Ambition in hard times with Teilo

teilos headWhen we went to Llandaff Cathedral, outside Cardiff, Wales, the lonely docent said we should go find a special cupboard with Teilo’s head in it. We found one in a musty, dark corner way in the back, behind the altar. When we opened the creaky old door we got a peek at a dusty skull. As it turns out, the famous skull was in another cupboard, as you see. I don’t know who’s skull we were disrupting. But we were still excited to make the connection. The great church planter’s skull was preserved in the church, displayed in memory of a life admirably lived. He died sometime after 560, which was not an easy time to live. He had helped establish the church in Wales. Feb 9 is St. Teilo’s Day. Church planting types should mark that one their calendar. We need all the encouragement we can get.

Is that thing about his skull just creepy or can it be encouraging? I want to encourage the many people I have been talking to who think their time to live is pretty challenging, too — God does good things in tough times. I want to encourage people who need to get their head into the game of church planting — they are memorable. I want to encourage people who think the church just stuffs the memory of good things in closets and goes about their mediocre work as usual — not so! Did you witness the Compassion Teams celebrating their work last Friday?! Did you know about the decarceration team forming? Were you at the PMs last night? Did you listen to Gwen? No one is just a memory around here.

We’ve had a lot of dialogue about revival and reformation lately. We’re ambitious to do what God has given is to do in our difficult era. As a result of our dialogue, some patterns that people have established in relationship and mission are getting disrupted; people are feeling challenged, and things are changing for the better (already!) — and more is on the way. Some people feel excited; some people don’t feel so good. For the people who have always given it their all, serving new ambition feels like an overload – “I give my gifts and resources already. I can’t do more.” And there is always some person who shouts, “Don’t open that cupboard!”

I have been saying to a few of the stalwarts, “The problem is not that you don’t do things; the problem is that you just do your things. You might not be a church planter, but you need to concern yourself about whether the church gets planted. You might not have time to care for the children but your love has to be great enough to care about whether they are cared for. And if you do lead the worship, or care for kids, or lead a cell or do the limited thing you can do, you need to fill it with enough love, and let it be filled with God’s Spirit, so that what you do makes an impact beyond the borders of your smallness.” I don’t always convince people. but I try.

llandaff_teiloMaybe this is what one famous story of Teilo is about. (Teilo is actually pretty famous in Wales, at least).One day his Christian settlement was attacked and robbed of all their stores of fuel. In the cold Wales winter that meant they had to immediately go to the woods and cut down more trees or freeze to death. Their work was made easier when a great stag came to help them by delivering the wood with his antlers. Teilo is often pictured riding a stag. Life gets hard. Irritating things must be done. God shows up.

It will be great when you and creation are in such harmony that you can ride stags. Maybe that won’t happen. That’s no big deal. Until then you can be in harmony with God’s own Spirit and he will help you in your difficulties and build his church as a result. The challenges of this day can be met. Even the small things you can do will probably end up magnified, if you allow them to be in the hands of Jesus. Let’s keep our heads in the game — it is bigger than our incapability.

Posted in 3 The Mission | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The mustard seed — faith you have, not faith you don’t

Mustard-Seeds-PlantsHere’s another Bible problem for you. What’s with faith-as-small-as-a-mustard-seed moving mountains?

We sing:

Si tuvieras fe como grano de mostaza
Eso lo dice el Senor
Tu le dirias a la montana
Muevete, muevete 
Esa montana se movera, se movera, se movera

Shouldn’t that little song come with a little warning label? Shouldn’t it say something like: “We don’t really think this is true!” Or “No mountains were injured in the performance of this song!”?

Why does Jesus say,

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20)

if He doesn’t really mean it?

That’s a good question. It is an especially good question if you were taught all your life that the Bible was feeding you the kind of “truth” that the philosophy of our day considers Truth. I’m talking about some observable occurrence you can test and see repeated when you try it again, something material that you can measure — that kind of true. Apply that philosophy to the Bible and the “formula” Jesus posits says, “Faith moves mountains.” If that “Biblical principle” is true, then a logical conclusion follows: if your faith doesn’t result in miracle, either you don’t have enough faith or faith is not what it claims to be. Even more, this conclusion would be reasonable: if you have faith, then you tell the mountain to move, and the mountain doesn’t move, then the Bible is not true. Sometimes that reasoning is called working with “literal” truth — if the words say it, that’s what it is, as if words just describe verifiable data, as if they just report scientific findings, as if we are talking about those kinds of words. Many Christians treat the Bible like it is a scientific text and call that conservative, when it is really the most worldly thing they could be doing.

Almost anyone can observe what passes for literal truth — and most of them are having an argument in their heads about whether the last person knew what they were talking about. Jesus speaks a deeper truth than the surface truth almost anyone can observe. He is revealing eternity to us. Do you really  think the Lord was announcing his findings about what the world’s smallest seed is? Do you really think he was suggesting that mountains should be moved around? I don’t. But in a world full of “literal” truth, people get tripped up by anything immaterial to their materiality.

Matthew 17 is very confusing for literalists! I feel their pain. Just look at what happens there! First, Jesus is up on the Mount of Transfiguration revealing to his inner circle that there is just a thin veil between His Father’s dimension and our own — but that the dimensions are very different. Then he announces his impending resurrection. Then the group comes down the mountain and Jesus completes an exorcism that his other disciples could not accomplish — and why can’t they do it? They don’t have enough faith. It is a wild chapter for people who can only know what they test in their personal labs.

Maybe we should live in Matthew 17 until we understand it and stop basing our ideas of faith on things we already understand. Maybe we should stay there until we can do what is described and stop basing our doubts on what we can’t yet do. Maybe we should stop being discouraged with Jesus because he can’t just leave faith as “being nice,” or as “applying moral principles” or as “acting out a stripped-down methodology that passes for being forgiven of our sins instead of having a life of active trust” (I digress…with hope in my heart).

Many people come away from what Jesus says about not having enough faith looking for a formula for getting enough faith. But I think the whole point of his statement is not about what we lack, it is about what we don’t lack. He is ultimately being very positive — realistic about us, but full of hope. Yes, Jesus is as frustrated as we are that we have less spiritual capability than we ought to have. But even if we rely on Him just a little — mustard seed little, his work of death and resurrection will enliven even the little faith we have and do things that were previously unimaginable. Have the faith you have, not the faith you don’t.

When I sing, “Muevete!” I am expressing my hope in Jesus, not taking on the ultimate challenge to prove Jesus worthy of worship by my miraculous excavating — as if, “If the mountain moves, then Jesus can be my Savior until we reach the next mountain!” everest tibetObviously, Jesus is not rearranging the planet for his convenience, either. So he must not mean for us to look for faith that is mustard-seed size somewhere in our inner being and prove his validity as a Savior and our value as followers by moving Mt. Everest to Beijing. Some people give up on the Bible because such things aren’t happening like they think the Bible literally says they should. They grumble, “The Book just plain contradicts itself! Mountains should move if he literally said it!” But I wish they’d soak in it long enough to see what’s really happening.

When there is a surface meaning that isn’t working for us, we do need to argue it out until we can receive its deeper content. Ignoring or reducing things we can’t understand keeps us infantile. However, being content to endlessly argue keeps us adolescent. Jesus is revealing something deeper than we can reduce to a factoid or argue as a principle. We need to move with the risen Lord to experience something more adult, something like what his inner circle experienced on the Mt. of Transfiguration. Rather than focusing on how mountains are not literally moved, or on “how much faith is enough to cast out a demon,” I think we should rejoice in what the-little-faith-we-have has done in us and through us that would have been unimaginable without it.

For instance,

  • that we should believe any parts of Matthew 17 as true must be an act of God-with-us
  • that we want to ponder and even argue about who Jesus is and what he did surely could only be the Spirit of God drawing us
  • that we know we are forgiven and destined for an eternity of connection with our Creator is a big change
  • that we care whether we have enough faith to make a difference is a conviction only a Spirit-changed heart would have
  • that people continue to be comforted, saved from self-destruction, and energized to foment justice and hope by their faith in Jesus is just what Jesus was predicting, wouldn’t you say?

Still not satisfied short of Everest taking a step towards China? I am not sure you are respecting the faith that causes your discontent, but who knows what that seed might cause next?

Posted in Theological Help | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

How to follow Jesus at work

Sometimes going to work can be tough for a Jesus-follower. Do we just shut off our hearts and souls and get the money, or do we dare to ask the questions that keep bubbling up? “Can I do what I am assigned to do and still honor Jesus?” Even harder, “Can I think as I am supposed to think as defined by my employer and still be a Christian?” We have to answer the question, “Can I dare to serve Jesus without reservation and still have a normal job?”

You’ve got to know who you are in Christ before you can know what to do. We are good trees that bear good fruit. So think about how Jesus-followers approach the idea of work.

We think everything we do matters

When we attend to our regular duties, they are made holy because God is with us in the process and we are in God’s world. We don’t do anything that does not matter. No matter what person or institution claims to own us, we know better — we are children of God. Even when we do wrong things, we know God can turn them to good because we love him. That’s how we go to our jobs.

For from [Christ] and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever (Romans 11:36).

Jesus is the beginning of all good things for us. Even rotten things get turned around or finally judged, so we can go to work and receive whatever comes as full of possibilities.

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

On the active side, we can do whatever we are doing at the moment to God’s glory, meaning we do it as an act or service, or obedience, or hope. Everything we do has God in mind as an end point. The whole earth is destined to know the glory, or the presence of God.

We think work is good

 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).

God created Adam and Eve to work in the Garden. Some Christians have the impression that work is a result of sin rather than a part of the created order. But Genesis makes it clear that God placed Adam in the Garden to “work it and take care of it” and then created Eve as his co-worker in the task. This work was part of Adam and Eve’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” So work is part of who God has made us to be; it is part of the original created order that God designated as “very good.”

The work vs. leisure dichotomy has made a lot of us think work is an imposition. We know rich people get to sit around and we want to be rich too, so we work hard to get there until we can retire and sit around. As you know, a lot of men get to sitting around and quickly die from lack of work. We were made to do good work, it is how we create alongside with God.

25 years of Homer working hard

25 years of Homer working hard

We know work is hard

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life (Genesis 3:17).

Because of the humankind’s disobedience (we call it “the Fall” from innocence, obedience and  grace), work is hard. Work involves sweat. Or, if you prefer, work involves stress and overtime and oppressive bosses and boring meetings. Not everything in the world of work is as it should be. Work has been cursed. But work is still good. Work is not the result of the Fall; it is the difficulty of work in a fallen world that is the trouble.

Jesus redeems our work.

Being new in Christ transforms our view of work – how it is good, and how it is redeemed, though fallen. In Christ, work is no longer a necessary evil; it is now an opportunity, just like everything else. Work now has great spiritual significance, because it is a chance for God to be glorified. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father”  (Colossians 3:17).

start imagining from where you are at.

start imagining from where you are at.

All our work is done in service to our ultimate employer and the advancement of his kingdom. This implies that reflecting God’s image is central to a biblical view of work. Paul applies this principle to tasks as mundane as eating and drinking. The work doesn’t make me who I am, I make the work serve my deepest purposes. No matter what it is, I can be who I am in it.

That’s what Jesus does. You probably noticed that when he was doing his work, he never “went to work.” He wandered around being who he is and doing whatever gave him the opportunity to do his work. Jesus tends the garden like Adam. Christ did everything his Father commanded until he could honestly say, “It is finished” on the cross. “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work (John 4:34). “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:19).

Does Jesus live to work or work to live? I think he does both. He was born to do his work, and he says he is fed by the work he does. He worked for the nation of Israel with some rather incompetent co-workers and it only seemed to give him more opportunity to be who he was meant to be. We are called to share that ongoing work of re-creation in every generation. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18).

When we show up at our jobs, our cells, our PM Design Team rehearsal, or our work day on the community garden we’re there for the glory of God. God wants to be honored in what we do and in how we do it.

 How to be a Christian at work

Let your life speak

Advance God’s fame, not just your own career. It makes every day worth living. If you desperately want to make a difference in life, but you have a habit of not showing up to work on time, or you don’t return calls or complete assignments, people will probably not think God looks that great — should you ever reveal you know Jesus. Some people never mention Jesus at work because they know they are not going to live up to what Jesus should look like! Don’t get crazy, thinking your work is all Jesus has going for him, but you matter and you have the same job as Jesus. He probably would not have been a pastor or missionary the way we think of them, just like you; he probably would have worked at Target, since he would inevitably meet everyone on the planet there.

Look forward to problems

Every problem is an opportunity to rely on Jesus to redeem it. Problems are what keep us redeemers in business. So if you work with problem people in a problematic place, that might be the best of all possible worlds for the redemption project. You might know some way-too-happy Christians who go to work thinking that since they love Jesus, everything is going to work out. It’s not. You might miss your quota. You might lose a client. You might get fired. You might have tensions with your boss or your co-workers. These things don’t mean that Jesus doesn’t love you or that God isn’t on your side or that God is punishing you for that sin you can’t forget. The problems are just the inevitable result of living in a sin-ridden world. Thorns infest the ground. Work is cursed. Work is affected by the fall. Work doesn’t always work the way it should. So have a big idea of how you are a re-creator with God but be realistic about the Fall, too. Jesus hasn’t come back yet.

Get some rest

Rest is crucial to work. I’m not talking about the bifurcated idea of work-life balance, or work vs. leisure – those are more bifurcated descriptions that got popular in the 1800s and we have not shaken off the definitions yet. We don’t find ourselves in our leisure and we do work to pay for it. We are real 24/7.

Most of us are so used to constant music, TV, social media, entertainment and busyness that we have little experience with the art of resting. Maybe the best thing we can do for ourselves, for our employers, for our careers, and for the glory of God is to set apart one day in our week when we unplug — when the cell phone is off (horrors!), when we don’t check email or Facebook, when we take a really long nap, when we worship and pray, when we take a walk or watch a sunset.  If your work obligations don’t permit a 24-hour period of rest every week, then consider taking a personal day every month for solitude and silence and rest. Why wouldn’t you? Your co-workers  take personal days when a pet dies or when they break up or when they are hung over from a long weekend.  (Could you even entertain the thought of instituting such a discipline?).

Pray all day

If we pray without ceasing, like Paul teaches, it will add the right meaning to what we are doing, no matter what we are doing. Pray the Lord’s prayer to get started. There’s a reason Jesus taught his disciples to “pray in this way.” Jesus, the master teacher, knew that we become what we pray. When our prayers focus on our needs and our agendas and the ways we want God to bless us, we become self-centered, myopic people. To save us from this, Jesus gave us a pattern for prayer that keeps our eyes on the Father’s name, the Father’s kingdom, the Father’s will. When we use this pattern, we find ourselves beginning to care about the Father’s name, the Father’s kingdom, and the Father’s will — and we begin to see that work and all of life, comes from God and is moving God’s direction. That makes for good work and work that even feels good.

Posted in Theological Help | Tagged | 2 Comments

Eight reasons to feel better about what is happening in your ruined place

When I was on retreat last week, I felt guilty about being on retreat. Then I read an entry in my journal that said, “I am probably better for the church on retreat than I usually am in my office!” It was a good reminder. I felt less guilty about my luxuriant silence.

My review of my journal kept demonstrating other troubles that disturb my peace. Like how I swing from utter confidence in God to being “daunted” (that is the usual word). Silence overcomes what daunts. To be confident in God in the face of what is daunting takes enough silent time to recognize how God is present as I am present.

I am not sure I had enough time. I stayed in town, so now I remember why people go to the desert. But making the effort to retreat into some silence was richly rewarded, if only for the eight reasons I am about to share with you.

tree in concreteAs I meditated on my journal, looking for how Jesus has been leading me, these remarkable moments of grace kept popping up. Sometimes I feel, overall, like life is kind of overwhelming and my journal reflects that. It is like one of David’s Psalms where he is stuck in a cave somewhere and Saul is looking for him —  but then there is a paragraph in my journal entry that looks like the end of one of David’s laments when he, too, remembers how God has worked and praises him. “This is troubling…BUT God is glorious.”

Just last week (in one week!) I wrote down things people said to me that were so great they became part of my praise. I experienced regular flashes of unexpected glory. Put them all together and it was quite a week! Here are just eight of the reasons I had for feeling better in my often-ruined place.

1. I feel God

A friend who has been bravely struggling to get their journey back on track has been struggling for so long with feeling “dead” inside. They came up to me, gave me a hug and said, “I feel God.”

2. Why don’t we get a new building?

I sometimes think we have been thoroughly colonized by people who make the rest of us afraid to do anything but hunker down and survive — protect what we’ve got so someone doesn’t steal it. But someone was just thinking out loud about Broad and Washington’s future and said, “Why don’t we get a new building?” That courage and imagination moves me. Maybe we don’t need a new building — but why not imagine, “Why not?”

3. I think God is caring for me.

Another friend had some difficult circumstances to face last week. Their family background did not teach them to expect things would work out well. But they wondered out loud if their lack of anxiety meant they were just going off the rails. They had a strange lack of fear. Then they doubted their interpretation and said, “I think God is caring for me.”

4. The old me is not very tempting anymore.

Someone was contacted by some hysterical people from their boundary-less past. The expectation was that my friend would join in the troubled situation and play their usual part. But my friend realized “The old me is not very tempting anymore.” They had a whole new set of responses that did not quite feel normal yet, but which felt a whole lot better.

5. We should not sing that because of white privilege

Our Design Teams are always encouraging one another to think the best thoughts we can muster. So we think over what songs are in our repertoire. We were talking about some of the non-English songs we sing and someone suggested, “We should not sing that because of white privilege.”  They meant that so-called white people have the luxury to appropriate the cultures of others without too much thought. I am surrounded by deep thinkers.

6. I can come down.

Burglars kicked in the back door of the former, now empty, Shalom House the other night and stole copper pipes out of the basement. They left the water intake flowing and the basement was flooded!  My realtor got a call and so we were all pretty upset together. I called my friend, the plumber, at 8:30pm while standing in four inches of water. He said he wasn’t going to answer, but it was such an odd time for me to call that he did it anyway. Then he said some praiseworthy words, “I can come down.” He saved the basement.

7. We talked to each other and reconciled.

In the course of working together last week, a couple of comrades got into a disagreement. They are still learning from it. I ran into one of them at the store and they were still kind of mad. But they were quick to say, “We talked to each other and reconciled.” I hope they know how precious that is in God’s sight.

8. We stand like growing trees on a ruined place

By the time Saturday rolled around last week, it had been rather full and, in some ways, redwoodsdaunting week. I’m in a stretch here with a lot to do, so I sometimes do more doing than being. Just in time, the voice leading us in daily prayer offered a very encouraging piece of Bible story and poetry:

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it…
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides…

Lots of the Philadelphia region is a ruined place; many of the people are too — and parts of all of us qualify, I think. In my focus on the ruin, inside and out, I often forget about the resurrection we are perpetrating by growing in the Spirit for a long time in our place. As you can see, I have not even had to wait until years after I am dead to see the fruit from our forest; it pops right out of someone’s mouth — sometimes when I least expect it.

Posted in 1 Spiritual Discipline | 2 Comments

Our deep desire: non-chemical ecstasy

When we imagine the far reaches of prayer, it includes how we feel. There is plenty of thinking, of course, but it feels good to know God. We followers of Jesus are being transformed by our relationship with Jesus. We are opened up to the influence of the Spirit of God in places we are built to receive it.

The word ecstasy is not used in the Bible all that much, but people in the Bible are experiencing it. When people are having visions and are caught up into spiritual experiences it is called an ecstasy. So the word comes to describe an emotional/psychological place: “I am experiencing ecstasy. I am in ecstasy.” It is overwhelming feeling: happiness, joy, excitement. It is so overwhelming it can be like a trance, rapture, self-transcendence – it is beyond rational thought and self control. You might naturally associate the feeling with graduating, or falling in love, or having an orgasm. Spiritually, we might associate it with worship, speaking in tongues, or being brought to tears — the feeling of entering into a “huge space of grace” a friend once called it.

aguilera ramonesYou may or may not have had many experiences of ecstasy. You may not want to have them. There always seem to be two kinds of kids in high school when it came to feeling experiences. There were the Christina Aguilera kind who “just want to feel this moment.”  And there were always Ramones kind who want to be sedated.  I think most of us were in the middle somewhere kind of hovering on the edge of feeling and on the edge of sedation.

I think Jesus offers a completely new way, not extreme and not in the middle. Jesus eases our pain and he helps us feel again. In prayer we find an ecstasy that is brand new, at least it has been for me. The experience and the feeling has reference points in my old self and my former way of life, but it is completely new, too, because Jesus has introduced me to God. The ecstasy that comes with knowing God may scare you or make you feel so skeptical that you want to run away from it. But it is also constantly enticing. We long for it.

One time in college my buddy and I went looking for an experience. At the time, I was more Christina Aguilera and he was more Ramones. I took him to a Pentecostal worship meeting at our piano teacher’s church. I am fond of Pentecostals and consider their way to be part of the 57 ways I can describe my faith. Experiences of ecstasy in worship with Pentecostals helped convince me that I was on the right track to commit to follow Jesus. If the Apostle Paul experienced ecstasy, if the disciples of Jesus experienced the transfiguration with Jesus, I thought I ought to have some out-of-control experiences, too.

pentecostal worshipSo we ended up in a Pentecostal worship meeting among all these relatively normal looking people, (apart from some big hair here and there, which was popular among them at the time). Everything seemed like it would just be church until the music started and the ladies jumped up and started waving their arms. People cried. Someone shouted behind us and my friend flinched. Our piano teacher showed new sides of herself. Then they started singing loud and wiggling, some dancing, all waving. The music died down and they started shouting out prayers and then the speaking in tongues began. My buddy had had to get out of there and I left with him. He was one of the people that just could not get into the ecstasy, at least at that point. I don’t hold it against him. He was witnessing some non-chemical but maybe excessive kind of ecstasy. It was kind of scary.

You might be more familiar with the chemical called ecstasy: MDA — methylene-dioxy-meth-amphetamine. Ecstasy is the street named for a range of drugs. They are stimulants that speed up activity in the nervous system. They are hallucinogenic and typically affect perception in entertaining ways. I can’t resist this history; the Philly region has a lot of connection to this drug.

  • The original patent for MDMA was filed on Christmas Eve 1912 by the German pharmaceutical company Merck which has a huge plant in Bucks county. The original purpose to control bleeding from wounds.
  • Alexander Shulgin resynthesized MDMA for use with psychiatric patients in the 70’s. The drug soon escaped the lab and appeared in trendy bars and gay dance clubs, where it got the nickname ecstasy. By the 80’s and 90s it fueled raves. It is still around.
  • For instance, our local Diabolique Ball at Shampoo not long ago was themed Agony and Ecstasy: A Religious Experience.

Today ecstasy is one of the four most widely used illegal drugs in the U.S., along with cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

My_Chemical_RomanceOne of my favorite bands of the last decade was called My Chemical Romance. They were named after a very popular book by Irvine Welsh called Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance.  In 2011 some people in Scotland turned the book into a movie. The main character justifies his use of the drug ecstasy with this thought: “It isn’t death that kills you; it is boredom and indifference that kills.” The drug ecstasy, apart from its well known side effects, like eating away sections of your brain, erases a person’s anxiety and allows them to connect more easily, which is why it is often called the love drug. People long to be free to connect and feel good.

People don’t want to die before they die. They want to live. If you don’t have Jesus, you might be tempted to try ecstasy to loosen up some life. But what if you are a committed Christian and drugs are on your do not do list because you have been resocialized not to kill yourself? What if you are still bored and still indifferent and you still don’t love and connect? I think we all need to face up to how we avoid ecstasy or we manufacture it. And we need to continue to discover how we feel in relation to God and even receive ecstasy from our renewed relationship with God. It should be a regular feature of our prayer and worship.

I think we are looking for joy; we were made for ecstasy. C.S. Lewis famously put it this way: “I was still young and the whole world of beauty was opening before me, my own officious obstructions were often swept aside and, startled into self-forgetfulness, I again tasted Joy. … One thing, however, I learned, which has since saved me from many popular confusions of mind. I came to know by experience that it is not a disguise of sexual desire. … I repeatedly followed that path – to the end. And at the end one found pleasure; which immediately resulted in the discovery that pleasure (whether that pleasure or any other) was not what you had been looking for. No moral question was involved; I was at this time as nearly nonmoral on that subject as a human creature can be. The frustration did not consist in finding a ‘lower’ pleasure instead of a ‘higher.’ It was the irrelevance of the conclusion that marred it. … You might as well offer a mutton chop to a man who is dying of thirst as offer sexual pleasure to the desire I am speaking of. … Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy…. All joy…emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.”

Lewis was describing his own experience of ecstasy and how the longing for God was better than receiving all the substitutes he could find. His was not quite the same as my Pentecostal friend’s leap into the arms of God, or Aguilera’s longing to feel it, or Gerard Way’s romance, but I think they were all motivated by the same root, the same desire. Everyone wants the joy of knowing God, it is how we respond to that want, that desire that makes the difference. It is in who or what we trust to understand the want and ultimately meet the desire that makes all the difference.

Often when people come across the idea of ecstasy in the Bible, they lay it off to the side like it is for odd occasions or strange people, or for the special people who stay after class. But all Jesus-followers are met by God, which, in itself is joy. We are not just looking at the Lord’s back as he leads us to eternity. He often turns and looks us in the face and we see his glory. Our relationship with the risen Lord reintroduces us in so many ways to paradise. Once we have peered over the fence and smelled the flowers; we always want to go back. And we should go there daily and enjoy that connection to the place  from which we were created and to which we are going, where God lives. That feeling sustains us and moves us and no one should take it from us.

Jesus says, “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

So now I have piled up some thoughts on the subject of ecstasy for you. I hope I have also given you some space to think and feel about your feelings. I defined the idea. I gave you some examples of it in relation to prayer. I showed the alternative the world offers in the drug called ecstasy. I countered that with a deeper definition by C.S. Lewis and topped it off with the promise of Jesus. I believe that promise is for each one of us — ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. The number one thing Jesus hopes we will ask for is himself — his grace, love, and Spirit. It is joy to us to know him and live in him.

 

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