The Dream of a City

New_York_-_panoramio_(12)

From wiki commons

Last week I had a very vivid dream. It was a dream of a place I long to go. In this dream, I was driving with others in a large passenger van through the worst parts of some unknown city. It didn’t feel safe nor the way the city was supposed to be. Soon we left the unsafeness of it all and came to a unassuming cabin in the woods. As we entered the cabin, I saw just how luxurious it was on the inside (it was bigger on the inside). All you could ever want was inside this cabin. You could pretty much live there forever and be content. Some people stayed there and not go any further; others decided it wasn’t for them and left.

I wasn’t content there. Something in me screamed that there was something more out there. Something bigger. Something grander. Something…other. And so, in the morning, I exited through the back door of the cabin and entered into a huge park. Green grass (wonderfully kept mowed) as far as I could see. The wind blew gently on my face, I could smell the sweetness in the air. I was a peace…somewhat. I wanted more. I needed more. In the distance I saw a city. A huge city smack dab in the middle of the park.

I ran to it.

As I got closer, I could see that there was something sticking up over the skyscrapers, something big and green. I ran by the banks of a river as I came closer to the city. The city was huge and beautiful. Not dirty, not scary, not unsafe. It was peaceful. I walked through the city streets, marveling at the beauty (that’s the only word I can think of to describe it) of the place. The architecture, the art work, the murals, the…everything.

Breathtaking.

And as I entered into the middle of the city, there was a giant tree. The river I had ran along the banks of was in the middle of the city and the tree was at its banks. The tree was ginormous. Bigger than big, taller than any redwood tree I had ever seen. The leaves were green, the fruit big and bright.

I looked around me. The tree was in the middle of a plaza, a city square. There children played and the elderly sat on the park benches, canes in hand, talking with one another as the children played. I marveled at the peace I saw, the peace I felt, the peace that was ever present.

And then the dream was gone. I don’t remember waking up. I don’t remember the dream ending nor beginning. I just remember the dream.

I do remember these words though:

What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived–the things God has prepared for those who love him–these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

No eye has seen, no ear has heard what God has prepared.

I don’t know fully what the dream meant. It could have easily been my mind processing life events. At that time last week, my uncle lay dying in a hospital bed. I had read scripture with him over the phone and prayed with him. My mind could have easily been processing things for me. It could have been more. I don’t know.

But what I do know is this: As human beings we started off in a garden and we will one day live in a city.

Central-Park-aerial-view-GettyImages-528725311

From Getty images

My uncle passed yesterday morning. He taught me about rock ‘n roll. He taught me about the things not of this realm, the spiritual things, the spiritual battles that are being fought. We spoke a lot about that with one another. The last thing he said to me was “See you in heaven, bro.” The last words I spoke to him as I was at his bedside the other night was “see you on the other side.”

Heaven.

It’s not a place that’s out there, that’s ethereal and untouchable. It will one day be a place on earth. The heavens and earth will be made as if new again, no more dying, no more cancer, no more pain, no more curse. Like it was in the beginning.

We started off, we human beings, in a garden. In a garden filled with so many things, and Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. But that relationship was tarnished by sin, by Adam. And in that moment, life was changed. Sin entered the world–murder, mayhem, reality TV shows–and it wasn’t the way things were supposed to be.

God has promised something bigger, something greater. As I reflect more on that dream I had last week, I reflect more on what heaven will be like one day. And I want to reflect that here and now in my life. The new city, the city with the tree of life in the middle of it all, will be a place of redemption, of restoration, of justice, and of peace. It will be the place where once again we walk with our God in the cool of the day.

There is so much more to write, bu I’m close to 900 words already. No eye has seen no ear has heard what God has prepared for those who love Him. But what he has prepared is more awesome than I could ever dream.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Short Twilight of the Heart

Ventura sunset

Picture by Monty Ives

There are times in one’s spiritual journey where things go dark. It’s as if God, whom you’ve been seeking, can’t be found. St. John of the Cross writes about this in his poem The Dark Night. It has later been called the dark night of the soul. St. John of the Cross talks about how in the darkness, one can’t sense God, see God, even know God (who, he says, is unknowable to begin with). Things have gone dark. In one’s spiritual journey there will be a dark night of the soul. I know, I’ve experienced it myself.

It’s a hard time. It’s a depressing time. It’s a time where, when God had felt so close and so real, He now feels so distant and hard to hold on to. If not for the tethering line of the Holy Spirit holding close, one might feel completely abandoned by God.

The rock group Barlow Girl writes sings about this in their song “Never Alone“:

You told me to call/Said you’d be there/And though I haven’ seen you/Are you still there?/I cried out with no reply/And I can’t feel you by my side/So I’ll hold on to what I know/You’re here and I’m never alone.”

This is the dark night of the soul. This is where there is the feeling of distance from God. This is the feeling Jesus felt on the cross where He cries out in the words of Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22:1, Mark 15:34

The psalm continues

Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” Psalm 22:1

The short twilight of the heart is like this but different. In the dark night of the soul, one feels completely detached from God, that there is nothing–only dark. That there is no words, no direction, nada, zilch–save for the tethering of the Holy Spirit and the promises of God made long ago.

The short twilight of the heart is a different thing. There is light. Just enough light to make out shapes, figures, shadows, images. There is God’s presence, just enough to feel warm, like the sun just setting over the Pacific ocean, you can see it, feel the warmth, but know that the wind will soon come over the ocean and create a breeze. In the short twilight of the hear, God’s voice is heard but heard vaguely. It is heard but in low murmurs like overhearing a conversation in the other room. You know someone is speaking but you just can’t make it out.

The soul longs for God. The heart is the seat of where Jesus has His throne for His followers. The soul yearns for God, the heart is the place where our whole self resides. The soul clings to God, the heart is what God wants changed. It is the heart that is restless until it finds rest in God (per St. Augustine). And so the short twilight of the heart is where God is present yet isn’t fully. Just like the sunset there is light but there is also darkness.

catholic heart

From catholiccompany.com

During the short twilight of the heart, there is muddied visions, unsure direction, a desire for clarity. The light can be seen. God is present. Jesus is king and reigns in your heart as savior, Lord, and friend. Yet the heart still desires for something, there is still a mild restlessness that can’t be explained.

There is that short twilight of the soul for many believers who just don’t know how to explain their place in their spiritual journey. There is a spot in one’s faith walk where words can’t express just what it means to see the light but only dimly. To see the light but only make out shadows. To hear God’s words but only in murmurs and vague blessings.

There are no signs and wonders in the short twilight of the heart. There are only squinting of the eyes to see if something is a blessings or not. While on the mountain tops we see it all so clearly. We see God at work in every moment. We see God moving in everything. In the valleys of life, in the dark night of the soul, we don’t see a blasted thing and are frightened and worried. In the short twilight of the soul, we don’ know. We just don’t know.

But I do know this: It is short. And as the sun sets at night, it will rise in the morning. There is darkness there but it is short because there is also light, a bright light that does require squinting to make sure that the promises are assured. All God has promised is “yes” in Jesus (2 Cor 1:20). This is what makes the twilight so short, because of that “yes” in Jesus.

Hold on to the promises. In your spiritual journey, when words can’t express what you are experiencing, know that the Holy Spirit is a work, praying for you in groans that only God can understand (Romans 8:26). There is light, it isn’t at the end of the tunnel because you’re no in a tunnel but looking at the world with the light of twilight. Shadows will be there, but there is light that causes the shadows to be cast. Words will be heard vaguely and in murmurs, but God is still speaking. Wait. And it will be short. A short twilight of the heart.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Impoverished New Year

Happy-New-Year-Images-2018-HD-1-1

From happynewyear2018x.com

It’s 2018. Yippee! (please read that “yippee” in a dead pan voice). Not being cynical, (though it is the nature of my generation) but we only went from December 31 to January 1. We do the same thing every 30 or so days. Nothing is truly different or magical about shifting from December 31 to January 1. We make resolutions. We want to see changes. But come February, we’re back to the same old same old from the previous year (yes, I’m sounding cynical again). So what’s different. Not much unless you look at this coming year differently. Not with resolutions of the will or body but a shift in the heart.

I’ve been reading through a daily devotional called A Guide to Prayer for all Who Walk with God. This morning’s section had this prayer which struck me for this coming new year. It read

Extravagant God, in your love you have assumed our human impoverishment. May we become empty enough to receive he riches of life you offer us in the community of those who call you Lord. Amen.” (pg 54)

In my own cynicism, I wonder how much I’ve been willing to truly accept the impoverishment of God for me. Sometime back, I wrote about the Kinetic Church, a church based upon Philippians 2:1-11. Jesus Christ emptied himself and had the attitude of a servant, a slave, one without authority or power, impoverished, and was obedient to even dying on the cross. He emptied himself because power wasn’t something He felt He should grasp, but instead, gave completely of Himself. And the community who call Him Lord should do the same.

Are you ready this year to empty yourself? Are you ready this year to be part of a community, to encourage your community, to be one that empties itself to an impoverished state in order to be obedient to God? Are you willing to empty yourself in such a way that you become a passionate follower of Jesus, seeking ways to empty yourself to change lives and communities?

This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus–to empty yourself into an impoverished state that allows you to truly do justice, mercy, compassion. Once we who are part of the community that calls Jesus Lord are willing and do empty ourselves into an impoverished state can we truly live to be passionate followers of Jesus.

And you might be reading this and may not be a follower of Jesus. Okay. That’s fine. Keep reading. There’s something amazing when you empty yourself for others. There’s something wonderful about giving completely of yourself. This, in truth, is being Christlike in what you do.

Christians are called, told, commanded, to be like Jesus in every way, including emptying of ourselves for others. As Jesus gave of Himself, as Jesus gave of who He was, we too are to become impoverished like Him. As He loved, so we too much love. As He gave, we too must give. As He welcomed, so we too much welcome. As He emptied Himself for us, so we too must do the same.

For 2018, let this year be different. Let this year be the year in which you empty yourself as Jesus did. Let this year be the year that you become impoverished as Jesus did, giving of Himself. Let 2018 be a year where there is a shift in your heart. Not a resolution of body and mind but a shift of heart and soul. Let 2018 be a year of impoverished serving as a passionate follower of Jesus Christ.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Bells of Heaven

This morning for family devotions, we read from Jesus Calling. Sarah Young wrote simply at first “I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.” These, she says, are heaven’s bells. And when we quiet our mind, we can hear it clearly. How often do we truly stop and listen for heaven’s bells? Have often are you just in the moment and listening in prayer?

Being still in our day and age is hard. The rock group Skillet calls it the American Noise. This American noise is the ringing of cell phones, the honking of cars, the constant chatter we hear of background static that’s always there. There’s always something going on. We’re always busy. We are always having something in the background making noise. There is no quiet with the American noise. They say to let love cut through this noise. The bells of heaven ring out the love of God. And when we are still and quiet, we can hear these bells.

We read about this in the Psalms

Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

We read about this in the Prophets

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands” Zephaniah 2:3

And later in Zephaniah

The LORD your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over  you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

And we read in Isaiah

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.” Isaiah 28:23

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:12-14

We read about this in the Gospels

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus in John 15:5

Blessed…are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus in Luke 11:28

And on top of a mountain with Jesus, Peter, James, and John “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Mark 9:7

And in the Letters

Come near to God and he will come near to you.” James 4:8

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:26

In one way or another, all throughout Scripture, you can read about listening for heaven’s bells.

Are you listening for heaven’s bells? Are you quieting your mind for even a moment to listen for the simple words of Jesus “I am with you.” Jesus says in Matthew 28 that He will be with us, even to the end of the age. He will never leave us. In fact He will walk with us along life’s narrow way.

Take time today and quiet your mind. Let the love of heaven ring the bells and cut through the American noise we have all around us. We have busyness all around us. Look for the quiet to hear the bells of heaven.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I had a Blog Idea

No, truly I did. I had a blog idea. I sat down and opened up WordPress and then just looked blankly at the screen. Seriously. My mind went numb and fumbled for words to even say. I felt like my mind was a receiver for the Chicago Bears or something where they just couldn’t hold on to the idea like a football thrown at them dead on (sorry for the sports illustration by the way). My mind has been like that as of late. I get great ideas…at like three in the morning or when I can’t write anything down…and by the time I get to a spot where I can write something down, I forget what the great earth shattering blow your mind idea went.

So, really, I had a blog idea to write. I’ve had a number of them to be honest. And then they just went poof, gone, never to be writ nor thought of again. And the times where I did jot down notes to come up with something later, I can’t understand what I wrote to begin with.

I’ve had this with my major dissertation project for my Doctor of Ministry as well. I had a great idea and then it dissipated into mind vapor even after I wrote it down. I didn’t like it after all. And then I had another great idea and so I used that to begin writing my proposal for the dissertation project. That didn’t pan out and then I sit here trying to figure out what I want to do. My mind don’t work. Why mind you no work?

Since this is Spiritual Musclehead, I’ve had many spiritual ideas as well. Ideas about talking to God, about prayer, about listening to God, about the church, about biblical justice, and when I get a chance to write it down, to type it out, to turn these ideas into written word, they just vaporize, and I’m at a loss. And then I just stare at the screen some more.

That’s it. Nothing more. No profound thoughts for today. Nothing that makes me go hmmm. Maybe I should go to social media for help on this one.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Losing Her Religion

Losing-My-Religion rolling stone dot com

From rollingstone.com

“Pastor,” she said to me with a smile, “I’ve lost my religion.” It was if she was telling me she lost 10lbs. I was silent for a moment. “I was reading Thomas Paine again,” she continued, “and I realized that I wasn’t religious anymore.” I thought for a moment. Smiled. I didn’t know what to say. I could imagine me in the corner and it was if she was in the spotlight. What do you say at a moment such as that? I could imagine seeing Jesus. I think I thought I saw Him cry.

“Really,” was all I could sputter. Maybe I said too much. Maybe I didn’t say enough.

I’ve mulled over that encounter over the last few weeks. What is faith? Is it fleeting? Is it strong? Does one lose faith? Did they have it at all? Is it rational? Is it more than a feeling? Every whisper of faith, every waking hour of faith, what is it?

Faith is something that goes beyond us. It is something that can be rational but reason itself cannot fully comprehend what faith is. Can one rationally come to faith? Can one rationally lose their faith? Apparently she did. Or did she?

Faith itself is something that is human and yet supernatural. We all have a faith system of some kind or another. Even atheism is a faith of a sort. And within our own faith, we live within the stages of faith. In his book, Stages of Faith, James Fowler talks about how there are levels to one’s faith. And one can stay on that same level their whole lives, never moving up or down but plateaued on the plains of existentialism. One can make a lateral shift in faith, as I think this lady did. A lateral shift is moving from one faith system to another, same level of faith, just different system.

But what about a Christian faith? What about faith in Jesus?

That’s a whole ‘nother critter right there.

As human beings, we’re hard wired for faith. We want a belief system, something to believe in even if it’s a belief of nothingness, we still want to believe in it. God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, moves in His people and establishes a true saving faith. A faith rooted in understanding and a deep rooted assurance. It is a faith that holds on to us rather than us holding on to it.

This faith develops at the hearing of the gospel message. Like a seed planted in soil, it develops and grows into the faith that God wants it to be in us.

But wait. How’d she lose her religion? How’d she see that there was something not there for her?

I think of the parable of the seeds found in the gospel of Mark (you can check out the whole parable/story here). Long and short of it is this: Seeds are sown on soil. Some seeds fall on the path and birds take them away. Some seeds fall on rocky soil they spring up by die quickly. Some among the thorns which grow but get chocked by the weeds and thorns. Some on good soil and these produce a crop of a 100 fold. The seeds are people who hear the gospel message. The birds are the devil who leads people astray. The rocky soil are those who spring up fast but just aren’t rooted right. The one’s who grow in the weeds and thorns are chocked by the things of this life and just don’t grow as they should. And the one’s on the fertile soil are the one’s that truly take the gospel of heart and it grows in them by faith.

There’s that word again: Faith.

So which one was she? The path? The rocky soil? The thorns? It’s not for me to judge. Some might say she never truly had faith at all. That’s mean to judge on such a level you don’t know.

In the end, I just don’t know. I do know that I know my faith. I know my faith in my faithful savior Jesus who died for my sins upon the cross, rescuing me from the tyranny of the devil. This gives me strong comfort.

I do wonder what would have happened if someone nurtured her faith as people have nurtured mine over the years. Was her faith, like some plants, left unattended and it just didn’t have the strength? I don’t know.

I do know that when faith is nurtured like a growing seed, it becomes part of the good soil and grows even stronger. Yet it needs to be constantly nurtured. It can’t be left unattended. It must be given room to grow and flourish. When it doesn’t. Well. Yeah. It doesn’t. And that’s not good.

And so I’m left to wonder and ponder this.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Movement of the Kinetic Church

IMG_3905

Photo by Josh Benton

There’s a pun there. But that’s okay.

Kinetic energy is energy in motion. It is the power of built up potential energy which then moves into kinetic energy when movement occurs. There is potential energy built up in the church today. It’s the missional energy to go forth and be passionate followers of Jesus making disciples who transform lives and communities. Yet this potential energy which is built up (and sometimes bursting at the seems) can’t be moved until the church empties itself with the love of Christ for one another and for those who are far from God. This movement from potential missional energy becomes the kinetic energy of love and moves forward by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is where things get interesting.

Let me back up a bit.

Much language today in church renewal and in church talk itself, there’s much to do about being an Acts 2 type of church. This Acts 2 kinda church is the missional church. This is the church where people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to breaking bread in each others’ homes, to prayer and to ministry. And God added to their number daily. Awesomesauce.

But there’s something missing in this missional language. That’s the language of Philippians 2. In Philippians 2 Paul writes that our attitude should be the same of Christ Jesus who emptied himself and humbled himself in love. And in an outpouring of love, died for all upon the cross so that we might have forgiveness of sins.

I want to be clear: Missional is important. Jesus says in John 21 that as the Father sent Him, so He sends us. David Bosch, a wonderful missiologist, once wrote in the tome Transforming Missions that as the Father sent the Son, and the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit, so the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sends the church forward on mission. This is key. This is so important.

Yet it is the divine love of God that holds the Trinity together as three in one. This divine love is what was poured out by Jesus when He humbled himself and made Himself a servant to others.

And as followers of Jesus, we are to do the same.

He tells His disciples

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

Dude.

The movement of the love of Christ, the divine love that holds the Trinity together, is the same love that we as followers of Jesus are to show. This is the mark of being a disciple of Jesus. To show this love. We are built up with the potential energy to go forth into the world as Jesus commands in the Great Commission from Matthew 28. It is in our spiritual DNA. But if we don’t have love, the very act of what we do is like a bad drummer not hitting the beat. It’s just annoying and filled with the din of dystopia.

The movement of the kinetic church leads to the actions of the missional church. You can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin. You need the love of Christ to move forward in mission. Without that love, it doesn’t make sense to go forth in mission.

Being the kinetic church means that we remain and abide in Jesus in order to move forward on mission. Jesus says later in John to his disciples

Remain in me, as I also remain in you…I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:4, 5, 8

This fruit that we bear is the love of Christ. God is a sending God. He is a God of Mission. He is the God who’s mission from the beginning was to have humanity in a loving relationship with Himself. And He literally moved heaven and earth to make it happen. And as His people, we are sent as His change agents into this world to help people become in that loving relationship with Him. But if we don’t have the love of Christ, how can we show that this God of Mission (who is also a God of Love) cares for them?

So, you who are part of the Church universal, need to step forward in mission by the power of the love of Christ in order to be used by God to redeem and restore all things.

But how?

That’s for a whole ‘nother post.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment