Monday, January 23, 2012

More of a Mystic

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
  and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
  and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
  and its features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
  and their uplifted arm is broken.
Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
  or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
  or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
  Declare, if you know all this.
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
  and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
  and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
  and the number of your days is great!
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
  or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
  for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
  or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
(Job 38:12-24, ESV)

The term “mystic” has fallen on some hard times in Christian circles.  Some would limit its use only to describe people who look to God as some sort of magic force and spend most of their time pursuing and contemplating something other than the material world.  The term does get connected, historically, with certain individuals who may have held to those positions, but in my reading, I’ve seen a bit of a “revival” of sorts in using this term.  And it’s along those lines I see my heart trending in my pursuit of God.

When I think of “mystic”, it makes me think of the similar root word “mystery”.  And, as I’ve contemplated those thoughts, the authors I’ve read over the past few years, and the Bible, I was drawn to the simple highlighted phrase from God’s answer to Job from the passage above.  I believe, in the purest sense of the word, God was challenging Job to become more of a mystic than he had ever been.  He was asking this man who He allowed to be afflicted and whose “friends” had laid into him harshly to consider that he really didn’t know everything in the first place.  They’ve told us forever that no two snowflakes are exactly alike … I can only imagine what a “storehouse” of them might look like under a microscope.

So, as I ponder the wonders and mysteries both around me and that God has yet to reveal (not to mention the ones He won’t ever really explain), I find myself drawn to the label of a “mystic” more than ever.  And I like that label when I consider the majesty and awe both that I see and that I don’t see.  I like it when I consider the incomprehensible love of a Father who would, quite literally, mortgage Heaven in order to pursue me.  The mystery of it all is something I pray will never grow stale.

As I travel my Crooked Path, I want to respond like Job did when God took a breath and let him speak.  He took back all the questions, all the comments and didn’t seem to worry that they weren’t answered like he originally desired.  I’d like to think he sat down and let the mystery of who God is and what He was doing wash over him and wrap him up.  I’d like to think Job became a completely confirmed “mystic” as I’ve described it … and I’d like to believe I am headed in that same direction.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fortune Cookies and Magic 8-Balls

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:10-17, ESV)

If you really want to dig into the meaning of this blog title and the impact of this passage deeper, I strongly suggest you carve out about an hour of your time and listen to this message from Scott Wildey of Flood Church in San Diego.  Download the MP3 and play it while you workout or just relax - I guarantee it will challenge your thinking about how these verses (verse 16 in particular) have been explained before.  For now, I’ll give you my thoughts on the challenge to my heart and how what Scott said plays into other things I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of years.

The division of our Bibles into verses, chapters, and even books is a wonderful thing … up to a point.  These formats make it easier for a writer, preacher, one who memorizes, and even a reader to share a particular word from God or any of a host of other practical applications.  Yet, they also provide an artificial barrier to what the story as a whole is trying to tell us.  For example, I was part of a team teaching a class a few years ago that focused on the “fruit of the Spirit” from Galatians.  During my preparation, I took the opportunity to listen to the entire letter Paul wrote multiple times so I could understand the context of that little list.  What struck me is that the “list” itself is pretty much an afterthought to the rest of the letter.  That event and several other things cemented the whole concept in my mind.

God didn’t write “individual verses, chapters, or books”.  God spoke through individuals who related their part of His story and great people through history preserved and translated it so we can read it for ourselves today.  And, while we might find practical application in any part of it (just like the verse above says), we can’t lose sight of the bigger purpose of Scripture as one massive story - a story that always points toward redemption because of what Jesus did.  To view it as less, which was Scott’s main point, is to reduce it (and God) to the trite sayings of a fortune cookie or the “magic” of that liquid-filled 8-ball we played with so long ago.  And, if you are doing only that, you are missing far too much.

The Crooked Path takes us on an intensely personal journey that has been walked millions of times by others just like us.  We tread the same ground, the same ups and downs as so many others did and many more will.  The one constant in our journey is the Divine Brother who the Father provides to walk the path along side of us.  He gives us His Word as a story of how to live and grow, and He gives us Himself as the way to learn and apply it.  Paul, in his “last will and testament” that is our book of Second Timothy tells his protoge this exact thing - search the Story and find yourself a part of it … then let God use you as He would.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stretch Your Faith

After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews. 6When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" He said this to stretch Philip's faith. He already knew what he was going to do. Philip answered, "Two hundred silver pieces wouldn't be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece." One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, "There's a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that's a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this." Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted. When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted." They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.  (John 6:1-13, The Message)

It’s a story we learn in Sunday School from a very early age.  It’s one of the most memorable miracles Jesus performed - and he did it two different times.  But there are some lessons within this story that deserve more than just a “Sunday School” look because they cut to the very heart of how I should and do believe.

Jesus is asking His disciples for some input on a very practical problem - hungry people.  He already knows what He is going to do (I just love that part), but He wants His men to think about the challenge, perhaps even think “out of the box” a little.  And, as we see so often, they fail to see beyond their noses.  They miss the point of His questions because of their pre-conceived notions about how things work and the way they believe they ought to happen.  Philip says they can’t possibly buy enough.  Andrew finds a small lunch, but then notes it wouldn’t provide even a crumb for everyone present.  But at least there is that lunch …

Now, we don’t know anything about this little boy.  We don’t know if he offered his lunch up or if Andrew spotted it.  I’d like to think, given the way Jesus and children interacted, that the boy was open to the possibilities of what might happen.  He was willing to accept that Jesus would do something not normally expected.  And, as the story unfolds, that is exactly what happened.

But, Jesus doesn’t just tell the Disciples to “Stand back and let Me handle this.”  He begins by thanking His Father and then He enlists their help in passing out the meal.  He involves them, gets them to participate in what is going on so they can stretch their own faith and see first-hand the lavish abundance God provides to the crowd.  Jesus took the small faith of the disciples and that one tiny lunch and made a picnic in which nobody walked away hungry.

As I face this New Year on the Crooked Path, I want to pause and ask myself a single question.  Am I willing to give up what little I hold and stretch my faith?