‘Tis the Season to Celebrate Your Findings

 

Throughout the gospel accounts there are people who are finding things. Some of the things found were totally unexpected. And some things were lost and then found. Jesus lets us know that there are things meant to be found. We also learn from him that heaven is tuned into the findings. Joyous celebration all around is the natural response.

Early on we read of shepherds who find “Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a feeding trough.” (Luke 2:16) And later, of wise men who find Mary and the child and of King Herod who finds out about their finding out.

We hear of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and a trader who finds a spectacularly valuable pearl and of fishermen who find a bountiful fishing spot. (Matt 13:44-50). With these parables Jesus relates the discovery of the mysterious kingdom of God.

We learn of Jesus finding faith in a Roman Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)

In John’s gospel we read of cascading finds:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee, where he found Philip.

“Follow me,” he said to him.

Philip came from Bethsaida, the town Peter and Andrew hailed from. Philip found Nathanael.

“We’ve found him!” “The one Moses wrote about in the law!” And the prophets, too! We’ve found him! Its Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth!”

At the end of Luke’s gospel, we read a report of a most excellent find that isn’t there:

…some of the women have astonished us. They went to the tomb very early this morning, and didn’t find his body. They came back saying they’d seen a vision of angels, who said he is alive. Some of the folk with us went off to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.

The gospel of Luke chapter 15 is the party chapter. Each of the three lost and found parables relate how what has been lost and then found triggers a reason to celebrate: a lost sheep is found; a lost coin is found; a lost son is found on the horizon. Let’s look at the second parable.

“Or supposing a woman has ten drachmas and loses one of them. What will she do? Why, she’ll light a lamp, and sweep the house, and hunt carefully until she finds it! And when she finds it she’ll call her friends and neighbors in. ‘Come and have a party!’ she’ll say: celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost coin!”

Well, let me tell you: that’s how God’s angels feel when a single sinner repents.”

-Jesus in Luke 15:8-10

As we read this parable, we typically focus on the end result: the sinner’s repentance and heaven’s joy at the sinner’s response. Now take a look at the effort involved in restoring what was lost before the celebration takes place.

Notice that the woman turns on the light to see into the corners. She cleans her house and clears out the clutter. She makes every effort to reclaim what she lost. She didn’t have much to begin with (ten drachmas) and now a portion of it is lost (15 cents).

Here is what I think the parable also emphasizes: we come to a point in our lives when we realize that we have lost something of great value – our identity, the image of God, a piece of our soul. We can’t go on without it. We held on to so little for so long. So, we shed direct light on the situation. We remove all of the extraneous stuff in the way. We search like Oak Island treasure hunters burrowing deep into the dark places of our being. We make every effort to find what we lost.

Success! We find what we’ve lost in a dark corner. It was covered with dust and dirt and dog hair. We rejoice and tell others using the language of joy: “I have found it!” “I have found it!”

Remember the inside of Scrooge’s house via the 1951 black and white movie version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol ? It is grey and gloomy and tomb-like. It is lifeless and foreboding. Furniture is covered with tarps and dust covers the tarps. Scrooge seems buried alive in the house. A candle is used to move about his dark domain but it is not used to look for what he lost. That illumination comes from four night time specters.

Now, I imagine that past, present and future scenarios flash before the eyes of anyone who has lost something of value. I imagine that for the woman in the parable. In Scrooge’s account those scenarios are personified by three ghosts who are involved in the Scrooge’s rescue operation after the ghost of Marley gives account of his own final hellish state. The ghosts illuminate Scrooge’s life: his losses, his dealing with losses, his hard heart, his isolation, and his future state. All done right where he sleeps.

The scenarios the trinity of spirits impose on Scrooge help him to see what was lost– himself–in a house full of shrouded past.

Scrooge and the woman in the lost coin parable reclaim what was lost where they lived. They both had to look and look hard for what they had lost, Scrooge in his past present and future and the woman in her dwelling place. And when they find what they’ve lost they throw open the shutters, they go out into the streets, and they let the world know.

Let me entwine this post with a scarlet ribbon…

For the prodigal, for the repentant, there is rejoicing and a celebration. They had found themselves wanting. They had found what they lost – the reason to live. When it happened the Search Party was delighted.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost” …and when you find him…

You love him, even though you’ve never seen him. And even though you’ve never seen him, you believe in him, and celebrate with a glorious joy that goes beyond words can say, since you are receiving the proper goal of your faith – namely, the rescue of your lives. 1 Peter 1:8-9

 “I found it!” is the language of joy. And glorious joy is the spirit of Christmas.

When All is Not Bright

 

… a personal reflection

Tampa (AFP) – Life expectancy in the United States dropped yet again as drug overdose deaths continued to climb — taking more than 70,000 lives in 2017 — and suicides rose, a US government report said Thursday.

The drug overdose rate rose 9.6 percent compared to 2016, while suicides climbed 3.7 percent, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

-from Kerry SHERIDAN’s article US life expectancy drops again as overdoses climb

 

As confusion and losses stack up in a person’s life many, now more than ever, begin to seek a way out of their humanness wherein the pain is acutely felt. They will take drugs and medicate in hopes of stopping the screaming in their heads. It is the pain that tells us that we are alive and human.

I can relate. At one point in my life years ago I carried with me the same hurt locker. I had experienced losses caused by my own doing and losses beyond my control. Having been married and divorced, I then lost closeness with my children and years of my life. I lost a son in a tragic car accident. I lost a job when the company I was working for no longer had orders coming in. A truck rear-ended my car as I was on my way to a new job. I received a herniated disc in my neck and a concussion and many painful nerve-affected nights and tons of medical bills. That block of time was crushing. It was also confusing.

Trying to sort out the events, trying to make sense while inside the hurt locker, is well nigh impossible. I tried to mitigate the pain through medication, but the pains in my body and in my heart were overwhelming. There was screaming in my head that would not stop. Couple that pain with the need to continue making ends meet and trying to keep your head above water is…well-nigh impossible. And so, Impossible was the name on my hurt locker. I desperately wanted to remove myself from the locker and go to a place where I didn’t have to think anymore. When you are crying at your desk you know that something had to give. But it wasn’t going to be me. It had to be despair’s grip.

I came to the realization out of my relationship with the Lord that all of my presuppositions where being up ended. The first one to go was that I believed I was strong and could handle whatever came my way. In that dark hour I understood that the Lord had broken into my self-composed life and was making all things new. This all happened the weekend of Easter. And though I had heard the words of Easter proclamations all of my life, I finally understood that the Lord’s resurrection was the means for me to be resurrected to new life here and now. Nothing was impossible. The stone in front of the hurt locker had been removed. I was freed to be human once again. What I had endured became “I do exist, by the grace of God”.

 

It is easy for a Christian, I believe, to think that any bad thing that happens to them is a result of judgment for past sins. With all of the talk of heaven and hell in many churches it is easy to frame events in terms of reward or punishment, in almost Pavlovian ways. And, onlooking Christians are eager to point that out. Read the oldest book of Scripture, Job.

To be sure there are ways in which we dehumanize ourselves and come to believe that there can be no resurrection day and if it happened it would look like today. We live in a culture of dehumanization: abortion, drugs, ‘free’ sex, rife consumerism, and words, rites and traditions emptied of meaning. Christian holidays are paganized. Individual rights that are demanded cut people off from a community of shared human values. When body parts and their redaction become cause célèbre you know the culture is in trouble. When any thought of joy is replaced by the fatuous roose of commercialized store-bought happiness, then you know you are in trouble.

One can drink their reason for life to death. One can sit in isolation and loneliness on the internet arguing points of nihilistic bent. Social media is anything but social. Those who pattern their life after media come up empty and as impersonal as the data bytes that transfer the images to their screen.

To be sure, there are consequences that are derived from one’s sinful behavior. And, that is good to know. One needs to bump up against the wall of one’s own doing to know that there is cause and effect, a principle that even rationalists and atheists embrace.

To finally be sure, we must frame our understanding with redemption. That was the revelation that occurred to me. Resurrection and redemption. The impossible is beyond me and is only doable by the Son of Man Who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

The intent of this post is not to put a happy face on any one’s suffering or losses or pain. You do not see the sunny side of life inside the hurt locker. Rather, this post has been written to provide hope. And it is hope which brings about true-life expectancy – abundant life in this age and the age to come. Hope is born of resurrection and continues with redemption. Suicide says” All is lost. There is no hope if I can’t produce it with within myself”.  You can’t.  Hope is beyond you.

Here is hope: you are known by God. Consider that the announcement of the birth of the Son of Man was to lowly shepherds tending sheep in a field. The announcement they received wasn’t “We bring you tidings of great minimum wage!” No, the angelic message was…

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,

    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Some life-saving suggestions. When I was in high school, I walked many nights through the neighborhoods after supper with my family. I doubt that my siblings knew this. I walked because I needed to resolve all the inputs into my life: my personhood, and the mental, emotional and social goings on around me, including all that the sixties dropped on me, including the Vietnam war. I walked to find resolve to go on.

Some of us have pets. I currently have Henry, my parrolet, to keep me company. I am considering adding finches to my home. I relate to birds.  I placed a bird feeder on my patio. I’ve noticed that birds are flighty when they sense imminent danger but return when they feel safe. Birds remind me of life in the moment. They are fragile beings. They, like me, have open mouths to feed and so they return to the one who feeds them.  I had to return to the One who feeds me daily, in the moment.

 

We are right to cry “Lord have mercy!” And, we also right to cry “I must have mercy on myself and not do those things which bring judgment on me by their very nature! I have sinned, O God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”

 

A prayer:

Father of all mercy, have mercy on me. I am distressed. My heart is like wax. It melts before every fear. I am depressed. I am confused. I am not able to exist except at your pleasure. I am at the bottom of my life. Restore to me humanness. Return to me with Thy salvation. I’ve heard that my Redeemer lives. Redeem my life from destruction. Redeem me from all my transgressions. Restore my soul. Amen.

 

Leech or Lizard?

 

 When you think of Thanksgiving you of think family, food and football. Let me suggest a fourth focus: creature features.

 

The Book of Proverbs, found in the wisdom literature of the Bible, offers insight into the human condition. From my youth on I have asked God for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding. I have not always used the wisdom, knowledge and understanding given me. Much of my younger life can attest to Proverb’s description of fools and folly.

Proverbs contrasts fools and folly with those who gain wisdom and avoid imprudence. Proverbs gives us examples of what one should not be like and what one should be like. Leeches and lizards are among the examples. Let’s start with leeches.

The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. Prov. 3:15 

How would you characterize a leech? The picture that first comes to mind is that of a bloodsucker that extracts what it wants and then goes on to the next source to extract again. Personified as above, do you see them as never satisfied? As never contented? As always craving more?  Are they greedy and covetous? Are they insatiable in their appetite? Do they see themselves as deserving and therefore warranted in entering your space and presenting their unending demands? What about another space intruder, the lizard?

a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces. Prov. 30:28

Lizards, the proverb says, can be easily controlled but they show up in highly respectable places, places like lavish Caribbean hotels. Lizards like to come indoors for a meal. They are attracted by an insect infestation. Due to their small size, tiny gaps or cracks around doors and windows can be enough for geckos to let themselves in. Some owners may allow a few innocuous lizards to come and take care of the greater insect problem. And, insects are not as ‘cute’ as Geckos. The GEICO commercials invite us to let them into our lives to solve insurance problems.

The creeping and crawling Lizards can be held in check but they show up anyway in king’s palaces looking for insects hiding in dark places and likely feasting on the crumbs dropped from the royal table.

The Gospels provide with us with human examples of these creature’s features:

A recent review of a first century survey (Luke 17) found that nine out ten lepers do not give thanks. Apparently, nine lepers saw Jesus, latched on to his presence and demanded ‘Give! Give! And one leper, the out of place Samaritan, saw Jesus, creeped up slowly and waited for the crumbs to fall from the Master’s table. When Jesus healed all ten of the lepers, the nine leeches went on their way feeling they got what they deserved. But the once dried, scaling, atrophic, depigmented-skinned lizard returned and gave thanks for being allowed into the royal court and receiving a new skin on life.

As we learned, one can live their life as a leech: show up, latch on, cry ‘Give! Give!’, take and feel deserving and ungrateful. Or, one can live life as the lowly out of place lizard who shows up in our King’s palace looking for the means to go on.  The latter provides us with a prime example of grace – that easily controlled lowly lizards like us are even allowed a notice and a few bread crumbs that fall from the King’s table. Thanks be to God.

 

The Summing Junction

 

We first meet Saul of Tarsus in Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles.

 

But they yelled at [Stephen] at the tops of their voices, blocked their ears, and made a concerted dash at him. They bundled him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks down at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Now Saul was giving his consent to Stephen’s death.

That very day a great persecution was started against the church in Jerusalem…

-Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7 vs. 58 and chapter 8 vs.1.

 

The young man named Saul, born sometime 9-15 years after the birth of Jesus, lived in a first century milieu of Jewish tradition and Torah, of covenants and commemorating, of prayers and psalms and, of Sabbaths and synagogues. In such an environment Saul learned early on that it was God’s people against the goyim – the rest of the world (e.g., David vs. Goliath).

The Jews looked for and prepared themselves for the return of the Messiah who would save his people from world rulers – Rome in the immediate- and bring justice and restore God’s Temple presence among his people. Zealous for God and Torah, the Jews of Saul’s day were resolute in their desire to see this happen. Some of the zealous were “using force against force” zealous, recalling the zealous acts of Judas Maccabeus against the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes 200 years before. Jewish revolutionaries wanted to force change against Roman rule. Others, like Saul, sought to live pious lives in expectation of the salvation to come. They kept their simmering violent zealousness under lid until such time as needed.

Saul studied the Torah, every jot and tittle, under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Politically, Gamaliel was not eager to push an agenda. The Rabbi was more “live and let live” towards Rome. Young Saul was more how can one go on living like this when one knows these things?

We recognize Saul’s Rabbinic training from his letters written to new churches. As mentioned above, we first meet Saul of Tarsus at the onset of persecution of the truly revolutionary – the Christian. I find it interesting to wonder about what we don’t know about Saul in those times.

Before the stoning, did Saul hear Stephen speak as he stood before the religious council? (Acts 7) Did he hear Stephen recount Israel’s history as the people of God and God’s dealing with them, a stiff-necked people? Did Saul sneer when he heard those words? Did Saul hear Stephen proclaim, “Look! I can see the heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!” Did Saul gnash his teeth at such a claim? Was Saul one of the men who dragged Stephen out the door to the stone pit? We know from Dr. Luke’s account that Saul was the moral vestment check at the scene of Stephen’s stoning.

Where was Saul when Jesus was crucified? I would have little doubt that Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, had heard about the sky darkening and about the Temple curtain being rent in two. Both ominous events were sure to alarm any pious Jew.

Where was Saul when Jesus was resurrected? I have no doubt that Saul had heard the reports from all quarters of Jerusalem. This news must have been unsettling for someone who knew the Law and the Prophets and wasn’t able to see such a scenario depicted in the Torah. Even more unsettling, Jesus declared himself equal with God and Stephen claimed he saw Jesus as equal with God, standing at God’s right hand!

And, where was Saul on the day of Pentecost when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven heard Galileans speaking words from the prophet Joel in their native tongue? (Acts 2) Such things do not go unnoticed by Rabbis.

From Acts, we know where Saul was on the day he encountered Jesus. Paul was riding a donkey on his way to Damascus. He was sent to silence the Followers of the Way forever. No Messiah, he was taught, would be crucified, die and rise again! And, certainly God would not be crucified, die and rise again!

I would consider it very likely that Saul, with a lot of time on his hands riding at 3.5 mph, thought about the events in Jerusalem. He would recall Jesus entering the city on a donkey. He would recall Jesus overturning the money-changers tables in the Temple yard and calling the Temple his Father’s house.

I ‘m sure with Saul’s’ connections that he had heard about Jesus standing before Pilate. And, about the Pharisee-swayed crowd trying to influence Pilate. Jesus had been given a thumb down by many of the same Palm Sunday crowd who waved Palm branches days before. Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer, was given a thumb up. Jesus would be sentenced in his place. Jesus is crucified. Revolution squashed. But suddenly, there was news of the buried Jesus now walking the streets.

It is also very likely that Saul was also praying and meditating on scripture, perhaps on the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Almost certainly Saul meditated on the Temple and the return of God’s presence to Israel. Like all “zealous” Jews, Saul was very much tuned into the Temple prophecies and eschatology. Could he have also been meditating on 2 Kings (vs. 11)? 

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

For Saul the Damascus road event wasn’t a conversion experience as Evangelicals would describe it today. And, it wasn’t a turn from Judaism towards Christianity or from the Law towards love. Rather, it was a game-changing, name-changing encounter with a new reality input into his life. I would call this encounter and its result “a summing junction”. Saul met the living Lord on the road that day and came out of that encounter a new creation.

Saul’s zeal for God, Torah and the Temple was ‘summed up’ with the resurrected Jesus. Saul’s hopes for a Messiah to return and bring change was summed up in Jesus. Saul’s prayers for the salvation of the Lord were summed up in Jesus. The sum of charges God could bring against Paul, the Persecutor, were summed against the work of the cross. Paul came out forgiven. His record, once scarlet, was now white as snow.

 This is one of many summing junctions that are recorded in Scripture. As I read again Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road I thought of Jacob. Jacob at one time was going in the opposite direction from his father’s God with his life and plans. At the river Jabbok Jacob encounters the angel of the Lord and Jacob puts up resistance. Jacob wrestles with the angel. In the morning the sum of his encounter is a blessing.

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Here’s what happened to Saul when he encountered a greater resistance, as told to King Agrippa:

“While I was busy on this work [of persecution],” Paul continued, “I was traveling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. Around midday, while I was on the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the light of the sun, and shining all around me and my companions on the road. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic.

“’Saul, Saul,’ he said, ‘why are you persecuting me? It’s hard for you this kicking against the goads.’

“’Who are you, Lord? I said.

“’I am Jesus,’ said the Lord, ‘and you are persecuting me. But get up and stand on your feet. I’m going to tell you why I have appeared to you. I am going to establish you as a servant, as a witness both of the things you have already seen and of the occasions I will appear to you in the future. I will rescue you from the people, and from the nations to whom I am going to send you so that you can open their eyes to enable to turn from darkness to light, and from power of the satan to God –so that they can have forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are made holy by their faith in me.’” (Acts 26)

After each summing junction encounter with the Lord, whether Jacob’s or Saul’s, lives were forever changed. Jacob is given a new name: Israel. Saul is renamed Paul.

I wonder. Does the summing junction encounter happen at the point of a person’s most resistance to God?

Paul of earth was ‘summed’ with Jesus of heaven so that the riches of God’s love and grace would be declared to all of his creation, which meant beyond the Jews. Now, instead of avoiding the Gentiles and being at odds with them Paul was sent to minister to them.

In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance—that is, our sins have been forgiven—through the wealth of his grace which he lavished on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king—yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.  The Apostle Paul, to the Ephesian churches, 1: 7-10

The cross is the ultimate summing junction. The Holy One of God took upon himself all of the world’s use of force against him and all of the powers of darkness. The outcome became multifaceted: Jesus gave us a new definition of power- dying to self; Jesus claimed victory over evil, Jesus’ resurrection claimed victory over death; there is a turning from darkness to light; we are forgiven our sins and are now able to forgive others. And, the Divine presence now fills temples of His creation.

While we are walking around on resurrection ground, we, like Paul, are to be witnesses of our own “summing junction”, both of the things we have already seen and of the occasions when Jesus will appear to us in the future. With a new name comes a new vocation.

 

~~~

A summing junction symbol:

Here is Our King!

 

 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you

Psalm 118:25, 26

 

When he came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the tops of their voices for all the powerful deeds they had seen

“Welcome, welcome, welcome with a blessing,”

They sang.

Welcome to the king in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven and glory on high!”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “teacher, tell your disciples to stop that.”

“Let me tell you,” replied Jesus, “if they stayed silent, the stones would be shouting out!”

Luke 19: 37-40

“Save Eternal King!”

 

 

Let’s start with some extreme telescoping of history: Long before Palm Sunday there was the Big Bang and the creation of the cosmos over billions of years. A people were later chosen by God. Those people wanted a king. First came Saul, then came David.

Do you remember the Davidic covenant made by God?

“The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever. (4) The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.”  The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant

Our God was faithful and fulfilled this covenant. A descendent of King David – Mary – gave birth to a King who would reign over the house of David, and over all nations and, would rule forever. Do you remember David’s desire?

King David wanted to build a Temple for the presence of the Lord. He wasn’t allowed to do so. But his son King Solomon did build an impressive temporary one. It was later destroyed in ~586 BCE by the Babylonians. But God’s plan to dwell with man would not be thwarted. So, not only did Jesus become King forever, but Jesus would become a High Priest forever in a ‘forever’ Temple built to unite heaven and earth as one.

“[The Father’s] plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king –yes, everything in heaven and earth in him.” Eph. 1: 10

 

Now we turn the telescope around.

Great news! “For unto you is born this Day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” A King was born in Bethlehem! A star created billions of years before guided wise men from the east to the place where the King stayed. These wise men brought gifts to the new King. Years later and a week before Passover, the crowd assembled along a road up to Jerusalem would honor King Jesus with palm branches and blessings.

King Solomon once rode into Jerusalem on his coronation day (1 Kings 1:28-40). The prophet Zechariah prophesied that the King of the Jews would do the same(Zechariah 9:9) 

Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!  Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem!  Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Zechariah 9:9

The cheering crowd had witnessed signs of the King’s authority over his creation: water had been turned into wine; a blind man’s sight was restored; a lame man was able to walk, food was multiplied to feed thousands; a storm at sea was calmed by his words; Lazarus was raised form the dead, and a man was forgiven of his sins. That Palm Sunday was the royal appearing of the Son of Man, Lord of Creation and King. “Save Eternal King!”

 

 

At Christmas time we sing, “Joy to the world”. I say, let’s make this hymn a Palm Sunday hymn and throw ourselves down before Him right here and now! I’m guessing that stones would do so even if we didn’t!

 

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Jake’s Midnight Dust Up

 

The last day of 2017 found Jake alone in the empty house. The movers had come and gone. Earlier that day Jake sent his wife Rachel off with their two kids to their new home in another state. Jake stayed behind to clean up the house for the new owners. The house belonged to them at midnight.

Rachel was Jake’s second wife. His first wife Leah divorced him after she found out about Jake’s cheating. And, so that there was no more cheating, child support for Jake’s and Leah’s six sons and daughter was deducted from his paycheck. Jake wasn’t proud of what he had done but he was a survivor.

His mother, though, who had taught Jake from his childhood to “get what is yours”, was proud of him. So was Jake’s manager Aram Fields. Aram liked Jake. Jake’s sales record chart was given pride of place in the break room – on an easel next to the water cooler. During the twenty years Jake had worked for Aram, he became Fields Pre-Driven Cars’ top salesman seven years in a row. Jake became family when he married Rachel, Aram’s daughter.

Jake could pitch like no other salesman Aram knew. And, Jake’s mark-up-the-interest-rate-2-or-3 % financing was his specialty. Jake also knew each car’s history and could promote each one as “slightly used but highly prized by its previous owner”. Jake had a way of convincing people to “get what is yours”.

 

Well, that night, while Jake was in the kitchen cleaning the oven, there was a knock on the front door. When Jake opened the door, there stood a man with a tool carrier.

“Hi…uh…I didn’t call you. I…what are you here for?’

“What is your name?”

“Jake.”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

“No. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house.”

“Your house?”

“Yes! Now I have to get back to work. Goodbye…” Jake tried to close the door but the man put his foot in the doorway.

“Hey! Now you are making me mad! Get out!”

“I’m here to fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I have what it takes to fix things in my own house.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey you! You know what?! My manager Aram thinks I have what it takes. He pays me pretty good to make things happen.”

“You like to be rewarded for your efforts?”

“Yes, of course!”

“I am here to reward you for your efforts.”

“Huh?”

“I can fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I’ve been fixing things all my life.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey! We just went through all this before. You are wasting my time.”

“I did offer to help.”

“I don’t need help. I am my own man. I’m not just another senior citizen you can manipulate. I’ve been around the block.”

“Look, you bicker with me and you bicker with others. You’re good at bickering to “get yours” and at getting other people ‘theirs’. Tell me your name again.”

“Jake! I told you!”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

The back and forth between Jake and the man went on for what seemed like hours. Neither Jake or the man gave in. Jake, at last, became exasperated.

“Listen. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house. I’m in charge”

“Your house? What time is it?

“Time for you to leave! Get outta here!” Jake pushed the door against the man’s foot.

When the man saw that Jake was not going to let him in he grabbed an envelope from the tool carrier and handed it to Jake. Then he asked, “You are Jake Houseman? You purchased 763 Peniel?”

“Yes.”

“Your new property…this is what the bank came back with. You purchased the foreclosure with cash but there is a property tax lien against it.

Jake opened it and saw the notice of notice of lien on his new property. His face wrenched.

“Hey, hold on!” Jake grabbed the man by the arm as he tried to leave. “We’ve got to work this out!”

The man said, “Let me go. I have to be on my way.”

“No way. You are staying until we get this business sorted out!”

“I will work it out. You have my word.” Jake loosened his grip and let go.

“Besides,” the man said, “you are no longer Jake Houseman. You are now Jake Newhouse.” The man winked and then turned and left.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“I knew your father and your grandfather,” the man called back from across the yard.

The man walked past the neighbor’s house and was then out of sight.

Jake stood in the doorway. The rising sun cast his long shadow onto the floor of the empty house behind him. Jake stood there stunned and tired and hurting. After several minutes of looking at the lien and rubbing his forehead, Jake went back inside. He picked up his tools and cleaning supplies. He placed the extra set of house keys on the kitchen table, walked out the front door and then over to his car.

At the sidewalk, Jake, with his face still wrenched, turned to look back at the house.

“I bought someone else’s lemon. What a ball-breaker that guy is! But, I’ll live. Lesson learned. Goodbye house on Jabbok.”

And so Jake saw the sun rise on another year.

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

~~~

Chagall – Jacob Wrestling with God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schoenberg: Die Jakobsleiter: Friede auf Erden, Op. 13. Orchestral version

What Risk is This?

 

“The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”  Genesis 12:1

“Some time later God tested Abraham, He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”” Genesis 22:1-2

~~~

An angel appears to Mary and announces Mary’s pregnancy. Mary responds: “Here am I”, said Mary; “I’m the Lord’s servant-girl. Let it happen to me as you’ve said.” Luke 1: 38

~~~

God says “Go,” and Abram, not a perfect man, goes.

Imagine being told to dig up your roots, leave your familiar surroundings and that you will be told later where you are going. Now imagine going with your first-born son, your flesh and blood and a surety of God’s promise to Abraham, to the region of Moriah and being told that your son is the sacrifice to God. Abraham is told, basically, to go outside the box he had contained God in- his hopes in his pride of place and first-born. Abraham with “Here-I-am” -outside-the-box faith obeys God and God blesses Abraham. “Abraham was now very old, and the LORD had blessed him in every way.” Genesis 24:1

God says to Mary, not a perfect woman, that she will be the one to bear the Savior. She responds with her permission. Later, at Zechariah’s house, Elizabeth sees Mary and shouts at the top of her voice: “Of all women, you’re the blessed one!” One could speculate that before the angel’s news, Mary had thought her life was, well, pretty much boxed in.

 

The boxes people put God in are not big enough for God’s blessing. So, instead of stretching the box, God stretches the person so that they come to see that no box can hold all they know about God.

 

Throughout Israel’s and Christianity’s history there are many accounts of where God has said, in effect, “Go to a new place with me” and a personal risk is taken.  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the disciples, Peter, Paul, to name just a few. You are not alone in the history of risk-taking or in the moving out of safe-spaces.

Imagine if those who were told to go and those who were led by God to go didn’t go? How would your life be different today? Or, did you think that once you arrived on earth nothing had gone on before you arrived that would have any bearing on your life? There are many today who see themselves this way. They have their “history” and their “truth”.

If you have read the Old Testament you found that the history of Israel is the story of God moving his chosen people through space-time. The Israelites moved from country to country, to slavery, to the land of “milk and honey”, to exile and back home again. They are moved to be tested, refined and blessed. They were moved so that they would realize that God is sovereign and omnipresent – there is no place you can go that God isn’t there. They are being moved so that they will realize that God is the beginning and ending of their journey. They are being told to “Go” so that they will find that God is God and that God is good.

 

Risk taking is going, moving and forgetting what is behind.

 

The pattern of risk taking, testing and blessing occurs over and over in Scripture. God says, “Go” and when people go to a new place with God they are both tested and blessed.

Risk takes us places we never thought we’d go. Risk takes us to new places within God’s space-time and to the farthest extent of God’s promises. Risk takes us to new places within God’s character. The risk-taker decides to remove himself from the comfort of his self-storage home and from the false gods he has stored in his mini self-storage so that blessing will be gained.

 

The God who created probabilistic quantum mechanics is going to take you places where you can’t determine your position or the acceleration of your movement at the same time. Because of that you begin to take your eyes off your circumstances and look at the Cosmological Constant. You are being taught that God’s outcome will be good because He is good. There is a 100 percent probability that God is good. You just need to find this out through risk-taking.

Nature has a way of saying “Go”. The wise men, experts in early astronomy and most likely from Persia, took a major risk. They traveled 800-900 miles following “a star coming out of Jacob.” Herod was not happy at all that the wise men left without detailing the location of his greatest fear — a newborn king. So, Herod slaughtered innocent children.

 

“Get up. Go to the place I will show you. The risk is all mine and I am good with that.”

“Here I am.”

Breaking News

Breaking News

By Jennifer Ann Johnson

 

Against a backdrop—indigo and star,

Luminous angels appear before men,

Ancient Wisdom they proclaim near and far,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven.

 

Luminous angels appear before men,

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored.

 

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed.

 

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them.”

 

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

Ancient Wisdom He proclaims near and far,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them,

Like your backdrop—indigo and star.”

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

What Am I Not Forgetting?

 

“I’m not implying that I’ve already received “resurrection,” or that I’ve already become complete and mature! No: I’m hurrying on, eager to overtake it, because King Jesus has overtaken me. My dear family, I don’t reckon that I have yet over taken it. But this is my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead. I mean to chase on toward the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus.” -the Apostle Paul, Philippians 3: 12-14  

~~~

“What did I forget?” I’ve asked myself this dozens of times. The question comes up in the grocery store and when I am cooking a meal for the family and when I am getting into the car ready to pull out of the driveway. I have asked this when I am finishing a project at work. “What did I forget?”

In each situation there is something in the back of my head telling me that I am forgetting something. As I mentioned, this happens often. But, thinking about what I need to forget didn’t occur until this past week. I read the above verses in my study of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church.

Oh, yes. I’ve read those verses many times before. And when I did, I glossed over the words as if it made sense at a prosaic level. This time the words nudged me and maybe because I am older now.

During this past week I worked out on the elliptical machine at the local fitness club. There is a TV screen above the machine. I typically watch the business programs which include stock futures (I’m an early bird). When the business program goes to commercial I surf the channels.

That morning there were two other programs that caught my interest. The first was a show about a select group of marines going through extensive training to become recon marines. The second show, What Not to Wear, includes us in a fashion makeover. Typically, a reluctant twenty-something is confronted with her wardrobe and her appearance. Both shows seemed to me to be reality checks before the participants moved on.

The Marine recon show depicted the guys going through intense physical training beyond anything they ever knew they could endure. During the exercise the men ‘forgot’ what they knew and pressed on for the upward call to become recon Marines. Not all of the fifty men who entered the program finished.

As typical for What Not to Wear, the hosts had their ‘client’ try on what she usually wore and then critiqued the outfit with her as all three stand in front several mirrors. During the next step in the fashion transformation, the hosts pull the client’s brought-to-the-program clothes off the rack and throw them into a garbage can before her. They want her to forget about them and move on. Without saying as much, they want her to become mature in her view of herself and how she appears to others. Many of the young women wore sloppy attire or clothes a teenager would wear. The hosts prompt their ‘client’ to take herself and her appearance seriously. They want her to dress age and life situation appropriately.

During the next step, the hosts show their TV ‘client’ a manikin dressed in clothes they consider she would look suitable in. After detailing “why” the clothes would befit her, they send her shopping for a new look. I would say, a “resurrected” look.

Forgetting what you know is not easy. Several marines stopped short of recon transformation. On What Not to Wear, many a ‘client’ grimaced and some wept as their habit-formed clothes were tossed in the can. Not wanting to forget makes going forward even harder.

 

Forgetting. Where do I start?

As I read Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I was reminded that I have done things which are not at all within God’s good graces. I have sinned in God-defying sinful ways. I’m sure I must have gotten God’s attention. And, more than once. But, as with the Pauls’ own admission of not having achieved sinless maturity, I press on. My own recognition and then confession of sin, like Paul’s, moves me forward to the goal of the upward call of God – resurrection, new life, in Him – the Alpha and Omega, the No-beginning and No-end, the Mercy that follows me all the days of my life.

The words of I john 1:9 are critically important to anyone who wants to remove sin’s dead weight and “to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead”. What John, an eyewitness of Jesus, records is critically important to pressing on and forgetting.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The First Letter of John, 1:9

 

The wonder of advent reminds us of Jesus’ first coming and of his second coming. The Kingdom of God on earth began when Jesus inaugurated it during his first coming. Yet, “sins and sorrows grow” and “thorns infest the ground”. There is much injustice, strife, and wickedness taking place. The Kingdom of God is not mature. It is a work in process. On every groaning level of creation there exists a huge amount of tension between the first coming and the second coming.

The same tension applies to the individual who confesses and renounces their sin and seeks to go on to maturity in Christ. This tension will either makes us or break us.

 

What do I need to forget? Three encumbrances come to mind: status, sentimentality and sin.

Let’s start with status. The world we live in favors world status. Paul reminds the Christian in Philippians 3: 20, “We are citizens of heaven…” Prior to that, at the opening of Philippians 3, Paul warns the church about those who trust in the flesh-the bad works people. Then Paul writes, “Mind you, I have good reason to trust in the flesh…” Paul reminds the readers of his background, a Hebrew of the Hebrews background. He writes, in effect, that his status does not bring him closer to the prize – gaining Jesus. Before stating his forgetting of his status, he reminds us of Someone who ‘forgot’ his status.

In Philippians 2 Paul records an early Christian poem, which contains the words…

Who, though in God’s form, did not

Regard his equality with God

As something to exploit

 

Instead, he emptied himself,

And received the form of a slave,

Being born in the likeness of humans.

 

Sentimentality. The desire–the toxic craving–to relive the past, to re-feel. Ugh. You can’t run a race when you are standing in a tar pit. Paul doesn’t go there, even though his memories were astounding: “…my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead.”

 

Sin. Let’s forget the sin which has so easily beset us. Like the Psalmist, I cry out…

“If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.:3

“Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, LORD, are good.”  Psalm 25:7

 

Record keeping. The Evil One and those in sync with him will tell you that are unqualified to run and win any race because you failed before. They will say, “You will never be mature because you were immature before”.

Yes, there are those who keep a record of my sins, for ‘safe keeping’. They believe that by standing on a record of my sins they place themselves on higher ground. It doesn’t. Side line opinions are air and hold no weight unless you give them weight. As far as the east is from the west so far has God removed self-serving opinions from us. Don’t go back to the trash and dig them out.

 

 

“What am I not forgetting?” is a most important question.

One last word:  Consider, that often a lack of forgetting is coupled to a lack of forgiveness. A lack of forgiveness leads to unresolved anger- a root of bitterness. Perhaps a root of bitterness has a grip on both your legs and you are not able to “chase on toward the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus” let alone stand.

 

Walk On – The Isaacs

 

In Christ Alone – Brian Litterell

The Empty Box

 

What?! Christmas morning?! Ryan raced to the tree. Mom and dad had left the tree lights on.

“Mom and dad!”  Ryan yelled from the living room. He wasn’t going to start without them.

Mom and dad appeared in the hallway. “We’re up. Go ahead, Ryan.”

Well, it didn’t take long for Ryan to rip through the wrapping paper on each package. He got almost everything he had asked for.

After all his presents were opened and he lined them up near the couch, Ryan saw something had hadn’t noticed before. “Hey, what’s this? It’s got my name on it.”

Mom went over and looked at the package. She shook it and looked at Roy.

“Did you put this under the tree Roy?”

“Um, No. I don’t remember a package that size.”

“Well, go ahead and open it Ryan,” Mom handed Ryan the present.

Ryan tore into the wrapping paper. A plain box appeared. It was stamped “Not as Fragile as You Might Think”.

Now mom was curious. Dad came over.

Ryan lifted one of the box lids and then the other. He looked inside. His mouth formed a “Wow!”

“It’s empty, mom, dad!”

Mom looked inside too. “Where did that come from? Did your grandparents put that under the tree last night when they were here? Roy, did your dad put that there?”

Roy called grandpa who was always awake at 6:00 reading the paper.

“Dad, did you and mom put a package under the tree? Ryan opened it and its…empty.”

“Roy, you know I don’t put empty packages under the Christmas tree. Are you sure its empty? Look again.”

Roy looked this time.

“Dad, I don’t see anything.”

“Have Ryan look, too.”

“Ryan, look inside again.”

Ryan picked up the box. This time it was bigger. When he pulled the lids back he thought he heard a loud pop. “Whoa, what was that?

“I didn’t hear anything Ryan, “Mom said.

“Roy, do you think that your parents forgot to put a present in?” Ryan’s mother asked.

“Anything is possible with my dad. C’mon. Let’s eat breakfast”

Ryan then remembered Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberry sauce. It was a Christmas morning treat in the Miller house.

 

 

That night, mom had Ryan pick up his toys and bring them to his room. Ryan filled the empty box and carried it to his bedside. He sat down on his bed. And that’s when Ryan’s eyes closed. And, that’s when the dreams began.

 

 

Dreams. How do you describe them? They are whacky and yet they seem to make sense. Here’s what Ryan told his mom about one dream:

“I was floating. It was all dark. Then there was a Pop!” Ryan used his finger and popped it out of his mouth. “There was a big cloud of dust all over me. I coughed and coughed.

“Then the cloud went thuup! and it was gone! And then things started flying all around me. They looked like tiny balls bouncing everywhere. Some of balls stuck together like they didn’t want to be alone in the dark. They were hissing and crunching and…I became scared when I saw a shadow that was darker than night. But the shadow was tossed away by a hand. Then I felt better.

“Did you know mom that numbers are alive? They all dance together!

Then, mom, the together-balls became dust balls. And they became huge, like bowling balls, like bowling balls of fire. Then they exploded and there were more dust balls. And the dust balls became marbles.

And the marbles became globes with smaller globes going around them. Then there was light coming right at me. It was so bright that I had to turn around. When I did, I saw a planet right behind me. The planet had a mouth.

The planet said, “Come and see.” So, I flew toward the planet. As I did, the planet handed me geodes and fossils and rocks, all kinds of rocks. Some were like the red quartz and Jasper that you and dad gave me for my birthday. Then I saw aquariums full of fish. I saw sharks, whales and guppies and Neons and Tetras and…

I looked down into one aquarium. On the bottom of aquarium, I saw belchers. They looked like what we saw at Yellowstone last summer. They sounded like your Christmas coffee maker. “Ururururhhhh Blup!” Urururururhhhh Blup!”

I saw…I think dad calls it… a ter..rari…um… full of bugs and worms and salamanders and lizards and then a brontosaurus showed up and then a Triceratops and then,…

Then I saw a plate. On the plate was Jell-O. But then the Jell-O was two Jell-Os and then four Jell-Os. There were globs of Jell-O everywhere. Do you know what happened next, mom? The globs of Jell-O became Gummy worms.

There was a lot more that happened mom, but, I can’t remember it… Oh,… yeah,… someone poked me and said, “Ryan, Little King, Come and see.”

Then, I was inside a temple, like the one in the picture you showed me one time, mom. Inside the temple were billions and billions of tiny temples. Inside each tiny temple there was a blue light stick. Crazy, huh, mom?

 

When Ryan’s sixth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a rock tumbler. Ryan had begun a rock collection during the family trip out west.

When Ryan’s seventh Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a microscope. Ryan’s dad was a biology teacher. He brought home slide samples of all kinds of microscopic life.

When Ryan’s eighth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a telescope. Not only did he get the telescope but his parents took him to an observatory during Christmas break.

When Ryan’s ninth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for an atlas, a map of the world and astronomy charts. Ryan’s mom and dad also gave him a barometer, a thermometer, a hygrometer and an anemometer. They did this so that Ryan could build a weather station in their backyard.

When Ryan’s tenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a pair of binoculars and a book about birds. At that time his mother also began to teach Ryan about flora. She showed him how to press flowers into pages of a book.

When Ryan’s eleventh Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a mobile of the planets. He also asked for a compass and for a pencil and some drawing paper. He wanted to draw everything he saw in his head.

When Ryan’s twelfth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a book about the human body and a skeleton. He also asked for a ham radio kit.

When Ryan’s thirteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a periodic chart of the elements. He also asked for element 82 and for horseshoe magnets.

A Few of My Favorite Things 2

dad’s coffee

When Ryan’s fourteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a spectroscope. He received a prism, a magnifying glass, a physics book and a box of watercolors. 

When Ryan’s fifteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a Calculus book. Dad looked at him and said, “Are you sure?” Ryan replied, “I can’t function without it.” Ryan got his book.

When Ryan’s sixteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a book about genetics and a DNA helix and a set of keys to the family car. His mom and dad gave him the book. They also gave him pipe cleaners and colored beads and instructions how to build a DNA helix model. The car keys were handed to him after his homework and chores were done.

When Ryan’s seventeenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a chemistry set. Dad said, “I’ll give you the set but do the experiments in the garage”. Ryan moved his science lab to the garage. He also began to pack for college. He filled the “empty” box with as much as it could hold.

 When Ryan’s eighteenth Christmas came around he said to his mom and dad, “Thank you for everything. You know what? The world is not badly made. I’ll see you during Spring Break.”

 

When Ryan’s eighty-fifth Christmas came around he gave his grandson the empty box as a present and said, “Here, Mikey, you won’t be bored.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved