Love Unknown . . .

Watching Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series is at once a celebration and glimpse of melancholy.  Reflecting on the CNN series has allowed me to revel in the profound depth of diversity that exists on our planet while I marvel at the commonality we share as humans in a big world that has never been smaller.
Many have written and commented on the life and sudden demise of the popular chef and host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown“.  He was rich, famous and dashing.  He had the world on a string.  Were there signs of depression or hopelessness in those last episodes?  Didn’t his producer or crew see it coming?  Were there no harbingers of hope or purveyors of the gospel near?
Bourdain stands stoically as journalist; the famous CNN reporter asking the hard questions and pushing boundaries.  He frequently looks gaunt and even frail wandering about distant and isolated cities, sometimes looking as if he’s coming off a bender.
He was incredible at aiming fresh eyes at locales and cultures.   He found the features and areas that were off the “beaten path” and described cultures and cultural artifacts in a way that was astute and timely.  His sensibilities were never cliche.  He was not susceptible to trending opinion or easy answers.  His show displayed and proclaimed unique and honest integrity from all corners of the world without preference to colonialist or nationalist persuasion.
His instinct for cuisine and his appetite was open to indigenous and ancient palettes.  It never seemed that he was trying new tastes, it was as if he had sampled everything and knew when he was tasting the best.  As a chef, he was bold and at least on camera would taste anything.
There was an episode where a Brazilian madman was randomly shooting toward a restaurant where he was dining.  His cameraman and producer both dived in to protect him.  He was not impressed, nor did he seem grateful.  This was his real penchant, after all his accomplishment, fame and acclaim, he did not seem hungry for more nor ingratiated by his outcome[s].  In hindsight, he had frequently told his viewers that he traveled 50 weeks a year.
Life lost is always a shame, but when it appears that one has chosen suicide out of desperation it is dreadful.  Considering the pain Bourdain had experienced, made it seem so much worse.  I’m reminded that this life is merely as stage upon which we prepare for eternity.  Even someone who seemingly has it all, felt that life was meaningless.  He was quoted to say that though his father was Jewish, “I have never been in a synagogue . . .  “

The Rigor of Followship

My ten year-old son is growing and trying out his wings on new tasks.  We were bicycling one of our favorite trails and he thoroughly surprised me by his departure speed and attack.  He has suggested this trail and any assumption that he was comfortable was elementary.  I only needed to follow.  I assumed that it would be gravy.   It was.  I was free to daydream and enjoy the ride.  It then occurred to me that this experience turned metaphor needed exploration.  

In business, nonprofit ventures, government, sports even the church, there is no end to talk about leadership.  Rightly so, but the corresponding wisdom says that one must master following before attempting to lead.   Did you notice the hailstorm of consternation caught by Peter and John [“the sons of thunder”] when they and their (stage) mother decided to approach Jesus in an effort to heighten their stature in the Kingdom?  It didn’t work out well. 

I found myself pushing to keep up with the kid, and though the trail would be ranked easy, there are blind spots and curves.  I know I can sprint by him at any time, but that’s really not the point.  

Let’s whittle the metaphor a bit more.  We are following but we are easily bogged down by details.  We have spats with the rest of the herd.  We get prideful and stubborn.  We want to do things our own way.  

Jesus said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” [John 10:27].  He said that knowing that we would hear him and need to follow even though we wouldn’t see him.  He knew that we would need to follow even though we were slothful, self-indulgent or even disobedient.  

A very popular song says we’re “Chasing after you” and perhaps that’s the most laudable goal.  Striving to follow and learning the rigor.  By the way, He will leave 99 sheep to come after you – so hang in there . . . 

Holy-Day Inn

I owe this lesson to my pastor who has been adding to the trove of knowledge that I keep and making it seem that my trove is minuscule compared to his, although he is years younger than I.  As we have ever heard the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem as a result of Caesar’s decree that all should be counted in their area of origin.  This was Joseph’s home town though he had been living in Nazareth of Galilee.
And as the story is related by Luke the physician, Mary went into labor and delivered her baby but there was no room in the inn.  The Amplified Version of the Bible says there was no [private] room.  This gives me pause.  How can there be no private room for a couple who are expecting in the “any day now” category?  How can this be when Joseph is in his home town where supposedly he should have some influence and relatives? Yes, I get that this was an extraordinary circumstance, but through my 21st century eyes, this is ludicrous.
No room in the inn implies that they searched for accommodation and found none. I can imagine the real frustration of a “newlywed” expectant father who is just trying to make the best of a bad situation.  He is mandated to appear for the census.  Feeling overwhelmed and of course exhausted as he has had to make a 90-mile trek on rising terrain only to arrive with no recourse but to sleep in an odorous stable.
I’m quite sure that I would be questioning my sanity and my history, not to mention God himself.  I’m the guy who would be asking “Is this the way you intended things to work out?”
In hindsight, we see that everything worked out but it was not a smooth seamless “A to B” transaction.  Joseph was required to trust God and trust the message given to him by the angel.  As always, things appear chaotic and it is up to us to expect that God will fulfill His will no matter what.

Peace of the Prince

It’s early December and traditionally we hear familiar music with the lyrics “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  How does Christ get the title “Prince of Peace” and how does he enact his duties?  
Lately we’ve seen so many absolute distractions, many of which seem peace threatening and even life-threatening.  Wars and rumors of wars, insults and harassment,  threats to our livelihood, health and well-being are all in the news and even in our physical space.  We are moments away from some new disaster, plot or illness predicted to spoil our future, our children or our legacy.  These distractions are merely but they are so easy to fall prey to time and again .  Circumstances can tempt us into feeling overwhelmed,  anxious, even forlorn.   
“But God, who is rich in mercy”,   made it so that we are free from these torments.  We never have to worry, or grow depressed.  Our King has provided us with a supernatural gift.  It is His peace.  It is unlike peace given by the world. [John 14:27] Like all of his gifts, its scope is beyond our imagination.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides the detail of how this peace works. In context the Apostle encourages us not to be anxious about anything [4:6],  then he says that God’s peace transcends all understanding, that is, its functioning is beyond anything we could know.  Finally, the classic Amplified Version reveals the full meaning hidden in the original Greek:
     7 And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  [AMP]
His peace shall “garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds” that is, it will fortify and keep watch over your heart and mind.  This action is not passive, but active.  This action is not static but ongoing as long as we live in the Anointed Overcomer!  His peace adapts to your needs and carries us through our trials and tribulations.  Our need is to believe it and hold fast!  He is the reason for the Season!!

The Sower Sows the Word {Luke 8}

4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
Newly born-again Christians come into the Kingdom only knowing how to navigate this current world.  They (we) are susceptible to loss from exposure to fleeting attractions that they had fallen prey to.  Christians mature by walking with Christ and over time learning several important lessons:
  • that the things that seem good to you may not good for you.
  • once the Word has been choked, it can be difficult to make up lost ground
  • Money cannot handle all of the problems of life
  • the LOVE of money is the root of all evil
  • Worry and fear are to be dissected and eliminated; they potentially can be crippling
  • No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.  I Cor 10:13  [NET]
This parable does not require much explanation but some people do seem unable to grasp how deceptive the cares, riches and pleasures of this life tend to be.  We can be deceived and ultimately live beneath our privilege as children of the King.

Repentance Part 1

Smith’s Bible Dictionary defines repentance as:” a change of mind with sorrow for something done, and a wish that it was undone”.  There is not much talk about repentance these days as if the word is suddenly irrelevant. The real danger is that we think we know repentance but in reality, perhaps we don’t.   
 
 
I have frequently said that man is a spirit, he owns a soul and lives in a physical body.  That soul contains three parts, the mind, will and emotions.   As we reflect upon the definition above, it speaks to changing the mind or thinking differently about one’s sin along with sorrow (a different emotional state).  This could lead to a disconnect between those who are more emotional versus those who are more thoughtful. 
 
I believe it is God who actually allows us to change our mind about our failures and shortcomings [our sins] and then to feel sorrowful or regretful about them.  I know that I may feel justified in getting my own vengeance, or spouting off angrily or doing something that isn’t right (according to me).  Although I feel justified, I need to repent, I need a change of mind or I will keep doing and thinking the same way.  This is a problem.
 
An old adage is: “what were once vices are now habits” meaning even though I didn’t intend to, I have continued on my way quite possibly without remorse or a sense of wrong. This deadly cycle continues unabated until I come to a place of genuine repentance.  
 
[to be continued]

Marah

Exodus 15:22-25a
 And Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. 23 And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. 24 And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? 25 And he cried unto Jehovah; and Jehovah showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet . . . [ASV]
These verses describe the scene early after the Israelites departed Egypt.  The exhilaration of their escape had faded.  They were far from Egypt and found themselves in a wilderness.  Their water supplies were spent, they were tired, and needed refreshing.
They found water after arriving at Marah, but it couldn’t be consumed because it was too bitter.  They started a complaint campaign against Moses.  I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been to endure the grumbling and complaining of millions of people thirsty and irritated.  They looked at the water and it probably looked inviting but when they tasted it; it was overwhelmingly bitter.   Undoubtedly they bathed in it, but they couldn’t drink it.  After this went on for a while, the complaint campaign escalated in earnest.  Moses then knew he had to talk to God.
Moses had no solution.  Bitterness is impossible to overcome. God had always provided an escape.  Would He do it again this time?  He showed Moses the remedy for the situation.  He showed Moses a tree to be cut down and cast into the water.
This story is a metaphor, I was told years ago.  The waters are a symbol for life in this world.  The waters were bitter and life in this world is bitter for those who do not know Christ.  In the middle of the bitterness, the Israelites cried out to the Lord for a solution.  He is so rich toward us that He always gives us what we need.  He showed Moses a tree that was to be thrown into the water.   The tree is a symbol for Christ.
By obedience, the BITTERNESS was taken from the water making it sweet.   Life in darkness is bitter, no joy, no peace – but God who is rich in mercy, hears us and gave us His son.  What He gave was beyond our comprehension.   He was slain for our good, He is the answer to our prayers.
 

One Day in the Market

 
The writer in Man, Cote D'Ivoire, West Africa
 
John 13 [AMP] 5-10
5 Then He poured water into the basin and began washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel which was tied around His waist. 6 When He came to Simon Peter, he said to Him, “Lord, are You going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied to him, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but you will [fully] understand it later.” 8 Peter said to Him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me [we can have nothing to do with each other].” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, [in that case, wash] not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “Anyone who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, and is completely clean.
 
I was visiting the market in the city of Man, Cote D’Ivoire, West Africa.  At this time in the late afternoon, I was unaccompanied.  I was wearing a locally-made outfit in hope of being inconspicuous.  One of the salesladies in the market eyed me and asked: Where are you from?  The market was relatively empty.  I felt somewhat exposed.  As a traveler, you don’t really want to seem touristy.  There are times when you are in a private place  and there are public times when you are noticed and cause a minor stir. Especially if you’re an American.   I am not fond of the latter.  
 
I lied.  “I’m a local” I replied,  adopting an accent that was probably inauthentic.  
 
She replied “Your feet are too clean for you to be from here . . “
 
The line is undeniable.  The irony of the line is eternal.   
 
One of the Christian sacraments is foot washing.  It is a very old practice, so old that we moderns don’t think of it much.  In ancient days before plumbing, the street was the waste disposal area.  Garbage and raw sewage were thrown in the street.  Travelers and others would relieve themselves there.  In the aforementioned city of Man and other underdeveloped areas there are above-ground sewage and run off systems that still expose passersby to soil on the street.  Within that context, the most lowly of servants or children would wash visitor’s feet.  Water was hand carried in those days and to my knowledge, soap was not used.  In that time up to this day, feet would become soiled and the means to actually clean residual soil were hard to come by.  
 
The Sacraments are physical symbols of spiritual truth.  Foot Washing symbolizes how a believer’s walk is straightened as she walks with Christ.  The walk as it is symbolized, is your lifestyle, your affability , your grace and goodwill. On Maundy Thursday Jesus completed the literal picture by washing his disciples’ feet.  There are many descriptions of the believer’s walk in the Bible.  Here are  two that I consider important.  
 
Psalm 24:3-4  Who may ascent unto the mountain of the Lord?  And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart,  who has not lifted up his soul to what is false, nor has sworn [oaths] deceitfully.
 
Who will minister in the holiest and most sacred place but the one who has done his work with sincerity and without guile.  And he who has kept his mind, will and emotions away from untruth and deceit [my paraphrase].
 
Psalm 119:105  
Your word is a lamp to my feet ,  And a light to my path.
 
The word of God gives the wisdom (light) to usher me through the maze of life so that I can see where I am going (being- led by you) [again my paraphrase].
 
My feet are only as clean as I keep myself in the word and under submission to the Holy Spirit.

The Unjust Steward

Luke 16:8-9The Message (MSG)

1-2 Jesus said to his disciples, “There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? You’re fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.’
3-4 “The manager said to himself, ‘What am I going to do? I’ve lost my job as manager. I’m not strong enough for a laboring job, and I’m too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I’ve got a plan. Here’s what I’ll do . . . then when I’m turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.’
5 “Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
6 “He replied, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ “The manager said, ‘Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now—write fifty.’ 7 “To the next he said, ‘And you, what do you owe?’ “He answered, ‘A hundred sacks of wheat.’ “He said, ‘Take your bill, write in eighty.’
8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”
I have always had some difficulty with the above scripture.  In the larger context Jesus applauds the steward who failed his responsibilities miserably but who redeemed himself by earning favor from his master’s debtors.
I have reviewed other versions of this text but, none of them have provided the clarity that The Message (MSG) has. This scripture reveals the personal dilemma that I am facing now.  I am waiting for a financial breakthrough and I need my own brand of creative survival to enhance my position.
The philosophical twist is this: I want to do well, to experience some success.  I have been blessed for many years although I have also experienced times when circumstances seemed overwhelming and resources seemed hard to come by.
A teacher spoke recently saying “Your salvation is not for you to live comfortably.  It is a journey that will lead you on paths that will shape your character to resemble that of Christ.” Therefore, like the Manager, I need to employ wisdom to fully utilize the resources that I have to get by well and to be an encouragement to others.
Much like the Steward, I might be too proud to dig.  I feel like my current job is digging although it is far less harrowing than manual labor.   That may be what I and the Steward need to learn, humility and willingness to serve.  What is the mammon for anyway but currency in this world,  it will not travel to the Kingdom with us.
Jesus goes on to contrast loving God or loving mammon; one cannot do both.  We grow into putting our faith in God, dismissing fears of survival and understanding how transient worldly wealth is.  I want to know what TRUE WEALTH is.

. . . and we beheld His glory

My wife calls me a grinch after the children’s story of the gremlin that tried to steal Christmas.  I’m not against Christmas.  I am against 1) the commercialization of Christmas and 2) the ongoing secular takeover of the Christmas holiday and subsequent separation of the “baby Jesus” from the beaten, scorned and betrayed Savior who arose triumphant from the grave.

Christmas does have it’s own joy and life as it embodies the hope of genuine reconciliation to God.  But this was kept secret until after His death and resurrection.  So much of the story was was kept hidden such that there may have been many thousand people who saw the young Jesus but had no idea that he was indeed the Christ [ the prophesied, anticipated and heralded Messiah].  The context of the story was that four hundred years had passed since a prophet had transmitted a word from God.  After such a long time, it would seem that God had forsaken us, that we were forlorn and lost.

But there were indeed “Good tidings of Great Joy” that the foretold Savior had come.  Isaiah declared “His name would be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  Of his Kingdom there would [will] be no end.”  [Isaiah 9:6-7a]

But only a few people actually celebrated the first Christmas.  The marvelous virgin-birth of the God-man, King of Kings was only REVEALED to a few as told by Luke the physician.  First were the shepherds watching their flocks.  Next the devout Simeon, who prayed for a chance to see God’s fulfillment of the promise.  Because he sought to see the Messiah and vigorously followed the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Anna the prophetess was at the temple also.  She saw the child and began an anthem of praise, declaring to everyone how the child would bring Jerusalem out of bondage.

The Magi were the last.  I wrote about them last year {http://www.phatonfruit.net/2015/12/25/the-faith-of-the-magi/}.  They traveled far to worship the coming King.  They arrived bearing gifts and were overwhelmed as they saw him.  They like those mentioned above, saw him for who he is.  He was not hidden in plain sight, He was revealed for who He is . . . and they beheld His glory.