Pushing the “Easy” Button

3 03 2017

1st Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

Let’s be honest, you and I live in a time and place that unleashes all of its resources for the sole purpose of persuading us to give in to our temptations.  But, it’s actually worse, we are told that the most healthy lifestyle choice we can make is to identify with our deepest temptations and to embrace them as the truest picture of who we really are.  We are told that the most unhealthy choice is to deny our temptations and wants.  In fact, if we publicly voice our opposition to these lifestyle choices, the social media powers will descend upon us like the very fury of hell (and here, I’m speaking literally).  Businesses have been destroyed, good paying positions taken away, friendships undone, reputations left in ashes from this demonic fury.

Ivan Kramskoy's 1872 Christ in the Wilderness

So, it ought to be a fearful thing that the one we call Lord and Savior is seen here so obviously standing against the temptations thrown at him.  And not only resisting, but coming out very much the winner.  But it is all too easy to go with the flow and think:  Wouldn’t we all be a lot better off simply giving in to some of our temptations, or at most, maybe very, VERY quietly resisting them in the privacy of our prayer closets?  Anything more public may make us look like intolerant holy religious people who are always mean and judgmental!

 

But I suspect that most of you want to beat back your temptations, at least most days, and wouldn’t mind having some help and assistance.  So, let’s look at how Jesus handled it.

 

Now first, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus has been tempted in every way that you and I have ever been tempted (but did not give in!!).  So, what we see in the Gospel in Satan’s three temptations, only shows us some of what Jesus had to resist– although, perhaps these three were the most difficult ones he had to overcome. We also know from the Gospels (Matthew 16:23) that Jesus was also tempted by Satan to avoid the Way of the Cross– and he used Peter’s mouth to do the tempting.  So, I think we can safely assume that the ‘ole Serpent rarely let up on his attacks on Jesus, especially during his ministry years leading up to his crucifixion.  I’m sure you have all felt there are many times when you’ve yelled to heaven, “Can I just have a break for a while from all these constant, never-ending temptations!!”  I’ve done that, multiple times.

 

Second, look at what Satan is wanting Jesus to do– hit the EASY button!!  “Hey, Jesus, you are the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity– so use your ‘God’ power and make yourself some bread from rocks, or make yourself look like a super-hero by jumping down from the high-point of the temple and landing safely on the street with thousands of onlookers–they’ll call you Messiah and make you king!  OR… skip the whole cross-thing by bowing before me (I mean, really, it doesn’t really mean anything does it?!  It’s surely just an empty gesture) and I’ll give you what you really want– to be the loving King of the world that everyone will adore.”

Ary Scheffer's The Temptation of Christ

Ary Scheffer’s The Temptation of Christ

Jesus knew he was taking the very, very hard road to save the world, and the Great Liar was trying to get him to cheat and take the easy road to accomplish his mission.  NOTE:  Jesus uses Holy Scripture, God’s Word to crush every temptation.  And guess what?  You have access to that same mighty weapon.  But do you take daily advantage of it?  Do you really know it well enough to use it effectively?  A weapon’s no good to you if you don’t know it well and practice with it constantly.

 

Third, Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal.  Do you recall another time that the Deceiver, Satan, made a famous temptation and succeeded?  Yup, in the Garden, with our original parents, Adam & Eve.  He convinced them to distrust God, to take matters into their own hands, to become like God.  He got them to believe that God was holding out on them by forbidding them to eat from just one tree in the Garden.  Satan sowed seeds of doubt, and they fell for it and the rest of world history records the sad, tragic consequences of their decision.  One of the details we often miss is the in-action of the man, Adam.  Genesis 3:6 makes clear that Adam was “with her”, Eve, and yet he said and did nothing to defend his wife from the lies and deceits of the Serpent.  He could have told the Serpent to “shut up”, or even crushed the serpent to keep it from 071714_0240_TheTablethe2.jpgtalking any more. But he failed, utterly.  Note that Jesus undoes this most horrible of failures, by standing up to and defeating Satan’s lies and temptations.  Now, if Jesus has undone Adam’s failures, he has surely undone all of yours as well.  Paul calls Jesus the second Adam– giving us the ultimate and perfect “do-over.”

 

If you choose to buck the system, and break the pre-programmed code of our current cultural Matrix, and resist temptation, sin and selfishness and fight the Big Fat Liar of hell, you must needs know the dirty little secret that the Enemy of your soul does NOT want you to know:  The same Jesus who handed Satan his lunch in the desert two-thousand years ago is in you, with you, surrounding you.  You are never, ever alone when facing temptations of all kinds.  The mighty Warrior-King who has put-down and crushed every single temptation you have faced, are facing or will face is in you–your heart, mind, soul and body.  And he’s itching for a big win!

 

Will you say yes to Jesus so you can experience that victory?  That’s the only question you need to answer.

 

Items to remember– because there will be a test, every day of your life!!

 

  1. Jesus knows exactly what you are feeling and thinking when you are being tempted– he’s been there.  He is not shocked and surprised that certain things are a huge temptation to you.  He does not think less of you.  But he does offer hope!
  2. Satan plays dirty and will use your friends, (even Christian ones!051714_2225_ThingsAreNo1.jpg!) and family to tempt and discourage you.  Remember, he used Peter’s big mouth against Jesus.  You must always be on guard.
  3. Don’t hit the easy button and take the easy way out!  Man-up, Woman-up, and get your nose into Scripture often.  A true warrior sleeps with his sword, or bow & arrows, or fire-arm because he could be attacked at any time, day or night.  Do you see the Bible as that crucial in your life?
  4. Jesus has already undone your past failures.  Don’t live there for it is a life of defeat and misery.  Live only in the present, and recognize that the victorious Jesus is with you, right inside you.  Say yes to him, and no to evil and sin.   You can and you must– so many are depending on you!  Never stop fighting and never give up, because Jesus never gives up on you!




Repetition & Beauty

3 01 2016

For two relatively short years my family and I lived less than a mile from the shores of Lake Erie.   Naturally, we greatly enjoyed spending time on the beaches nearby. We loved the sand, shallow waters, and smooth, black slate rock– not to mention the frozen waves in winter which formed large mounds we could climb. During the warmer days of summer, one of the favorite activities for my wife and kids was to carefuseaglasslly comb the beach for “sea glass”. I realize it’s a bit of misnomer given the fact that we were on the shores of a lake, not a sea. Nevertheless, the finds that were made was akin to finding sparkling gems of great price. Often very small, coming in a multitude of colors with smooth rounded edges, the sea glass embodied an amazing icon of redemption.

 

Broken, useless glass, which was formerly a useful vessel of some sort, cast into merciless, cold waves.   A tragedy to be sure, but not the end of the story. Those same waves that initially appeared so menacing become an instrument of transformation for the jagged glass. Waves plus time plus rocks and sand eventually round off the sharp edges of the discarded glass. And at the last the waves wash the glass ashore, now a glittering jewel to be discovered and treasured.

 

Please forgive me if I have lead you astray to believe that I am making an analogy between the elements that create sea glass and our redemption and Jesus’ work on our behalf. I’m not intending to make an overly simplistic and cheesy sermon illustration. What the sea glass gave me was yet another glimpse into a world where our heavenly Father seems utterly obsessed with making all things new and glorious. He has made sure that our encounters like this are plethora.

 

The one point I want to make is much more pedestrian and dull than the grand scope of human salvation. The broken glass cannot become rounded and beautiful without the repetitive pounding of the waves.

 

We live in a time and place that seems to despise repetition of any kind (except commercials, of course!). We are hopelessly addicted to the “new”. New versions of our favorite books, comic-books and movies (note the endless string of re-makes and re-boots!). New news, new tweets, new tech (like the latest i-phone), new kitchen and bath, new relationships— on and on it goes in an endless parade. Now, let me be clear. I am the chief of sinners in the cult of “new”. If I had my way, I’d live in a new-construction home and drive a new car wearing my new favorite shirt.   But it’s worse: in this I’m also a terrible hypocrite! I want everything to be new, except in worship at church where I want all things old. And part of my love for the old worship is that it is relentlessly repetitive like those cold Lake Erie waves.   And being a creature of great forgetfulness and many sharp, broken edges, I cannot overstate my desperate need for the steady, reliable repetition that the waves of the old liturgies provide.

 

Such repetition is not fun, entertaining, tweet-worthy, or in any way “new”. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, and a much needed antidote for our “new” obsessed land.

 

What I’m currently trying to figure out is how it is that the same churches who constantly labor to produce new and exciting elements in their worship services give me the feeling that it’s the same-ole, same-ole. While the “boring”, repetitive liturgies of the old days seem always fresh and rejuvenating to me. A mystery and a paradox to be sure, but there are explanations that I will not go into here. (But I will confess that I’m not sure how many more liturgically un-rooted and disjointed worship services I can endure– heaven help me!!)

 

Despite my digression, the point is that as disciples of Jesus repetition is indispensible and unavoidable if we are to be made nemarthamchurchstainedglasswindoww. The repeating of prayers, Scriptures and Sacrament will be irreplaceable elements in our redemption and renewal if we willing submit ourselves to them. Just like the broken glass in the waves of the sea.

O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, And lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, And all your walls of precious stones. (Isaiah 54:11-12)





The Point of It All

21 04 2012

Quoting C.S. Lewis IS a most unyielding addiction! I cannot resist this lengthy quote since it deals with the heart, the living-center, of the purpose of the incarnation AND the Church. God did not create us for an eternity sub-human existence, torment or oblivion. We were made for a never-ending existence filled with the very life of the Trinity with us becoming ever more and more like God– especially Christ. As the Beloved Apostle declares it: “We are God’s children now [because of the work of THE Son of God], and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him….” (1 John 3:2).

Let these words challenge you and your church. Are you living a mere religious life, or a surrendered and transformed one? Is your church doing lots of stuff and programs that seem Godly, but failing to make disciples that, in a substantive way, look like Christ? Or is your church careful to align all its doings and programs with the goal of making little Christs? These questions must be wrestled with and answered honestly: What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be the Church?

And now, here’s C.S. Lewis saying it much better than I can (from Mere Christianity, Book IV, chp. 8, “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?”):

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way–centered on money or pleasure or ambition–and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.

That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When he said, “Be perfect,” He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder–in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

May I come back to what I said before? This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects–education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects–military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden–that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.

(One thing to note is that the inner being of the purpose of Christ and the Church is to glorify the Father, but the way that is manifested is to do the work the Father is most interested in: the rescue, redemption, and metamorphosis of those created in His image; and secondly, the redemption of the whole created order which we have allowed to come under the dominion of the Evil One. I think Lewis does not here discuss the overriding purpose to glorify God because he takes it as a given.)





Cursed by God?

16 04 2012

On Good Friday and Easter I stated that the “curses” God seems to put on Adam and Eve after they eat the forbidden fruit are NOT a case of a powerful Judge throwing a temper-tantrum and handing out convictions and sentences to the law-breakers standing before His lofty bench.  Rather, the Creator of life and light is merely declaring the facts, of the new fractured reality, which was ushered in by our First Parents when they failed to trust the God who was the source of their life, their everything.  God does not curse anyone, He simply explains (however painfully) the natural consequences of my choices, and yours too.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has stated that quoting C.S. Lewis is a dangerous enterprise, for once one starts, it is neigh on impossible to know when to stop.  Well, here is a paragraph from Lewis on the Trinity and what it means to be united or separated from God (taken from Mere Christianity, Book IV, chp. 4 “Good Infection”):

And now, what does it [the theology of the Trinity] all matter?  It matters more than anything else in the world.  The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us:  or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance.  There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.  Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection.  If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water.  If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them.  They are not a sort of prizes which God could, if He The Resurrectionchose, just hand out to anyone.  They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality.  If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry.  Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?  Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?





Ancient – Present Prayer

17 07 2011

“Remember God more often than you breathe”, says St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389). Prayer is more essential to us, more an integral part of ourselves, than the rhythm of our breathing or the beating of our heart. Without prayer there is no life. Prayer is our nature. As human persons we are created for prayer just as we are created to speak and to think. The human animal is best defined, not as a logical or tool-making animal or an animal that laughs, but rather as an animal that prays, a eucharistic animal, capable of offering the world back to God in thanksgiving and intercession.

I hope the preceding and subsequent quotes from Kallistos Ware on prayer stir your heart and soul as much as they have stirred mine. These comments come from his introduction to a little prayer book that is a translation of Greek liturgical manuscripts from the late 700’s (which means the prayers are much older than that, as they would have been in use several centuries before being written down).

Ware is speaking as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, but I find his comments “spot on” and applicable to believers across most denominations. Also, he reminds us why the prayers of the early church ought to be a regular part of our praying.

This next comment describes how the Incarnation should guide and shape our prayer life:

Orthodoxy recognises no sharp distinction between the sacred and the secular, every aspect of our daily life and work is blessed by the Church and so brought within the realm of divine grace. As Christians we are necessarily materialists; ours is an incarnate faith, earthy, rooted in this world. Thus our Orthodox service books contain prayers for sowing, threshing, and wine-making, for diseased sheep or cattle, for blessing cars, tractors, and fishing nets, for insomnia, for children starting to learn the alphabet or students taking their examinations. In the older editions there are even rites for cursing caterpillars and removing dead rats from the bottom of a well. Jesus Christ at his human birth took upon himself our whole nature — body, soul and spirit — and so he is rightly involved in everything we do. We meet him everywhere.

Ware points out four themes that forcefully emerge from praying with the ancient prayers of the church: Mystery, the Trinity, Community, and Mission.

  1. The [ancient] prayers are marked by a strong sense of God’s holiness and mystery, by a spirit of reverence and wonder. We approach the living God “in fear and trembling”, “in love and awe”. . . . [The one who prays] feels the nearness as well as the otherness of God. Transcendent, ineffable, he is also at the core of everything, closer to us than our own heart, “everywhere present and filling all things”, as we say to the Holy Spirit in an invocation at the start of each service.
  2. [The ancient prayers are] deeply Trinitarian. “Between the Trinity and hell there lies no other choice”, says the Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky. The threefold invocation, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, with which each prayer concludes, is not an optional extra but sums up the very essence of our prayer. We do not simply address God, but explicitly or implicitly we always pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. To pray is to be taken up into a network of relationships, an interpersonal dialogue, that exists within God himself. As we pray we hear the Father say not to Christ only but also to ourselves, “You are my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11); and by the power of the Spirit we respond in union with Christ, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), becoming sons in the Son. So through prayer we are assumed into the perichoresis, the mutual love or “round dance” of the Trinity. God as Trinity is the source and end-point of all our prayer.
  3. All prayer is communal – prayer of the total family, of the entire Church invisible as well as visible. Prayer is our entry to the communion of saints. [The Lord’s prayer and all the ancient prayers use “our” and “we”, never “mine” and “me”.] … The Christian is the one who says not “I” but “we”. Prayer is “heaven on earth”. . . . This does not diminish the love that we feel for Christ our Saviour, “the one mediator between God and humans” (1 Timothy 2:5), but renders him all the closer to us.
  4. In prayer we do not think only in vertical terms about the Church in glory and the communion of saints, but we also think horizontally about our involvement with the rest of humankind. . . . [Portions of these ancient prayers] form an all-important reminder that the Church is by its very nature missionary, outward-looking, existing not for itself but for the sake of the world.

    This last comment speaks to the purpose and goal of prayer. Read the last sentence at least 3 times—and let it really sink in.

    “Pray without ceasing”, says St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:17); and the Russian Orthodox Fr. Georges Florovsky writes: “A Christian has to feel himself personally in the presence of God. The goal of prayer is precisely to be with God always.” I hope that the prayers in this book, designed for the different hours of the day, will help us in small but significant ways to do exactly that: to be with God always, to make our prayer, not just an intermittent activity, but a dimension present continually in all that we undertake– not simply something that we do from time to time, but something that we are the whole time. For this is what the world around us needs: not that we should say prayers occasionally, but that we should be at each moment a living flame of payer.

      (From Kallistos Ware’s forward in Praying with the Orthodox Tradition)





Building Strong Spiritual Muscles for the Fight

18 05 2011

I can’t resist another lengthy quote from the book The Illumined Heart. There is so much here: on sin, sinful desires, how to deal with them, spiritual warfare, spiritual discipline, the character of God the Father, the Cross & Resurrection, holiness, and a proper understanding of the relationship between the spirit and the body.
Please note that when Mathewes-Green talks about “Anna” she is referring to a character she has created for the book that represents a Christian from the 5th century, living in the Middle East.

(What follows is from chapter 7 of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s book The Illumined Heart, entitle “Introduction to the Passions, and the Disciplines of the Body”)

…the attitude of the early church was that all material creation is very good. Yet along with our healthy responses to this world we have some blunted, broken ones that would have us treat it and other people in greedy, selfish ways. Those impulses are usually called “the sinful passions,” and training and restraining them is the primary spiritual exercise. When fully converted, the energy of fallen passions becomes power to do the will of God.

The word “passion” can trip us up, because (after the initial romance novel associations) we Western Christians think of passion as a good thing–as a motive for courageous action and dedication to a cause. Our use here, however, has a different meaning, and the key is to recognize the same root word behind “passion” and “passive.” Anna would see these recurring sinful impulses–for example, a tendency to blow up when her children have her rattled– as not an action, but a passion, a submission to forces that lead her away from God. Passions mean loss of self-direction and self-control, a slipping beneath the undertow of mindless impulse.

….

We take responsibility for such failures, but sly forces nudge us toward them as well. As St. Peter says, our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Anna believes that such demonic powers truly exist, and that they are ever watching and hoping for opportunities to confuse and capture her. Anna knows she is born with a fallen disposition to sin, and bears full responsibility for her deeds; passions may not be chosen, but actions are. However, in the devil she has a fearsome enemy as well, working diligently to destroy her.

It is Satan that God’s wrath is directed against, Anna believes, not us. While our sins rightly deserve condemnation, God desires our salvation, and his judgment is a blessing, the diagnosis that precedes healing.

The early church understood the Cross primarily as the way God defeated Satan, rather than the way Jesus paid his wrathful Father the debt for our sins. Those ideas did not take precedence till very much later in the West. In the early church God was most often a seeking, saving Father, not an infuriated judge or a demanding creditor. One prayer from the Vespers service captures the balance: “Unto Thee, the awful Judge who yet lovest mankind, have Thy servants bowed their heads . . .entreating Thy mercy and looking confidently for Thy salvation.” He is truly the awful Judge, yet because his love is sure we can expect salvation with confidence.

…God’s most constant characteristic is his overwhelming, forgiving love, seen so naturally in human fatherhood, as in the story of the prodigal son. As long as this analogy of fatherhood underlies other images it sweetens them; no one automatically associates a judge or a creditor with generous, tender affection. Emphasis on those alternate analogies, however, gradually increased in the Western church in the last thousand years, and our relationship with God came to seem one mostly concerned with legal or financial debt, rather than longsuffering love between parent and wandering child.

The interior of Anna’s church is painted with many scenes of biblical events, a picture Bible for a time when many are still illiterate. The image depicting the Resurrection doesn’t show the garden tomb, but a scene out of the 1Peter. Jesus stands on the broken gates of hell, which are crossed over a black pit. At the bottom Satan lies bound in his own chains. Jesus is reaching out to each side, grasping Adam and Eve by their wrists, and pulling them up from their tombs, while the righteous of all generations stand assembled behind him. On Pascha (Easter) Anna’s congregation sings joyfully over and over, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

This battle between Christ and the evil one forms the backdrop of every believer’s journey to theosis [holiness, or union with God]. Thus, Anna has two enemies to wrestle with: her own sinful passions, and the evil one who is ever alert to exploit them. As St. Paul warned, this war is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces that wish us destruction.

Fighting this war will require disciplines that involve our whole selves, both physical and mental aspects. Body and mind don’t, in reality, split as neatly as modern Western people think they do; things that affect the one pretty obviously affect the other, and they are united in ways we cannot comprehend. By the same token, disciplines of the body can strengthen the mind, and disciplines of the mind. . .can increase bodily fortitude.

Anna and [her husband] are part of a worshipping community that has inherited wisdom about how to discipline the body for spiritual growth. As fitting St. Paul’s analogy of the athlete, these consist of exercises. A weightlifter may spend diligent hours pumping iron, but not because he’s preparing in case he someday runs across a group of people gathered in dismay around a barbell. The muscles he strengthens each day, however, will come in handy if he is suddenly called on to lift a car off a little girl. In the same way, bodily self-discipline gained through exercises in one test area builds strength to combat temptation in all areas.

The most basic exercise is fasting.





Shepherds & Thieves, Life & Death

13 05 2011


How is it that those in the entertainment media (movies, TV, internet, and print) continue to make money even though they keep re-telling the same stories over and over, again. In movies, we’re getting to the point of having re-makes of re-makes. It can surely seem that there is nothing new under the sun. But there is obviously something deeper going one here when the masses continue to pay money to experience plots and themes they’ve already heard and seen a thousand times over: good guys verses bad guys in the midst of a romance set in a perilous and dangerous environment. Critics scoff at such things while the cheese and wine crowd congratulate themselves for having more grown-up sensibilities. Still, why do we keep telling ourselves the same stories over and over again?

Simply put, these basic themes are written into the very DNA or our hearts, minds, souls, (and yes!) bodies. We all long to know love, to be rescued (and to rescue others), to see evil go down in defeat. AND, we all long to have a key role in the events taking place around us. That is why we continue to read and watch the same old stories, over and over again– they touch a deep and essential aspect of our being.

Now here is where I get frustrated: Why do so many Bible-believing Christians (especially scholars!) neglect to read Scripture with the eyes of their hearts? Hearts, by the way, that long for the themes of rescue, love and the defeat of evil to be true. For it is in God’s holy word we have the tremendous joy of finding out that these themes are actually, truly real. We have been putting them in stories that we have put forth as fiction, but in Jesus of Nazareth fiction becomes truth. Or as C.S. Lewis has it, in Christ myth becomes fact.

(In much of the preceding I owe a great debt to the ideas and writings of John Eldredge. See for example, his books: Epic, Waking the Dead, Wild at Heart.)

Let me take you to two passages, the famous 23rd Psalm and John 10, where we must be very careful to read with the eyes of our story-filled hearts.

The Lord is our shepherd– Jesus is the good shepherd. Beautiful isn’t it?! Quiet green meadows, babbling streams and glassy pools– a warm sun and puffy white clouds, and a loving, caring shepherd who makes sure we’re well fed. Wonderfully idyllic isn’t it? It is unfortunate that sometimes the Christian reader’s focus ends there and misses some important stuff. It’s almost like the reader has skipped to the last chapter in order to be comforted by the words, “And they lived happily ever after.” There are some extremely important things that must happen before one can arrive at the happy ending. And, there are certain elements we need to know if we’re going to truly appreciate the goodness being described in the happily ever after.

In the 23rd Psalm, in addition to soft grass and refreshing water, there is a mention of a dark valley, an unnamed evil and some enemies. Hmm. . .that changes the kind of story God is telling. Or, how about Jesus in John 10? Yes, he talks about a full and abundant life, but He also mentions thieves, wolves and something about stealing, killing and destroying!

My fellow Christian brethren and sistren, let’s cut to the chase: the land surrounding our pasture is not entirely safe, AND we have an enemy Hell-bent (yes, pun intended!) on our destruction! And yet . . .yet so many of us don’t live as if those things are true! I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit that in the midst of a particularly bad day I act surprised! Or worse, I blame my Shepherd! One of the great treasures of the Bible is that we get the inside scoop on our life in this world and we SHOULD be completely un-surprised when bad things happen to good people. Not that we need to become indifferent and callous to suffering, but we can rejoice in its midst because we know how the story ends– the Shepherd totally thumps all the thieves and wolves and provides for our safety and all our nourishment.

Now we must ask how this future hope helps us every day, here and now, where our environment is not quite safe and there are enemies prowling about. The answer? Scripture is trying to tell us that the future is also now. What king David understood about his Lord is that the story began with Him and it will end with Him. That makes the middle part of the story where the going gets tough not only bearable but joy and life filled. See, that Great Shepherd is with us now, providing a good measure of that future victory, peace, love and joy now! Jesus tells us in John 10:10, He has come for the express purpose of bringing us this life, fully. And let me be clear that his not just talking about the sweet by-and-by of eternity in heaven. Our Good Shepherd didn’t come just to lead us up to heaven, but to bring heaven into us here and now.

Let’s look at the famous 23rd Psalm with the eyes of our hearts:

The Lord (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is my Shepherd, therefore, I have all I need! I’m stubborn, so He makes me rest, eat and drink so that my life can be restored. Because my Shepherd is good (and holy) He only ever takes me on good and right paths. I believe this even though some trails take us into valleys that are terrifyingly dark and foreboding. But, there is no reason for me to succumb to the fear of evil as long as I keep my focus on my Shepherd who is never far and who carries the tools that can rescue me and crush my enemies. Speaking of my enemies, sometimes I see them and sometimes they cause me pain. Nonetheless, I laugh heartily with true joy because my Shepherd is preparing a Table of Victory in front of their very noses– they see that their days are numbered! My enemies also see how at that Table my Shepherd-King anoints my head with His oil of blessing and favor. Imagine! Me, a lowly, smelly sheep being treated like the King’s own son! My enemies also see that not only does my King give me the wine-cup of His joy, but He also makes sure that it is never empty– what glorious, extravagant waste (like bringing out the best wine after everyone is already drunk– it is either utter foolishness or the trumpet blasts of joy unleashed!). Therefore, despite my worst days, I have no doubt that I am being chased every day by goodness, mercy and love; and that my home is not this broken world, but is the unending palace and green fields of my Shepherd-King!

Oh, Jesus our Good Shepherd, may You plant Your Kingdom reality deep in our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies that we might not be overcome by the wolves and dark valleys of this life; but rather advance the Realm of Joy within us and without us– all to Your glory and the glory of the Father and Holy Spirit, who live and reign with You Lord Christ, One God, now and forever, Amen!