|Posted by rjagilbert on February 7, 2015 at 2:30 PM||comments (0)|
One of the most harrowing sections of Interstate 5 is the Siskiyou Summit, a long, winding stretch of highway that rises up into the rugged mountains south of Ashland, Oregon. It is not uncommon for the summit to be covered in cloud, with mist so thick it is hard to see the taillights in front of you or the curving lanes in the road ahead until you are almost on top of them. It was one such ascent, into the thickest cloud I had ever experience, that I drove with white knuckles amongst the usual swarm of motorized humanity. Nearing the top, hemmed in by truck trailers, I came very suddenly upon a small, red Oldsmobile travelling twenty miles an hour slower than the speed limit. I sought for a way around this hazard in front of me, but to no avail. As the looming semi to my right tried to make its way past in its own lane, this little sedan swerved recklessly out of its lane, causing the trucker to veer onto the shoulder and my own blood pressure to skyrocket.
Furious, I slammed on my brakes and cursed the driver ahead of me. As traffic swerved around me from behind, I found myself trapped behind what I envisioned to be some old man or a drunk who had no business up there on top of that mountain. Then my wife said, “He’s just lost.” Suddenly, my perspective changed.
It did not matter what was wrong with the driver in front of me. What mattered was that we both needed to get safely out of that cloud and down that mountain. And as the last of the pack of passers disappeared into the fog ahead, I realized that there was only one person left to show this lost driver the way: me.
Taking advantage of the momentarily clear freeway, I zipped my own little car around the slow-moving sedan. Instead of shaking my fist, honking, or racing ahead like the others, however, I pulled in front and matched my speed to the veering car behind me. Then I began tapping my brakes, hoping he was sober enough to spot my flashing, red brake lights in the thick fog that surrounded us. Having learned to drive in the mountains of Southern Oregon, I knew how to drive in this kind of fog, and it was less difficult for me to keep my headlights trained on the white lane indicator ahead of me than it was to keep track of the balking motorist behind. But somehow, we did it. At some point, the driver realized that I was easier to follow than his own diminished view of the road ahead, and he fell in behind me. Faster traffic sped past us on the left, but we remained in the slower lane, with me travelling only as fast as the car behind could keep up with me. Twenty minutes later, we descended safely out from the cloud. Imagine my surprise when the little red sedan, having regained its senses, suddenly swerved around me and sped away down the highway in the clear, blue daylight.
I am reminded of this adventure when I read on the internet so many comments that condemn and belittle those who are “lost”. Folks, there is no merit in speeding past them, shaking your fist at them for slowing your own progress, veering into your lane, or generally making your own journey more harrowing than you’d like. They’re just lost. They need to be guided out of that cloud. They need to have somebody show them where the lane is in front of them so they can keep to it themselves. They need to be shown “the way”.
In ancient China, a philosopher wrote a book about “the way”; it remains one of the most popular books in Eastern Philosophy because of its wisdom and guidance. Jesus even referred to “the way” in his teachings, and Christians first called their new belief system “the way” before it was more commonly named “Christianity”. History shows, however, that even Christianity has lost the “way” from time to time. When that happens, the best solution is not to damn to an eternity of hell those who stumble, nor to demand that they conform once again to a legalistic adherence that may be just as far off course as those who are stumbling. The best action is to show the way by living it.
There is no escaping the lost. You can’t just swerve around them and speed away to avoid them. I’ve lived amongst the lost all my life, and there have been times when even I have been amongst their numbers. What they need, most of them, is for somebody to keep pace with them while showing them the way to go. That is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples to do.
There is no use damning the lost either. Everybody swerves out of the lane from time to time. Everybody drives too fast or too slow sometimes. But there is an ideal. There is a center of each lane, and there is a posted speed for that lane. Most of us, knowing that ideal, are blessed when we strive to adhere to it as best we can. And those who share the road with us are blessed when we give grace to they who might be deviating a little bit into our lane or riding our bumper a little too close. After all, is that not what Jesus taught?
However, there are those who are beyond lost; they require a different kind of treatment. They are the ones who, on a clear and sunny day, swerve and veer all over the highway regardless of the painted lanes or the posted speeds. They don’t care what the way is, because they want to do it their own way. They think that, if the majority wants the speed limit to be raised, they can do so without consequences (those old people who can’t drive the new speed need to just get off the road). They might have learned how to turn left in Mexico (from the right lane), or how to drive while texting on their cell phone (which is illegal in most states these days), and even though their driving causes chaos on the road around them, they insist that they have the right to express themselves in that way. Despite what they say, they obviously care nothing for those around them; their idea of social interaction is a blend of pre-school and daycare politics where sharing is taking and relationships are merely positioning themselves to gain the most from their alliances. Those people aren’t looking for the way. These people are not lost. They are dangerous.
Why are they dangerous? Because they want to change the way. They want to make others follow their own way. They want to repaint the lanes, re-post the speed limits, and if it makes life difficult for others who are trying to share the highway, they want to force those people off the road. These are the people who, posing as teachers of the “way”, have infiltrated the local highway authority and created a far greater threat to travelers than a dark cloud upon the summit.
Jesus described these people as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are the ones who get their books published with the large publishing houses—not because their teachings are sound and strengthening, but because they sound good and will sell well. They are the ones who cling to the “Jesus is love” teaching while all the while draining the life from out of their enemies. They are the ones who insist that they are doing no harm, while all the while creating chaos and confusion all around them. And they are the ones who get listened to. They have the web sites, the television shows, the best-selling books, and the radio ministries.
What do I have? My own life.
As an independent author, one who follows only what the Spirit shows me through my own personal experience with what I trust is my Creator speaking to me, I do not have the power within me to confront those false prophets. All I can do is show the way to those who are seeking it. I cannot out-shout, out-advertise, or out-preach those whose resources seem limitless because all of the World is behind them. The only thing I can do is hope that somewhere, somebody is listening to the voice of the Spirit within themselves when it points them toward me and instructs them to follow me down the mountain.
A friend of mine once stated that, when Jesus said we will know his disciples by their fruit, the fruit he was talking about was more disciples. I must ask, though, if that validates the ways of Islam, since they have managed to gain so many followers in recent decades by means of persecution and fear. Was that not the same way in which the Catholic Church gained so many converts in the middle-ages? And did not those converts, not wholly embracing the teachings of Christ, succeed in corrupting the Church far more than it did in converting them to the “way”? No, I say, that is not a good measurement of one’s fruit. Instead, I look at Abraham. He was promised a nation, yet at the end of his life, he had only one son. What he did have, however, was a personal relationship with God all through his life. God would show up at the door to his tent, and Abraham would invite Him in to tea. And God prospered Abraham’s life, not with wealth or with followers, but with the presence of God. To this day, billions of people want to be a part of his nation. They want to follow his way. They want to be one of his people.
As I write this, my phone rings again and again with the calls of children who do not belong to me. It is a Saturday, late in August, and the kids in my neighborhood are bored. They do not want to be home, alone while the parents work or nap. They want to be at my house. Why? Because my house has life in it. Because my house has parents who like to play Minecraft and Pokemon and sometimes slip a little bit of “school” into the conversation. My house is not just the place where they can come to get cookies and pop-sickles, it is the place where a kid can feel safe to talk about the things that are bothering them without threat of a lecture (unless, of course, I’ve had too much caffeine, which is why I’m even writing right now). My wife is the one who the neighbor girl comes to talk about the serious issues that she is afraid to discuss with her own mother. When my son’s friends want to talk about drugs or alcohol, they ask me for my opinion absent the presence of a Sunday school classroom or my role as teacher. And when my family goes on adventures around town, we take those children with us. It’s not just babysitting. We know that we are showing the next generation the “way.”
A few years ago, my wife and I began arguing over whose fault it was to forget the camera on our way to a local waterfall. In the stillness between angry words, a young voice came from the back seat: “Are you guys going to get a divorce now?” It was the boy next door, who had seen his own parents split apart by similar fighting. In the years since then, he has come to understand that there is a “way” that can avoid divorce, and that our marriage is following it. The fruit that he sees is not that he has “converted” to our way. It is not the wealth or success that our faith has brought us; he still compares his family’s own wealth to our relatively modest little house and older-style lifestyle (although we do have four computers hooked up to the LAN that we use to play together). What he does see is our happiness. It is our marriage—still intact despite the storms—compared to the broken home from which he would rather not spend his Saturday. It is our children, wise despite their youth and smart enough to help their contemporaries with both homework and personal problems. It is a way of life, a people to which he wants to belong. And yes, it is also the fact that I am flawed, that I sometimes have to ask forgiveness from my wife and back down from my argument—to turn away from the shoulder of the road and seek the center of the lane that will carry all of us safely down the mountain.
I don’t have to ask these kids to come over. I don’t have to ask anybody to follow me. They want to follow me. Because they can see that I know the way.
Or at least, they can see that I’m trying to follow the way much better than those who keep veering all over the road.
|Posted by rjagilbert on September 1, 2014 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
How many of you know the story from the Bible where Mary and Martha invited Jesus over for a meal? Mary was listening as Jesus taught, while Martha was busy with other things. When Martha confronted Mary for not helping with the food, Jesus told her that what he was teaching was more important. Here’s the real question: what was Jesus teaching there? What did he say? It wasn’t written down. Why? Obviously somebody had the presence of mind to document the event. But what was important to him? The idea that we should listen to Jesus. And yet, by not recording what it was that Jesus said, the entire story is hypocritical. Do you really think Jesus is pleased that we choose to listen to him over other distractions, yet we cannot remember what it was he said? Sadly, that is the way I’ve found it with so many people who say they are following the teachings of Jesus.
Many years ago, my wife and I were teaching a middle-school Bible study class that focused on the story of David and Abigail. I tend to go off-curriculum when I teach, so I wound up following up the “authorized” version of the story by reading the rest of it from my Bible. Suddenly one of the boys in class spoke up. “Did you just say David married Abigail?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “He took her as his own wife after her husband died.”
“But then she died, right?”
“Eventually,” I answered, not sure what he meant by the question.
“But I thought David married Bathsheba.”
“He did,” I confirmed.
“So did he marry Bathsheba after Abigail died?”
Uh oh. Realizing that I had wandered into one of those “veiled” sections of the Bible that some parents might not like me teaching to their kids, I tried to explain as simply as possible. “Well, David actually had several wives,” I said. Then I read straight from the passage of scripture that ends that particular Bible story—those verses that very clearly explain how, after his first wife, Michal, was given to another man, David married several other women.
“At the same time?” the youth asked. Then, seeing me nod my head, he said loudly, “Then he was a sinner!”
What was odd about the statement was that it came from a young man who had been born and raised in the church, attended Sunday school almost every week of his entire life, and claimed to have read the Bible through at least once. Yet here he was confused by the sudden realization that David was, among other things, a polygamist. Was that not a key plot point throughout the books of Samuel and Kings? Was there not chapter after chapter of troubles that David had because of all the wives he took? How could this young reader have missed it?
Then again, was he just reading to find the answers he had already been told to look for? Did somebody tell him that the Bible was just “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” and so whatever he read that did not apply to the Gospel of Salvation he just ignored? Did somebody tell him “David was a man after God’s own heart” and so anything he read that proved contrary just didn’t register in his mind? The murders. The lust. The adultery. The political intrigue and the lies. The very blatant violation of Moses’ orders to establish the places of worship on certain mountains throughout the nation (which I personally suspect was a political move on David’s part to consolidate power over the scattered and divided people by bringing their focus of worship into his own “possession” within his newly-established capitol)? Is that something that most “Christians” just don’t see or question because they have been trained to look for nothing more than just the “rice or Chow Mein?” (And since I know the accusation is going to be made, dear reader, I must ask: Can you really consolidate this paragraph into a single statement of being “for” or “against”?)
When I read the Bible, I read it to understand what it says. When I’m given a single verse to read, I like to read the entire chapter surrounding that verse to get an idea of the context in which it was written. I don’t shy away from long paragraphs or long-winded “rants”, and I don’t pass judgment on writers who take “too long” to get to the point. Yet the more I write, and the more it is dismissed by readers who are not willing to “listen”, the more I have to wonder about the teachings of Jesus that were NOT written down. Think about it. How many Christians claim to have read the whole Bible through in a year? Jesus spoke and taught for three years. And yet, if one were to read all that Jesus said throughout the four Gospels, it would take less than a day. Did he just repeat himself over and over again? Did he have a lot of interruptions? “Yes, Martha, I’d like some more coffee, thank you.” A Christian cannot possibly insist that the New Testament contains all that Jesus taught to his disciples and then go spend two hours a week, every week of the year, in church listening to a pastor teach them far, far more than what is written in the Bible. Either it is accepted that much of Jesus’ words were never written down, or it is accepted that Jesus was one of the quietest, most reserved men in the history of mankind—so reserved that it must have driven him mad to want to heal, teach, rebuke, and correct more than just the few religious leaders and sinners of Judea.
Here’s a good example of how well the people in Jesus’ time listened—even to someone they believed to be their “Messiah”. Matthew 19 tells a story of a man who asks Jesus a simple question: “What must I do to be saved?” Clearly he wanted a “Rice or Chow Mein” answer. Jesus did not give him one. In fact, what was written down at this point was probably only the gist of what Jesus really unloaded onto the poor fellow. In the end, the man went away unhappy because he was not given the answer he had been looking for. It probably took too long to get to the point, didn’t agree with the young man’s political view, and possibly volunteered a whole bunch of details like “By the way, Aristotle is wrong about the idea that the world is made of four elements. The old atoms theory is actually more along the lines of how God’s creation really works.” In a nutshell, it was not what this rich man wanted to hear.
So here comes the crux of the matter. What did Jesus’ pupils miss? And what did we, not having those teachings written down, miss? The answer is: nothing. The Bible points the way for every person on this earth to have their own personal teachings from Jesus in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave us this gift shortly after he ascended into the heavens. Each and every Christian who asks Christ’s Spirit into their heart has access to the teachings of Jesus from the Holy Spirit. But how many of us really listen to that still, small voice within us? How many of us actually go through life asking Jesus to speak to us, to teach us, and to answer our questions with more than just a “Rice or Chow Mein” answer?
In my experience, the Holy Spirit speaks to everyone. Those who have not asked Jesus into their heart may even hear the Spirit trying to reach them—but they do not have a clue what it is that they are experiencing. Sadly, many more who have asked Jesus into their lives still don’t listen to the Spirit when it talks to them. They may read the Bible through once every year, and they may never fall asleep in the pews on Sunday, but they go through most of their lives never stopping to wonder what God might be trying to teach them in a more personal way.
The more I understand about human nature, the more I understand that the few words of Jesus that were written down were the topics his audience was looking for. Life after death. Forgiveness of sins. Deliverance from Rome. Rice or Chow Mein. What else might Jesus have taught in those years that just didn’t seem “important” to his followers? What meanings do you suppose we might be able to glean from his sermons had his listeners not wanted to just hang on to the “blessed are those” parts?
Alas, though, most of what Jesus taught his disciples on a daily basis is lost to us, because, like me, he took too long to get to the point. Those who approached him asked simple questions: What must I do to get into heaven? What is the greatest commandment? He answered with long paragraphs and strange illustrations that wandered far from the original question of “rice or Chow Mein”. Unable to follow him on his “rant”, the listeners often went away sad, or disgusted, or convinced that they were more clever than that rambling, water-walking idiot.
And so it goes even today. People want an easy answer. They want to spend twenty three-and-a-half hours a day doing what they want, then be handed the truth to them in a format that fits into that one half-hour they carved out of their busy schedule. And when the truth does not fit into their format, they dismiss it as wrong. But who is the real fool? He who seeks the truth, or he who has convinced himself that the truth lies within the confines of a “Rice or Chow Mein” answer?
|Posted by rjagilbert on August 23, 2014 at 4:40 PM||comments (0)|
I pulled up to the drive-thru at the local Panda Express and spoke into the box. “I’d like an orange chicken bowl with fried rice,” I said, “And a second bowl of…”
“Do you want a panda bowl with rice?” the young woman interrupted from the speaker.
Confused by her question, I repeated my order. “Yes, a panda bowl with orange chicken.”
“Do you want a Panda bowl with rice or Chow Mein?” she repeated.
“Rice,” I said again. “And with Orange chicken as the entrée.”
“Okay,” she said. “So I have a panda bowl with rice and what would you like as the entrée?”
In the passenger seat, my wife muttered out loud, “Seriously?”
“I’m sorry,” the young woman stated, “I didn’t get that.”
I repeated the order one last time. “Yes. That is a panda bowl with a side of rice and orange chicken.”
I paused to see if she would repeat me, but she only asked, “Is that everything?”
“I’d also like a mushroom chicken bowl with Chow Mein,” I added.
She stopped me before I could finish. “Okay, so you want another panda bowl with rice or Chow Mein?”
Now I understand that there is a process to how Panda Express puts an order together. They start with a side of either fried rice or Chow Mein, then add the entrées to the top. But is it really so impossible to fathom an order through the drive thru that doesn’t follow that sequence? Especially since the menu in front of me listed my options as “Bowl of one entrée and one side”? Why can’t I list the entrée before the side?
When I was a young man, I worked drive thru just like her. I learned very quickly how to assemble an entire order in my mind before entering it in to the register. I know it is possible. Maybe the young woman was trying to train me (and all her drive-thru patrons) how to give her my order, but certainly she can’t expect to be successful in conforming the entire local population of potential customers to her method? Is it not easier to learn how to listen?
Many years ago, I called into a radio station with an opinion that was not perfectly aligned to either side of the two opposing views that were duking it out over the airwaves. When I started to share my two cents, the radio host cut me off and asked, “are you for or against?” That was it. He didn’t want to hear what I had to say. He only wanted to hear me say one of two things. With or against. Black or white. Rice or Chow Mein.
That, right there, is the crux of the bigger problem. How many of us say we listen, but we really don’t want to hear what the speaker is saying. How many of us are just listening for what we want to hear: rice or chow mein? Seahawks or Fourty-Niners? Democrat or Republican? For or against whatever the issue being discussed? I suppose it’s the same kind of frustration you might get from filling out an online survey that never gives you the opportunity to leave a comment. They just want you to select answer A, B, C, or D. The closest you get to sharing your own customer experience are the five bullets to select from between “Extremely satisfied” and “Extremely dissatisfied”. I have to ask: is the company that employs such a survey really listening to its customers?
When I write up an email or a blog, it is usually longer than just the few sentences it would take to express my alignment for or against an issue. Usually I have an explanation for why I think the way I do, and usually it is not just “Go Seahawks!” or “I want Chow Mein!” Often I anticipate an argument against my point, and so I take the time to provide additional evidence to strengthen my position. Imagine how annoyed I might get when my opinion is criticized as a “rant” because it is longer than the one sentence of “for” or “against” that the reader wants to read.
The first draft of this “rant” concluded with a saying I like to use to illustrate how people judge based on trivial variables such as the way a man dresses at a sporting event. Unfortunately, when my wife proofread the piece, she told me that I had lost the reader’s attention when I “changed the subject to football”. That, in a nutshell, explains the feeble-mindedness of mankind. If I take too long to illustrate the idea, if I use too many illustrations that don’t “match up” in the reader’s mind with the topic they think they are reading about, then I’ve lost them. If it’s not what they expect to read, if it doesn’t take them to the conclusion they are already looking for, then it is I who am guilty of “wandering” with my topic. How many times have I been told that (or made to feel like) my message is not important simply because it is not what the reader wants to focus on? Never is it the reader who is guilty of not listening to what I am trying to say. It is always me who is guilty of being “unimportant”.
The saying I used goes like this: If you don’t wear a cheese on your head when you walk into a Packers game, it doesn’t matter what you say or do, you are rooting for the other team. It doesn’t matter how loud you cheer or whether you painted your chest green and yellow beneath your neutral-colored sweater. You have already been judged, and you are “against”. That’s how it is, though. People don’t really want to gather information. They don’t want to have to pay attention. They don’t want to do the leg-work through too many unfamiliar paragraphs. They already know what they are looking for, and if they don’t get it—and fast—then nothing else matters.
I can write my sentences short. I can edit it down to a few paragraphs. I can say it again and again with a thousand different illustrations, always trying to get it just right so that the reader can understand the message I am trying to convey. Is it really fair to say that I am not communicating clearly when the reader gets the wrong idea by looking for the “for” or “against” argument that is not there? It is not me who is speaking ill or poorly. It is the reader.
They’re not really listening.
They’re not really looking for truth.
They might as well just be asking for “Rice or Chow Mein.”
|Posted by rjagilbert on June 7, 2014 at 1:40 PM||comments (0)|
If I have no breath in Heaven, let these bitter words now be said.
For someday, I know, I’ll stand before the judgment of the dead.
And many will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not do great things on Earth for You?”
Yet I will stand in silence as He answers, “You are Who?”
Then, when it is my turn to stand before the mighty throne,
I will not speak, as to a friend, but as a wretched soul, alone.
“Lord, all my life I sought You,” I will say, “Did You seek me?
I tried to walk your path, follow your teachings, and be free.
And all along the way I found men hungry, naked, cold.
I dared to try to clothe them, feed them, keep them in Your fold.
Yet here you stand, saying to all, how those in want were You.
My life, you flash before me, damned for what I didn’t do.
Rewind the tape, Lord, if you will to where I found You in need.
See how I tried to comfort you, but had no strength to succeed?
See how I cried out myself for help, for God above to show the way?
Yet no help came, and so, alone, I failed every day.
See, now, Oh Lord, how often this has happened in my life?
Where I, trying to do Your will, have waded into strife.
But all I have to show are wounds I gained along the way.
There was no victory for me in You, just a heavy price to pay.
For Lord, my trust is shattered—in You, in God, in faith.
I listened for Your Spirit but You sent the Lying Wraith.
How many of Your servants has it led to fail and die?
How many of us asked but never heard the answer why?
Did You not come dwell with Abram here on Earth from time to time?
Though he never saw Your promise kept, he knew You were divine.
But what do I have, Lord, to show for all my years of strife,
As I stand before You looking back at my short and fruitless life?
How can I know Your will, Lord, if You never showed it to me?
How can I know Justice, Love, Honor, Truth, or mercy,
If You never stepped low to show it to me before my death?
Then, Lord, it is You whom I condemn with my final, gasping breath.”
If I have no breath in Heaven, let these bitter words be spoken
Would that I knew He hears them and knows how much I am broken.
Lord, am I not the Bride of Christ? You asked and I said yes.
I’m already committed, should I not also be blessed?
I feel as though our plans to wed have brought the enemy,
While you, so legalistic, still insist that You are free?
And while I take the blows and arrows of Satan for this ring,
You sow your oats, not yet my Groom, like I don’t yet mean a thing.
When does Your vow take place, Lord, when do You set down and stay?
Marriage used to start the moment both agreed in the old day.
Now here you are, insisting, that the priest has not yet spoken.
You’ve planned the feast, invited guests, yet no promises are broken.
Am I not Your bride, Lord, not some snarling, female whelp?
Dear Husband, I don’t mean to nag, but I really need your help.
If I have no breath in Heaven, when you tally up my debt,
May my words now be my defense tho my destiny is set.
For how could I hope to know the truth in a world so ruled by lies
Where You, now crowned its king, have always ruled it in disguise?
I followed You. I served You. I thought your teachings wise.
Yet where did your path lead me? Failure. Foolishness. Demise.
The world thought me a mad man; how could they be disproved.
When every act to show You to them left me looking like the rube.
I spoke the words you asked me to, did deeds as You demanded.
The world resisted, fought me hard, my actions reprimanded.
My health was robbed while I was young, yet onward I strode in your name.
None saw my endurance as inspiration, only saw and mocked my shame.
I prospered from Your wisdom, Lord. I tried to share it with the lost.
They took the wealth they wanted, but your wisdom—that they tossed.
And in my hour of need, as I was robbed of all I’d earned,
You never came to my defense. You left me doubting what I’d learned.
Now here before the throne I stand with nothing for myself to say.
My life a debt you now demand; I’ve nothing left that I can pay.
And yet, there is another debt. A debt built up from doubt.
For though you shine in all your glory, I still haven’t figured out
Why in all the years I sought you, tried to have you in my life
By the end, I still don’t know you. All I’ve known is doubt and strife.
And I can’t help but speak for these other souls–all the ones you’ve thrown to the flame.
Did you hide from them like you hid from me? Are you truly the one to blame?
Were we all to watch our lives unfold again—the darkness, the despair—
Inevitably, the moment each of us cried out to you…did you ever show you cared?
Not with laws. Not with religions. Not with Sunday Morning rites.
But a real, close up relationship with those deep in the fight.
If I have no breath in Heaven, this You must first understand.
If You throw any of us to the flames, then You, also, are damned.
|Posted by rjagilbert on May 25, 2014 at 4:15 PM||comments (0)|
I used to be GAY…
But then those who did not understand changed its meaning.
I used to be CHRISTIAN…
But then those who did not understand changed its meaning.
I used to love ART and the THEATER and the FREEDOM OF SPEECH…
But then those who did not understand changed their meanings.
I used to love my MISTRESS…
But then those who did not understand changed its meaning.
I used to be MARRIED…
But then, just last week, those who did not understand changed its meaning.
How much longer can FREEDOM last…
If those who do not understand have the power to change its meaning?
|Posted by rjagilbert on November 24, 2012 at 12:55 AM||comments (0)|
It was the last youth-group outing of the summer. Soon my friend David and I would be starting sixth grade. As we packed up the church van and other vehicles that had gathered for a weekend camping trip, David decided he still had time for "one last dip" in the lake.
To make a long story short (I tell it too often anyways), David was left behind in the mountains of Southern Oregon, and our church went into crisis mode as the search to find him led into the night. (Keep in mind this was long before cell phones made for easy communication between mobile search parties.) I remember the women gathering at the church for an emergency prayer meeting with David’s mother while the men headed back to the lake to search for him. In the end, all was well, and short of a good grounding, David survived the adventure unscathed.
A few weeks ago David and I went on another adventure together. This time, we were the adults, driving a van full of children into Portland for a Christian concert. We hit a few mis-adventures of our own on the way up: traffic, parking troubles, lines, and eventually being told that the concert had sold out before we could get inside. The kids were disappointed, but we maintained a positive outlook and made the best of the night. I did not think about it until after we had returned home, but our reactions to those unexpected bumps in our plans may have been a better witness to the children in our company than all the loudness and lights of that concert.
The world thinks of Christianity as meeting on a Sunday morning to listen to a pastor speak to us, as though the words of the sermon are the most powerful influence on our faith. But thinking back to that crisis in Southern Oregon nearly twenty-five years ago makes me realize how much of my faith is based on the example set by those who came before me—not just Sunday morning, but on Saturday night and all through the week. My discipleship was formed not just from the planned moments of teaching, but from the reactions of my elders to un-foreseen circumstances. When I think about it, I realize how this is how it has always been.
Think back to that emergency prayer meeting held in Acts 12, or to Paul's fantastic shipwreck in chapter 27. These were not carefully-planned sermons. These were moments of crisis, in which the reactions of the faithful serve greater witness than all the combined moments of teaching within scripture. Their examples stem from the example of Christ, who many times left more of an impact through his reactions to daily events than through his sermons. Consider his reactions when the disciples would not permit the children to come to him. Did he understand better than we the importance of passing on his example to the next generation?
Think about this: when Jesus told the Disciples to "do this in remembrance of me", what was it he was instructing them to do? Was it the mere ritual of bread and wine? Or was it the larger act of fellowship within that upper room? Was it the remembrance of the price he paid for our sins? Or was it the example he passed on to his disciples in daily living that they, in turn, have passed on through the generations to us today?
|Posted by rjagilbert on May 1, 2012 at 1:45 AM||comments (0)|
This is a true story:
A woman brought her SUV in to have her alignment serviced. The mechanic could not find anything wrong with the vehicle’s steering or suspension. “There is something definitely wrong,” she told him, “The whole car shakes when I drive on the freeway.”
Determined to find the problem, the mechanic kept the vehicle overnight. The next day he told her, “I still can’t find anything wrong with it. I’ve gone over it with every piece of diagnostics equipment in my garage and the alignment, tires, and suspension systems are all perfect. I even test drove your car up and down the freeway and could not get it to shake or shudder or anything like how you described.”
The woman insisted that her car had a problem. To prove it to her mechanic, she asked him to ride with her as she ran an errand across town. As soon as she entered the freeway the SUV began to shake and rumble loudly. It felt like the entire car might fall apart.
“I know what your problem is, Ma’am,” the mechanic said. Bracing himself as best he could as she swerved into another lane, he pointed to her speedometer. “Your SUV was not designed to go ninety-five miles an hour.”
There was a problem, but the mechanic could not find it within the context of his garage. He had to ride along with the woman on her normal, daily routine. Then.... “Aha! There it was.”
It is within the nature of man to hide his flaws. We blame the suspension when our ride gets rough. We blame the steering when we slide off course. We arrive at the hospital with our wounds already bandaged. We attend our counseling sessions in our best behavior. We call out to God for healing in our lives, but we arrive at church in our finest clothes, smiling and friendly and looking as if nothing were wrong. “What problems?” ask those to whom we have brought our troubles. Like the real problem behind the shaking SUV, this is not something we can solve within the context of a visit to church on Sunday morning or a counseling session at the end of our day.
How did Christ model healing? Did he wait for the sinners to behave? Did he wait for the unclean to wash? Did he wait for the wounded to bandage themselves and limp or crawl to where he held court?
Jesus met them in the streets. He lived with them. He ate with them. And when the problem inevitably presented itself, he was there to say: “Aha!”
When we ask Christ into our hearts, it is like that mechanic riding along with us through our daily lives. We may pray every morning and night, and we may seek counseling from our elders, but the problem may not be present at those times. Like the mechanic on the freeway, Christ’s voice may come to us in the middle of our day, when we least expect his comment or welcome his advice.
In the end, the mechanic was not able to help the woman who liked to drive her SUV faster than her tires could manage. She refused his advice and took her business elsewhere. If Christ were to ride along with you, and if he were to point out the source of your pain, would you refuse his voice?
|Posted by rjagilbert on November 27, 2011 at 12:45 AM||comments (0)|
Luke 10 tells a story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, whom Jesus visited while in their village. The Bible says that, during that visit, Martha became distracted by all the preparations, while Mary was focused on fellowship with Jesus. When Martha spoke up, Jesus answered that Martha’s concerns were many, but “only one thing is needed”, and that Mary had chosen it.
Historians can tell you how important fellowship is: every culture, no matter how ancient, had customs and methods of gathering together in fellowship with one another. Jesus himself said, “Where two or more have gathered in his name…” Clearly there is a blessing from gathering—even more so when gathered in Christ’s name. Naturally, with a gathering of any length comes hunger; the larger the gathering, the more mouths to feed. Thus, Archaeologists find the custom of slaughtering a large animal during a fellowship gathering in most ancient civilizations worldwide. In the Hebraic culture it was a bull or a ram. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son even speaks of slaughtering the fatted calf to celebrate; the loyal son then talks of wishing to celebrate with his friends over a meal of one of his father’s goats.
Like Martha, it is natural for people to get distracted by the preparations and miss out on the true meaning of festivities. Most cultures, including Judaism, placed the importance of their festivals on the obligatory slaughter of their feast meat. The reverence of such large, crowd-feeding animals as cows and rams is a deviation by many cultures from the true purpose of the celebration. A more extreme deviation can be found in the many cultures – some even in Biblical times – where the preparations escalated to human sacrifice.
Jesus came to our world fully aware of the misguided reverence in sacrificial festivals around the world. Much of his ministry was spent confronting religious leaders within God’s chosen nation who had become distracted by the laws, the rituals, and the symbols. Now look at what he does at the last supper. This is a supper founded on the ritual slaughtering of a lamb, but Jesus does not base any symbolism of his ministry on the lamb. Instead he waits until after the meal. He passes up the festival meat, and instead picks up bread and wine to use in his message. Bread and wine: neither of which require that anything die in its preparation. At that moment, God’s son set a precedence that has lasted from then until now; there are no more excuses to confuse the sacred act of fellowship with the shedding of blood.
Here’s my question: Jesus asked us to “do this” in remembrance of him. What distracts us from remembering Jesus? Is it the preparations? Is it the symbols? Is it the rituals? Is that really what he asked us to do?
|Posted by rjagilbert on September 5, 2011 at 3:25 PM||comments (0)|
In Eden God once put a tree
Bearing knowledge of how things “should be”.
Not of Evil and Good,
Nor a literal food
But of man knowing better than He.
Now Eve bought the lies of the Snake.
The forbidden fruit she did partake.
She said “I know the plan,
Better than the I AM.
I am certain that He’s made a mistake.
“Adam, you should be wearing some pants. (she said)
And you should not work hard like the ants.
And in birth and in rain
I should never feel pain.
Now I must hide from God in the plants.”
Then God came to Adam and his wife.
Said He, “Why have you brought on this strife?
Though I yearn for you still
You’ve rejected my will
And you’ll wrestle with me all your life.”
“Now Adam,” I AM said, “As for you,
I can tell that you ate the fruit too.
Now you must build a house
And provide for your spouse.
For I speak not in ‘should be’ but ‘do’.”
When that Serpent practiced to deceive,
His lies changed the perceptions of Eve.
After taking a bite,
How it poisoned her sight.
Her rebellion to this day we grieve.
Satan’s promise, when pondered, seems odd.
He said man could grow equal to God?
Only when we agree
To be lesser than He
Can we see that our own path is flawed.
Now in every man there grows a tree
Bearing knowledge of how things ‘should be’.
When we argue the plan
Given by the I AM
We reveal our fallen ancestry.
|Posted by rjagilbert on May 1, 2011 at 1:40 AM||comments (0)|
It was after dark when we returned to the farm from where we had borrowed two lambs for the church’s Easter petting zoo. The farmer had requested we return them to the pen in which they kept the other “Bummers”—lambs who had been rejected by their mothers and required more attention than the others in the flock. My daughter and her friends had named the 5-day old ewe “Lilly”, the slightly older ram had been dubbed “Willie”.
By headlight I approached the pen. Just outside the gate I spotted a little lamb, then another. They were not where they should have been--safe inside the pen. I counted five in all, limbs akimbo and bodies sprawled in the hay. I watched them for a moment…none of them were breathing. They were dead; bummers who had not survived their mother’s abandonment.
My thoughts flashed back to the farmer’s words the day before. As she helped us pick out our bummers from the crowded pen, she would point out certain lambs. “Too skinny,” she said about one. “This one takes a bottle well,” she said about Lilly (and she did). “I’m not so sure about this one,” she said as she surveyed another. I realize now that she expected some of these lambs to die. Her concern was less for the welfare of our lambs than for the prevention of our congregation experiencing a common farming tragedy.
Farmers have dealt with loss among their flocks and herds for thousands and thousands of years. Yet when Jesus came, he used the illustration of the “good shepherd”, who left his flock of 99 in safety to find the one who had been lost. Imagine how abstract a concept that was in a culture calloused not only by loss among their herds, but death within families from infant mortality, war, disease, and starvation.
A one-percent loss seems acceptable even in today’s business culture—even within the church. But Jesus came not like a farmer to count his losses, but more like my daughter, who knew the lost lamb’s name. When he surveys the pen of lost souls, does he say “This one’s too skinny,” or does he say “This is Lillie. I want her to make it”?
When you survey a lost soul, what do you say?