Category Archives: parables
The lighthouse is massively tall
Tall beyond imagination almost
As it reaches up through the clouds
And from its summit (I’m told)
One can see not only all
The oceans of the earth but indeed
The entire cosmos – nova, nebulae,
Quasars as well as rainbow reefs,
Soaring terns, and breaching humpbacks
Internally, the lighthouse is like a narrow silo
Stone steps wind around, twisting upward
Pressing against the towering walls
Periodically, randomly, there are external
Doors along the way – doors that offer escape
Relief, that open to warm sunlight and thrilling,
Exhilarating invigorating slides which
Elicit squeals of laughter and delight until
Each invariably terminates
Into cold filth
Stench, despair, darkness
Door after door bids me stop climbing
Along the way
On my left is a shear drop into darkness
Enticing doors to my right
Steep steps beneath my feet, presenting
Three choices, no four – not to climb at all
(The path most choose, for no one must make the ascent)
To leap with impulsive stupidity from one of the many external doors
(Which, alas, I have done many times)
To become disoriented, dizzy, hopeless and
Fall off into the darkness to my left
(I wonder with grace and gratitude what prevents this)
Or, (help me, O, Lord)
To climb upward, ever upward
More often than I can admit
I have opened one of those doors
Of deceptive escape – They are numerous:
Distractions of mindless entertainment,
Self-concern, the Siren call of mammon,
Busyness, worry, self-rejection,
(to name a few – there are many doors)
Laughing with false joy on the decent
The thrilling plunge into
Regret and despair, yet
Each time, every time,
Angelic arms have lifted me by
Silken ropes, showered me clean
Clothed me afresh, and I found myself
Miraculously ascending once more
Not, as one would expect, from
The bottom, but picking up
Nearly where I left off
As when I by grace climb step after steep narrow step
There are not only enticing doors
To my right, but also
Periodic windows from which I can gaze
At the beauty of the clouds and sea
Through which I can feel cool breezes on my face
Windows of love that invite me to catch my
Breath and refresh my soul
There are occasional soft benches
To rest weary bodies and rub sore muscles
Before resuming the upward climb
Not infrequently, as I round the upward
Spiral, I reach others, some in need,
Some determined, some in despair
Some I can perhaps help – the
One with the sprained ankle, the
Little girl I can carry, the one about to
Leap from an enticing doorway, the
One too tired to go on
Others help me
Closer now (yet never close enough)
New vigor, pressing on the upward
Way where there are encouragements,
Along with windows of grace and
Benches of shalom, I find
Bubbling fountains of fresh clear pure spring
Water here, a bowl of steaming
Clam chowder there, a soft chair in which
To rest, virtual goggles filled with visions,
Smells, sounds of mountain streams, singing
Wrens, and pileateds flashing red, chickadees
Chasing sapsuckers around sugar maples
The journey itself is wholeness, succor
Renewed, refreshed, I climb
And what draws me upward?
Why keep climbing?
Few do, many mock and call me fool
What is it above that bids me on?
Far above is the multifaceted lens
The rotating light
The promise of a view that cannot be elsewhere found
Yes, all of that
But more so, he is there,
Next to the lens, tending the light on
The culminating platform
From which he surveys and guides
The stars and conducts the
Hymn of the universe
I hear him call, reassure, he knows
I catch occasional glimpses of him far above my head
As I climb, step after weary step
My heart yearns for
“Deny yourself …”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, which is it? Are we to deny self, put to death that which of the flesh, or care for and love ourselves?
What, for that matter, is “self?”
There is a false self and there is a true self.
Deny the former; love the latter.
All of us have a false self.
God has given all His children a true self.
The false self is who we are defined as being by our families of origin, the culture in which we grew up, the zeitgeist of society, the messages about our worth that we hear from bosses, pulpits, friends, and spouses, and our own inner self-talk. From varying sources, we conclude things about ourselves, all of which are either untrue or only partially true.
A little girl is told in a thousand nonverbal ways by her parents, teachers, society, and community that she is “different,” or “slow,” “lazy,” useless,” or “no count.” She grows up “knowing” she is worthless.
A little boy, born with a proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, grows up being told by his wealthy relatives and prep-school teachers that he is “special,” “gifted,” “better,” “superior,” “the greatest.” He grows up “knowing” that he is of higher value than others.
Both have developed false selves that need to be extinguished. It will be harder for the little boy.
The false self has either too low or too high self-esteem. The false self is offendable, easily aroused, often provoked, feels persecuted and accused, becomes depressed, or angry, or hopeless, or afraid. The false self seeks self-preservation. It finds it must be in control. It is attached to disordered loves.
For the false self, confidence can easily become arrogance, and piety will often degenerate into self-righteousness.
The false self utilizes political manipulation and military coercion to get its way. It demands and punishes.
The true self sits at the feet of the King of kings.
The true self is who God says you are.
Your true identity is Beloved.
Christ in you the hope of glory.
New creations in Christ Jesus.
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
The true self is filled with unselfish joy, shalom. It is actualized, whole, healthy. Though the body ages, the true self remains youthful, hopeful, energetic, clear-eyed, creative, curious, and filled with laughter and wonder. The true self radiates with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is unoffendable. It is teachable. It has a servant’s heart.
But, how, exactly, do I learn to cease listening to the voices I’ve heard my entire life and tune in to the gentle whisper of the Spirit?
Some sit in the labyrinth of despair. They will not listen to God. God’s message is too good to be true. Can God be that loving? That forgiving? Can grace be that universal so as to embrace the likes of me? Do not sit and do nothing. Stop listening to satanic lies. “Satan” means “accuser.” Don’t do the devil’s work for him.
Others, of a more narcissist bent, seek, Icarus-like, to soar into the realm of virtues and thrones, and wind up plunging into the mouth of Leviathan. Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Do not take matters into your own hands.
(As if you could manipulate God)
The holy fire cannot be found by soaring upward on the waxwings of popular culture, philosophy, political movements, or religion.
God’s holy refining fire must come upon you from on high as you wait in contemplative stillness.
Consider deeply how the Triune God of perfect love is continuously at work creating, redeeming, sustaining, forging justice, loving the unlovely, forgiving the unforgiveable, comforting the enervated, healing the broken, liberating captives, and bringing wholeness/shalom to every aspect of creation.
Become more open, more pliant. Loose the attachments to the material. Look for the divine spark, the design, in all creation – trees, rivers, birds, turtles, the migrant worker, yourself. Find God at work in God’s world.
Normally, the Holy Spirit acts in harmony with the material world God created by acting as a catalyst, making all things new from the inside, not by forcing change from outside the system. God makes us lovely and holy from within, not by external coercion or force. God brings societal justice, not via legislative fiat, nor by military force, but by changing hearts as His followers love their enemies and do good. Hard violent hearts melt under self-sacrificing love. Nature with all its plants and animals, marine and terrestrial, reflects God’s effulgence when we, the appointed stewards, protect, and nurture her. God is always an active presence. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts.
Deny, yes, crucify, the false self. Nurture the true self. Allow God to take all your energy, intellect, and desires and redirect, them for the purposes for which you were made. Refuse to be who your parents said you were. Refuse to be who society says you are. No longer believe what the inner voices tell you when what they say is contrary to what God says. Sublimate your gaze, your viewpoint, and your energy.
God is a consuming fire.
Holy fire lights up my path, shows me the way, is a lamp to my feet.
Holy fire protects me in the presence of my enemies who now dare not approach the flock.
Holy fire cooks my food and warms my body.
Holy fire consumes the dross, burns away the impurity, refines that which is precious, leaving that which is imperishable. Wood, hay, stubble up in smoke. Silver, gold, precious stones, radiate beauty.
Oh, God, burn me beautiful; burn my lovely; burn me holy; burn me righteous; burn me pure, until, by your grace, I am like Jesus.
“Lord, lock me up in the deepest depths of your heart; and then, holding me there, burn me, purify me, set me on fire, sublimate me, till I become utterly what you would have me to be, through the utter annihilation of my ego.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
Jesus’ cruciform love draws me to Himself like iron shavings to a magnetic field; but unlike the iron that remains essentially the same albeit molecularly rearranged, as the Divine heart draws me, it transforms me in the process, and I become (miracle of miracles) a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Oh Jesus, Master, King, Lord, Savior, Redeemer, God of Perfect Love, penetrate the deepest marrow of my innermost being and draw me ever deeper into your sacred heart. Amen.
I was born to the sea.
How old was i?
Maybe six or seven
The first time I was out on the lake fishing
With my dad and one of those
Sudden storms that descend without
Warning over the mountains
Hit us, transforming a relatively
Placid lake into a boiling
Tumultuous death trap of
Darkness. But dad knew what to do
And skillfully brought her about
(no easy feat in a tempest)
And, even-keeled and out-hauled
We ran her back into the shore
From which we came
But this was different –
The Master told us to go
To the opposite shore and we
Were determined to do so or
Die trying, so we kept her headed
Into the wind
Sails reefed, straining on the tiller and
Oars to keep her on course
At first it was amusing to see the lubbers
Amongst us terrified – especially
Matthew who couldn’t swim
But as the storm intensified
We were all frightened, even
Those of us who grew up
On this very lake
Hands skinned by the lines
Bleeding, every muscle ached
When I was a young man,
I met a Philistine fellow who plied
The sea that has no end and
Heard tales of an ocean
Void of light that
Swallowed whole ships, and of
Sea monsters so horrid as to
Defy description that gobbled
Men and ships like a thrush
Scarfing up insects.
Now it seemed that Gennesaret
Was possessed by devils intent
On destroying us.
Did not the Master say that the accuser
Stalks about looking for people to
Rob, kill, destroy, and were we not,
We followers of the Master, the
First buds of a new kingdom?
If satan were to seek any to destroy
Would it not be us?
And if he did, all is lost.
I admit, my instincts locked in
And I shouted to come about, but
The others rightly insisted
We obey the Master, so on we
Struggled in the darkness, sheets of
Cold rain, howling winds, stinging surf
Fog so thick you could almost grasp it
Unable to see the bow if you were amidships
The top of the mast lost in greyness.
Survival seemed impossible.
Then it got worse.
An apparition, specter, phantom
Walking on the water, and
Fear turned to horror.
Now it’s been, what, 35 years?
And each time
Gales of heartache
Tempests of hunger and thirst
Squalls of persecution
With chains and whips and
Dungeons; cold and loneliness
Every single time
He has come
Walking over the
Very things that threatened to
Undo us, destroy us
Smiling, reassuring, calming
After the devastating deception, God promised Eve that although the accuser, satan, would continue to strike at the heel, her offspring, her seed, would crush the serpent’s head. (Genesis 3:15) She quite understandably assumed that when she gave birth to her son Cain, that prophecy would be fulfilled through him. She exalted joyously. (Genesis 4:1) Later, when Abel was born, the scripture simply states the fact. No big deal.
Subsequently, Cain must have grown up feeling pretty special. He was the one who would set this mess straight. So, as an adult, he seems to have reasoned that since his parents offended the Creator by stealing fruit, he would set things to rights by returning fruit to YHWH. Hence, his offering.
Religion was born – not the true religion of spreading God’s shalom to others because we love God, but human religion that substitutes pride for worship. Cain seeking to make things right between people and God by way of ritual, by way of doing something “religious.” That’s what human religion is all about – human effort through good works and ritual to get God on our side.
Abel, on the other hand, wasn’t trying to get God to do anything. Abel was simply expressing love to God with a freewill offering. It had nothing to do with blood. God never asked for blood; in fact, throughout the Bible, God makes it clear He wants nothing to do with blood sacrifices. (See Psalm 40:6; 51:16; Hosea 6:6; Hebrews 10:8, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:13 & 12:7.) People are perpetually misquoting Hebrews 9:22, which is talking about the Law of Moses, which has been done away with. Read the entire verse: According to the law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.Blood sacrifices were the stuff of the pagans. God accommodated it when His people set the system up, but it was never God’s plan. Later, God in Jesus entered into that blood-sacrifice system and offered Himself, the Lamb of God, in order to once and for all do away with both the system and the sin it represented. That’s the major theme of the New Testament book of Hebrews. Abel’s act was one of pure worship. Cain’s was one of religious manipulation.
God accepted the former and rejected the latter.
And Cain turned homicidal.
Religion seeks to appease an angry god. Religion seeks to coerce humankind. Human religion is all about our efforts and knows nothing of grace. Human religion tries to align lives and societies the way we think they should be. When it doesn’t work, when it doesn’t get its way, human religion always turns violent. Witness the Crusades, Inquisition, slaughter of the radical reformer Anabaptists, genocide of Native Americans, chattel slavery, Third Reich, and wholehearted championing of politicians whose character and policies are diametrically opposite the teachings of Christ. All perpetrated by very religious “Christians.”
The understanding of the atonement that portrays God as filled with wrath towards humankind that can only be appeased by being vented on an innocent Being, His Son, misrepresents the cross and misunderstands the heart of the Triune God who so loved the world He sent His son. Jesus is God. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one. Jesus is exactly like the Father. God the Father is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God. Jesus said God doesn’t want blood sacrifice. God wants us to spread justice and mercy, kindness and forgiveness, towards others. We need do nothing to appease God. God is not angry. God’s wrath, properly understood, is the outworking of the consequences of the misuse of freedom, both human and angelic. Jesus’ death on the cross removed sin. Sin is off the table. As far as east is from west. Cast into the deepest sea. Forgiven, forgotten, gone forever, never to be even remembered by God.
God desires justice and mercy towards others. What does God desire toward Self?
Love. Simply love. Freely given. Expressed from a grateful heart. That is worship. That’s what Abel brought.