Posts Tagged ‘Sabbath’

Ezekiel 37:1-14

A valley of dry bones
The epitome of death
Imagine taking in the scene
How it took away Ezekiel’s breath.

A place of such desolation
No hope of life in sight
Then God began to tell Ezekiel
How to set things right.

“Speak the words I’ve given you:
Be clothed in flesh again.”
How frightening to see bones rise,
And flesh appear on them.

But if the story ended there
It wouldn’t be complete
Just a valley of assembled bones
With skin over their feet.

If you took a picture
It may look like all is fine
But standing in that valley
In the passing of some time

Time allows what really is
To be completely known.
In this case, there was no breath
To bring life to the bones

Don’t be discouraged by dry bones
But just as important is this:
Don’t assume what looks like life
Truly always is.

Invite the Holy Spirit
To examine every part
Not only bones and muscle
But breathe deep into your heart.

Exodus 16:27-35

Forty years, with one menu
As the Israelites waited on God
They wandered through wilderness desert
While God slowly removed their facade

The false self they had been presenting
Of shifting allegiance like sands
Giving their loyalty to who has the power
Even after receiving commands

When God seemed aware, they would worship
When He seemed silent, they too
It may seem cruel, but over time
They learned patterns of what they should do.

Work together as a people for six days
On the seventh, they were to rest.
To stay in their homes, and take a moment
To thank God for how they’d been blessed.

Not busy themselves with production
Or finding their worth in their work
Today we have the same struggle
And feel our duties we’d shirk

Surely we should still be useful
We should do things, and serve with our time
But God still invites us to sabbath
To step down from the mountains we climb

Which is why we relive the forty
In whatever ways we may choose
To rediscover the moments of His presence
Where we’re invited to remove our shoes.

Exodus 16:1-8

Scripture is filled with stories galore
To help us be people of faith.
Testimonies of those gone before
The ways God has kept His sheep safe.

But stories are told by those holding the pens
And it’s not hard to see what that means
When given the story of what happens
We should wonder about behind the scenes

One of the greatest examples of this
We find as Gods people wandered
They hungered and thirsted for water and bread
And in hardening hearts they pondered:

“Would it have been better to die as a slave?
At least we knew we could eat!
Our value was only in making the bricks,
But at least they gave us some meat!”

They shook fists at God, angered and mad
Afraid on this path they would die
In scripture we’re told to have faith like a child
And here we discover just why

While all of the people were shaking their fists
Saying “with God in charge we’ll be dead!”
There was a girl praying, so hungry inside,
Saying, “God, what if you made it rain bread?”

a moment.

thinking fast – i open another window

not to the fresh air, but a fresh page – words yet unwritten

kids chasing the kitten down the hall, himself chasing a ball

and through it all i have this moment

coffee cooling, cider still, donuts and the chill

of the crisp autumn air enters through the windows already opened

the early moments of a new day, unshaped clay

before even the kids say “what will be?”

we have yet to see, not anxiously awaiting

but allowing this moment to stretch

etching words of His on mind and heart

the best way to start each day

with a moment.

as the world gives…

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

A large part of the world is built and continually dependent on the lack of peace.  Advertisers know that in order to sell a product or service, they often must first convince you of your deficiency without their offer.  News sources know they must convince you of inherent anxiety that you can not shed without hearing the story they’re about to share (after these messages).  Our economy and daily connection to what’s happening in the world threatens to be shaped by these forces on a regular basis.img_1760

Into that kind of existence, we receive the words from Jesus again:

“I’m giving you peace…and I know the world offers you peace also.  The world offers you peace if you buy their product.  The world offers you peace if you utilize their services.  The world offers you an equation by which if you do “A”, they’ll accomplish “B”, and the outcome will be “C” (A + B = C).  But even if you attain “C” in this world, it is a peace that continues to allow disturbance so that you will continue to purchase the product, utilize the service, and listen to their voice of influence.

In fact, I want you to take an entire day off every week.  You don’t have to, but I invite you to gladly because it will shape your soul.  One day out of every 7, step out of the routines and paces of this world to declare and remember your freedom from them.  My peace and freedom are not an equation.  They are not dependent on any conditions of this world.  They are a gift that is continually poured out by the Holy Spirit – your advocate sent by my Father to remind you of all these things.”

May we respond to His invitation to Sabbath this week in ways that free us to be people of peace during the other 6 days as well…

On a Changed Mind…

In reading Bob Goff’s “Love Does” to our children recently, I was reminded of his words urging us not to be “Stalkers” of Jesus. He points out that we often spend so much time personally, and even in our gatherings studying about Jesus/Holy Spirit/God.  But how often are we focused on simply “being with” this Triune God?  As a pastor, as a father, and especially as one who recognizes the power of God’s Love – I want to consciously spend time, and invite others into times, of being increasingly aware of the fullness of God’s Love & presence.

Recently there was a book published that contains an amazing amount of scientists, researchers, and history of people all wanting to do something similar.  The main title is “How to Change Your Mind”, and a conversation with the author on NPR caught my attention.  As someone who’s studied biblical Greek, I remembered that Jesus often called people to “repent” using the word “metanoia” which literally means “having a changed mind”.  The unpopularity of this book in Christian circles might be caused by its subtitle, “What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence”.  The awkwardness of my preconceptions of psychedelics pushed-aside, I went ahead and read it anyways.

Wow.  The history of these substances and the opportunities for research beginning to resurface has a great deal to offer the brokenness of humanity.  Researchers are just in the past 8 years, finally and slowly/clinically, beginning to proceed cautiously again.  There are potentials in treating addictions, anxiety/depression, PTSD, and a great many of maladies in between.  Unfortunately, many of these substances were misused/abused in unsafe ways/levels back around the ’60s, and so most of us have a cloudy understanding of all these things.

But most interesting to me were the accounts of the early scientists/philosophers/divinity students who experienced these substances simply as a way to experience an “altered state of consciousness”.  Complete skeptics who viewed everything through a scientific lens came away skeptical of their own need to understand only that which is understandable.  Religious people came away feeling as if they’d “finally” had an experience of the divine.  There were so many great connections to those of us who are willing to see it, and I cannot process everything or share all the great quotes here.  But one thing in particular screams to be noticed:

What is striking about this whole line of clinical research is the premise that it is not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself but the kind of mental experience it occasions – involving the temporary dissolution of one’s ego – that may be the key to changing one’s mind.” Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see the connection here.  Pick a verse! Look at Ephesians 4:22-24 if you need one.  Scripture talks about “dying to self” in order to come alive with the New Life of Jesus Christ over and over again.  Followers of Jesus since ancient times have wrestled with and expanded on what all of this involves.

What happens in story after story throughout Pollan’s book (the “good” trips at least) are individuals who carve out time and space purposefully for an “otherly” experience.  They are talked to by a “guide” who comforts them, and reassures them of their presence.  They close their eyes, turn on some music, and are guided verbally while the substance takes its effect.  Once you shed some of the hallucinatory aspects, what often leads to transformation/healing in the individual is coming away from such an experience aware that an “other” way of existing is out there.  An immediate realization of a unity that flows through all of creation, and the beauty of color, sound, etc.

One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful – wonder being the by-product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight…”  Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind

This is not too far off from experiences we’ve heard of happening in worship.  This is not too removed from experiences of “guided prayer” even I have helped lead others into/out from.   It reminded me of another book I’d read recently, “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere“.  Merton has written extensively on prayer, on dying to the “false self”, and on meditation.  He was even around during many of these early “trials” in the 60’s, so I wondered his perspective of these things.  In a letter from December 1965, he writes:

“..my impression is that they are probably not all they are cracked up to be.  Theologically I suspect that the trouble with psychedelics is that we want to have interior experiences entirely on our own terms.  This introduces an element of constraint and makes the freedom of pure grace impossible.  Hence, religiously, I would say their value was pretty low.  However, regarded merely psychologically, I am sure they have considerable interest.” Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love

I find myself agreeing with Merton.  The grace of God that arrives in our moments/lives of sacrifice and other-centered Love is not something we can carefully plan for/measure.  They should not be contained in a moment or require the assistance of substances.  Even the neuro-chemical responses of emotional worship experiences can be addictive in ways that make us desire more of those moments on terms we can manufacture.

Only when we are able to ‘let go’ of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste, and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life.” James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere

It’s not as simple as saying “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”  But it is as simple as saying an authentic and sustainable experience of God that transforms and brings New Life is possible for anyone, anywhere, at any time.  We live within a creation that proclaims the awe-inducing beauty and goodness of God,.  We are surrounded by a fellow humanity that was created to bear the image of the Divine.  God is not so far away as we often imagine.  The divine invitation to repent, to “metanoia” (have a changed mind) is something we do not seek to control, but submit ourselves to by pausing.  We offer ourselves in unceasing and moments of prayer, and a life with patterns of Sabbath.

To put it another way, we “come away/apart” or “retreat” to a solitary place as Jesus did, but also in moments joined together in relationship with others.  We prayerfully and vulnerably confess our false selves and seek to live in ways that shed/deny that self for the sake of others.  In living with these patterns, embracing people and moments with the precious validity of what could be (rather than what we assume will be), we position ourselves to receive the grace of a God-given Now.

On a closing note, I do believe these substances are able to “force individuals” into an awareness of the Divine (though not always).  However, we don’t need a substance in order to reveal to us different ways of perceiving this world exist.  What Jesus invites us to recognize is the power of compassion to accomplish even more.  Compassion means literally “to suffer with”.  When I choose to enter into the sufferings of another (person, people group, etc.), my vantage point enters into their own.  When this happens, we experience a “metanoia” that empowered by the Holy Spirit can lead to freedom from the chains we’d previously been bound by.  From a Christian perspective – when I “die to self” to come alive as Christ, I enter into a Holy Spirit-sourced compassionate life for those whom Jesus Loves (everyone…yes, even/especially them).  Such a life is the arrival of New Creation, where former things (false self) have passed away and all things have become New.  Not once, and not in a moment, but as a way of Life.

But beware.  As anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country can affirm, a daily existence where everything is “New” can be incredibly exhausting both cognitively and physically.  We may find ourselves depending on the power of God and needing to return to His presence…often…

…the Good News is, He is here.

 

 

Puppets & Jellyfish

Last week I sat down to watch “Galaxy Buck: Mission to Sector 9″ with my kids, and I was kinda blown away. Here, condensed into a 40 minute children’s puppet movie (with quite a bit of humor), was a potent message. Not just a good message. I mean – take all the current spiritual living, devotional, God/Christ-centered literature that has come out in recent years – this movie will summarize a large percentage of it.galaxybuck

(spoiler alert)

Buck works in a call center for a large ministry, and is discontent because the poster on his wall constantly reminds him “God wants you to do BIG things!” He feels like he’s not accomplishing what God wants, and gets excited when there seems to be a chance. Things go awry, and he finds himself bummed again. Then, in the subterranean levels of an alien planet, he meets someone who rips his goal apart. Literally. He takes Bucks’ poster, and rips it so that the words left read, “God wants you.” I asked my 10-year-old daughter the next day what the message of the movie was about, and she answered clearly the same thing: “God doesn’t want you to do big things, as much as God wants YOU. You’re not a shark, you’re a jellyfish caught in the flow of God’s Love.”

The obvious push-back to that is: “That sounds like an excuse for laziness, and not trying anything.” Certainly it could be manipulated into that. But when we allow ourselves to exist fully in the flow of God’s Love – we have to trust that WILL call us to be actively offering ourselves fully toward the mission of lives, community and creation transformed.  But our activity doesn’t begin with us setting a goal of “accomplishing great things for Jesus”.  It begins with us relinquishing control of everything in our being, into the great Love of God.  That may mean we accomplish great things by the measures of this world, or that mean we lose everything and all noteriety for His sake.

The first step?  Allowing the truth of that ripped poster to sink in.  “God wants YOU.”  Not because of your gifts or talents.  Not because of your heritage.  Not because you’re specifically poised to accomplish what no one else could ever do.  Not because of your purity.  But because He Loves you.  Fully and completely, and without reserve.  Just as much when you were making horrible decisions as He does today.  Most of us have been loved wrong by a human in our lives, and it messes up the kind of love we even see as possible.  So let the love of God sink in a bit, and then release yourself to it.  There is no greater place to exist, or calling to walk forward with…

For more on covenanting with God to do/be whatever He wants, check out this modern version of the “John Wesley Covenant Service” I’ve written for use in a church setting.

For a few words on God simply desiring/loving you as His child, here’s a Spoken Word I recently recorded.

%d bloggers like this: