Sunday, May 19, 2013

Let the Wind Blow

There are places in scripture, many of them, where the text is so dense and thick with meaning concealed so artfully in a great story that the casual reader is apt to miss much of what is going on. In both volumes of his work, Luke has demonstrated himself capable of both broadsides of such power that the reader is almost overwhelmed coupled with such delicate moments that they almost disappear upon reading. And sometimes, both in the same text. Acts 2 is one such place. Pressed in to the four verses that mark the moment of the church’s first breath is a dazzling array of allusion that frames the event for his theological purpose – all the while telling the story of what actually happened with enormous restraint. (considering, that is, what actually happened!)

The day of Pentecost had shifted from a festival devoted to first fruits to one commemorating the receiving of Torah on Sinai – and it is this latter connection that Luke uses to make sense of the events. The parallels – the sound of a rushing, mighty wind coupled with the glory of God visible as fire – make the point that, in the events of Acts 2, God is breaking in to human history. It is this that Peter explains to the crowd of curious on-lookers – in these events, the last days to which they had looked forward for centuries have begun! The differences from Sinai make the point that, unlike that event, the gift of the Spirit and the Glory of God are now available to everyone – and, through them, to others. Both young and old, male and female, slave and free have full access to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. A truly new day has begun!

In another parallel, the confusion of languages, devised at Babel to limit human cooperation, is reversed so that all persons may hear and celebrate together the glories of God. A look at a map of the ancient near east on which the countries mentioned in Acts 2 are highlighted makes the point! This new community of the Spirit is instantly multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-generational – in a matter of seconds, the church is out of control and on the move! Instead of the nations coming to Jerusalem to share in the wonder of Torah given to God’s people, all of those filled with the Holy Spirit are God’s people – and are sent on mission to the far off world!

The response to Peter’s invitation to repent is equally striking – 3000 people are added to the church. The echo of the death count accompanying the coming of Torah as the people worshipped the Golden Calf while Moses communed with God is unmistakable. The Law kills. Literally. The Spirit gives Life. And keeps on giving.

Pentecost is not a day to remember. It must be more than a day on the church calendar. Pentecost is the very life of the church – and is best celebrated by living that life in vibrant, Spirit-filled witness to the fact and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. On this Pentecost Sunday, I find myself wanting more of Him – a deep desire, a longing, not just for power, but for the very Life of the Holy Spirit.

Let the wind blow!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Psalm 116:15

Today, Dallas Willard died. Just under four weeks ago, Brennan Manning died. It is impossible to describe what the loss of them means to me. Between them, my way of understanding Jesus and following Him changed – and, consequently, my way of understanding myself and everything around me. That is no exaggeration.

They both appeared about the same time – Dallas in Spirit of the Disciplines and Brennan in Ruthless Trust – as the 80’s became the 90’s, my 30’s becoming my 40’s. I had failed as a husband and as a pastor and was clinging to my following of Jesus – stubborness, really, born out of sheer terror. I maintained the shell of belief, but there was little inside to fuel the weekly performance. I still believed all the right things – but the foundations on which those beliefs rested had crumbled beyond repair.

Spirit of the Disciplines was assigned reading in a class taught by Roger Heuser, a gentle man who became a friend, and who embodied the life described. I didn’t understand the book the first two or three times though, but I had the sense that something very important was being said. Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that he was describing a way of following Jesus quite different than what I had been doing – and which had the promise of actually working. The basic key was the difference between trying, which I had been doing religiously and to little effect, and training, which he described in terms that seemed entirely doable. This sense was confirmed when, a few years later, I had the privilege of sitting in a two week doctoral seminar with Dallas – and saw the life he described lived out in our community. A gentle, wise, winsome man.

Ruthless Trust, on the other hand, erupted out of nowhere, grabbed on my out of the office, the serendipitous reading of a cold, rainy retreat day. Like all of his books that I have read since then, it portrayed a God I had not previously known – One who loved me passionately, deeply, and without regard to whether I lived up to His standards or not – and did so with great joy and not a little laughter. And, so, One who could be trusted radically. His life, too, was tattooed with the reality he lived – grace upon grace upon grace. Having the opportunity a few years later to listen to him roar belovedness to a chapel full of college students was a gift beyond describing – life giving water, nectar of God. He introduced me to a Jesus Who believed in me, and Who I could follow to death. And life.

In the years since, I have read those books again, as well as many of the others they each have written. Such different styles, such similar passion. The one, carefully scripted, each word carefully chosen, precisely defined, writing to slow the reader down, to make thoughtfulness necessary. The other, writing in rambunctious, flowing and overflowing sentences, rushing laughingly along, headlong over a waterfall of grace, pulling relentlessly at the remaining shreds of fear – Yes, He really is THAT good! And, He believes in you!

“How precious – how costly – how heavy in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints.”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dreams Too Tiny

looking nothing
     like life

no dreams
great enough
to move from
what is to
what will be

tiny dreams
to death
to appearance

but apparently

that seed
of death

gives birth
     to life

and of such
a wild kind
as to be
beginning as
it did

to see
what grows
from what is sown
demands dreams
not too tiny