Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fingerprints on the Stained Glass

                                             Fingerprints on the Stained Glass

I wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't read in a building committee report about not all the lights working on the stained glass windows in the chapel. The stained glass on the sides of the chapel and up above the choir are beautiful. But when you live with beauty you can sometimes take it for granted. Two of the stained glass windows are back lit as they aren't "outside"windows. Apparently, the lights aren't working on them.

On rare occasions I will  go into the chapel to sit and soak, meditate, pray, wonder, breathe, think, not think, and have a little fun (yes, I lead a dull life) looking at the large stained glass up front. I've neglected to really study the ones on the side depicting the life of Jesus. There are eight of them. They may not be in perfect order but with wonderful colors and surprising detail they show the birth of Jesus; Jesus at the Temple confounding the teachers; His baptism; the sermon on the mount;  the woman at the well; His death; His resurrection and His ascension. As with the stained glass of ancient Spain, the Middle East,and Europe one could tell the story of Jesus by following the stained glass around the sanctuary. To those centuries ago who couldn't read, it was a great visual way to learn the essentials of the life of Jesus. For us today, who, although we can read the Bible, are sensitized to visual mediums the stained glasses help us "see" the story. They are purdy, too.

Now I am about to tell you something that I fear to tell you. I fear to tell you because some goody two shoes church-ey person will try to fix what they see as a problem and I see as a good thing. The stained glass has fingerprints on it. That's a good thing. All the beauty, all the lessons, all the history, all the meaning is lost if sinners like me can't get our hands on it. If Jesus can't be "gotten hold of"' and contact me and my world with the truths in those glasses, then its just pretty glass that is nice to glance at from time to time.

But here is another truth, maybe the best truth. When you look closely, really closely, squinting your eyes and tilting your head and heart at just the right angle of faith, I think you will see fingerprints from the inside of the glass. I wonder..........

This I know, Christianity is not a stained glass faith, fragile and to be kept at a respectable distance for viewing only. How do I know? Jesus has fingerprints. They were all over doors, tables, tools, wood he worked and lives He touched. Wow, a God with fingerprints. Don't try to clean them off.

Have they touched your heart?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You Shall Know the Truth, and the Truth Shall Make You Odd

Flannery O'Conner was right on so many levels when she paraphrased the scripture from John's gospel (8:32). The truth will make you odd in many ways and in many circles, even in and around church. Church-ey stuff revolves around tradition, habits, guidelines, history, rules, regulations, manuals, and oh, yeah, the teachings of the Bible. But if you look closely, shoot, you don't even have to look that close, Jesus was pretty non-conformist. His teachings really got under the skin of the religious establishment. They still do.

The truth can make you odd at church and I accept that. The non-conformist, the courteous rebel, as Dr. Nat Tracy used to call them, will forever be pointing out biblical truth, the effects of ministries or the lack of them on forgotten groups or the underdogs in our culture and the world. They will challenge us to think through actions and attitudes to make sure  ministries are solidly grounded on the truth as revealed in scripture. In short, these courteous rebels are a pain in the soul. God bless 'em and may their tribe increase.

The truth doesn't just make you odd at church. It can really make you odd in the larger society. Truth about freedom, morality, justice, equality, bigotry, marriage, love, sex, abuse, spending, greed, addiction and a lot of other subjects we don't touch on much at church any more will make you odd. People like to be free to make their own choices with regard to all the above mentioned subjects. The odd thing about life is that if you choose wrongly, slavery and bondage is the result. In Romans 1: 25 talks about a group who practiced forms of idolatry and exchanged the truth of God for a lie. The results was bondage to shameful and sinful lifestyles. This pattern has been repeating itself since the garden of Eden. And so today, we are seeing the results of these patterns. Well, I'm not going to list them here, just read Romans 1:28-32 and note the words Paul uses as he describes what happens to people who have exchanged the truth for lies.

Be careful here, the point from Paul and my pointing these things out is not harsh judgement and finger pointing at "those people'' who have messed up things. The question is about how to move away from slavery and bondage, for that matter even harsh judmentalism, and into joy and freedom. Here are a few thoughts on that....

Remember what Jesus really said in John 8:31-32: If you hold to my teaching, your are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set (make) you free.  Truth is found in Christ's teachings and following them. Then comes freedom. By the way, that's not a catch, but an invitation.

Remember also what Jesus said about Himself in John 14:6. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Truth, you see, is not just prepositional, it is personal. We debate, argue, and interpret  and re-interpret prepositional truth; we follow a the Person of Jesus and discover truth.

Commit yourself to the Truth. The Holy Spirit's job is to guide you into all truth (John 16:13-14). It has been our tradition not to allow ourselves to be led too well at times. When we commit ourselves to the hand of God's Spirit to move, make, re-arrange, add, subtract, multiply the attitudes of heart and mind know this: He will do it. He will show you the stuff of Ps. 139:23-24 as well as Jeremiah 33:3 (sorry, you know how this goes, you have to look them up yourself.) Be careful what you pray for but know the results will be true freedom.

Accept, nay embrace your oddness with which the mantle of truth has enveloped you. You will be at odds with accepted ways of doing life's business. Sometimes even at church. No need to be hurt as if you are persecuted as no one ever was before or haughty as if you had some special knowledge no one else has ever experienced. The truth will set you free and also give you peace. No need to fight in anger or react from wounded pride. We are told to speak the truth in love. We don't dictate the results, we trust that to the Lord.

Be humble with your new commitment to Truth. You and I will never have all of it to ourselves. We need Truth as others have learned it, experienced it, and lived it. This is a part of the joy of discovery.

We need Truth---not a dose, not a corrective, not a little, but unadulterated, undiluted, unabashed Truth that we love and live by, for and with. We have too often abandoned it for sentiment, nostalgia, acceptance from others and the world, popularity, success, power, and a hundred lesser gods. We need truth. It will make you odd but in this crazy world that's not a bad thing.

It will also make you free.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

God's Not Down With That

Some folks struggle with it, others, many others do not. Some in their struggle are burdened, conflicted, and disturbed. Some in their non-struggle are free, easy, unburdened and at peace with their world. I'm not sure who I feel worse for, the strugglers or the non-strugglers.

Some people struggle with the questions of what God allows, what is He 'okay' with regarding morality, societal mores, personal choices, lifestyles and just what He requires. Some people evidently never consider such questions. In your view is God lenient or a hard task-master requiring all to "toe the line" and He will get them in the end if they don't?

Maybe He is neither. Maybe we are asking the wrong questions. Maybe if we were honest we'd admit we are asking 'how much can I get by with without smelling sulphur and brimstone' or we are asking 'how little is required' to get me in the pearly gates. Some feel religion is a great way to circumvent the rules and slide in through the side door where St. Peter slides open a little door at eye level on the big door and asks: "what's the password?" "Well, I was a good Baptist, Catholic, grandfather was a preacher...... I gave $20 to disaster relief when that hurricane hit and my wife is a saint...." We will show him our religion card, remind him we are better than _________, and tell him we are really sorry if 'the man upstairs' wasn't always happy with the choices we made."  That ought to do it, right?  If it is a test that only requires a score of 51 on a scale of 100 to enjoy life and get into heaven, maybe so. What if life and faith isn't graded on a curve but on the Christ? What if the question is not just what I do but who I am? What if the requirement is holiness as God defines it? What if under those conditions none of us qualifies? Then there would have to be another way or there's no way.

The other way is Jesus, God in the flesh, redeeming sin and offering eternal life. Life and eternity are built on God's grace not my goodness. Abundant life and eternity become possibilities not by my obedience but my obedience becomes possible by my choice to respond freely to His love and offer of forgiveness. Life with all its joys means not how well I follow the rules but how deeply I fall in love with Christ and from a position of thankfulness, freedom, joy, and trust, I live, I do, I choose attitudes and actions that honor, please, uplift, and bring joy to the heart of Jesus.

Then we no longer will question what we can get by with, how much is enough or how little is required but we will ask how can I learn to follow my closely, love more deeply, respond more freely, and serve more sacrificially the Savior I love. No, God is not pleased with any and everything humans do. Jesus charged through the temple courts overturning tables set  up to do a shady business where gentiles were suppose to be able to pray. He was hacked. Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16 to get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block not thinking on the things of God but men. In Matthew 23, Jesus called the most religious, outwardly moral folks of his day hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, greedy, self-indulgent and bound for hell. God is not down with any and everything we do, think, feel, or say but it should be the love of Christ that constrains us ( 2 Cor: 5:14).

 Paul wrote in Titus 2: 11-14: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldy passion, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Any struggles with how you love Jesus?

Thursday, February 2, 2012