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!

Shalom Revisited – 2

Can I share a sequel to last week’s post? Thank you. I knew you would (smile).

I am feeling that the air, the atmosphere, is pregnant with promise. I have hope for the future. Do you?

Is there a breath-holding anticipation for what is imminent?

Is your spirit incubating a word from God, a desire or a dream that has yet to realize maturity? I mean a personal word or promise God gave you. A call or assignment that you do not yet possess?

I believe we are coming into a large place, a season, where the Kingdom is budding into a very real manifestation. It has always been here since Jesus brought it but he intended that it would flourish and develop into rule, not exception.

“Well, I don’t know,” you say. “I don’t see the world headed that way. It’s running a million miles an hour away from God,” you say; and you would be right. However, the spirit that now controls this world is resisting vehemently because it is in the death throes of final demise.

I think we will witness a change in the world systems and governance very soon. But there are some qualifiers to our ability to see and participate. If you have read this far, you probably have met the first one. This clip unpacks it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:3-5 NLT)

Here, I think, Jesus is saying that to “see” the Kingdom of God he is not necessarily referring to someday in the future. The Kingdom is here and now, as he says in another place. Therefore, we will see and enter the Kingdom of God only if and when, we are born again. But that is exactly when we can see it, when we are born again; if we know how to look for it and what to look for.

Seeing the Kingdom will open our eyes to God’s activity in the present world, of which we are a part. Nick and his friends saw the miraculous signs but that was not the Kingdom of God, only signs that the kingdom was present.

Jesus showed signs and miracles all through his life as evidence that the kingdom was present but there is another dimension to the kingdom that only “born again” people can see.

One may enter the Kingdom of God and enjoy its blessings and experience the movement and spirit of the King of that Kingdom when they are born into that Kingdom.

The next step is to participate in the advent of the Kingdom; to facilitate, to partner with; to position our lives by aligning with God in this advance to Shalom.

What is the deepest, hidden, most impossible dream of yours; to win the Powerball lottery, to have the girl or man in your fantasy, to be a huge philanthropist, to see poverty erased in your lifetime? Maybe it is to witness a major move of Holy Spirit?

May I share mine? I realize this makes me quite vulnerable but I can’t acquiesce anymore about my heart cry. I long to live under an open Heaven, to have His wisdom and Presence with and in me and touch the sick and bring healing. I want to live in purity and use my gifts to assist my community of faith to witness and participate in His Kingdom coming into our local world.

It happened, you know, a few years back, not long after Jesus was talking to Nick. Jesus went back to be with his Father. He showed his apprentices the ropes and then, like all good teachers, left them to actualize the mission.

Picture the new, improved, made-over Peter strolling to the House of Worship to pray. The sun is bright that day as he walks past some of the many beggars, the sick and diseased folk. Suddenly, after he passes, his shadow has fallen across many of them and they jump up completely healed! Luke says it this way:

As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭5‬:‭15-16‬ NLT)‬‬‬

Then there are the stories of Paul building tents on his days off from preaching or writing epistles. People sneak up (or just ask him) for his sweatband or a piece of his workshop apron and “unusual miracles” happen.

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. (‭Acts of the Apostles‬ ‭19‬:‭11-12‬ NLT) ‬‬‬

Right! That was then and this is now. I forgot.

Oh wait! His Kingdom is returning to invade and saturate this very realm!

Throughout centuries of periodic showings; sometimes more, (Great Awakening, G.A. II, Wales Revival, Azusa Street Revival and others) sometimes less, (Dark Ages, Inquisition, corrupt churches, Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard, Mars Hill debacle, etc., etc.) God still loves people and conveys His Spirit and power to and through willing, pure hearted, imperfect believers.

So, does anticipating such a visitation arouse your mind? When last was your heart moved at its core; your spirit quickened with the scent of His Presence?

We all must become engaged in the place we are so that we may influence and steward our call; be it the Church, the political sphere, business, community events, whatever.

If you haven’t yet come into what you feel is your ultimate assignment, then join me in preparing your heart. Let go of lesser values. Release others from your expectations. Live by faith and the living promise of your personal Word, not doubting its validity or its certain realization.

You know, you can’t win if you don’t play.

Shalom Revisited

This season, Christmas season, is a time when each year we celebrate that pivotal moment in all of earth’s history. This is that singular event that God had planned from the first audible and visible beauty of creation. This moment, Jesus’ Nativity, is when God moved into the neighborhood and became like us so we could become like Him. A few years later, He invited a rag-tag group of guys to join him in learning about his world to teach them how to change ours. He called this new environment the Kingdom of God.

This blog is based on exploring what Shalom and the Kingdom of God might look like. Today I want to flesh out that continuing adventure a little and maybe process for myself, what I imagine the Kingdom could be. I have only a misty, vague image of what this might look like. You probably have some additional insight which I would love to hear.

When I read scripture that explicitly states such amazing, prophetic words such as “I will pour my spirit out on all flesh” (humanity, of course) or, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” and “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord,” then I have a hard time with the purveyors of spiritual doom.

Reminds me of a scene in the animated movie, Khumba, which I have watched more than any adult needs to with my granddaughter. On the trail up to see the eagle on the mountaintop for some direction, Khumba encounters some small, furry animals who are beating on rocks and chanting, “Doom, doom, doom,” warning him not to go up there. (Of course, they are fearful of an imaginary, self-created problem.)

But, back to the future. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) There is an amazing word in Isaiah that foretells what I see to be the Kingdom government in full force; and as I understand it, yes, this will be here on earth.

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever….

Wow! How will that happen? Well, this describes what I see as an environment of Shalom. Peace, justice, mercy and righteousness rule. Jesus is in complete control and we, the saints of God will rule with Him. The enemies of God have been crushed and all people will come under and into the Shalom of God.

Remember, all people will be included. That means Western/European cultures, Muslim and Asian peoples and their cultures, African, Indian and all other people groups will be under His influence. But they will not be unwilling subjects, for there will be no conflict nor resistance from anyone.

What we see in our world now; chaos from competing religions and contentious politics, greed from corporations driven by evil covenants to control the world and a religious spirit that has fomented more wars on this planet than any other motivation, these will all be subsumed and brought to submission under a loving and righteous God. (Whew, take a breath, doc!)

OK, think about this theological boondoggle. For over a hundred years the church has had an escapist mentality. We talk and preach about heaven and how we want to leave here and go there. We sing songs about the glorious streets of gold and evoke tears of joy and anticipation from our hearers as they long for a better world than this evil, self-indulgent one they despise.

But I think we have had it wrong. We have been escapists alright, but what we have been escaping from is our calling as children of the living God.

“We confuse our destiny with our assignment. Our destiny is to go to Heaven; our assignment is to bring Heaven to earth.” -Bill Johnson

If, in some twisted sense of theology, we rejoice when things in this world get worse, our charge to bring his kingdom into this world becomes improbable and pointless. This mindset is rooted in our wrong-headed perception that “this is just a sign of the times.” What this does is give our world, the world we have condemned, a wrong view of His world.

God doesn’t despise this world; He hasn’t given up on it like we have. He loves each and every human as well as the earth He created. Yes, it has become blighted by sin but because of love He provided redemption and gave us the keys to His Kingdom (likely not a ring of skeleton keys but prophetic keys of insight and revelation). I believe He will bring to pass all of the prophetic scriptures that promise He will restore and redeem all, including making a new heaven and a new earth. And He plans to establish a righteous government right here!

Our mission, our assignment in this world is not to get ready to leave it; it is to save it.

Over many years and because of a false view of God we have completely abdicated our calling and sought the self-centered satisfaction of saving our own skins to the loss of the lost. So we need to get back to making way for the Kingdom and pursuing an environment of Shalom. We must start loving all humanity into a community of faith and back out into a world that cries for redemption and healing from pain.

Unless you want to spend your time beating on rocks.

Heart-Burn

You’ve heard that story of Moses . . . you know, the guy whose mom put him in a small basket-boat and floated him down the river when she couldn’t protect him anymore. Long story that ensued but many years later he winds up watching a herd of sheep on the back side of a desert (not sure if the front side was any more attractive).

Anyway, he is strolling along wondering when he will ever get a job promotion when he sees a bush up ahead on fire. He walks over to take a look. Probably the most excitement he’s had in weeks. As he approaches he hears a voice calling out his name. Now this is really unusual, to understate the event, and Moses realizes he is being confronted by the voice of God.

Lots of things to observe here and the story gets pretty bizarre. But I want to stop and ask a wierd question. Have you ever been around God? Ever hear him talk to you? How about a strong Presence that you thought and felt must be what God would feel like.

Most of us who have been around churches and spiritual people have at one time or another had an encounter with God or at least an experience of inner awakening. Do you remember?

Did His Spirit move you; change your pre-conceived notion of the existence or of your relationship with the King of the Universe?

What did He sound like? What did He feel like? How did YOU feel? Did the experience make you DO anything or act any particular way? Does an encounter like that cause or invoke an anticipation within to let it happen again? Was it a scary event?

There have been a few times in my life when I clearly felt His presence that caused a life course change. That is, I knew that I wanted to feel that way again, I wanted to live so I would not be a stranger to that presence.

Yes, I know “God is always with us.” What I want to call attention to is that moment when all other stuff of importance loses color in the warm brilliance of Shalom love. Your demeanor softens, a peaceful boldness comes over and around you. Your heart swells with anticipation as you welcome the largeness of a Presence your spirit longs for–but maybe didn’t know it was missing.

Some friends of Jesus felt this shortly after losing his physical presence in death to despicable murder. They were grieving the loss as they walked together and tried to recall how things used to be.

A fellow traveler joined with them and listened to their sad story. As he shared clips of OT scripture with them, they felt better, even encouraged. They liked what this stranger told them; how they felt with him around. He was so affirming and their spirits were lifted. “Say, won’t you stay for dinner,” one of them suggested.

The stranger agreed and as they laid back on their pillows to eat he broke the bread into pieces and shared it with them. Then the lightning struck! Their hearts swelled, like yours has done. His Presence was expressed in a warm and gentle aura that lingered as He disappeared.

They looked at each other and instantly knew they had been set up for a God moment, a visit from the King. I think this had to be the “ahh-ha” moment of the century.

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (‭Luke‬ ‭24‬:‭32‬ NLT)

Immediately they jumped up and ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to find the rest of their posse.

Now, do you remember a moment or two like that? Do you still long for more moments like that or have you forgotten how they can jumpstart your faith? I know we don’t live in those moments very often or very long but we can live FOR those times.

Yes, God is always with us. We do live by faith when we can’t see or feel His Presence. But deep within us is a fire that needs to breathe the oxygen of His Spirit.

The ancient prophet Jeremiah had decided he was through trying to speak for God. No one listened anymore, no one cared about God’s laws, the poor or moral values. Greed consumed the culture. They were religious but not godly. He was just done! Sound like a familiar environment?

“But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭20‬:‭9‬ NLT)

They don’t know it but our communities are ripe for a visit from God. The Kingdom wants to move into your and my neighborhood. And I would guess you are ready for another visit, too. You can participate in a ground swell of His Kingdom coming by hosting His Presence. Amazing Grace will result as culture changes to welcome Him.

Here is a clip from AND: Gathered and Scattered.

“People long for these experiences where their hearts will burn again. Start by inviting them into some experiences they haven’t had before (or for a very long time). The experiences don’t have to be hard or push them too far; rather, just enough to have them say or think to themselves, ‘That was pretty cool; I think I saw God show up.'”

Maybe you won’t see a bush burn like Moses but his entire nation was moved because of his encounter with God.

If God showed up and gave one of us, or several of us heartburn maybe our nation . . .

Storied Past – 9

Becky called the names Marlowe had given her. The second girl, Rachel, answered.

“Oh, I don’t really know where she could be. I haven’t talked to her since, well since she left church and kinda went into sin. She could be anyplace. Did you check that saloon, or whatever?” Rachel said.

“No, I haven’t, but thank you for the lead.” No answer on the third girl’s phone either.

“I’m not sure what to do now, Jeremy.”

“How about asking someone who does know?” he suggested.

“I’m sorry. You are so right! I’ve been a bit consumed by the crisis here and I forgot what I really should be doing first.” She bowed her head slightly. “Father, we really need some help here. Would you please show us, or lead us to Ramona? Whatever she decides to do next could impact her life forever and she needs some friends with her.”

“Thank you, Lord,” Jeremy finished.

“Duh!” Becky suddenly exclaimed. “Why don’t I just call her?” Her voice rose a bit in pitch at the end in a rhetorical question. Jeremy’s eyes rolled back in his head.

“I can’t believe we didn’t think of that already!” She scrolled down to Ramona’s number and tapped it.

 

Ramona nervously paced back and forth across the large waiting area at the bus station. The room was empty except for a sleeping pan-handler or two, and an older, sweet looking lady carrying a small bag.

A few minutes earlier she had purchased a ticket to some California town, Rancho something-or-other. She didn’t really care where she went. She just thought that any place in California would be safe and far enough away that she could start over. With the few hundred dollars or so she had saved, at least she could get a room somewhere, pay for the procedure and hopefully find a job before she ran out of money. If only she could stop this insistent, naggy voice deep down inside that was disagreeing with this whole line of reasoning!

She felt her phone vibrate and then ring. She looked at the number that popped up; Becky Moore!

“No, I just can’t talk to her right now,” she thought as she let it go to voicemail. “She will just try to talk me out of this.”

The monotone loudspeaker voice sounded bored as it announced the arrival of her ride south. She walked to the door indicated by the voice and waited. The sweet, old lady approached and smiled at her.

“Hello. You must be going on my bus, too.” Her smile was disarming and friendly to the point that Ramona couldn’t ignore her.

“Uh, yes, I guess so.” She kind of reminded her of her grandmother. She died when Ramona was only six years old but left such a wonderful memory.

“My name is Edith. Would you care to share a seat with me? I could use some company.”

Ramona really didn’t want conversation with anyone but maybe she would be kind and gentle, like her grandmother. She decided to take a risk anyway. Maybe “Edith” would go to sleep.

“OK, sure.”

 

Becky hung up her phone.

“No answer, Jeremy. Well, I can try again later. I don’t have any other ideas, do you?”

“Do you think she might leave town?” he posited.

“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t heard of any doctors who do that sort of surgery here in Maple Valley. Maybe she would leave. Let’s drop by the bus station before we head home. It’s only a few blocks away.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jeremy said.

They left the coffee shop and walked toward the Pub-Trans station. As they approached the block where the station was, they had to pause while a big interstate bus turned in front of them.

“Oh, I hope she’s not on that one!” Jeremy moaned. They tried looking in the windows but they were all darkened by the tint and couldn’t make out any faces.

 

At that moment, Ramona looked out past Edith. Her heart nearly stopped as she recognized Becky waiting to cross the street. As the blood drained from her face, which must have had a look of horror as well, Edith asked, “Are you alright dear? You look worried about something.”

“I’m OK; I just . . . may have forgotten to turn the iron off. Well, no worries, it goes off after thirty minutes. I’m fine.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. Well, where are you going; to visit some relatives?” Edith asked.

“No. I don’t know anyone where I’m going.” She suddenly realized what she had said and knew that statement made her vulnerable to more lines of questioning from this Edith lady. But Edith didn’t pursue the unintentional blunder.

“Oh, that’s lovely!” Edith said. “What a great adventure you must be looking forward to!”

The statement sounded like her grandmother, too. Come to think of it; she had a slight resemblance to Grandma Beckett. She was short, plumpish and smelled of lavender.

“Yes. It will be an adventure, I’m sure.” Ramona returned. The way she said it, she was sure she didn’t sound very convincing.

“I’m off on an adventure, too!” Edith shared. “It is completely new territory for me. I’m going to a retirement village down near the Oregon border. All of my things are there already and I am excited to meet my new friends.”

“Meet . . . your . . . new . . . friends?” Ramona asked haltingly. “How can they be friends and you haven’t met them yet? Doesn’t make sense.”

“Well, you ARE right. I don’t know them yet but I am sure I will like them. I have peace about my future and I know everything that happens to me will be special. I am so blessed!”

This sounded a little too disconnected from experience for her taste. She felt special all right; like, specially taken for an idiot and especially in trouble now! But blessed? All she felt was cursed; cursed to a life controlled by everyone but her.

“How can you feel so confident about your future? I’m not sure about tomorrow but I intend to take control of my future and do what I want to do.”

“Oh no, my dear. I didn’t mean I am in control. Usually it’s quite the opposite. I just mean that I am alright with what is coming tomorrow because I trust the process and who is actually in control. Every day is challenging but I am grateful for it. I meet new people; like you for instance, and I only want to try to be kind and love people because I know I am loved and valued.”

“Hmmm. I thought I was loved but it seemed like it was only when I obeyed rules; not just loved for who I am. And, I was not valued after I was taken advantage of, for sure!” She ended with an edge of venom in her voice.

This did not go unnoticed by her seat companion. “We have all been taken advantage of at some time or other,” Edith shared. “I married young. My husband was a charmer but he had a drinking problem. He used to come home and physically abuse me and the children. Then . . . well, he would fall asleep after he had his way with me. I had quite a painful time for several years.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Ramona was sincerely moved. “What happened then?”

“Well, he met with an accident on his way home one night. I was so bitter. Not that he was gone but that I let him abuse me and the children for so long.”

“You don’t seem bitter now,” Ramona said. “How did you get over it?”

“Well dear, I don’t know whether you can ever “get over” an experience like that. The scars are so deep. But I met someone who helped me learn to forgive him and myself. That was the best thing that could have happened. The memories are painful but they are in the past. I try to live each day with a joyful spirit while being at peace with the future.”

“Wow! I wish I could be at peace with the future. I mean, I’m going to make my own future and it will be what I want but I don’t know about the peaceful part yet. There will be some trouble and hard times before I get there, no doubt.”

Edith looked directly at her. “Yes . . . there will be some trouble and hard times. But you will come through all of that just fine. Just remember how you felt when you were a little girl. Remember how your faith and trust was so strong in Jesus? Get back to that place and you will be peaceful.”

Ramona teared up. She glanced away out the opposite window to keep Edith from seeing her cry. Yes! She remembered a time when life seemed simpler. Her faith was strong and she used to talk to God a lot! How she missed those times, but they seemed so long ago and far from reality now. How many bridges had she crossed and how many were burned that might be keeping her from getting back to that place?

She discreetly wiped her eyes and turned back to Edith. “I just don’t know if I can . . .”

She froze in mid-sentence. No one was sitting next to her.

– To Be Continued –