Good morning to you! What times we are enduring! What a challenge to our hearts…our perception of time and health…and our journey in Jesus. Who would have guessed that we would be facing?
Friends, I’ve been joining you in having an inordinate amount of time to do some reflection on what is occurring in all of our lives. As many of you know, I’ve had the honor and privilege of joining academia over the past two decades. In my work with students on a doctoral level, we have spent considerable time exploring “deeper meaning” in life via an analysis of the parables of Jesus. Without delving into more than we can handle in one, simple devotional time, what has dawned on me as I’ve attempted to deal with the total upheaval of much of my life is how completely unprepared most of our culture was and is for navigating this Corona Virus crisis. There are some deeper truths that underscore and provide a “thought framework” for why these times are as challenging as they are…here are some on which to reflect:
First of all – our culture has been steeped in a philosophy and way of thinking about life that has focused on the “worship” of material success as well as embrace of the “myth of human progress.” Ever since the 1800’s there has been a growing sense in the unstoppable nature of the progressive perfection of the human experience. Thinkers like Immanuel Kant (who believed that if all human beings would stop, think and meditate, they would figure out life all by themselves) and Jean Rousseau ) who embraced a belief in the purity and unqualified goodness of each human heart) have set the stage for currently the greatest time of angst and growing despair that has occurred in the lives of people since the early 20th century. A period in history that philosophers and academics label “modernity” was that moment in time where human beings started to “believe their own press”…in other words, we really did start to believe that we had every capacity to move our race toward utopianism…that being a life without challenge or struggle or discomfort.
Well…you can imagine how reality of late has slapped us into rethinking some of those presumptions. If you take a moment and think about this, you will realize that all great movements or moments of growth and spiritual breakthrough have to do in one way or another not with how we move ourselves to a perfect, suffering free world but rather how we deal with pain, suffering, and the “front row seat” we have to a world that feels out of control.
I am afraid that many of us who have built our lives on the “myth of progress” have become very naïve about pain and suffering. We simply don’t have time for it. It is a massive inconvenience. It is derailing the building up of our own securities. It’s making the future that we felt we had under control, feel scary and uncertain…things and experiences that NONE of us want to experience. We’ve, in essence, forgotten a basic truth of the human experience – we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us— in deep and mysterious ways that truth is the only way that we can understand the very matrix of life and especially an embracing of new life. Only suffering and certain kinds of humility and brokenness can lead us into genuinely new experiences.
It is amazing to me that the cross of Jesus became the central Christian logo in history. You would have thought that maybe those early followers of Jesu could have come up with something a bit more “positive.” You see, the cross and its rather obvious message of inevitable suffering is aggressively disbelieved in most countries, individuals, and even churches. We are clearly into ascent, achievement, accumulation, and denial of discomfort. It you think about it, the cross of Jesus has become, in many cases, simply a mere piece of jewelry. We’ve made the cross of Jesus into a feel-good salve instead of a very personal, painful, trying, and intense experience of the very reality of love’s unfolding and transformational power. The cross should be reminding us not of OUR glory but His…it should be pointing out again and again how it is through pain and suffering that we are healed. That is the existential (aka, “life-altering experience”) challenge of Jesus’ words to “pick up our own crosses”…sooner or later we, too, have to realize that life can really have NO meaning without redemptive suffering. Yes, it is true…there is something that ONLY suffering and pain can do that all successes and comfort levels of life cannot accomplish in our souls. To be intensely practical, we cannot nor should we miss out on the positive and redemptive meaning of our own pain and suffering.
The Old Testament story of God’s people wandering the wilderness for 40 years was built on the assumption and plan of God to “make new” a wayward people into a unified, new community of faithful obedience and service to God. Could it be…not that God is “doing” this to us…but could it be that THAT is what God can and will do in and through us as we keep our focus on Jesus through this time of challenge? Remember, the cross was something Jesus did for us (that’s true), but not only that…it became something that revealed and invited us into the same pattern…we discover REAL life through the cross. We need forgiveness not just for our sins, but we need transformation so that we are not continually “victimized” or punished by our sins (such as blindness, egocentricity, illusions, or pride).
I read this morning this powerful sentence:
“It seems that nothing less than some kind of pain will force us to release our grip on our small explanations and our self-serving illusions.”
As we live the story of Jesus, we always remember that it is the Resurrection that always follows the cross…in other words, in Jesus’ suffering, pain and even death can be trusted. It is the cross, the journey into a necessary “dark night of the soul” through which we are convinced that life as Jesus promised we’d experience through His resurrection is offered as a gift.
So, in this time of uncertainty…in this time of suffering…we have to ask ourselves, “what are we going to do with our pain? Are we going to blame others for it? Are we going to try to fix it?” If we don’t find some way to embrace the meaning of this “cross”…if we perpetually blame others or even buy into the lie that we are the “fixers” of the problems in the world, then we will miss out on the great “teacher” the cross can be. Another great sentence I read this morning;
“Though none of us want to admit it, if we cannot find transformation in our pain, we will transmit it to others in some form.”
The cross and empty tomb don’t take us back to ourselves for the attaining of our own perfection. They leave us on our knees seeking Jesus in whom is real healing, meaning, and life.
Ok – I’ll be doing live streaming tonight at 6:30pm for our Lenten worship experience here in Long Valley, Idaho. I’ll begin at 6:30pm Mountain time zone…songs, scripture reading, a message on the Lord’s prayer…about 40 or so minutes. Here is the email that went out today that you can read to find the links!
https://conta.cc/2JgdFQI – click on that link!
Here is a link to an email “blast” that gives links to worship experiences and other resources. I’m also including an embedded video of tomorrow’s worship experience (pre-recorded).
Dr. Scot McKnight, Professor and prolific blogger, notes today in his most recent posts that there good reason to suspect that when Acts tells us that there were 1000’s of baptisms that occurred on the day of Pentecost, that they most likely took place in the “mikvahs” in Jerusalem. For those of you who love to explore some of the “details” of the Bible, here’s some interesting reading:
3000 Baptisms: But Where in Jerusalem? By Scot McKnight
We suggest they were baptized in mikvahs south of the temple.
One of the fascinating new scenarios our tour guide (Yoni Gerrish) brought to light concerned where the Christians were on the Day of Pentecost and where the baptisms could have occurred when 3000 suddenly were in need of baptism.
It takes a lot of water, or at least time, to baptize that many.
From Acts 2:29-42
“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being, therefore, exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’ Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
How can you baptize 3000 in Jerusalem in one day? Water is scarce in most of Israel, especially in the Jordan Valley. The nearly perfected approach was cisterns that collected water through a series of small paths or channels, but it is only very remotely possible the first Christians were baptized in a cistern.
So, how was is possible to baptize so many? I see three possibilities: (1) in the Pool of Siloam at the bottom of the City of David (see picture at bottom), (2) in the pool of Bethesda on the north side of the temple, or (3) in ritual immersion pools called “mikveh” (singular) or “mikva’ot” (plural).
On this photo (below): I took this of a picture on wall next to the pool Siloam (blue pool at bottom) but the picture oddly is a mix of 1st-century walking path and the modern Muslim temple mount (mosque next to the southern wall and the Dome of the Rock, with its golden dome, closer to the northern edge). Kidron Valley is to right of the eastern wall, the Western Wall just to the right of the east-west wall in the middle of the temple area.
If you look at the map you can see a road from the bottom to the southern edge of the temple (it is the “cardo” and runs along the Western Wall into the area at the top of the temple mount).
Along that path from Siloam to the temple, and especially along the southern slope of the temple, were as many as 500 mikva’ot.
The picture (below) of a mikveh is one I took three years ago at Qumran. You can see the steps down into the immersion pool so the person could immerse herself/himself. Such mikva’ot were often next to an “unstepped” pool filled with water, which could help create running water from one to the other.
Where did they baptize? Yes, it is very reasonable to think they were baptized in these already-existing and already-about-purity mikva’ot. If you would like to read a solid explanation of the mikva’ot, see E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 364-378.
Some 500 mikva’ot means it would not have been difficult to find water for all 3000.
Who baptized them? One can guess that it was (1) Peter and John and the apostles, (2) the apostles and other leaders, or (which is likely) (3) they self-administered their baptism with their own confessions (self-administration was how mikveh immersions occurred). What about the babies? (That’s another discussion.)
Where was Peter preaching? Perhaps in that very area, too. Perhaps he was preaching to folks as they were ascending to the temple.
From Father Richard Rohr’s blog post on “Stinkin thinkin”
For many of us these words of Father Rohr will strike home into the depth of our hearts. Why? Because from an early age, we learned to listen MORE to the voice of self-talk aimed at criticism than from that still, small voice that speaks to our heart with love. There’s nothing more haunting than that voice of condemnation inside of you that constantly badgers your soul. It doesn’t even matter if you are operating in areas of your life where you feel especially gifted, trained and prepared. The voice speaks…it speaks poison that festers into self-hatred. Yes, we can attempt to cover it up or escape it but sooner or later everyone has to deal with the “voice.”
Father Rohr gives, as usual, special insight into this issue. For those of you who read the paragraph above and said to yourself, “how did Robin know what’s going on in my head,” I have good news for you. It’s time to silent that voice or, at very least, drown it out with a voice that is louder and brings with it life-giving affirmation and love. Here’s what Richard Rohr recently wrote,
“Although we begin life, as very young children, as non-dual thinkers, usually by the age of seven we are all dualistic thinkers, and sadly many of us stay that way for the rest of our lives. Dualistic thinking is the well-practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison. And for some reason, once we compare or label things (that is, judge things), we almost always conclude that one is good and the other not so good or even bad.
Don’t take my word for it; just notice your own thoughts and reactions. You will see that you will move almost automatically into a pattern of up or down, in or out, for me or against me, right or wrong, black or white, good or bad. It is the basic reason why the “stinkin’ thinkin’” of racism, sexism, classism, religious imperialism, and prejudice of all kinds is so hard to overcome and has lasted so long—even among nice people!
At the risk of being too cleverly alliterative (though it may help you to remember), here is the normal sequencing of the dualistic mind: it compares, it competes, it conflicts, it conspires, it condemns, it cancels out any contrary evidence, and then it crucifies with impunity. You can call it the seven C’s of delusion. This is the source of most violence…especially within ourselves. There is a reason why Jesus says, “Do not judge!” and why angels in the Bible are always saying, “Do not be afraid!” Our violence—and almost all of our unhappiness—emerges from our judging, dualistic mind—which itself comes from deeply rooted fear.”
What struck me about Rohr’s thoughts had as much to do with what he didn’t write as it did with what he did write…in other words, what appears to be an “outside of me” type of mentality is REALLY something that starts insidiously INSIDE of me (and you). “Stinkin Thinkin” always starts as the comparison, dualistic mind starts to hammer us on the inside with words of comparison (“I’m not as handsome or pretty as he/she is” or “I’ll never be that good”), competition (“I know when I look at myself that I’m a loser”), conflicts (“I’m going to get my way no matter what it costs me”), conspires (“I’ll do whatever I need to do even if it betrays my values to get what I want”), cancelling thoughts (“they are lying to me, I can’t believe what they said about me”) and finally with that proverbial stake through our heart (“I wish I were dead”). You might think I am a bit overdramatic but, trust me, many people I know and love deal with this inner critic ALL the time.
It’s time to silence that voice and to hear the words of love that can be transformative and life-refreshing to our souls. Read these words from Psalm 139:
“God, You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.”
The beauty of those words are this – God knows us in a deeper manner than we even know ourselves and He still loves us…He still heals and forgives…He still restores and refreshes…He still, He still, He still. The only voice I know that is stronger than the inner critic is the one that called the Universe into existence. The only way to silence the dualistic mind is to understand that for God, He sees you through ONE prism…that of love. I know I need that word daily and my guess is, you do too!
Most of you who have occasionally dropped in on this blog know that I am a HUGE fan of Ann Voskamp. I have read her books, I regularly receive her emails, and I have been inspired and challenged in my faith and life by Ann’s insights for years. If you don’t receive her emails or if you have NOT read any of her books, here’s my encouragement to you – DO IT!
Yesterday Ann published her personal story of how she has changed her life regarding physical “movement” as well as Bible reading. Her post was very insightful – not only about reading God’s word but the importance of movement for health, both physically and spiritually. I thought I would post today some of the “gems” that come from that post:
When you challenge yourself to move, you challenge your own perception of self.
And then on the hardest days, when I did hard things anyways: I was stuck by the epiphany: Moving every day is how you move through stress.
I found: If you don’t move daily, you experience stress obstruction in your soul. When I move, stress moves out of me.
Movement is a free strategy against discouragement.
And I moved every day not at a gym, but outside. Moving outside creates something of a miracle inside. The Japanese have a term for moving outside into nature; they call it “forest bathing.” But I call it “Glory Soaking.” Because the whole earth is full of His glory, moving outside calms a heart full of trouble. Daily Glory Soaks cleanse the mind, so the heart can fill with hope. When you feel like you’re drowning, a Glory Soak outside can keep the soul afloat on the inside. Running under trees began to root my soul.
Moving under sky moved me toward God.
And when I couldn’t run away from the relentless story of failure that kept running on replay in my head, I began to listen to His Word while I ran and I let God’s Story in me play louder than any other story around me.
“I began to listen to His Word while I ran and I let God’s Story in me play louder than any other story around me.”
When I listened to Scripture while running, I could run away from the narrative of me and right into the narrative of grace. The relief of this was everything. I turned off all the noise of news and drama and distractions around me, and all the noise of fear and failure within me, and I just ran with my headset in, leaning into the language of God. With every step, worries quieted, hushed, stilled — and all I could hear was the voice of God in my headsets, heart keeping time with His.
I move less for my physical health and more for the health of my soul.
And we have more than enough time every day to move toward physical, mental and soul health. Every single one of us has 1,440 minutes every single day — and every single one of us can use 30 of those minutes to move in some way, while being moved by the Word of God, to change the health of our whole lives. 30 minutes a day of movement — will change every other moment of your life. Guaranteed.
This is what changed my life as I started moving and the let the Word of God move me:
God became my Pacesetter. God is my Pacer — and I just stay with the Pacer so I can finish impossible races. God is the steady, the consistent, the voice at the ear who shows how to take the next step, and the next step after that. I don’t have to keep up to anyone else — I simply have to keep company with God. I simply have to keep close to Him.
As I physically moved, and was spiritually moved by His Word, thoughts began to move through my mind differently, I began to process my world differently. I felt stronger, braver, not just physically, but especially emotionally. The anxiety ebbed, the hope grew, hope that something was growing in me that I could rise to any challenge.
Turns out: Courage is highly contagious, and bravery to do a Hard Thing in one aspect of your life, quickly spreads to all of your life.
If I let my feet literally keep rhythm with God, fears stop driving my life. If I put one step in front of the other, I move past all kinds of paralysis. If I tune my heart, my feet, me ears, to Him, I tune out everything that is making me anxious. If I stay in The Story, my life stays the course.
People keep asking me if I am training for a race. And the answer is yes: I am throwing off everything that hinders (Hebrews 12:1) and training to run with perseverance and finish the race marked out before us, to keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
The answer is yes: I am literally learning how to put one step in front of the other, to carry on, to keep carrying on. The answer is yes: As I move, I’m moving beyond a life limited by smallness, by fears, by pain, by regrets, and I’m moving into God.
Move and you begin to move farther, and further up and deeper in, than you ever imagined. Move and Hope moves into you. Move and you move into a new identity.
YES, I can change, YES, I can do hard and holy things because they are the next thing to get to the best thing, YES, I can let God move into me, YES, God can move into all of my moments, YES, my new identity is found fully in Him, YES to whatever this day and decade and road holds, YES, I can be moved by God who is always making a way for me to MOVE FORWARD!