We pulled into the skatepark and I expressed mild annoyance that “my’ parking spot was taken.
I can see the skaters from there and the old oaks next to it provide both a windbreak and shade when the sun is high in the afternoon sky.
It’s “my” spot, but the skating must go on.
I pulled into a spot facing across from it and noted that the car in my spot looked “lived in”…not just because it was old and worn, but because someone was living in it.
While T skated I watched her load and unload things from the car…watched her repair the black plastic garbage bags that now patched the back windows that no longer roll up and fix up her “home” as she preferred.
She had set up a portable camp stove next to her car and was making what appeared to be a soup in an old aluminum pot.
The smell of the cooking onions made it feel warmer outside than it was.
I watched her dance to music I couldn’t hear.
It dawned on me me that not only was she dancing to music I couldn’t hear, but that she may as well have been invisible as well.
People walked by her as if she wasn’t there, not seeing that there was someone living in a Honda, not noticing someone trying to make an afternoon meal from ingredients that came from God knows where.
An invisible woman danced to inaudible music while the world passed her by.
I damned the blindness and deafness to hell and pulled up alongside her.
“Can I get you anything…can I help you?”
“You just did”, she smiled.
She pulled a bare, steaming turkey leg from the pot and waved us away.
She smiles when she speaks and her dance comes from the music in her soul.
I can’t hear it, but it’s real enough to bring her joy.
The older I get, the more I believe that the seminal event in our recent history was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
I think when people talk about “making America great again” they are referring to the time before bullets shattered the psyche of our nation.
Nothing has been the same since…our collective innocence was robbed by a single creep with a rifle.
The death of Kennedy was also the birth of the modern conspiracy industry…
“Even the few critics who approach the subject from an academic’s viewpoint, such as University of Wisconsin professor David Wrone, decry the field’s decline in quality fueled by the public acceptance of more sensational theories: “To my mind, this assassination syndrome, this terrible collapse of the critical people— witness Lane, and Lifton, and Garrison and the rest— it’s a suggestion that we are really in trouble as a society. These theorists take us away, fly us away to this unknown land of Oz, wherever they take us. They divert our attention from the reality. Every book that asks the question ‘Who shot John Kennedy?’ or tries to answer the question ‘Who shot John Kennedy?’ has fallen short of the mark, and sometimes egregiously so. Now, as you know, there are a bunch of books that are just old-fashioned nut books, like the umbrella man. And then there are a number of books which appear deceptively within the pale.” 47
Posner, Gerald (2013-10-01). Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (Kindle Locations 9736-9743). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
“You have to understand,” says Bill Alexander, “what you are dealing with is a thriving industry. People are making lucrative livings off of selling conspiracy theories to the public. What happened to the truth? Hell, it got lost under a lot of dollar signs. No one wants to hear what really happened because it would be the end of their very profitable little business.” 48
Posner, Gerald (2013-10-01). Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (Kindle Locations 9757-9760). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
“Historian Henry Steele Commager said, “I do think there has come up in recent years … something that might be called a conspiracy psychology. A feeling that great events can’t be explained by ordinary processes.… We are on the road to a paranoid explanation of things.… The conspiracy theory, the conspiracy mentality, will not accept ordinary evidence.… There’s some psychological requirement that forces them to reject the ordinary, and find refuge in the extraordinary.” 49
Posner, Gerald (2013-10-01). Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (Kindle Locations 9762-9766). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
Thus, our whole society, both sacred and secular, from Alex Jones to the bible prophecy wonks, has been tainted by the scourge of conspiracy theories.
“‘Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ And [the Lord] said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’” (Ex 33:13-14)
Shortly after the golden calf incident at Sinai, God and Moses had a conversation, which illustrates man’s relationship with God after the fall. Moses asked: “please show me your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” Moses wanted an intimate relationship with God, so that he might find favor with God by leading the people according to God’s will.
To obtain that relationship and understand His will, Moses asked God: “show me now your ways.” Moses was uncertain: What are God’s intentions? How might God deal with future transgressions by the Israelites? The Lord responded: “my presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
God’s response was not a full “nuts-and-bolts” revelation of His ways, but He gave Moses two excellent promises: (1) His continued presence during the journey; and (2) His eventual rest. Does this sound familiar? These are a type of the promises which find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. For Christians, the Holy Spirit is God’s continuing presence: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16). And salvation is the rest Christ freely bestows on those who believe in him: “For we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb 4:3).
“Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’” (Ex 33:18)
Moses, however, was not entirely satisfied with God’s response. Moses asked more specifically: “show me you glory.” Moses wanted to see God’s naked majesty, holiness and perfection. Moses wanted to know the God behind his external Word.
This is also where many Christians get into trouble. They want (or claim) to know God’s ways behind His external Word. These enthusiasts seek God by one of two paths: (i) some attempt to perceive God’s ways by applying human reason to what is happening around them; (ii) others attempt to perceive God’s ways through an inner voice. In either case the enthusiast seeks God outside of his external Word.
“And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The Lord.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’” (Ex 33:19-20)
God will not (and cannot) reveal himself to Moses naked. Prior to eternity, God must hide himself from sinners behind masks.
Behind the external Word, God is not our Father. Only the Son can reveal the Father: “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matt 11:27) No one knows the Son except by faith wrought by the Holy Spirit which comes by hearing the external Word: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) Therefore, behind the external Word there is only damnation. God unmasked is not for us; we cannot but fear him.
Moreover, as sinful beings we do not have the ability to comprehend the mind of God. “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33b) If we attempt to find God behind the external Word, we pervert and distort God’s character. We expect God to run heaven the way we run things on earth, so we create a god in our own image. That was the sin of Job’s friends and of Jesus’ disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
Therefore, God cannot show his “face” to Moses. However, God again gives Moses the external Word, which reaffirms the covenant between God and the people: “I will…proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’” Then God shows himself to Moses masked.
“And the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.’” (Ex 33:21-23)
God revealed His backside to Moses. No one would recognize this mask as God without faith. Moses recognized God by faith in God’s external Word: “you shall see my back”. That God would mask himself as a backside is an allusion to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
“Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-9)
God’s ultimate hiding place is in Christ. But not merely behind human flesh; in Christ God is hidden behind humiliation, suffering and death on the cross. Not unlike Moses, Philip asked: “‘Lord, show us the Father….’ Jesus said to him…. ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’” (John 14:8-9b)
We are not given direct access to God. Instead, Jesus reveals God for us masked behind humiliation, suffering and death (i.e., his backside). Paul calls the message of the cross foolishness (see 1 Cor 1:25) because it is the antithesis of human wisdom: The cross is the glory of God; power in weakness; Christ’s death reconciles the world to God; death conquers death. But by means of the cross, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor 1:20c)
Human reason cannot accept or believe the message of the cross. The foolishness of the Gospel must be revealed by faith. God alone must accomplish his work in us.
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Cor 1:21)
God shows us His ways, but on His terms. If we want to know and understand God and His works, we must look at His backside – that is, at Christ suffering and dying for us on the cross. We must look with ears of faith in the external Word which finds us and proclaims: “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) This side of eternity, the foolishness of the cross is the epistemological key for understanding God’s ways. God hides His face from us, so that we seek Him where he is “all in” for us – on the cross.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7) Amen.
Normally in my weekly writing I will challenge us to think about some issue.
Often times some issue that reflects upon us as the Church but also transcends into society as a whole. An issue where we may sometimes struggle and need to consider our focus and outlook and manner of conduct.
I don’t have any big lead-in or sports analogy this time around.
Thankfulness is a simple enough subject and concept.
Yet, if we’re honest, we would probably just about all admit we aren’t as thankful as we should be. That we take things for granted. That we get caught up in the worries and busyness of life and think much more about the things we need or want to do or to have, and urgently so, and don’t think much on those things that we already have or have been done.
Of course, it is cliché to bring up such thoughts during this season. Of course, we’re supposed to step back from the hustle and bustle and travails of life and take a moment to be thankful. Of course, we should have an attitude and outlook of being more thankful in our spirits throughout the whole year, not just during this one week when the calendar tells us to do so.
But often times we don’t. We rely on this one week to give a breather of grateful reflection to our souls. So let’s not let this opportunity pass. We can always try to reconfigure ourselves moving forward. To try to be more intentional in being thankful and grateful in our hearts and minds and demeanors. Taking the moment now to be thankful can only help our endeavors.
I am thankful for my family. I am thankful that God has provided for the needs of myself and my wife and children. I am thankful for a church where the Gospel and Word of God are preached and many in need of help are reached out to. I am thankful to live in a country, despite its problems, where I am free to live and worship and make decisions for myself that fall within reasonable means. I am thankful for this odd and unique community here at the Phoenix Preacher blog. And I am thankful that despite going through some dismal seasons, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for my Phillies and my other pro teams. 🙂
Above all, I am thankful for a Savior.
That no matter how good or how hard life may be or become, I know that I am His. And by no incapable effort of my own and only by His grace, the promise to be His child will be for an eternity. For this, I can never be grateful enough.
In anticipation of Thanksgiving this week, followed by the beginning of Advent on November 27, I want to share with you, my friends, a word of God’s grace, comfort and mercy, especially for those in our midst who may be feeling alone, forgotten, neglected, unimportant or otherwise poor in spirit.
The Canticle of Mary (also known as the Magnificat) is a beautiful composition which celebrates and testifies to God’s works of grace, comfort and mercy in a kindred spirit – Mary, the virgin mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Mary refers to herself as of “humble estate” and “hungry”, which I take to mean a lowly, unimportant, poor, peasant girl who would be despised by the upper crust in Jerusalem.
But, from this Canticle we learn that it is precisely when we are hungry and of humble estate that God does his greatest works in us. Indeed, God did not choose the daughters of Annas or Caiaphas to bear our Messiah, but a no body of from a backwater town who had nothing but faith in her Lord. So, I offer this Canticle for our mutual encouragement and comfort during the coming holiday season. Be patient and trust in the Lord! He loves us, all of us!
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
“For no one can rightly understand God or His Word who has not received such understanding directly from the Holy Spirit. But no one can receive it from the Holy Spirit without experiencing, proving and feeling it. In such experience the Holy Spirit instructs us as in His own school, outside of which naught is learned save empty words and idle fables. When the Holy Virgin, then, experienced what great things God wrought in her, notwithstanding she was so poor, meek, despised, and of low degree, the Holy Spirit taught her this precious knowledge and wisdom, that God is a Lord whose work consists but in this — to exalt them of low degree, to put down the mighty from their seats, in short, to break whatever is whole and make whole whatever is broken.” – Martin Luther
Please feel free to share this message with anyone who you believe may benefit from the life-giving words of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Amen.
1.I think that a focus on gratitude this week would be helpful…being honestly grateful would be even better…
2.There’s something sinister in my mind about something called “Black Friday” coming the day after “Thanksgiving”…
3.“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”(1 Timothy 6:8 ESV) No, we won’t be…
4.The problem with making the Bible “relevant” is that to do so,you have to ignore the fact that it is “radical”. We’ve domesticated the wildest, most demanding text there is…
5.There is something that speaks to our depravity that we’re still trying to define what it means to be a Christian and to find a label that suits us…
6.When the Bible speaks of living under empire it tells us to “come out of her”, not “take her over”…
7.This election cycle did not cause the sicknesses in our souls,it merely revealed them. Would that we had spiritual doctors who not only could diagnose them,but preach the cure. Unfortunately,this plague sickened them as well…
8.My giving of thanks sounds a lot like this, far too often… “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”(Luke 18:11 ESV)
9. I believe tofu is the devil’s attempt to mimic “mammon”… if not, I still think it’s from the pit.
10.I think that our refusal to give place to the supernatural makes the church another social club instead of the army of God…
We have known forever that you call to obedience, that our obedience to your purposes brings well-being, that our departure from you may bring trouble, that life proceeds on a tight calculus of expectation and requirement, that in your awesome rule there is rigor along with generosity.
We have set out to he your faithful people and then we fall into an unintended brokenness.
We know about alienation from you and loss; we know about shame before our neighbors and embarrassment in the family; we know about the will to hide and become invisible, and we are consumed by depths of remorse.
When we are able, we come out of hiding long enough to face you.
We know all the cadences of confession and repentance, and that we have no secrets not already known to you. We sense before you our deep dread of failure and our last shred of innocence gone. We ask forgiveness and wait, at times before your presence we wait a very long time as we know of your silence and absence in our bottomness. But we know more! We know of your unfailing love, your willing generosity, your readiness to remember our sin no more.
And so, after shame before neighbor, after embarrassment within family, after dread before you, we wait and then eventually you appear, you reach, you speak, you touch. You give yourself to us without judgment-after after we have judged ourselves. You invite us to your presence, to the table of your feast, to your walk of companionship, to your mission of well-being. We take timid steps toward home and are welcomed.
Now, in this hour of free-fall, be your good self again, meet us not according to our flaw but according to your generous self-giving:
Be our Christmas, and start the world again;
Be our Easter, and draw us from death to new life;
Be our Pentecost, and breathe on its to begin again;
Be your full, generous self toward us; we will begin again in obedience, and as we can obey, we will begin again in wonder, love, and joy.
Walter Brueggemann. Prayers for a Privileged People Kindle Edition.