Identity–Beloved of God: John 3:13-17

With the three children, things can get a little crazy around the rectory sometimes.  There’s a fourth on the way, due to arrive in March, so I don’t suppose that will end anytime soon.  Some of the things we find evidence for, or catch the kids in-the-act-of, just leave us asking, “Why in the world would you…?”  When frustration is great, it seems that one must scour the whole earth to find an answer for that “why.”  For some reason the question is never: “Why in the basement would you…?”  Nicky Gumbel shares, in The Alpha Course, the story of an ESL nanny who hadn’t quite mastered the nuances of the language, and upon catching her charges up-to-no-good asked, “What are you doing in the world?”  Which is a good question in it’s own right, but a different one.  Have you ever found yourself asking that question?  Looking for reasons, you ask, “Why in the world…?”  Baffled by events, you ask, “What in the world…?”  Boggled by a task, you ask, “How in the world am I supposed to…?”  Today I want to take the enterprise of being God’s people, and ask those questions of it.

Why in the world would anyone follow God?  Jesus answers our “whys” from the get-go.  God loves us.  The answer to why we would follow God is rooted in the answer to why God would have any of us follow Him.  God’s action toward us is the basis for our response toward Him.  So God’s love for us gives us the space and the impetus to love Him in return.  Because God acts out of love, to us, we can offer Him our lives.  When I was young we used to sing the chorus, “Oh, how I love Jesus.”  Do you remember the final line of that chorus?  “Because He first loved me.”

Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, put it this way: “Christ loved you before you loved Him.  He loved you when there was nothing good in you.  He loved you through you insulted Him, though you despised Him and rebelled against Him.  He has loved you right on, and never ceased to love you.  He has loved you in your backslidings and loved you out of them.  He has loved you in your sins, in your wickedness and folly.  His loving heart was still eternally the same, and He shed His heart’s blood to prove His love for you.  He has given you what you want on earth, and provided for you an habitation in heaven.”  That is God’s great love for you – surpassing that of a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent.

It’s been said that when Christians really believe that God loves them, nothing can stop them from doing what He desires.  Think of your own experience:  how easy it is to do what those who love you desire of you – you trust their desires for you, and you can trust them because they’re desires for you that rise from love.  Love makes trust easier.  But when someone whose love we aren’t sure of desires something of us, then we double-check before we act, don’t we?  Are they trying to hurt us?  Are they trying to make fools of us?  And so it is when Christians have trouble trusting, or when they doubt, that God loves them; when we think that God hates us, or is out to get us.  We avoid Him.  We run away – like Adam and Eve in the garden, we hear Him and we hide.  Painfully aware that we’re not perfect, deceived into thinking that He couldn’t love anything short of perfection.  Rather than drawing comfort from the knowledge that He’s watching over us, we fear.

Our attitudes need to be like the young girl’s, who learned that Jesus watches over her to see everything she does.  She was asked, “Does it bother you that He sees everything you do?”  Her response: “Oh, no – He loves me so much that He can’t keep His eyes off of me!”  So listen to Jesus’ words from the Gospel lesson that we heard today: “For God so loved the world that…”  Notice that it’s not hatred that motivates God’s action toward us; not manipulation; not evil intent.  Just love.

And if the answer to the “why” of being God’s people is in His great love to us, which moves us to love Him in return, and to trust His desires for us, then our second question is “what.”  What in the world is following God about?  Again, the answer we seek is rooted in the “what” of God.  God loves us, we’ve seen, but what in the world has God’s love moved Him to do?  He comes through on His commitment of love to us, and you’ve heard about it your whole life, in Jesus’ crucifixion.  Statues and pictures of Christ hanging on the cross could quite fittingly each have inscribed at their base: “This is how God loved the world!”

It was for love that Jesus died on the cross, for love that God gave Himself for us.  Our answer to this question, of what following God is all about, is just that: Jesus’ self-sacrifice.  Following God is about giving of ourselves.  You’ve heard it said, and there’s something to it, that the measure of a man is in what he gives, not in what he gets.  We look to the Cross to see that great act of love, where God gave Himself for the people He loved, because He loved them.  Because He still loves even you.  He shows, He proves, His love for us through the things that He does.  How did Jesus say it?  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…”

There was a young couple who sat gazing at the sky as the sun set.  Hand-in-hand.  Enthralled with the glory and beauty of nature.  She asked him, “Do you love me?”  He pulled his eyes away from the view and glanced at her.  “You know I do.”  She turned her head, and their eyes met.  She asked him, “Would you die for me?”  He answered, “No, dear…mine is an undying love.”  But God’s answer to that question is “Yes!  Yes I will die for you.  I have died for you!  Though I am immortal I send my Son and experienced mortality and death for you.”  What in the world would make anyone want to follow God?  He loves us that much.

And so let’s look at Jesus’ words again “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son…that all might have everlasting life.”  Seems straight-forward enough, but there is a “how” involved.  It’s not an automatic thing.  The question might rightly be asked, “How in the world does God loving us enough to send His Son to the world for us – how does that give us everlasting life?”  And Jesus’ answer is in the verse, and you know it already.  All that believe in Him will have everlasting life.  That’s the “how” of being God’s people, of following after Him.

Why in the world…?  Because God so loves us.

What in the world…?  He sent His only Son, Jesus.

How in the world…?  All who believe in Him may have everlasting life.

Beloved of God, know today that God loves you.  Know today how He has shown that love to you.  Know today what His love can mean for you, if you will only believe.  This is the game-changer.  Amen.

Romance

So the other night I thought I’d put a little effort into being romantic.  I don’t do so very often – information I’m sure Cindy would volunteer.  Earlier in the day we had heard Shania Twain on the radio, first time in a long time, and I was reminded of how much Cindy had enjoyed her music, years ago.  So I thought that singing her a Shania medley might be a romantic gesture.

She was with me when I was singing “You’re still the one,” and I only got minor eye-rolls when I was singing “Don’t be Stupid.”  In spite of its insults to the listener (stupid, absurd, impossible), it does affirm the singer’s want/need/love to them.  Well, when I got to “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” Cindy was done, and so was I.  Sound familiar?  Maybe not the specifics – but does it sound familiar?  Have you ever been so caught up in the vehicle for accomplishing your goal, that you forget the goal entirely – missing it completely?

It strikes me that worship is about giving God His due.  Or, giving God the best we can offer – the closest to what He deserves that we’re capable of.  But how often have you said, leaving worship on Sunday morning, “That did nothing for me.”  How incredibly off-the-mark that comment is!  It reveals an attitude that is all wrong, because it answers a question that is all wrong.  The real question of Sunday gatherings is this: does what we do when we gather glorify God?

If not, then what does it matter whether we ourselves have gotten anything out of it?  We didn’t even accomplish what God brought us together for.

Taking Baptism Seriously 1.0

There are four orders of ministers in the Church.  There are bishops, priests, deacons, and lay.  The Church spends a good bit of its resources on ensuring that the first three are up-to-snuff (whatever that might mean in the given context).  It is generally up to those three, the ordained clergy, to disciple the fourth, the laity, and ensure their up-to-snuff-ness.  Some Christians may not like that idea – they’re not “professional” Christians (ie. not clergy).  Why should they have to be involved in the Church’s ministry?  They were never ordained in the Church – what right do they have to tackle this task?

The old joke was that clergy-people were paid to be good, but that laypeople were good for nothing.  I would dispel this idea to some extent, because I’m not paid to be good.  I am not paid for services rendered.  Rather, I am afforded an allowance, a stipend, by the local church (through the diocese), to allow me to live within this geographical parish.  All of the “services rendered” are a function of the person I am, because of who and what God is continually making me.

In the same way, all Christians are called to ministry because ministry is the fulfillment of who and what God is making them.  Lay people in the Church may not generally consider themselves to have been ordained, and perhaps they weren’t ordained to the particular ministry of the priesthood in the Church, to thus maintain the order of the Church, but something like it did happen to them.  They were baptized.  You were baptized.

There are so many things to be said about baptism, but I will here only point in the directions that we’re going to go in future blog posts.  We can talk about baptism’s roots – where did this practise come from? was it an anomaly that sprung up in a void?  We can talk about the symbolism of baptism – what is signified by the water? what is the meaning inherent in the rite?  We can talk about the elements of baptism – why water? how was it instituted this way?  We can talk about the vows taken in baptism – what are they? what significance do they hold? how are they practically applied to daily living?  We can talk about covenantal relationship with God – what does it mean to be God’s people?  We can talk about taking our own baptisms seriously.

All these and more, to come.

Christ: the Gate; the Shepherd

So we had this great Gospel reading on Sunday, which ended just short of Jesus making one of His great “I am” sayings (in the Gospel according to John).  He alluded to it, almost saying He is the Good Shepherd, but the lectionary stopped us short of where He actually said it.  The “I am” that we did get was… less well-known?  Jesus said, “I am the gate.”

Now, if you read through John 10:1-10, you’re going to see Jesus putting forward two images of Himself.  One is just this: He is the gate.  The other is that of shepherd.  It strikes me, in wrestling with this passage, that as Christians we tend to go one way or the other, but that we need to take Him as both.

If we emphasize that Jesus is the gate, then He becomes the way “in.”  The point of Jesus (His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Holy Spirit) is to get us “in.”  Like some kind of fake ID that a high school kid takes with them when they head to the bar on the weekend.

On the other side of the equation, if we emphasize that Jesus is the shepherd, then He becomes a great moral teacher.  We don’t need to commit ourselves to Him, just to the way that He promotes.  The point of Jesus is to show us the right way to be.  So long as we ignore a bunch of what He says about His identity, He’s a great teacher – a shepherd who leads us in the everlasting way.

But if Jesus is both the shepherd and the gate; if Jesus is both the author and finisher of my faith, the One who saves me and the One whose way I walk in; if Jesus is my Saviour and my Lord: then I must commit to Him and His way; my ID cannot remain fake because my life will, more and more, look like His; I cannot ignore what He says about His identity, because it is in His very identity that my own is revealed.

Preliminary Thoughts on the Second

The following are some thoughts on 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 and 16-23. It’s the RCL epistle lesson for this coming Sunday. I hesitate to say that these thoughts are fully formed in me just yet, but there’s some serious fuel, here. The basic idea is that Paul is writing about the doctrine of Christ, or Christology, of the Church. On Him alone can the Church be built. Paul is concerned that the content of his preaching remain intact, for it is the truth that the Church is about – indeed, without it the Church cannot claim to be the Church. The teaching of proper doctrine, or theological reflection, leads people to encounter the risen Christ, who is the foundation stone for the Church. By accepting the true teaching, people are put in position to meet Him. The foundational doctrine, preached accurately, illustrates the true Foundation (Christ) so that people can find Him (and then know that He has found them). You may read this and, if you’ve read the passage also, say that I’m reading extra things into it, for the sake of my own theological understandings. Nothing new.

I found my mind drawn to Hermas, Vision III. You can read my summary, below, or the text itself, here (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf02.ii.ii.iii.html). Or both. I’m not your boss.

The caricatures that we gain from Vision III, in Hermas, are interesting. If they can be summarized appropriately, or shortly, they may do much to open people’s eyes. The vision is of six men building a tower, shown to the Shepherd by an old woman. There are various others who bring stones to the six who are building the tower. The explanation is given as follows:

The tower is the Church;
the Church is built on water because we are saved through water;
the Church is founded upon God’s word;
the Church is built by angels;
the stones in the building are square and white and fit with each other exactly – they are in agreement with one another and are at peace together and listen to one another;
the stones dragged from the depths and fitted with the others are those who suffered for the Lord’s sake;
the stones carried in from the land are those whom God has approved because they walked in His straight ways and kept His commandments;
those stones in the act of being brought and placed in the building are those who are young in faith and are faithful, in whom no iniquity has been found;
those stones that were rejected and cast away are those who have sinned and wish to repent, who have not been cast far from the tower for they will be useful in the building if they repent;
those stones cut down and thrown far from the tower are the sons of iniquity who believed in hypocrisy and from whom wickedness did not depart – they are not saved and cannot be used in building, and are therefore cut off and cast far away;
rough stones, in great numbers, not used in the tower are those who know the truth but have not remained in it – they are unfit for use;
those stones that have rents, in great numbers, are at discord in their hearts one with another, and are not at peace amongst themselves – they keep the appearance of peace, but under the facade they hold their wicked thoughts;
those stones which are shortened are those who have believed and are mostly righteous, yet still have a considerable share of iniquity, and so are not whole;
those stones which are white and round and do not fit into the building of the tower are those who have faith, but also the riches of the world – who deny the Lord on account of their riches and business – when their seductive riches have been circumscribed they will be of use to the Lord, for round stones cannot become square until portions are cut off and cast away;
the stones which were cast from the tower and rolled into the field are those who believed but abandoned the true road through doubts, and sought out a new road, entering on pathless places (for there is no other road);
those which fell into the fire and were burned are those who have departed forever from the living God: they do not consider repentance, they are devoted to their lusts and crimes;
those stones which fell near the waters but could not be rolled into them are those who are drawn to the Lord but draw back to their own wicked desires when confronted with the chastity that will be demanded of them in baptism.

Now, there’s a little more involved which I have conveniently not included in the above summary. It includes the possibility for all of the stones to repent, however unlikely that might be for them. It’s not that I have a problem with grace, that I haven’t included that part in my summary. Rather, it’s that I’m only interested in the content of the actual vision itself – not in what might happen to those elements of the vision that left sight. The vision is about the kind of stones that God’s Church is built with. Perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). You may not like the idea, but for people in the middle ages Hermas was like Pilgrim’s Progress. It inspired them to devotion to God by challenging them with false alternatives. Esteem it as you will.

A Second Time Round

Now, I’ve finished this work.  There were four parts, tonight I’ll just share the second.  I’ve got a little bit of reworking to do, and it will involve a slight but significant change to the first section.  But I’ll leave it as it is, here.

Two

As I walked back to my camp, I turned things over in my head.  My armour wasn’t designed to be removed.  This I knew well – my parents had taught me, long before, that what was in our nature, what we were when we acted with personal integrity, was what formed our armour, as it hardened around us, released from inside by our pores.  Not designed to be removed.  How, then, was the prince’s taken off so easily?  It must have been designed that way.

This only raised further questions in my mind.  If our nature formed our armour, how could his be designed to be taken off?  The wildly foreign and inconceivable notion that perhaps his nature, what came to him naturally, was to give himself away – it passed through my mind sharply, but quickly.  I dismissed it, because I could not imagine what that would look like.  And yet I held his armour in my hand.  It was so light, not heavy… not cumbersome like my own.  And yet it was strong!  The armour of royals was reputed to be indestructible; it certainly was not flimsy, but how could something of such light weight be impervious to piercing?

I arrived at my own tent and set the prince’s armour in the corner, continuing to mull over the question in my mind as I went to join the others around the fire.  How could I get my armour off so that I could get his on, and do justice to this extravagant gift, through using it?

The soldiers grew quiet as I approached the fire.  When I sat down they could see that my mind was busy – they would have had to be daft to miss it.  They knew I’d been to the field marshal’s, and I could see it in their eyes that they were curious about that meeting.  My thoughts were occupied elsewhere, though.

One of my sergeants asked what Michael had summoned me for.  I heard his voice; could make out the words; could not comprehend their meaning.  Did he say that it would be painful to remove?  Painful… in what way?  I knew that it was fashioned by my body, like a shell, but it was not attached to my skin – hadn’t been since I was a teenager; it was not part of me.  I didn’t have a psychic connection with it, and didn’t feel pain when it took a blow.  What would be the point of armour, otherwise?

I could see my officers conversing, with worried expressions on their faces as they glanced at me, but I didn’t hear what they said – it just didn’t register.  I opened my mouth to speak, and they all fell silent.  They likely expected me to answer their inquiries about the meeting.  It was in my mind that perhaps the armour had to be cut off, or maybe torn off, but who could perform such feats?  What I did say was clearly not what they’d expected.  “How do you take your armour off?”

For a moment they all looked at one another, and then the questions and comments started:

“Why would anyone want to?”

“You don’t!”

“Are you planning to leave the army?”

“Say again…?”

“I’m not going anywhere.  I just… need to get it off…”

“What happened?  What did the field marshal say?  New orders from the top?  Some new mission for us?”  She was one of my most trusted lieutenants, and I felt that she deserved an answer from me.

“I didn’t really speak with him.  The prince was there, and…”  Suddenly all of their faces grew very intent, “…well, I’d met him before.  He recruited me into this army…”  Surprised but understanding looks showed that we had all shared that personal contact with him at enlistment.  I went on, “…and, I just need to get my armour off.”

“Well,” another of my lieutenants, this one a recent transfer from another division, “I’ve known of people that have tried.  It never turns out well for them.  One chap I knew, a great fighter until then, became obsessed with getting his off.  Drove him mad.  His armour turned tacky, instead of hard… what use is tacky armour?  He dropped out.  Let me respectfully submit, sir, don’t pursue this line of inquiry.  Nothing good can come of it.”

“Take this, too, then, if you’re looking for advice:” one of my older sergeants, with whom I had served since the beginning, raised his voice, “I wouldn’t be surprised if that one, whose story we’ve just heard, wasn’t kicked out of the army (rather than dropping out).  We can’t just have people running around unprotected – this is a was zone!  His treasonous behaviour probably had him removed, before he corrupted other people’s minds.  Take it from someone who’s been around, and knows how this operation works.”

I nodded, and felt inwardly that both had offered some good advice.  Maybe I should just forget it.

Another Lieutenant offered her advice.  Her voice sounded clearly in the crisp night air, “We’re made for battle, or we wouldn’t grow this armour naturally.  Your armour is suited to you in a way that nothing else ever could be.  Taking it off, even if it were possible, would be denying the natural order.  What would put an idea like that in your head?”

It seemed that if the conversation was to progress, I would have to tell them what had happened.  So I did.

“You mean he just stood there and watched you make a fool of yourself, dancing and stumbling around like a nut, trying to reach something that wasn’t even there?”  Good-natured ribbing had always been allowed among us.

“You mean he offered to help, and you refused?”  A serious and sobering question that put an end to the joviality… briefly.

“So you took it from him and left?  What were you thinking?”  They all laughed at my expense.

When things calmed down again, I was asked, “What were the clues, again?”  Good question…

“Well, it’s not designed to be taken off, but somehow it can be removed, but somehow that process will hurt.  I don’t know – his came off of him so easily, and he just offered it to me.  I was thinking, what it we could cut it?”

“You know as well as we do that whenever armour gets pierced the blade cuts the skin beneath, too!  We’ve lost friends that way.”

“But is there somewhere we could slash it clean across – from top to bottom, and clean through, without fatally injuring me?”  I was doubtful about the prospects, and not at all excited about the idea of any of them striking something so close to my skin hard enough to sever it through, with a sword.

“You’d have to do it on the front and the back, both – armour doesn’t have any give in it to open a single slash enough to get you out through it.  We’d have to cut both sides, and pull it off either way.  I don’t think you should try.”

I didn’t either.

Another spoke up, “Why not just be honest – the prince gave you his armour to drive you mad.  There’s no solution to the question.  Just give up!”

With all of these things cluttering my mind, I returned to my tent and lay on my cot.  Sleep never comes easily when the mind is occupied.  It certainly would not come easily this night.  I tossed and turned over all of the facts.  It was hard to argue with experience, even when it was had by another and comes to you third-hand, and I knew that lunacy was a possibility for me, if I didn’t solve the riddle.  A flash of insight that made everything seem clear and obvious broke upon me – yet as quickly as it had come, it was gone, and what it was had escaped with it.  I had no memory of it, just that it had been.  Hope!  There was a solution!  Where had I been when the epiphany had broken upon me?  “This will drive me crazy if I don’t solve it!”  I was already starting to.  I knew so.

What was the final clue?  Perhaps the answer was in it somewhere… no, it couldn’t be.  The final clue was that after I’d figured out the solution, I’d return to him.  Why would I go back to him, he’d already given me his armour… maybe it would fit on overtop of my own?  No, that couldn’t be it.  None of us could get our armour off, but the prince could take his off, as designed.  Plus, he’d offered to take mine off of me.  Why had I refused?  How could I be so blatantly overt in my prideful will while in his presence?  Maybe it wasn’t about what armour we were wearing, but… I drifted off to sleep, on the edge of the precipice.

A First

Chapter?  I don’t know.  Yesterday I said that I had something more to write, but that it wasn’t ready yet.  Well, it seems to split into sections somewhat well, and I’m not done yet – but I’m currently writing the third section of it.  This is the first.  I don’t want to call it a chapter, because I’m not a writer.  But I did write this… down.  It sort of builds on two passages in Scripture.  The first is Ephesians 4:22-24; the second is Ephesians 6:10-20.  You’re welcome to read them both first, or just to read what I’ve got written, below.

One

As is well-known in this land, we all form and forge our own armour.  We raise our defences as barriers; we eliminate, as much as is possible, any opportunity for an unguarded moment to arise.  We show ourselves to be invulnherable, to others, and sometimes we believe the lie ourselves.

I was one of those.  I was on the frontlines in the war, and my confidence had earned me prominence and dominance in some of the earliest skirmishes I’d seen.  Even before I’d been given rank there were a number of my peers who looked to me as a leader.  I had caught the eye of a general – not the field marshal, mind you, but a general – and had risen through the non-commissioned ranks quickly.  Lieutenant even faster.

My career as a captain had been full of hits and misses.  Experimenting with leading my soldiers from both the front and the back, I had found that they were far less effective, far less brave, and far less confident unless I was out front.  But being out front is more dangerous, one runs the risk of getting hurt.  And we like to appear invulnerable.

To be in front I had found that I required a deep trust in the soldiers following me.  A traitor would find an attack from behind me far more effective than an attack from the front.  I learned about traitors through experience.  I bear the scars to prove it.  Then there were the battles against the overt enemy!  I had to face these head on and hold ground in the thick of it, and they were fierce and unrelenting.  At times I gave up ground to them simply because of their numbers and strength; to my shame, at times I had yielded them territory because I was afraid.

There had certainly been successful campaigns against them, also, but somehow every loss seemed to loom far larger than any victory.  Recently it had seemed like the losses weren’t just larger, but also far more numerous.  I pondered this as I approached the tent to which I’d been summoned.  I had never even met the field marshal before – now I feared it was this recent trend of losses that had spurred the summons.  I stumbled in my mind for reasons, explanations to give, pretending that they weren’t excuses.

When I entered the tent, Michael stood before me, radiant in power and authority.  He spoke clearly and quickly, enunciating each syllable as is common when individuals speak in a second language rather than their native tongue, “Things are not what they seem, young captain, and you base far too many of your thoughts on your own perceptions…I have not summoned you for myself, but for the prince.”

This last phrase he added as I opened my mouth to ask why he had summoned me (but before I could get any words out), which question I now didn’t bother to utter.  He walked out through the opening I’d just entered by, revealing the prince’s form at the back of the tent.  He and I had met before on a few occasions.  My father had prepared me for service in this war, and the prince had enlisted me himself.  Whatever glory I had perceived in the marshal was now undone in my mind, swept away by the splendour of the prince’s presence.

“You’re going about this all wrong.”  His words bit me with conviction—though the tone told me it was not conviction for what I had dreaded.  He smiles and approached me, unstrapping his own breast- and back-plates from around his body.  He held it out to me, “Not in the results you’re seeing, but in the way you’re going about getting them.  Put this on.”

I reached for the straps that held my armour to my body, thinking that I would have to remove my own before I could put his armour on.  At first I couldn’t reach the strap, and assumed that this was due to the limitations of the armour itself.  It protected me well, but it also restricted my movement.  Nervously I glanced up at him, only to my surprise, the prince looked amused rather than annoyed.  He almost opened his mouth to speak, as I quickly reach around with my other hand, straining for an armour strap to loosen.  My fingers sill found nothing.  I reached around back; I tried reaching down my back from over my head; to no avail.

I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, again.  He stood there still, his arm fully extended, offering his armour to me.  While I was becoming increasingly agitated with my situation – seemingly trapped in my own armour – there was no frustration in his face.  Did that anger me further?  It certainly caught me off guard, which shocked my system, as my armour was designed to prevent such happenings.  Again, he looked as though he were about to speak.

I returned to my initial efforts, reaching across my chest to fumble at my side for a strap – for anything!  I was in a bit of a panic by this point.  In entertained tones, he asked, “What are you doing?”  Thinking it was self-evident, I took his question as rhetorical, or even sarcastic, and as though it were intended to speed me on with what I was doing.  I redoubled my efforts.

By this point I had decided within myself that it was not a flexibility issue.  It could not have been simply a matter of the armour restricting my motions.  Rather, I reasoned that either I was reaching to the wrong locale, or I was searching for the wrong feature.  Perhaps I needed a metal tab, rather than a leather thong.  Again, the prince’s voice rang out in the tent, “What are you doing?”

I glanced up at him, his posture unchanged.  I answered, this time, “My lord, I’m trying to remove this armour.  Surely it must come off if I’m to put yours on.”  He nodded in agreement, which I took as an affirmation of my continued fumbling.

Now, understand that as I shifted my weight, as I reached around my body, I involuntarily moved within the tent’s entryway.  All I could think of was the prince waiting for me to be ready to receive his armour, his royal gift.  Thoroughly embarrassed at the length of time I had been doing my dance, and the lack of results that I was getting; frantic to have the business done with; I stumbled to my knees on the cold earth before my liege’s feet.

Panting from exertion, I looked up at him, “My lord, I cannot.  I’m sorry.  Yours came off of you so easily, I thought mine would do the same.”

“Oh, it will come off of you easily enough – though it will be painful to remove.”  There was compassion in his voice for my embattled position.

“But how?  I cannot find any means of removing it!  There is no strap or thong; there is no tab or slot.  How may I take it off?”

He face fell slightly at this question.  Still, he spoke with a strong voice, “It is not designed to be taken off.  This is why you cannot do so.”

“So there’s a trick to it, is there?” mischievously, the thought came to me that it was some kind of riddle.  I determined, in my own mind, to solve it.  As I rose to my feet I found that his armour still hung at the end of his outstretched arm, offered to me.  “Give me time to uncover the secret, sire.”

The prince chuckled, “Finding will only bring you back to me – why not just let me show you?  Let me help you.”

In my pride I refused.  I felt that I had enough clues, and was intelligent enough to run with them for a time.  He took my hand in his as I turned to leave, “Take this, it is for you.”  He placed his armour on my shoulder, and let me go.

Plato’s Cave?

This week I’m on retreat.  I’m not running away from a battle, but I’m taking some “me” time.  The church recommends these periodically, and provides outlets.  This week the clergy of my diocese (Qu’Appelle) and of the Diocese of Saskatoon are at St. Michael’s Retreat Centre in Lumsden, SK.  Our guest speaker is Bishop Mark MacDonald, and it will prove to be a great retreat.

The Lord has inspired me in a couple of ways since leaving Swift Current today.  I’m not sure if it’s the music I was listening to (my friend Keith Kitchen is my travel companion), or the events of the last few days, or just God’s initiative (which it ultimately relies on, whatever other factors may have paved the way for Him to inspire…), but I’m sharing one thing now.  The other isn’t ready just yet.  Only He knows what else might come, in time.

I was always struck by Plato’s Cave.  If you’re unfamiliar, it’s in The Republic.  Basically, humanity is tied in a cave, and all that people can see is shadows on a wall, being generated by people carrying things past a fire that’s burning at some location behind them.  The philosopher is the human who has broken free from the cave and found a tunnel to the surface.  Upon seeing what things really are, in daylight, he returns to the cave and tries to share with the people there what he has come to learn.  They are resistant to his “new” knowledge, and generally prefer the darkness and the names and items they have imagined from the shadows.  That’s a pretty rough paraphrase, but it will have to function for us just now.  There was always something about that story that seemed to resonate with me, but there was always something missing, something “off” about it, from the reality that I’ve come to know through the Christian faith.

Humanity is trapped in an Imax theatre.  The giant screen in front of them makes them think that they’re travelling, makes them think that they’re interacting with the truth, makes them think that they’re living life.  But they’re deceived.  The truth is that they’re prisoners, and their life is a mirage.  There is a way out of the theatre, and one man, Jesus, who has come in via that way can lead them out.  If they’ll follow Him.  He’ll take them out, if they’ll give up their theatre seats.  Real life, all of the things flashed in front of them on the screen, exists outside of the theatre.  Jesus came into the theatre so that they might have real life, not the mockery of it that the theatre seduces them into.  Many don’t listen to Him: the things He’s describing seem so much like the things they already see before their eyes – isn’t He just imagining something more?  Many don’t listen to Him: the theatre seat they’re in is so comfortable, what if they get up and someone else takes it – or, worse yet, it gets cold (nobody likes sitting in a cold chair!)?

The question before each of us is this: will we go with Him, or will we stay in the theatre?  There is no other way.

A Short Course

We hold these odd weekends, and we give them a Spanish name.  Now, the odd thing about the weekends isn’t what happens on them, but the culture that grows around them.  They’re a short course, which in my understanding doesn’t refer to a course of study but to a course that a runner might race through.  While not a course of study, however, there is a good deal of information presented during these weekends.  But it isn’t a subject that a person might be interested in and may, therefore, seek greater understanding of on a whim, when they see it offered nearby.  It is all of life, and the material presented about it, during this weekend, is all-of-life in summary.  The weekend is actually running a short course, which mirrors in mini the whole of life.  Well, that’s sort of the point.  The odd thing is that a culture rises up around the weekends themselves – they are made an end in themselves, as though holding the weekend is the point.  But the point of the weekend is to equip people for the long course.
Sometimes the weekends have been allowed to falter into this narcissistic culture, and it has taken over.  Full of people who are seeking to re-live some experience from some other time they ran a short course, possibly a course of the same name but perhaps not; possibly a course in the same place, though perhaps not.  Weekends become about recapturing a moment long past, and the longer course becomes about facilitating the shorter one.  Yet it is no foregone conclusion that this will be the end, for this is not what the purpose is.
Instead, the shorter course may remain about the longer course: about sending people to the longer course with their eyes open, so that they can see and understand life in a new way.  Beginning the process of transformation that is so integral to the Christian life, these short courses can offer people with the tools that are required to succeed as a Christ follower.  Disciplines, and relationships to keep disciples (those who are disciplined) accountable to one another, and a method to engage in the accountability process.  This then brings growth in transformation that the world so desperately needs.  People who are on God’s side, and who are in His grip.

Clement of Alexandria

Some of you may be familiar with the project promoted by readthefathers.org, that has readers travelling through the 38 volume collection of the early Church fathers over a seven year period, reading roughly seven pages a day.  My younger brother, a gentleman and scholar (a classicist and patristic theologian) put me on it.  The cycle started at the beginning this past Advent season.  So far we have completed the first volume, and are roughly a third of the way through the second.  It will be a long process.

That said, I thought I’d share some really awesome quotes that came through this past week’s reading – particularly, from Clement of Alexandria in his Exhortation to the Heathen.  I won’t say too much about Clement himself – I think his writing reveals lots, on its own.  He had been a pagan philosopher, but came to know Christ and became the catechetical instructor in Alexandria by the end of the second century (by the year 200).  His Exhortation, which these quotes are taken from, was intended to work the soil around the hearts of the non-Christians (of which he had been one) to be receptive to the Gospel of Jesus.  Contemplate these words:

“…you disbelieve everything that you may indulge your passions, and that ye may believe in idols, because you have a craving after their licentiousness, but disbelieve God, because you cannot bear a life of self-restraint.  You have hated what was better, and valued what was worse, having been spectators indeed of virtue, but actors of vice.”

A warning worth heeding, even today.  We may not craft idols, but there are a plethora of bids for our attention, our hearts, our loyalty.  He exposes the motivations that so many have, for embracing the “gods” that they do.

“He offers freedom, you flee into bondage; He bestows salvation, you sink down into destruction; He confers everlasting life, you wait for punishment, and prefer the fire which the Lord ‘has prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

What an incredibly concise but poignant summary of what so many are prone to do – of what our hearts lead us into!  In our spiritual bankruptcy we do neglect the message of freedom, and just keep feeding the dirty tendencies!

“Let us therefore repent, and pass from ignorance to knowledge, from foolishness to wisdom, from licentiousness to self-restraint, from unrighteousness to righteousness, from godlessness to God.”

I love this quote, because he doesn’t challenge us to be ‘godly,’ in it; he doesn’t challenge us to believe that God exists; he challenges us to God Himself.  To know Him; to trust Him; to love Him.  In Him is our hope.

“You were boys, then striplings, then youths, then men, but never as yet were you good.”

This last quote hits me hard because it hits home.  I know that for a long time I employed myself into growing “up,” not developing or maturing spiritually – not growing well, in the way that really matters, by building up treasure with God.  How many people age, today, from baby to toddler to child to teen to adult, but never really grow into their potential as humans, to bear the image of God boldly and live as His children?

That was me – but by the Grace of God I am not what I was.  I leave these with you to ponder on your own.