Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Morning

Hosea 6:6  For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

This morning I woke up really ready to praise God.  It doesn't happen all that often.  The combination of dreams I had caused me to wake with a smile on my face even though the weather outside is grey and kind of threatening.  I came downstairs after my shower and put the coffee on, let the dogs out, and sat down to read the Lectionary.  

Wait.  I have to check my email.

Back to the Lectionary.

Hang on.  I should check my bank balance and stock prices.  All good.

Back to the Lection...

There's an email from a good friend and someone responded to someone else's comment on Facebook.  I really should take a look at that.

Back to the Lect...

Finally read the passages, though to be honest, I need the aid of an audio Bible reading it for me to maintain my concentration on what's on the page.  Chalk it up to morning.  After reading I spent a few minutes meditating on the passages, and then, down to writing.  

Oops... Jama just came down for breakfast... and the coffee is ready... I'm kind of hungry.

Back to the... what was I doing?

"I desire steadfast love."  

Oh dear.

Jon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Nice Old Vintage

If Jama and I were independently wealthy and lived in Boston or New York, I'm pretty sure we'd be really serious Oenophiles.  Those of you who aren't lovers of good wine can look up the word in Webster's.  Right now we're working our way through the limited selection of Argentinian Malbec wines that the state-monopolized New Hampshire Liquor Store offers.  Previously we were doing Spanish reds.  I still can't tell you much about what makes a good Rioja (other than that it is made with Tempranillo grapes), but I can tell you that a fair number of them are made from "old vines."  And here's a curiosity: New Wine is often made from old vines.  


The contemporary church often uses this passage from Luke as the reason for making all kinds of changes in worship, and especially as a banner for planting new churches instead of revitalizing the old ones.  But I don't think any of that was on Jesus' mind when he shared this set of statements:


Luke 5:33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”


I would seriously question whether Jesus ever said all of these statements at the same time.  Notice that, while the intended audience is the same in each case, verse 34 begins, "And Jesus said to them..."; verse 36 begins, "He also told them a parable..."  It seems to me likely that these are stand-alone statements that Luke compiled because of the thematic similarity.  So let's take each on its own merits:


vs. 33-35 aren't about Jesus establishing new worship practices.  They are about the immediacy of Jesus and his relationship with all who believe.  He is the groom!  We are the bride!  John's disciples were waiting for Messiah with prayer and fasting.  Any devout woman of that time would have done the same as she anticipated her wedding day.  And, should the groom of a young bride be murdered, she would go to prayer and fasting again in her deep sadness.


In the same way, material was precious in those days.  If you had a garment, you took great care to make sure it was preserved.  I think the focus in verse 36 is more on what would happen to the new garment (it would be damaged) in order to patch an old (presumably worn-out) garment.  The new here represents the wholeness of one who is without sin.  The old represents the brokenness of one who has been aged by his sin.


Change... real change...heart change is hard.   The parable of the wine and wine skins is about the fact that we like our sin like we like old wine.  We're comfortable with it.  We've been drinking this particular vintage for a long time, and we don't want to try new wine, even if it was grown from old vines!   But any wine left out long enough, sours and goes bad.  And just like the workman who nurses the same cup of coffee until the cup has absorbed the color like litmus paper, drinking the same wine over and over and over will become either an idol or a sin to us and turn us sour too.


These are not days of anticipation and of fasting!  Church, wake up and see!  The Groom is HERE!  Put on your best new garment.  Break out the finest new wine!  Revel!  He is here.  Come, let us feast!


Jon

Monday, September 27, 2010

What I REALLY do for work

Acts 20:24  But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Back in June I joined the ranks of the under-employed.  I say "under-employed" because there has always been some money coming in, and my wife is still working (which is a great blessing).  In my case it wasn't that the Great Recession had hit me where it hurts.  I resigned from the church I was serving for very sound reasons, and believe now more than ever that it was the godly thing to do.  

Still, the whole effect has been to cause me to question my own usefulness.  Receiving a paycheck every week in our culture is equivalent to assigning value to the individual.  The more one makes, it seems, the more valuable they are to society.  I realize that's a pretty broad statement, and one that some of you will probably disagree with, but judging from the things that our culture assigns value to (power, sex, beauty), we are compensating the most valuable people (politicians and corporation execs, models, actors) according to their value.    And here I am, at what might seem the bottom of the value ladder... if you account my life in terms of economic gain. 

That is not how Paul did accounting.

In his speech to the Ephesian elders he is quick to note the hard work he did (physical labor) to serve those who were receiving the Gospel: "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (vs 34-35).  He also makes it plain that he wasn't looking for financial support from them, though I'm sure they did support him generously.   But the whole speech is about economy and what is profitable!  

Here then is what is profitable according to Paul: 1)  teaching (you) in public and from house to house, 2) testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, 3) testifying to the gospel of the grace of God, 4) proclaiming the kingdom, 5) declaring to you the whole counsel of God, 6) admonishing everyone with tears, 7) commending everyone to God and to the word of his grace.  These are the things that create true wealth when someone goes about doing them.  The result of doing these things is  to build an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

So I want to declare to you and to God and to the principalities and powers (whomever they may be) that these things shall be my vocation.  Whether they were in the past or not, God is the judge.  But my economy -- my value -- is to declare the grace of God.  I will continue to work hard to make an earthly income that will prevent me from being a burden on anyone.  But my employment must be to speak the good news of God from house to house.  

Jon  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Conversion

"The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul"  -- Psalm 19:7 KJV

Conversion is a funny thing.  Sometimes it happens in a flash, like in the two similes Jesus uses to describe the Kingdom of Heaven:


“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." 


"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a mercant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."


In both of these there is the quality of immediacy, of abandon, of great joy, and of great profit. The man who finds treasure in a field and then buys the field is no mere speculator.  He already knows the property is worth more than he's going to pay for it.  The same is true of the man buying the pearl.  It is of great value.  Presumably, owning this pearl will increase his wealth in the end.  


Other times conversion comes at the end of a long train of excesses or abuses or wanderings.  The whore of whom God is speaking through Hosea is, of course, Israel.  But it may as well be you and me.  There is a terror that ought to rise my heart as God threatens to expose my whoring ways -- going after "other lovers", expecting they will compensate me with jewels and lands.  And all the while my true love was waiting there for me.   Conversion comes when God finally allures us, takes us out to the wilderness, and speaks tenderly to us.  


Either way, our heart needs converting.  The heart we were born with wants so many other things than God.  My heart does.  These moments in his presence, and the Lord's Day which follows will be quickly forgotten the next time something comes along which either distracts (because it is "important") or attracts (because it is "beautiful").  God help me to be faithful, for I know that my poor heart, needy and mostly converted, yet in need of conversion still, is not.


Jon

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Not My People

Luke 4:41 is a great reminder to me that demons, as perverse and twisted as they are, see eternal things as they really are.  Oh, they are twisted, burning souls.  But they understand who Jesus is, and they shudder.  Paul says the same in Philippians 2:10 and Romans 14:11.  Demons believe.  Do we?

There has been a lot of hype in the church over the past thirty years about coming revival; about the next wave of God's Spirit among us; about prophecies predicting this and that end to the age.  Wars and rumors of war to be sure.  Earthquakes and natural disasters abound.  And, from Frank Peretti and Hal Lindsay to Tim LaHaye, evangelicals have offered us pictorially visions of things the Bible predicts.

But faith of the kind that made it possible for Paul to restore life to the young man Eutychus?  The kind of rock-solid trust in the love of God that caused Psalm 136 to be written?  A sense of belonging that rises out of a sure knowledge that we were once whores and children of whores that knows its name: Children of the Living God?  These things seem absent from our church culture and have been replaced with much talk about God rather than much speaking to God.

A few days ago Psalm 73:28 told us, "for me it is good to be near God."  Yesterday I got to the end of a frustrating day feeling very discouraged by the things that had happened.  It wasn't until I was about to go to bed that I realized I had skipped the rhythm of Daily Office that morning.  What was I thinking?  On any given day that I don't make the Lord God my refuge I can expect that I won't see spiritual realities correctly... or at all.  The reason the demons bow down and shudder is because they, having once rejected the love of God, see him in all his terrible splendor just as anyone would who approached The Throne.   That's because their eyes have been opened, just as Adam's eyes were opened at the Fall.  The element they have lost the ability -- forever -- to see is the love and kindness of God.

We live in a cynical culture that is quickly losing the ability to see love and kindness in ourselves, because we have begun to disbelieve in a God who is terrible in his splendor and in his judgements, and yet whose love endures forever.

Ruhama

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Have you ever caught yourself praying for someone to get their come-upance?   "O God... teach that scoundrel a lesson!"  I suppose we all have.  There's no better example of this that I can think of in all of Scripture than Psalm 83.  Sit with it for a moment and imagine the emotions that are going on in the Psalmist's heart:

83:1 O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!

For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
those who hate you have raised their heads.

They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your treasured ones.

They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”

For they conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—

the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,

Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;

Asshur also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. 
Selah
Do to them as you did to Midian,
as to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon,

10 who were destroyed at En-dor,
who became dung for the ground.

11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,

12 who said, “Let us take possession for ourselves
of the pastures of God.”
13 O my God, make them like whirling dust, [1]
like chaff before the wind.

14 As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,

15 so may you pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane!

16 Fill their faces with shame,
that they may seek your name, O 
Lord.
17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
let them perish in disgrace,

18 that they may know that you alone,
whose name is the 
Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

This kind of praying though, seems to me ugly and self-serving.  Sure there are people out there who would like to see you wiped out.  Does that mean that you have to wish the same upon them?  Does God really approve that kind of thing?  

This line of thinking brings up an important point of internal discord for me.  I believe the Gospel is the way of peace, and that the simple fact that Jesus refused to raise up an army when he had the opportunity, and didn't support the idea of overthrowing an evil government, and called his followers to turn the other cheek, really means that he was revealing something about the true nature of God.  So why are passages like Psalm 83 in the Bible?  If I were writing the Scriptures, I sure wouldn't have put something like this out there.  It is confusing.  It advocates exactly the opposite of what Christ taught.  

Could it be that our definition of the Scriptures as the Word of God is too limited?  Now don't jump on me all at once and call me a liberal.  What I mean is that the average Christian tends to apply a blanket statement to his reading of the Word.  He has been taught that everything in the Bible came from the mouth of God and therefore (he assumes) is God-approved.   I prefer to look at it like Paul does in 1 Cointhians 10:11, "These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come."  Just because God allowed a poem like Psalm 83 to become part of his Word doesn't mean that he approves or even answered the prayer of Asaph.  

Also, Asaph and his fellow prophets were assigned by David to provide musically-based prophesy.  So we might consider that this psalm is in some way a lyric, the tune of which has been lost to time and memory.  Lyrics often amplify a feeling while not directly speaking a truth.  The fact that the feeling is an ugly one is of no consequence.  It may even be that Asaph is writing this to help cure Israel of such expressions by really putting it out there in its basest form for all to see.

The Lectionary this morning counterbalances this messy bit with the prophesy from Isaiah referring to the coming One:

61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor; [1]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; [2]
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Jon


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Church of St. John of The Recession

Luke 3:10-14 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics [9] is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
An article in today's New York Times tells about the plight of older workers in the current recession... excuse me... THE Recession.  There, now I've given the situation its due.  They talk about those 55 and older as a new class of unemployables.  (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/business/economy/20older.html?partner=rss&emc=rss)  

I want to dispel any thoughts you have that The Recession is somehow God's judgement on Western Culture, or at least on Wall Street, for the excessive lifestyle we led from the 1980s until everything came off the tracks in 2008.  If you live in a market driven economy, there simply are going to be times of great prosperity, full employment, and growth in all sectors.  And there are going to be times when the piper has to be paid for the use of credit, the distance between the classes, and the gratifying of desires all that wealth allowed.   There are problems with all other systems of economy, but this is the reality of ours.  

What I can tell you is one of the lessons God wants to teach the church through this period.  We have a great opportunity here to be the church as God intended us to be.   The longer passage, beginning at Luke 3:1 links John's basic proclamation of "repentance of the forgiveness of sins" with the prophecy from Isaiah about the leveling of mountains and valleys and John's economy lesson to his audience.  

Today's church is a reflection of the economy around us: the mega-churches largely represent the wealthy; the smaller bricks-and-mortar churches represent the middle class; and the house churches and especially those real believers who find themselves completely without a church represent the poor and homeless.  Not that large, affluent churches don't reach out to the poor.  Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI is a great example of a church with abundant resources and sound theology that is on the cutting-edge of social conscience.   Conversely, I'm sure one can point to many wealthy Christians who believe "sound doctrine" but don't lift a finger to actually engage with the poor, the sick, and those in need.   Still, the point can be made that we are a church of classes of churches and there isn't much interaction or acknowledgement from one to the next, other than that the poor and homeless class of churches seems to often go begging at the door of the class above them, and so on.  How many smaller churches do you know that have picked up programming from Saddleback or Willow Creek rather than innovate their own distinct program and plan?

John begins his discourse with the conclusion: bear fruits that demonstrate your repentance.   Can you imagine what would happen if the churches of a given geographic area actually put into practice on an institutional level what John is telling individuals to do?  Let's say there are ten churches in our town.  Four of them have been doing pretty well and have been running a modest surplus, experiencing stable attendance patterns, and have a solid leadership.  Five of the churches in town are struggling just to stay afloat and are beginning to work through their savings.  A couple of those have also been trying for the last couple of years to find a pastor who can bring good leadership to the church, but they can't offer a decent salary, so it looks like they'll have to settle for part-time ministry.  One church in town has a highly regarded ministry, a regional attendance, multiple staff, good outreach programs, and a well-defined large leadership team.   At the end of the year, this church decides to do something radical.  They're going to take the surplus in both people and money and give it to the struggling churches just because they love healthy churches, and without thought as to how the "loss" will affect their ministry.  

This kind of generosity cannot be legislated.  You can't force people to act communally in a market economy.  But for those who truly have ears to hear, St. John of The Recession has a plan:  don't be satisfied with tithing.  Don't let the fact that you have finally got a home and nice possessions lull you into believing that you have arrived.  You know that guest room you've got that you keep vacant for the three times a year your sister from Detroit comes to visit?  Did you know that foreclosures hit an all time high last month?  Where do you suppose all those people are now living?  Yes, the rental market is doing quite well!  But so is the homeless "market".  You don't have to go looking for those people.  Just look around your life and you'll find folks who are having real trouble making ends meet.  Even if you don't offer them that spare room... the least you can do is offer them dinner.

Jon
    

Friday, September 17, 2010

Near to God

Psalm 73:28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.


The first time I heard this verse I was a new believer, just 19 or 20 years old.  I had come to Christ (though I was raised going to church) as a sophomore in college.  Within six months of starting to really know the Lord I had begun studying the Bible with other students, was memorizing Scripture, and was part of a lively fellowship and also a church that met near campus.  To say I was pouring myself into my religion would be understatement.  


One of the disciplines our fellowship group practiced was having a morning group prayer time once a week.  The group met in the downstairs lounge of one of the dorms far across campus from where I lived.  The leader of the group was a man who had been in the military before going into campus ministry, and so early morning meetings were no problem for him.  The rest of us undisciplined souls kind of had to adjust.   The prayer meeting ran on Tuesday mornings from 5:30 - 7 am.  I presume the reason was so that the students could then go back, have breakfast, and make it to their 8 am classes on time.  I was smarter than that.  I never scheduled 8 am classes!


This one morning I was sitting on one of the sofas inwardly grousing about why my slumber had been disturbed by something as unexciting as prayer.  That's when Chuck, the ex-military guy, quoted Psalm 73:28 before turning the group to prayer.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was doing this discipline, but had no idea why.   


You may have heard the old joke that goes, "What do you get if you cross a Jehovah's Witness with a Unitarian?"  And the answer is, "Someone who knocks at your door and doesn't know why they did."  Well, that's where I was on the subject of prayer.  


I understood the reason God had brought me to college was to find him and get to know him.  Parents take note.  Most of your sons and daughters are not on campus to get an education.  From the most heathen to the most holy; from the liberal fire-brand to the conservative reactionary, their education will largely be in something other than what is printed on the diploma at the end of four or five years.  


In my case, I was studying music.  I was being educated in how to be a Christian.  Notice, I didn't say that I was getting to know God.  I had many of the disciplines of the Christian life down pat.  So well, in fact, that when I went to seminary ten years later I breezed through.  I had acquired a lot of knowledge, maybe even some wisdom about how to build people up in these disciplines.  But little real passion for God himself.


Fast forward through my life to 2010.  This verse has come to me again and again at make-or-break points in my life.  And I thank God for it.  Psalm 73:28 is one of God's gentle reminders to me that my life doesn't consist in doing anything for him.  As if any man could do something for God!  My life consists in knowing him.  The more I give myself over to knowing him, the less valuable those disciplines become unless as a way to know him.  Even this Daily Office is just cold mechanics if I don't approach it because I want to approach him.  


Remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30, "He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption." (RSV)  But (sigh), isn't it easier to seek wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption through discipline than it is to seek God through relationship?


Jon

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The beginning of wisdom

Job 28:28  ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” 


What a great conclusion to come to!  When all is said and done, to know the great peace of standing in the presence of One so terrible and awesome that just being there should rightly invoke terror (if not death), and yet to know that you are invited to do so and welcome at his feet!  


We've made a culture out of not being awed by practically anything.  We pass off natural disasters with the same cynical non-chalonce with which we dismiss the grandeur of nature.  "If you've seen one, you've seen them all."   And so we do with God himself.  In most of our churches the adoration of God has been replaced with something akin to a pep-rally before a sporting event.  Hype is not equivalent to reverential fear.  You can walk away from hype, and 10 minutes later you feel nothing.  Real fear is more long-lasting.  It affects you deeply in your soul.


I was reminded this morning again of the profound meaning of the mezuzah, the little scripture portion (Deuteronomy 6) that hangs on the doorpost of every Jewish household.  In an orthodox home, there is supposed to be a mezuzah on the door of each and every room.  As one enters the room they are to touch their hand to the mezuzah and recite, "Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments."  Why would they do that?  It seems so repetitive, so formulaic.  The reason is simple: so we won't forget the fear.    Imagine knowing in a fresh way, every time you pass from room to room, that God is the Lord.  You really should try the exercise for just 15 minutes some Saturday when you're cleaning house.  You'll be amazed at how it brings God front-and-center in your thinking.


Today, I pray you will know the fear of the Lord and that knowing him in this way will lead you into a place of great wisdom as you go from room-to-room -- as you travel through the activities of daily life.  May you know the fear of Him in each room.


Yours in Christ,


Jon



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Perfectly Wide Place

Psalm 119:96  I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.


John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.


I love the way the Daily Office juxtaposes bits of Scripture as it goes.  I don't know if this is intentional or not, but very often there are great insights to be gained by simply asking the question, "What does this have to do with this?"  Here's an example.


When Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his coming death he begins with a formula I am told always adds special emphasis.  The "truly, truly" (lit. amen, amen) is the New Testament equivalent of saying, "thus says the Lord" or "what I am about to tell you is absolute truth.  You can depend on it never varying."  


It is a law of science (well... plant science) that the only way you're going to get next years' harvest out of this years' harvest is by sacrificing a small portion of what you might otherwise have eaten.   We can't know if Jesus uttered this collection of sayings in sequence or if John grouped them together because of their affinity, but there are three sayings of assurance here.  The first we have already seen.  The second is that you can be assured that, like Dickens' Scrooge, if you guard your own life carefully you will never really live.  And the third tells us that, as my mother used to love to say, "there is no way out, but through."  Actually, in Christ, there is no way IN, but through the same sufferings, the same trials, the same radical obedience to the Father, that Jesus knew.  Those are the terms of discipleship, and they are a spiritual truth of the Universe.  


The last piece of what Jesus has to say is the promise that if you do these things, no matter what life looks like on the outside, the Father will honor you.


Now, what does all that have to do with Psalm 119?  Simply that Jesus has laid before us the truth that embracing Death yields Life, every time.  That is a "perfection", a completeness, a truth.  My flesh recoils at that thought.  I don't want to die.  I don't want self to die in favor of Jesus in me.  It sounds so limiting.  It sounds like I will lose control, and I don't like that.  But IF I am willing to lose control, IF I am willing to die, what results is like very like an experience I once had when I was in Istanbul.


We had taken a ferry up the Bosphorus (the strait that separates Europe from Asia at this point), and had landed in a small fishing village at the very top of the strait.  At this point the strait is quite narrow, like taking a trip up the Mississippi around St. Louis.   I think the name of the town we docked at is Anado Feneri.  


In town we were told there was an old Roman garrison at the top of a hill just outside town.  So we began to walk up a very steep grade, through a residential district.  We followed the signs for about 20 minutes until we came to a place that looked like a park.  At the end of a sidewalk at the top of the final hill was a set of ruins.  There wasn't much to them, really.  When we got there I was kind of mad that I had walked all this way just to see the outline of a small fort.  It would have been so easy to take a couple of pictures and conclude that this rather dead, badly taken care of, graffiti-marked old ruin was all there was.  


We decided to scale the ruin anyway.  Even on the back side, higher up still, all seemed pretty much overgrown and dead.  We stepped back a bit further to get a good look at the fort from a distance, turned, and then came our reward: a commanding view of the entire south end of the Baltic Sea.  It was massive.  It took our breath away!  Now we understood why the fort was there and what its purpose had been.  Here, at the end of a very steep and boring climb was one of the most spectacular views on earth.  


The way of abandoning what I want to what God wants is just so: my options may seem to be becoming more and more limited; the reasons why I'm even taking the trip become more and more unclear; the law of death seems to be the only truth around me.  And then a wide place opens up -- so wide that the scene cannot be taken in by human eye.  


There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.



--Frederick W. Faber (1862)


Jon


Monday, September 13, 2010

I Got it Covered

Job 40:10-14
10 “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
11 Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
12 Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
13 Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below. [13]
14 Then will I also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can save you.


I love God's logic.  This is a classic if-then proof.  What he's saying is, "IF you can, without any help at all, make yourself majestic, dignified, glorious and terrible in splendor; IF you can, without any help at all, actually change the condition of a proud man so that he is brought low -- not just one proud man, but IF you can do this with all proud men in the world in an instant; IF you can, without any help at all, end all evil people with a thought and send them directly to hell, THEN I would say you're able to save yourself from pretty much anything.


The problem, of course, is that I can't.  I can't do any of those things.  I have tried.  Really.  And the best I've been able to come up with is some minor proud-ish posturing and posing about my accomplishments in ministry (I call myself a "mentor"), music (I call myself a "conductor"), and cooking (I call myself a "chef" -- sounds better than "cook").  And the worst thing isn't that God knows.  He demonstrates that clearly in verse 14.  The worst is that everyone else knows too.   I think most of us are able to deal with the fact that God knows we're nothing without him.  After all, he is largely invisible to us except for the whiff of his presence and the occasional touch of his majesty.   But the people around me -- the ones who see me every day... that's another story altogether.   None of us likes the feeling that someone else "has our number."  


God, forgive me for posing and posturing.  Help me to see myself the way you see me -- not to judge, but to love what you have made me -- as I really am.  And cause me to love you as you really are: You are Majesty itself.  You are all Dignity.  You are Glory.  You are Splendor.  


Jon