Storied Past – 13

Mr. Beckett had just finished breakfast. The remote control was in his hand and he was trying to figure it out. This was a relatively new experience for him as television was looked down on by the church. “Devil-vision,” the Pastor used to call it. “Just another way for Satan to get a hold on your family,” he said. But since he was in the hospital and he was captive to this bed . . . and, since he didn’t ask for it, it was just there, he felt like he had a free pass to explore what was offered.

But interrupting his well rationalized curiosity of forbidden treats was a walk-in who looked vaguely familiar along with a young man and a vagrant.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

“Oh, not really,” Becky returned. “I was with Ramona at the Mercantile store when you . . . uh, when I saw you talking to her. I heard you had a heart attack. Are you feeling better?” This was more awkward that she wanted but knew that since she had spoken first she had better follow through.

“Oh, that.” Beckett exhaled slowly. “Yeah, I was kinda stupid. Yes, I am feeling much better, thank you. Did you come up here to see me?”

“Well, no, not really. I wasn’t expecting that you would be in the same room. I mean, I, we, came to see the guy in the other bed. He was in an accident and was nearly killed.”

“They brought him in here earlier. He looked pretty bad. Do you know him?”

“Well, not yet. We’re hoping we can find out soon. Um, nice meeting you.”

“Yeah, you too.” Beckett said.

Becky walked around the curtain to where Marcy and Jeremy stood looking at the young man laying very still. There were traction devices holding up a cast on one leg and a partial body cast enclosed his upper body and left shoulder. The essential feeding and medicinal tubes were attached to him. It reminded her of that scene in the last Matrix movie where all those babies were in clear cocoons attached to feeding tubes waiting for their bodies to be harvested. Yikes!

His eyes were closed and his face puffy. Wait; his face! She had seen this guy before! Where was it?

 

Ramona’s journey seemed to be taking forever. She needed to get back and talk to Becky; to see what she had to say about all this weird stuff going on. Only another hour or so and she would be home.

The weather continued to be mild; a little brisk, though. Big, cumulus clouds were spaced so that the bright sunshine made it seem a little warmer than it really was.

Ramona started thinking about her father. She did leave him when he probably needed her to be there; to be supportive even if she was angry with him. That part made her start to feel bad about her behavior. If only he could understand her! If only they could have a relationship more like when Mom was there. He acted happier back then—not so intense.

But the confusing thing to her was that Becky was a Christian too. Yet, their dispositions were quite different. Her dad was usually uptight and appeared angry and sullen at times. Becky never came across like that. What was the difference? As she thought about it, even though people at church seemed friendly, there was this . . . undercurrent of tension, like people weren’t really free to be normal. Like someone was always watching to make sure they didn’t break the rules.

Maybe that was it! That was what she was trying to characterize in her mind. She wanted the freedom to be herself. To live life being real, not who someone else thought she should be. Couldn’t she just enjoy being a young, energetic girl; just go do fun things with friends and not feel like she was being spied on by God’s secret agent pastors?

Of course, not everything she enjoyed was frivolous. Helping people inspired her. She remembered the warm, benevolent stories from the Bible, especially those where Jesus was often visibly affected by the plight of the poor or sick. He healed them and taught about loving and caring for one another. She was always deeply moved when she saw others in need.

She would ask Becky about that, too. She seemed to live life like that. Ramona thought helping people who were poor and needing some help and friendship might be a good thing for her, as well. That City Reach place was doing stuff like that so maybe she could volunteer there sometime.

 

Marcy stared at the man lying silently. “He kinda’ looks dead, Becky. Is he breathing?” she whispered with a coarse voice. Whispering was not comfortable for Marcy.

“Yes. His heart is beating. Hear that bleep from the machine over there?” Jeremy answered for Becky. She was a bit stunned yet.

“Jeremy, this was the guy that came into Holy Grounds a few weeks ago.” She murmured. “He was hitting on me, trying to get me to meet him after work.”

“Seriously?” he whispered back. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure it was him. He was nice but a little too syrupy for me. I didn’t buy what he was selling. Besides, Brad and I are still seeing each other and I didn’t want to ruin that.”

“Shoun’t we pray for him again Becky ‘n Jermy, shoun’t we?” Marcy asked in her best gravelly whisper voice. “We could just ask God to help him git better quick so we could git him saved,” she offered.

“Sure, let’s pray.” Again, Jeremy intervened for Becky who was still in shock at the discovery. He reached out and laid his hand gently on the man’s shoulder.

“Father, please watch over this man and bring healing to his broken body. Allow us an opportunity very soon to tell him about your love for him. Thank you.”

In the next bed, Mr. Beckett lay quietly, straining to hear the conversation. The TV had lost its attraction for the moment. He had never seen these people in church yet they prayed with such brazen faith. And that odd woman who massacred grammar; she didn’t look like a Christian either!

“Pretty scruffy, if you ask me,” he thought. “I don’t know how God would listen to her dressed like that.”

Just then a vibration jolted Becky into cognizance. It was a text . . . from Ramona!

-To Be Continued-

Work is Calling

Do you have one of those 9-5 jobs, or midnight to 8 am jobs? Or, maybe you are subject to your employer’s whim of whenever they need you. Do you enjoy what you are paid to do? Does it satisfy your need to be creative or productive while serving others? Maybe you wonder if your career has any meaning at all, or is it something to be endured like a dentist appointment.

Our work, our vocation, having a job to do was God’s plan from the start. It is one of the ways, if not the primary way, through which we accomplish our purpose here in the earth. I know, you probably have been taught our prime directive was to evangelize the heathens. Do you remember the first job description in history?

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15 NLT

This charge to care for and cultivate was considered the prime role for the newly minted man. We were (and are) created with purpose, creativity and destiny. Anything that occupies our time and energy apart from pursuing and engaging with this assignment can only result in short term satisfaction at best, and long term frustration in the end. At worst, a woman or man will be conflicted about her/his reason for existence and end it all leaving only a life of self-indulgence and guilt as a legacy.

For some, a career is merely a job that provides a paycheck, healthcare, a two week vacation and a bit of retirement. We go home and forget the hard work, the overbearing boss and the never-ending tasks of each dreary day.

But, we are created with purpose and intent. Through vocation, avocation and work we live out that purpose. We contribute, through the work we do, to the greater good of culture, to our deep satisfaction and the purpose of God’s Kingdom, Shalom, by discovering the work that we are created and gifted to do and do it.

Lest you think I’m suggesting all work and no play are the only options, I truly believe play is a huge piece of a satisfying life. (Read: The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet) Most religions take themselves too seriously and forget that the creation story proves God himself loves a good time. Christianity has a recent history of emphasizing the seriousness of piety at the expense of richly enjoying the life God gave us.

Activity, or keeping busy, isn’t enough. Having a highly honored position or profile or being recognized by the masses isn’t the measure of faithful service, either. Festus, of Gunsmoke fame was heard to have said, “I think our national symbol should be a mule. Now the eagle is a beautiful bird and all, but I just think he should be down here on the ground where the work is bein’ did.” What he says so well is that the bird of popularity and veneration often doesn’t get as much done as an animal that is generally ignored, or worse.

Until the Reformation of the 16th century, Christianity was heavily influenced by Platonic inspired theology. Strong gnostic dualism shaped the way they looked at creation. Anything material was evil. Depriving oneself of things and being spiritually minded alone was good. Consequently, people who wanted to pursue the spiritual life denied themselves all physical possessions and pleasures in favor of poverty and prayer.

This led to monasticism being perceived as the highest form of spirituality and individual piety the highest form of worship. Unfortunately, these well-meaning individuals deserted society in order to seek personal enlightenment in solitude and temptation avoidance.

But finding rewarding work that promotes and advances the kingdom values and then pursuing that task faithfully in community is what accomplishes our calling and purpose. It is about actually making progressive strides by whatever sized increments toward Shalom in this world through divine directive. To quote Martin Luther; “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.”

Further, God gives us great latitude in how we participate in Kingdom bringing efforts. He has given us the capacity to dream, invent, build, mend, organize and harmonize. Our creative minds are inspired by God and energized by faith to not only be, but do!

Our doing is not ordered by rules or authoritarian constraints of our faith but is animated and freed to do whatever our creative minds and hearts dream up that serve to make disciples and a better world.

Rather than instructing godly people to flee this evil world, the gospel urges Christians to remain engaged in the world so that they might reform their various vocations for the glory of God. Heaven is a Place on Earth: Michael Wittmer

It seems that there is a wide range of human creativity in our works of faith. St. Paul gives space to those who have God inspired ideas by invoking His blessings on those works. What kind of works? Those that minds of faith have dreamed up. They are acts of creativity that promote and extend the Kingdom. Ideas that are wholesome and bring joy and service to humanity; those activities that are building relationships, healing brokenness in humanity and the earth are what the Kingdom seeks.

Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 MSG)

So carry on with milking, making, marketing, mining, ministering or plowing with your ass. Do it with a renewed passion out of your calling and gifting. Do it with assurance that it is God-inspired and directed. Be creative. Be successful. Be fulfilled.

Favor Flavor

There is an aspect of grace that I haven’t thought much about. When the phrase unmerited favor is the definition, my mind usually fixates with the unworthy, unmerited, I can’t earn it part. That is, I focus on the fact that it is not about working to be good enough for God’s love. I think I get that piece, and it is very important, but I want to explore the other word. What about the object of that statement; the favor part?

Maybe you were the favorite child, the one who got the new clothes and toys while your siblings got your hand-them-downs. Or perhaps you weren’t the favorite and you got the cast offs from your brother (even if you were the sister). I was the favorite one on which setting the benchmark of discipline was exercised because I am the oldest. I was the guinea pig, the test case. Talk about undesired favoritism!

Favor can apparently be institutionalized. There are world organizations that confer “most favored nation status” on those nations whom the organization wants to honor (or pander to). Politicians do the same with certain PACs or demographics for the purpose of getting re-elected and maintaining power.

We know some folks who are party favors (gifts and trinkets given to us when we attend an event) who we love to be around because they make us laugh and keep things exciting. We hang around them because we feel good about ourselves and forget about the stresses of everyday life. In this context they are a gift to us, a favor we don’t earn but enjoy above our regularly scheduled life.

Speaking of regular life, there are some folks who don’t seem to have favor or blessings of any kind. They talk about never getting a break. They have a poverty spirit; always struggling for their needs while “spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Not all who possess little are like this and I want to steer away from measuring favor as the amount of material goods one has. Neither do I want to infer that these people are not followers of Jesus. But we probably wouldn’t consider favoring another if they lived like jerks or lived selfishly or stupidly. Nor do we care to be around them.

There are also those who have a great deal of stuff you wouldn’t care to hang with. They are selfish. They disdain others who are “out of their league” and use power and influence to manipulate and control others. If you are this way, the stuff you have may attract those who are covetous but don’t really favor you. You may have influence or power and others will want to be around you for what you can give them or do for them.

Why do we instinctively pull away from these types of people? Isn’t it because we don’t want to be around them or their ilk? This natural revulsion might clue us in that we were not created to be or live in such a manner?

You’ve met people with favor. You and others want to be around them; perhaps hoping some of their blessing might rub off on you. They are people who are enjoyable, who make you feel valued; people who are wise and discerning, who care, who are generous. Their character and actions are just and gracious, kind and benevolent. But it seems that not all followers of Jesus have this favor.

God loves us all the same but some people have more favor than others.
– Bill Johnson

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was highly favored by God. She had his favor. Take a look again at that wedding where Jesus made some excellent wine from ordinary H2O. When Jesus said that his time had not yet come, the plans were changed. Why? Because of Mary. Mary was so favored by God that the time of Jesus’ miracle working days were started early.

Another story; this from the early church:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 ESV

I believe the apostles were favored with grace because even though they had just been released from prison, they had such integrity of character that they didn’t allow circumstances to bring resentment, fear or intimidation. They didn’t withdraw to some addiction to find solace or comfort. They didn’t even seek justice for being mistreated.

What they did do was ask God for strength and power to resume ministering just like they had been doing–only ramped up a bit. God favored (graced) them with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit, unity, miracles and community support.

So how does one live so that favor is upon that one? Let me bring it closer to home. How do you and I live so as to have favor with God and humanity?

Divine favor is a unique quality. It is about who you are, not your stuff. People want to be around you because there is something you are that they respect and honor (honor is closely associated with favor; they often seem to be present together).

There may be a time you need something to happen but the facts or the rules or history may be against it coming to pass, yet it happens because someone, perhaps not even intentionally, will arrange it so. There seems to be components of character that invite favor.

Other times, because of who you are, your integrity, your character or reputation, people of influence will honor you with favor when others would not have been able to achieve a solution, success or position.

When we are favored by God, doors will open in front of us. Pathways ahead will be groomed clean and resources will be provided without struggle on our part. People, prompted by something they don’t even understand, will choose you, have favor toward you, call you to a greater position, give you material blessings and honor you because of your character and the favor of God. Sounds like a party I’d want to attend!

Ordinary People

So here we are at the final holiday season of 2014; for some, a time of merriment and celebration. For others, looking toward the New Year recalls regrets of the past and a heightened determination to change certain painful aspects of their lives; maybe lose some extra pounds or give more back to the community.

You may be thinking about repairing some broken relationship or that promise to meet with God more this next year. That’s all good stuff. I wish you well and truly hope you succeed.

I think this coming year will be an opportunity to flesh out the stewardship of my own part in the Kingdom of God. As I read and think about that, I have swerved into an interesting conundrum. But I think it helps me as I try to understand and process what an environment of Shalom might look like.

Jesus and St. Paul seem to be on different pages or maybe even a different playbook. But as I have often come to realize, my preconception or misunderstanding was skewed in some way that prevented me from a truth.

Get a load of this. I have often quoted the Great Co-mission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus exits his short human stay on this earth.

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

It seems that our job description is pretty clear here. Make disciples, get ‘em dunked and then teach them to do likewise. Of course, there is that bit about obeying all the commands, but generally we seem to see this directive as a mandate for 24/7 evangelism.

However, Paul seems to have a different slant on our mission.

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

As I have been suggesting in this blog since July of this year, I want to tease out what the Kingdom of God looks like and our part in facilitating that. While some may want to sit around on clouds and strum harps forever, that hardly seems appealing to me. I have gifts and skills that I am not really willing to give up in favor of harping. But that is a digression/soap box apart and for a different blog.

Really, what Paul is admonishing is for us to be extraordinarily ordinary. For 20+ years Jesus himself followed the trade of his adopted father working with wood and improving the lives of the neighbors with skillful, artful creations (I knew my own woodcraft hobby was blessed!).

How do we resolve these two seemingly disparate vocational directives? Are they really contradictory? Are they really two pieces of the same whole mission?

I think, along with others, that to be a disciple includes all that God intended from the start of creation. That is, I believe that as God directed us to tend the earth, multiply, create and improve our environment, He also intended for us to influence and care for others who need to see that the life changing power of the Message actually works in real life.

Preaching to the lost is necessary. There are those with that calling who do it well. Going to remote areas of civilization to share Good News is an imperative. There are those called to do that and do it well. Feeding and caring for the poor are a must, as that is one of Jesus’ primary commands, as alluded to above.

Coupled with all of these are the normal needs of everyday living. To be a good neighbor, responsible citizens, caring parents and other duties of humanity really make the teachings of Jesus attractive to those outside of God’s family. Without credible firsthand evidence that salvation really works outside the church Monday through Saturday who would be convinced to follow these platitudes?

Michael E. Wittmer makes this point in his book; Heaven is a Place on Earth:

“Before we can reasonably expect unbelievers to accept our faith we must first show them that it works—in our homes, on the job, and on the weekend—not merely when we are at church.”

Some are called to a level of public visibility and scrutiny most of us will never be required to experience. The rest of us fulfill our call in everyday, ordinary faithfulness by living so that those who are not believers will respect the way we live and be attracted to Jesus.

Reminds me of this song by Mom Winans:

Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people
He chooses people just like me and you
Who are willing to do as He commands

God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Masters hand

Oh, just like that little lad
Who gave Jesus all he had
How the multitude was fed
With a fish and loaves of bread

What you have may not seem much
But when you yield it to the touch
Of the Master’s loving hand
Then you will understand how
Your life could never be the same

Just ordinary people
God uses ordinary people
He chooses people just like me and you
Who are willing to do as He commands

God uses people that will give Him all
No matter how small your all may seem to you
Because little becomes much
As you place it in the Masters hand

So, go ahead and enjoy 2015 as it is gracefully parceled out to you. It is made extra-ordinary by the normal, ordinary walking out life every day as we join God in his Kingdom arrival.

Back, in Style!

Driving back from a long time away, I’m half listening to my offspring’s offspring singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing for the ‘leventy-eth time when I catch what admittedly my hardness of hearing suddenly seems to be hearing.

“ . . . Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners back in style.”

At first awareness, I laugh. Well, the history of God and sinners has always been the predominant narrative of culture, even when powers that be distract us from this most important conversation. Since Genesis chapter 3, God’s story of attractive love has been both underlying and overshadowing his creation.

I can assume from the little bit of the history of civilization that I know, there have been times, eras maybe, that the story of redemption was “out of style.”

We know from a review of the ancient Israelite stories that they were “on again, off again” in their loyalty to JHWH, seeming to prefer and cultivate a flair for other stylish gods.

Immediately following Jesus’ murder, persecution came into vogue, by which the dominant culture tried to force all subjects to dress the same and have the same worship style. Live like a Roman and worship the Emperor as god. The true God was relegated to the closet.

Later, Constantine brought God back into style; he made it chic to be Christian. God is once again in! Churches fit for kingly worship were erected. Complex administrative flow charts became the thing to design. Smart and stylish fashions were created and pompous rituals invented for the elite to meet and show off. But like all apparel and customs eventually do, the fickle consumer or power hungry despot always clamors for something new and improved to dazzle the crowds.

There were long extended eras when the fad was turn or burn. “Look like us, act like us, believe like us, buy our baubles and worship our gods because that’s what we’re selling.” Take the Dark Ages, for example. Years passed when the good news message was shrouded by misguided crusaders for the richly clothed. God’s Kingdom pattern for a joy-filled life was again hidden in the back of the closet.

There are many examples in human history that show this capricious dynamic in spiritual drama. This, of course, is an abridged version of the ongoing story of this dance between God and his human creation.

Then, in the middle of the last century, after a solid showing of the Holy Spirit where common folks clothed themselves with holiness, some provocateurs of cheap, imported, knock-off grace paraded their wares on the catwalk of Christianity. Many bought into the look and feel of a look-alike at a fraction of the cost. It was described by St. Paul as “a form of Godliness but denying the power.”

One could be seen and thought well of, even wow other believers, by displaying the latest adornments and add-ons of Christian comportment. Best dressed and accessorized with the finest worship show technology, the quickest to share your prayer language or slaying in the Spirit skills or the most skilled with theological put-downs. Not all, but too many of our fellow travelers have been swindled by the look of popular faith instead of dressing in the relational robes of authenticity, congruence and integrity.

As I think now about her singing I am suddenly reminded of the supplanted word in that song; reconciled. That is what the whole story is really about. Not how we look or dress, not about ostentatious, self-centered posturing to distract God from our real condition. He knows you and me and loves and calls us to himself anyway.

Reconciliation needs to be back in style. It is what will escort Shalom and the Kingdom into our culture eager for relevance and purpose. Restoration, repairing, mending and healing are all words that convey what God has been trying to effect in his beloved creation since snakeskin became passé.

God and sinners ARE back in style! If you and I can set aside our robes of ambivalent, apathetic, filthy or obsolete shrouds of spiritual death, and be reconciled to God, we will be in a position to influence and lead culture to dress in right relationship with the king whose birth we celebrate this week.

I wish a Joyous Christmas Season to you all. May you be especially blessed and dressed in his righteousness alone.

Your Kingdom Come!