Down into the murky depth
Raw, unfiltered, unfettered filth
Oozing wounds, broken glory
Souls broken, twisted, gory
Seeking the lost and tortured we
Goes the Triune One but Three
Down into the murky depth
Raw, unfiltered, unfettered filth
Oozing wounds, broken glory
Souls broken, twisted, gory
Seeking the lost and tortured we
Goes the Triune One but Three
I was born and raised in California. Unfortunately, I was raised in the desert. But I did make it to the beach every now and then. California is rather famous for its beaches, sun lovers and of course, surfers. Every single serious surfer I know was disciplined. Except they would never use that word. It would be “dedicated” or “practicing my art” or “riding the waves”. The discipline they practiced didn’t seem difficult because they loved what they were doing. They derived satisfaction from the results of the disciplining of their bodies and minds to ride the waves. Of the surfers I know, most simply love the water and the waves. The sound of the pounding surf, the salty spray of the ocean, the ebb and flow of the water, and the sun beating down from above.
Any of you who have spent enough time in the ocean also know that it leaves you feeling its presence after you get out. One’s body retains a sense of the water pushing and pulling on you. The really great surfers eventually gain a natural sense of the water, a feeling for how it will be moving.
For those of you who didn’t grow up near the ocean, there’s something important to understand about the ocean. It’s predictably unpredictable. I love to swim in the ocean. Number one rule in the ocean however is this: never turn your back on the ocean. It can be hard to handle even when you know what you’re about to do, like body surf a wave. I once got rolled riding a wave and then the churning water held me under. I could see nothing but sandy water and quickly lost my sense of up and down. But I was comfortable in the water, I was experienced with it. I held my breath and waited for the churning to stop. Once it slowed enough, I waited to feel which way natural buoyancy was moving my body and then turned to go to the surface. The surprising thing was my feet immediately hit the sandy bottom and I was able to stand. I was actually in barely four feet of water. And all this was the result of my consciously choosing to ride the wave, never mind getting hit by one when you aren’t expecting it. Another rule in the water: don’t panic, it will only make things worse.
I was stationed on a submarine as a young man and we once did a short swim call in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Nothing but our little sub and the vast slowly rolling ocean. There is no escaping one’s smallness in the midst of the ocean. There are thousands of feet of water under you and vast miles to the horizon. The sea was calm, just a slightly visible rising and falling of the water. However, its presence and force were inescapable.
In the Gospel of John Chapter 3 verse 5-8 (ESV) it reads:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Air and water are both fluids, water is just a lot denser than air obviously. If you’ve ever been outside in the wind for a while, you will also know that wind can leave a mark very similar to the ocean. You can feel it on your face for a while after the experience. But it doesn’t have the same lasting intensity as spending time in the ocean.
A couple of years ago I wrote about discipline in general. You will also find the dictionary definition at the bottom of this blog post. That blog really was the beginning point for me, in terms of learning spiritual discipline. Learning to pray regularly. Learning to fast. Learning to be in community with fellow believers.
As I sat down to write this piece, I had in my head the idea to write about spiritual disciplines in general. But as I reflected, I realized something about this whole process. One does not learn the ocean in a day, or even a week. It takes years of time in the water. And more than a few bumps and bruises. I will warn you now, Satan is not interested in you really praying.
So, now here I am two years down the line following spiritual disciplines. Of practicing tuning out the distractions of this world and turning away from the pleasures of this world. Of learning to do it out of love. Out of love for my Lord, the redeemer of my soul.
And I am just getting the sense of something, that still small voice Elijah spoke of hearing. I am getting the impression that learning to sense the Holy Spirit is immensely similar to learning waves and ocean, but way more elusive. I don’t claim to have heard the whisper. But I’ve felt the breath. I’ve sensed the Spirit move in my own life and of those close to me. A couple of times now it has rolled me. But I decided to not panic. The Lord commanded us to not be afraid. Don’t panic in the water, it will not improve things. Fear will not improve the situation around you. Oh, trust me I’ve been afraid several times. But I didn’t act on it, I think I can say that honestly. And the Lord pulled us through. Because He is the God who saves.
How else does a mere mortal chase the immortal wind?
How else does a mere man follow the whispers of The Infinite Divine?
|synonyms:||control, training, teaching, instruction, regulation, direction, order, authority, rule, strictness, a firm hand; More|
The last year has been a tremendous journey spiritually. It started last Lent, when I sensed a need to pray. But, like really pray. Intensely. So I did for all of Lent and for a bit after. Long prayers in the morning, using the Anglican lexicon for morning prayer. I think I was hoping for some serious mind blowing GOD showing up and lighting some roman candles. But, the immediate aftermath was more hushed tones than fireworks.
My sense of being “right with GOD” got just a wee bit off balance. My overconfidence led to a rather embarrassing moment at work where I metaphorically stepped on my new boss’s feet by losing my cool with an employee during a staff meeting. That’s the short and sanitized version. Suffice it to say, my boss was none too happy.
It caused a real reflection on the emotional and existential emphasis I placed on my job. Being an American, my identity can be mixed up in my level of education, earnings, job title and type of job. Reflecting on the tensions that built up within me prior to the melt down showed I had way too much of my identity wrapped up in my job. The importance of this has only really recently become clear to me.
We joined a small group at church, my wife and I. There was some trepidation, would this not be a good fit? Would we stick out in the wrong way? None of this has been true, but instead has been a place of much joy and weeping to the LORD. Beyond that, not gonna break the confidence of the group.
Then I started listening to church history lectures found of Covenant Theological Seminary’s website. I finished Ancient Church to right before the Reformation and am almost done with the next semester of Modern Church History, Reformation through now. It has been humbling. The Council of Chalcedon and Christology nearly broke my brain contemplating how the church got to “Fully GOD and yet Fully Man”. So very much has happened to get to where we are now. Which is both part of the journey from the past and yet the current state of things while looking to the future return of our Lord and Savior.
In the process, something inside me broke. But in a good way. My attachment to my country. Don’t get me wrong. I still honor the country of my birth. I will continue to show it devotion. But only that devotion it deserves and is appropriate and no more. Same with my employment, a certain distance emotionally.
I’ve invested more time in the relationships around me. With my wife. With my children. With my small group. With my church. I got busy living.
Soli Deo Gloria
Last Sunday our church had a dramatic reading of Luke’s account of the trial and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ (see scripture below).
Maybe I’m a bit dull, but I never saw the simple choice that is presented in that recounting of the death of our Lord. Jesus, the God-man without stain or blemish, is raised on a cross between two criminals meeting their just end.
One hurls insults and derision on Yeshua, (Jesus’s name in Hebrew.) He mocks him, in the same manner that the religious elite do, “save yourself”. Jesus is essentially mocked for claiming to be the person that He is. The Truth is mocked for claiming to be Truth.
The other sees his own sin. He makes no excuses, no rationalizing of his actions. He sees his own inability to save himself. He sees the stark Truth, that Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, is being killed unjustly. And he asks Jesus to remember him, to look with pity upon him.
So the choice stands before us all. Will we acknowledge our sin, our crimes against a Holy and Righteous GOD or hurl insults at the Chosen One of God? There is none righteous, no not one.
God have mercy on us.
Luke 23: 32-43 (ESV)
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him,“This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I’m in the middle of a book on Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s a rather odd experience. It’s a lot like going to a new destination, a new place, a far off place. Rather like my first trip to visit Guatemala, my wife’s native country. I flew a red eye flight from LA to Guatemala city. It was 1992 and I deboarded the airplane down one of those stairways out of a 1950’s movie. Right onto the tarmac and then walked inside the building. It was still rather dark. When I arrived at the office to purchase a tourist visa, it was closed. We all had to stand around waiting for this little Guatemalan man to show up at 6 am. After paying my $10 he issued me what looked like a telephone message 4×4 inch piece of paper. It was almost comical if it weren’t for how exhausted I was. The airport itself felt tired. One part gritty, one part age and two parts just small. Leaving the airport I was hit with the scene of many small children asking for money. They were a pitiful sight: small, unwashed and obviously poor. The smell was of unwashed bodies and a tinge of smoke (I would learn later that all poor families use wood stoves to cook). The car ride to my, soon to be, wife’s parents house was full of sights, smells and sounds I was very unfamiliar with. It’s barely a 30 minute drive. Seemed much longer at the time. My wife has told me she wasn’t sure if I was about to just turn around and get on the next flight back to the states. I didn’t, in fact about 5 years later we would move there and make a home for 5 years. I learned a great deal about my wife and her culture and all its attendant facets. And I’m the richer for it.
The book (my apologies for no book name, it’s sitting on my nightstand at home whilst I type away here in a coffee shop) on Eastern Orthodoxy is written by a fellow who spent a number of years in Russia. He went over when it was still the Soviet state, but it collapsed about a year into his stay. He was there as the Russian Orthodox Church made its roaring comeback. I can nearly taste his experience. They not only speak another language, they think about things in a completely distinct way. The ways of Eastern Orthodoxy is also similarly distinct, odd and strange to the Western trained mind.
It’s a little like getting to know a long lost relative. They talk about some similar things, but with a very different twist. Those of the Eastern Orthodox faith have an amazing reverence for both the Mystery of GOD and the spiritual life, a looking to the Holy Spirit that makes Pentecostals look like babbling kindergarteners. The theological debates they engage in are related to this desire to be united to the Holy Spirit and the merging with the Divine. They are much more comfortable with the Transcendent nature of God. An infinite God is only understandable as He reveals Himself to us. All we know about Him is what He has chosen to reveal, leaving an Infinite amount of knowledge yet unknown to us, a mystery then. That our very frame and structure lack the wherewithal to grasp Him, that language and human thought are insufficient to the task of describing His magnificence. And, they are not very big fans of Logic. He recounted his students rather dismissive treatment of C.S. Lewis. He was “too logical” they said. The reliance on logic is an argument against it’s use for things of GOD.
Now, I will admit I find the western church’s obsession with logic a tad frustrating at times. As if we could logically argue someone into Faith. God’s Love for us is so intense that He would send His only Begotten Son to live among us puny creations and then Die as a propitiation for our sins, our wrongs against a perfectly Holy and Righteous God is not logical. It’s an intense, burning love for us that defies clear explanation, seeming completely out of proportion. And yet He did. Because we bear His image.
He made us, women and men, in His image. Women, have men ever seemed mysterious (odd, strange, not right in the head) to you? Men, have women ever seemed mysterious to you? We are each made in the image of a mysterious, glorious and living GOD. Our Eastern Orthodox cousins tend to swim in the mysterious nature of God, not wanting or trying to understand it but to experience it. I humbly submit that our “Western Church” could use a healthy dose of this transcendent Truth.
I’ve been using this phrase for a couple weeks now, maybe longer. The Long Game is this idea of strategic thinking, considering the “down the road” aspect of events. It’s used in American football, it’s used in politics.
I started using the phrase “long game” because I needed to describe life as a parent with teenage/early 20’s children. My wife and I are starting to see some of the payoffs of how we chose to raise our children. We are also seeing some points where, ya know, maybe we didn’t quite get it right. We had played the long game, instilling in our children certain virtues and habits. We had a particular way we wanted to parent. Discipline was short lived and direct to the problem. Sacrificial love was shown as often as possible. We apologized for our mistakes and expected them to do the same. Imperfectly of course, but we knew what our intention was. We wanted children who could control themselves and think about things for themselves and be who God made them to be.
God, in a sense, plays the long game. OT Scripture uses this term “longsuffering” and “lovingkindness”. It’s also where the word Grace comes from in the New Testament. He is willing to wait it out with us. He is merciful, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9).
But, there is another thing. Our children are also children of Adam and Eve. They have sin, just as assuredly as my wife and I do. We have this tendency to think of children as these innocent little things until the world manages to crush that innocence. As every parent of a toddler knows, things can be too quiet and that’s when you worry. Those sweet innocent children will lie straight to your face when they think that lie might get them a cookie.
Nowadays it’s a lot more difficult to know exactly what is going on in my children’s lives. School and sports and girlfriends take up time away from home. Soon my oldest will being moving out. It will be a sad, sad day. His mother will cry, sob more like. But, it is the way things go. I remember leaving home. My mother cried, my father looked a touch concerned. I understand that look know. The world cares not a whit about little old you. You’d like to think it does, but if one is naive to the depths of human depravity, it will be a very rude awakening indeed.
I pray that my wife and I have properly prepared our children to go out into the world. Interestingly, that is the phrasing used by Jesus as He sends the disciples: “out into the world”. That they “may be in it, but not of it.” (John 17) Mind you, He has them stay in Jerusalem until God the Father send the Holy Spirit upon them.
The entirety of creation points towards the creator. He made the sun and the moon, the galaxies, stars that are billions of light years away. The possessor of unimaginable power decided to use the word “father”, in what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer (more accurately the prayer the Lord Jesus taught the disciples when they asked Him how to pray), as the way to address Him. Not “Our God, master of light and all power”or “Supreme God, guarded by Cherubim and Seraphim who cover their faces and feet because of your Glory” or “Indescribable Entity which exists outside time and space who made all that is” or “Holy, Holy, Holy, God of ineffable power and might”.
As a father myself now for two decades, I’m starting to truly understand why. He is “raising us” like a human father raises his children. He instructs, He corrects, He disciplines and He rejoices over successes. Our God dearly loves us, intimately. He extends grace to us. He cares for those who rebel against Him. He pours out blessings on those who curse Him.
He chases down the wayward. He knows our predispositions, our weaknesses and pitfalls. He wishes to make us whole again. We are broken and battered creatures. Crawling from lust to lust, from unkindness to unkindness and depravity to depravity. He is never surprised by any of it, always knowing exactly what to do, unlike us poor, damaged mortal fathers.
Thank God He sent the Son to be our sacrifice on the cross, to take away our sins and give to all who believe on Him the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
So, rather occupied today.
May the Lord Bless you and keep you.
I posted two posts in the last two days: one about teaching (catechism) and then the other about prayer/scripture. They feel like solid pieces. Which left me thinking: So, how do I follow them up?
One foot in front of the other.
There is an old saying: “Christianity hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it has been tried and found difficult and then abandoned.”
I have days where I agree with this assessment and others where I do not.
It’s easy when I’m “trusting in Christ”. It’s easy when things are going rather well. It’s easy when I’m ignoring a problem.
It’s hard when the Lord is testing me with events around me. It’s hard when the prayer goes unanswered. It’s hard when the knife I put to my own will doesn’t want to go in so easily today.
Writing and talking about catechism and prayer/scripture reading is easy. Encouraging others to do it is fairly easy. Doing it, well, that’s a little tougher. Because it requires engaging my mind, my will and my soul. If all three are not focused on the task, then it is in vain. My affections must be focused on Him. My doctrines must be focused on Him. My practices of life must be focused on Him. But remember, the strength to do all of this comes only from Him, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I’m really trusting in Christ when I dig that knife into my own self will.