Evangelical Monk Blog

Ramblings on living a Christan life

Month: August, 2012

Foolish Fridays 3

In the Brennan Manning text, The Importance of Being Foolish, he begins a number of reflections seeking to discern how to think like Jesus. I will be traveling down this road with this text as my guide, and see what can be discovered. I hope you will enjoy the journey.

In the section entitled “Loss of Wonder” Manning writes,

“To become a little child again (as Jesus enjoined we must) is to recapture a sense of surprise, wonder and vast delight in all of reality…. We have become jaded, incapable of wonder and awe. This lessening of impressionability may be a sign of maturity, a necessary and healthy consequence of progress. But I tend to think it betrays a loss of equilibrium. A truly balanced person retains a capacity for wonder and the willingness to express it in the very confession of creaturehood, the spontaneous acknowledgment that he is a human being and not a god, a being with limitations who, far from having embraced infinity, is happily and hopelessly engulfed by it.”

A thought – a few years ago in another time and life it seems and at a time when little ones were not my favorite people to spend time with (because I didn’t know how) – God opened this door for teaching Sunday School class for 4 and 5 year olds.

There were times when I really felt the fool – worldly sense – spending time in the Word, attending seminary, writing and such things and from time to time being face to face with that sense of surprise, wonder and awe, and a sense of that childlike faith (and sometimes it made me weep over my utter lack of sense) from those 4 and 5 year olds.

You have to wonder at it all. I wonder if our quest for maturity, our quest for knowledge and dissolving all the mysteries of the world, our relentless pursuit of progress, whatever that may be, the result isn’t simply that loss of equilibrium, but also a hardening of our hearts.

You have to feel like Nicodemus when told he would need to be born again. He said in response, ““How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Maybe we can talk about that some day?

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.


Frat Houses and Country Clubs

Are we just frat houses and country clubs? In all of our talk about community and fellowship, are we missing something?

What does it mean to be in community? We talk from time to time in our groups about being in fellowship. One of our frequent statements is to be in the Word, be in prayer and be in community. But there is a huge danger if we allow this idea to stay just words and an idea.

Reading a little Shane Claiborne, sort of a monkish fellow himself, who rightly observed,

Community is pretty hip these days. The longing for community is in all of us, to love and to be loved. But if community doesn’t exist for something beyond ourselves, it will die, atrophy, suffocate.

Roger Olson, another thoughtful theologian, lets loose on the idea that this word, “community” and rightly argues it has become essentially meaningless due to its overuse and misuse. Ultimately community means nothing more, Olson argues, than a description of a group who apparently share a characteristic – the gay community, the stamp collecting community, etc. The point he is making is, of course, that simply sharing a common characteristic hardly qualifies that group as a community.

A lot of us will go right to Acts and the community that was formed following Peter’s declaration on the day of Pentacost, and rightly so. But we need to go back to the beginnings and see what the explicit intent of God was and has been throughout the Word.

We can go all the back to the Exodus, and find that God sought a holy people, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Exodus 19:5-6 ESV (Next week maybe will put some flesh on this idea)

Maybe God’s intent was to form a new humanity with distinct practices that act as a contrasting culture to the rest of society. Thinking that a couple of things we need to note, first, its more about being formed by God, and second, it may look like but isn’t really a reflection of the greater culture we find ourselves in. And this is really hard.

But otherwise we go to church (whether only on Sundays or even with the postmodern understanding of doing church) and leave God’s house no different and that makes all this thinking about community necessary and real because it seems that is exactly what we do and frankly that is rather scary.

To me what happens with all of this, we come to be part of something but that something never moves beyond a good time – a time of some release but release without change, without getting at what is down deep inside. And that is sad. Ultimately we become a “community” of radical individuals sharing a name but nothing else. And frankly, a frat house or country club may look more appealing. Something to think about.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Visions and Such Things

Why are you here? Sometimes you have to wonder what God has in mind. A word I used to hate a lot is inscrutable – mainly because being partly Asian, in the old days (the phrase my daughters use to describe that ancient time when I was a kid), Charlie Chan was called inscrutable because he was Chinese, and apparently that is one of our Asian characteristics.

Well, maybe the word fits here. God is inscrutable. He does not offer up to us a blueprint and simply refuses to give us that step-by-step plan we are needing. I heard it said, “the process of Christian development has more to do with how dependent you have become on the Lord, not necessarily about being good.”

Sometimes I wish God gave me a vision – sort of like John’s Revelation, or even a short one like Isaiah had when he had his lips touched with that burning coal. Sometimes it seems like the dreams come, but always just sort of the plot line and never the middle and the ending – more of those cliff hangers type of dreams.

As odd as it seems, Jesus was fully dependent on the Father. He tells us quite clearly, in John 5:30 ESV, “I seek not my own will but the will of Him who sent me.” The Message renders it like this:

I can’t do a solitary thing on my own: I listen, then I decide. You can trust my decision because I’m not out to get my own way but only to carry out orders. If I were simply speaking on my own account, it would be an empty, self-serving witness.

It seems it all comes back to this idea of being a person of love and grace, and humility. None of these things are easy – listen carefully the next time someone says it is easy.

What would our little slice of life look like if we loved someone even when it hurts, or if we offered grace to someone who really doesn’t deserve it, or for one moment thought not less of ourselves but thought of ourselves less? Maybe we really can’t do a bang-up job of that. Then again, maybe we can do some reflecting on John’s rendering – I listen then I decide.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Foolish Fridays 2

In the Brennan Manning text, The Importance of Being Foolish, he begins a number of reflections seeking to discern how to think like Jesus. I will be traveling down this road with this text as my guide, and see what can be discovered. I hope you will enjoy the journey.

In the first part of this chapter, Manning recounts the story of a man named Max, at an alcoholic rehab center – Manning himself is a recovering alcoholic – and the scene, rather brutal, plays out through a number of pages with Max ultimately and utterly broken and admits his addiction.

He makes this observation, “For the majority of us, what is most real is the world of our material existence; what is most unreal is the world of God. This is a fact so enormous, subversion so radical, that the liar in the biblical sense is largely taken for granted in our society. For the religious dimension of life is a kind of optional accessory, entirely a matter of taste.”

A wise thought from Stanley Hauerwas:

We can only act with a world we can see.
Let us walk together to learn how to see
and live in a world where Jesus is Lord.

Max had to hold on to his stuff – his image of who he thought he was. Remember the story about the rich man. In the first part we find a man who asked Jesus what to do in order to inherit the Kingdom. Hearing that he should go and sell all that he had and give to the poor, the rich ruler was “dishearted… and went away sorrowful.” Mark 10:17 ESV. Another time a man demanded Jesus tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. The answer was disturbing, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 ESV.

Ouch. How tightly do we hold on to our stuff? Last Friday Manning talked about freedoms. Are we free to work, earn and get more stuff? Are we free to dispose of our stuff as we choose? Yes, that is our freedom here. Then again, maybe Manning was asking whether we are trading in real freedom when we think about our stuff so much. What would tomorrow look like if we got together to think about living life with our possessions as though Jesus were Lord? Now I don’t mean coming up with all these rules and investment strategies just talk about what life can look like – sort of stretching out a little more.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Miracles Do Happen

A sweet young lady I’m getting to know and love was weeping a few days ago. A secret as a few young ladies are in our group, despite raising 2 beautiful daughters weeping young ladies still rips my heart. But my secret is safe as I know most of them don’t read this. And if they do, well I raised 2 beautiful daughters who know my secret.

A long time ago a man named David was anointed the king of God’s chosen nation Israel. David was a good man but paradoxically he was not always a good man – someday we can read about Bathsheba and how she became queen.

Unlike today being anointed king wasn’t a done deal for David. There already was a king of Israel who didn’t much care for him. During the years when David was trying to avoid being killed at the hands of Saul, he wrote the 18th Psalm. Talk about being in a place where weeping would seem the only natural response. He writes,

The cords of death encompassed me,
The torrents of destruction assailed me;
The cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.

Talk about being in a bad place! There are echoes of a near death experience going on with this Psalm, and seemingly there is no way out. David called out, “in my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.”

David’s story, like ours, didn’t result in God performing a great miracle, and removing the source of the pain, though He did remove Saul reading 2 Samuel reveals David dealt with a huge amount of heartache, or for others restoring us to the way things were (when they were happy and good). Rather, God acts in a way that may even be downright destructive of the things we seem to think are most valuable. But at the same time He opens up a new space where we find room to trust in Him all the more.

One of my favorite songs is a sad song in some ways. Some of the lyric goes like this,

Two months is too little, they let him go
They had no sudden healing
To think that providence
Would take a child from his mother
While she prays, is appalling…

This is what it means to be held
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive
This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held.

Some hard words and a hard place to stand. Sometimes when God answers these cries for help, when He hears our weeping, He indeed answers with a miracle. The miracle of having His people arriving to be His hands and just hold someone. We can be like David, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but in some way listening to His voice and showing up in a time and place He desires.

So for my young friend, know you are being held.

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Need to Do Some Fishing

Last week we all in our little community went into crisis mode. It seems that there was an error a while back, actually a couple of years ago, that just now was coming to the surface. When it hit the surface, it exploded.

Some phone calls were made, and an actual visit to City Hall followed. No relief other than an offer to enter into a payments arrangement, for something we didn’t owe! We were directed to another department and such things.

We then met with a wonderful lady who has some knowledge and another businessman in the area who may also have some knowledge. We had options but nothing really opening up to resolve this sense of crisis in the air. We prayed a long time on things, and thought about what was God doing? What was He trying to tell us?

As I sit here today, there still is an open question on how things will turn out. God has raised up an army for us to help protest the error. It might be really painful and very hard for a while. I was surfing through the net the other day and came across this post, on Matthew 17:24-27.

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.

At the post we were asked to comment about what this could be about. In some way and in some fashion, Jesus provides. Now the question becomes why can’t we stand still and accept this truth? Most times that is so very hard. Maybe the word to us was to return our focus to Him, and let His grace and mercy flow without our getting in the way. I heard a wiser man than I say, “one of the ways the powers (the world) domesticate us is by keeping us busy.”

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Foolish Fridays 1

This will be the first post in a series called Foolish Fridays. I’ve read a great book by a Brennan Manning called, “The Importance of Being Foolish. In it Manning offers up a number of reflections seeking to discern how to think like Jesus. I will be traveling down this road with this text as my guide, and see what can be discovered. Hoping you enjoy the journey.

In the introduction, Manning reflects on his time in solitude high in the mountains near the Zaragosa Desert of Spain. He reports, “In many long hours of prayer in the caves, I realized anew that the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ supercedes all else, allowing us to experience a freedom that is not limited by the borders of a world that is itself in chains.”

Maybe for some this is a little crazy – way up in the desert in a cave praying? For some of us Lutherans, this is a little too monkish/Catholic – but maybe there is something to being in a place where the sounds of the ambulances racing down the road to the hospital (about a half mile north of us) are gone and the other distractions, noises?, of the world are stripped away.

I wonder how all that works. Here we are in what some call the greatest successful experiment in freedom. Even for those dealing with some grueling life choices, what to eat, where to sleep, and such things, this place is a place with little restraints. Even for us who claim belief in Christ, what a great deal of freedom. Freedom to worship and believe as I desire, freedom to earn and spend my money as I please, freedom to do pretty much what I desire when I desire it. I know there are some restraints, economic and social, but freedom nevertheless. An old time phrase, but essentially, I am the captain of my own ship. Or am I?

But Manning also raises a great note of caution – my freedom, as I have understood it, is indeed a freedom limited by the “borders of a world that is itself in chains.” In John 8:32-33 we are told, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

But what a minute. Aren’t we free now? Aren’t we simply light years removed from the hard times of ancient Israel? Manning seems to be saying there is this great tension when we stop and really reflect on freedom. But aren’t I already free so why do I need this truth? Then again, how free are we? Supposedly numbers 4 and 5 on the 10 most purchased meds in this country are drugs for treating depression. Makes me wonder.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Depression & Meds

Have you ever had one of those days?  I mean a day when you simply don’t even want to get out of bed.  One of those days when – some of you may remember this ad on TV for a drug called Seroquel.  Some person was shown walking around with this gray sort of rain cloud hovering over them no matter where they went.  Yeah, one of those type of days.

Brief rant  and skip this paragraph if you want to but…  why do we think that meds are the answer?  I understand meds help, but that is it – a help not a solution.  Yet drugs like Seroquel are so heavily prescribed today – well enough said.

So having one of those days isn’t just like thinking about how tough the day will be and such things.  Rather having a tough day of the sort that it seems like you are caught up in this great eddy and the water is black instead of clear, and there isn’t any light showing through – even though like in that Seroquel commercial the sun is shining.  We just can’t see it.

My back aches, threw it out over a week ago, my allergies are such that my nose is red and even with the lotion to sooth it – cause it is so sore – when I use the Kleenix, the lotion is gone.  Man, why bother some times.  A sweet young lady I know has some real issues going on with her health, and it is sad because she is a young one.  So hearing about her makes me close my mouth in a hurry.

We read about this young woman who has some troubles of her own.  Matthew’s first chapter tells the story of the conception of our Lord Jesus.  Mary, likely a young woman – if not a young teen – found herself pregnant during her betrothal to Joseph.  We can rightly suspect this was not a good place to be at the time and in that place.  Today, of course, not a big deal at all, however, in that time, such was the practice that a “divorce’ was mandated (Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced, Matthew 1:18-19, The Message) and a lifetime of shame, and likely begging and/or prostitution would follow.

If you listen hard enough, you likely can hear the churning of that whirlpool drawing her down into the blackness. Mary was shaken up by the news badly. The words reportedly uttered – “how, I’ve never known a man.” Luke 1:34 ESV – mask the shock and despair she must have felt being confronted with the loss of her future.

In each of those Gospels we are given the name for this child. Joseph is told the Old Testament prophecy about a child to be named Immanuel – God with us. Mary is told what that means when she is told her baby will be named Jesus – for He will save his people.

Maybe those meds are important, but just stopping for a moment to grasp the truths that were given to Mary in one of her darkest moments may keep that whirlpool from being completely black.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Guns and More Guns

A’huntin we will go!  Since the tragedy at Aurora, CO there seems to be this huge outcry about guns and gun control – an event that rises up every time we have a seemingly random act of violence.  There is a lot of talk about being able to defend yourself (though I have to ask would that movie theater become a wild west shootout at the OK Corral theater? Or seriously would anyone been able to react in such a way as to really have stopped the premeditated actions of a crazy man?), that if we control guns only the bad guys get to have them, and such things.

I know the Christian stance has been that we are guaranteed the right to bear arms under the US Constitution.  And I’m not going to go on arguing whether we do or we don’t, that’s for each of us to consider and choose – well maybe not all that much of an individual decision (see below).  Reading some Martin Luther the other day and his views on what he called the two kingdoms – one on earth and one in Heaven.

I know I’m being a little too general, but in a nutshell, Luther forbade Christians from allowing temporal rulers to meddle with their hearts in matters of belief, declaring that “if you give into him and let him take away your faith and books, you have truly denied God”. However, in all temporal matters, subjects must obey and welcome true Christian suffering:

We are to be subject to governmental power and do what it bids, as long as it does not bind our conscience but legislates only concerning outward matters…But if it invades the spiritual domain and constrains the conscience, over which God only must preside and rule, we should not obey it at all but rather lose our necks. Temporal authority and government extend no further than to matters which are external and corporeal.

So what I’m getting from all of this are the claims, by Christians, by God we have been given the right to bear arms by the civil authorities, and no one can ever take that right away!  But (isn’t there always a but?) look a little more closely at what Luther tells us.  When there is a conflict between the civil authorities and Heaven’s authority, we need to be in all good conscience refusing to obey.

So what I’m getting at here, is as a believer, when I hear someone raise up the idea that we have the right to bear arms because the Constitution guarantees that right, I’m thinking, wait a minute, have we sort of tossed out faith as part of the equation to be examined?  What happens to our thinking about all of this when we step back and talk about – not saying what we need to decide this way or that way – rather maybe being part of a faith community requires that this be something that gets talked about.

Maybe we can think about the two kingdoms isn’t so much about how much “freedom” and “rights” we get to have per the government, rather, maybe we need to be asking each other whether this “freedom” or “right” really gets submerged into being people of God and co-heirs with Christ.  Maybe if we start that conversation, a lot of our freedoms and rights take on their true significance for our lives on this side of things.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.

Look No Hands!

A few years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to a small group of 40 people or so in recognition of a young lady going for an extended training in overseas missions work. During that talk, I was given this poem to read to her, attributed to Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun from around the time of Luther and the Reformation. In line with some of the thoughts running through this place for awhile, I had to share it.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Makes you wonder – who are we and who are we becoming.

What do you think?

Be blessed and be a blessing.