Stars

Lying underneath a beautifully bright sky, unpolluted by city lights, enhanced by mountains and trees framing it, I think.

“I wish I could come up with something profound, read a deep meaning into the night sky right now.”

“But I can’t.  Nothing is coming.”

“That is okay.  No one said you have to philosophize every time you look at the stars. Why put that on yourself?  Stop trying to be something you’re not.  Don’t put up a front, for other people or yourself.  Just be you. That’s all.”

I prayed then.  Asked God to help me love better.  Because I often do a shoddy job.  In my heart, in my attitude, and often by omission.  Forgive me, Lord.  Father, Daddy, remind me how to love.  Help me look to the heart of people, and of myself.

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Gregory

“Hello!”  I gasp as I pause in my tired, sweaty trot down Woodward Avenue.

“Hello there!” he responds from the shade of an overgrown bush.  “You like to run?”

“I do.  But its too hot!  Even now, in the morning” I pant, catching my breath.  “I like to take care of myself.”

“That’s good, that’s good.  You eat right?” he queries.

“Haha, for the most part.  I avoid pop, junk food, try to eat more fruits and veggies. I give myself a break sometimes, though” I laugh.

“That’s right, you’re doing good!” he exclaims.  “Just avoid candy.”

“I know, its nothing but sugar!”

So began my conversation with a slim, middle aged, African American man sitting in the shade on Woodward Avenue.  Not too much further into the conversation, I asked his name.

“Gregory.  And yours?”

“Rachel.  Nice to meet you Gregory!”

The conversation continued.  I originally paused in my run because I was seeking a homeless person to talk to – the two I usually saw begging near I-75 seemed to have more sense than to be out on such a hot day.  Gregory was the first person I came across and seemed to fit the bill.  However, as soon as he began to speak I realized he was quite lucid, articulate in fact.  Intrigued, I sat down next to him for a conversation of exercise, health, family, and belief.

“What do you believe, Rachel?”

“…I love Jesus.  I try to follow what he teaches, but it is hard.  So hard!  What do you believe, Gregory?”

“I am a pagan.  Have you heard that before?”

“Yeah, I have.”

“I believe in every religion.  I believe in God, and I want to know as much as I can about God.  I also want to know the Devil, all I can about him.  Allah, Krishna, Buddhism, I believe it all.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes.  Knowledge, expanding your mind, is so important.  I don’t like the conversations people around here have.”

“Very surface level?”

“Yes, nothing to them!  I want to go deep when I talk to people.”

“Like we’re doing now!” I smiled.  It’s not just people in Highland Park, Gregory.  But I think you know that.

The conversation continued for a while longer, and I found out Gregory loves to read, and was planning to go to Hamtramck’s public library today to study.  He told me he wants to be a philosopher, and I claimed he was one already.  A coffee shop philosopher, or a street philosopher.  Odd and enjoyable, this chance meeting of kindred spirits.

“I will see you around!  I walk to Aldi all the time!”  I resumed my run, pleased to have met someone new, and looking forward to our next discussion.

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How much do we give?

27 This is what I say to all who will listen to me:
Love your enemies, and be good to everyone who hates you. 28 Ask God to bless anyone who curses you, and pray for everyone who is cruel to you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, don’t stop that person from slapping you on the other cheek. If someone wants to take your coat, don’t try to keep back your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who asks and don’t ask people to return what they have taken from you.

31 Treat others just as you want to be treated.
32 If you love only someone who loves you, will God praise you for that? Even sinners love people who love them. 33 If you are kind only to someone who is kind to you, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners are kind to people who are kind to them.

34 If you lend money only to someone you think will pay you back, will God be pleased with you for that? Even sinners lend to sinners because they think they will get it all back.
35 But love your enemies and be good to them. Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel.

36 Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.

Luke 6:27-36

Maybe I am naive, but reading this, it sounds like people who follow Jesus are not liked by others.  They are not high in society.  They are not living comfortable lives.  They are living bold – people are hating them, cursing them, slapping them on the face, stealing their belongings!  And how do they respond?  By loving those who hate them, praying for those who persecute them, enduring even more abuse, and giving more to people who steal from them.

I do not know if these were meant to be everyday or regular occurrences in the life of a Christian, but I do know this is  a radically different lifestyle than the one accepted by popular American culture.  I know I do not live this way.

Followers of Jesus are meant to rub people the wrong way.  I think we are meant to reach people not by being so overly “nice” that we do not challenge their sin, or step on their toes about Jesus, but by calling out their sin, being bold about Jesus, and still responding in love when they react negatively.

In this passage followers of Jesus are told to “treat others as you want to be treated.”  So, if we are calling people out on their sin, we must also be open to the rebuke and correction of our sin.  This requires humility.  LOTS of it.

Followers of Jesus are meant to give, give, give until it hurts them.  To live exceedingly generous lifestyles, especially for current American standards.  We are to give of our reputation (v.27), our pride (v.28-29, 32-33), our physical well-being (v.29), our belongings/resources (v.30, 34), and our compassion (v.36).  We are to be givers.  Joyful ones at that!  And we can be, knowing what the Lord has given to us – salvation, and life eternal with Him.

Holy Spirit, guide the way.  Jesus, show your sleepy followers the meaning of joyful and willing sacrifice!

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A Lesson in the Garden

Story time!

A few days ago I was pulling weeds in my neglected backyard garden, with a mind to grow wildflowers on this small parcel of land.  I wanted to be sure to extract all of the weeds that I could, especially the oversized ones, and the ones with extensive root systems.  The land must be as clear and ready as possible for the future bed of beautiful wildflowers to thrive!

As I was down in the dirt, slowly uprooting small and big plants alike, I had a simple revelation – I could not tell if certain small plants were weeds, or the beginnings of flowers planted by previous owners.  Many of the tiny plants looked so similar, I (a novice gardener), could not tell the difference.

My mind immediately jumped to the illustration of the Church as being a mixed bunch of wheat and tares.  So many people are “in” the Church, but, unless one has a trained eye (or a gift of spiritual discernment from God), in many cases one cannot tell the difference between a flower and a weed.  Until we see the flowers (the fruit) of a plant, it is quite difficult to know whether we should have left it in the ground or uprooted it early.  The same with those in the Church – you will know them by their fruit – what they do, who they become.

Those who have been gardening for years, or who have been taught by a long-time gardeners no doubt know much more about telling the difference between weeds and desirable plants.  Some can probably take one look at a plant and know – “pull it” or “leave it”.  But I, the novice, had quite the dilemma – do I pull plants I am unsure about, just in case they turn out to be weeds that try to take over the garden?  Or do I leave them, to see what they will become, giving them a chance at life and beauty?

Knowing that in the end I can root them out of the ground with a bit more difficulty, but with an increasing amount of certainty of their identity, I chose to leave quite a few of the questionable plants.  Each one deserves a chance at life.  In a couple weeks, I will see what they made of that chance.

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Eternal Life as Knowing God

John 17 (specifically verses 3, 6, 25-26)

Eternal life is something so misunderstood in mainstream American culture. We think of floating around in the sky with little naked baby angels, or our spirits existing in a different, unseen plane or dimension, or literal streets of gold where we have no worries or cares and we have all the earthly goods we want.

If anything, this last description is the closest to the Biblical truth – Revelation tells us God will dwell with His people in a new heaven and new earth, terra firma. However, this is not the heart or essence of eternal life, living forever in a new, perfect world. Jesus’ prayer to his Father in John 17 spells out quite clearly what eternal life is: “Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent.”
This not only debunks works-based salvation, but shows us that we do not have to wait until we die to have eternal life. We can know the Father NOW. We can know Jesus NOW. We can interact and have conversations with them NOW. Eternal life is not life after the grave – it is the fullness of life we have when we KNOW the power behind the universe, know His character, know what He has done, and know that He loves us.
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Not a soft God

From C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 29-31

“We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody.  One is the universe He has made….The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds.  And this is a better bit of evidence than the other, because it is inside information. You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built.

Now, from this second bit of evidence we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct–in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness. In that sense we should agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions, that God is ‘good’. But do not let us go too fast here. The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. If God is like the Moral Law, then He is not soft….you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests [human greed and trickery and exploitation], then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist and absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do….God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.”

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Broken

“Augustine uses three analogies to describe sin: an inherited disease passed down from generation to generation, a power to which we are enslaved and a judgment pronounced for breaking a law.  You and I are bent toward making bad choices that damage ourselves, our earth and our relationships with one another.  Sin  is the thoughts, words and actions that break things.  We break ourselves, our loved ones, complete strangers and the earth with regularity.  But the ultimate consequence of our tendency toward wrong according to the bible, is the shattering of our union with God” (p. 50, The New Friars, Bessenecker).

Sin.  As the breaking of things.  Of people, of communities, of the earth.

Brokenness.  This definition of sin cited and explained by Bessenecker brings together conservatives and liberals.  The purpose of God’s law (and sometimes man’s as well) is wholeness – prevention of brokenness.  This is why the law is fulfilled in love, because love seeks to prevent and heal brokenness.  Healing brokenness both follows the law (whether the New Testament law of love or the spirit of the Old Testament Law), satisfying religious conservatives, and in time results in a better social condition, answering the cries of religious liberals.

This world is broken.  And we are the ones who are breaking it.  What will we do about it?

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What if His People Prayed?

A post I wrote several months ago but never published.  Apparently I needed this reminder too – my prayer life is abysmal.

The power of the praying Church.  And the reality that at least part of the “Church” does not pray as if the fate of our world depends on us.

It does.

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.”  2 Chronicles 7:13-16

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”  1 Corinthians 3:16-17

“And when you pray…But when you pray…And when you pray…”  Matthew 6:5-7

The Spirit is moving.  In the past ten years, perhaps more, prayer movements have sprung up around the world.  Young and old Christians alike are rediscovering the discipline of prayer.

New Delhi House of Prayer

24-7 Prayer International

International House of Prayer – Kansas City (and in other parts of the world!)

Ihope Detroit

The Burn

Operation World

These are but the tip of the iceberg, I am sure of it.

In this age of abundant resources, information at the speed of light, more entertainment and leisure activities than we will ever need, will you STOP…and encounter God in the quiet?

Will you connect your heart to God’s?

Will you follow St. Paul’s urging to pray without ceasing?

Questions…Is prayer truly whatever you want it to be, however you best connect to God?  Some people say that they play drums as prayer.  Not that they necessarily pray while they pray, but that they play, and the passion with which they play is a prayer, an offering to God.  And why not, I suppose?  When has God ever said no to a heart passionate for Him to move, no matter how that heart expresses itself?  Perhaps intercession does not have to take place with words.  “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

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The Rape Trade

So, what began as a blog post has expanded into something much more – an impromptu, informal, personal research project.  Here are its beginnings, and my beginning thoughts.  I will post more formalized and coherent thoughts as I write them.

A friend of mine forwarded a video report from 2004 (2004! Seven years have gone by…) on the sex trade and industry in Calcutta, Bombay, and other eastern cities.  I was shocked at the perspective of the brothel owners and clients.  No shame, no sign at all that what they are participating in and perpetuating is at all wrong.

“This [prostitution] is the need of the society, the need of the male person.  If this need is not fulfilled, I think they will commit some rapes of some good girl…of the good ladies in the society.  This the good thing for the society also.” says the local chief of police in Bombay during the above video report.

“As brothel keepers and tavern keepers, widows (and those who passed as such) might earn a better living than seamstresses, domestic servants or field laborers.”  quoted here.

The way I wrap my mind around this is to look at our human condition.  Humanity is depraved, so we lie, cheat, pay to have sex with girls and women who may have no other options, take bribes, fail to defend the powerless.  Humanity is depraved, so we create depraved social systems, such as human trafficking networks, and intentionally obscure and conceal this shameful information from the public.  This concealment perpetuates ignorance and apathy.  This is why the sex trade is lucrative, why so much of it is kept hidden away, and why it still exists after thousands of years.  The public does not know, or it does not care.

I’m sure someone much more intelligent than I has said that we humans, as a species, should be advancing morally as time rolls on.  How can this be so, if in Calcutta, India, the Durbar organization reports that all sex workers are over the age of 18, none of them face violence, and none are exploited by their pimps or brothel owners.  The UN reports that 30,000 girls are forced into sex slavery through Calcutta every year, in direct contradiction to Durbar’s statements.  Outright lies pass for truth.

In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!

~ Psalm 45:4

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Gimme

Prayer.

In a language you don’t understand.

For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

To speak truth and life to the city.

Souls crying out.

For God to move in revival.

Not for you, not for me, but for Him and for them.

It’s a place of offering and sacrifice  and prayer and intercession.

That is, the church.

Go.

Action, movement, momentum, following the Lord’s command wherever it leads.

And make disciples of all nations.

Action, a giving of the self for others’ spiritual growth and good.

Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Action, obeying Jesus’ example and command for his followers.

Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Again, an action, instructing and mentoring others in spiritual maturation and obedience.

There is no consumer Christianity.  Follow or don’t.  Being on the fence is, by default, not following.  Sitting on the fence is sitting.  Sitting is not moving, not walking, not tripping, not falling, not moving at all.  Following Christ requires movement.  So MOVE!

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