The Problem with Rebirth is YOU (and Me)…-And The Journey There-

The night had grown dark as the shadows fell upon the buildings of Jerusalem like thick blankets, cool and sleepy. Creeping along the side roads and alleyways, Nicodemus made his way to the house where he knew Jesus was staying. He did not want to be seen, after all, as a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, he had a reputation to uphold…and yet he felt compelled to seek out this Rabbi.

Perhaps Nicodemus witnessed Jesus, red faced and angry as he cleansed the Temple when others had turned it into an ancient Walmart; Or perhaps he had witnessed or even heard through second-hand knowledge of Jesus’ miracles. Regardless of the ‘why’, Nicodemus had to seek Him out.

Nicodemus stands sheepishly at the door momentarily seconding guessing himself before finally knocking. He hears someone stir from within, and the voices that had been loud and jovial only a moment ago, quiet down as if to wonder who could be at the door at such a late hour. Wide eyes peer out as the door cracks open, for a moment there is silent, shell-shocked surprise as the homeowner recognizes Nicodemus standing there. Why would a Pharisee come here, and why so late?

As if in reply to the silent question, Nicodemus asks politely, “Is the teacher Jesus here?

I can almost envision a flurry of questioning and worried looks from within. Questions like, ‘Is this Pharisee here to harm the Master?’, and ‘What could he want?’, or even, ‘What can we say to make him leave?’ Finally the owner leads Nicodemus to the roof, where the cool breeze of the evening makes this space the most desirable place in the house.

Jesus is seated there, perhaps looking out upon the city, pondering…or perhaps He knew Nicodemus would come and so he was simply waiting.

Nicodemus, nodding gratefully to the owner seats himself beside Jesus. In a way of greeting, Nicodemus, a teacher of the law and Rabbi in his own right calls to Jesus, ‘Rabbi’ in a manner of respect.
Rabbi, we know that you are a teach who has come from God…”
-(John 3: 2)

Such a public declaration in the daylight would most certainly have tarnished his reputation or worse, and yet here in the privacy of the dark Nicodemus pours out his heart and speaks plainly to Jesus. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Imagine the scene, as Nicodemus declares that which is nearing blasphemy to the ears of his fellow Pharisees, and yet here in this quiet evening space, he speaks to what He knows in his heart is true. He has arrived at “God must be with this man – Jesus”…and Jesus is about to take him to the very feet of God himself. For a moment there is a pause in the conversation as Jesus collects himself and then looks at Nicodemus with the wisp of a smile, and he says, “This is the truth that I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

For a moment this puzzles Nicodemus.
What could that even mean? How can one be physically born again? It is not possible! A Rabbi who is used to telling stories to teach a point is completely lost when Jesus uses a very similar method. Nicodemus finally speaks and asks his question, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!

Then Jesus looks at Nicodemus as if he can see into his very soul…and perhaps he could. Perhaps in all of his many years as a Rabbi and religious law enforcer, Nicodemus has never seen or heard of such wonders from one man. Perhaps somewhere in his heart and soul, the words of Jesus are being heard in a much different frequency. It is the frequency of truth, life and the source of all love. Perhaps in this very moment the creation has caught a glimpse of the Creator and there is a skipping of a heart beat and an inward ‘leaning in’ as if in response to a hunger that has been reignited once more that was only known in his younger, more eager days.

Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, and this time Nicodemus physically leans in, as if to catch this moment and words with his hands, mind and heart. Jesus speaks of the heavenly things and Nicodemus barely grasps the earthly ones, and yet from this night on, he will never be the same. Soon, the truth of Jesus’ words will reverberate in his mind as he witnesses Jesus’ crucifixion and death. The truth has set Nicodemus free this night. Where there was once doubt, certainty begins to grow. Where there was once earthly wisdom, heavenly wisdom is now craved. Nicodemus may have come under the cover of night, but will soon perhaps declare in the daylight his new found hope.

I wonder where we are in all of this.
Do we have all of the head knowledge the earth can give us and yet we come up short when it comes to grasping this faith that Jesus offers to us? How do we comprehend so new life? Is there room in our understanding of faith to find rebirth?

Perhaps some of us are still figuring things out.
Maybe others have begun that late night stealthy walk towards Jesus, hoping no one will see us as we explore. Still, perhaps others have met Jesus and have put their trust in Him.

Wherever you are on this journey, please know that Jesus is waiting patiently for you…but don’t wait too long. Don’t hesitate. Don’t procrastinate…because one day it will be too late. Grace truly does have an expiration date.

So where are you on your journey today?

Something more to ponder today.

The Death of a Fallow Prayer Life…

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:14

I was cleaning our kitchen yesterday.
With four children this is almost an everyday occurrence. If not, dishes tend to pile up and creates a chaotic leaning tower of Pisa sort of mess. Anyway, I digress…As I was washing off dishes and putting them into our dishwasher, I looked up at the windowsill and noticed our non-thriving plants. They were all dead. We might make excuses about these dead plants. Perhaps we might say that they are simply dormant in the winter. Or maybe they just needed to be pruned back for the season. A few more excuses come to mind, but in reality these plants are simply dead. They were once promising green, thriving plants in pots and sun lamps. Many on the cusp of producing some sort of fruit or vegetable. Yet, due to our travel schedule and our lack of green thumbs, they have shriveled up and were husks of their former living selves.

I am reminded that this is a living parable (pun intended)…for myself. I feel as if the Lord teaches us through the world around us – like my plant pots holding dead things in them. Caskets containing death instead of nourished soil of growth. I am drawn to this life lesson. It is something simplistic and yet stark in its reminder to me. For I am sometimes this casket containing death, when I should be a vessel containing life.

Image result for desert land


In my prayer life…
My un-uttered words.

Image result for dried cracked lips male


my parched lips and forgotten promises to God.
My prayer life can look like husks of its former self.
Dried up.
Dehydrated out of lack of spiritual water and nourishment.
Neglected and empty.

How many times have I forgotten to go back to the Living Water?

Image result for dying of thirst

How many times have I gotten so busy in the concerns, fears, transitions and schedules of life that I have simply left my conversations to God to go fallow life I harvested fields? And before I know it, the once rich, dark vibrant soil is now cracked and as dry as bones in a desert. From this neglect enters apathy, harsh words spoken out of frustration and shallow roots.

Have you stood on this fallow ground?
Is this you? I know that I have found my shamed identity here.
what are the conversations that you have neglected with God? He desires to nourish your life again.
He longs to shine on the soul-soil and help you grow once more.

For me?
I am convicted here.
I find myself licking my parched, cracked lips in longing for that Living Water once more. I feel the guilt and shame of leaving Him out of my life…and I must seek Him out again. I must return to His living water and replenish my mind, body, soul.

Prayer:
Dear Lord, create in me a clean heart once more.
Renew in my a right spirit again.
Re-hydrate my broken, crumble soil.
I long to find rest and rejuvenation in you anew.
Re-ignite your passion and compassion in me.
Take away the casket of death and flood my heart with life and love.
Here I am, spark in me the joy of your salvation once again.
Lord, bring your Living Waters once more.

Something more to ponder today.
Be Blessed and thrive not just survive!

The Dreams of Our Childhood…

What is it that drives you, motivates you, wakes you up in the morning?
Fear?
Coffee?
Money?
Children?
Your Spouse?

What are your passions and goals in life?
To be successful?
To find happiness?
To be content?
To travel the world?
To make the world a better place?

What if within that pursuit you discover that happiness you’ve been searching for has been with you the whole time?

What if you got it all wrong, and had to start over?
Would you?
Could you?
Or would you simply settle?

I fear many people have given up on dreaming.
I fear many have simply settled for what they have, and bought the lie that the dream was too large, or too unrealistic.

What would it take for us to begin dreaming again?
I mean dreaming reality big…like when we were kids.
When there was no such thing as impossible.
When, if we dreamed it, it could truly happen.
No walls of “can’t” exist.
No prison bars of “You just don’t have the time or education” to hold you.

Could we begin to believe again?
Would we even know how?

Yes, Adulting is hard…but as we grow older the imagination of our youth becomes even harder to hold onto.

We need to redefine the impossible.
We must recapture the dream.
We should never just settle…

-Something more to ponder today.

Walking at Midnight on the path of restlessness.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

I have another confession to make – I am restless…like pit of my stomach-aching restlessness.  Some days I can put my finger on it, while other days it is as elusive as an honest thief.  I am usually successful at pushing it back down, repacking that box that it lives in and stowing it away in that shadowy corner that I seldom travel to.  Still, I know it’s there…and it weighs on me as if an elephant had decided to perch its rotund bottom on my chest.

I wonder if you feel this way sometimes?
Do you have to push it back down as well?
Do you have to re-tape that worn-out box and pretend that dark corner doesn’t even exist?  Does it keep you up at night – blinking at the ceiling fan, counting the rotation of its blades as shadows dance off reflections of streetlights lit only for 3rd shift workers and insomniacs out for a stroll?  I repress the urge to join them, to open the front door and walk barefooted down the now cooled, uneven sidewalks as I imagine myself trying to avoid the spiny round pods that fall haphazardly from the large gum tree in our front yard.   I have stepped on these awful spiky seeds a time or two while walking barefoot down our path and even in the cool darkness of the night thoughts of the surprise pain causes me to recoil my feet from the lower spaces of my bed.

I wonder if David ever felt this way?  The pre-murder and adulterous David…the one that tended sheep and slew predators to the flock.  I wonder if he ever felt restless in his heart?  I am sure he did when, later he was being pursued by jealous King Saul and his men.  As David hid from cave to cave and village to village, I imagine him laying down on an uncomfortable uneven floor hoping to rest his weary head.  I can picture his deep sadness as he yearned for his best friend Jonathan.  Yet David trusted in God…but I would venture a guess that there were moments in which he was restless and he too had to push it back down and re-tape his box.

It is said that there is a season for everything…and yet Jesus told the people of his day not to worry about anything, yet I can’t help but find myself in the season of worry from time to time.  Doe that mean that I am not heeding His words?  That, despite my best efforts, I am not trusting in Him?  Perhaps you have thought this also> I worry, but Jesus said not to, and here I am still worrying.<  What do we do with these seasons?  How do we find the glimmers and glints of hope in the mess of our minds?  Sometimes we do believe the lie.  What lie you ask?  The lie that Jesus wasn’t really talking to us when He said those things, that it was just for the disciples and people around Him right then and there… The lie that we are broken people beyond fixing, and that the restlessness that we feel in the pits of our stomachs and the weight of our hearts is what we deserve for being fallen, sinful people.

Don’t live there.
Don’t wallow in that muck and believe that damning lie.
The son who turned his back on his father and spent his entire inheritance on partying, prostitutes and comfort found himself feeding muddy, fetid pigs.  Day in and day out he was covered in mud and pig excrement.  He definitely smelled as bad as they did.  He had lost everything – squandered a small fortune on foolish, regrettable things, and the stink of his life went much deeper than clothes and skin.  He lived there.  He wallowed there.  That pen of stench became his home for a period of time, until he came to senses.  As Jesus told this story of prodigal son, I imagine some who were listening felt that he was telling their story.  The prodigal son came to his senses, got up and devised a plan to return to his father.  He formulated a plan in his mind, he believed he would be unwelcome to return as a son, but maybe, just maybe his father would let him return as a servant.  Can you imagine that restless journey home; The endless loop of things he would finally say to his father in order to stave off the reprisals and chastisements?  As each dusty step led him closer and closer to the home he once knew, thoughts of doubt and fear must have crept in.  “Master, just let me work for you.” (For surely he would never be worthy to call him father after what he did).

And when this beaten-by-life man, who had squandered everything and had hit absolute rock-bottom crested that last hill, and his home was in view…he saw someone running towards him.  Perhaps it was a servant instructed to chase him off.  Perhaps it was a warning not to come any closer…he would have deserved such a welcome.  Instead, it wasn’t any of those things…it was his father that he had wished were dead, running to embrace the son he thought he had lost.

Don’t live in the home of restlessness.
Don’t believe the lie of shame and guilt.
Be forgiven, let your Father embrace you and welcome you home…and when you are finally hope, re-tape that box and then throw it away.

The prodigal son is me.
The prodigal son is you.
But once we have been embraced,
once we have witness our Father running to us,
Once we have been forgiven and returned to our home (where we belong)
don’t even entertain the lie or the box any longer.

But sometimes…we still walk at midnight, say hello, I’ll be waving.

Something more to ponder today.

International Day of the Girl…So Far To Go…

Today is an important day!!
Perhaps you didn’t know it was today…perhaps you didn’t really even care.

But…
There is a movement out there that I believe we should all be a part of…it is the movement to ensure all girls around the world have access to education and employment!  That girls from whatever corner of the earth is treated with the same equality that boys her age receive.  This movement must grow and enter every corner of the world.  We must push this movement and ensure that regardless of race, ideology and culture  ALL girls & women are treated with equality, freedom and fairness.

This is not the case in many places of our world.  girl2
Almost all religions are guilty of suppressing female – some are still in the ideological dark ages where women are treated as property.  This cannot continue!  We must fight against such ideologies with education and compassion!  We must stand up for those girls in our world who still have no voice in their culture.   If we truly believe that all people matter, and all are equal – we cannot rest until all girls have the freedom to grow up to be whatever they want to be and are not restrained by archaic religious practices and teachings bent of controlling those they teach.

I have a daughter, she is the light of my life, and she has access to education – and I hope, with her parent’s help, we will give her every opportunity to succeed in life and she can aspire to be whoever she wants to be…but I also know that there are millions of girls like my daughter out there in the world today who will never have these same opportunities that she has.  And these girls will have these amazing dreams to be and do something, but the society that they live in will prohibit their dreams and limit their access to the resources they will need to succeed.

girl3I am just one father, one parent – but I stand with this International Day of Girls because I know that we can make a difference for ALL.  It may take years, but we mustn’t give up.  We mustn’t quit on those who are currently voiceless and without choices in life.

I believe in a God who created both Male and Females to live equally together in this world.  I believe we must empower this generation of girls to dream big and live it out until those dreams become a reality.  I also believe that if we work together, and if we persevere, we will better the lives of girls all around the world!

Let’s turn dreams into realities!
Something more to ponder today!

More reading on this topic check out these links:
How are you making a difference?
Day of the Girl – US
International Day of the Girl – U.N.
Fighting Human Trafficking -SA

What Is Lent? Is It Emphasized Enough In The Salvation Army?

lent

I am able to write today on pastorsponderings.org because here in Minnesota (where I live) it is a balmy -25 with a windchill of up to -45.  Needless to say our worship services have been canceled today.   That being said, I wanted to ruminate for a moment on the topic of Lent.  Lent is a forty day period leading up to Good Friday and ultimately Easter Sunday.  It is an important season within the universal Christian church – throughout all denominations.  It is interesting to note that Lent is a forty day period which does not include the Sundays leading up to Easter.  One might wonder why the Sundays are not included in the “40 days”.  The easy answer is that each Sunday is traditionally its own mini Easter in and of itself.  Talk about building to a glorious finale’ within something so profound and life changing!

Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.” (source: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/what-is-lent-and-why-does-it-last-forty-days)

Lent is so much more than giving something up for 40 days.  I once tried giving up coffee for lent…THAT did not end well!

Lent is more than performing the Lord’s Supper in services.  lent1
It should be an act of self-denial as we contemplate what Salvation means to us and that of this most important relationship with Christ.   His ultimate sacrifice and victory over sin and death leads us into this deeper contemplation and acts of self-denial.  Can we afford to restrict ourselves?  Can we afford to deny our bodies from something important to us?  Some might contend that the extreme “self denial” act was demonstrated in the form of the old controversial act of self flagellation.  I certainly do not recommend this method of “religious practice”.   Christ suffered and died for our sins and though some used to contend that self flagellation was a means to become more “Christ-like” self torture is just too extreme and I believe not what Christ had in mind when He said “Do this in remembrance of me”.

flagUnder-Emphasis
There is the danger of avoiding the Lenten season all together and I would not recommend this route.
Leading worshipers into these times of self-reflection and spiritual walks which leads to the cross and the tomb is vital.  If we avoid such potential sacred moments with our flock, we could be depriving them of facing the cross all together.  It is more than the cross.  It is more than the empty tomb.  It is about what Jesus has done for the very fabric of existence in the souls of men and women everywhere.

Secondly, Lent can be an intense refocusing of our great commission here on earth.  Revisiting the Divine in this way can provide us better eyes to see our neighbors, our friends, families and especially enemies.  Christ died for everyone.  He came for the whosoever and He longs for right relations with ALL, not just a select few.

When we under-emphasize this potentially sacred time in the yearly calender, we run the risk of under-emphasizing Salvation as a whole.  We remove some of the mystery of God himself.  I believe we run the risk of stripping down Holiness and depriving those who need it most.  We ought not shy away from Lent, we ought to embrace it in the hopes of drawing closer to Christ-likeness.

ritualsIt’s Not About Rituals, It’s About Holy Relationship!
Some might suggest that the practice of Lent is a little too “High Church” for The Salvation Army.   Some might ask, “well what do you consider the entire practice of “Lent” to be?  I fear that The Army steers too clear of any formal High Church practice because of the notion that most constituents would not understand or because there is no spiritual value in its practice.   I beg to differ.   I am not saying that we ought to pick up some waffers and some grape juice, but I am saying that If we practice and preach Self-denial, then we ought to be preaching a lenten message as well.   One of the big questions is – are we ONLY preaching self-denial in conjunction with World Services?  Are we only preaching self-denial in conjunction with fundraising in our corps?  I hope not!  With the right direction, Corps Officers and Local Officers can lead all corps members into a vital and precious season of Lent.

There is a lot to discuss here.
I will not dive too deeply today.
I only want to start the conversation again.
This is a primer of sorts, as we wade into the kiddie section of the pool.  😉

Questions:
In being “non-sacramental” in practice, are we really emphasizing the transformed life in sacramental living (My life must be Christ’s Broken Bread)?
If not how can we improve this?
How is “Self-denial” emphasized in your corps?
Is Self-denial important to you?
Is the Lenten season important for The Salvation Army?
Can we emphasize the Lenten Season while refraining from what we perceive to be “unimportant rituals”?
Has your Corps ever conducted a traditional Sader Feast?
Is there/should there be a correlation between our spiritual act of self-denial and lent?
What does prayer and fasting mean to you?
Is the practice of Lent really THAT important?

Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑