Thursday, March 7, 2019

Ash Wednesday: On Actors and Roles

Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17    Psalm 103   2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10   Mt 6:1-6, 16-21

Jesus says ,"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be." The prophet Joel declares, "Even now, says the Lord, return to Me with all your heart...rend your hearts, not your garments. Return to the Lord..."

Our heart is our core identity, it is our True Self. Jesus says that our desires reveal our identity. It is not easy to know, however, what we really treasure and who we really are. We have all had the experience of saying "I do not know what I want." Self-knowledge is part of the path to God, it is at the center of our searching. I believe that this is why Jesus issues a warning about being "hypocrites" (the Greek word means 'actors' and by extension those who intentionally try to present themselves as better than they are). When Jesus says, "Beware," I don't think that this is a judgement, it is spiritual  instruction, an invitation "to be aware and pay attention." Jesus knows that every human is an actor playing many roles, so He wants us to be aware of the dangers involved.

From our earliest days we are told how to act, what to think, how to feel. No one truly loves us just the way we are. Those who love us most seek to change us most! There have always been demands that we perform according to expectations. We call it socialization, and it is necessary for children to be socialized, but make no mistake, socialization is learning to pretend. You don't like the food? Who cares, eat it and tell grandma "it tastes good." You don't like the gift? Doesn't matter, you are to smile and fake gratitude. There are rules for behavior and we learn early and often that authenticity has a limited place. We begin to create an "outer self" which we present to the world in order to deal with the conflicting demands. We focus on what others want us to be, and in the process lose awareness of who God created us to be.

Being socialized is not a bad thing, but it is "acting school." So we chose the roles which we would  play to get our needs met, or to avoid getting hurt. Others impose roles upon us--with rewards for compliance and punishment for failures. Our heart, the real core identity, puts on a persona (Greek word for actor's masks). The persona or ego, "Me," is expressed in a variety of "roles" or "identities" which the True Self, "I," generate to meet the demands of different settings with different people. The myriad labels which identify us are also "false selves." We are called brave, smart, ugly or useless and over identify with these descriptors. It is important to understand, the roles which we played were part of us, but they were also 'hypocrites'--acting. Over the passage of time, we lost touch with the I, the Image of God and True Self. Hurts and pains scar us and we shield our Self in roles. Success and pleasure reinforce pro-social roles. It is not that the "masks" have nothing to do with who we are, it is that they are a distortion. And the role of the subconscious and unconscious is vital here. That is what Jesus is warning us about. Being a faithful Jew--He mentions three Jewish practices (prayer, fasting, alms)--can be divorced from the heart, Jesus warns.  Anything can be twisted into an effort to manipulate approval. The most dangerous audience is the one within us! We must be aware of our motivation, especially when we are involved in the things of God. Jesus warns us, "Beloved children, if your goal is a performance for something other than union with God, then that is what you get." Jesus is really warning us, "Don't forget about God. Seek union with the Father in all you do."

Professional actors frequently get lost in the roles they play. We amateurs almost always get lost in the identities which we create. While it is good to act better than we really are, it becomes a problem  if we lose connection with our heart. When acting ceases to be a battle against the passions (sinful desires), then the  actor (Greek "hypocrites") is at risk of becoming 'hypocrital' or a sham. The tragedy is, unreflective people rarely recognize how often we are shams. We fool ourselves, even if we don't fool others.

The quest for truth includes determining what motivates us. The motivations for our "acting" vary from person to person. It is influenced by genes and environment, and the choices we make. There are some general categories, however. We seek to do it right or connect with others, to be successful or 'just be me'. We need information, security, excitement, control or peace. We all have predictable patterns because we are driven by particular guiding impulses, shaped by particular viewpoints and ruled by certain desires.

There is no way around it. In this world we are all hypocrites/actors. We must, however, become aware of the "persons" we are acting because the different roles we play impact our relationship with God. That's Jesus' point. We play the same games with Him that we play with others, because its the same game we play with ourselves. The journey into your own heart is not easy. Most of us have spent our much of our lives avoiding the truth about ourselves. Distractions, after all, are the central feature of modern life.

Jesus says that discipleship means carrying a cross. He said that we must die in order to live. The spiritual masters always make clear, it is the ego which must die, not the True Self (I). The ego is "me," the false selves "I" employ to negotiate my worries and fears, my doubts and wounds, my hungers and needs, and my sinful inclination and distance from God, self and others.

This is Lent, and it will end on Good Friday with Jesus on a cross. Jesus dies to become Who He is: Messiah, Savior, Son. He asks us to do the same. That's not something we can fake--we can't pretend to die to false selves. It has to be our heart's desire. If we treasure it then He will redeem our True Self and live in our heart. We will become one with Him. If we do the hard work then the  Holy Spirit will graciously make us our True Self. Forty days of discovering, living and dying. It begins now.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Lenten ideas

The goal of life is theosis (divinization): literally this is a union in love as Jesus, God the Word, "becomes flesh" in each of us. It means participating in what Jesus is—and we are actually a God-filled human. Other metaphors to describe this include “being holy,” “salvation//healing” or being loved by and loving God as His child. The entire church together is called the Bride of Christ—the union of husband and wife (the core of marriage) means that the two become one. Hence, with Jesus and the church there is real unity of God and Humanity.


Does union with God diminish my humanity? No, it diminishes the power of sin and death, which eat away at my humanity. It enhances my humanity in beauty and goodness.

Does union with God entail heroic acts of otherworldliness? No, it frees me from the dehumanizing ‘worldliness’ of original sin and it redeems every part of life.

What does Lent have to do with this union? The Last Sunday of Epiphany proclaims the metamorphosis of Jesus in the Transfiguration. It is the manifestation of the divine light within Him, which is also to be in us. This light heals our brokenness and raises us from the grave. Union with God destroys the power of death and frees us from all those things which negatively impact us.


In Lent we admit that we are separated from God. We focus on one of the barriers in particular. We engage in a “disciple practice” (or discipline) to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Over six weeks, hopefully, this practice removes the barrier.

The movement of Lent includes removal/emptying and acquiring/filling.

1.     Removal: “Fasting” or "Self denial" is giving up something or removing something in one of the dimensions of your self.

a.     Physical Realm. This discipline aims to quell the urges and desires, but also includes health needs. Fasting (not eating for a set time period or abstaining from particular types of food or drink) is an ancient practice. It is a way to get freed from obsessive eating or drinking—a direct assault on gluttony. It can also quiet the body and open the soul in prayer. Fasting from types of noise are also helpful (like radio, TV, cell phone, computer). Literally not filling your head with competing images or sounds allows a quieting of the soul. Anything that breaks our addiction to pleasure and obsession with ourselves is a worthy pursuit.

b.     Social realm. Are there people who bring you down? Or who pull you away? Are there folks with whom you need to spend less time? Look at your schedule. Are there activities which increase your stress, increase negativity, or diminish your faith, hope and love? Are there places you should avoid or stop frequenting for the same reason?

c.      Financial. If you had to ask Jesus for the charge card would He smile about the purchase? Are there things you could stop purchasing for a while and benefit yourself and others? Where is greed or avarice at work? 

d.     Intellectual. What ideas are you inputting? Who is instructing your world view? Are there thoughts you should be cutting out to make room for more helpful thoughts?  

e.     Emotional. Are you addressing the triggers to negative emotions? Harsh self judgement, negative thoughts, worries and anxieties? Are there practices which keep you from receiving and giving love?

2.     Acquisition:

a.     The fasting allows you to make conscious choices to eat right and proportionately. It allows us to embrace exercise (physical and spiritual) to “fill us” in ways that “junk food” never can.

b.     Find a way to create “soul friendships” with people who are truly supportive to your growth. Maybe attend Morning Prayer or a Bible Study? Meet with a small group to pray and talk about the challenges of life.

c.      Alms. Give to the needy—it creates gratitude. There are few things more central to the Judaeo-Christian life style. If I have plenty I can provide for those who do not have enough. We support persecuted Christians, hungry, needy, old and young. Find something you feel passionate about and volunteer time or give money.

d.     Read. Study. Listen to podcasts. Go to Bible study or Sunday School. Research indicates that the average person needs to hear four positive things to balance out one negative thing. Our prayer and study connect us to God.

e.     Quiet time with God trusting in His love and mercy can increase hope and joy. I must face myself: studying my personality, my wounds and fears, my motivations and desires, my strengths and virtues. We are all a mix of light and dark.   

The acts of giving up cokes or chocolate can be a great Lenten discipline or a free-floating practice at the periphery of our life. “Giving up” is an opening, but for the purpose of “getting into”… We must find ourselves and give ourselves to God. We must find the resistance within us and allow the Holy Spirit to work God’s mercy in us.

Salvation as healing is something we all understand. Medicine is like grace—it comes to us and we cannot earn what it does. But cooperation with the grace (following the directions on the medicine) helps to make it more effective. Sleep, nutrition, etc. supplement the power of the medicine to heal us. The Holy Spirit is God’s medicine. Lent is a season of renewed cooperation. It is a time to be socially, intellectually, physically, emotionally more healthy. It is a time to offer all these dimension to God (spiritually healthy) and allow His hand to be upon us. We are not angels (pure spirits) who can focus on “spiritual stuff” in isolation from our whole being. Nor can we focus on ourselves in total disregard for the world and others. (“It is not good for the man to be alone” reminds us we are created to be part of an “us”) Lent is an all in this together season. It is a season of being made whole and holy (or better, to advance on the path to wholeness and holiness).

Pray more. Love more. Thank more. Repent more. Listen more. Praise more.

Complain less. Hate less. Begrudge less. Sin less. Talk less. Worry less.
And pray that everyone has a successful journey into God’s heart this lent!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Transformed in Light

Last Sunday of Epiphany
Exodus 34:29-35      Psalm 99     2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2      Luke 9:28-43

For most of us, our 'prayer life' is a struggle. We aren't sure how to pray and when we do pray we usually wonder if anything is happening. I remember reading books on prayer in seminary. A common theme went something like this: "When it comes to prayer, we are always beginners." Forty years later I no longer wonder what that means.

When Jesus and the three disciples go up the mountain to pray, there is no question that something happened. As Luke says, "the outward appearance of Jesus' face was different." He also says "a bright light shone from His clothing." The Scriptures speak 243x of light. While it often refers to ordinary light, it is frequently a metaphor for God's presence and His glory. perhaps of great import, Jesus calls His followers children of light. When we pray, we are invisibly bathed in this holy light. God's glory fills us. Someday, united with Him, our faces will be different. Someday... But for now our prayer discipline is a preparation for that great day.

There are other stories of humans who already shine with divine light. Moses' close contact with God caused his face to shine. Moses had begged God to have mercy on Israel and go with the people--perhaps the light in Moses' face is a bit of that presence. Perhaps if we were closer to God that light would shine in us a bit more brightly?

Paul gives us hope. Through Jesus, we are freed from the veil of unbelief! We can see the glory of the Lord--God Himself shining in His Son. Even more amazing, "we are being transformed into the same image." This is from the Lord, the Spirit. It is a work God is doing in each one of us. Paul uses the term metamorphoo, the same word Matthew and Mark use to describe what happened to Jesus. It literally means to change into another form. Our new form is an eikon, the Greek word for image or likeness. In the Greek Bible this word appears in Genesis 1 (image) and in Jesus we are finally being repaired to become who God always meant us to be...

The centrality of the transfiguration to the church's teaching on theosis can not be overstated. If Jesus' true self lay hidden within Him until that moment, then can we be shocked that we must undergo a similar transformation? The image of God within us lays dormant under the false self, the wounds, doubts and fears. The passions are often unconsciously at work within us, and we fail in our struggle with sinful desires. All of this is part of this present 'darkness.' Too many of us are content to whistle in the dark, distracting ourselves from the hard work of conversion and loving God...

If the Christian life is a process of being healed of brokenness and saved from sin, then the power of God's light within us is the means. Paul says, "we have renounced the shameful things that one hides"--that is the holy work of conversion. God says of Jesus, "This is my Son, listen to Him." That obedience to Jesus is discipleship. What if this Lent we became children of light?

Monday, February 18, 2019

Beatitudes and Thriving Trees

Sixth Sunday of Epiphany
Jeremiah  17:5-10     Psalm 1     1 Corinthians 15:12-20      Luke 6:17-26

A remarkably common feature of the biblical revelation is the dyads of blessing and curse, beatitudes and woes. The either/or nature of our membership in the people of God cannot be overstated. Today we are confronted with three such sets.  Psalm 1 proclaims a beatitude for those who desire God’s teaching (torah), but it begins with a negative: we must not walk, linger and sit with sinners and those who reject God. As we all sin, it cannot mean avoiding every person, but it does mean not to embrace their unbelief or share in their way of life. That is the way of death, doomed by God, reduced to dusty lifelessness. Those who embrace God are like a tree planted near a stream. In the arid Middle East water is appreciated as the source of life and never taken for granted. God's goal for us is abundance.

Salvation is often compared to life giving water in the Bible. Pondering God’s torah (literally instruction or teaching) is like fresh water for those who love God, because it is a way to encounter the Lord. This is why God's people were commanded to constantly read the Scriptures. In Joshua 1:8, god says, ”This book of the torah shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success.”

The covenant bond of Israel to God makes them prosperous. Note that the focus is here not the afterlife. It is a blessing when God reigns among us (The Kingdom is near) and blessed are those who are faithful to their promises to God. Sadly, Jeremiah says that Israel failed to do this. Instead they have embraced idols—the work of human hands. They have become accursed, like bushes in a desert wilderness, drying out and dying. Those who embrace God, as in Psalm 1, are planted near the stream of life. The problem, Jeremiah explains, is within them—the human heart is devious. Conversion can only happen when we see that it is "me" that is at fault. It is my heart that needs to be healed and sanctified by God. The heart is most devious in how it deceives us. We are blind to our own waywardness. I have also found the enneagram+++ to be a very helpful tool in unveiling the deceit. Remember, some of our deepest sin masquerades as virtue. 

So, “What is the state of our hearts?” Do we meditate on Scripture, speak His word and do what He has spoken? Are we planted beside the waters of God? Or are we as distracted and deceived as the ancient Jews were? Do we busy ourselves with the creation of contemporary idols; trusting in human ingenuity to solve all our problems? In every age people are threatened by uncertainty and ask, “Who will deliver us from day of trouble?” Jeremiah’s answer is his own beatitude, “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord alone.” Saved by faith and fidelity! 

Jesus also declares beatitudes and woes today. In that culture there was no middle class nor upward mobility. The rich and powerful had no regard for the masses, the poor were considered to be nobodies. Yet Jesus spoke directly to each of them, saying: "You are blessed. You who are poor, hungry, weeping, and hated. You are blessed, not because misery is a blessing, but because my Father sends me to deliver you." But woe to you rich, woe to you fat, happy and popular. Woe to you, because you are focused on yourself instead of your God. 

Such a message is unnerving! It makes one ponder: Am I the righteous one who ponders God’s word and lives it, or do I walk with the wicked, stand with the sinners and sit with the scornful? Am I the blessed one who trusts God, or the fool who trusts in himself and the man-made saviors of this world? Am I one of the suffering poor, or am I counted with the indolent rich? I wonder—do I bring good news and salvation to the poor and broken? 

In truth, everyone's heart is deceitful and deceived. Our sins, wounds and fears thwart every effort to provide our own security. We are victim and perpetrators at the same time. We build our own kingdoms ignoring God's Kingdom, and we harm others and ourselves. Yet we can embrace the living waters. We can cry out to Jesus. We can repent of sin and trust Him. There is a way of love and a path of holiness. Blessed are those who find this way and walk this path.

+++This is a very useful website, providing insightful and informative articles and explanations. I especially liked the brief reflection on the error of "typism," which is the attempt to over simplify the complexity of human being and simply see people as a number.

In addition, Beatrice Chestnut has written The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. In it she looks at the nine basic ways people experience the worl , and then the three ways each type engages the world. (preferring one on one relations, to fit into the group, or a focus on self-preservation).

This is not a pleasant process, uncovering the deceitful heart. But if our roots are ever to be in the living waters of God we must remove them from the dry earth of the false self...

Monday, February 4, 2019

Four Epiphany: Salvation and Love 2-3-19

Fourth Epiphany: Jeremiah 1:4—10 ;  Psalm71:1—6;   1 Corinthians 13:1—13;   Luke 4:21—30

God created us for union with Himself--but because unitive love requires freedom, God gives us free choice, so this holy union is very slow. The ‘world, flesh and devil’ resist God’s salvation, so our primary task is spiritual warfare within our own hearts. The problem is within us, even if we see it around us. 

God usually interacts with us through human intermediaries. Messianic faith includes the human dimension in the divine salvation. The role of prophets is to communicate His message. The powers of this world reject God’s word, so the prophet often suffers. Perhaps no prophet suffered more than Jeremiah. When God called him, he was likely a teenager, and he was reluctant: “I am not able, I am too young” he said. It is a heavy load to stand before people and declare God’s word—made all the more terrifying because one cannot always be sure that the word is God’s and not one’s own… “Do not be afraid of them. You will be my prophet. You will tear down and raise up.” God’s prophet must be faithful—acting in trust. We must guard our souls from fear. Jesus also walked this same path. From the beginning there were those who sought to kill Him, and if He passes through the crowd at Capernaum, Calvary still awaits.

The Kingdom clash between Satan and God is present in our world and within each of us. Either we submit to God or something else will rule us. The dark passions within us are manifest in societal struggles. When we want to make the world the way we think it should be, we forget he unconscious evil which motivates us. We can only assume that our adversaries sincerely see the world differently from us and that they are as shocked by our interpretation as we are by theirs. Too often we project evil on our adversaries--using harsh language or descriptors. Blaming others for the troubles of the world works in securing political power, but Christians are called to conversion. It is the converted prophets who speak with integrity.

We can only repent of our own sin and Sin can be subtle—we do not openly embrace the Prince of Darkness, but we abide his presence. If we do not persecute God’s prophets, we do ignore them. When they suffer and die, we blame them for not staying quiet. Holiness, after all, must be tempered by the popular culture.

Paul offers us a solution. Choices made in anger, frustration, selfishness and pride cannot save us from the Evil. Love can, for love is of God. Every human needs to be loved and accepted—but this need for genuine love gets twisted by our doubts and fears. The failure to love is the cause of many of our problems. We lash out because we do not get enough of it, we withhold it and do not give it. We build a wall around our hearts to protect them from the pain, which also keeps out the love of God which would set us free. We wrongly define love as sentimentality, unconditional affirmation, or physical pleasure—stealing its power to save.  

Real love is crucified love. The struggle to embrace the love of God is the same in every age. Only those who love can be faithful prophets—and if we are not prophets then our lives are of no value.  His message to Jeremiah is true for us: Do not be afraid of them—whoever or whatever they may be, I am with you. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

sermon November 3-4

(this is the actual sermon on Deuteronomy etc)

The purpose of life is union with God, to love God and love people. Divine love changes our hearts, it purifies them and makes them holy. Love makes us like God, because as we read in 1 John “God is love,” and “if we love one another then God abides in us.” (1 John 3&4). Elsewhere Jesus says love not just friends, but also foes (Mt 5:43-48; Luke 10:29 Good Samaritan).

Deuteronomy says that God gives the Law so that it will go well in the land and the people can multiply. The law to love God with all of our being is the only path to life. Love allows the law to open us to the Kingdom of God. When people in a society love one another there can be peace and prosperity. When we love God the Law can conform us to His will and makes us holy. Without love, as Paul said, the law becomes nothing.

The great obstacle to such loving obedience is our doubt and fear. Perfect love casts out all fear, and doubt and fear draw us away from God. We wounded humans seek to protect ourselves. Each time we are hurt it can compound the doubt and fear, often in subtle ways. People disappoint us, and sometimes God does too, so repentance and forgiveness become more difficult. Love can grow cold.

To deal with life’s pain, our defense mechanism is to protect the heart. In the Bible this is call a ‘hard heart,’ literally it means a callus. That callus is the ego self, who we pretend to be. As the heart gets harder it becomes less trusting and loving. Each night the news publicize the words and deeds of human egos and hard hearts. We blame and demonize others, and see no need to repent or forgive. A Godless, loveless society produces escalating conflicts.

In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh did not trust the Hebrew people and feared them, so he made them slaves. Ironically, he caused the very thing he feared. God responds to the Hebrew cries and frees them. He saves them, and in the process Egyptian suffered devastating losses. Those who would use power to crush others always learn that control by fear fails eventually. God rules by love and He gives Israel the Law so they can live well in the land and multiply. The Law is for this world and is given to produce blessing.

The Law can instruct, but it has no power to save. Jesus saves because in Him God takes the wounded human heart and the human sins and He heals and forgives. This is the power of love, the power of healing mercy. Jesus shares in our suffering and invites us to trust, to love and to stop being afraid. Those who understand the power of love are near God’s kingdom. Love makes us holy. Love is theosis union with God. Love is not a tool of control, it is a surrender of self to God and one another. Jesus commands that we do it.   

Epiphany 1-6-19 Saving Light

Isaiah 60:1-6       Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14         Ephesians 3:1-12              Matthew 2:1-12


The word “epiphany” refers to a manifestation of a divine being; and also means an illumination, or insight, into the essence of something.

Jesus is God Incarnate, the manifestation of a divine being—God among us to rescue us from the darkness of sin and death. Jesus gives us insight into the essence of God—Loving Creator and Savior.

We need an epiphany. We live in darkness. It is not always clear that God is loving, nor do we always feel saved. The decline of faith around us signifies the power of darkness. Truth is silenced by political correctness. Hopelessness manifests in myriad ways. Many of us are lonely in our core, wounded and hurt, hungry for the Healing Light. This is what drove those wise men many miles because they had heard the testimony of the stars: a king is born. When they finally find Jesus they rejoice, but in the darkness Herod waits to destroy the child.

Isaiah proclaims hope in God’s Light—but let us hear his voice to understand our predicament.

Isaiah 58-59 spells out the problem. (p533)

(58:1)“Shout out do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! (God tells the prophet) Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.”  YHWH rejects their pious practices as a faith devoid of justice.

(58:6-11) “IF you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness. The Lord will guide you…and satisfy your needs.”

(59:1-2) See…your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” God finds no truth, no justice—so He vows to come among us Himself.


In Isaiah 60, God comes like the rising sun to begin the new day. Jerusalem also shines, drawing the peoples of the world to her. God’s holy city will be the habitation of all who love, trust and obey Him.

“Rise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the people, but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn….the wealth of the nations shall come to you…they shall bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” Matthew 2 tells us that the wisemen brought their wealth, they made gifts of gold and frankincense. God Himself has come among us in Jesus. The light of God, the glory of God is here in His flesh. But there is one other gift, myrrh. It is not until Matthew 26 that we understand why the myrrh is included. In the house of Simon a woman came and poured a jar of myrrh on Jesus’ head as He sat at table. Jesus says, “by pouring this myrrh on my body she has prepared Me for burial.” The darkness will consume Jesus, He dies to save us, but the Son will rise. Darkness will be defeated by the Light of God: Jesus. This is the essential meaning of Epiphany. Repent and Believe the Good News.