Graves don’t attract most people. And most people aren’t attracted to people who are attracted to graves. Maybe that’s why my Facebook friend total is a little low. Graves (and the things that happen around them.) do fascinate me; I used to dig and fill them in. Gravediggers see things differently. I remember loving the job.
People go to a lot of trouble to impress others even after they’re dead. I always shook my head at the small private family mausoleums with outrageous extras (some play music, a little creepy at night). These were supposed to make people stop for at a few seconds, impressed that somebody important lay there. Cars whizzing by never seemed to notice. On a day our casket winch was broken, we buried a man in a casket of solid bronze. He almost took all of us down into the hole with him. Impressed? Let’s just say I remember him and that’s enough.
Graves draw the living who grieve. Conversations at graveside that all sounded like, “If you could have only known him/her! He/She was my world.” I had no idea who this was; they could never imagine anyone not knowing. We were instructed never to cut the grass on one grave. The husband removed the original sod and planted new grass which he would cut with scissors on his hands and knees. My Dad is buried there. The cemetery placed a small stick-in-the-ground plaque until a stone could be placed. When the mower guys would sideswipe it, the marker could go flying and it would be hard for a stranger to replace it properly. Mom never missed; she could have found that grave at midnight wearing a blindfold. You don’t lose the grave of someone you love. Not in the first century or any century in between.
Graves hold memories for some that many wouldn’t guess. A backhoe does most of the digging now but we’d still have to square them up by hand so everything would fit. We’d brace the sides for safety and then finish with shovels. One day I got in a hurry before everything was secure and jumped into the hole. Then the grave caved in. The guys pulled me out with a lot of ribbing and a verbal poke from my boss. But the paralyzing weight and crush of that dirt (and the death it symbolized) created a memory.
Then there was the tomb with the boulder for a door. Years before my summer there, some wealthy eccentric built a mausoleum completely out of huge unhewn rock and mortar; it looked pretty Neanderthal. Just before I started work there, they’d caught a young runaway couple living inside it. Seems they’d stolen a lot of porch furniture and accessories and had themselves quite a setup. The door to this thing was the coolest part. A boulder estimated to weigh around a couple of tons hung in the doorway suspended from iron hinges designed specially for the job. It had been hung so precisely that we could swing it as easily as any door in our house.
Gravediggers get Easter; it rings true to us. We’ve seen it. Rushed burials with almost nobody who cared present. Grieving people hanging around the grave ready to do anything and everything they could imagine for someone from whom nothing could be done. Hysteria if anything was touched or transgressed. (Let alone a body actually being moved.) But here my analogy begins to melt. I’ve seen boulders in the doorway of tombs but if they moved, it fell to the craftsmanship of an iron worker par excellence to make it happen.
And every grave I dug forty years ago is still full… and I don’t mean with dirt.
Without wading through all the theories here, Jesus being raised from the dead on the third day is the only explanation for Easter that make sense. We have no genuine reason to assume that the stories of Matthew, Mark , Luke and John have no historical reliability. We assume that first century people , being pre-scientific and all, were gullible stooges. They were not. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity would not exist on the earth today; it wouldn’t have lasted five years beyond the crucifixion. So how can we know what I’ve just said is true? Excellent question. If genuinely interested, dig here. But “is it true?’ is not the most important question. That would be: “How badly do I want to find out?”
There’s no lab where we can test for verifiability with no risk to ourselves. There’s no formula we can crunch with a pencil or a computer that gives a nice, safe, flat answer on a data page. Jeremiah said referring to God, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13) The only way brings us to lay bare the core of who we are and ask Christ to take us. It’s not for nibblers. We run two dangers. What if we ask and no one answers? What if it’s all garbage? The second danger is this: what if we ask and He does? If alive, Jesus isn’t playing around.
John Stackhouse shares Jane Christmas’ thoughts on prayer. “On the surface prayer seems easy. Knit your eyebrows in concentrations, mutter a few words, and then get on with your day. It’s not like that in a convent. Think of the hardest job you could do – mining comes to my mind – and then imagine doing that in silence and in a dress. Every day the sisters descended into the Pit of the Soul, picked at the seam of despair, sadness, tragedy, death, sickness, grief, destruction, and poverty, loaded it all onto a cart marked “for God,’ and hauled it up from the depths of concern to the surface of mercy where they cleaned it and polished it. It was heavy, laborious work.”
That explains Jesus’ repeated prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39, 42.) Heavy lifting on our behalf. A prof had run herself through the metaphysical blender and pureed her soul into mush. Having crashed and burned with all other choices dissolved in the sizzling acid of disillusionment and bitterness, she simply said to Jesus, “If you’re real, come get me.”
‘Tis the season to get “got”. How badly do we want to know if He is risen. I mean really with no shuck and jive, no smoke and mirrors, no bullfeathers? Finding Jesus alive can be dangerous. This is One who says in effect, “Hand me the keys and slide over. I will not be needing any directions from you.” That’s good because if our directions were any good, we wouldn’t be up our neck in stuff, have cried ourselves to sleep so many nights, feel so empty or hurt so many others.
He is risen as He said. It’s time to get “got”. Nobody can open the rusty door to our hearts but us.
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“Nobody cares … nowadays that Christ was scoured, railed upon, buffeted, mocked and crucified because all those words have grown hypnotic with ecclesiastical use. But it does give people a slight shock to be shown that God was flogged, spat upon, called dirty names, slugged on the jaw, insulted with vulgar jokes and spiked up on the gallows like an owl on a barn door.” – Dorothy Sayers.
“It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear the story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.” – Dorothy Sayers
Brennan Manning approached by both a student and a professor on a campus where he spoke -
“The academic load is heavy here,” the student said. “I used to have a vibrant prayer life in high school, but I’ve gotten so busy here with studies, fraternity life and wanting to fit in that I’ve gown careless in my relationship with God. I miss Him.” Wiping away tears, “I want to feel His presence. Life in the fast lane keeps me so distracted that sometimes I wonder if I trust God at all. Then I get scared. but I keep doing the same stuff out of habit because I can’t imagine any other alternative. I wish I were closer to God.”
Then a professor -
“At one point in my life, I had a faith so strong that it shaped the very fiber of each day…even in stressful situations. The fire of Christ burned inside me. Slowly, and almost imperceptibly, I stopped sitting at the fireplace. The academic competition is fierce here, all-consuming. After you spoke on the love of God last night, I cried for an hour. My life is so empty. I see so much pain and suffering both on and off campus, and sometimes I feel a deep resistance to a loving God. I still have faith - I know I do-but I can’t feel it. I’ve lost any sense of God’s presence. I long for the relationship I used to have.”
Brennan’s later thoughts -
Now look at this student and the faculty member and pretend that you are the God of love bodied forth in Jesus of Nazareth. The young man is sad because he misses you…and close to panic that he does not trust in your love anymore. The woman is in tears because she cannot feel your presence as she once did. Ambushed by academics, she fears that her faith is fading and that she has lost you forever… Is your heart overflowing with compassion for their feelings of exile from you? Do you see their whole life as a prayer of longing? Will you sweep them up in your arms the moment they call to you?
(Quoted in “Finding God Beyond Harvard” by Kelly Monroe Kullberg)
Three Roman soldiers drinking in a Jerusalem tavern late one Friday.
Soldier 3 – Jesus Christ!
Soldier 2 – That false alarm!
Soldier 1 – Oh, I don’t know. He was pretty good in there today.
Soldier 2 – Why didn’t he come down off the cross?
Soldier 1 – He didn’t want to come down off the cross. That’s not his play.
From “Today Is Friday” by Ernest Hemingway
“…Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…” – Luke 23:34.
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” – Mark 15:34
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” – Luke 23:46
“It is finished.” – John 19:30
“It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” – I Timothy 1:15
Once Jesus died the excitement was over with and people had to get back to business. After all, an important religious holiday was right on top of them. The meal had to be prepared by sundown and they had so many people to feed. On Easter week thousands of American Christians blow past and through Good Friday because we have to get the cute little outfits for the kids and grandkids and we need time to make sure they fit. There ‘s baskets , fake grass and marshmallow chicks to buy. And we’d better not wait for the last minute to get the ham. After all, Sunday will be a big holiday and we have so many people to feed. Doe God sit amazed and heartbroken that we pay more fuss and attention to the ham than to the Lamb?
One of the coolest lines ever sung to or about Jesus rises from the spiritual “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus”. It begins, “I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in His arms. In the arms of my dear Saviour…”. And then, “…O, there are ten thousand charms.” And it’s important to note that this wasn’t cradled on the floor of a jamming praise and worship time but amidst the horror and suffering of slavery. Not goosebumps or out-of body states, but life situations that strip one of hope down to the bone give rise (To spiritual experiences? Maybe. God does what He wants.) to intimacy whether experiences come or not. What we miss in between burning bushes, seas parting, visions, earthquakes and Moses and Elijah doing a prophetic karaoke of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” on the Mount of Transfiguration is that biblical people often went months, sometimes years, in between spiritual experiences. Experiences fade but intimacy digs and drinks from deeper wells of everyday life.
In Exodus 33:11, Moses leaves the tent of meeting to return to Israel in the wilderness. The cloud of God’s presence has lifted. It’s an empty tent. But He has been there. And that’s enough for Joshua who never leaves the tent. He’s not hanging out to get a good seat for the next show when God comes down in fire by night. That Yahweh stirred the cords and fabric of this place was enough…whether there’s a next vision or not. Gods we make up don’t hold us like this even if we call them “Jesus”. But this “Matthew-Mark-Luke-John” guy who claimed to be God and Saviour of the world raised from the dead is quite different. The events of the New Testament occurred roughly two thousand years ago and today 33% (2,229,951,315 and counting rapidly in some corners) of the world follows Him. Why? Truth, in part. This is bedrock stuff; it doesn’t fold or collapse on us because we struggle or feel like it isn’t true. But there’s more.
There’s Jesus Himself (He is risen, you know. The Easter thing.) He indwells our personalities through the Holy Spirit Whose breath rises and falls under every breath of our own even when we think He has gone, given up or lost us. We may go years, maybe a lifetime, without visions and dreams. But Jesus Christ has stirred the frayed cords and worn fabric of our lives. And it is more than enough. Sadhu Sundar Singh, a twentieth century evangelist/mystic, sat talking with some Hindu intellectuals (People with enough power of thought to blow a battleship out of the water.) who asked him,”What did you find in Christianity that you could not find in Hinduism?” “Jesus Christ,” came his simple reply. ” Well, yes, of course. But what drew and held you, what compelled you to make this shift in your thinking?” Again, “Jesus Christ.” We talk about Jesus being in us but what does that mean? Where is that? In the ongoing discussion/argument, my vote comes down on the mind. The rest of the human body is already full of spleens, bones and things that already do stuff. A few years ago I went deaf in one ear and a doctor who treats Ozzie Osborne, half the Rolling Stones and other rockers couldn’t fix it but He did put me through my first MRI. The specialist brought in the pictures, made some explanatory hearing related comments and walked out. For the first time in my life, I stared into my own brain and the mind encased in it. My first thoughts ambushed me. Instead of thinking, “Okay,cool” and moving on or falling back into the mopes over being deaf in one ear, I just grinned and said, “So there You are!” I could almost see His fingerprints on the window sill and His coffee mug on the shelf. And it was enough. I’m grinning as I write. It still is.
Christ in us; the hope and foretaste of glory (all the beauty, holiness, love, truth and power of God in one enchilada) poured over us in the Spirit like syrup on pancakes and soaking deeply into every atom, nerve ending and enterprise. This intimacy, beyond but not excluding experience, stands as the real craving of our heart. Turning spiritual experiences (those we’ve had, desire or lust after) into a temple and then moving in will actually kill our appetite for real spiritual intimacy, for real following Jesus Christ. People on both sides of the cross get cheated. J.I. Packer notes, “We need to frankly face ourselves at this point…We can state the gospel clearly and can smell unsound doctrine a mile away. If anyone asks us how men may know God, we can once produce the right formula…Yet the gaiety, goodness and unfetteredness of spirit which are the marks of those who have known God are rare among us.” These are the ones who know that in Jesus there are ten thousand charms draped over the days and years of our lives – sweet both in intimacy and experience. Of course, everything said here also fits with here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
The cool rendition of “I Will Arise” can be found in the album “Songs, Stories and Spirituals” by John Patitucci.
If you think this might encourage a college student or someone who loves them, please share, subscribe, tweet and all that social media stuff. If you get geezeronthequad.com, be sure you get plugged into Geezer 1, the Facebook gang loosely gathered around this blog. They’re a mix of students, student leaders, professors, musicians, artists, composers, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs and campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks that universities are special places. They’re also stretchers of mind and spirit – and fun. And they’re a sharp bunch; you will only make us better. Just check it out and sent an email request to join to email@example.com. If the Facebook dog eats your homework, we will ask you to resubmit.
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In the sixties and early seventies, the Jesus Movement burned through the campuses of this country and western Pennsylvania was no exception. Revival produces strange bedfellows. People the Lord used to pour steam into the boiler at my school included two former missionaries from India and Kenya, an owner of a car parts store whose sons got caught in the Asbury revivals…and than there was Mel. Mel ran a sign company. But his real bang for the buck was that he sang as featured vocalist for the Pentecostal faith healer Kathryn Kuhlmann. Jesus did some strange things in the land back then. She held services in First Presbyterian Church in downtown Pittsburgh, a place so Presbyterian that John Calvin could have preached there wearing his Steeler jersey (If he were alive, he would have one.). This would be as normal as an electric polka festival in the National Cathedral in Washington. But she held services there on weekdays and people came from all over the world, flown in strapped to gurneys and stretchers. And Mel sang in exchange for free advertising for his business. Years later, Mel would meet with a bunch of us in an off campus apartment. We all knew he probably had some choice Holy Ghost stories to tell. But Mel refused to spill the beans of his personal spiritual life saying, “The Lord and I have had some wonderful times but to share them would cheapen and tarnish them because they’re too personal.”
In the West, we’re reduced knowing to the mere possession of intellectual knowledge. We may know a great deal informationally but that knowledge rarely lays claim to how we think or to the shaping of our lives. We’ve transferred this to the knowing of people; we can put a name with a face, rattle off the hometown, names of siblings, their major and a few incidentals. We know that stuff but do we know them? And it’s not just about people. If our car needs work and the guy doing it speaks to our car in feminine pronouns, this is a good person! Watch someone who knows how to work wood – to build or restore. More than head knowledge is going down here; these people are intimate with motors and wood.
And now for a little Hebrew. In Gen. 4:1, we read that “Adam knew his wife.” This “knowing” isn’t warehousing info as a warmup for Jeopardy, it’s sex. We see this repeatedly in places like Gen. 4:17,25 and I Sam. 1:19. But we also find it in Jer. 9:24 where it says, “…let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me…” The same root word. Unlike today, Israel never separated sex from intimate knowing in the setting of a covenant. Jeremiah’s knowing God isn’t sexual but it is an intimate and thoroughgoing knowledge deeper than a squeaky clean doctrinal statement (vitae for Pharisees). Think Satan for minute. What doctrine or point of theology does Satan not understand? He didn’t understand the cross, the atonement or the resurrection then. but while he understands all that now, he lives in hateful flaming rebellion against everything he knows. Knowing isn’t knowing.
Let’s talk pornography for a second. What make pornography pornographic is that it takes what was meant to be sheltered in the privacy and security of a marriage covenant and callously throws it into the street to be gawked at and leered over by passers-by (or in print or online). Pornography can be spiritual as well. There is a real case to be made, except for the most careful and timely disclosures under the Holy Spirit’s clear prompts, that spiritual experiences should not necessarily always be shared. Read John 21:20-23. We simply have no innate right or entitlement to gawk or probe into other people’s spiritual innards.
But there’s more. In Luke 8:40-48, Jesus heals a woman with a bleeding issue (possibly menstrual). Quietly desperate, she forces her way through the crowd tailing Jesus already en route to an emergency. She just touches His clothes, power is released and she is healed. And Jesus’ reply is pretty generic. “Your faith has made you well.” Not WELL STEP UP HERE, SISTER, AND GIVE YOUR TESTIMONY AND GIVE ALL THE GLORY TO JEEEEZUZ!!!! He knew (Duh! What doesn’t He know?) that just maybe she didn’t feel like divulging this in front of a crowd mostly of men. In I Cor 15, Paul lists many of the resurrection appearances of Jesus. In verses 5 and 7, he mentions the interesting tidbits that Jesus appeared to both Cephas (Peter) and James. Dig as we might, we will not find one scrap of information, nothing leaked to the media about either incident. The Holy Spirit didn’t think it anyone’s business. Finally, in II Cor 12, Paul completes a smack down (Sometimes this has to be done.) of some carnal punks trying to showboat the church in Paul’s absence and he describes a very powerful experience I alluded to before. Please notice his tone; Paul feels extremely hesitant to share this to the point of trying to obscure his own name in the telling. He didn’t want to pull this out but thought he had to. Sometimes we might need to pull something intimate out should the situation call for it or just to check with someone we trust to see if we’re crazy. We will sense a guarded freedom to do that from the Holy Spirit. And sometimes we will share it with a group or the church or maybe a TV evangelist (Arrrgh! Please don’t do that!). But Mel was right. To take our intimacies with God and throw them out to be gawked at even in the church can cheapen and tarnish them making them spiritually pornographic. Some things are better kept to ourselves and those who have earned our deepest trust. If you’re just jumping in with this post, put this bead on a string starting here, here, here, here, here and here.
Next time on geezeronthequad.com…
The end of both spiritual experiences and the faith we walk in…knowing, loving and enjoying God and growing in holiness and grace.
If you think that this might encourage a student or those who love them then, share, subscribe, twitter and all that social media stuff. If you already subscribe to geezeronthequad.com, you need to be part of something of Facebook called Geezer 1. It’s a mix of students, students ministry leaders, professors, artists, musicians, composers, cultural thinkers and campus rats who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a very special place. Even if you get geezeronthequad.com, you’re missing a sharp bunch of people who are body, mind and soul stretchers – and fun. You will only make us better. Go to Geezer 1 and just ask to join or shoot a friend request (Do not ask us to shoot a friend.) to firstname.lastname@example.org
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We love wilderness hiking in mountains and one of the cool things that come with that involves seeing wildlife on their own turf. Our sightings included deer, elk and turkeys but also moose, cougar, wild boar, coyote and a black bear. Some of this happened close up and personal. In Nova Scotia, we were fifty feet or so from an adult bull moose who held seven feet of air between his antler tips. The cougar leaped out twenty yards in front of our path. (Almost no one sees a cougar. If we do, it’s because it has been watching us for some time and we won’t like what it’s thinking.) Last fall in eastern Tennessee, we’d gotten off the main trail onto a horse path. We agreed to turn around after one more curve. Around that curve, we confronted a yearling black bear – thirty feet away. We sized each other up and mutually decided to walk away in opposite directions; it was a “win” for us and hopefully the bear felt the same. We hugged, glad that our arms were still attached and high-fived in amazement that we’d seen a bear that close.
Should we seek spiritual experiences? People have had them both in the Bible and throughout history. Some questions to probe our motives – why do we want to have one? Are we just curious or think it would be cool? Are we looking for a hit of adrenaline or some goose bumps, a thrill? Do we think seeing God play hacky-sack with angels would knock the kinks out of our spiritual life once and for all? Are we lazy, just wanting God to make it simple instead of learning to obey the Scriptures and walk by faith (This is known as growing up and becoming a spiritual adult.)?
In the vast array of spiritual experiences in Scripture, I only see one instance (If anyone can think of others, please let me know but my point here will still hold water.) where someone who sought something slam-bang big from God got, not only what he wanted, but so much more that they were sorry they asked. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses, “Here’s the deal. I’m sending out an angel as a lead blocker to take out in judgement all those creepy people who already live in the land. They do human sacrifice and other things they won’t quit. You’ll get to eat vineyards you didn’t plant, drink out of wells you didn’t dig and live in houses you didn’t build – the whole milk and honey enchilada. One catch – I won’t go with you. The people I brought up out of Egypt are nothing but ungrateful, complaining, live-for-the-lusts-of-their-bellies scuzzbags. You get all the goodies but as for Me, Yahweh is leaving the building long before Elvis.” Let me add that large chunks of contemporary American Christianity would snap this up in a nanosecond; they would take the blessings and run. Moses says, “I’ll take ‘Answers That Please God’ for $1000, Alex”. Moses says,” Unless You go up with us then don’t let us go another mile. How will anyone know we are Your people if You do not go up with us?” Moses thought first of God’s reputation among the nations. When God says He’s pleased with Moses, Moses blurts out, “Show me Your glory!” (Exodus 33:18) God knows if He gives Moses what the man asks for that Moses will die. You can get too close to the bear. Many people like Isaiah (Is 6) and John (Rev 1:10-17) marvelled they were still alive to describe what they saw. Others (Luke 9:28-34) were gripped in the kind of fear (unknown to us who reduce God to a benign watercress munching deity sitting in luncheons daintily mopping His mouth with a napkin) that makes one empty his bladder, fill his pants and try to claw through the floor to escape. (See also Daniel 8:17 and Ezekiel 1:28)
The Living God does not lie in wait; He comes in ambush. In every other account besides the one above smacking of direct supernatural (It’s natural for Him if not for us.) contact, God ambushes someone. He’s not a gum chewing waitress on roller skates at a Fifties retro diner who says, “Do you want ketchup with those goosebumps, Sweetie?” He doesn’t do requests; He takes the lead, the initiative – He ambushes.
Should we seek spiritual experiences? Unequivocally and biblically no. We should seek God (Jeremiah 29:37, Deuteronomy 6:4,5; Matt.22:37) whether that seeking leads to experiences or not. Actually the grad school of Christian spirituality involves no supernatural experience and emotion possibly of the most negative kind if any at all. In the sixteenth century, a monk named John of the Cross penned “The Dark Night of the Soul” while in prison. (Note: God does some of His best work in prisons. Every time the world starts throwing Christian in prison, it’s a huge mistake.) We’ve done two things to mess this up. First, we assume that a “dark night” is always bad. Second, we tie it to every ripple on the pond that disrupts our love of comfort and convenience. John describes what happens when God withdraws every sense and token of His presence to compel us to strive harder in pursuit of Him and to love God for who He is instead of what He can do for us. Spiritual experiences do not really do this. Drought, and not the abundance of rain, drives the roots deeper. Be sure to tie stuff said here together with this, this, this, this and this.
Remember learning to ride a bike? We pedaled slowly and did that wobbly handle bar thing because we were afraid we’d fall. And we fell! But after a few bruises, we got it. One question – was the ride better when we pedaled fast or slow? This Jesus thing is hardwired to pedal hard, full-bore. Going hard after Him, experiences or not, brings joy, hunger and fire that carry us through the decades and transitions of our lives. And sometimes the Bear breaks through…
Next on geezeronthequad.com…
Spiritual Experiences – Intimacy with God. What is it? Should we talk about these things?
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Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you leave. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.
Loving makes us bold. We get it from God; it’s part of His image in us. Forty years ago, my wife and I became engaged and things changed quickly. Without hesitation, I grabbed the money for the second semester of the college we attended and spent it on engagement and wedding rings. It made perfect sense to me. I wanted my parents to be as excited as we were. Well…they were excited…sort of. Right from the beginning, Paul went Niagara for Jesus – totally over the falls on a jet ski in love with the Lord. He didn’t get a lot of strokes for this, not much applause. Actually a bunch of men patrolled the city gates of Damascus to kill him so his new Christian friends let him down in a basket over the city wall. So it began and would continue. We picture Paul as this fiery bullet proof guy roaring around the Mediterranean planting churches and writing the Bible. It got to him. He repeatedly (II Cor 4:1, 12; 7:5,6) talked about the temptation to lose heart and even to despair at the end of his rope (I Cor. 1:8). Paul was not a junkie for drama, a whiner or quitter. Responding to some posers and phonies in the church, Paul pulled out his resume (“vitae” for you academic types)…”far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren: I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (II Cor 12:23-27)
Cathy Rich was the daughter of Buddy Rich, the great drummer. Her Dad rested up at home having suffered a heart attack. Hearing the doorbell, Cathy opened the door and there stood Frank Sinatra holding a pan of homemade meatballs in maranara sauce. (Sort of like Bono showing up at our next campus dinner with a bucket of wings? More than a little surreal!)
Could someone going through all this for Jesus use a little help? Jesus apparently thought so. Make no mistake, if Paul went Niagara for Jesus, Jesus went galactic in love with Paul…and with us. In II Cor 12:1-6, Paul speaks with great embarrassment (more later) of an experience of being caught up to the third heaven (spiritual lingo for one whopper of an encounter). It was the Lord’s way of saying, “Here’s something to help you remember that this is more than what you’re seeing right now.” In His love for us, God can just jump through into our lives at strategic times in powerful ways. A large portion of Christian spiritual experiences people have today describe the hot kindness of God pouring into our lives often in places and situations of great pain. His love makes Him bold. Sometimes Frank Sinatra shows up with meatballs. Just because we hurt. Just because we’re His, cherished and loved. When we worship these times, trying to capture and make a house out of them, we limit God and cripple ourselves along the lines that John MacArthur talks about. But when we don’t throw over walking by faith to get mired down in emotion, we can reach back over decades and find these times have a life all their own that breathes at the touch.
If we’ve never known an experience like this, it doesn’t mean at all that God doesn’t love us. In things like angelic or appearances of the Lord, God isn’t playing favorites or just trying to randomly freak people out (although this is sometimes the effect). He is exquisitely strategic to His own timing and bold in His love. And of course, the things said here, here and here all overlap and intertwine. As I said in the last post, it is not a tame hand that reaches through the veil of time and space. But even though He is not tame (to paraphrase The Wind In the Willows), the Lord is good, kind, tender and timely. He bends His most fiery love to our deepest pain whether there are visions, dreams or not. Whether our emotions boil over, collapse underneath us or are nowhere to be found at all. But sometimes He shows up with meatballs.
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Should we seek this kind of thing out because others may experience them? Do these things necessarily make us stronger or deeper?
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Sometimes we’re just dense. Floating face down in our coffee (tea, in my case). I mean not being able to hold up our end of a conversation with a rutabaga (a Swedish turnip the size and density of a cannonball). Playing Jeopardy, we’d come in third competing against a cabbage and a rock. God knows this. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 139:14 ESV) Some days are dustier than others. We walk through a lot of days with a flatline desire for God. Sometimes the accumulated backwash of years of shallow Christian living leave us drooping through our days deader than we know. Sometimes He must punch through.
Take Moses. The Book of Exodus tells his story simply; God is all over this guy but at first, he’s clueless. Providentially saved from certain death and raised by Egyptian royalty, he discovers his ethnic heritage. He sees an Egyptian mistreating a Jew and intervenes by killing the Egyptian. He hides the body and makes a run for Midian, a wilderness south of the Dead Sea slightly resembling the surface of the moon. He settles in, marries a local girl and ends up working for his father-in-law herding sheep. And so, Moses figures, this is his life. And it was for a chunk of years. Then the bush burned without being consumed. A shepherd knowing the lay of the land would notice that. Moses was no more expecting the burning bush than I expect the next pope to be a hip hopper named Mookie RJ (Pope Mookie I. It does have a ring to it.). People today look for good coffee shops much harder than Moses looked for God because He wasn’t looking for God at all.
Look at Abraham (or Abram) in Genesis 12. He pops up in the text like somebody’s toast at breakfast. We know nothing about him before this but if his life before Genesis 12 mirrored what we do know about, Abraham’s life was rather shabby. Unlike Noah or Job whose righteousness God recognized and commended, Abraham couldn’t crack anybody’s Top Ten list. We see nothing but his taking up space and oxygen when God flat-out nails him with one of the most staggering packages of blessing in Scripture.
Spiritual experiences come sometimes because what God wants to get across is so important He doesn’t want it missed or misunderstood. That fits both cases here but there’s more; sometimes God has to stir the styrofoam inside our heads to get our attention. God put on a Cirque du Soliel for Moses and all he could do was run through a string of excuses as to why he couldn’t do what God wanted. Peter was another one. In Acts 10, God works to convince Peter that the Gospel of Jesus included people not Jewish. The Jewish/Gentile divide had to be bridged not only to demonstrate that knowing Christ dissolves deep hatreds but also to keep the young faith alive. Had this not happened, Christianity would probably have been killed in the cradle, not have outlived the first century. This was a big deal and having Peter on board was crucial. No rational argument alone would sway this brickhead. So God worked to set up a preaching gig for Peter at the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. But first Peter saw a vision of a sheet filled with unclean animals and heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat.” Most people believe that if they had some kind of spiritual experience, it would permanently change their lives. If God spoke to us, we would certainly pay attention. We’re mistaken. This had to happen three times before Peter stopped arguing with God. We underestimate the gravitational pull of our sinfulness and the depth of its penetration. In one of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons he points out that “although most human beings give the appearance at times of being confused seekers of truth with a naive respect for God, the reality is that unless they are moved by the Holy Spirit they have a natural distaste for the real God, an uncontrollable desire to break his laws and a constant tendency to sit in judgement on him when they notice him at all.” I’ve touched the kinds of things we talk about in these posts. Details aside, these times were unsought by me but would certainly be coveted by some. I am humbled to say that in a very short time, I blew off all of what was communicated. I’m not the only one.
God sometimes resorts to spiritual experiences to overcome the deadness of rebellion. Paul was “breathing out threats and slaughter” against the first Christians. That’s heavy breath. In Acts 9, we see Saul of Tarsus, Christian hater extraordinaire become a child of God, Jesus lover, missionary, theologian and writer of the Word of God. With all that God planned to draw out of his life, there was no time to waste. This had to happen decisively, the wounding deep and clean, the brokenness total. It couldn’t have been any other way. So the brilliant light blinded and the Voice cut through Him like a chain saw through a cheese stick. And then he sat helpless for three days – time to think.
Never underestimate, disrespect or hold in contempt the intensity God brings to the pursuit of people in rebellion and alienation due to their sin. The cross of Christ screams that He means business and it is not always a tame hand that reaches through the veil of space and time.
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Sometimes people have spiritual experiences because God has something overwhelmingly important to get across or make known. Sometimes the receiver left their brain in the fridge and accidentally filled their head with Captain Crunch before leaving home (I hate it when this happens.) and God turns up the volume to get through. But a third reason why these things can happen is this: God loves us so much He just has to reach through.
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Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.