Tag Archives: Christ

The Books

The Books (CaD Rev 20) Wayfarer

“I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.”
Revelations 20:12a (NIV)

This past Sunday Wendy and I were among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and the question was asked, “What brings you joy?” Wendy’s answer was without hesitation: a Barnes & Noble Bookstore. Actually, that’s a joy we both share even though she is a much bigger reader than I am.

I’ve always loved books. From junior high school through college I always worked or volunteered in the school library. I also worked for the same bookstore chain from high school through college. One of the things I love to do to pass time when I’m on the road is to go to a bookstore. It might be Barnes & Noble or Half Price Books or a local hole-in-the-wall used bookstore.

I find today’s chapter to be one of the most unusual in the entire Great Story because it packs so much into one chapter and leaves me as a reader wanting so much more detail than what John provides. His vision of what’s to come approaches the reader rapid-fire. An angel chains Satan and imprisons the evil one in the abyss for a thousand years. During that thousand years, Jesus and the resurrected martyrs of the earlier tribulation reign on the earth. This is commonly referred to as “the Millenium.” This climactic event is described in just three short verses.

Then Satan is released from the abyss and proceeds to deceive the nations to wage a final battle against Jesus. Satan and his followers are defeated and thrown into a lake of burning sulfur once-and-for-all. This is described in just four verses.

Then there is what the Great Story has repeatedly referred to as “Judgment Day” or just “The Day.” This epic event gets described in just five verses.

Over my forty-plus years of studying the Great Story, the three-verse mention of the Millenium gets, by far, the most conversation, controversy, and close scrutiny. In fact, my normal study sources all had lengthy breakdowns of the major three theological viewpoints regarding the apocalyptic Millenium.

What interested me, however, were the books. During Jesus’ ministry, He made a couple of direct statements regarding Judgment Day:

“…there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” Matthew 10:26 (NIV)

“Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” Luke 12:1-3 (NIV)

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37 (NIV)

In his book Imagine Heaven, John Burke explores Near Death Experiences (NDE) in which humans have physically died (no heartbeat, no breath, no brain activity), had after-life experiences, and then returned from death. It’s a fascinating read as there are eerily common NDE experiences around the globe that have been scientifically researched by universities and academics. Interestingly enough, one of the common experiences that NDErs cite is the books.

A man name Gary died in a car accident with his sister:

“[An] angel came through the gate, and he was checking the pages of a book that he was carrying. he then nodded to the giant angel, confirming that I may enter into the city. Suddenly, there in front of me stood my best friend, John [who had been decapitated but was now whole]. His eyes sparkled with life as we embraced…

“John told me he had many wonderful things to show me. John took me into a very large building that looked like a library. The walls were solid gold and sparkled with a dazzling display of light that loomed up high to a domed ceiling. I saw hundreds and thousands of books…Many angels were there reading the contents of the books. John explained to me that these books contain a record of every person’s life that has ever been born, throughout all history. Everything we do here on earth is recorded in these books – good or bad – everything.”

A teenager drowned in a pool accident:

“[My angels] did not like my response of, ‘I don’t want to go back down there; it is painful.’ ‘You must! Your mission is not yet complete!’ We communicated telepathically; no lips or mouth movements; all thoughts. Moment by moment you discover how quickly you are gaining knowledge; and how easy it is to accept. My three angels sought permission from above to show me something…What looked like a HUGE four-foot thick book, of LIFE. MY Life. Just as my life had passed before my eyes when I was being drowned, I was now being shown my future life.”

The psalmist wrote: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering what it is that captures our attention. The exact meaning of the Millenial reign of Christ has stirred debate among scholars and believers since John’s Revelations were first read around 100 AD. Interpretations have varied widely through the centuries. It is literal? Is it metaphorical? Is it figurative?

As I meditated on this and the thorough interpretations covered in my study sources, I found myself shrugging my shoulders and once again humbly embracing my ignorance. I’m not sure I really care that much. Knowing the answer doesn’t really affect me personally now nor in eternity.

What does affect me personally are the books. Whether my name is written in the Book of Life is of utmost importance according to the Great Story. So does the book that the psalmist refers to along with the NDErs who’ve seen their own: the book that records my entire life, my actions, my relationships, and every word I’ve ever spoken.

As I end this, another work week, and as I go about my day, I’m mindful of what is written in the books.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Presence

The Presence (CaD Matt 28) Wayfarer

“And surely I am with you always”
Matthew 28:20 (NIV)

This past weekend our local gathering of Jesus’ followers had what we call Original Works Night (OWN). The auditorium is set up in a coffee house atmosphere and a gallery is set up inside. Throughout the evening people perform their original songs and poems. The gallery is full of paintings, photography, and artwork in various mediums. We even had three musicians who improvised an instrumental piece to end the evening and it was awesome. I’m always blown away by the talent and creativity represented.

It was at an OWN a few years back that a group of children had done a creative project. On blank 3×5 cards, they had written various affirmations and decorated the card. It was set up in a display and attendees could exchange affirmations. You write one yourself, place it in the display, and you got to take an affirmation one of the children made. The affirmation I pulled out was quite simple: “God is with you.” It hangs on my dresser where I see it each morning when I prepare for bed each night.

“God is with you.”

Today’s chapter is the end of Matthew’s biography of Jesus. He leaves us with the resurrected Jesus telling His followers to go to all nations and share His story, making disciples everywhere they go. He then ends with “surely I am with you always.”

Matthew’s account begins with Jesus being the prophesied “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” It ends with “I will be with you always.” As a believer, I believe (and have experienced) there is Oneness between me and God through His indwelling Spirit. Perhaps the most radical paradigm shift Jesus unleashed was that the “temple” was no longer bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood. No longer do I go to a building thinking that I meet God there, pay Him a visit, and hope that He shows up. I am the temple and God is with me always.

This is a basic spiritual truth of being a follower of Jesus and being a believer. It’s one that I observe differentiating those who have, by faith, experienced the transformation of Christ’s indwelling Spirit and those who are simply religious church-goers.

The church building is not God’s house. I am.

Why would I pray for God’s presence? He’s with me always.

About 25 years ago I was going through a stretch of my earthly journey in which I was willfully choosing to make life choices and behave in ways that were completely antithetical to being a Jesus follower. Even then, I was fully aware of God’s presence amidst all of the foolish, rebellious things I was doing. My relationship with God continued and I had regular conversations with God filled with anger and selfishness. That’s the thing I’ve discovered about surrendering my life to Christ and inviting Him in 40 years ago. Even when I choose to “walk away” He goes with me.

“God is with you.”

In the quiet this morning, I am grateful to be in a much better place on life’s road. I’m grateful to be made in the image of the Creator and for the ways that we can express inexpressible truths and experiences through art and creativity, even as children. I’m thankful for one child’s simple artistic affirmation of such an unfathomable spiritual reality.

“God is with you.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Compelled

For Christ’s love compels us….
2 Corinthians 5:14a (NIV)

I’m shaking my head with a smile this morning. I returned from a week’s hiatus and had to double check where we left off in our chapter-a-day journey. It’s a bit of synchronicity for me to read the five words pasted at the top of the post in this morning’s chapter because Wendy and I spent a good part of our journey home from the lake yesterday discussing them.

A number of weeks ago my fellow mystics at the Center for Action and Contemplation made a fascinating word connection in their daily meditation. The root of our word “mercy” is from an ancient Etruscan word, merc, which is also the root of our English word “commerce.” Over the past several weeks I’ve been quietly meditating on the transactional nature of relationship with Christ. And, it is definitely transactional in nature:

  • “Give, and it will be given unto you.”
  • “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
  • “Christ paid for sin, once for all.”
  • “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt of love.”

The problem, Wendy and I discussed yesterday, is that there are stark differences between the economics of this world and the economics of God’s Kingdom. In this life journey we are so ingrained with the concept of earning everything. Most of us earn our allowance as children, earn our grades and our diplomas as students, earn our paychecks and retirement as adults. Our entire lives are predicated on the notion that you get what you earn. This is a core piece of the curse of Adam when God said, By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” It’s even at the core of our justice system where you “get what you deserve.”

[cue: Cell Block Tango]

It is no wonder that we so easily we misunderstand the economics of the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to reveal. We often mindlessly (and heartlessly) twist Christianity into the transactional system we know by making it all about earning God’s favor and proving ourselves good followers of Jesus by what we do to earn the title. We reduce relationship with God to a daily transactional paradigm in which I’m blessed if I do good things and cursed if I do bad things. In so doing our spiritual death begins to take hold because “God’s ways are not our ways.”

In the economy of God’s Kingdom we are motivated not by our need to earn, but by the experience of freely receiving what we haven’t earned, of having an irreparable debt paid off. We are not required to earn a thing because we’ve already been freely given all we need and more. The transaction that earned us salvation had nothing to do with us at all apart from being the object of God’s sacrificial love. It was all done by Christ Jesus on the cross.

In today’s chapter, in five words, Paul gets down to the crux of this small but essentially crucial difference in transactional spiritual paradigms. Why did Paul turn his cushy, well-respected life upside down? Why did Paul endure endless hardship and continually risk his life? Why was Paul willing to be persecuted, beaten, whipped, prosecuted, imprisoned, and have his head chopped off? He was compelled.

Christ’s love compels us.

This morning I’m thinking about my thirty-some years as a follower of Jesus. I think about messages I’ve given, blog posts I’ve written, resources I’ve given, and choices I’ve made along the path. Why? I’m compelled. I’ve got to. It’s the point Dumbledore made to Harry Potter about having to fulfill the prophecy. There’s a difference between “‘I’ve got to” and “I’ve got to.”

Which is where the conversation meandered between Wendy and me yesterday, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Have a great day.

Inclusive Love in an Exclusive World

“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Isaiah 49:6 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to recognize that we as humans love to  categorize and label ourselves and our fellow human beings. It’s part, I believe, of an inherent desire to know ourselves and our place in this world.

“Who am I?”

“Where do I belong?”

“How do I fit in?”

In the process of self-definition, we come to understand our social groups. I belong to a groups genetically (Dutch, English, Irish), racially (White), sexually (Male Heterosexual), geographically (small town, Pella, Iowan, Midwest, American), religiously (Protestant Christian), educationally (college graduate), economically (upper middle class), politically (conservative), fanatically (Cubs, Vikings, Cyclones), and vocationally (business owner). I could go on, but you see the point. And, if you are reading this your mind is probably already contrasting yourself from me (and perhaps even judging me) based on your own contrasting personal social groups.

Never in my life journey have I recognized how people in society are so quick to label and categorize others. Never have I witnessed so many different social groups (racially, nationally, politically) being so judgmental and dismissive of those who don’t look, think, act, believe, and belong like they do.

This observation comes at a time when, in my own spiritual journey, I am becoming more aware than ever that God’s entire Message is about love and inclusivity.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet Isaiah is writing prophetically, in the first person. Isaiah is taking up the voice of the Messiah. He is writing the scripted the words of Christ. Christ speaks in the first person of God the Father giving Him a mission of being redeemer of the tribes of Israel, the primary genetic, cultural, and religious social group to which He would belong during His earthly mission. Then He adds “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

God’s love and God’s Message were never intended to be exclusive, secret, guarded, hoarded, and doled out to a selective few. They were intended to be generously and inclusively shared to every societal group we could ever think of or imagine. You can’t reach the “ends of the earth” until you’ve reached through every societal group and touched every one.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that I can’t fulfill Christ’s calling to me as His follower to inclusively share and spread that Love, Light, and Message, if I live and love exclusively within my own societal groups.

Parade of the Downhearted

English: Christmas lights in Sanok
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 68

God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
Psalm 68:6a (NLT)

“Christmas is such a happy time of year,” Wendy said to me as we drove to rehearsal the other night. The Christmas lights on the businesses along Franklin Street were shining bright in the crisp night air and the Vermeer Windmill was decked out with all of its holiday decorations.

I wasn’t trying to be a Scrooge, but the first thought that came to my mind and my response to Wendy was “It’s not a happy time of year for everyone.” I know that the holidays can be incredibly stressful for some. For those who have lost loved ones or who struggle with loneliness, the holidays can be a time of increased anxiety and depression.

I can tell in the quiet this morning that my heart and mind have made the turn toward Advent. Advent comes from the latin term meaning “revealing.” It is traditionally the season followers of Jesus prepare their hearts each year to celebrate the birth of our Jesus on Christmas Day. Psalm 68 is a song of procession and was meant to be sung as people paraded to the temple to worship. It made me think about all of us who are making a procession towards Christmas. As I read the lyrics of the opening stanza of Psalm 68, I found it interesting those whom it describes in this processional to praise:

  • Fatherless
  • Widows
  • Lonely
  • Prisoners

How appropriate, I think, for the downhearted to be called out for this parade. The whole reason for Christ to come as a baby, to live among us, to die for our sins, and to be raised back to life, is that which is broken in all of us might be healed. Consider that in His first public message, Jesus proclaimed his personal mission statement when He quoted these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This morning I’m thinking about the upcoming Christmas holiday in relation to the downhearted, the lonely, the grieving, those in bondage to their destructive thoughts and behaviors, and those who are suffering emotionally and physically. As we proceed toward Christmas, I’m praying that those of us who are suffering. Instead of experiencing increased levels of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and pain, I’m praying for us all – myself absolutely included – to find the healing and hope which can be found wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 8

Jesus and the centurion in Capernaum (Matthew ...
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“Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.” Matthew 8:12 (MSG)

After reading through the chapter today, I took a step back from the text and mentally outlined the events that are described. There are several brief exchanges between Jesus and various people:

  • A leper: (social outcast, diseased, unwanted) Jesus touches and heals him.
  • A Roman Officer: (oppressor, enemy, invader, outsider) Jesus compliment him on his faith and heals his servant.
  • A religious scholar & follower: Jesus offers a “curt” rebuke and questions the man’s motivation.
  • A “follower”: Jesus reprimands him for his excuses
  • Disciples: Jesus reprimands them for their lack of faith
  • Demons: (enemy, dark, evil) Jesus graciously grants them their request to embody the pigs, to the ire (and expense) of the locals

What struck me as I went through the list is that Jesus’ exchanges were the exact opposite of what I must honestly say I see myself doing. Jesus was gracious and kind to the people I would have avoided or to whom I would have been harsh. He was gracious even with demons. The people to whom I would have catered and tread lightly so as to not hurt their feelings or create a stir were the very people he was tough with. He got in the face of “his” people, the people that were following Him.

Ouch. As I think about it, my life seems to exemplify the exact opposite of Jesus’ example. Today, I’m thinking hard about how I relate and respond to those around me. I say I want to be like Jesus, but I have a long way to go. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 26

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the Unite...
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When Jeremiah had finished his sermon, saying everything God had commanded him to say, the priests and prophets and people all grabbed him, yelling, “Death! You’re going to die for this! How dare you preach—and using God’s name!—saying that this Temple will become a heap of rubble like Shiloh and this city be wiped out without a soul left in it!”

   All the people mobbed Jeremiah right in the Temple itself. Jeremiah 26:8-9 (MSG)

In the early 1930’s, a young member of Britain’s Parliment began boldly warning that Germany and it’s upstart leader, Adolph Hitler, were arming for war. With the painful memories of World War I still fresh in their minds, no one in England wanted to hear the dire warnings. The prophetic member of Parliment was roundly criticized and shunned. Undaunted by the criticism, he was stalwart in raising the alarm and calling for England to prepare for war.

His name was Winston Churchill. And, much like Jeremiah, history now records how prescient his warnings were. Were it not for Churchill, the second World War may have had a very different outcome. I find it fascinating how one individual can be so critical in the course of world history.

We need prophets. Nationally, locally, individually, we need people who are willing to say the things no one else will say and bring to the conversation the things we don’t want to hear. We need people in our lives who will speak truth when there are so many other voices hell-bent on tickling our ears with the status quo.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 18

Grarncarz w Rabce / Potter in Rabka
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So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot. Jeremiah 18:3-4 (MSG)

I recently spoke to a person who found themself on the road to crazy. Broken, feeling very much alone, and with their life scattered in so many pieces around their feet after it all fell apart in a tragic explosion of circumstance. There they stood holding on to a compass, but the needle was spinning uncontrollably in every direction. They couldn’t, in the moment, see the road out.

Consider yourself blessed if you never find yourself on the road to crazy. Consider yourself blessed if you do. I’ve been there. The circumstances were somewhat different than my friend, but they always are. There are a million paths in and out that intertwine like a maze.

“I can’t see why God has me here,” my friend said.

You never do, in the moment. That’s why Jeremiah’s word picture is so critical to hold onto. God uses broken things. He makes new things out of old. But, the clay must be broken down into a lump before it can be fashioned into a new vessel that can be used for new purposes.

The road to crazy is the place where God allows us to be broken down into a shapeless lump. The road back from crazy is where he begins to build us into something new.

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Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 15

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Je...
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Unlucky mother—that you had me as a son,
   given the unhappy job of indicting the whole country!
I’ve never hurt or harmed a soul,
   and yet everyone is out to get me. Jeremiah 15:10 (MSG)

It isn’t easy swimming upstream. Jeremiah discovered that. Going against the grain of a community or a culture has all sorts of ripple effects. I doubt that, in many ways, there is much difference between Jeremiah’s community and ours. People are people. We tend to like others who go with the flow and don’t make waves.

Follow Jesus, however, and you’ll find that the path will often lead you against the stream of popular culture. When that happens, we may find ourselves identifying with Jeremiah’s self-pitied lament.

But, without contrast, how will people see any difference?

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Chapter-a-Day Luke 14

Table setting at a wedding diner
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He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left. Luke 14:7-9 (MSG)

I consider stories, books, and films that seem timeless. There is a reason Shakespeare’s works are still staged for packed crowds around the world. There is something in them that resounds with our own core human experience and longing. Jesus was a great teacher because he spoke in stories, parables and spiritual lessons rooted in universal human experiences. He pointed us to eternal significance in everday occurrences.

Life lessons are all around us. They lurk in our daily conversations, in our every day relationships, and in the most mundane moments of our daily journey. God’s Spirit whispers to our spirit in a crowded shopping mall, in the quiet car ride home, and in the midst of our daily work.

For me, the crucial question is the one Jesus asked at the end of the chapter: “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

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