Monday, July 25, 2005

The Eagle Has Flown

Mom's fight with melanoma is over. She won. The cancer has no more body to take over while her soul has been released to join with the Lover of her soul. Mom and Dad's favorite scripture is,


But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall walk and not grow weary, they shall run and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31


It is very comforting to know she's in a better place than this old world in a body that was wasting away, overrun by something nobody down here really understands.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Missing Church

I stayed up again with my waning mom all night until about 4:30, when I could no longer keep myself awake, and since my little sister told me that I was too loud making coffee the night before, I just ended up giving dad the wee morning watch. I woke up in time to swap roles with Jill so she and Grace could take grandmom in to the first baptist church. I think it’s the first time in a while she’s gone to her own church. It didn’t really feel like Sunday out here in the country—in the city and in my normal routine I’m much more aware of what day of the week it is, and since every day this week has been the same except for the different faces come to visit, it kind of had me lost in a land without time. And I wasn’t really feeling lonely until I started thinking about missing my Sunday with my friends, my church.

The boys and I walked down into the woods for some time with God. We read Psalm 27 and 45 and then had a time of solitude. We looked at this scripture:

When I consider your heavens,
The work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars,
Which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him,
The son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than gods
And crowned him with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:3-5

And I asked us all the same question. Why is God mindful of us? Why does he visit us? Why does He care anything about us?

We each went our own ways for a walk through the woods to think about it. My path delivered a curious looking spider with a huge, beautiful web, a bird’s nest since abandoned, some bumble bees visiting flowers, a spring-fed creek with catfish, bass, and perch, and lots of ants and beds. I thought about all these things. God created the moon and the stars, huge systems, a big earth (which is actually very small in the grand scheme of things), and rules nations, continents, perhaps even worlds. But He is mindful of us.

The boys and I kicked around the idea that the way the Psalmist asked the question seems a backward way of looking at God and at us. The spider’s purpose is not the web. The web is actually for the spider—it provides not only a home but a way to eat as well. The same goes for the birds and their nest—the nest was only necessary until the birds grew up and flew away. The flowers made good pollen and nectar for the bees, and the water was a good home for the fish. We wondered if it wasn’t more true that God thinks small. God thought of the ants before the mounds, the bees before the flowers, the birds before the nests, the fish before the water, the spider before the webs and the trees, and me before my house, my community, my church, my state, my nation, my world, my sun, my universe.

It seems to be more reasonable to think in terms of a big God who has got important things going on—a universe to run, planets to spin, stars to govern the skies, and all that—and an insignificant me. And apparently it is to everyone else, too. People need to fit into nations, states, organizations, races, tax brackets, religions, and other systems. But God, I think, is not this reasonable. Ephesians 1:4 tells us that God chose us before He created the world, and then He created the world around us. Wow. And it seems to me that without His perspective on this we will always abuse people and His other creatures.

It even affects the way we attempt to worship Him. In fact, the abuse got so bad that one time Jesus got really testy with the religious rulers by breaking the law on the sabbath, and then He refused to apologize for doing it. The disciples were walking along on a Holy Day and picking and eating grain as they walked through a field. The religious crowd objected on the basis that what they were doing was technically working on the legally restricted day of rest.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Jesus’ reply was basically, “So what?”

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Then He said something amazing.

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Mark 2:23-27

Ouch! for them. Yay! for us. We weren’t made for all the junk, all the religion, all the structure, all the government, all the civilization, all the bigger and more important things—they were made for us, for our good, just like the lands and the seas and the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees were created before us and for us. And that is the extent of their claim on any of us. Are they working together for us or not? If not, then they can be casually dismissed. They were made for us, and not we for them.

Do I overstate? Apparently the attitude of the religious people inflamed Jesus to the point that He waited for another Sabbath day to lash out at them even harder. This time He walked into their Sacred Assembly, stood a guy up, and healed him right there in the middle of their deal—another act that was against the law on this day that was created “for man”.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Mark 3:5-6 (emphasis mine)

So thinking back to my original question, “What is man that You are mindful of Him?” it’s not unreasonable at all for the synagogue ruler to demand, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

But if people were supposed to behave themselves and find their place in the system, somebody forgot to tell Jesus. Or He chose not to listen. Actually, I think He was listening to another voice, the voice of Truth speaking in His own heart, rather than in the seats of power. And to do this is not anarchy. In fact if we ever want to correctly understand how everything works together, how the universe and all of reality fits together, we must completely change our view from outside in to inside out, like God thinks, like Jesus acted.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

But all this is just me rattling off thoughts that are so plain to me, brought to the surface as I experienced church as solitude with God this week instead of church as community. I much prefer church as community, for it is there that the life of Christ is best lived—together, in the art of one anothering. And so today I was missing my friends, my church, more than I have ever imagined missing any church.

A friend I know only through the internet asked me a while back if the awesome dialogue several of us were sharing online was basically church. He asked, “Aside from not being with each other physically, isn't this all church needs to be?” And he was right about the simple and casual flow of lives submitted to Christ weaving and intersecting each other’s stories being very much “church.” But I thought about our virtual community a lot, and gave this reply:

A thought about what we’re sharing here being true church. I love this, and I hope to continue it. But if I didn’t really give myself to some people right here, I would miss out on their smell, the feel of their bodies as I hugged them, the deep looks into their eyes as something painful or profound or hilarious was shared, the laugh until we hurt as someone tripped or did or said something goofy, the fun of finishing their half-eaten hamburger, the ache in my heart when I heard about their latest wound or setback and the quality of their voice as they tried to share it, and the joy over the latest victory for one, for all. What I’m saying is that you guys are filling up my mind, but my soul longs for the careless touch as surely as Mary’s did when she perfumed Jesus’ feet with her hair. I would say that this is not sexual but is sensual, and very intimate.

Coming off a week with my mom slowly losing her breath to cancer and merely being with loved ones, I have again remembered the power of careless touch. Tongues have stilled, prophecies have ceased, and knowledge has passed away. Everything large and important and reasonable seems irrelevant and provides no answers. But in the still small rooms where ominous clouds suffocate out all understanding, loving touch has never failed us, and never will.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Revolution

Tracy Chapman sang some years ago,


Don't you know you're talking about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper

But I say,


Talking about a whisper sounds like a revolution.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Cabbages and Things

I have always hated cabbage and all things cabbage—cole slaw, etc.—until just a few years ago. We have a favorite Chinese restaurant called Golden China—just a little spot in a strip mall—and they serve an incredible dish called house special chicken, which is just chicken and sauce over a bed of cabbage. I don’t know what I was thinking the first time I ordered it, but an amazing thing has happened to me since. Through that dish I began to like cabbage, and now I like it in everything: cole slaw, sauerkraut, raw cabbage, cabbage salad, anything.

The exact same thing happened to me years ago with onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, black olives, and green olives. I couldn’t stand any of them until one time my mom and dad suggested (suggested) that I eat a piece of the “sampler” pizza they ordered from The Pizza Place (unbelievable pizza place in Stephenville, TX—still operating, still the same recipe, yeah baby). In that moment, I was a believer. It was as if something was hidden inside the onions and other veggies that before was not accessible to me for some reason. But now that it was set free, it opened up a lot of new foods that also had these unique tastes. Somehow I got tuned in to the secret flavor hidden inside them, and that discovery somehow dwarfed the repulsive flavors that accompany them. Even now, when I pick up a raw cabbage or onion, I can still smell or taste that old familiar stench I remember from my early encounters. But somehow the offense is suspended as I hone in on and enjoy my pleasant discovery.

I think people are the same way. If you ask enough couples to tell their story, you will find often enough that they disliked each other when they first met. Certainly I have been surrounded by many people who I either disliked or resolved to stomach (because they were good for me?). Some of those people I have not yet learned to enjoy and may never. But some—oh some—I have found their secret flavor. So forgive me if I ignore you or pity you or smile sagaciously if you bring up something that stinks in someone I love, maybe something raw or unrefined. I smile because I know that I have found the secret flavor while you have not. Yet.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The gathering of the children of God

I was reading on emergent village about one of the churches who had joined. They made a grerat run at what church is all about, but then they lost their steam halfway through and went back to the starting line. They began by saying:


Vintage Faith Church will be a church of "people", not a "place" you go to.

but then the ended up saying that it was actually a place to go, but it's just not FOREMOST a place you go. Man, if you're in for a dime, you've gotta be in for a dollar. It either is or it isn't.

Vintage Faith Church will be a church of "people", not a "place" you go to.

This may sound confusing, but nowhere in the New Testament do you read once that they "went to church". What you do read is that the church (the people) gathered together. There is a big difference between the two. The church is the people, not a place or a meeting you attend. We believe that through time in the modern world, the church" has become known to be more of a place that people go to vs. a people on a mission for God. We cannot underestimate the power of words that shape our viewpoints and understanding of what a "church" is, and how it is supposed to function. Vintage Faith Church will definitely have large weekly worship gatherings, and will have various classes and other meetings at a "place"- but foremost, we will be defined and function as a community of "people". If this is intriguing to you, or even confusing, you will hear a lot about this as we [flesh] out our vision and values in the planning and launching of the new church.

My hope is that somehow we can reclaim God's vision for His church so that it is not about meeting anywhere, not in a "worship center" nor a "church" nor "Solomon's Porch" nor "house to house." It is about, like they said, "a people on a mission for God," where any meeting at any place is merely consequential--I have never seen that yet in any gathering of any people anywhere in the world. It's always at least a little about the meeting itself.


Until we completely disavow ourselves of any notion that any gathering has any intrinsic value whatsoever, we will still have a leg or an arm or a finger caught in the trap of the world. The only thing valuable is the people in the gathering, and those souls were just as valuable before they gathered and will be just as valuable when all gatherings are over. It's not what they do or don't do, say or don't say, think or don't think. It's not any elements of the gathering. Until we come to such a place of communion with God that we hunger and thirst for the careless touch of fellowship, we will continue to tinker with the meeting places and orders of worship ad nauseum, and effect no transformation of true or undefiled religion. We will remain infatuated with either "getting it right" or "getting it palatable" or "getting it liberated" or "getting it unified" or "getting it under control" or "getting it defined" or "getting it organized" or whatever else the mind of man can conceive as important.


So where should you meet? Nowhere. Everywhere.


Or, as the conqueror in Kingdom of Heaven answered when he took possession of Jerusalem,


"How much is Jerusalem worth?"
"Nothing. Everything."

I do not say that this has never existed (I think a few groups have caught this throughout the millennia). I do not say that the kingdom was ever lost such that we have to get it back (the King is still on His throne). But His kingdom has never come through any structure, neither architectural nor organizational. "It is within you."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Love is Powerful

Love is powerful. You cannot be in the presence of love and not be changed. The dilemma is that neither the lover not the loved can choose how they will be changed. Love is powerful.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Useful and Tolerated

In this age of progress, convenience, and efficient systems, let me ask all the people reading this, would you rather be:

USEFUL or ENJOYED?

In this age of acceptance, correctness, and diversity, let me ask all the people reading this, would you rather be:

TOLERATED or LOVED?

Signed,
Hopeful

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A child again

Watching A River Runs Through It recently renewed an old itch and reminded me of a deep longing that I have allowed myself to recognize in my heart. The words of the aging father from his pulpit reminds a son of home, and me as well.

In the glow of awakened memories, when the deepest feelings of the heart are all astir, we are reminded of the poet who sings:

Backward, turn backward,
O time in your flight.
Make me a child again
Just for tonight


Man, are there ever longings lost to the past, attached to memories, some sweet, some sour, all calling. Why didn't I learn to love fishing with my dad? Why didn't I treasure the gifts of my mom more? Why couldn't my sister and I have shared the peace we have today back then? And friendship, things that would have been rich in life to share, people who needed what I had to offer? I don't even want to go there.

Make me a child again, just for tonight. That is, as long as this night will never end.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A Woman's Role in the Church?

In a forum I visit from time to time, a woman asked, "What is a woman's role in the church?" My head spun as I followed the discussion and debate that spun on ad nauseum, remembering being a lot closer to those debates around conference tables and in Sunday school classes. Now that I experience Christ's church as community rather than as Sunday or as a building, I have a much different take, mostly because church for me has been removed from the confines of tradition and institution, making much of what is argued irrelevant. For instance, we will never deliberate over whether a woman can stand in the pulpit or not because: we don't have a pulpit. Here was my reply, slightly updated:

A woman’s role in the church is to walk with God, to receive His intimate counsel, to have fellowship with other believers. She can sit at the table as the meal is shared, and even cook it. She can speak from her heart, truthfully, lovingly, expressing herself in the unique and beautiful way God made her. She can cry. She can express anger and hurt at injustice. She can praise God for how good he has been to her. She can share her struggles and her unfulfilled hopes. She can offer consolation and encouragement. She can sit in the floor and sing with all her heart, hands raised, eyes closed or open, or even dance around the room. She can pick out the songs to sing, burn the CD, or print the lyrics. She can share along with everyone else what she thinks during an interactive Bible study or activity. She is expected to bring something to offer the church—some abundance that is overflowing from her walk with God. She can pray. She can be prayed for. She can change diapers and do the dishes unless someone beats her to it. She can drive the cars and get people where they need to go. She can listen. She can make the lattes. She can lifeguard when the church goes swimming. She can take a group to Starbucks or to the mall or to the bookstore. She can read books and watch movies and recommend them to others. She can make and send cards and other gifts. She can initiate and enjoy meaningful conversation with the other women and men in the group. She can host showers, parties, and get-togethers. She can write. She can invite others into the fellowship, especially the brokenhearted. She can decide with her husband to skip their family vacation this year so they can give the money to another family in the church who needs it more.

Maybe you’re asking about a woman’s role as it differs from a man’s role. As to that, her role is primarily to be beautiful—to bear the image of God as beauty incarnate, giving us a glimpse and a foretaste of the beauty of God—not only physically but also mysteriously as well. Her role is to captivate and to invite the men in her life to be everything God made them to be.

Of course, that’s a role of women in the church that meets at our home. If you are asking this because you want to fit in at a particular church, you should probably ask them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Wind and Breath

The challenge question for the week in our church was to pick one of these two words breath or spirit and offer up something meaningful about it. What we shared was awesome. We talked about how breath reminded us of life, like the first breath a baby takes. As for wind, we talked about how wind often refreshes or brings something new to us, or sweeps something stale away. Of course we talked a bit about Hurricane Dennis as well (even I am not that isolated!).

Breath to me is intimate. Sometimes I don't want it, like when I smell some really strong smoke breath in a convenience store, or when someone sneezes in a movie theater. But when I'm giving one of my family or friends a long hug, feeling their breath go in and out, hearing it, and even feeling it on my chest or cheek is a very different story. It's intimate. When Jesus came back from the dead, He breathed on (or in) his disciples, telling them "Receive Holy Breath."


Breathe
by Faith Hill


I can feel the magic floating in the air
Being with you gets me that way
I watch the sunlight dance across your face
And i've never been this swept away

All my thoughts just seem to settle on the breeze
When I'm lying wrapped up in your arms
The whole world just fades away
The only thing I hear Is the beating of your heart

'Cause I can feel you breathe
It's washing over me
Suddenly I'm melting into you
There's nothing left to prove
Baby all we need is just to be
Caught up in the touch
The slow and steady rush
Baby, isn't that the way that love's supposed to be?
I can feel you breathe
Just breathe

In a way I know my heart is waking up
As all the walls come tumbling down
I'm closer than I've ever felt before
And I know And you know
There's no need for words right now

'Cause I can feel you breathe
It's washing over me
Suddenly I'm melting into you
There's nothing left to prove
Baby all we need is just to be
Caught up in the touch
The slow and steady rush
Baby, isn't that the way that love's supposed to be?
I can feel you breathe
Just breathe

Caught up in the touch
The slow and steady rush
Baby, isn't that the way that love's supposed to be?
I can feel you breathe
Just breathe

I can feel the magic floating in the air
Being with you gets me that way


The same word in the Bible (in ancient Greek) goes for breath, wind, and spirit. The ancients didn't see a difference, or at least all these things were so closely related that they didn't want a different word. And that's not the norm. Many times it's exactly the opposite. For example, there are at least 3 Greek words that get translated simply "love" in English.

Wind has always been a wonder to me. Jesus said in John 3,

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Wind is wind. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The Wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Wind.

Or did He say,

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The Spirit blows where He wishes, and you hear his voice, but cannot tell where He comes from and where He goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Or did He say,

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Breath is breath. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' Breath blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Breath.

Many people dream of flying. In my dreams I cannot fly unless there is wind. A gentle breeze or strong wind begins to blow, I face the headwind, and jump. The stronger the wind, the less jumps it takes me to actually start flying. Odd, I know. It probably says something about me. (Maybe I shouldn't offer as well that I'm always flying either at the football practice field of my high school or the playground of my Jr. High.) At any rate, wind in the Bible is an awesome way for God to illustrate how his church grows, people born of the wind, carried about by His Wind, coming from who knows where, and going to who knows where, but liberated from all that has before grounded us and kept us stale. We are now animated. When God created man, He "formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7)

Wind and Spirit
by Chris Rice


I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane
Suddenly the dead brown leaves are stirred
To scratch their circle dances down the lane
And now the sturdy oaks start clapping
With the last few stubborn leaves that won't let go
I can hear Old Glory snapping
And her tattered rope now clanging against the pole

And it takes my breath away
And a chill runs up my spine
Feels like somethin's on the way
So I look up to the sky
I look up to the sky and
From the corners of creation
Comes the Father's Holy Breath
Riding on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness
Stirring my soul to holiness

I see the lifeness dust now resurrected
Swirling up again my window pane
And carried 'cross the distance
Come the long awaited fragrances of earth and rain
And out across the amber field
The slender grasses bend and bow and kiss the ground
And in them I see the beauty
Of the souls who lets the Spirit lay them down.

And it takes my breath away
And a tear comes to my eye
Feels like somethin's on the way
So I look up to the sky
I look up to the sky and
From the corners of creation
Comes the Father's Holy Breath
Riding on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness
Stirring my soul to holiness

And like a mighty wind blows with a force I cannot see
I will open wide my wings
I will open wide my wings
I will open wide my wings
And let the Spirit carry me
Yeah yeah

From the corners of creation
Comes the Father's Holy Breath
Riding on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness
Stirring my soul to holiness

I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane



I would have loved to sit and share the Breath all day, but unfortunately, the Wind blew through our home carrying us to Stephenville where my mom was being operated on because of the cancer that wants to claim her body. But we are not afraid. The same Wind that gave us birth will open wide our wings and carry us to heights we can't even imagine when we shake the dust off this crummy decaying body of flesh and just breathe.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Foolish

I really started my walk with Christ with these lyrics on the first Christian music album I ever owned. It was given to me as a gift. This was the only song I liked on the whole tape (yes friends, tape - we used to have music on cassette tapes that you had to be careful not to snag or else you'd rip the whole thing out, and also you had to use a head demagnetizer from time to time (oh, you didn't know that?) because the sound quality would degrade over time due to static buildup—oh and before that it was the short-lived 8 track and of course vinyls are always a good choice for true music reproduction, but only if you have a really good diamond stylus), but today I could sing any song on it from heart. Scandalon is the album.

Anyhoo! This has come full circle for me I think. I was so resolved to be wise that I lost a little bit of my foolishness. I had it once long ago, but I lost it in church committees, a desire for prosperity, family discipline, corporate America, and most of all: image. I'm back to looking for how to be more of a fool.

God's Own Fool
by Michael Card

It seems I've imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God's Holy wisdom is foolish to men
He must have seemed out of His mind
For even His family said He was mad
And the priests said a demon's to blame
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane

Chorus
We in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
We in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
And so we follow God's own fool
For only the foolish can tell-
Believe the unbelievable
Come be a fool as well

So come lose your life for a carpenter's son
For a madman who died for a dream
If you'll have the faith His first followers had
Then you'll feel the weight of the beam
So surrender the hunger to say you must know
Have the courage to say I believe
For the power of paradox opens your eyes
And blinds those who say they can see

Chorus

So we follow God's own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable
Come be a fool as well

If you're religious, read on. Otherwise, don't bother.
.
.
.
I warned you. Wisdom has been extolled, and has run its course. Give it up. It's called the Old Testament or Old Covenant, and it has passed away because it was weak and useless according to God (Hebrews 7, especially verses 18-19). Now read 2 Samuel 7. Was the Lord talking about Solomon, David's son, or about Jesus, David's Son? He spoke on multiple levels and is fulfilling it on multiple levels. Look at 1 Kings 5:7, "When Hiram heard Solomon’s message, he was greatly pleased and said, 'Praise be to the LORD today, for he has given David a wise son to rule over this great nation.'" Yep. Solomon was David's wise son, and Jesus was David's foolish Son. And it is the Fool who sits on the throne forever, sorry friends.

Jesus is "the Foolishness of God" and He is wiser than man's wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25). But you will say to me, keep reading in 1 Corinthians. Chapter 2 says "we do, however, speak a message wisdom among the mature." Actually, it says "among the perfect" and that's part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that the type of wisdom which is Christ doesn't seem wise at all—so anything that sounds wise is generally not. This is a secret, mysterious, mystical wisdom, hidden to ordinary mortals (at least that's what's written and I take it to be true despite what I was advised by wise people).

Sorry to burst your bubble if you thought being a Christian was about being wise. All those folks on the outside throwing stones and accusing us of being fools are actually right.

We have no guarantee of wisdom and all that goes with it: success, riches, security, renown, respect, deference, influence... But we certainly will have the last laugh.