Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

 

2cfcbf3ec20cf2cfcd18a79615eb16b0-christmas-nativity-christmas-time

LET THE STABLE STILL ASTONISH

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”

–  Leslie Leyland Fields
***
I post this every Christmas for lots of reasons, my faith being the main one. 32 years following after Him, I still believe Jesus’ birth was critically important and that despite the dysfunction of organized religion, His  life and words are worth serious consideration.
I also appreciate this little poem because it takes the manger away from being a seasonal Disney-fied religious scene and brings it back to earth. It presents Jesus not as some magical, special ingredient to smooth life’s bitterness and edge – like flavored coffee creamer – but as a real solution to my deepest needs. It speaks of a God who knows and loves me despite myself. It points to transcendent mystery intervening in the sordid particulars of the sad, strange mess of human history. It speaks of intention, of hope, of grace.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the next year be filled with happiness, health, courage, and compassion.
I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
 – Jesus of Nazareth Jn. 10:10b
*yes, I know the wise guys weren’t in Bethlehem but showed up quite a bit later with their gifts. I just like the picture.

Let the Stable still Astonish

manger

 

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child–
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
“Yes, let the God of Heaven and Earth
Be born in this place.”

–  Leslie Leyland Fields
***
I post this every Christmas for lots of reasons, my faith being the main one. Yes, I believe Jesus’ birth was critically important and that despite the dysfunction of organized religion, His  life and words are worth serious consideration.
I also appreciate this little poem because it takes the manger away from being a seasonal Disney-fied religious scene and brings it back to earth. It presents Jesus not as some magical, special ingredient to make my life life better – like flavored coffee creamer – but as a real solution to my deepest needs. It speaks of a God who knows and loves me despite myself. Of transcendent mystery intervening in the sordid particulars of the sad, strange mess of human history. It speaks of intention, of hope, of grace.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. May 2017 be filled with happiness, health, courage, and compassion.
I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
 – Jesus of Nazareth Jn. 10:10b

Praise Serendipity?

“That’s just serendipity,” he scoffed, when I mentioned an answered prayer. “The universe has a way of giving good things to good people.” (to soften the blow, I guess)

So you’ll attribute subtle, benign intent to an anonymous universe but not God? Affirm this karmic dynamic, yet insist on random, meaningless chance? Intelligent Design and Meta-narrative need not apply.

And you mock my faith?

So how come ‘serendipity’ happens more frequently and specifically the more I pray – to God?

Just asking.

Charlatans for Christ

So WORLD magazine has yet another expose in the Parade of Shame for mega-ministry train wrecks. This month’s culprit is Ron Luce of Acquire the Fire fame. You can read the full article HERE if you can stomach it, but it is the all-too-typical sordid fare of shallow dealings, megalomania, dissembling, deception, and rationalizations rather than repentance. “Be sure of this, your sin will find you out,” seems to have dropped off the memory verse list.

“You have given occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme” the Lord said to adulterous, murderous King David. As a former minister and present Christian, thanks for that brother Ron. As if it ain’t tough enough.

This is really just another fine example of Western Christianity’s “TET Offensive” style of ministry: reliance on Talent, Emotion and Technology over Character and Anointing. All genuine ministry is fundamentally supernatural, rooted in who Jesus is and what He did. It’s His story preacher, not yours. It’s the Chef, not the Waiter, so stop spitting in the food. Don’t believe your own press and hog the spotlight. Ministry isn’t a cruising altitude – it’s a diving bell. Hide in Christ and let Him get the glory – He’ll reward you soon enough. (and any crown you get you’re going to throw at Jesus’ feet anyway, so…)

I don’t know which is worse: that there’s enough scandal fodder for WORLD to do monthly articles, or the general undermining of Christian credibility. It’s rather discouraging, all you leaders getting caught with your pants down or hand in the till. I swear, If it wasn’t for Jesus, I’d give up on Christianity altogether.

*apologies to jesters all over the world.

A reason to hope

It’s becoming less and less popular these days to identify with Christian faith. Truth be told, I’m less and less interested myself in being an ‘evangelical’ or ‘pentecostal’ or whatever label, but I can’t and won’t deny that 28 years ago Jesus Christ forgave me and changed me. At the end of the day, anything good in my life is from him – my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my work, my writing… all of it is ultimately from his hands. I’m grateful for the grace, mercy and help he has shown and continues to show me. Life can be random, scary, tragic, but I bear witness you can trust Jesus through it all.

When the Dark Matter hits the fan

Thoughts on Christian faith here.

***

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I want to be real with God. I want Him to be real with me. I am so all done with perpetually effervescent charismatic caricatures gushing the latest gift or revelation. I can’t comply with the rank and file of brittle, painted saints, stuffed with a thousand minor pieties and doctrinal dissections. Perfection is and never really was an option. Best I can muster is honesty and a constant diet of repentance.

I think there are phases of growth in our personal understanding of God. Stages to practical theology, if you will. To use a contested term, I think we evolve in our understanding of him, his Word, and how to implement His reality in our lives. Truth and Reality are Objective, but we view them through the lens of our worldview. The clearer, deeper, more accurate, the better we can comprehend and conform to his will and his image. I parallel this to Astronomy and Mankind’s expanding understanding of the universe.

1. Primitive Phase: new convert stage. We think it all really revolves around us. Like newborns. We experience the love, the sense of purpose, personal intimacy, assistance, grace… That’s all true and real, but we filter it through an immature selfishness. We acknowledge God’s Sovereignty, but in practice, we get upset when it’s not all about us.

2. Copernicus Strikes: Given some time and disappointments, we bump into enough hard facts to recognize we are not the center of the universe, God is. What do you know, Rick W was right: It really isn’t all about us – it’s about Him. We admit God might love us but doesn’t spoil us. He truly is the Eternal and Sovereign God, far above all Principality and Power, dwelling in unapproachable light. Amen.

That said, we still demand order, structure, certainty in our religion. And not just confidence in the Person, Principles, and Promises of God, but in our day-to-day values, attitudes and applications. The cloister or gated-community mind-set, we expect perfect spheres to revolve around our faith in perfect circles. As Christians, we insist our marriage, our jobs, our kids, health, family, church, ministry… all move from glory to glory in an ever-escalating testimony to the Abundant Life. (TM)

Here’s where Classic confirmation bias kicks in. We tailor everything those expectations, discarding what doesn’t conform. It’s safe, predictable, certain… but it’s also small and inherently false.

3. When the Dark Matter hits the Fan: Given a peculiar combination of time and circumstances, everyone gets Black Hole and Hubble Revelations. Light gets sucked in. Gravity hits like a runaway freight train. Your conceptions get shattered. The Universe is a big, scary place – Really big and really scary. It’s not at all what we thought and we’re very, very uncomfortable.

We discover yes, there are laws and principles. Yes, there is a vast, complex harmony that keeps it spinning. But there are ellipses, apogees, perigees, anomalies, deformities. Gravity, light, time actually change in strange relationships to mass and each other. They aren’t constant and perfect and uniform. The universe is mind-blowing, frightening, so much bigger and stranger than any one, or all of us.

But this is actually the God who saved me in the first place. This vast, complex, confusing, Creator, Sustainer, Sovereign and Savior. He hasn’t changed. I have. Even more humbling; he’s been waiting for me to get to this precipice. After all, He brought me here. He is the Author and Finisher of my faith.

Time to start believing that.

Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. – 2 Tim. 1:12

I am…

*The following post deals with issues of Christian faith and the person of Jesus. In fact, it’s veering into ’emotional rant’ territory, so if such things offend you or you came for sci-fi action and didn’t expect ‘religious stuff’, you’ll wanna skip this one. On the Eshu front, SHIFT TENSE: RED FLAGS is currently at the editors and Michal Oracz is working up the cover. I’m excited and will post relevant updates as I get solid info.

I AM SECOND
Spent the better part of this morning watching I am Second videos and ended up bawling like a little kid. (try here and here to see what I mean) I need to say it doesn’t get any better than this; redemption is what Jesus is all about. It doesn’t get more simple or more profound. It’s eternal.

Furthermore I believe deep in my bones if a ministry isn’t centered around salvation not just as a theory or catch-phrase but the practical day-to-day application of a real God reaching into real lives, then it’s worthless. Regardless of organizational tonnage or theological buttress, it’s only so much chaff come Judgment Day.

This is the Jesus that saved me. This is the one I want to be around, the one I want to introduce people to. No bait and switch. Not someone else.

I AM A STEWARD
I confess I’m in a crisis of faith at the moment regarding church. I am marvelously blessed in so many areas of my life: my marriage, children, grandchildren, work, writing… But this church thing is a real brawl.

A while back, I had an online discussion about ministry, involvement and membership with fellow Christian and writer Jessica Thomas and said I was ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired and pretending I’m not.’ That’s where I find myself once again and it’s the literal crux of the matter.

It occurred to me if I had a quarter for every sermon I’ve heard in the last 27 years lambasting immature, shallow, goosebump-seeking church-hoppers, I’d take my wife to dinner at this great little Thai joint we love. Now I know ‘free-range’ believers exist. I realize our society is infected with a selfish, consumer mentality. I also acknowledge my own incompleteness and vital need to function in community and under authority. I have no desire to end up a self-centered consumer.

I am however called to be a Christ-centered steward and I want to know where the Scripture requires believers to enable mediocrity? Where does it say we have to knowingly submit to flaccid, dysfunctional theology? When did the Berean call become ‘rebellion’?

Don’t mishear me: I’m not saying all ministry is vapid or shoddy. There is a lot of valid, powerful, gracious ministry, most of it unrecognized. Catastrophes always get better press. I’ve been (spiritually) living off Mars Hill, Times Square, and The Village. Let’s thank God for the internet, shall we?

But for all those services scorching ‘fickle, whiny consumers’, I can’t recall any apology for all those petty (left or right) political rants masqueraded as sermons, for superficial morality passed off as righteousness, for denominational rules touted as sanctification. I know the Gospel is a hard-edged hope. Grace is balanced by Truth. But if Grace is offered with one hand while the other snatches it back with a thousand little rules and dogmatic stipulations, all you have left is a brittle parody. A painted, plaster lawn-ornament.

Or how about an admission that your seeker-sensitive, tech-savvy, hip and hype approach isn’t cute, or cool, or fruitful? It’s vital to be informed and attuned to our society, but do I really have to point out that spiking your hair like an anime character and squeezing into your wife’s jeans doesn’t equate to relevance? Neither will a soul-patch or getting inked. I don’t care one way or another about a tie, but tuck in your shirt, eh?* You can stop with the pop-psychology, stop the ego-stroking, stop apologizing for every hard saying in the Bible. The Word of God is called the ‘Sword of the Spirit’ for a reason. Swords have a point and an edge, and so should you. Only the Eternal is truly relevant. Only the Truth sets people free. Trending the latest celebrity-craze (Christian or Secular) boils down to tail-chasing. It’s time to re-read “Not a Fan“. Hipster-dom isn’t discipleship: it’s sowing empty seed on shallow ground.

I AM STARVING?
Am I wrong or does the pulpit set the tone and temperature for the congregation? Doesn’t leadership bear a measure of responsibility? Being ‘leaders’ and all. To quote Dr. Horrible: “The fish rots from the head…” Perhaps one reason people are leaving church, having difficulty committing is it’s hard to find someone saying anything worth listening to. Don’t give me the “There’s no such thing as a perfect church, and if you find it, don’t go there ’cause you’ll ruin it” line. Most folks aren’t looking for perfection. They know it doesn’t exist. What they’re searching for – what they deserve – is something worth sticking around for. Was Jesus lying when He said the fields were ‘white unto harvest‘?

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land– not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. – AMOS 8:11 NIV

God identified Himself as “I AM”. He knows every hair on my head. He knows who I am, where I am, and why I am. I get that. My days are in His hands and He’ll see me through, despite my problems. If like Elijah I have to live off what birds bring and a little stream provides for a season, then I’ll cope. (No, I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m talking about provision) Christians are called to declare the unadulterated Gospel and model the action of definite grace. People are dying for it. Their eternal souls depend on it. My fear is I am stuck in that prophecy, and while I’ve been seeking God in prayer and Scripture even more lately, and have confidence God will provide direction, I tremble not only for my own soul, but for my children and grandchildren.

I AM PRAYING
Christians are called to represent the one who saved them, to reflect in some fashion the character of their Lord and Savior. I think the best we flawed sinners can do – even redeemed – is provide a sketch, a caricature if you will, of God. It won’t be perfect, but God keep me from rendering some hideous misrepresentation or superimposing some mortal icon. When I stand before Him, I’d like to have got the important features and proportions correct so it was recognizable.

*My personal conviction is if you’re making dress code of either extreme a major plank in your ministry, you’ve already missed the point.