Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Losing Mystery

One of my favorite shows that I am watching regularly is Curse of Oak Island. It is a reality show (which really isn't my style of show) about 2 brothers on a quest to discover the secret (treasure) of Oak Island.

If you are not aware of Oak Island, then allow me to give you a brief history. Near Nova Scotia, there is a small island. About 220 years ago, a treasure hunt began on that island. Some boys found a depression in the ground at the base of a tree. From one of the branches, right above the depression, there was a ship's tackle block. It seemed that something may be buried under the surface of that depression. Digging began not long after. And has continued until this day. The Money Pit of Oak Island has been the focus of excavations, treasure tales, and conspiracy theories ever since.

I fell in love with the mystery of Oak Island when I read about it in a Reader's Digest collection of stories titled Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. I loved the mystery of it. If fact, this may have begun my fascination with treasure hunting and stories of buried treasure. It was thrilling to think that buried on this island could be a pirate treasure that was beyond imagination.

When the series began on History Channel, I was hooked from the opening credits. Rick and Mary Lagina had the same passion for the mystery as I experience. They followed through on their passion with the financial resources to make a serious attempt to discover the treasure of Oak Island. Along the way, they have sought out the rumors and legends that have grown outward from the original story of a buried treasure. The series moves back and forth between the work of digging and exploring the sites around Oak Island and tracing leads from rumor or legend. They are now in the fourth season of the series.

Typically I watch a recorded episode. It allows me to catch 2 or 3 episodes at a time. I watch it because it fascinates me. I still want them to discover a treasure. But I realized last night that Oak Island was no longer this mysterious place of legends. The mystery is gone.

I was a little sad at this prospect. This is something that I have loved for most of my life. That book, which I still own, was brought into my life in 1980. For 36 years, I have been enthralled with the story of Oak Island. But watching the effort to uncover its secrets has removed the thrall. I see it as something less engaging.

And I have to wonder: do Christians feel that way about faith?

Christianity is a faith of passion. Lively faith relies on a sense of mystery so that we want to pursue the God who first loved us. But I don't perceive a sense of mystery in many Christian conversations. I sense that people want the answers. They want it spelled out. They are not content with the gap of faith and want solid ground upon which to journey.

Where is the mystery in our churches? And greater than that, where is the wonder? The amazement? The awe?

Oak Island may not have a treasure. The more I watch the show, the more I believe that there is nothing there.

And I watch as our worship services decline across America. I had two conversations with two separate people miles apart where this was expressed: we want to do something but we don't want it to be just a Bible study. My own experience is that Bible study is not worth the time or effort to do because people do not seem interested. Prayer services are hard to find unless there has been a tragedy and people feel the need to be together.

Worship, Bible, and Prayer are all mysterious, wonder full, amazing, and awe inspiring. But most of our churches are experiencing the decline of these. The church has lost its sense of mystery.

Faith is still present, but I wonder if it is a faith with a healthy dose of mystery or just resigned to not having the answers it wants. I wonder if faith is trusting in the unknowable questions or blindly following rhetoric and mantra. There is a vast difference between those perspectives. And for a thriving church or faith, I believe we need mystery.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I hate being afraid...

Last night I experienced something that was either barbecue gone bad or a minor anxiety attack. Whatever the cause, I was afraid. I won't bother with the focus of the fear, because that is not important to this expression of thought. I will say that I know that anxiety and fear were a part of it because it was the same emotions I experienced during my faux-heart attack spell with my gallbladder. Same emotions and feelings. And I hate it.

I have some fears that I am very up front about.

I am afraid of water. This is an old fear. It dates back to when I was a kid. I remember the moment it began. We were at a lake. A family friend was carrying me on his shoulders. And then he dunked us in the water. I got a snout full of water and started choking. It shocked me. And to this day, water still causes problems for me. If I am in a body of water and it splashes me in the face, I experience panic symptoms. If I stay in the shower too long or am having a particular type of day, the water hitting my skin annoys me. And watching people underwater on a movie or television show causes me to hold my breath.

I am afraid of flying. It has something to do with heights. More so, it has to do with understand aerodynamics and the physics of flying. Nothing holds you up. It is air pressure and how the pressure differential over and under a wing work against each other. The only thing that holds you in the air in an airplane is insubstantial. It has no substance or strength. And it takes very little to disrupt that flow.

I think I have a subconscious fear of snakes. When I am experiencing anxiety dreams, snakes make frequent appearances. If I am really anxious about something, it is a snake-filled dream. And I don't even want to watch "Snakes On a Plane". 

I am afraid of doing something new. This sounds odd. And I am not sure if it is a fear of failure or fear of looking like an idiot that lies at the root of it. Both may have a part to play (because I hate experiencing both of those). When I am confronted with doing something new, I will do everything in my power to avoid it. This last Sunday, I avoided doing a live video sermonette on Facebook. I avoided it because I was afraid. I had never done something like that before. I have books that I want to write, but I am afraid that they will not matter to anyone. I am afraid that it will be folly or vanity on my part to try. I am afraid that I will be rejected.

For this last reason, I am afraid of people. I don't think that they will hurt me. But I am afraid that I will be rejected or ostracized. And due to my depression streaks, any time I feel even slightly outcast, it amplifies my fears. And it is bizarre for me to be afraid of being rejected because periodically I have to face a set of new people. I have to deal with that possibility of rejection regularly.

I really don't know what to do about being afraid. I am at a loss. They cannot be overcome by logic or rational thought. I know, because I try and work through them that way. Except the water thing - I will never understand that one and I don't try. I do attempt to work around these fears, though.

Water fear - I still bathe regularly.

Flying fear - I will get on a plane and attempt to control my fear through it all.

Snake fear - It is subconscious, so I really don't have to work on it. I am not afraid of living snakes. I can handle them and be around them. I respect the dangerous ones and give all of them their space to avoid provoking them.

Fear of new - I have nothing on this. That fear of rejection, failure, foolishness combination will overcome me more than anything. And sadly I have passed that one on to my boys. And I hate that for them. They have so many gifts and strengths that their insecurity about stepping out will handicap those blessings.

And I know what some of you are saying - "Just do it. It isn't that bad."

Easier said to someone than done in our own lives with our own fears.

People fear - I count on one hand the people I depend upon. I count on two hands the people I call friend. I try to broaden those numbers. But even among those who are closest, I keep them at a distance. I wall myself off to keep myself from being hurt or being outcast. I balance the admiration I have for them with the protection I must make room for in my life.

And being in front of crowds isn't my fear. It is intimacy, or the potential for it, with others. I use intellect or broad knowledge of subjects or points of common interest to keep communication lines open. But when it comes to being or allowing people be close, I don't do that well.

Fear is something we all have to live with. We have these things that creep into our heart and soul that cause our way to become difficult. And I hope someday to completely overcome the ones that I have. But I am afraid that I will replace the ones I experience now with new ones relevant to that stage of life.

Until that day, though, I will soldier on.

And breathe.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The End of the Greatest Show On Earth

News is spreading this morning that the Ringling Bros. Circus is ending its 146 year run. The leading cause of the end of the show is it has become an unrealistic business model. Ticket sales have declined. The cost to move the show with its many animals and performers is too high to continue. For almost 150 years, this show has brought joy and wonder to the hearts and minds of children and adults. And now the curtain if falling on the greatest show on earth.

I was reading this article from the New York Times. As I was reading it, I couldn't help but notice that the tone of what was happening to Ringling Bros. is a similar tone that could be applied to the American church.

...cited declining ticket sales,... American churches across the theological spectrum are seeing declining offerings. There are endless reasons for this. And there are a number of strategies to counteract the decline. But there is no denying that churches are working with less revenue. It is just a reality that congregations are having to adapt to in this climate. There are only three realistic options for churches to offer some turn around to this:
  1. Convince the people who are connected to the church to give more;
  2. Convince more people to connect to the church and convince them to give; and
  3. Partner with organizations to be financial supporters in the work that is being done or do work they will support.
And that brings me to the next point of comparison from the article...

{ticket sales} which dropped even more drastically after elephants were phased out from the shows last year... Ringling (and other animal entertainment venues) have been under increasing scrutiny and criticism for their treatment of animals. This is not a judgment piece. It is a statement of fact. But Ringling Bros. believe that there is a correlation between removing the elephants from the show and the decline of people coming to see the show. And how true is it that there are fewer people coming to see "the show" in churches?

Fewer people are attending churches. Attendance numbers are declining. And that worries people at all levels of church hierarchy. The local church feels the pain of seeing fewer people in the pews (remembering when those same pews were filled). Local church leaders discuss it from the practical aspect of "fewer people means fewer resources for ministry" (volunteers and money are necessary to do ministry). Association leaders (the Annual Conference for us United Methodists) see the longer term and the decline of ministry function on a larger scale.

It makes people wonder, how do we get people back? Well, what is missing that people want? What elephants have been taken out that once were there? What kind of elephants to people want to see? Think about this for a minute - what makes elephants so crucial to Ringling Bros. circuses that their absence would cause people to stop coming? It could very well be that elephants are part of the core identity of the Ringling Bros. circus. Elephants are the image of the greatest show on earth. Elephants are the icon. Without the elephants, the show has lost its identity.

Now what elephant is missing in the church? I have plenty of ideas:
  • hospitality - making every person who walks through the door feel like they are wanted and belong and important;
  • one anothering - connecting with others in the body to the level that you invest in one anothers' lives to the degree that every need is known, all hurts are tended, lives are held in accountability, and we grow each other into stronger people;
  • true mission to change lives for better - Jesus Christ came to proclaim a kingdom realized and the evidence of that was that lives were bettered - sick people healed, oppressed people released, poor noticed, forgotten remembered, the lost found and cared about. 
  • sin is not as important as forgiveness - everyone is messed up to some degree (past, present, or future) and that puts us all on a level playing field. If there is sin in someone's life, we don't point at it or poke at it to make it more noticeable. We approach that person in love, grace, forgiveness, and gentleness. Rebuking works well for someone we have a HUGE amount of relationship investment with. Rebuking every sinner we hear about makes us jerks.
These elephants left some of our churches a long time ago, and guess what - those churches have dried up or are getting really wrinkled in the process of drying up. If we introduced these "elephants" back into our churches, and we made them the center of our "show", people would come and see.

coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company... Churches are spending themselves out of business. The latest estimate is that churches spend over 50% of their expenses on staff. Churches pay people more than spend on ministry. Why is that? Because American churches pay people to do ministry. You have pastors, youth ministers, children ministers, worship ministers, music ministers, visitation ministers, pastoral care ministers, and so on. The model of the church American church today is that we pay someone to do the work of the church. And that is so far away from the biblical understanding of church, ministers, and ministry.

The early church had ministers - apostles, prophets, preacher/teachers - who performed a service in the church. It was the service of equipping the church to do the work of ministry. The people who comprised the church were the ones who did ministry. They were the day-to-day, hands on ministry operators. They functioned to train youth and children (mostly in their own homes). They led the community in worship and music. They saw to it that everyone was visited and that everyone was tended to emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

What would happen if we turned around the American church model and adopted a more biblical model? Staff expense would go down. Ministry expense would increase - but only as people gave out of their lives, not the church budget. The church would make contact with more lives, daily, than is happening now. The needs of the community would be observed more closely and dealt with more swiftly.

"Wait," you say, "wouldn't that put you out of a job?" Yes. Gladly. I would rather spend my time equipping people to do what God has gifted them and called them to do than be the business administrator, social director, and task manager that modern American pastors have become.

The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me. The American church is not done. But you couldn't tell that by listening to reports or watching people in churches every week. The church in America, and the rest of the world, still has the task of inspiring people, raising new generations of disciples for Jesus Christ that can change the world. It can still touch hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. It could show the world that we have a source of hope and peace and joy. Faith does not require us to surrender any of these. In fact, it is worthless without those. But it also has to be an active part of our church life. Faith is not inspiring when it sits on its spiritual butt. Faith has to live and move. It has to be around other people. It has to be around people who don't believe. It has to be displayed as love - for the God we worship, the Christ we follow, the Spirit who fills and leads us is LOVE. Our faith in that God is inspiring. It quickens our lives and fills us with purpose and drive. It opens our eyes to possibilities and wonders unimagined. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Seasonal depression

It never fails that when January rolls around, there is a complex of emotions that settle within me. As I have taken stock of my life and what I experience, and explored the information available to me, I believe that I experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. It has been called winter blues. It is recognized as a legitimate type of depression. It is tied to the seasons, in particular the late Fall and Winter seasons.

For me, I begin to experience it in January and it lasts through March. At times it has been worrisome for me. The expression that I experience the most is a feeling of worthlessness. My mind is attracted to the idea that I am useless to people (family, church, colleagues). I dwell in the playground of convincing myself that I am not needed by anyone.

Over the time frame of weeks that I experience this, it progresses and worsens. It is not a good feeling. It is not something that I can just "shake it off". It is not just a matter of thinking about something else. Everything I think of is corrupted by the line of thoughts and emotions. Everything that is done for me has been met with a sense of being useful to them, but not necessarily needed.

And that is where I am today. I realize that the complex of emotions that is my disorder is beginning to rise its head. I am writing this, not for sympathy, but to excise some of the demon that wishes to do battle with my heart and mind.The beginning of these feelings and thoughts are usually random bubbles. The worst that it can get is a consuming focus. And I don't tell anyone about it, usually.

I was completely unfocused on any particular thoughts. I was making my breakfast. And WHAM! I was hit with the thought - nobody needs me. And not knowing it for what it was, I allowed myself to play with that. "I'm not needed. I am only useful. Lisa and boys only have me around because I'm useful to their life. The church doesn't need me because another pastor can be appointed." In the span of only a couple of minutes, all of those thoughts ran through my mind. They were accompanied by feelings of despair and worthlessness.

After a couple of minutes of this, I realized what was happening. I was able to stop that line of thinking. But the emotions linger. The skirmish was over. The battle was paused, though. I can sense the next skirmish with my enemy being plotted.

This post is not to gain sympathy or an intervention. I want to name the experience for what it is: a mental illness. I don't control it. I can attempt to divert its effects. I don't bring it on. I know that there have been some circumstances recently that have contributed to it. It is part of my existence. It is a burden. Perhaps a "thorn" like Paul experienced and alluded to in his second letter to the Corinthians (12:7). It is most likely a biochemical malfunction in my body.

There are options for it. There are light boxes that are supposed to mimic natural sunlight. The prevailing thought is that seasonal disorder is tied to the reduced exposure to sunlight in Fall and Winter. There are drug interventions such as anti-depressants that would be prescribed in chronic depression. There are homeopathic recommendations that are supposed to elevate certain natural elements within the body. I have not sought any of these in the past.

I have always struggled with it. That is typically how I deal with physical, mental, or emotional problems. I manage pain or problems on my own. I don't feel the right to burden others with my "stuff". And the strange thing is that culture is okay with that. As a man and a pastor, the prevailing opinion is that I don't have to share my "stuff" because it is awkward.

Mental illness is getting some much needed attention lately. It is something that needs to be dealt with openly and honestly. 1 in 4 people experience some type of episode with mental illness. There is still a stigma about discussing it in "polite company." If there is something that is so prevalent, it seems ridiculous that we do not have the willingness to discuss it openly.

Men are supposed to be strong. Anyone who is open about the struggles loses status among peers, and even among those who know him. Sure there are some who will support him and be part of a solution to improving his circumstance. There is also the sad reality that generally men are supposed to be able to "deal with it."

Pastors have the burden of caring for the struggles of the church (as a business and the people who comprise its constituency). Pastors are to be stoic sentinels able to deal with the brokenness of people's lives and be the source of hope and joy and faith for those in times of need. And they are reminded that the church is not there for the pastors problems. Within our Annual Conference, our options are discuss our problems with our District Superintendents, our colleagues, or seek professional help. And each one of those has overwhelming barriers to effectiveness. I speak from personal experience on a couple of them.

Some times it is just easier to suck it up and walk on, face it and try to cope. It isn't the best way to do it. But I am fortunate that my experience is manageable. But that doesn't mean I must be quiet about it. And there aren't enough people who read this that I would be damaging my reputation or status in using this platform.

And for those who have read this, thank you for taking the time. I apologize if it made you a little uncomfortable. I don't apologize for posting, though. This is my outlet for thoughts and feelings and creative urges and opinions. And if I share too much, you are invited to find a nice happy blog with noise. I won't take it personal, I promise.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Evarigus, the Paladin of Death's Mother

Something a little different. I am trying my hand at some fiction - fantasy, really. This is the origin story for my Dungeons and Dragons character I will be playing. Don't worry if this isn't your cup of tea. But it is my first real attempt at fiction writing. So, please, bear with me.

Evarigus, the Paladin of Death's Mother

I am Evarigus Herdontus. My story, my life, is not important. Except in one little regard. I have a mission. No, I have a calling. I have been presented with a purpose that leads and guides me through this world. It has taken me from the place I had called home and cast me toward the ends of the earth. It has made my simple life before so small in comparison.

It was a small life. My parents disappeared. They were not dead, for there were no bodies or graves to discover. I only have faint recollections of them. They are recollections of loving times. Happiness and warmth comfort me in the memories of them. But then they were gone.

The town folk never explained what happened to them. And when I would walk by, I heard the mutters. “Now in'it such a shame to leave him that ways.” “Right nasty of them folks to abandon the boy and home.” “If weren't for the kindness of folk here, he would be dead.”

They were kind. The folk of that town saw to it I had food or a roof. I had the hand-me-downs of their children's clothes. Patched and mended beyond their liking, I'm sure. But it was a life that could be sustained. No one wanted to claim me, though. No one wanted the shame or the curse.

I never gave up hope that they would come back. My ma and da would some day come trotting back into town. They would find me in the town square. They would grab me up and hug me tightly. All three of us, squeezing each other as if to flow into one another. I still think that will happen. Some day. I know they are out there. My calling will lead me to them eventually.

That calling is what shapes this quest I am on. It started painfully.

I had been “hired” by a family in town. They let me sleep in their barn and gave me food and clothes. In return, I was their sheepherder. I took the flock out to feed. It was my job to look after those dumb animals.

One week I had followed them out of town, farther than I had ever been. I didn't know that place. Something spooked the flock. They scattered in all directions. It took me a day and night to get most of them back. I had penned up all but the big ram. He was the prize of the flock. Big strong animal. I had to find him, or I would pay out of hide for it. The folk might even sell me off.

I found him, alright. He wasn't a big, strong animal no more. Something had torn him apart. I found a cave. It looked like a cave. 'Cept it wasn't a cave. Someone had made it. They carved it into the side of a hillock. They carved the stone to look natural outside. I stepped in to search for the ram. And I saw him laid out in the center of the room. Pieces of him looked like they were ripped right from the body. And all the blood had covered the floor.

I was upset. I cried. I was just a boy. Maybe I was eleven or twelve. That ram had been my buddy and my bed on some cold nights. Now he was gone. And I was going to pay for it. I failed my job.

I stood there for a while. Finally, I was able to think again. I thought if I could bring back part of him that was ripped off, I could show it weren't me that did it. Something got him. I couldn't stop it.

When my barefoot touched that blood, it was still warm. Then the room got lit up. Torches flared up around the room. As I looked around, I saw it wasn't a natural cave. It was carved inside with creatures and people. There were boxes of stone carved right from the floor. It was like someone started cutting away the natural rock and made these boxes as they carved.

When I looked around at the ram, it was gone. The body, the blood, the smell – all of it was gone. And standing in front of me was some one, some thing. It was a tall, silvery, bird-woman. I know I was a boy, but I had looked up on tall folk before. She, or it, was taller by hands. And it wasn't light or armor, the skin was silvery. The torches flickered against the skin. And she had wings and a bird head. Like hawk or falcon. But she had human parts elsewhere.

I was scared. I was so scared that I pissed myself. I won't deny it. Seeing that ram ripped apart was bad. But standing in front of this creature was too much. I was shaking and quivering.

And she just reached out and wrapped her arms around me. She embraced me. Just like I imagine my ma and da will when they come back. She smoothed my hair down. I remember being a little embarrassed cause I hadn't had a wash in a while. I smelled like sheep. And I wasn't sure I didn't have a few bugs in my hair. But she didn't seem to mind. She just rubbed my head and back and made soft noises like some mommas do their little ones.

I guess I calmed down enough for her to let me go. I didn't want to let go. I wanted to stay there. But she took me by the shoulders and pushed back a little. She got down on one knee, so she could look into my face better. I still had to bend my neck a bit to look at her, though.

Then she spoke to. She didn't squawk and whistle like a bird, though. She spoke a few words in something I didn't recognize. Then she spoke to me in Common.

Hello, little one. I am pleased you found this place. My mistress has been looking for someone like you for a long time. What is your name, little one?”

“I'm Evarigus. Most folks that don't know me call me Evar when they hear it.”

Evarigus, I am Mutesh.

“h-h-hello, Moo-tesh.”

Evarigus, I know that you are just a boy. You will some day grow up into a strong man. My mistress desires someone who can help her in this world. Would you like to be that person?”

I wasn't sure what was being asked of me. I wasn't no one special. I was barely wanted by anyone. I couldn't understand how some strange bird-woman appeared out here in the middle of nowhere. And I couldn't understand how her lady would want someone like me.

“What do you want me to do? I'm not no good at much. I can't even keep my sheep from getting killed.”

Evarigus, my mistress doesn't want you for what you are. She wants you for what you can become. She knows how to make you into what she needs. She can help you get better at what is necessary.

“Who is your mistress?” Is she from near here? I don't know many towns around here.”

My mistress is not from here. She is from another realm, another plane of reality. My mistress is a goddess. She is worshiped by many who are far from here. But she sees that this plane, this world needs her. There are wrongs happening right now that she wants to correct. There are things that people are doing that need to be stopped. Would you help her do that?

“I'm not strong enough to stop nobody. I'm used to being kicked and pushed around my the bigger boys. I can't stop no grown up from doing bad stuff.”

My mistress can make you stronger. She can give you the power to stop those who do wrong. She can help you stop bad things from happening.”

I admit that I was hooked right then. I wasn't very strong, and I knew it. Maybe Mutesh knew that I knew it. Maybe she was playing on my fantasies of being stronger than others. Maybe she knew that I wanted to be strong enough to go looking for my ma and da. But I wasn't going to make it easy for her.

“What kind of bad stuff am I supposed to stop?”

Evarigus, do you know what happens when people die?”

“I know some of those churchies talk about living some life after dying. I ain't no churchie, though. They don't like me in their pretty place.”

Evarigus, when someone dies, there is part of them that is no longer tied to their body. That part doesn't need to be bound to this world or this plane of existence. There are other planes where that sense of their self can go.

“There are people who live in this world who believe they have the right to take the body that is left here and use it for their own desires. They use magics and powers and artifacts to make those bodies move again; as if there were life in them….

“You mean zombies and skeletons and such like?”

Exactly, Evarigus. For my mistress, those creatures are an abomination. They should not exist. And the people who make those creatures are doing a horrible thing. For when those creatures are made, the self of the person they were before is harmed. They experience pain and torment in the other plane where they reside. My mistress cares deeply for those. She wishes to stop the pain that comes to them.

“She wants someone to help her here, in this world, to become her champion. Would you become her champion?”

As Mutesh was explaining what was happening, all I could see was my ma's and da's ghosts being hurt. I know I'll see them again some day, but it was their faces that popped up in my mind. Well, the faces I gave them.

“I'll do it,” I said softly. “But I'm not much to help. And I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to fighting and churchie stuff.”

“Evarigus, I will teach you all you need to know. The first thing you need to know is that our mistress' name is Nebthet. Some call her Nephthys. Others worship her when they worship Kelemvor in this world. She is to be your patron goddess. And I will be your messenger from her.

“ummm. I don't mean to be disrespectful to you or mistress Nebthet, but I gots sheep to tend. They aren't mine to own. And I gots to get them back home.”

Evarigus, I am well aware of the animals you tend. I am also aware that the ram that was slain here was your responsibility. There is no way to replace the animal that was sacrificed. But if you will face the responsibility of its loss with honor, then our mistress will see that you are provided for after. Go, and take care of your responsibility. Then return swiftly, for we must begin your training.”

I turned to leave the cave. But in that moment, I was hit by a wave of the feelings I get when I think about my ma and da. Those feelings that make me cry myself to sleep in the deep parts of the night.

“Will you be here when I get back?”

I will.”

I ran back to the sheep pen. Those blessed, bleating beasts were all still there. Save the ram, of course. I hated having to tell the folk back there that it was gone.

That trip back to town was a mixture of excitement and terror. I wasn't sure if I wanted to face what was coming. And I don't mean just telling about the ram.

When I got back to the farm, I walked right up to the mister. I told him plain that the ram got torn up by something. He was upsets quite fierce. He stomped and raged and knocked stuff over. Then he took it in his head to say I killed it or sold it. He kept yelling at me to tell him the truth.

So I did.

He didn't take it for truth. He just called me a liar and a fool. He took a switch and started beating me. He didn't care nothing for my words or my cries. He didn't stop when I quit, either. I'm not sure when it was he quit. Or why he stopped. I woke up on the side of the road. I had a little bundle of my things from the barn. There was also some bread heels and cheese rind and a couple of little pieces of dried meat. I hurt everywhere. But I didn't have no mind to take care of it. I only knew I needed to go back to the cave.

It took me three days to get back there. I would stumble a ways, then have to stop. I think I kept bleeding, but I didn't have any way to get it to stop. He whipped me down the back and legs. There were cuts on the back of my arms and on my shoulders. If he thought I was some kind of curse, he was trying to beat it out of me, that is certain.

When I stumbled into the cave, Mutesh wasn't there. And that was the end. I laid down right on the spot where I found the ram. And I just wanted to die.

But that was not to be.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Life, death, life beyond death, and the Final Destination.

Before we get to life after death we should have a clear understanding of life here and now. Jesus spoke the words from Matthew 6 to a gathering of people on the side of a hill. They were people who wanted more out of life. He reminded them that life was more than the everyday grind of life. We are prone to lower our eyes and look at life as only going from one day to the next. But life is more than providing for day to day necessities

Genesis 1:30 – life is the very breath of God inside of us. We are animated by the breath of the very same God to spoke creation into existence. Our lives are more than just mundane day to day existence. We have within us life that comes from God. Even that is not the full meaning of life

Jesus speaks a lot about life and eternal life. John 6:35 – the bread of life that brings eternal life. What many people often confuse is what eternal life means. This is also part of the confusion with heaven.

Eternal life is not about some existence after life in this body on this plane of reality ends. Eternal life is right now. It happens in this time and this place. John 10:10 – life abundant is not reserved for after this life has ended. John 5:24 – eternal life is passing out of death into life. That kind of eternal life is part of who we are right now. John 17:3-4 – eternal life is knowing God through Christ Jesus. 1 John 5:11-12 – as we accept Christ into our lives we have that life. What is this kind of eternal life? It is life abundant. It is the life that Jesus offered to disciples. It is living out what we know about Jesus Christ.

If you think about great “saints” of the church, you come up with people like: Augustine, John Wesley, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. These are typically who most people consider saints. They weren’t created special or different. They were like everyone else. They accepted the life abundant through Christ. They lived eternal life in this life. We are to live eternal life here and now. Eternal life begins in this life through Jesus Christ. When we come into Christ through faith, we receive eternal, abundant life. So our life here is more than just existing.

But through Christ, something else happens in this life. When we believe in the life of Christ, the Resurrection of Christ is always close at mind. You cannot consider who Jesus Christ is without thinking about what became of him. The Resurrection has implications for the life, and death, of every believer. Hebrews 2:14-16 – Jesus renders the power of death powerless - it also brings freedom to those who have been subject to death. Romans 5:12 – all of humanity has been subject to death since Adam - sin is tied to death – where sin has power, death is the natural consequence.

Death is part of life due to the fallen nature of the creation. The consequence of Adam’s choice to rebel against God is that all of the natural world, including the human physical body, is in the process of death and decay. That means that death comes to the physical body. Romans 8:1-5 – those who live by the Spirit are not bound to only the physical life.

We have been given grace to not be bound by physical limitations or requirements. 1 Corinthians 15:56 - Paul says that the power of sin is the law. That does not mean that the law is partnered to sin, but that because there is a law of God, sin is known. The law is limited in its ability to transform and bring that abundant, eternal life

Through Christ, the requirement of the law has been fulfilled. Under the law, right life with God was possible but extremely limited. In Christ, abundant, eternal life with God is possible. Since the law is now fulfilled, sin cannot claim our lives. Since sin cannot claim us, death is now made powerless in our lives. We will all most likely stop being physically. Physical life is only a fraction of our living being. Due to Christ’s death our entire personhood lives on eternally. We have no reason to fear death because it cannot undo who we are. Paul has it right to say that those who are dead in Christ are asleep. The physical body has lost the consciousness or the true life. Who we are lives on through Jesus Christ.

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1 Cor 15:54-57
DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 55 " O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Isa 25:6-8
6 The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
And refined, aged wine.
7 And on this mountain He will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
Even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
For the LORD has spoken.

Rom 8:1-5
8:1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Hos 13:14
14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from death?
O Death, where are your thorns?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion will be hidden from My sight.

Heb 2:14-16
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Rev 21:4
4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

Rom 5:12
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin , and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

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But what about people who do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord? Is victory and eternal life only for the redeemed of Christ? Or do all people have an immortal soul that continues on after death? Many Christians claim special status of having eternal life yet we also claim that the unrighteous have life after death also. Whether we consider it a lesser kind of life or a life in the place of outer darkness is questioned.

Let’s begin with how the ancient people of the Bible believed in life after death. The Hebrews believed in a place called Sheol or the grave. This was the place that the “person” resided after death. Even an idea of a pit in OT writings is the idea of going to the grave. It was not a place of judgment or punishment but was simply the place of the dead. Other cultures around Israel viewed the grave as a place of despair and deprivation, but they also did not associate it with punishment.

The Greeks understood death in a slightly different way. Hades was the same as Sheol – the place of the dead. They also believed in tartaroo, a place where the worst of humanity ended up. During the time of the Greeks, Jews developed the idea of gehenna. The name came from the phrase ge hinnom or the valley of Hinnom. It was a place where child sacrifices were believed to have taken place (Jer. 7:31). It became the valley of the burning garbage dump outside the Jerusalem walls. Gehenna then became known as the place like tartaroo – place of punishment. As we understand the people of the biblical times - they considered there to be a place of the dead where all people went but parts of that after-life were reserved for the very evil.

There is, therefore, a simple understanding that life after death is available to all. Genesis 2:7 – God breathes life into a human and man becomes a living being. Matthew 5:43-45 – God brings necessary things for life to righteous and unrighteous. But there is also an idea that the righteous and unrighteous will not share in that life. Luke 16:19-31 – the separation of Lazarus and the rich man. We have to keep the end of time and God’s plan in sight, though. Revelation 20:11-15 – all people will come before God for judgment.

If we believe that all people will be judged and will be raised to face it then the dead must be somewhere between death and the resurrection. The separation of the faithful and unrighteous is not beyond belief.

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Matt 5:43-45
43 " You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' 44 "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Luke 16:19-31
19 "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 "And he cried out and said, ' Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' 25 "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' 27 "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house — 28 for I have five brothers — in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' 30 "But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' 31 "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Ezek 32:17-30
17 In the twelfth year, on the fifteenth of the month, the word of the LORD came to me saying, 18 "Son of man, wail for the hordes of Egypt and bring it down, her and the daughters of the powerful nations, to the nether world, with those who go down to the pit;
19'Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and make your bed with the uncircumcised.'
20 "They shall fall in the midst of those who are slain by the sword. She is given over to the sword; they have drawn her and all her hordes away. 21 "The strong among the mighty ones shall speak of him and his helpers from the midst of Sheol , 'They have gone down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.'
22 " Assyria is there and all her company; her graves are round about her. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword, 23 whose graves are set in the remotest parts of the pit and her company is round about her grave. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.
24 " Elam is there and all her hordes around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised to the lower parts of the earth, who instilled their terror in the land of the living and bore their disgrace with those who went down to the pit. 25 "They have made a bed for her among the slain with all her hordes. Her graves are around it, they are all uncircumcised, slain by the sword (although their terror was instilled in the land of the living), and they bore their disgrace with those who go down to the pit; they were put in the midst of the slain.
26 " Meshech, Tubal and all their hordes are there; their graves surround them. All of them were slain by the sword uncircumcised, though they instilled their terror in the land of the living. 27 " Nor do they lie beside the fallen heroes of the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war and whose swords were laid under their heads; but the punishment for their iniquity rested on their bones, though the terror of these heroes was once in the land of the living. 28 "But in the midst of the uncircumcised you will be broken and lie with those slain by the sword.
29 "There also is Edom, its kings and all its princes, who for all their might are laid with those slain by the sword; they will lie with the uncircumcised and with those who go down to the pit.
30 "There also are the chiefs of the north, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who in spite of the terror resulting from their might, in shame went down with the slain. So they lay down uncircumcised with those slain by the sword and bore their disgrace with those who go down to the pit.

Rev 20:11-15
11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

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Where then do we go if there is an in between place?

The King James Version of John 14:2 reads that “In my Father’s house are many mansions”. Based on that verse, Ira Stanphill wrote the song Mansion Over the Hilltop. Since then that song has become a favorite of southern gospel fans all over the country. It has also been recorded by a number of artists. I’ve got a mansion over the hilltop... is a much loved hymn.

The story of the song is that one day a businessman was giving a testimony in church. His business was failing and went for a drive one. He arrived out in the boonies at a shack at the end of a dirt road. Outside the house was a little girl playing with a broken doll with a big smile on her face. The businessman wanted to know why she was so happy. Because my daddy is building us a mansion over that hill out there and I can’t wait to get there.

But the word that was translated as mansions has been translated differently since the KJV of the Bible was translated. Most modern translations use the word dwelling, dwelling places, or rooms. The Greek use of this word has more to do with a stopping place or a barracks. It is far from a mansion and more importantly, it implies moving on to somewhere else.

The real root of the word is to abide. This is what Jesus eventually gets around to. He begins with saying that he is the way, truth, and life. He shares with the disciples that they know God because God abides in Christ. The Spirit also abides within the disciples. Finally Jesus comes around to saying that God and Christ will make an abode with us. The next chapter has Jesus telling us that disciple abide in him as branches to a vine. The basic idea is that Christ comes to us and abides with us.

If there is a place between life and our final destination (as the Hebrews called it Sheol or the grave; the Greeks Hades), this adds a layer into that picture. The picture is not a mansion over the hilltop that gives us hope. The picture is that Christ will abide with us in whatever that next place is. He doesn’t abandon us in death or stand away from us. Christ remains close to us and brings his presence to us in life and even death. If Jesus comes to dwell in us in life, and has brought victory for us over death then it is very likely that he will also be present with us when the physical life ends. We have a savior and Lord who stays with us even in death, wherever that may be.

Another picture to consider is scene of Jesus and the thieves on the cross. One thief or rebel chooses to join the crowds in mocking Jesus. The other thief appears sympathetic to Christ’s cause. He requests to remembered in the Messiah’s kingdom. Jesus responds that, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. That phrase has been used to speak of a whisking away to heaven to remain forever. But the imagery from that passage is not as simple as that.

First, the thief wasn’t asking to go to heaven. This thief, brigand, and rebel wanted to be remembered in the kingdom that the Messiah was to establish. If this thief was being executed for treason or rebellion, what greater reward would he have than to be remembered as being one of freedom fighters who threw the Romans out of Israel. His desire wasn’t eternal life, it was eternal remembrance

Second, Jesus wasn’t offering him a view of heaven in saying it was paradise. Paradise is a Persian word picked up by the Greeks. The word represents an enclosed garden that is well watered and tended so that it will be filled with plants and sometimes wild animals. Jesus says that they would share that experience together.

Third is the issue of where Jesus believed he would go when he died. Some believe that Jesus went straight to heaven the moment he breathed his last breath. But that is not what could have happened. Jesus experienced death like every other person. There have been people, the Bible tells us, that have escaped death through God’s special providence (Genesis 5:24 – Enoch; 2 Kings 2:11 – Elijah). If there is an experience of a place after death, Christ would have gone through that. Christ shared in the experience of death like all people in order to claim a victory over death. Even Jesus himself did not claim to have gone back to heaven. John 20:17 – Jesus says he has not yet ascended to the Father. When Jesus ascends in Acts 1, it is his return to heaven.

If the thief wasn’t asking to go to heaven, and Jesus didn’t mean heaven when he said paradise, and Jesus didn’t believe he was going to heaven, then what does he mean? Jesus meant something of greater comfort than going to heaven. Jesus uses the word “paradise” with intention. He used a word that would recall for anyone even basically familiar with the stories of Moses the picture of a garden that was closed off from the rest of the world and that was filled with life, vegetation and animal life. He used a word that would draw anyone listening back to the Garden of Eden.

The specialness of the garden wasn’t location, or content, or even its seclusion. The uniqueness of the garden was that God was there (Genesis 3:8). Jesus was saying that today, the thief and Jesus would be in a place of comfort, provision, blessedness, together.

When we hear those words Jesus says, we should be comforted. In death, which Jesus has won the victory over, we go to a place that is within God’s presence. But we do not go alone, the presence of Christ is there also. We do not face death alone. We face death with Christ having already been then and his presence remains with us

Now we come to the hardest part of this. The biblical witness is that we do not go to heaven when we die.

There are 2 reasons for that. First, Heaven is God’s domain. Throughout the Old Testament God is pictured as above or beyond heaven and earth yet interacts throughout both. Heaven is referred to 396 times in the Old Testament. Of those 99% refer to mingling of heaven as space, sky, and something more. 2 Chronicles 30:27 – God’s dwelling place is called heaven. Isaiah 66:1 – God calls heaven his throne and earth his footstool. The Psalms refer to God’s temple in heaven, God looking down from heaven, and his sovereignty over all is established in heaven. The Psalmist in 73 says it succinctly – who do we have in heaven but God.

In the New Testament, heaven is more of a spiritual location than space or sky. In the New Testament heaven is referred to 275 times. Jesus refers to his Father in heaven in Matthew’s gospel a number of times. (Matthew 5:16,45,48;6:1,9,14,26,32;7:21; 10:32,33;12:50;15:13;16:17;18:10,14,19,35;23:9). Matthew 18:10 - Jesus refers to the angels who continually see God’s face. John 3:13 – Jesus says no one has ascended to the Father. Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20 – we are already located in heaven because of Christ. Hebrews 7-9 – heaven is marked by a Temple of God where Christ ministers on our behalf. Revelation 4-5,6 – heaven is God’s throne room and temple where no people are present until chapter 7, after the tribulation.

The biblical witness is that heaven is God’s domain. Humanity’s access to heaven is through Jesus Christ. We have a hope for life after death that is marked by the accompaniment of the presence of Christ. We are not abandoned by God. We will encounter the glory of God without restraint, though. We will know rest from labor and struggle, pain and heartache as God ministers to us. All of that sounds like heaven except for one thing: that biblical picture of heaven is really earth.

The image that many of us have of heaven, golden streets, river of life, endless days, and no more tears, is really not heaven. Revelation 20-21 shows us that heaven and earth pass away. God eliminates the substance of heaven and earth. Then God re-creates heaven and earth. In chapter 21 God puts down a new Eden – the New Jerusalem where there are streets of gold, the River of Life, and the Tree of Life. God is there, also, to fellowship with. Christ is there in fellowship. What we typically think of as heaven is a future new creation.

God takes those of his faithful who live out life in commitment and obedience. God wipes away the elements of this creation. God creates everything new again. Then God puts people in the middle of a brand new world to live as he always desired us to live: with God in open relationship and communion.

Standing...Knocking...Praying

In preparation for the upcoming sermon series I was reading Basil Pennington's Centering Prayer. At the end of chapter one, Pennington quotes Revelation 3: 14-21. For those who aren't familiar, that is the letter to the church of Laodicea. It is also home to two enduring images of scripture: being vomited out of God's mouth and Jesus standing at the door knocking.

Pennington uses the expression of this passage to discuss the intimacy of prayer. I am not going to quote the entirety of the passage from this book. But I do want to hit upon its most powerful messages and apply them for myself. Maybe you, dear one reading this, will gain something also.

The letter begins with ascription of Christ's preeminence. The Amen (the truth of all that is), the Faithful and True Witness, and the ruler of God's creation. That verse puts Christ as the substance of it all, the medium of understanding it all, and the ruler of it all. Creation and life, hope and joy, grace and mercy, life and death, heaven and hell and everything in between, time and space and matter - "it all". And Christ is its substance, medium, and ruler.

How many of our prayers begin with that understanding of God? How many times do we stop to consider that the Creator and "Hold It All Togetherer" is at the very end of our thoughts? When we pick up a phone and call a loved one, do you hold the image of that person in your mind? Do you imagine them speaking to you as you talk? I do. And prayer takes our earthly existence in the mundane routines that we follow and connects us to the one who created "it all".

Our prayers should begin with some acknowledgement of the weight of that moment and experience. In my mind, I imagine we should in some way be like the overwhelmed young actor who receives the Academy Award for their breakout film role. Or that fresh new singer whose first song was an overnight success taking their Grammy. That moment when we connect with GOD should be overwhelming and mind-blowing. And then we realize something.

God knows me.

Not just, "oh yeah, that one that lives on that speck in that insignificant spinning conglomerate of burning gas and somewhat stable matter." God knows ME. My deepest thoughts and emotions. My random thoughts and traumatic experiences. My power and ability to do good. My inexplicable capability to do bad. God knows me.

How many of our prayers acknowledge the depths of who we are? How many of us take the time to dive into who we are in prayer? Or even in life in general? How many of us can say we truly know ourselves? God knows us. God has always known us. God is better equipped to enter our prayer that we, who initiate it, are.

And when God brings before us the deeds that we have done, we better know ourselves. If we do not have a handle on the substance of our character, then God will roll over us like a tide. If we do not grasp who we are, we will become lost in our sin and failure. If we do not have some connection to being created in the image of God, filled with the breath of God, redeemed in the death of Jesus Christ, and offered the new life promised by the Spirit, then we will want to be vomited out of God. We could not stand ourselves. We could not stand to be near God, associated with God.

And we better be honest. "You say that you are rich, clothed, and bright eyed." God knows the lies we tell ourselves. God knows the dishonest approach we take to religion and life. God knows the intention of the thoughts of our hearts. God knows how we justify the "it all" of our choices.

How many of our prayers are truly confessional? How much do we really deal with our sin and failure? How often do we end up with a confession-justification time of prayer? Do we really think we are getting away with fooling the "It All" God? The one who is the substance, medium, and ruler of our lives has us figured out.

But wait! What hint of something other than vomit is offered? "I counsel you to buy from me." Surrender. Give up. You won't find a better deal. You can search to the ends of the time and space I have created. I am the only source. It sounds sinister, doesn't it? But it is a way out. It is the chance to be something other than vomit. God offers us the chance of something. It just comes as the result of surrender.

How many of our prayers take the time to surrender the elements of our life? How often do we give up the great things that enlarge our lives in thanksgiving? How often do we finally admit that we can't make the best choices for our life apart from divine words of guidance heard in meditation? How often do we just shut up the constant stream of conscious chatter, and live for a God-minute in silence? How often do our prayers mark for us the moment of true and earnest repentance, when we begin to walk a different path?

"I stand at the door and knock....and knock....and knock.......

and knock."

God wants to put a word in, you chatterbox. God has some input. This is a conversation. It is two sided. It is not our soapbox. It is not your dictation of our laundry list or sitting on Santa's knee with our Christmas wishes. God patiently waits for us to stop, collaborate, and listen.

That made me smile a little.

How many of our prayer times take the opportunity for sacred silence? How many times do we hear the small voice, the quiet wind, the gentle nudges, the inspired thoughts? When we do, how often do we acknowledge the sacred voice? How often do we engage in the conversation of spirit and Spirit?

In those moments, we begin to understand abiding fellowship. God comes in to sit down in a time of feasting. There is a day when I am going to do a devotion book on eating with God. God seems to enjoy meals and food. I don't know that God is a foodie. I believe that there is an overreaching metaphor about sitting down to eat. Something happens at the table that happens nowhere else in human experience.

And I love what Pennington does with that image. We don't sit across from each other. We share the same side of the table. We share the same booth. Or, as Pennington refers to it, we recline upon one another as the loved one of John's Gospel does with Jesus in that final meal. It brought to mind the times that Lisa and I go out to supper. We don't always sit on the same side of the table. Why? She is my closest one. She is the one that I love to have physical contact with. She is the one that I share everything with, including my food if there is something she might want to try. So why don't we sit side-by-side, reclining on one another?

Mostly because it bugs me when I eat if someone is touching me.

But that is beside the point. God offers to come in and recline with us at the table. Intimacy. Communion. Fellowship. We are so far away from vomit. This has completely turned around. This is the kind of prayer that we want. This is the time of prayer we long for, hope for, and desire.

But there is no way to get to this kind of prayer without going through the rest of it. Everything that I have touched upon is one prayer time. We can't get to communion with out acknowledging God as the "It All". We can't receive God to recline at the table of our soul if we don't even know where our soul is. We can't... no, we WON'T open the door if we recognize that our failures make God sick. And how in heaven or on earth will we ever hear the gentle, quiet rapping upon the door of our spirit if we are never quiet enough to know it is there.

The victory of a dynamic prayer life is not instantaneous. It does not come natural. Prayer is easy. But to pray in our adulthood as we did as children.... I mean, have you tried to put on the clothes you wore as a middle schooler? Even if it fits, it doesn't wear right. Prayer should grow with our level of spiritual maturity. Prayer should take us into deeper places of knowing God, knowing ourselves, knowing who we are in God's great, big world.