Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Friday, March 30, 2012

The prayer of the frustrated Christian

"Alas Lord
I am undone!
I try so hard to do your work

But ears are closed
and eyes are shut
and my pleas go unanswered

Why O Lord?
Why me?

I am miserable!
Aha!  I must be doing your will!
To be so rejected and afflicted
My wounds are a symbol
A sign, that I am walking the path of Calvary!
A true servant"

"My child, my child
I came that you might have joy, and 
that your joy might be complete!

Perhaps your wounds are self inflicted
My Spirit is like a fragrant wind
laden with passion and promise
scented with love

breathe deep

Monday, March 26, 2012

Grace and Law

The tension between grace and law in the Christian faith, is a terrifying thing.
We are constantly pulled between the terror of thinking it is all about us
And the joy of realizing that it is really all about God.

Why we cling to tenuously to law, I do not know
Perhaps it is because law is about us
and we are willful people
who somehow think it really is all about us
That some how we can be "self righteous"

But as Gerald May reminds us
Faith is not about being willful
it is about being willing!

It is about being willing to let it be 
all about God
About God's love
God's power
God's righteousness
I come across a lot of people who think they are talking grace
but they are really talking law
perhaps it is the fault of the church
the church is all to often about law not grace
Even if the church has "grace" in its name.

How do we know the difference?
Well, one way to think about it is to think about
where the focus is

So often we hear the word "we"
We must, 
We should
We ought
Probably in the realm of law
not that we should not be good people and do good things

But we can't do it.  What we can do is let God love us
And we can love God.   And we can let the Spirit run rampant 
and be willing to let God make us new
and then as people changed from the inside out
we will be different
 Is the focus on the bad things that will happen if we don't obey
if we don't do the right things?  Law.
If the focus is on how life will be better, if it is on how we can find life richer
and wildly exciting because of what God does in our hearts
we are in the world of grace.
Faith is all about learning how to live,
it is not merely "fire insurance", designed to save us from a really bad afterlife.
Grace is an amazing thing!
and for me it comes down to a phrase I have come to love
God loves me, there is nothing God can do about that
and there is nothing I can do either....
(and the father saw the prodigal child coming down the road... and God threw open his arms and said, "my beloved child.  Once you were lost, now you are found!!  Let's party!)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jesus Prays for his followers

We all, I think, have those moments when the failures, the disappointments, the fears overwhelm --  when life seems almost too much to bear.  I once wrote a poem in such a moment… it started like this

Life's a bitch!
In our fragility we often get broken.
and, like bottles tossed carelessly to the side of the road.
we lie shattered, in pieces,
jagged fragments glistening in the sun
raw edges, sharp and tortured.

There are pieces of us scattered
along the roads we have traveled

In our brokeness we are empty.
Joy comes but cannot be contained.
It seeps through the cracks to disappear.
Love comes only to go,
and hope  --  there is no hope
for one so broken.

I think the disciples were having one of those moments as their time with Jesus was ending
They loved him, he was going to die
They depended on him, he was going to die
They were used to having him so intimately a part of their life, he was going to die
I don’t know if I can even grab hold of how they must have felt

It was a dark moment, and so Jesus did something for them.  He prayed over them

There were a number of things in this prayer (John 17) I would like to talk about.  Some of them jumped out at me when I read this prayer, and some of them jumped out at people I asked to think about this passage.  I had collaborators

The first thing that jumped out at me was the idea that Jesus existed “before the creation of the world”.  That he is somehow God, part of God, part of what we call the Trinity.  Now the whole Jesus, God, Spirit, Trinity thing is pretty confusing.  I like the way Rob Bell puts it…

While there is one God, God is somehow present everywhere.  People began to call this presence, this power of God his “Spirit.”  So there is God, and then there is God’s Spirit.  And then Jesus comes among us, and has this oneness with God that has people saying things like”God has visited us.  (Or as John puts it “the Word,”  who is identified as God, “became Flesh,” which is Jesus)    So God is one, but God has also revealed himself to us as Spirit and then as Jesus.  One and yet three.

The point. God is, Jesus is, the Spirit is from the foundation of the world
So the first assurance here is that Jesus is…  always!
He was, from the beginning
He is now
And he always will be…
and… more importantly, he will always be with us.
Which means that we will never be alone --  Never.

Jesus is not just with us, but He is with us in love

One of the people I had read this text made this comment.  I loved it.  “It is as if Jesus was getting nervous towards the end. Not for himself, but for those he was leaving behind. Would they fall prey to the evil one? He is one with God, and knows his power, and yet has anxiety for us. As I imagine Jesus worrying over my soul, it's rather humbling.”

Jesus is worrying here about the disciples.  He is the one headed to the cross, but he is worried about the disciples.  And not just those disciples, but about all people who would be his disciples, until the end of time.  In other words…. He was also worried about us!

Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy.  He knew it was going to be hard to live in this world as God’s people
He knew bad things would happen to good people
He knew…..

And he knew that he was going to be asking his people, us, to live in this world
This world is not something we can escape.  We can’t run from it or isolate from it.
We have to be in it (a point another one of my collaborators noted)

So Jesus is saying, I will be with you, in this world….and I will
Protect you, because you are going to need help
And I will fill you with joy, because there are going to be times when it is really hard to find it yourself
And I am going to sanctify you… which I rephrase this way
I am going to rescue you from yourselves
Your mistakes, your errors, your struggles, from all the messes you find yourself in.
When you have failed, I will forgive you
When you have gotten beaten down, I will restore you
When you have lost yourself.  When the person you were created to be is all but gone… I will find that person, and I will bring that person back!!!!

There is a wonderful CS Lewis  quote that pulls it all together for me   Lewis is talking about Jesus and he writes…. “He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, . . . to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.  [He is like a] diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover.”

So Christ promises in this prayer to bind us to himself, to bind us to himself in love
And he gives us a glimpse of what that means.

Then he adds one more thing.  He prays, he promises, that we will be bound, through his power and working, to each other in love…..
So the prayer suggests that we don’t just have him, we have each other….

Jesus not only gives us himself, he  gives us each other.  His presence, his spirit, his love, allows us to be bound together, to be connected,   in a unique way……In love

Juan Carols Ortiz, the South American Pentecostal talks about this unity this way in his book Discipleship.
“God is doing more than regrouping his people.  He is uniting them.  I can illustrate this with potatoes.  Each potato plant in the garden as 3, 4 or 5 potatoes under it.  Each individual potato belongs to one plant or the other.  But when the harvest comes, all the potatoes are dug up and put into a sack.  So they are regrouped.  But they are no yet united.  They may say, “Oh praise the Lord, now we are all in the same sack.”  But they are not yet one.  They must be washed and peeled.  They think they are closer yet.  “How nice is this love among us.”  But that is not all.  They must be cut into pieces and mixed.  They really think they have it made now.  But what God wants is mashed potatoes.  Not many potatoes, but one mashed potato.

There are a couple of things I want to say here.  This unity, this binding is not about being all the same.  Remember Paul’s image of the body. There are different parts.  Unique parts.  We are very different.  And I don’t believe this unity is about all believing exactly the same thing … about social issues, or even doctrine.  I did my doctoral thesis on diversity in the church.  There was only one affirmation that was common to all the churches in the earliest of days.  “Jesus is Lord”.  That was it.

Second, I don’t think this unity is natural, or normal.  It is supernatural.  It is a unity created, nurtured and maintained by the Spirit.  It is amazing.  Unique.

So what is it about ?  I would think it is about how we connect with each other.  It is about being real.  It is about loving and forgiving.  It is about listening deeply to each other.  It is about compassion.  It is about taking care of each other.  One of my favorite saying these days is this.  “God loves you, and there is nothing he can do about that, that is his nature.  And there is nothing you can do about it either.”  God just loves you.  No strings attached.  We are to do the best we can to just love each other.  To be bound together as Christ’s people.  To be open and honest and caring with each other.  To be passionately for each other.

Christ wanted this for us…because…..
It is when we live this kind of love, that the world looks at us, and knows that we are God’s.  It is not when we pontificate.  It’s not when we perform rituals.  It’s not because we wear cross or come to this place.  It is when, it is because we love.

And when we are God’s, and when we love each other that way… we will begin to touch the world around us with that love.  Our way of being in the world is the most powerful tool we have for transforming the world.  I mentioned a poem that I had written, and shared part of it.  Here is the rest of it….
In our brokenness we are empty.
Joy comes but cannot be contained.
It seeps through the cracks to disappear.
Love comes only to go,
and hope  --  there is no hope
for one so broken.
And yet,
and yet sometimes, hope comes.

In a smile, in a touch,
in conversations lasting long into the night,
Piece by piece the metamorphosis begins,
and out of the jagged jumble the first faint glimmerings of wholeness grow.
a thing of beauty....
how can such battered creation be beautiful?'
And yet it is!
For all its seams and cracks,
the wonder of what it was, and is, and still might be,
shines through.
and deep in the murky depths love comes
and stays

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Insidiously it creeps,
sliming its way around the passages of our mind,
sniveling and machiavellian,

Sometimes invisible,
sometime stark and frightening,
always powerful.

like the working of waters,
lapping against a shore,
it erodes our soul,
devouring us
and leaving us less than we were.

It sidles up to us
and whispers in our ear
of things best forgotten,
of things which have been,
and things which yet might be,

It grips us with its cruel presence,
and we are helpless in its grasp,
twisting helpless and doomed,
like prey in the jaws of the tiger,
dancing the dance of death.


Perfect love casts out all fear
Thank you God!
for your perfect and scandalous love

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

God understands

They say that God is a mystery
a transcendent being
who is way to big
to be embraced or understood

the other

But God is also immanent
so close
so personal
that God dwells within
each one of us
perhaps only in 
the tiniest corner of the heart
but God is there

and being there
God knows us
so much better than we even know ourselves
God may be a mystery to us
we be are no mystery

instead we are understood
each hurt, each fear
each heartache, each moment of loneliness
is God's as well as ours

yes God understands
not just our joy by our pain
not just out moments of love and compassion
but our moments of anger
God understands when we are saints
and when we are sinners
and understanding
loves and forgives
and if we will allow

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Trusting God

Just before his final prayer for the disciples
Jesus as the time in the upper room was coming to a close
Jesus says a very startling thing

Jesus says he has conquered the world

I would hazard a guess that for the disciples,
Who had just gotten a plethora of bad news…. It didn’t look like Jesus had conquered anything.
Jesus being betrayed?  Jesus being captured?  Jesus being killed?  In what world does that look like a win?

I would guess that for us… thousands of years later
That statement might also seem a bit delusional
If Jesus lived today some mental health profession would probably say to him…
 Really, tell me more about this…. And…. We have medications for that!

It doesn’t look much like Jesus, and his way of love, has won does it?
Think about the headlines

I could go on and on, but I don’t have to, do I?  All we have to do is look at our own lives!
At the things in our own lives that seem so difficult.  Illness, divorce, failure, mistakes…

The world is a place full of problems.  Hate, violence, greed, illness, death.

Does it look like Christ has conquered the world?

As I thought about this passage it was tempting to talk about the issue of the existence of evil
You know, why do bad things happen to good people.
And of course I do have my opinions on the matter, or should I say my beliefs…
And I think there are good reasons God has chosen to limit his use of power in this world
Thus allowing the presence of all this ugliness…

But I would like to go a slightly different direction
I would like to take a look at the disciple’s reaction to the events that unfolded,
The arrest, the cross….

And at their essential disregard, perhaps disbelief, in what Jesus had said.
By their behavior, the disciples certainly did not look like they believed Jesus had conquered anything
Because when everything got difficult….. they ran…
They scattered

And no one, especially Jesus, was surprised.  In fact he had told them it would be that way.
“You will be scattered, you will leave me alone”.  In other words, “You are going to get the heck out of Dodge, and you are going to abandon me to my fate.”

We too struggle when faced with stuff we don't understand...
We respond in lot of ways...

Some people get overwhelmed and  just go into hiding
I can’t handle this.  I don’t want to hear the news…..
Hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil…….”lalalalalalalalal, I can’t hear you!!!!”

Some people get tired and worried,
And kind of forget that it isn’t all about them.  They essentially forget, because things look so crazy, that God is with them, and for them… that God is still in them.  Still available, still working  And so they get trapped into looking at things from the perspective of their own resources….  Bad idea.  Defeating.

I was lamenting the other day that I was tired and didn’t know if I had anything to say…..
A friend of mine said…. “you know, you need to remember God is with you.  And he will give you the words, he does cool things like that!!”

But I think the big problem, the thing that creates the most trouble -- when we look around and decide that it doesn’t look like God is control  --  as if God has not conquered -- is that we respond with one primary emotion…  FEAR

At least this is my opinion… perhaps it is just me
I know that all too often,  when things seem uncontrolled, and it seems like the bad guys are winning, And its all falling apart,  I respond with fear, sometimes combined with fear’s close relative, anger.

When we are afraid
And when attempt to make it right on our own ,
And our attempts, are fear based, the results are often not pretty. 

Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis”  tells of a letter he got from the president of a seminary who was raising money to help him raise money to “train leaders who will defend Christianity”.  The letter talked about the need for the defense of the ‘true faith’  What bothered Bell was the fact that the letter was so defensive.  The man spent a lot of time talking about how right he was.  And about how wrong everyone else was.

We have to rescue Christianity! We have to defend Jesus!  Lots of voices are screaming that these days…..But Really?  God can’t take care of himself?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be advocates of our faith.  That we shouldn’t proclaim God, and God’s works.  But do we think that by our efforts we are going to conquer the world?  It’s been tried.  Christians have tried to save the world through their own power many times. Crusades. Inquisition.  Prohibition. Hasn’t worked

When we start to believe that we have to do it for God, we generally make a mess of things.  We end up getting all wrapped up in doctrines, and moral stances, and rules.  And when we are doing all that out of fear.  Then we are in an “us and them” mode….And we are judgmental… and harsh

And it gets ugly, It gets mean
People get crushed, defeated, guilted, shamed

I’m sorry, rules and doctrines never saved anyone.  Christ’s love is what rescues people
I’m sorry, using guilt and shame is not how Jesus does things
Forcing people to “be Christian”  through punishment, through law, through coercion  -- that is not the Jesus way

How does Jesus do it?  Well, we can look at how Jesus responded to his key guy, to Peter
After he failed, and ran.  The story of Peter, and his trifold denial is pretty amazing
Talk about abandoning Jesus.  Oh yeah, Peter hung around after the arrest
But we can hardly say he stayed with Jesus.
Instead given three chances to affirm Jesus, to stand up for him, he denied him
And then he ran.  Back to Galilee, back to his fishing boat….

But later, after the resurrection, two important things happened.
First, Jesus gave Peter a second chance.  He allowed Peter to affirm him, three times
One time for each time Peter had looked at the reality of the world, and said
“God is not in control…. I’d better run..”

“Peter” Jesus asked, “do you love me”  And three times Peter got the chance to say “yes”  -  And he did
And then Jesus told him, “feed my sheep”
He basically made it clear to Peter that he would work through him, and through his work, begin the work of living out the victory of the cross…

And that the work looked like….. feeding his sheep.
It did not look like rules, and spiritual warfare, and defensiveness, and judgment, and guilt…
It looked like nurture
Like love.

I think when Jesus said he has conquered the world
He did mean at some time this would truly be evident.
He did mean that at some point the kingdom would come… and the rule of God would be total
And totally obvious… that the time would come when the vision of Isaiah would be true
“War no more”
But I think that he also meant that the kingdom is coming
And that we as his people are the ones who are going to pull the kingdom into this world
And, that this is going to happen because he has conquered us…
Us individually
Because he has conquered our hearts….through love and sacrifice

And because he has conquered our hearts
He has enabled us to live life a different way -- A better way

And as we live life, powered by love, powered by the spirit, we make the victory of Christ
Ever more real
Ever clearer

So there is a better way to respond to what is going on around us that beating people over the head with rules and morality and guilt.  Then using fear based responses.
Being generous is a better way
·         Forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way
·         Having compassion is a better way
·         Pursuing peace is a better way
·         Listening to the wisdom of others is a better way
·         Fighting injustice is a better way
·         Helping and protecting the vulnerable is a better way

And we can do that through the Christ who is in us …
Eph 4:14-16  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

We do not have to live in fear
For Christ has conquered the world…
The work is done on the cross
That work is emerging in the hearts
And ultimately in the lives of those who love him….

So we are asked to have the faith, that in spite of what things are going on around us, in spite of how things look, to have the faith that Love Wins

This is how God wins
he wins us..
he loves us
forgives us
restores us
and makes us new....
and it is as we are new.... that we change the world
and begin the process of overcoming evil with good