Blessings at meals… Richard learns…

Richard always made a concerted effort to be a good witness to the Gospel, and the Church Universal and to his Legion of Invisible Witnesses (whoever the book of Hebrews was referring to) and the angels and archangels, whenever he was in public.

I might be the only Bible someone ever reads was a thought that often went through his mind and I’ll be God with skin on was another. Both these exhortations he remembered from a sermon his pastor preached proclaiming that everyone in the congregation, no exceptions, “From myself,” the pastor said, “down to the lowliest of janitors. I want you to be God with skin on wherever you go.”

It was in submission to his spiritual superiors, even though it was sometimes a source of embarrassment to some, that Richard always closed his eyes, held the hands of whomever he was sharing a meal, and prayed out loud, very specifically that God bless the food and bless the very hands that prepared it and in the very name of Jesus. Richard held firmly to the belief that you could never know who was watching and you’d never know the possible consequence of a display of gratitude in a public place with the rampant onslaught of secularism that was visibly overtaking the very nation.

It was rare for Richard to eat alone as meals were always a chance and a very Biblical way to witness, but one day he grabbed a quick meal at a fast food outlet near his office. While unwrapping his burger he decided to be particularly bold and to pray for the food out loud even though he was dining alone.

“Almighty God,” he began.

“Yes, Richard, You called my name,” said God.

“Well, I was just about to ask you to bless this food and to bless the hands that prepared it and to ….”

“Bless? Richard. What exactly do you mean by that? Would you like me to reduce the fat content so it won’t clog your arteries, or would you like me to do a little divine angioplasty while you are eating? Bless? I mean look at it, Richard. You are doing the dietary equivalent of a free-fall off a high-rise and asking me to ‘bless’ your fall.”

“I get it, God. I think. Could you at least, then, bless the hands that prepared it?”

“That’s up to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Blessing the staff is up to you. That’s what I mean. Go up to the counter and bless the woman who served you. Take out your wallet and give her all the money you have. There. That will bless her.”

“God, You know sometimes you can….”

“Yes. I know Richard. I can be so awfully practical, so downright unspiritual. So ……”

Richard’s personal devotions in tatters…

Richard McChurch was continually flummoxed regarding his spiritual life, especially his ‘quiet times’. His new year’s resolution to read the Bible and pray every day was in tatters and guilt was permanently embedded in his sub-conscience. He had been so sincere, even dramatic as the New Year dawned, and, with one hand on the Bible, and the other raised to God, he declared he’d be God’s man for the New Year. Yet with all this done, before February, his personal devotions had crashed. The new, bigger, louder alarm clock couldn’t do it. Presetting his Bible DVD also failed and he slept through Deuteronomy. The whole Bible on his iPod ($9.00!) didn’t help either. His “My Utmost for His Highest” still looked so unused he couldn’t even take it to church. Nothing, and he had tried everything, seemed to help.

One day at the traffic light (and not a particularly long one) he felt the deepest awareness of God’s Love. Grace hung in the air. Meaning, purpose, goodness – filled his life. His chest expanded with the sheer knowledge of being known by an eternal God.

“Ah to know God; to make God known,” he sighed deeply, then suddenly became nervous.

“Not now, God,” he prayed, teeth clenched, “I didn’t have a ‘QT‘ today, in fact, I did not have one yesterday. Also, in case you forgot, I missed worship on Sunday and haven’t read the Bible in two weeks. I do not deserve your attention right now. Please God. Go away.”

God’s presence persisted. Richard felt a deep and quiet assurance that God loved him, knew him, was involved in his affairs, as unspiritual as he knew his history to be, as near as he’d come to deleting the Bible off his iPod.

“What IS God doing here?” he questioned under his breath, squirming in his seat, “it’s not supposed to be this way.”

The light changed.

“You just do not get it, do you, Richard,” God said, the gears shifting effortlessly. “Because you did not read your Bible today you think I am silent. I am not that easily silenced, Richard. I am seldom silent. I talk through everything if you listen and watch. If you will only look and learn and realize that my Word is all around you. It is not limited to a page in any book, not even the Bible. Yes. Of course. I have spoken in the Bible, but I continue to address humanity, if you will pardon the expression, ‘millennium in, and millennium out.’ Richard, I speak continually and in many ways.”

“But, I was always taught…” protested Richard

“Yes, Richard, I know what you were always taught. I was there when you were taught. I was there when your pastor challenged you to read the Bible through in a year and to pray without ceasing and to read a Psalm each day,,,, and to ….. ! Richard, I am not on a page. You can’t download Me. I am alive and within you. I am beside you, behind you, in front of you.”

“But you’re not supposed to bless me if I have not done my part….”

“There you go making the rules.”

“But what if I never spend time with you, God, like a friend is supposed to do, you know, if you love someone, you spend time with them and all that.”

“There is one question I have for you.”

“What is that, Lord?”

“What will you do to spend time without me? What heinous crime will you commit? What horrible thing will you do? You seem to forget that there is nowhere you can go to get away from me. I am here. With you. No matter what. I am with you always and will be, metaphorically speaking, beyond the end of time.”

“But?”

“It is not about your performance, Richard. It is about my love.

“But…” sighed Richard.

“No ‘buts’ about it Richard. Don’t limit my capacity to love you, talk with you, and work with you, enjoy you, to a few forced minutes over your Bible and a strained, distracted session of obligatory prayer. Look on every face, on every street corner, look at every horizon, at every child. Richard, look into your own eyes. My presence and blessing is not about your ability or even your faithfulness, Richard, it is about mine.”

Richard and God talk about love…..

“God? God! God, where are you?” said Richard, feelings of desperation almost clogging his throat.

“Here I am,” God chuckled.

“Why the chuckle? What’s funny this time? You’re always happy. Don’t you have an awful lot on your mind? Wars? Famines? Mel Gibson?”

“Here. I am here Richard. Right here. I’ve not moved in ages – well, not moved in the sense of being away from you or from the masses that preceded you. Or, in fact, from those who will come, so-called, after you. I was just, I was just waiting a little… , you know, checking on how you are doing with your abandonment err, issues!”

“That’s unkind, you being all quiet when you know I …. It is so unlike you to be unkind. You know I don’t like the ‘silent treatment’ not from you or anyone.”

“Lighten up, Richard. I am only, what do you say in that part of the world, ‘kidding’ you. You do know that when you are stressed you have absolutely no sense of humor. So reactive, Richard. I hope you are aware of that. Now what is it you want to talk about today? What do you think is on your mind? Or, perhaps you’d like me to tell you what’s on your mind?”

“Love. I want to talk about love. I want to talk about ‘God Loves You’.”

“I know something about love. Go ahead Richard. What is it you would like to talk about? You want the five or six Greek words, the story of the evangelist and the prostitute who had no birthday cake, or do you want to talk about how love and boundaries al la Cloud and Townsend, or is it the ‘horse and carriage’ stuff you’d like to get into today? Or of course, we could, although it is a little dated, do the Dobson ‘Tough Love’ approach or whip back to the sixties, the 1960s that is, and revisit what went right and what went wrong at Woodstock….”

“God. Please. Stop. I’ve been saying ‘God is Love’ and I am not really sure what it means. I have been saying ‘God loves you’ to strangers and friends and to crowds in shopping malls, I have mimed it on outreaches in foreign countries, danced it in airports, dressed as a clown at two Olympics, and I am still not sure I really believe it. I mean, here’s the bottom line…. do you really love and know everyone on the planet?”

“Gravity, Richard. Think gravity. And, by the way, could you avoid the clichés? Even I get tired of hearing ‘the bottom line’ and ‘there is no there there’ and ‘it is what it is’ and I could go on…”

“Gravity. What do you mean?”

“Is there any human who can escape the power and the influence of gravity? Do you have to do anything to earn it? Do you have to be special? Do you have to know the Bible to be subject to the rules of gravity? Does age matter? Color? Err, Creed? Is it only for Baptists? Americans? Straight? Gay? – oh how I love the way you guys have to name everything! No. You simply have to BE, and gravity is yours. Think of my love like this Richard. It reaches all humans, no matter who they are or where they are. No one is too poor to receive it or too rich or famous to be influenced by it.”

“But….”

“There you go again, Richard. You want to talk about love and I am trying to tell you about my love in a way you can get your ‘head around.’ Think of my love as a Gravitational Presence. There, go ahead, preach that. YouTube it if you want. I am here. I do love all people.”

“But, Lord. That is so simple. So un-intellectual. So…. Childlike, even impersonal.”

“Impersonal? Really? Think about it, Richard. It is very personal. Try escaping it. Then you’ll see how personal it is.”

“But God…. Do you really know me? Gravity doesn’t know me. It just is.”

“Metaphor, Richard. Picture. Comparison. Simile. M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R. It’s not perfect Richard, no metaphor is. But you asked me to talk about love and if I love all people. Yes. I do. And my love reaches all people even if they don’t know it. If I removed it (which, is, by the way, impossible even for me) – well, what would happen if gravity was suspended for a day or two, Richard? Excuse the cliché Richard but it ‘boggles your mind’ doesn’t it? I like saying that. “Boggles, boggles, boggles.”

“Stop. Please. Let’s get serious,” said Richard. “What are you doing?”

“Singing. By the way, have you noticed that whenever you are stressed you want to be serious? You really believe in ‘serious’ don’t you?”

“Singing?” asks Richard, ignoring something they’ve previously discussed.

“Yes. Singing. I am singing.”

“What does God sing? Methodist Hymns? The Hallelujah chorus? The Gaithers?”

“Lots of things. Graham Kendrick – I must say I do get a little embarrassed with ‘Shine Jesus Shine’, Brahms. Dave Matthews. Bananas in Pajamas, Sandi Patti. Raffi. I’ve got ‘United Breaks Guitars’ on my mind since I saw it on YouTube. But today, in fact all day, I am singing…. National Anthems.”

“Why?”

“I like them.”

“Which is your favorite?”

“Unfair question. Ding dong – triangle!!! Pssssssst. You are out! Ever heard of a triangle? Ok, I will tell you. As long as you keep it to yourself. My favorite National Anthem is …….. Australia’s. Don’t you just love the rugby when they beat the Southhhh….?”

“Secular nation! Your favorite national anthem is from a ‘secular nation’? Don’t you know Americans give the highest percentage of their incomes to missions in the whole world? Don’t you think you ought to….?”

“Richard.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“I can sing whatever I want. I can laugh whenever I want. Move whomever I want, but my love is for all people. Everywhere. All the time. Don’t you get it, Richard. I am God. I do all this, and, believe it or not…. I even watch cricket!”

“God? Do you ever sing ‘Because He lives, I can face tommooor……’?”

“Richard.”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Go do something worthwhile.”

How to have a more authentic Christmas

Are you longing for a more “authentic” Christmas? Do you want to return to its real meaning, identify with Jesus more than you see done in the surrounding culture?

I have a few suggestions to facilitate your desire. Granted, this is not easy as we do not live in a territory occupied by a foreign power whose representative despises locals and is especially violent toward infant boys after getting wind that one will be born who will be greater than he.

In your journey to be in touch with the birth of the Christ-child, start by walking to Chicago, Cleveland or Cincinnati. Take a donkey (or ride a camel) to St Louis. Wherever you choose to go, plan to arrive by Christmas Eve. Have at least one very pregnant teen-ager (a non-relative) of about 13 or 14 in your party.

The ride, the discomfort, the lack of certainty about accommodations and the welfare of mother and baby along the way will enhance your appreciation of the season and sharpen your perceptions of how ridiculously off-target are our current traditions with sterile stables, plastic donkeys, unbounded shopping and a world hung with mistletoe.

Take no money. Be prepared to be turned away by family and motel managers alike. You are accompanied by a pregnant, delusional teen who, apart from being no one’s wife, claims “innocence” regarding the pregnancy. Her claim that an angel said she’d conceive a child by God more than alienates your party from usual societal pleasantries, and you end up with a makeshift accommodation between two Dumpsters at the rear of a very cheap motel.

On the journey, chat here and there about the political leader who slaughters all the boys in the Midwest. He has spurts of uncontrolled power and an inordinate degree of submission from the troops who carry out his wishes. Remind yourself that for weeks, months and years to come, parents will mourn endlessly over the loss of their infant boys.

You get to successfully hide your infant from the brutal eye of the murderous leader, but this is little consolation, for although you are very grateful that the baby will not be murdered as an infant, you can hardly dispel the knowledge that he will, nonetheless, be ruthlessly murdered as an adult.

As you choose a parking lot behind a motel in South Bend or Toledo, reflect on the oddness of the child’s conception and the rumor you hear that he will “save” people from their sins. This thought both encourages and disturbs you. You literally fall to the ground and worship a God who has given such a privilege while remaining aware of how those who seek no salvation usually treat self-proclaimed saviors.

The cattle are lowing, yes, but have you ever spent the night with an ox? Have you noticed how much distance you keep from the animals at the state fair? There’s good reason for that. Somehow the lowly manger has become a sanitized, cozy corner. Live in a Dumpster, add a few stray farm animals and let a few wild goats, dogs and rats enter regularly from stage left and stage right, and you are more likely to create something of the environment of the first Christmas.

Let there be no gifts, no tree, no glitter. Christmas earmarks the beginning of the second phase of a remarkably courageous journey of love, adventure and commitment on behalf of a determined God. The gift is in the risk. The value is in the danger. The generosity is in the sheer lunacy that God constantly loves a recalcitrant humanity.

The UPS truck arriving at your door with a gift from Aunt Joan in Ohio does nothing to reflect the spirit of generosity that was evident with the coming of the Christ-child unless Aunt Joan has given everything she ever owned or valued, and, at the cost of her life, packed it off to you for Christmas.

Adult Jesus Ruins Christmas Shopping

If Jesus would remain a baby, I would find Christmas shopping much easier. But every time I venture out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, by purchasing a gift for someone I love, I am stumped. I do not know what kind of gift to buy that will somehow declare the birth of the Son of God. I do not have the where-with-all for a gift that marks the birth of a King. Besides, every time I begin to shop in honor of Baby Jesus, I see him whipped unmercifully upon a cross. Nothing so confuses my shopping at Christmas than the sight of blood spilling from his side and, although I resist the thought, it will not go away.

Before I can do much looking around the malls, Jesus jumps out of the crib, fully adult, onto the streets in front of me and I can hardly keep up with him. He’s healing people and getting into all kinds of trouble with medical experts. I am lost about what to do. Besides, any free moment he goes to the wrong places. He goes to the seedy parts of town. He goes to places I have never been before. He mixes with rejected people. He goes to City Hall and hurls insults at those in leadership who are without mercy.

Downtown, he is outspoken and scathing to those who are unfair in their business practices no matter who they are or what positions they hold. Jesus detests double standards and addresses them at every encounter.

I want to shove him back in the crib where he was safe. I want him back in the crib where we were all safer. Then, just when I thought he would stop in at a church or two – perhaps a cathedral built in his honor – he’s off into a bar befriending losers. He’s talking politics in a way I have never heard. He’s talking about fairness and justice and mercy and truth. I want to tell him not to mix politics and religion but I hold my tongue and blush with the absurdity of it all.

If he would just stay in one place like a baby should is all I can think.

It’s not long before he gains in popularity and I am in a jostle with the crowds for his attention. But it’s not the kind of popularity I was expecting. I will never be able to get a gift at this rate. Prostitutes love him. Drunks run to his defense. The poorest of the poor are out in their masses. He dances in the streets with children and people he has only just met. Young men and women with piercings all over their bodies form a circle with him, and they celebrate like long lost friends, reunited. Then, instead of heeding the city ordinances and honoring the local businesses, he feeds the entire crowd by some miraculous display.

Now what do I buy? Clearly, anything I spend on any gift, if I am really out to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child has to be grand. Yet it has to be modest. His birth couldn’t have been more modest: a shed was the delivery room, an animal feeding trough, the crib. Secrecy, shame and danger were the backdrop of this dramatic night while poverty dictated the details. So I cannot spend much. Yet it was the greatest night the earth had ever seen. It was the greatest moment in all history. It was the night angels sighed! It was the night the hosts of heaven longed to witness; the night the order of everything was disturbed forever by Love’s intervention.

I try to tell him he’s ruining things: that he is too quick to befriend the wrong people. Clearly his mind is elsewhere. I plead with him to befriend the religious and civic leaders but he will not listen. Soon, as if to prove me right, they are up in arms against him. Everybody who is anybody wants him gone. They call him a hindrance to tourism, a threat to peace and they accuse him of not attending church!

Next he’s looking crucifixion in the eye.

If only he would remain a baby. It is so much easier to shop for a baby.

And this is the Gospel expressed as simply as I know how…

Jesus, as a result of the compelling love within the Godhead, made a huge shift in the life He enjoyed and shared within the Godhead, and came to Earth in the form of a baby.

And He, now fully human, grew and lived among humans, and loved them in ways humans had never before known.

He was so free, and refreshing, and uninhibited, and so full of life, and so HUMAN, that it got Him into much trouble, in fact, it got Him killed.

Then after he was dead and buried and had gone, unbeknownst to all who despised him and wanted him gone, His faith in His father in Heaven broke the power of death itself and He rose from the dead. This unified act of love on behalf of the GodHead, which satisfied all the response God has to human rebellion, rendered death (the result of such rebellion) meaningless to all men and women, boys and girls, anywhere in the world, and for all time, who decide to live with His agenda in the forefront of thier lives.

If you want to respond to the Gospel, seek me out (or seek someone out). Join us. Find a way to come by and join a community of people who, just like you, want to find greater meaning in their lives.

Sin (human rebellion) is not smoking or drinking or cussing — the essence of sin, excuse the term but it does tells it like it is — is living in such a manner as to be showing God “the finger.” It is living as if God and all that matters to God are worth ignoring.