Category Archives: 54. Direction

Joy and Celebration (Monday)—John 15:9-17

 

Here’s the deal. We cannot give or receive love, the essence of God’s greatest command, while we have walls around our hearts. Our walls exist because we have erected them over time to protect ourselves from the pain of life. The problem is that they insulate us from God and each other. I was a master builder. You may be too. I discovered that with my walls in place, my life was more about religion than life. It certainly wasn’t about joy and celebration—this week’s theme. This post is about wall-demolition and, like all things, it’s all about Jesus.

The most scandalous and extravagant gift ever given was Jesus Christ. It was scandalous because the intended recipients were indifferent and even hostile toward the Gift. It was extravagant because of the lengths the Giver went to give it. Prior to Jesus, the distance between God and man was a chasm beyond measurement.

Once upon a time, God’s realm and ours overlapped in Eden, a place where the first man and woman walked in relational intimacy with God. However, they disobeyed and the realms of God and man separated—leaving both the earth and man’s heart subject to futility and death.

Only a being that shared both man’s nature and God’s could restore the union between these realms. Driven by love, God satisfied the overarching laws of eternal justice by coming himself as the Son of Man. Regardless the distance, he himself has become the bridge between the realms.

 For there is one God, and one mediator (or bridge) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all… (from) I Timothy 2:5-6

This act of reconciliation was motivated by the driving force of the cosmos—love. Love will one day be vindicated as the primary and unrivaled power of all realms. Some may ask, “How can you talk about a loving God in the presence of so much evil, which a sovereign God could prevent? All I can say is that this question will one day seem ludicrous. One day we will see that the Man of Sorrows has not only saved the tears of the hurting, he has cried them as well.

Abiding in Christ, the True Vine, is the theme of today’s passage. The Mediator himself is restating love’s intention that we abide in him. Abiding means we consciously live in Christ who is our life. In Christ, the realms once again overlap, in our hearts. The unity of heaven and earth has been restored in those who have received the Gift. Abiding connects us with new realities. Many believe and become sinners saved by grace. Others abide and live as saints—God’s sons and friends.

 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full… This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you… No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things I have heard from the Father I have made known to you… I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He may give to you. (from John 15:9-16)

 This I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:17)

Where I have spoken in his name without love, I have been, at best, religious. Religion is that self-absorbed pursuit of God where there is conviction without compassion, form without substance, and obedience without abiding. This is the one thing that lit Jesus’ fuse. Think I am exagerrating? Take a moment and consider the moneychangers and millstones of Matthew 18:6 and 21:12.

Abiding in Christ makes truth our own and equips us to do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Servants who are transformed into sons reflect light. Our stories are updated as our identities are upgraded from servants to sons. We become the light of the world—the compelling message joyfully validating the gospel.

 We are a letter (or story)… known and read by all men, not written in ink, but rather by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts. (II Corinthians 3:3)

Abiding in Christ has meant that I simply watch over my heart by receiving the Gift. By the same power with which he entered my life in 1976, he shot down the walls of my heart in 2012, making room for himself in a new way. MwM is all God’s aim. Being the target of his love is not always pleasant, but there is no other way if he is to be Lord. MwM tells some of my story as a prodigal. That event was fairly straightforward. However, my posts are largely the account of Father’s ways of getting an elder brother to join the party. I wanted my family to know the particulars of this story. I wanted them to know that God expands his kingdom one heart at a time and that our hearts are the battlefront of the last great battle.

Father, may we fully receive the gift of your Son. May your Spirit prevail within our hearts until every last barrier to your love is demolished. Overcome every lie regarding Jesus—your gift to us. May we live joyfully and boldly out of our new natures in Christ, bearing the fruit of your love, amending the damage we have done in your name. May love, joy, peace and celebration prevail in Jesus Name. Amen.

 

Direction (Sunday)—Proverbs 4:20-27

My son, give attention to my words; 

Incline your ear to my sayings. 

Do not let them depart from your sight;

Keep them in the midst of your heart. 

For they are life to those who find them 

And health to all their body. 

Watch over your heart with all diligence, 

For from it flow the springs of life. 

Put away from you a deceitful mouth 

And put devious speech far from you. 

Let your eyes look directly ahead, 

And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. 

Watch the path of your feet, 

And all your ways will be established. 

Do not turn to the right nor to the left; 

Turn your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:20-27)

“My son.” What a nice ring that has to it! While I don’t remember those precise words as a lead-in to any of my talks with my father, I do recall the sentiment, “My son, what in the #*!! have you done now!” And—it was warranted. I don’t know how my poor father could have said otherwise. I was always in trouble. My grandmother would weigh in and remind me that I was even trouble in the womb, “You know, you #!*# near killed your mother.” I can identify with Bill Cosby here in thinking my name was “Jesus Christ.” Dad, if you read MwM in heaven, just know, “I’m really sorry.”

The words spoken over us as we grow have profound influence over who we are. They are life to those who find them. If you don’t find them, well, there is death. I learned that it was not life and health to my whole being for me to think of myself as somebody with the unique skill to destroy an anvil with a rubber mallet. Hmm…perhaps I should have started Cummins Destruction Company, gifted as I was.

My early 20’s were days of awakening, fueled by these questions: “Why am I so screwed up!” and “Why is the world so screwed up!” I chose Alvin Toffler to explain the world’s problems. He believed I had been future shocked—a victim of an accelerated rate of technological and social change, which left me disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation.” I chose Thomas Anthony Harris to explain why I was not OK and others were.  I eventually graduated from Harris’ Transactional Analysis (TA) to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation (TM). I still recall my mantra; it was “ima.” I would quiet myself, breathe as instructed, and chant in my mind, “…ima … ima … ima.” I also recall an epiphany I had while deep within myself “… ima … ima … ima duffus … ima duffus. So much for pop psychology and eastern religion. Thank God I still had drugs and alcohol!

As I was desperately looking for an answer, God graciously intercepted me while running with all my heart away from the many voices which all reminded me I was trouble incarnate. I gave God my life and I heard him say;

Son. 

While that was a game changer, he added, “Whenever you fall (implying that I would) I will be there, immediately present, to lift you out of danger.” He also conveyed that Jesus’ name was magnificently glorious beyond all human comprehension and that the potency of his love dwarfed all powers. I know this is problematic for some since this word exceeded Bible-told-me-so level revelation. If you were to ask me, “Then what did his voice sound like?” I would have to say that it resembled a bell in terms of clarity and that it came with the power and cadence of great ocean waves.

One would have thought that from this point on it would be: “Bob’s my uncle” – everything would be hunky dory. Leaning on traditional definitions of hunky dory, this was not the case. There was still something in me that believed I was messed up. The voice sounded like, “My son, it is actually worse than you thought. You are not just a little messed up.” This set up a new inner dialogue.

The preachers informing me about my new faith did not follow through with the word God had spoken, affirming me that I was “OK” and that you were “OK.” No, it now became: “I am monster of iniquity and so are you. Now go forth and share the good news!”  What was impeding the word God had clearly spoken—and demonstrated—from getting from my head to my heart? The answer to this question is why one of the guiding truths of my life has become: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

I was a zealous Christian for 35 years before the words “My son” actually settled in my heart, revealing who I really am. Middle With Mystery is the story of my epiphany in devotional format. It is the scripture based account of how new creations can devolve into elder brothers and how elder brothers can enter into the party which Father continually hosts. Today, watching over my heart with all diligence means that I will war against ideas, philosophies and doctrines that suggest that I am primarily a monster. While that was true, I diligently guard my identity as a new creation and follow that thread to wherever it leads. Watching over my heart boils down to seeing myself as God sees me. Not only is Bob my uncle—God’s my Father.

Father, I see you with your arms open wide. I see the robe and the ring. I can almost taste the fatted calf. Whet our appetites, oh Lord. You are so good! Amen.

 

 

Direction (Saturday) – Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. (Jeremiah 18:1-4)

Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:5-6)

At what point in a civilization does God say, “The vessel I am making has become spoiled in my hands. I will remake it into another vessel, as it pleases me?” Who can say for sure? More often than not, I’m just living my life a day at a time, trying to be present to God and to others. What is it though that my presence conveys? Does my life communicate that we should eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die? Or, stop, drop and roll because we are on fire? Perhaps we should repent so that the ship will not hit the iceberg after all? No doubt you can find a TV preacher right now, mopping his brow, teaching these or any number of other certainties about God’s plans. I think I must be damaged goods because I cannot bear to watch the show. 

While I feel as though America is working overtime to qualify as problematic clay, I don’t know God’s plans for her. Perhaps he still sees her beauty as something yet to emerge from his hands. Rather than give up, agreeing with fatalistic notions about ourselves and this nation, I am inclined to take the approach Abraham took with God regarding Sodom, “Lord, will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” The presumption of Abraham is stunning and attractive! Listen to how friends of God think;

Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? (Genesis 18:25)

Abraham is practically scolding God! He then proceeds to negotiate for the salvation of a city – one just begging for fire and brimstone. This should be our strategy as well as children who are welcome in his throne room. If you have trouble picturing this, envision (or look up) the picture of John Kennedy’s children running loose in the Oval Office. 

I love it when my children are at ease with me, resting confidently in my love for them. I’m certain God is like this. He wants us to ask big things of him – things on scale with his nature and his dreams for the world; “God I was worthy of judgement and you saved me. Do this for my nation as well! Far be it from you Lord to slay the righteous with the wicked.” Abraham didn’t know he would get God down to 10 righteous men from 50. And, we don’t know that God will not relent and pour out his Spirit on this nation. Perhaps we have not because we ask not.

We may be thinking of ourselves as the great and mighty United States while God views us in an entirely different light. Our sins are accumulating before him along with an inevitable reaping. Will our consequence be a fatal one or will it be a correction that we heed? Fortunately with God, where sin abounds, his grace may abound all the more. We must bring ourselves to remembrance that our God is a good God, who desires, more than we, to seek and to save that which is lost.

Excuse me while I damp my brow but God has said he desires that none should perish! He has said that all things are possible with him! He parts oceans and draws camels through the eyes of needles! He tells us we have what we ask of him when we pray and that he will give us the desire of our hearts! How do we possibly get off concluding that the judgement on our nation is a forgone conclusion! Would it not be more appropriate, for friends (as he has called us) to ask God to complete the good work that he began in America rather than scrapping us? Why not ask God to expose and to heal the very deepest sins of our nation? Who knows, perhaps he would just like to keep this clay on the wheel.

I believe God wants us to rediscover our life which is in him alone and simple devotion to him and to each other until he comes and deals with the nations as he may. We do not have to worry about anything more than a sparrow or a Lillie does. Rueben P. Job had three simple rules: 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Stay in love with God. This is a great battle plan. May it go viral.

Father, may our ears be tuned in. May our hearts be tuned up – that we may be responsive to this world through your love. May an accumulation of the good deeds which you have prepared for us beforehand, take on a life of their own and sweep over our nation as a great wave of righteousness. Teach us to be childlike in our presumption about your goodness. May we think and behave as children who have great faith in their Father. As it please you Lord. Amen.

Direction (Friday)—Isaiah 30:15-21

A friend recently asked me to watch a DVD called Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, produced by Frontline and PBS, and to offer any comments I might have. I watched it and was surprised, even after a decade, how troubling 9/11 remains to me. The victims are buried, but their ghosts still haunt us with the question, “Why?” As I was preparing my response, the unwelcome question struck again, this time in response to the massacre of Newtown, CT. In this picturesque New England village, twenty-eight innocent persons were executed, 20 of them kindergartners.

I stumbled onto this news on the TV during lunch. “Oh, dear God. No. Please no.” Something deep inside me lurched. My heart just sank deeper and deeper as the media released the unfolding and grizzly details of the massacre. Various experts were discussing how we should go about processing an event such as this. How did you process 9/11? How are you processing Sandy Hook?

I found myself working through grief with tears and prayers mostly. I simply do not know how else to respond to the hollow and desolate feelings. However, as I monitored the news, it dawned on me; the media was processing the story much differently. They were spoon-feeding their audience the politically correct answers as to why. In fact they were preaching! The blood was still drying as they posited their wisdom. I felt as though I had entered the Radio Sanctuary of the Secular. Below was their order of service:

Main Sermon: The Mass Slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary

Sub-sermon #1: The Lobbying Strength of the NRA and their ongoing mission to prevent the control of handguns and assault weapons (like the ones used at Sandy Hook).

Sub-sermon #2:  A Modern Day Heretic, a Pentecostal minister, is vocal, saying we have all been sold a bill of goods in regards to Hell. God is not a monster prepared to perpetually incinerate more people than the Nazis ever dreamed of killing.

Sub-sermon #3: Gay Latter Day Saints were struggling with the rejection they have experienced within their religion. They were evicted from an LDS facility where they thought they had finally found a safe place—a refuge from the intolerance of religion.

Click. I had to turn off self-proclaimed crazy smart radio. It was making me crazy. I was appalled, thinking, ”Is this slick propaganda all you have to offer us as the morgue is overflowing! Once again, goodbye, NPR. I will try and process my grief and confusion by way of today’s passage—Isaiah 30:15-21.

Here is some of the backstory. Isaiah is speaking to the rebellious children of Israel. He calls them false sons. They earned this label because they refused to listen to the instruction of the Lord. They had plans-a-plenty but they weren’t God’s. They had solutions-a-plenty but they weren’t God’s. They had made alliances with those things they believed would most likely save them. In this case it was Egypt. Israel wanted safety but they placed their confidence in a government to provide it instead of Yahweh.

Just yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a segment offered by Paul Harvey from 1965 titled “If I Were The Devil.” In that broadcast (which is well worth listening to) the devil says,And the old I would teach to pray. I would teach them to say after me: ‘Our Father, which art in Washington.’”

Israel insisted their prophets reinforce the idea of dependency on government, “Speak to us pleasant words, prophecy to us illusions” (c.f. II Timothy 4:3). He goes on to say oppression and guile (inherent to the false saviors of politics and government) will lead to a very sudden and comprehensive collapse. We may ask, “If it is not from politics and government, where then shall our salvation come?”

For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved,

In quietness and trust is your strength.” (from Isaiah 30:15)

For the record, it has never been the Lord’s heart to cause or allow Sandy Hooks or 9/11’s. Some sovereignty-laden doctrines have God sitting idly by watching the carnage. On the contrary: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.” (Isaiah 30:15)

            Why are there massacres? Because there is evil in the world. Evil is not the faceless societal anomaly NPR portrays it as. Evil is the same malignant force that was crouching at the door of Cain’s angry and murderous heart in Genesis 4. It mastered his heart just as it mastered Adam Lanza’s yesterday.

Evil traces its origins to an angel named Lucifer, who had been cast out of heaven with a third of the angels. Modern man has filed this story away as mythology. In other words evil is a what, not a who. With this notion firmly entrenched, society is left to manage the whats with laws and policies. In other words, we have placed our trust in “our father, who is in Washington” instead of our Father who is in heaven.

The radio station I was listening to (which claims to be “crazy smart”) would have me steer clear of any Christian worldview because it is obviously bigoted and angry. It would go on: butif you insist on a God, be assured, it will not send men to hell.

 For the time will come (and I suspect is now here) when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths… But you be sober in all things. (II Timothy 4:3-5)

As much as we would like it to be, our world is not a safe place, at least not yet. It is, in fact, a battleground. It will never be a safe place until we have rightly identified who the enemy is and who our Savior is. Evil is the manifest expression of a malevolent personality bent on destroying and opposing all that God desires. His methodology is to disseminate well-crafted (crazy smart) philosophies which lead men to make alliances with anything or anyone but God. God, on the other hand, is a benevolent personality who “longs to be gracious to us, who waits on high to have compassion on us.”

God’s righteousness is the opposite of evil. As God answers the prayer, which he taught us to pray, “that His will be done on earth as it is heaven,” the Light of Truth will expose Satan’s darkness, which conceals reality. God’s methodology is for us to recognize we are temporarily living on a high stakes battlefield then to enter the fray. How are we to do that?

Read Romans 12:2, II Corinthians 10:3-5, II Timothy 4:1-2. We enter the battle with intentionality. We start by refusing the filters media, popular culture or pop-philosophy imposes on us. They all start with the wrong assumptions and, therefore, all end up with the wrong analysis. As we share the grief of Sandy Hook and the other inevitable nightmares this world will produce, let’s compose our hearts willingly and deliberately.

In repentance (changing our minds) and rest you shall be saved.

In quietness and trust is your strength…

 Then, we shall hear a word behind us saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:15)

Father, create a fresh vision of our role in this war against evil. Help us to see that the safest and most productive place for us is the front line—always allying ourselves, as children of Light, with your eternal Word. Grant us discernment to know where we are living as false children, having made alliances with the god of this world, embracing temporal wisdom and paying the price. Permit us to grieve and cry with those who are grieving and crying. May our grief become a longing for your justice. May our tears be converted into holy resolve to trust you alone. Until your kingdom comes. Amen.

 

Direction (Thursday)—Isaiah 43:14-21

Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

Those who know me are aware I have fellowshipped among charismatics most of my Christian life, and to them, I am forever beholden. They have always had greater expectation with God than others. This always seemed wholesome in light of God’s dimensions.

However there has been considerable guilt and consternation along the way because of how many times I have heard Isaiah 43:19 used as a lead-in to a “prophetic” word: “Behold, I am about to do a new something—It will spring forth and … (add prophetic particulars), thus says the Lord.” The frustration came in that I never became aware of the new thing. Well…there was that once. I’ll come back to that.

If these subjective words had been offered to people equipped to look at the scriptures more objectively, I would have been more comfortable. My problem, as an elder and a father—entrusted with impressionable souls, was that the subjective, by default, always trumped the objective. I believed this to be unhealthy.

The subjective word of God is a gigantic subject, ill defined with incredibly strong feelings attached. Most churches cultures are steeped in environments weighted toward Bible-only or Spirit-mostly modes of thinking. From 1992 to 2013, I lived among a Spirit-mostly tribe, attempting to impart a greater appreciation for the written word of God (and community). I believed objective study of the Bible was very profitable. I believed training young believers to study and to meditate on the scriptures was integral to making disciples. This was not how my co-elders had been equipped. My appeals fell on deaf ears.

Without prophetic unction, issues were guaranteed to die in committee. They would not make it to the table for consideration. God had not spoken. How many times did I hear, “We must just wait upon a word from God”? I disagreed. I believed the Spirit lived in us and that we were to discover our word of direction through prayerful dialogue. Nothing could have been more natural to me. But an idea that did not trace its origins to a dream, or a vision, or a certified prophet, would not gain traction.

Back to the prophetic word that did register with my wife and me.

“Rob and Daneille, I don’t know what this means, but God is going to do a new thing.” I winced, bracing myself for the thus sayeth the Lord. It didn’t come. “Whew!” This prophet was just speaking to us as a friend: prophetic etiquette was changing. What did come was this word: “God is going to radically change your family.” “Wow! I wonder what this could mean!  Maybe one of our girls is going to have a baby? Foster parents? Adoption? Is Daneille pregnant! If so, she won’t like this word.”

Our family did begin to change, for a reason I hadn’t expected. The change began because I had grossly underestimated the unspoken ruling covenants within my religious subculture (i.e. the local church). The roots of this tribe were deep into a Spirit-mostly orientation. When they added the idea of apostolic leaders, it only cemented a dawning in my heart—the new thing that God is doing among this tribe will never include the things that are on my heart. The more I tried to articulate the passions of my own heart, the more tension I created. I knew my family was going to change when I was asked to keep quiet.

Our family now meets in living rooms, over dinner tables, on walks around the neighborhood, on beaches, and in forests. The members are believers who participate in organized weekly church and those who do not. I have a new and abiding appreciation of the power of culture. Culture is comprised of the driving ideas within a group of people. Culture is built on the spoken and unspoken agreements of why and how things are expected to happen. They are not meant to be challenged. Therefore, in my family quest, I am not going to subject any existing subculture to any challenging questions. Neither of us has the time or can stand the strain.

In an age of moral decline, in a time when church numbers are plummeting, questions seem as holy to me as declarations. For the record, I appreciate the prophetic spirit proclaiming that God is doing a new thing. Given the nature of resurrection life, within an ever expanding kingdom, this is a sure thing.

Father, this is your world. This is your Church, your Kingdom. Have your way. May your Spirit prevail. May your name be honored now and forevermore. Amen.

Direction (Wednesday) – Jeremiah 6:16

Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. (from Jeremiah 6:16)

What are these ancient and good paths where our souls will find rest? We can learn much from Jeremiah if we have ears to hear. The response of those Jews destined for annihilation or captivity was tragic. Even though a watchman with eagle vision was preaching, they said, We will not listen. We will not walk in it.” The following is a list of what they would not listen to or walk in. Would the United States fair any better in God’s assessment? Let’s look at Israel’s specific errors and consider our own nation.

  1. The word of the Lord had become a reproach to them; they had no delight in it.
  2. Everyone was greedy for gain,(profit had become their god).
  3. Leaders at all levels, especially religious ones, were guilty of false dealing.
  4. Leaders peddled a shallow peace when in fact there was none.
  5. They were not ashamed of their abominations. They had lost the capacity to even blush.
  6. As a well keeps its waters fresh, so did Israel keep her wickedness. Violence and destruction were heard in her; her sickness and wounds were ever before Jehovah.

This is how God feels about Israel: Traditional sacrifices of worship became a stench to God. “The day declines, for the shadows of the evening lengthen! There is only oppression. I am full of wrath; I am weary with holding it in.”  This is what God is going to do …

Pour this wrath out on the children in the street and on the gathering of young men together; for both husband and wife shall be taken, the aged and the very old. Their houses shall be turned over to others, their fields and their wives together; for I will stretch out My hand against the inhabitants of the land, from the least of them even to the greatest of them. I am going to lay stumbling blocks before the people.

God’s council:

 Flee for safety. Blow a trumpet. Raise a signal; for evil looks down and a great destruction awaits. Even God’s beautiful city and its temple were not spared. Be warned or I shall be alienated from you, and make you a desolation, a land not inhabited. Put on sackcloth and roll in ashes; Mourn as for an only son, a lamentation most bitter. For suddenly the destroyer will come upon us. 

Yet, to a people he is about to severely punish, he also says, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. 

The idea that God punished Israel does not shock us; they apparently deserved it, yet the idea of God punishing America is abhorrent. We might be bad, but surely not that bad! However, as I read God’s list, I was not comforted by the comparison to America. For those called to be in the world but not of it, I don’t believe flight is an option; however, sounding an alarm makes some sense. Mourning for our nation would also be good council. And, praying daily that we would individually and collectively have ears to hear would be extremely wise. Jesus’ council was quite straightforward: “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)

Father, please intervene in the affairs of our nation. In the multiplication of political words, we have no hope. We see the shadows darkening when our nation protects evil with its own laws. By your great mercies, Lord, show us the ancient paths where the good ways are. Help us to learn how to walk those paths, that we might not only find rest for our own souls, but the righteousness, peace, and joy of your kingdom for this nation. Amen.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

If you are one who is not committed to burying their head in the sand, I recommend “Implosion” by Joel Rosenberg. He is taking an eyes-wide-open look at the ancient paths and a possible U-turn for our country.

 

 

 

 

 

Direction (Tuesday)—Nehemiah 8:1-10

As Ezra read God’s law, the Jewish throng wept as one. The book of Moses was a painful reminder that, as a people, they had a history of hardening their hearts against God. What has changed? Were they any different than their parents who were taken from this city seventy odd years ago? Nehemiah did not seem comfortable with this purely emotional direction. He said, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

It was as though Nehemiah looked at their collective heart and thought, they are either going to be weak-in-mourning or strong-in-joy. As their governor, aware they had much rebuilding ahead, he promoted strength, and as we shall see, he had good cause.

For myself, grief and joy are not either/or propositions. They are co laborers in leading us into the fullness of God, so I grieve with these Jews, knowing that humans, including me, harden our hearts towards God. I grieve knowing that God’s discipline is not pleasant. While we have not been carried off as slaves to a conquering nation, I grieve that we are slaves nevertheless to a pantheon of masters to whom we have given our hearts.

God often gives us the desires of our heart until we choke on them. I believe my own nation is currently choking on her demands for personal liberty and happiness. I grieve because I do not see an Ezra standing above the crowd, calling us to repentance. Yet, for those with new hearts, grief does not have to metastasize into weakness. Because of Jesus, grief can be channeled into prayer and ultimately into joy. Grief can lead us into fullness of joy.

 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:11)

In Christ, we have joy. In him, we recall that:

 Ours is a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and He did not forsake Israel, even when they made for themselves a calf of molten metal and said, ‘This is our God who brought us up from Egypt.’ God, in his great compassion, did not forsake them in their wilderness. (Nehemiah 9:17-19)

Can you imagine a day when an Ezra (or ten thousand Ezra’s) bless the Lord and all the people answer, “Amen!” some lifting their hands and others bowing low to worship the Lord with their faces to the ground? I don’t know the timing, but I can imagine this because I am sure that:

 At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10)

For God is on record saying, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Isaiah 45:23)

We can have joy because Christ is our life. Nehemiah was right—ultimately joy and strength are our direction. We may pray that he comes but we must not wait on an Ezra, or any preacher or a new President. Paul has told us the path we are to take.

 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Father, may the Ezras arise and may their recital of your word break our hearts. More than that, I pray that our knees might bow and see the holiness of this moment, so pregnant with possibility. I pray that in our Christ-strengthened hearts we might see our idols and cast them down. Thank you that you do not forsake your own people even after we have chosen leaders who help us build and sustain our golden calves. May our tears flow freely until we have room for you as our Treasure. Faithful Father and Dearest Friend, for your name’s sake, let this be.

 

 

Direction (Monday)—John 15:9-17

 

There are certain truths that bear repeating. Peter and Paul believed this wholeheartedly:

 Because the stakes are so high, even though you’re up-to-date on all this truth and practice it inside and out, I’m not going to let up for a minute in calling you to attention before it. This is the post to which I’ve been assigned—keeping you alert with frequent reminders—and I’m sticking to it as long as I live. (II Peter 1:12 The Message)

 To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. (Philippians 3:1)

New people must hear. Established ones must be reminded. All good pastors celebrate core truths. I listened to a message of this sort yesterday. While the material is in the School of Christ 1000-level classes, it remains alien to the core curriculum in many mainline evangelical churches. A great refresher course, in harmony with our passage, can be heard on YouTube. Look for: “Bill Johnson—The War in Your Head.”

Jesus is big on remembering as well. He returned to this one regularly: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” No doubt the Holy Spirit continued to remind the disciples of it and expand upon its meaning after Jesus ascended. When they recalled Jesus’ words: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” there is little doubt, a dying man on a cross came to mind. But who is that man hanging there! Would love hang them on a cross, too? As they processed this question, the Holy Spirit made his key point: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. (Matthew 10:24)

Jesus absolutely had Israel on its heels. To religious leaders, he was practically an anti-Jehovah. It was obvious he was from God. His signs could have only come from heaven, but he defiled the traditions of the elders: he broke the Sabbath and he associated with unclean persons, even women!

Why? Why couldn’t Jesus simply comply—then die on the cross? Because he was showing them what God was actually like, and it was so unlike the God they had imagined. Everything until this time had been mere staging to reveal God as Father and Friend.

Religious Jews were choking on this. Running in their mind was a well-conditioned tape saying, “God is holy! God is an all-consuming fire! God is angry and ready to punish sin! God demands sacrifices of blood to cleanse men of wickedness.” God might have been Abraham’s friend, but the Pharisee’s wineskin had no place for a Father or a Friend. The leaders knew intuitively, a tribe of people thinking about God in these familiar terms was going to raise questions about their titles and roles (not to mention their neat robes.) What relevance would they have if God came down, looking man eye-to-eye, speaking to him openly and directly?

 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)

Jesus knew his old wineskin audience was tough. They had invested much, if not all, in the traditions surrounding the old covenant. Jesus had to face off with the advocates of old revelation. Religious sects like the Sadducees, the Essenes and Pharisees had collected the crumbs, but this manna (as interpreted by them) had long since gone stale. While Jesus blessed little ones he spoke woes to those misrepresenting God:

 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. (Matthew 23:13)

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28)

We are blessed people if we find the Holy Spirit has come, troubling us with notions which are out of sync with the traditional tape running in our minds, upsetting our complacent ideas about him. God is not a spoiler as we might propose. He is our Teacher, Father, and Friend. In this capacity, it is no trouble for him to remind us:

 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:9-11)

Jesus must win The War in Our Head so that “His joy may be in us, and that our joy may be made full.”

Father, by your great mercy, erase every inferior and competing thought recorded on the tape running in our heads. Slay every lofty thought exalted above the actual knowledge of who you want to be to us. Amen.

 

 

Direction (Sunday) – Proverbs 4:20-27

Direction – Proverbs 4:20-27

My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful mouth and put devious speech far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.

“My son.” What a nice ring that has to it! While I don’t remember those precise words as a lead-in to any of my talks with my father, I do recall the sentiment, “My son, what in the #*!! have you done now!” And, it was warranted. I don’t know how my poor father could have said otherwise. I was always in trouble. My grandmother would weigh in and remind me that I was even trouble in the womb, “You know, you #!*# near killed your mother.” I can identify with BIll Cosby here in thinking my name was “Jesus Christ.”  Dad, if you read MwM in heaven, just know, “I’m really sorry.”

The words, spoken over us as we grew, have profound influence over who we are. They are life to those who find them. If you don’t find them, well … there is death. I learned that it was not life and health to my whole being for me to think of myself as somebody with the unique skill to destroy and anvil with a rubber mallet. Hmm … Perhaps I should have started Cummins Destruction Company, gifted as I was.

My early 20’s were days of awakening, fueled by these questions; “Why am I so screwed up?!” and, “Why is the world so screwed up?!” I chose Alvin Toffler to explain the world’s problems. He believed I had been future shocked – a victim of an accelerated rate of technological and social change which left me disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation.” I chose Thomas Anthony Harris to explain why I was not OK and others were.  I eventually graduated from Harris’ Transactional Analysis (TA) to the Maharish Mahesh Yogi’s Transcental Meditation (TM). I still recall my mantra; it was “ima.” I would quiet myself – breathe as instructed, and chant in my mind …ima … ima … ima. I also recall an epiphany I had while deep within myself … ima … ima … ima duffus … ima duffus. So much for pop psychology and eastern religion. Thank God I still had drugs and alcohol! 

As I was desperately looking for an answer, God graciously intercepted me while running with all my heart away from the many voices which all reminded me I was trouble incarnate. I gave God my life and I heard him say …

                                                                        Son. 

While that was a game changer, he added, “Whenever you fall (implying that I would) I will be there, immediately present, to lift you out of danger.” He also conveyed that Jesus’ name was magnificently glorious beyond all human comprehension and that the potency of his love dwarfed all powers. I know this is problematic for some since this word exceeded bible told me so – level revelation. If you were to ask me, “Then what did his voice sound like?” I would have to say that it resembled a bell in terms of clarity and that it came with the power and cadence of great ocean waves.

One would have thought that from this point on it would be “Bob’s my uncle” – everything would be hunky dory. Leaning on traditional definitions of hunky dory, this was not the case. There was still something in me that believed I was messed up. The voice sounded like, “My son, it is actually worse than you thought. You are not just a little messed up.” This set up a new inner dialogue.

The preachers informing me about my new faith did not follow through with the word God had spoken, affirming me that I was “OK” and you were “OK.” No, it now became: “I am monster of iniquity and so are you. Now go forth and share the good news!”  What was impeding the word God had clearly spoken and demonstrated from getting from my head to my heart?” The answer to this question is why one of the guiding truths of my life has become …

                     Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

I was a zealous Christian for 35 years before the words “My son” actually settled in my heart, revealing who I really am. Middle With Mystery is the story of my epiphany in devotional format. It is the scripture based account of how new creations can devolve into elder brothers and how elder brothers can enter into the party which Father continually hosts. Today, watching over my heart with all diligence means that I will war against ideas, philosophies and doctrines that suggest that I am primarily a monster. While that was true, I diligently guard my identity as a new creation and follow that thread to wherever it leads. Watching over my heart boils down to seeing myself as God sees me. Not only is Bob my uncle but God’s my Father.

Father, I see you with your arms open wide. I see the robe and the ring. I can almost taste the fatted calf. Whet our appetites Oh Lord. You are so good! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Direction (Saturday) – Jeremiah 18:1-6

Direction – Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.

At what point in a civilization does God say, “The vessel I was making was spoiled in my hands. I will remake it into another vessel, as it pleases me?”  I confess, it is hard for me to think on this scale. More often than not, I’m just living my life one day at a time, trying to be present to God and to others. What is it though that my presence conveys? Does my life convey; Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die? Or, stop, drop and roll because we are on fire? Repent and perhaps the ship will not hit the iceberg, after all? No doubt you can find a TV preacher right now, damping his brow, teaching these or any number of other possible certainties about God’s plans. I think I must be damaged goods because I cannot bear to watch. 

While I feel as though America is working overtime to qualify as problematic clay, I don’t know God’s plans for her. Perhaps he still sees her beauty as something yet to emerge from his hands. Rather than give up, agreeing with fatalistic notions about ourselves and this nation, I am inclined to take the approach Abraham took with God regarding Sodom, “Lord, will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” The presumption of Abraham is stunning!

Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly

Abraham practically scolds God while acknowledging his clay nature (although I am but dust and ashes). He then proceeds to negotiate for the salvation of a city – one just begging for fire and brimstone. This should be our strategy as well as children who are welcome in his throne room. If you have trouble picturing this, envision (or look up) the picture of John Kennedy’s children running loose in the Oval Office. 

I love it when I see my children at ease with me, resting confidently in my love for them. I’m certain God is like this. He wants us to ask big things of him – things on scale with his dreams for the world; “God I was worthy of judgement and you saved me. Do this for my nation as well! Far be it from you Lord to slay the righteous with the wicked.” Abraham didn’t know he would get God down to 10 righteous men from 50. And, we don’t know that God will not relent and pour out his Spirit on this nation. Perhaps we have not because we ask not. We will not ask because we are the great United States of America. We will ask because, where our sin is increasing, his grace may abound all the more. We can bring ourselves to remembrance that our God is a good God, who desires, more than we, to seek and to save that which is lost.

Excuse me while I damp my brow but God has said he desires that none should perish! He has said that all things are possible with him! He draws camels through the eyes of needles! He tells us we may have what we ask of him – that he will give us the desire of our hearts. How do we possibly get off concluding that the judgement on our nation is a forgone conclusion?! Is it not time to beseech God to complete the good work that he has begun in America rather than scrap her? Why not ask God to heal the very deepest roots of our nation. Who knows, perhaps he would just like to keep this clay on the wheel.

I believe God wants us to simply be devoted to Jesus and each other until he comes and he will take care of the nation judging. We do not have to worry about much more than a sparrow or a lillie. Rueben P. Job, who is credited by Jim Branch as the original inspiration of the Blue Book had three simple rules: 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Stay in love with God. This is a great battle plan. May it go viral.

Father, may our ears be tuned in. May our hearts be tuned up – that we may be responsive to this world by your love. May an accumulation of the accomplished deeds which you prepared for us, take on a life of their own and sweep over our nation as a great wave of righteousness. Teach us to be childlike in our presumption about your goodness. May we be as children. As it please you Lord. Amen.