Tag Archives: Temporal

Yes and Yes and Yes and Yes

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Luke 17:20-21 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve come to embrace, the further I’ve pressed into this journey, is that we as human beings are earthbound in the way we see and react to everything around us. Interacting with our world through five senses leads us to perceive and believe that spiritual things are bound by temporal limits. We think and speak of heaven and hell as fixed positions somewhere and relegate the general direction of “above” (because we look at the night sky and perceive vast and infinite unknown) and “below” (because we watch the dead be buried in the ground and the bad place to which they go must be further down). The miracles were fairy tales and the resurrection could never have happened because for the majority of us these things don’t happen in our earthly human experience.

Along the way, I’ve come to realize that Jesus was constantly speaking of things that are real, but beyond our earthbound senses. I’m reminded of the prophet Elisha and his servant. Surrounded by an entire enemy army, Elisha tells his servant “There are actually more for us than against us.” Elisha prayed that his servant’s “eyes” might be “opened” and when they were he could see a vast army of angels encircling them. (2 Kings 6)

Jesus carries on this teaching of a dimension, realm, reality, that is just as real but lies beyond the boundaries of our senses. The problem, then, is that I try to describe a reality beyond my senses but I only have the language and reality I’ve experienced through my senses to describe it. Those very attempts at description will naturally fall short because even my words and language have their earthly, human limits.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is asked when “God’s kingdom” would come. They are seeking a fixed point of time that their earthbound brains can accept and perceiving that God’s kingdom looks like an earthly kingdom. Jesus pushes back at the limits of their human perceptions:

Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

It isn’t seen with human eyes, Jesus said. It’s not a fixed position that can be labeled on Google Earth. He then tells them that God’s kingdom is right in their midst, hiding in plain sight.

Now the original language Jesus used, and the language Dr. Luke used to retell the story, must be translated into English. Translations are a sticky wicket. Scholars have landed both on the phrase being “within you” and “in your midst” (there’s actually a footnote in the NIV version stating this).

Now I run into another earthbound reality of human reason, which tends to like to boil things down into binary choices: either or, right or wrong, black or white, true or false, this or that. My perpetual sojourn through the Great Story, however, has convinced me that God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphors are layered with meaning which is why the same words, phrases, stories, and passages can have different but just as relevant meaning to me today as when I studied the same passage years ago.

So was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is in your midst because I’m the incarnate Christ standing right in front you“?

Was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is not a fixed position in time and space but a place you inhabit internally and spiritually“?

Was Jesus saying, “When I am in you and you are in me, you are the kingdom of God“?

Was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is within you when you love God and others as I have been showing you“?

My spirit answers:

Yes, and

Yes, and

Yes, and

Yes.

In the quiet this morning I find my spirit engaged, creativity enlivened, mind curious, and heart imaginative as I think about spiritual realities beyond my earthbound senses. It’s all over the chapter in what Jesus was saying….

  • When you cause someone else to stumble, and harm innocents, you reveal your spiritual condition, and it is not the kingdom of God. (vs. 1-2)
  • When the kingdom of God is within you then forgiveness and grace will pour out of your heart and life no matter how many times you’ve been wronged. (vs. 3-4)
  • When you get beyond your earthbound senses and God’s kingdom is within, you’ll find that the “impossible” is “possible.” (vs. 6)
  • When you embrace God’s kingdom, you find peace and contentment in your divine role in the Great Story. (vs. 7-10)
  • The Kingdom of God is not tied to a particular nation, tribe, race, or institution. It’s deeper than flesh, blood, genetics, citizenship, or doctrinal adherence. A huge number of people who should “get it” don’t and even the most unlikely of outcasts and outsiders will. (vs. 11-19)
  • There will come a time when the fecal matter will be propelled with great velocity at the electric, rotary oscillator of this world; A climactic collision of that which is temporal and that which is spirit. (vs. 22-37)

Jesus was always getting His followers to see, to touch, to taste, to smell, and to feel beyond the limits of what is physical. Because when you do, it changes how you relate to everything else along your journey. It’s taken me a long time to get that. I’ve still got a long way to go.

Greater Than Fair

“Truly I tell you,” [Jesus] continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Luke 4:24-27 (NIV)

There are many things I don’t understand in this world. Along my life journey, I have regularly been perplexed at the seeming lack of fairness in life. Like most contemplatives, I am perplexed as to why one person experiences great fortune and another person experiences great tragedy. Even as a follower of Jesus, I have been struck at the incredible diversity in stories and spiritual paths. One person’s life journey appears to be a stroll down Easy Street while another’s is a painful slog down a muddy path riddled with potholes, switchbacks, and roadblocks.

In today’s chapter, Jesus not only acknowledges this reality but also affirms it. As we pick up the story after Jesus is baptized by John, He heads on a sojourn into the wilderness where He successfully overcomes the temptations of the Evil One. Then follows the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and things get off to a great start. Everyone loves his teaching. He speaks with spiritual authority no one has ever heard before.

Then Jesus comes to His hometown of Nazareth. He quotes an ancient prophecy from Isaiah that proclaims the coming of the Messiah who will bring good news to the poor, make the blind see, and set prisoners free.

But not for you,” Jesus says to His long-time friends and neighbors. No miracles for you. He goes on to explain that there is this longstanding spiritual theme in the Great Story in which prophets are never honored in their hometowns. He references Elijah who could have healed any one of his homeboys but instead heals the son of a foreign widow in Phoenicia. Likewise, Jesus states, the prophet Elisha could have healed any leper in his local Jewish leper colony but instead heals a Syrian leper.

This lesson did not sit well with the hometown crowd. This wasn’t fair. So, they attempted to kill Him. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus’ message ended with death threats rather than any kind of spiritual transformation in His audience. He doesn’t seem concerned. Perhaps for the first time in His ministry, it seems that there is something bigger at stake that Jesus is trying to get at.

What I find fascinating about this episode at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is that it so perfectly foreshadows what was going to happen at the end of it. It will be His own people who reject Him and hand Him over for execution. When this happens, Jesus will again reference the recurring theme of His people killing their own prophets throughout their storied history. Jesus also foreshadows that, after His resurrection and ascension, His “Good News” would miraculously explode across the non-Jewish, foreign Gentile population that His own people despised (which is the story told in the book of Acts).

The other reality I cannot escape in this episode is that, on a purely human level, it isn’t fair. A group of people won’t experience Jesus’ miracles. Their demon-possessed children won’t be released. There won’t be a miraculous transformation of tap water into Tempranillo to keep the wine flowing and the reception going at his Nazareth neighbor’s wedding. And, all of these things won’t happen just because Nazareth happens to be Jesus’ hometown? It isn’t fair.

In the quiet this morning I am pondering the fact that Jesus never promised fairness. I searched for it this morning just to double-check. Jesus never said that He came to bring fairness. Of course, He also wouldn’t experience fairness either. He would be unfairly accused, unfairly tried, and unfairly executed. It would seem logical to me to assume that I should not then expect fairness in my following of Jesus either. And, some will choose not to follow Jesus for this very reason. That was the reaction of Jesus’ hometown entourage. I observe people making the same choice today.

But what if fairness isn’t the point? What if my earthly journey is about something purposed which is far greater than what appears on the surface? What if there is a spiritual economy that is, in the grand scheme, actually more real than the temporal experience of my five earthly senses and my base human appetites? In my almost forty-year study of Jesus’ life and teachings, I find that Jesus’ came not to make life fair, but to exemplify love and call us to follow that example. And love isn’t fair. Love sacrifices all that it has, and is generously extravagant, and almost always receives an inequitable return on the investment. I believe that’s what Jesus came to show me, and in doing so He points me to something greater; He leads me to faith in the understanding that the eternal which I cannot touch, taste, see, smell, or hear is far greater and actually more real than any fair thing on this earth.

And so, I keep following.

The Night Watch

the office of dawnI wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Psalm 130:6 (NIV)

I have, in other blog posts, chronicled my adventures in sleeplessness. From childhood I’ve been a morning person. It’s in my DNA, I’m afraid. Especially in the depths of the winter, as we are in now, my day usually begins in the deep dark before dawn.

As a child, I would hate the early mornings as I lay in bed or sat in a dark house and waited. I waited for the light of dawn or the light in the bathroom which signaled that my dad was up and it was okay for me to be up too. As a kid, I hated sleeping over with friends, most of whom liked to sleep in. It meant I would wake up early in a strange house and have to wait hours for my friend to get up.  As I got older and became the father of little ones, I began to relish my early morning hours of quiet before the house began to stir. I have embraced my early mornings as productive and peaceful on a number of levels.

As I read the lyrics of Psalm 130 this morning, I ran across the verse above which has become very familiar and even dear to me in recent years. It is used in praying the hours (a.k.a. The Divine Offices), which I often do, especially The Office of Dawn. There is even The Prayer of the Night Watch, which are prayers offered between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m.

As a morning person, I feel a deep resonance with the wait for dawn. It is more than longing and desire. It is both the anticipation and expectation of what is to come. As persons of faith, the assurance of what we hope for and evidence of that which we do not see is a key ingredient in our day-to-day life journey. The physical and temporal is embodied in the instant gratification of our appetites and the blunt realities of our senses. That which is eternal and of the Spirit is generally realized at the end of the faithful, expectant, long watch of the night when eucatastrophe dawns and rends the unsuspecting darkness.

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Hollywood Endings

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There are three things that are never satisfied—no, four that never say, “Enough!”: the grave,the barren womb,the thirsty desert,the blazing fire. Proverbs 30:15-16

Several years ago I watched an action movie called Ronin that centered on a group of mercenaries hired to protect and transport a metal briefcase. The team quickly learns that there are many others who are willing to expend any and all means to get their hands on that case. Plenty of Hollywood stunts, explosions, gun fights, and car chases ensue. But, here’s the kicker: you never learn what’s in the metal case!

Many people told me they hated the film, but I found it an interesting premise that touches on a theme of human existence: life is full of unanswered questions and unsatisfied longings.

We would all love for life to always have a happy Hollywood ending. Perhaps we’ve allowed Hollywood to subtly deceive us into thinking that a Hollywood ending is what we deserve and should expect. Jesus’ teaching continually painted a different picture. While promising eternal joy, He also told us to expect temporal difficulties. We don’t discover the former without experiencing the latter.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 8

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Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples, then reprimanded Peter. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Mark 8:33 (MSG)

This past weekend, Wendy and I went to see the musical Wicked at the Des Moines Civic Center. For those who don’t know anything about the musical, Wicked tells the untold back story to the well known Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, and Glinda are roommates at school. Glinda is Miss Popular while Elphaba is shunned and misunderstood with her mysterious green skin. Initially hating one another, the two begin to see things from a different perspective as they grow to understand and appreciate one another. As we left the theatre and walked towards our car, Wendy said, “Now I have to rethink everything I thought I knew about the Wizard of Oz.”

I’m reminded this morning of how often conflict comes from misperception and misunderstanding. I expect everyone to simply see things the way I do. I project my way of thinking on someone else and then get irritated when he or she misunderstands me and “just doesn’t get it.” I think about how many silly arguments around the house are rooted in a male and a female having different perspectives as they approach a particular circumstance.

Taking it a step further, how many frustrations in life are rooted in refusing to see or to trust God’s perspective? Upon hearing Jesus prophetically announce that He must be rejected, crucified and resurrected, Peter pulls Him aside and reprimands his teacher and friend. Peter and the boys have seen Jesus’ miracles, and from their perspective a completely different plan is in order. They have plans to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, kill the Romans, put the religious leaders under their thumb and live a life of power and prestige with Jesus on the throne. Jesus gives His own reprimand to Peter for seeing things with such a self-centered, temporal perspective.

Just as many little conflicts around the house are rooted in misunderstanding or being ignorant of my wife’s perspective, I am increasingly aware that many of life’s sorrows are rooted in misunderstanding or being ignorant of God’s eternal perspective. Like Peter, I find myself thinking only of myself in this space at this moment in time. In my spirit I reprimand God for not seeing things my way, I bark at Him for not following my plan.

The end of Wicked, like all Broadway musicals, is wrapped in a happy ending. Glinda comes to the realization that her life was “changed for the better” for having known the wicked, green witch.

Today, I’m acknowledging my limited, narrow perspective. I’m asking God to continually open my eyes to His eternal truth that this temporal life might be eternally changed for the better for knowing Him more.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 3

“All the fat belongs to God. This is the fixed rule down through the generations, wherever you happen to live: Don’t eat the fat; don’t eat the blood. None of it.”  Leviticus 3:16-17 (MSG)

Many years ago I had a traffic accident and suddenly found myself without a car for a short period of time. A compassionate neighbor offered to let me have one of his cars while mine was in the shop. It was a kind gesture, but I was rather surprised when he handed me the keys of his new luxury sedan. He had a couple of older vehicles he could have given me, but he gave me the best he had to give. I was humbled and grateful. I’ve never forgotten his extravagant generosity.

In acient days, when Leviticus was given as the law, the “fat” of an animal was considered the very best part. When setting up the sacrificial system, God clearly wanted to the people to cheerfully and freely give the best portion of a pure animal to God. While the sacrificial system is difficult for us to wrap our cultural minds around, the word pictures given within the system are just as relevant for us today.

When we give to God, when we give to others, are our hearts open to giving the best we have to give? Or, do we hoard the best for ourselves and parcel out what’s left if we’re forced to do so? It is really a litmus test which reaveals the condition of our hearts. Can we let go of the temporal, material things of this world, or are we clinging on to to things for dear life, and so revealing where we find our treasure?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and andreiz

Chapter-a-Day Daniel 8

Balancing act.  "I, Daniel, walked around in a daze, unwell for days. Then I got a grip on myself and went back to work taking care of the king's affairs. But I continued to be upset by the vision. I couldn't make sense of it." Daniel 8:27 (MSG)

Life is a balancing act. Daniel's visions and dreams rattled him and left him incapacitated for a short period of time, but he eventually had to get a grip and get back to the mundane tasks of his job and everyday life. I've witnessed individuals who are so consumed with the everyday distractions of life that they make no time for the things of God. I've also witnessed those who are so consumed with spiritual matters that they neglect their everyday responsibilities. They are "so heavenly minded they are no earthly good."

God, grant me the ability to so balance life that I may manage my everyday responsibilities well while, at the same time, living in the conscious, consuming Light of your presence.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and ncindc

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 146

Chains. God frees prisoners— he gives sight to the blind, he lifts up the fallen. Psalm 146:8 (MSG)

It's easy to read God's message with such literal, earthly eyes that we lose sight of the spiritual realities God is communicating. I have never been arrested or incarcerated, so it's easy to gloss over the verse above as though it has no meaning for me. Yet, I am daily captivated by things which aren't good for me. I have two good eyes, but am regularly blind to the needs of others. I can't see God's hand working in me and around me.

I have to remind myself, constantly, that the Kingdom of God is not of this world. It is possible to be physically healthy and spiritually sick. I can have 20/20 vision and be blind to the truth of God's Kingdom. I can walk in earthly freedom while my soul is chained and enslaved.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and shoothead

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