing on for a revolutionary revolution.  Jesus is not a revolutionary’s revolutionary.  He is a revolutionary revolutionary.  See the difference yet?

Whereas all rebellions seek to thwart authority in effort to secure leverage for the authored, this revolution seeks to restore the authored to their rightful and trustable Author.  This is a storytelling enterprise, but it is telling THE TRUE STORY of the REAL LIFE.  And you can’t actually put a price tag on that.  There is a cost, alright, but it is a cost that cannot be printed on a tag.  It is the cost of EVERYTHING in order to gain EVERYTHING.

Perhaps a good market disruption will make this more readily visible than usual.  So we hope.

But there is more to this market than just a few stores and the exchange of money.  There are other players at work building a tower who have alliances with one another in effort to have authoritative sway over us.  As N.T. Wright termed them some years ago, the three great gods of modernity are Sex, Power, and Money.  In ancient times they went by names like Aphrodite, Mars, and Mammon, but no matter the names used, the gods are still there commanding allegiance, and Jesus wants to take yours from them.

Getting the picture yet?

These gods are not above making truces and false alliances with Jesus.  They will trick you into believing that can be done.  They never have in mind being true to Jesus, but are willing to syncretize if it helps divide your allegiance.  And some of these alliances look quite impressive.  I can’t help but think of the phrase “God -n- country.”

Did you study American Government in high school?  Recall that little phrase “checks and balances”?  Have you noticed the dissolution of that idea?  Seems like we need better “checks and balances,” right?

Wrong.

That phrase “checks and balances” is an admission right at the start that you cannot trust this authority.  And in fact, when our government was first devised, it was devised by rebellious people who thought they could devise an authority which SHOULD NOT be trusted, and so it isn’t.

Hmmm…

So why on earth would you pledge allegiance to it?  Why on earth would you send your kids to fight and die for it??  Why on earth would you stand for it???

When you think about it… REALLY THINK about it… that sounds pretty shaky alright.  And it is.

To my way of thinking, if the USA had not dropped atomic bombs on Japan in WWII and shocked the world with our might of Mars, we would not be talking about Making America Great Again.  That bomb put a fear in this world which gave Americans authority to author the way we want this world to work, and we deployed Mammon’s markets all around the globe, and Mammon, that tricky-dicky serpent, has proven he does not return the same allegiance to us which we demand for him.  You can’t trust him or any of his partners!

We have been selling hope and buying lies.

Now is not the time to abide by the promise(s) of “two weeks.”  We are not going to “get back to normal” and for that matter, we are not going to have “a new normal” either.  We are going to be shaken to the core, and many, many, many of us will not survive it.  Of those who do, many of them will envy those who did not.

It is time to look deeper into ourselves than a paid advertisement which is engineered by people with psychology and marketing degrees to create a fear in us which their product can relieve in 30 seconds or less.  It is time for us to look deeper into Jesus than a lying politician who seizes on the weakness of his opponent to leverage a promise of hope for your future and that of your kids.  The very foundations of our false narrative are shaking and crumbling around us, and the carnage is at our door!

It is time to get REAL with Jesus.  To TRUST him.

I hope you will pray.  Go visit my friend Tim’s blog and ask him to pray for you.  He has been at it a long time, and he will not sell you crap you don’t need.  He will usher you into the throne room of God, and will help you bring your penitent requests and cares to the Author of LIFE.  He will hold your hand while you find your trust in Him.

That is our business now.

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