The Kingdom Now: Pursuing What is Available, Part 2

Worship this morning was really wonderful. God has been visiting us in a really sweet way these past couple of weeks. It isn’t flashy or glamorous, but I feel like our hearts are being recalibrated by the simple truth “God loves me.”

Anyhow, during the question and answer time, a metaphor of pursuing what is available came to me and I wanted to flesh it out a little more here.

After the Rebellion and before the Cross, humanity was separated from God by the Great Wall of Sin. Longer than we could imagine, higher than we could climb and covered with razor wire that would cut to ribbons anyone who tried to climb up on their own, the Great Wall of Sin kept us confined to the kingdom of darkness. We couldn’t save ourselves, we were trapped.

Then came Jesus with the powder-keg of Grace that was the Cross. Jesus’s death and resurrection blew a gaping hole in the wall, making a way for us to come into the Kingdom of God and find our identity as sons and daughters of God.

With that freedom now available to us, wouldn’t it be silly to simply stand at the wall and admire the hole?

I’m eternally grateful for the Cross and all that it accomplished. Without Jesus paying my debt, dying in my place, I would be condemned to a life of darkness and slavery to sin. But the Cross is just a doorway into the Kingdom, a bridge, a hole, whatever metaphor you want to use – it isn’t the whole of the Christian life.

Continuing with our analogy, wouldn’t it be silly to stand just inside or outside the prison and simply admire the hole that Jesus’s sacrifice made? Wouldn’t it make more sense to journey into the Kingdom, seeking out the King who loved us so much so as to send His Son to die for us in order to make a Way for us to come to Him?

I think all of us have to go through a stage on our journey with Jesus where we admire the hole He made through the Cross. We have to weep and mourn. We have to understand that we couldn’t ever do it on our own. We have to realize that our sin, our very nature, was to be rebellious and separated from God and without our Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we would be doomed. But I think it is a mistake to stay there.

I think Jesus died to set us free so that we could explore, examine and own the Kingdom of God. He wants us to enter into that Promised Land. He wants us to find our inheritance and sons and daughters of the King. He wants us to know and be known by the Lover of Our Souls.

I think NOT pursuing what is available is a tragic mistake. I think it dishonors the sacrifice Jesus made to set us free.

And here is where the analogy breaks down – we can both “explore” and “stay at the hole”. We can discover the Kingdom of God and call people out of darkness in the same hour. In fact, I’d argue that the more we explore, the deeper we go into the Kingdom, the more people will be drawn to find freedom through Jesus and do the same.

So, those are some additional thoughts on this topic. I appreciate you all reading. Have a great one!

My Take on “Digging Wells: A Parable”

I love parables. Especially ones that stick with you and/or require independent thought. As much as I love stories, they can sometimes lead to shallow thinking – as in, I tell you a story in such a way that you see what I want you to see, how I want you to see it so that, in the end, you agree with me. Stories certainly have their place, but it is no accident that Jesus taught in parables and rarely explained them. Some of His parables still leave people wondering what He was talking about.

I love that parables make you think and reflect. Unreflective Christianity has a tendency to go lock-step with the culture and that scares me. So the counter-cultural and subversive parables of Jesus are a true Godsend. My parable isn’t quite that good, but I hope it caused you to think. In case you missed the parable, scroll down, read it and leave a comment before you continue… Thanks!

My thoughts
To me, this is a parable about perseverance and going deep in the most important things, which are, by necessity, quite few.

It is a parable about human nature and our tendency to wander even though we’re told exactly what to do.

The people of the village were dying of thirst, but in order to find the thing that would give them life, they had to go low – much lower than they had anticipated, much lower than they were willing to go. They had to dig and dig, deeper and deeper in the same place. Instead, they got distracted. They dug down a little and didn’t find what they wanted, so they tried somewhere else. They put in all the work they needed to in order to find life, but it was a dispersed effort which resulted in failure – if only they had kept digging down and down in the same hole!

The holes, for me, are different aspects of Christianity. They can represent the love of God, prayer, service, miracles, worship. Digging deep in any of those wells will result in an encounter with Jesus, the Water of Life, which is the whole point. But a dispersed, half-hearted and distracted effort in five or six holes will kill you, unless you can drink from someone else’s well.

Remember John 4 and the Samaritan woman at the well? Jacob the Patriarch had dug a well people were still drinking from hundreds of years later, yet it was unable to satisfy. But when Jesus came, he offered an endless supply of living water to whoever would dig a well through relationship with him.

I think there are very few topics that are “well worthy,” things you can give your life to for years and never regret. I think growing in understanding of God’s love for you and your love for God is pretty much it. The way you grow in that understanding might look a lot of different ways – service to the poor, prayer, worship or bible study, maybe even a combination of all of those – but the goal remains connection with the heart of God.

There are definitely more things to dig out of this particular parable, but those are the insights I thought I would share.

Thanks for reading friends!

Digging Wells: A Parable

I vaguely remember reading this parable somewhere. I can’t give credit to the original source though I want to, for it is a parable to live by.

There was once a wise and holy man on pilgrimage in a distant land. In his travels, the old man came upon a village in desperate circumstances.

“There is no water,” cried the village chief. “There has been a drought for many years and now we are about to die. Please, teach us how to find water.”

The old man paused to pray before answering – “The Lord says there is water beneath your feet. You need only dig down 10 feet and you will find a spring of water that will save you, your family and your village. May God bless you in your work.” And then the old man carried on.

A month or so later, the old man returned to the village, everything was barren. He went to the center of town where the village chief lived only to find 10 holes, each a foot deep. The whole village had died of thirst.

What do you think? What does this parable mean to you?

Heavy Smoke

I had a revelation recently while I was on retreat in the woods of northeastern Iowa. I was walking through my old Bible camp, smoking a pipe I had just purchased to celebrate the birth of my son and reflecting on the last 16 years of my life, since I had been awakened to God’s Presence in this place. The woods were silent and still, untrod by any human but me since the snow had fallen. The smoke from my pipe hung heavy in the hollow, adding hints of hazelnut and vanilla to the woodsmoke from my cabin. It was surreal in the most beautiful way I can imagine.

I was working my way up to the main campfire ring on the central plain of camp when I noticed the smoke from my exhale was see through and airy, easily dispersed as it wafted up and away disappearing from sight. As is the case with most pipe smokers, you pay attention to these clues. So, I got out my tamper, lightly pressed the puffed up ash into contact with the tobacco at the bottom of the bowl and took several long draws through the stem until the smoke was substantial once again. I was about to go on my way when I felt the hand of Holy Spirit keep me in place just a moment longer.

I don’t know if it was my attitude, the pristine setting or the Presence of God in that place, but something about that moment came alive for me. I began to see a very clear correlation between my hobby of pipe smoking and my vocation as a pastor.

You see, as a pastor, words are my living. Prayers, stories, questions – all these require spoken words in order to be shared with my congregation. And too often, at least to me, my words come out like that smoke on the plain – thin, airy, easily dispersed, leaving little impact or lasting aroma. Perhaps no one else can tell, but they don’t need to. I can because I’m looking for the signs.

I started pipe smoking as a way to relax, mediate and pray. I joke that I got the idea from God in Revelation 5:8 where the Elders are holding golden bowls of incense (a mixture of burning leaves and herbs) which rise up to God as a pleasing smell, a symbol of the prayers of the saints. I liked the idea and used pipe smoking as a way to help me focus of prayer. Obviously, this is not for everyone – I’m just sharing my experience.

In any event, my personality requires a lot of quiet time to process thoughts and form ideas, and when I don’t tend to that inner fire through prayer, meditation, scripture reading and study the fire stays at a surface level, it doesn’t begin to touch the deep things in me. This results in airy words. Those aren’t the kind of words I want to say. We have enough of those kinds of words already. I want to speak and write the sort of words that hang in the hollow, that have substance and weight. I want to release words that will flavor the environment with the fragrance of Heaven. And in order to speak those kinds of words I have to be pressed down deep into the interior life through the disciplines mentioned above. In 2,000 and more years of history, God’s people have found no shortcuts to intimacy and relationship. It is ‘a long obedience in the same direction’ as Eugene Peterson puts it.

So I have an image now, a way of envisioning things that helps me keep my focus on the right things. When I realize my words as a pastor are more me than Him, more American than Heavenly, then I know I have too long neglected my inner fire. I need to tamp down my soul and breathe deep the Holy Spirit. For I am convinced that if my words are pungent with prayer, are thick with the Grace of God, and carry the fragrance of Heaven then people will notice and they will respond.

As always, thank you for reading.

Fruit of the Branches

(Another dream, slightly longer.)

I was placed in the middle of the Lord’s Table, equidistant from Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Though I was myself, I was also a clay bottle, filled with a dark viscous substance I could only guess at. The only other notable feature on the table was a large stand that had three protrusions, each one going to a goblet in the hand of the Three-In-One.

Before I could ask any questions, I was picked up and tipped on end. I saw/felt the dark, sticky fluid pour out of me and into the stand. From this vantage point I could see that the stand had a shallow bowl in the center and three channels that ran the length of the protrusions. The fluid filled the bowl, then began to flow into the goblets. After I had been emptied, I was placed on the table again and watched as each of the three lifted the goblet to their lips. They drank and the expression on their face was that of pure joy. I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment (it was similar to pride but much more pure) that whatever was in me had given them such pleasure.

As I sat on the table, enjoying their presence I became aware that I was filling up again. Somehow I was able to peer inside myself and noticed the dark fluid rising from the bottom and welling up within my clay form. After a time, I was picked up and emptied again. This scenario was repeated several times until, in one horrifying moment, hardly anything came out. The look of disappointment that flickered across each of those three faces is enough to grieve the soul for eternity. I didn’t understand what was different this time, I could only look imploringly at my God and wait for Him to answer.

When He began to speak, I was instantly transported to His side, even though I could still see the bottle that looked like me sitting on the table.

“What do you think that was that we were drinking,” the Father asked. (‘I don’t know,’ didn’t seem like an appropriate answer, so I thought a little harder.) “My works and service,” I asked a bit sheepishly. His shake of the head confirmed my suspicion that I was incorrect. “I truly don’t know, Lord. Please tell me.”

“It was you dying to yourself,” interjected the Spirit. “Every time that you offered yourself up and crucified your flesh your bottle would fill. The crushing of your worldly desires for the sake of relationship with us was what We were enjoying so very much. It is, by far, the most cherished gift that you can off to Us. Just as grapes must be crushed to make wine, you must die to yourself to release this most precious present.” 

Jesus spoke, “I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine again until I drink it new with you in the Kingdom of God… but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the fruit of My branches,” He said with a wink. He continued, “The wine you bless when you share the Eucharist, what is it?”

“Your blood, shed for me and for all people for the forgiveness of sin,” I answered in rote liturgical form. Jesus nodded absently, seemingly impatient for me to spit it all out. I wondered then how taxing it must be for an Omniscient God to honor a free-willed person who gave wrong answers and have any sort of conversation at all. Though, it may have been the mechanical answer that was more upsetting…

“Yes, that is true. But my blood, symbolized by the wine, was my very self poured out. It was the death that I died before the cross in the garden, when I killed my own will to pray ‘Not my will, but Yours be done.’ Unless you drink of that cup and eat of my body, freely offered in obedience, you will have no part of Me. Obedience to the will of God and sacrifice for the love of God, that is why I named it ‘The Great Thanksgiving,’ not because I blessed a cup and a loaf. I was thankful to offer myself to do the Father’s will, regardless of the cost to Myself, for I knew it gave Him great joy. The wine made from that sacrifice is what we shall drink for all Eternity. That wine, made from the Vine, is what makes glad the city of God and it can only be properly enjoyed when the Kingdom has come, My Father’s will is done, and we have become One.”

I paused to let that all sink in, feverishly praying for the Holy Spirit to bring this to mind when I woke up. Then, I remembered the time when Jesus had wanted a drink, but nothing came out. “Lord! What happened when you couldn’t pour me out?”

The sadness returned around Jesus’ eyes as He said, “You resisted me. You would not submit to my discipline, so there was no juice to fill your bottle. Only what is voluntarily given goes there. The rest is wasted outside the City.”

The tone of His voice caused me to weep in intercession. The anguish in His voice was more terrible than any anger I had experienced in the physical world. I resolved then and there to never disappoint my King by resisting His will. I want to please Him with this voluntary treasure that He so deeply desires. He did not need to raise His voice or speak harsh words to bring about this lament in my soul. Simply seeing the look in His eyes and the scars on His hands was enough.

Cloaks a Foot Thick

(Another part of the dream I had this morning.)

I looked up and saw before the Throne the vast multitudes of Heaven. Even though I knew that those nearest the front wore cloaks of humility, I still wondered that the glory seemed greatest at the far end and dimmed as it neared the Throne.

My look of confusion was all the opening the Lord needed to begin explaining to me,

“You know that the highest rank in heaven is to wear the cloak of humility?” I nodded my assent. “You know that to be wounded in battle and then to have me heal you brings great glory and authority?” Again I nodded, though I didn’t really understand this Truth being spoken to me.

The Lord continued, “Those standing here, these captains of the heavenly host, were those who learned to serve with utmost humility.” As the Lord finished speaking, John the Baptist stepped forward, “He must become greater and I, I must become less.” John stepped back into formation.

“During his time on Earth, John preformed no recorded miracles,” the Lord said as we started walking again. “His life was completely ordinary except in this regard – he loved me with the fiercest of loves. He was willing to walk by faith into darkness he could not know the end of. That was enough to earn him a dear place in my heart (I knew then that the Throne Room of Heaven is nothing else but the Heart of God; the highest positions were reserved for those who knew Him best), but he did something much greater and much more beautiful – he was willing to shine though the darkness did not understand him.”

Recalling that passage from the Gospel of John I was incredibly confused, because that passage had clearly (I thought) been written about Jesus.

“A servant is not greater than his master. Indeed, the one who has been fully trained will be like his master in every way. John was fully trained in the school of my heart in the wilderness, therefore he was able to be a messenger that preceded my Son. His faithfulness to point people towards Jesus and away from himself is what secured his place here in the front ranks closest to me.”

I nodded as we walked along, trying desperately to keep this all in mind long enough to write down. It was almost by accident, then, that as we turned around I bumped into another of the captains. It was only at this close proximity that I realized the cloak of humility that each of these captains wore was a foot thick. “Their greatest desire,” the Lord said quietly, “is to see my Glory, not to compete with it with their own.”

Food Bullets

(A dream I had this morning… 4 o’clock a.m. is power hour it seems.)

I was standing before the Throne of God wrapping nuts in saran wrap. These little packages were the size of my hand. When I had finished bundling it together, I tucked it in a pouch at my waist. As I did so, it looked less and less like a package of food and more and more like a bullet. I didn’t understand, so I asked of the Lord, “What does this mean?”

 “You must wound my people with the food of Heaven,” the Lord replied. “When you do, it will produce in them an insatiable hunger that will lead them to me.”

Knowing that this was a great revelation, I continued wrapping and meditating on this Truth. Then, seeming to come to my senses I cried out, “Lord, release angels to help me wrap as many bullets as I can while I am here!”

I could feel the Lord’s mirth and pleasure, but His voice was sobering and almost stern, “You can only fire the bullets that you yourself have made.”

This saddened my heart for I knew that I wrapped so slowly. But I also knew that the Lord had given me an invaluable treasure – the knowledge that intimacy leads to understanding and that I can only truly give what is rightfully mine.

Again, meditation upon this thought made me wonder how these bullets would be used. My male inclination towards weaponry made me incredibly curious to know how these packages of heavenly food would be delivered. They were larger than any bullet I had ever seen, so I imagined that it would take a huge gun to fire them. Bringing to mind as many Scripture verses as I could, I scanned them for any reference to “love guns.”

“These will be fired by your mouth.”

Instantly I saw a picture of one of these bullets, fed from the bag at my waist into the chamber of my heart. I knew then that I was “loaded.” As I spoke forth the Word of God, this package of Divine Life was hurled from my mouth with unspeakable force. The packages of nuts exploded, sending shrapnels of Heaven soaring into the air.

As this was happening, my imagination took me to my congregation. I saw myself making eye contact with them each in turn and these little bits of heaven would strike them. It made me wonder that I wasn’t more effective. I wanted these bullets to lodge deeply in the hearts of my people, but so many of them were just getting grazed on the arm or leg.

“It only takes a taste,” the Lord assured me. “No matter where they are struck or how superficial the wound seems it will work its way into their heart of hearts. Then they will know that I am the Lord and there is no other. Then they will know me, then they will love me, then they will fear me – then, and only then, will they be able to take their stand in this great hour.”

A Tale of Two Doctors

I would like to end this week of talking about time with a modern day parable, adapted from a story I heard years ago.

Once there were two doctors, Dr. A and Dr. B. Both were highly intelligent and skilled and each cared deeply for the wellbeing of their patients.

Dr. A absolutely loved his job. He would come in early and leave late and all the while would be at his patient’s beck and call. His bedside manner was impeccable and he was dearly loved by all of his patients. When Dr. A had to go home, he would often leave his cell phone number with his patients in case they needed anything.

Dr. A was so devoted to his work that he rarely had time for anything else. He would eat food on the go or not eat at all. He was so fully devoted to his patients that he even came in on his “off” days, just to make sure everything was O.K. Every once in a great while, Dr. A would run into his long-time school mate Dr. B.

Dr. A harbored a certain level of distain for Dr. B that is hard to explain. Dr. B appeared so lazy and disconnected from his patients. While Dr. A was scarfing down his cafe food in 10 minutes, Dr. B took an entire hour to eat food that he had prepared at home. When Dr. A was in the midst of hurrying from one patient to another, Dr. B was taking a forty-five minute break to go exercise. Dr. B never came in on his off days and only rarely gave out his cell phone or house number. Whenever there was a family emergency, Dr. B would rearrange his schedule. Whenever it was date night with his wife, Dr. B wouldn’t make appointments and would decline to see anyone else. Dr. A saw this as totally unprofessional and frequently reminded his wife and children of how important his job was and how these people needed his help. Whenever someone needed to be seen, Dr. A would clear his schedule of any and all previous appointments so that he could meet with the person. Dr. A felt superior to Dr. B in almost every way.

There was just one problem, Dr. B seemed to be just as good of a doctor looking at the patient’s recovery. Even though Dr. B was there for fewer hours, he was fully present. He wasn’t distracted by the previous patient or the one coming up. He cared deeply for his patients and gave them his full attention.

This carried on for several years, each doctor doing their own thing until something dreadful happened – they each lost a patient. Dr. B took it very hard, he hated losing patients, even though he realized that some people were simply beyond his help. He grieved for several days, but with the help and support of his family and friends he soon recovered. Dr. A, however, was devastated. He constantly bemoaned this loss and saw it as a personal failure. Not wanting to wrestle with his inner turmoil, Dr. A through himself into his work with even more vigor. He worked longer and harder hours, trying to prove to himself as much as others that he was still a good doctor.

But the pace was unsustainable and shortly thereafter, Dr. A burned out. He left the medical profession condemning it as too taxing, consuming and invasive. He switched careers but frequently battled frustration and un-fulfillment.

Dr. B continued his work as a doctor, retiring only after giving 50 years of his life in service to others. Over the course of his career, Dr. B saved hundreds of thousands of patients and was instrumental in the training and education of a new generation of doctors. His legacy survives him in his students and patients… and he never did miss a dinner date with his wife.