Prayer for personal discernment

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Prayer for personal discernment

John 8:31-38

True Disciples

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

The third prayer we pray is a prayer of personal discernment. As we listen to God’s guidance we begin to begin to compare our actions first, but eventually our very character with the truth that god speaks to us.

This prayer reaches from God, through our own spiritual ears, and into our hearts and leads us into what those following the 12 Steps refer to as a “moral inventory”. Jesus led His disciples in this practice routinely, often in debriefing moments after healing and teaching the crowds around Him. He tested them even as He led them to learn to test themselves.

Here in John’s gospel we are shown the important link between our disobedience and sin. We sin, not only out of rebellious choices, but perhaps even deeper, because we are slaves of sin. The popular song below reminds us that in Christ we have freedom from that slavery to sin and death, or more specifically as the song suggests, to fear. What does fear have to do with slavery to sin? Fear keeps us from looking at it.

From the bloody cinema classic, The Usual Suspects, we get the line: “The greatest trick the devil every pulled was convincing the works that he did not exist.” This article, from Heathwood Press examines the progression of such a notion, but ends up in a form of self-condemnation, tripping over the concept of the devil “myth”. Mythos does not mean make believe. It means does not describe the truth or falsity of a claim. It refers to the format it is communicated – specifically, as a story. (For example, any explanation of the creation of the works that begins “thousands of years ago, in a place far, far away” is told as myth whether it is followed by the story from Genisis, the Big Bang, or Star Wars. Scientific, verifiable evidence would be video footage of the actual event.) When we make an external evil non-existent, we lay the blame squarely on ourselves. While in one light, this provides motivation to change, it also begs the question: Why haven’t we learned to overcome evil as a society? if the answer to that is that we are unable, it logically determines something (or someone) holding a dominating power over our will. Hence, as Jesus says, if we win, we are slaves to it. Fear holds us back from confronting that fear – and our refusal to confront it leads to an inability to change.

One last example from the pagan works on the importance of naming the enslaving forces in our lives comes from Plato in his Allegory of a Cave. Truth that we cannot see has power over us. Truth that we will not see has just as much power, but it is more tragic. What Jesus gives US is the ability to see, little by little, that power that enslaves us, so that we, in turn, can return and ask Him for help.

What sin has enslaved you?

When the Truth speaks to you

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When the Truth speaks to you

John 8:33–47 (NRSV)

They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”

“…and the Truth shall set you free.” He told them. But the Pharisees thought they were the ones with the corner on truth. How could this young teacher claim to have truth to share with them. Power, yes. New interpretations of the Law, perhaps. Truth? No.

And the audacity He had to call them slaves! They were the chosen people of God, born of the line of Abraham himself. They had no experience of slavery. That was something reserved for the baser Gentiles. Well, politically they might be slaves, but their spirits would never be tethered. Jesus pointed out to them that if they sinned, they were already spiritual slaves, and sacrifices would not free them because it was not misdeeds that condemned them in this instance, it was their belief in a lie. They followed a lie and in doing so shared and spread that lie out to everyone around them.

What was the lie? The lie was that God judges us and punishes us for our imperfections.

What is the truth that sets us free? Jesus taught that God loves us so much that He was willing to take those spiritual consequences of our sin upon Himself.

That should have been very good news… a good truth for the Pharisees to hear. Yet many were disturbed by this truth. Not only did they get off the hook, everyone else did too! If everyone gets out of jail free, there is no real benefit in being a Pharisee anymore, perhaps even being a Jew! The truth of God’s love threatened their very identity.

If that is hard to understand, think about Blockbuster Video. They were a major franchise for movie watching at home until Netflix took advantage of the increased availability of Wi-Fi in homes and started streaming movies to the viewers, thus eliminating the middle man of video rental stores. The Pharisees felt like Jesus brought in a truth that did not set them free. It put them out of business.

Maybe they were in the setting business. Jesus opened His life to investigation. “Which of you convicts me of sin?”, He asked. The lack of evidence turned their convicting back upon themselves. “Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.

What truth gives you hope and excitement? Why?

What truth makes you unsettled? Why?

What truth do you need to share?

 

 

God and Slavery

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God and Slavery

Titus 2

2 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.

3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.

9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

15 Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Tt 2:1–15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Proof-texting may well be the death of us all. Some people have looked at passages like this one, noticed the word “slaves”, observed the way Paul does not denounce it as the most vile thing imaginable, and then proceeded to throw out the entire bible as being irrelevant at best and sometimes calling it the root of all social evils in the world. Jesus, once pointed out that it is important to judge yourself first before judging others, something which applies to cultures of the past as well as those of the present. So, if slavery is a hot button issue for you (and it probably should be), here is some of the present data on how well your own culture is doing at eliminating it.

Now that we have taken a sobering look at the problem and realize that there are more slaves in our world today than there were back in the Roman Empire to which Paul was writing, lets look again at what Paul is asking Christians in general, and Titus in particular, to do.

  1. Teach consistent, sound doctrine. Don’t make it up as you go. Contexts may change, but the values and the mission of God does not.
  2. Older men should be temperate (balanced), serious, prudent, and solid in Faith, Love, and Endurance. (It was probably possible to technically be a slave owner in first century Rome and do all these things, but from our perspective, it would probably look more like someone who worked in exchange for housing. By that standard, there are some church pastors, living in parsonages, who would technically be slaves in America today. You could not be abusive to anyone and even be considerate “temperate”, let alone sound in faith, love, and endurance. If your goal is only to abolish slavery, you are setting the bar too low. It is a good start, but it is nowhere near enough.
  3. Older women are taught to be reverent. This means your actions and words should teach others around you how to act… because, whether you want them to or not, they do just that. We can complain about the younger generations but many were raised by parents, and a growing number have been raised by grandparents that taught them everything they know, either intentionally or unintentionally. Do our words and actions shine so clearly that our enemies are frustrated trying to say anything bad about us?
  4. Slaves. What do you tell someone who is a slave to do? Stop being a slave? Stand up for yourself? What if their slavery is paying for the survival of their families? What do we say to the people who have escaped abusive slavery, only to go back and buy slaves of their own to profit from? Paul here says slaves have the unique role of being an “ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior”. I think this points to the fact that Jesus became our slave, took our abuse, and did not retaliate. If you suffer in such a situation, you have the possibility of truly exemplifying Christ in a way that those of us who are free from such suffering are unable to do. Honestly, I’m not sure I could do that myself. I have too much of the impious, rebellious spirit of worldly passions raging inside of me. I may not be enslaved to any one person or institution, but I’m not immune to worldly temptations, addictions, or any other spiritual slave master out there. Too many times I have thought or said, “I don’t have any other choice.”, thus revealing the true master I serve.

What would it look like to be a slave of God, I wonder?
I imagine, as the story of the Prodigal illumines, God treats His slaves better than we treat our own children sometimes.
I wonder if I could do it? I wonder how my perspective on everything would change if I understood and believed that I belonged to God and no one else?

For those who slavery is an unredeemable word, maybe it is time we quit talking about it, stop waiting for our governments to do the work we are unwilling to do, and be like Jesus, paying the debts of those millions of slaves and freeing them from that bondage and abuse, because one way or another, that is what it is going to take… putting our own money, service, and lives where our mouths are.

the train in the microcosm – II

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as the clicking of trick heels

beckons the seconds

low and leery

near and importune

but of no importance

placed between delicate delicacies

that slide down sweet

and push up daisies

dazed and stored

in numbing stories

flowing faster into the face

like velvet fingertips

upturning a trace

trained to play

light on the lips

sleek and shallow swallowed down

with intoxicated whimsy

thin merits drown

deep in need

knee-deep indeed

and tripping on epitaphs

of brazen imbuement

cut along line graphs

and pie charts

shy parts consent

but who will ring the bell?

or whistle blow?

when we can tell

implicit arrival

placated well

pushing us past into the blue

yonder shores avexed

where cognates once grew

in separate grounds

one after the next

“Don’t stop me now, dear truth.”

‘wouldn’t if I could’

but wonder if I should’

“Less talk will prove the sooth.”

rattles back the ties in the track

 

 


 

the train in the microcosm – I

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whistles and synthetic sighs

ring and chirp out buttery lies

of noisy fumes beside my fears

which fill my ears

and plug my eyes

abducting my sensation

bleeding out all lines of motivation

save a single chain

linked into my brain

those images in a nation

that draw me in with sound

drawn out with cringes crowned

and kicks my knees

to trip with ease

and trap with further footstep found

in given retrograde

alas poor Yoric never made

as foolish act as mine

who choked upon the line

that sought to seek but never stayed

to see the consequences

of loving through those glassy fences

masked with words and moving pictures

shocks to still our fragile fixtures

prodding providences

to inordinately thin delight

whose plastic padding holds the night

in smothering embrace

with breath withheld for heart to race

within this silent space

withall this pleasant plight

on it tracks a tempered tune

of softened steel pull too soon

from tongues that sought to lick it clean

and breathe on it a sheen

presented as a boon

to harness hollowed tendencies

whose disarray brings to my knees

a wholly desperate desire

to hold into the fire

these pale pleasantries

that sing the song of all the other

sticky wisps that seek to smother

facets shaped and shined for dreaming

life inside the gleaming

singing on of yet another


 

An Acrostic on Two Roads –

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(The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost)

 

This world opens

roads of all diverse sincerities

dubious insights vying, each road granting entry differently,

inspired not

altogether,

yet each letting loose over wild

whimsies of opened dreams.

 

All new dreams

seep over rustic rushes, yielding

into

clammy, orphaned, understated life, despairing

nothing other than

tents removed and vaulted, each leaving

brothers of the heart.

 

Another never discovered

better ether

or never explored

the rest and vexing, entered long enchanting rivets

left over night grown

in

saline tongues of old dishes.

 

Anytime night dries

lying open, out knocking

differences over wishes now,

owning no expense

and setting

faces as rigid

as stone

in

cold ordered undercurrents left dissident.

 

The other,

winding, here ending riches, ended

in taste

before each necessary trio

in nonconforming

tangles, heaping eagerly

up near dear eternity rests, glowing round with tempered heats.

 

Then having each new

trade of open kindness,

this here establishes

our true humors, entered restlessly,

and singing

jollies uncertain – still this

aching sore

finds an inner repose.

 

As never dreamt,

here a value is newly given,

paid enough respect, having a penchant surreal,

to have elated

bright, eagerly tried, tear-eaten ruts

cut long across inner masks.

 

But enough cause and use seems evaded

in tow

with a song

guiding rains and singing salted yeast,

(a northern delicacy)

whipped and nostril-tied, each dear

weapon edged and ready.

 

This has our undercurrent going heavy

and silent,

fanning out radials

that have a track

that heavens escape,

preoccupied and sent sailing in newer grasses

to hail each reticent end.

 

However, a doe

wears out relatively new

trails here, entering mildly,

rueful ever about latent lions yelling

and boring on under the

tempered haven encamped

silently amidst mowed entrenchments.

 

A nibbled dent

between our touching hands

that hold a treat

meant only, reflecting not, in nails gained,

escorted quite unevenly and left laying yonder

looking at you.

 

I note:

love ever after vows each step

not only

secretly – there each promise

has a destiny

that reaches our delayed death, ending naively

before love actually comes knightly.

 

One hope

I

know either providence trusts,

though half-edged

forward, I rest securely tonight,

fearless, or retiring

and never opening this heart enjoined repose

deep and yearning.

 

Yearning effectually, this

keeling nonsense of ways ingrain new guesses

having out with

ways after your

lessoning erupts and deals softly

on negligent

trails of

wakening and yielding.

 

Instead

deafly ordered underlings buy tents enfleshed, dispirited

into flames

ired

sickly heavy or unconsciously laid down

ever vied, ever ready,

calling out mistaken encouragement

before a child kneeling.

 

I

surrender here a lowing lull

by entering

this election, logic left in neutral guess

to his unswerving season,

while I take hold,

again

stayed in great hesitation.

 

Symbols of my eternity were heard ‘ere rising, enthroned

against grace’s eager succor

and new deliveries

although glaring ensigns still

herald each new choice encountered.

 

They will observe

rich offerings ahead, down steady,

draped in veracity entered red, growing each day

in nobility,

and

wearing out ourselves deploring

all naive doubts

interrupting.

 

I

traded out our knife,

the hard escape

of no earnest

left ended, set sadly,

tolled ribs and veiled eyes lying eastward, dimly

breaking yesterday.

 

A new direction,

taking hand and toe,

has already set

my attitude: desperately encouraged,

and living love

through holy enchantment –

dearly, I found friendship eternal reaching each new chosen engagement.

 

 

Scarr’d

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sometimes I itch

inside

below the surface

skin hides

the hound’s claw and

his bite

marks that make me

grip tight

beholding bleakly

this night

which numbs my sense of

riptide

set to drown my

insight

to the wrong and what

is right

buried in simple

bliss like

autumn acorns

 

but they are mine and

who knows

what kind of when its

bloom grows

where once it flowered

blue rose

and why it cowered

dew shows

how light still glistens

truth glows

upon these etchings

few chose

but many gained from

doom throes

that did not pay their

due though

it left its marks cut

through bone

reminding me

 

I know you not who

left me

caught and caged and

bled three

years of living

deadly

and like to fall with

red feet

and bloody hands that

fret we

let them in our

heads clean

and sober until

set free

by hands that loved and

blessed He

cleansed my hands and

kept me

from forgetting