Sentimental, Heretical or Whole?


I probably should have written this earlier this a.m. as I lay in bed pondering just where I might be in my faith.  Often as the weary mind processes through another active day, the best moments emerge for meditation.

This season seems to bring out the desire among so many to be grateful, generous and available for family and friends, even among those of different faiths.  It just so happens that I married the Christmas Queen, and as we round the month of September, we begin planning when we will mark the Charlie Brown Trees that we have for over a decade traditionally cut pre-Thanksgiving!  We factor into our calendars the Christmas parties of faithful friends and begin allocating time for volunteer service.

Holiday traditions (I’ll use the word Christmas, so as not to offend) are a part of the sentimental longings we humans have.  Nostalgia reigns, with special moments to revisit the best seasons of life.  Christmas is a good idea, perhaps a God idea!

Yet as one ages, life experience can jade our child likeness, forcing us to look at the bigger picture, often in the wee hours of morning.  Nostalgia is revealed as too often providing cover for our comfort zone, as another year passes with little change in our spiritual lives and the world we are called to serve.

This Bethlehem Jesus that so many now celebrate was a radical, not a fundamentalist!  He was unafraid to push at religion, even that of his own family!  Yet, his actions, at least as captured in Holy writ were undeniably bathed in love!  Oh to be like Him!

Out of that short lived life came a new gospel; tightening the lenses of religion and clarifying our focus upon this God, now incarnate, long missed by the children of Abraham.  The end result would require the death of this God-man, if religion were to survive His “heresies”.

Yet, today truth continues to march forward, though blood continues to be shed.  As for His followers, a new lifestyle is demanded, not of religion but of love and if need be personal sacrifice for those still fleeing religion. Religion’s only purpose seems simply a means of frustrating man to the reality of grace; absolutely necessary for life transformation.  It would now be by grace that one was “saved” not of works, lest any should boast (Eph 2:8-9).  What a radical concept!

God’s grace doesn’t scorn the sinner, for that is the truest heresy.  God’s grace abounds even where sin reigns!  A Refuge for the refuse of life!  Radically welcoming those lost in life.  This Gospel calls us not to better teach the laws of religion, not even those now long accumulated around our 2000+ year old Christianity!  It calls us to love one another!

In the “dark night of the soul” the “god” I too often demonstrate as a churchman, politician and community leader seems quite different than the One whom Christ modeled.  In those moments I struggle with my “wholiness”.

Oh to be like my savior, not the sentimental Jesus we come around during this season, nor the heretical Jesus that allows us to go about life in the “off-season”, in a way that sustains the decline of a nation once intended as a light on a hill!

I prefer the fearless yet harmless, radical Jesus, who waded into the lives of harlots, tax collectors, religious zealots, all chained to the tombs of human failure.  His message was freedom and hope; his requirement, nothing more than a desire to be whole.2010-12-04_14-02-24_377

A Divine Reordering

Hindu Event.

Salted throughout the Old Testament between the Fall of mankind and the Incarnation of the Christ are stories of the reordering of Creation. Not unlike the shift that occurred with the bloodshed of Abel, or the focused salvaging of mankind after Noah’s Flood, an obscure scripture in I Chronicles 5:1-2 perhaps holds insight into the nature of the God behind these historical shifts. It appears that at times a divine reordering occurs that denies the laws of man and thwarts all religious principles.

“The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph.” (NIV).

What rightfully belonged to Reuben, the legal firstborn of Jacob, was shifted to the “second” firstborn Joseph, the offspring of Jacob and Rachael. It is interesting that Joseph was birthed out of a true love relationship, unlike the former. Joseph would eventually be lauded as the favorite son of Israel. If I were writing the story, this heir would launch all future generations!

Joseph was certainly a Christ type in the way he followed God, rising through the ranks with Potiphar, eventually calling the shots for the Pharaoh of Egypt. His story of righteousness, his denial of the lustful desires of Potiphar’s wife, won him quite the journey from prison’s pit to the royal palace. However, his story ends in Egypt with only the promise that one day his bones be transported to the Promise Land! As I write, I have to admit that my thoughts drift to the possibility that the story of Joseph’s bones may best represent the institutional church in America today!

Reuben and Joseph were the perfect candidates to display a stark contrast between man’s ways and the true nature of God, reestablishing the trajectory of the offspring of Abraham and seeding the eventual incarnation of Christ. However, a third character emerges as the one upon which God would establish His lineage, Judah.

Judah’s name means praise, though Judah’s life seems less than demonstrative of this moniker. Checkered with life challenges, not the least being his illicit affair with his daughter-in-law. Still, he still lives into the prophecy given by his dying dad, Jacob:

“You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs[b] shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”
(Gen 49:9-10 NIV).

Out of Judah would come the Lion known as the Son of God, the Christ incarnate, Bethlehem’s Child!

God works in mysterious ways often violating the order that man and religion would assume. Perhaps He is doing it again, as we see a radical shift in power on the earth. Most all are claiming to be the offspring of Abraham, each religion struggling to seize the Kingdom for their god. Yet in all that, the One true God patiently delivers the essence of a truth too seldom displayed, perhaps even lost among many in the religions of Judaism, Islam and American Christianity. “God is love”.

Just as our Creator made a way for the next to the last, Joseph, to become the first among the children of Jacob, then reestablishing righteousness out of Judah’s soiled branch. Perhaps another reordering is in process?

While the institutional church struggles to sustain her influence in an America headed the way of so many former Christian nations, it now seems Ishmael’s offspring have begun the struggle to seize front stage. Could this reordering be the answer to God’s promise to Hagar? Hoards of people are on the move across the globe in a violent struggle for life, with their enemy, often a radical sect of their same faith, held at bay only by the power and might behind this second Israel we know as America. Could our nation have providentially emerged in some brief window of history, solely for the purpose of this reordering, as the Ancient of Days finalizes the work of Christ?

We are one people and though different in lineage, the offspring of One Creator! He is sovereign, His banner is love and His ways righteous.

A Foolish Faith in Authority


“A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.”

This quote from Albert Einstein has haunted me for several days now. It seems as I grow older, and begin connecting the dots too often hidden for the sake of sustaining our institutions, I have become less trusting of the systems employed by the most well intended of men.

It seems that most of us humans would rather follow, than figure out the truth. Truth is about revelation and revelation comes through relationship, not with humans only, though there is wisdom in counsel. Religion seems a natural in an environment where the more charismatic and often well intended seize upon the masses for empowerment. In all likelihood the initial goal of institutional leadership is the common good, but our best intent is no match for the seductive benefits of being on the top of the heap.

“Leaders” then naturally gather those in common agreement, establish new rules and impose their new found authority on those willing to follow the truth, as they have been taught. The difficulty comes when that truth is blindly sought out through another. Mind you, this is dangerous territory, both for the one who challenges authority, and for the ones foolish enough to think that they alone hold some new revelation.

Probably what keeps us from total destruction is the faithfulness of our Creator, the Alpha and Omega, who somehow orchestrates the parade of leadership and authority sufficient to sustain our race. One of the most celebrated moments in history was the arrival of The Incarnate God, declaring a “flag on the field moment” so powerful, that for centuries the globe was marked by an A.D. moment! The G-d upon which we still attempt to platform Christianity, was in such contrast to the Christ, that religion could do nothing more than the prophets had declared. Yes, as far back as Moses and his lifting up of the serpent, the curse was suspended upon a tree! Calvary was inevitable.

Somehow the guilt of sin, our falling short of the mark of our high calling as Creatures of God, would require a sacrifice and our Father knew that. In fact, before the foundation of the earth, God was prepared to become the lamb later required by the very priesthood that would condemn the God they served! God became the ram caught in the thicket of religion! How he sustained His moment of entry is quite the mystery.

The narrative captured by prophets fearfully engaged in this same religion, so clearly salvages the stories.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” Micah 5:2 (NLT).

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matt. 1:23 (NIV).

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me a pack of villains encircles me they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”
Ps 22:14-18 (NIV).

Yet in all that history past, God even preserved a moment for the long forgotten promise of Hagar, well before the powerful movement we are now observing among Muslims! God is on the move, though the people of God are mostly silo-ed within their various attempts at religion. At a loss for what to do to protect our truth, we bicker and even shed blood.

Meanwhile, The Ancient of Days, the Lover of all Mankind, is still faithful and finds a way to show up in the lives of those who earnestly and individually seek The Truth!

Favor, Faith and Failure

New Day

When I haven’t written in so long, it is always difficult to trust my heart.  I love to write but am always cautious, that what I write be somewhat meaningful.

I am an old dude, and at some point need to step aside, but when one’s life has been so favored, assessing the time for retirement is difficult, perhaps to the detriment.

I have always been given favor and the ability to end up in places of influence I neither deserved, nor had in anyway attained to the level of skill sets possessed by those I always find around me.

Just Wednesday, I had the privilege of leading a tour with the new class of Leadership Winston-Salem.  As we walked around an area within our community known for deep transformation, the result of a fearless few who formed the Goler Depot Renaissance Community Development Corporation (yes that is the official name), my mind was flooded with memories.  Now over a decade past, I still recall the numerous Tuesday night meetings in Lafayette and Sandra Jones’ business office (SMSI), strategically planning for a vision totally under resourced.  Yet I was walking through it with this group of young leaders. Once more, the least likely to be a part, given that it was an African-American initiative. Once more, favor had placed me in a position to exercise faith.

I hardly could have known that this initiative would evolve when in the late nineties, I would walk this area in prayer, circling a small AME Church in a virtual ghost town, long before the Innovation Quarter was public knowledge!

What is faith, why it’s the evidence of thing not seen! On the front end, a mere mental image of what could be, but faith always becomes the substance of those things hoped for! Wednesday, I was walking on the literal sidewalks that connected the substance of the things that using the word “evidence” to describe, would have been a stretch in our early SMSI days!

I was amused at myself as I led the tour that morning, for it was the day after our municipal election and once more a few kind hearts had tried to platform my leadership in our small community, only to fail for a second time. So why does failure often seem to bookend such radical moments of favor and faith?  Don’t kid yourself, we are a fallen race, failure is our default position.  Yet because of grace we fail forward, leaving behind us the evidence of our faith, though oft times decades since our checkered attempts at leadership.

This morning was one of those days when deep reflection occurs.  I found myself reading back through the Biblical stories of Elijah and Elisha, the lepers of Samaria, all stories that have preceded breakthrough moments in my life.  I live a strange life, for just when I feel I have completed my call, perhaps even stepped beyond the bounds of grace, I begin to see the evidence of favor once more, rising from the ashes of my failure and my faith comes alive!

Decision or Despair

The writer of I Samuel so succinctly captures the age old challenge of life.

“The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” I Sam 17:3 NIV.

Life is never easy but the lens through which one views life always determines our impact.  It is not a matter of whether or not good triumphs over evil, that has been determined by the cross.  What matters is whether or not we get to play apart in that glorious triumph.

There will always be a foe and because of that, a decision.  Before every tipping point, every transformation, one always faces the dreaded Valley of Decision.  That valley always requires descent, full entry, if the foe is to be thwarted.  Stepping into that valley always costs, and usually something held dear.  For that reason courage is the capital.

The opposite of courage is fear, though someone once said, F.E.A.R. is simply “false evidence appearing as real.”  Fear screams loss, yet only temporality distracts the victor from the reality that what is to be gained, is always greater than our loss.  Our assets may change, but the reward of good’s triumph always outweighs our loss and outlives our lifetime!

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”Edmund Burke

Learning from a Child

I am sitting here in the dark with my grandson, John Luther, on my shoulder.  He is teething and with temperature, so I have the pleasure of his company today. He is resting quietly on my shoulder as I write, but with some need to cling, suddenly awakened by any attempt to distance myself from him.

Of course, if I lay him down, the cry he has learned to use pulls so deeply at my heart, that I then quickly pull him back to my bosom.  It’s an abrupt cry that could awaken the heavens, much like my own when I am dis-eased by a falsely perceived distance from God.

John Luther, also like his grandfather, has his attachments.  He likes to have at least three pacifiers within reach.  Even when asleep he will reach out and cluster them near his mouth.  I have my own pacifiers, certain sins that easily beset me, often reached for in my restless struggles.  I am much better than in my younger days, just as he will one day joke when he reads these words about his neediness.

As I care for John Luther, I am also learning anew the Father’s heart for me.  I feel His heart when my heart is touched by John’s infirmities.  Whether it’s an earache or a tooth trying to come through, I suffer too, at least emotionally.

He stumbles and bumps himself more often now, for at 11 months, John is beginning to walk.  At first he was constantly grasping a finger, holding with all his strength for security.  Then came the day when his parents sent the video. He had broken loose on his own, pushing a toy with wheels somewhat like an older adult with a walker.

The last couple of days, he has begun to stand up on his own, better enduring the awkwardness, as he gains confidence and stamina.

He is learning that freedom is more enjoyable than being bound by the need for an adult hand.  Myself, at 67, perhaps still a little clingy, but my Lord, like this first time grandfather is always nearby, patiently awaiting my reach; hoping however, for my breakthrough moment.

Will I ever grow up, truly walking “up-right” in the image of God? I certainly aspire to, but brokenness seems a part of my fabric.  My false-self as I read again this a.m.:

“Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.

The only One Who can teach me to find God is God, Himself, Alone.”1

I am aging now, and just as John Luther, I am beginning to become more comfortable with my thoughts and the words that I use to share those thoughts.  Not necessarily the words of my parents, though early on they were.  As an elder, my thoughts are neither the thoughts of my parents nor those of others but thoughts of my own.

I am now at a point in time to frame my own words, just as John Luther will soon abandon his babbling and begin to share his own thoughts.  My thoughts are now backed by 60 plus years of journey, years in which I have been privileged to see the mighty hand of the Lord.

Whether it was the unlikely honor of being asked to serve on a board with esteemed marketplace leaders, or simply providing an office and a means for expressing my calling to cities, He has been faithful.  Yet, those are things that any achiever might be able to accomplish.

For that reason I am grateful that God has also intervened at times in ways that many may have never experienced. Raising an old man named Leonard Sykes from an unconscious state, when I was still young in the faith was one such moment.  Praying a prayer over a helpless individual and then seeing their life extended has a powerful impact on ones faith.  Having the Lord intervene more than once when my life and in fact, my family could have been snuffed out in a traffic calamity, comes to mind as well.  Once a car passed right through our own!  I kid you not!

Like the three Hebrew children, I have been in the fire and have seen the Fourth Man, the Word become flesh!  After such moments, the text reads quite differently!

To me, these water shed moments are akin to those recorded in the text of the Book of Joshua.  When Israel was crossing the Jordan at flood stage, the God of Moses intervened. Joshua then memorialized that moment by having 12 men each carry a stone from the dry bed of the Jordan.  The stones were stacked nearby the place where once flood waters had raged.  Generations hence when told of this story would have tangible evidence of the unseen God, the One who allowed their ancestors passage where few men had trod!

The purpose of this blog is to stack a few stones.

1 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation.

The Next in Line for the Church and for your Community.

This morning I read the fourth chapter of Ruth for the first time.  Not really, but it seemed as such.  Most know that Boaz can certainly be seen as a community leader, as well as type of Christ, the Kinsman Redeemer.

I began to read it as such, with a focus on the institutional church and the Bride of Christ in mind:

“Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate (he was confident in himself among the political leadership of his town) and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along (timing is always critical to a leader). Boaz said (he wasn’t demanding), “Come over here, my friend (he was cordial), and sit down.” So he went over and sat down (God granted Boaz favor).

 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town (influence) and said, “Sit here,” and they did so (again, Divine favor). Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek.I thought I should bring the matter to your attention (he had done his homework) and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people (this is perhaps the institutional church of his day). If you will redeem it, do so (he called their hand). But if you[b] will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

“I will redeem it,” he said. (Commitment to his plan).

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the[c] dead man’s widow (he understood the rules of the game), in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”(At this point the scripture is laden with Messianic prophecy, the dead man’s widow, may imply the Bride of Christ)

At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate (The dilemma of today’s Institutional Church?) . You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”

 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other (Calvary?). This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.) 

 So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.(The institutional church perhaps has again relinquished her rights and thus foreclosure has begun?)

 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. (Boaz was working his plan, so is the Christ of Rev 5.) 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name (The Name) will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”

 11 Then the elders (perhaps their wake-up call?) and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (The Lion of Judah).

 13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Blessing always follows commitment to the call)

 16 Then Naomi (a type of the Holy Spirit) took the child (The true Church) in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

 (thus the  lineage of Jesus, see Matthew 1).

 Are you willing to step up and be the next in line, for the sake of your community, the Bride of Christ, the man “once dead?”