Friday, July 09 2021
The other day a news story caught my eye because it had a clip of animals fleeing a forest fire en masse. The sight of the terrified creatures touched me deeply just as stories of poachers in Africa who wantonly kill magnificent beasts for ivory. This sorrow isn’t just because I am an animal lover; it goes far deeper than my personal affections. What is being stirred in me is the original design and purposes of God for mankind, my feelings are a remnant of Eden.
As Dallas Willard writes in The Spirit of the Disciplines, “humans were created to govern the earth with all its living things---and to that specific end we were made in the divine likeness”. Yes, rule over the zoological realm is part of the ImagoDei and we can only imagine what that might have looked like prior to the Fall. Adam’s naming of the animals (Genesis 2:19-20) was not just sticking a label on them, it was a demonstration of his God given power of insight and perception. He would have governed them by speaking, by communicating; we have a dim reflection of this in a “horse whisperer”.
I have two clips which always move me because of their beauty and the hope which they bring; for they not only look back to Eden but look forward to the New Creation which will come at the restoration of all things (Isaiah 11, Revelation 21) They are from the movie The Legend of Tarzan (2016) which I have written on more extensively for Movieglimpse: https://movieglimpse.com/the_legend_of_tarzan
Enjoy the clips but realize their power lies in our original design which has been restored in Christ Jesus and will one day be fully experienced at His glorious appearing.
Tuesday, June 29 2021
There is a scene in Peter Weir’s most excellent movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which touches something so deep within me it’s hard to articulate in words. I have glimpses every now and then of what the scene really is which only creates a deeper desire to experience it.
If you’re not familiar with the movie I highly recommend your watching it; I have written about the film on Movie Glimpse (https://movieglimpse.com/master___commander)
and yet years later I could go back and rewrite what I wrote with even greater insight. Alas there is just so much time so I will simply share this scene.
I wish I could find a movie clip with the entire dinner conversation at the Captain’s Table. There is the beauty of camaraderie and fellowship around a table filled with wine, food, laughter and stories which just makes you want to be part of the company. But there is this moment when one of the younger officer’s asks the Captain if he has ever been in Lord Nelson’s company which touches the heart. Aubrey’s response elicits a quiet hush, a holy moment to the table and the film transcends historical time and enters the eternal.
What we are seeing are people gathered around a table remembering their “Lord”. Think now of how the early church met to celebrate the Lord’s Day gathered around a table of camaraderie and fellowship like no other, feasting on bread and wine as they remember with a holy hush the story of Jesus.
This is what the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, The Eucharist, The Mass is supposed to be. A table full of Christ’s disciples who are looking back to the Last Supper ( which recapitulated Edenic glory) and forward to The Wedding Supper of the Lamb which is to come in glory, and are in the present experiencing his life and presence with them .
Wednesday, March 31 2021
I think my favorite Harry Potter movie scenes occur in the very first film The Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry who is being raised by his Aunt and Uncle the Dursley’s who mistreat him and really want nothing to do with him, are horrified when letters start appearing addressed to young Harry himself. In trying to prevent him from receiving and opening the letters they steal him away to a remote island with their spoiled son Dudley and that’s where the most poignant and fun scenes take place.
Harry is awake late at night, sleeping on the floor of course, and he draws a birthday cake in the dust with eleven candles. At the stroke of midnight he says “Happy Birthday Harry” and then blows out his candles and the dust flies away. You heart goes out to the boy who has been abused and forced to live in a closet under the stairs. When suddenly there is a great in breaking and the door of the cottage is smashed by the Giant Hagrid who has come to rescue Harry and personally deliver the letter which invites him to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a school he is entitled to go to because of who he truly is; the son of a witch and wizard.Hagrid not only shuts the Dursley’s up and does a bit of fun magic himself, he gives Harry a real birthday cake with pink icing and his name on it.
I believe the two cakes juxtaposed in this manner are wonderful metaphors for the two worlds of Harry Potter. The two dimensional dust cake is symbolic of the the world he has inhabited with the Dursley’s; gray, tasteless, unappetizing, with no nourishment in it. The pink cake on the other hand is the invitation into the life and world he was originally intended to inhabit before it was stolen by the evil Voldermort who murdered his parents. The cake is three dimensional, beautiful, tasty, aromatic, filled with flavor and to Harry must have seemed well…..magical.
Now let’s look at this in a different way, what if the dust cake is symbolic of the Old Creation (Genesis 3:19 …for dust you are and to dust you will return.) while the pink cake with all its dimensions and taste and nourishment is New Creation. Now read the first words Jesus proclaimed in our earliest gospel Mark 1:15….”The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel”. What is he saying here? What is the in breaking he is talking about? What is the invitation he is offering? It is to life as it was originally intended by God the Father to be…in all of its beauty, magic, taste, with dimensions, so many we cannot even imagine. It is to life with him in His presence, an eternal life which death cannot destroy. Jesus is offering the Kingdom of God because he is the King. Jesus is offering Himself.
I am afraid many Christians read this verse and like Harry with his dust cake think of it rather wistfully. Yes that would be nice, maybe someday he will return….I have repented and I will see him when I die…but for now I am living in my little closet under the stairs and its rather well……. dusty. How tragic when we reduce the gospel to this and choose to live an old creation life when the Kingdom is offered.
Dust cake or Pink cake?
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8
Tuesday, December 15 2020
This is #42 in Crossing the Threshold series.
I would like to bring this series to a conclusion with a few after thoughts and an invitation. First I would like to make note that this series of notes came from teachings I did numerous times which were recorded and are on the “Teaching” page of this website. In these notes I skipped over one week entitled Sacred Time and Sacred Place; for those interested in what day of the week Sunday is and the church calendar I would recommend listening to that talk. One of the quotes I used that week was by Robert Webber from his book Ancient Future Time:
“I am of personal opinion that the true meaning of Sunday worship has been lost in many of our churches. In some communities Sunday is revival, the day for the seeker, or the day to teach. Historically Sunday is the day of God’s re-creation, the day that promises that God will renew the face of the earth. Historically Sunday worship expresses three truths: It remembers God’s saving action in history; it experiences God’s renewing presence; and it anticipates the consummation of God’s work in the new heavens and the new earth.”
I think this last sentence is the best description of what Christian worship is all about. I believe in the very beginning of the Book of Acts as the first disciples met (Acts 4:12), this is what they were doing…remembering God’s saving action of sending His Son into the world to redeem it, experiencing the renewing presence of the triune God in the Holy Spirit, and anticipating the consummation of God’s work in the new heaven and earth.
In Crossing the Threshold I have laid out the life of Jesus Christ in the story which touches all hearts the Hero Journey, for he is the one true savior of the world. I have taken the stages of Christ’s life and laid them over a traditional Christian worship service to show how the early church was entering into and experiencing the very life of Christ in Sunday worship. They were being gathered out of the ordinary world, crossing the threshold into the special world of his presence, remembering in word his saving action, and experiencing his presence and anticipating his return in sacrament and then returning to the ordinary world with an invitation for all to enter “The Great Dance”.
“The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made….Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? But how is he to be united to God? How is it possible for us to be taken into the three-Personal life?...Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ…The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”(C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity)
My invitation to you is quite simple: go on the hero Journey with Christ next Sunday, enter into the pattern and take your place in the Great Dance for which you were created…Blessed is He. Amen
Sunday, December 13 2020
This is #41 in Crossing the Threshold series.
Act III Return
The third act of the Hero Journey finds the hero returning to the Ordinary World with something he has gained from his adventure. It can be a treasure, a lesson, or an elixir for healing; whatever it is, it is not just for the hero but for the Ordinary World as well. As we have said the Hero Journey is the life of Jesus Christ; after his ordeal of the cross and his resurrection from the dead he ascended into heaven returning to his Father’s house with redemption accomplished. Heaven and Earth have now been united in Christ, and he has poured out his Spirit so that his body can become the living temple filled with the glory of God, thus fulfilling the prophetic promise of Habakkuk 2:14, For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
For the worship journey we have been on, following the life of Christ, Act III is the sending forth of the church back into the world. Having ascended into the presence of Christ in heaven and been fed in word and sacrament we return to our “ ordinary world” filled with his Holy Spirit who is the treasure…the elixir of healing not just for us as individuals but for the world. We are to be for the world what Jesus was to Israel, as the Father sent him so now he sends us (John 20:19-22).
Thursday, December 10 2020
This is #40 in Crossing the Threshold series.
The first part of Act II ends with the confession of sin; in most traditional services this is a corporate confession followed by the proclamation of a minister’s absolution reminding the church of the finished work of the Cross. In the Hero Journey this stage is called the ordeal and it is where the hero hits bottom and has to face his greatest fears; he must die a type of death in order to be born again. As we weave the Hero Journey and Worship together it should be evident that the ordeal/confession stage is far more than a rote recitation of a liturgical prayer; rather it should be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person heart after hearing the word of God in scripture and in sermon. It truly is a coming into the inner most cave of self and seeing what is left of the old creation and have a willingness to ( confess) die to it, in order to be transformed into the image of Christ.
Act IIB Initiation/Sacrament commences with the receiving of a reward. For the hero on his journey there is usually some type of reconciliation to be experienced after having passed through the ordeal. In the worship services we have been following, “the peace of Christ” is passed after confession. Peace with God has been affirmed in confession and now that peace is to be manifested one with another ….or another word to use would be reconciled one to another. This is absolutely critical for the next stage of the journey is the “road back” where in the worship service the church makes her ascent into the very presence of her Lord in heaven, she does this as one body.
Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, and the Mass are all terms used by different denominations to describe the sacramental meal the body of Christ participates in by receiving bread and wine. The one thing that can be agreed upon about this meal is that it looks back to Genesis 1 and forward to Revelation 21 and brings the union with the triune God that was and will be into this moment to experience now. It is the life of the new creation much like the manna in the wilderness was for the Israelites as they journeyed to the Promised Land. In the Hero Journey the road back is followed by resurrection, what better word could there be to describe the sacramental meal that Jesus himself instituted for his disciples?
Saturday, December 05 2020
This is #39 in Crossing the Threshold series.
The second act of the Hero Journey is divided into two parts; descent and initiation, as is the second act of worship; word and sacrament. I think it will become abundantly clear why the two parts of Act II should never become separated; they are two parts of one act.
Act II commences with the crossing of the first threshold as the hero descends further into the special world. At this point he is fully engaged, committed to the adventure and the story really takes off. In worship having entered into the courts of heaven with praise and thanksgiving, having been equipped with the word of God which has been read, the congregation is ready to begin its own descent and cross the first threshold going deeper into the kingdom with the sermon. The fact that your heart just went thud shows how much of the story has been lost….so we need to pause here and exercise our imagination.
I want you to place yourself in a company of soldiers on the front line of an imminent battle in World War II. Your commanding officer has orders he believes are accurate when suddenly a messenger with a word from the highest command breaks through enemy lines informing him it’s a trap (This is the plot line of the excellent movie 1917 by the way). Wouldn’t it be good to know this vital information?
The sermon should be viewed as a message from the High King of Heaven carried by the Holy Spirit to the Pastor who with his/her congregation is on the front lines in a very real spiritual battle informing them of what they need to know….now.
This part of the service has to be seen in this context for the church’s mission is to implement Jesus’ victory of the cross in the world. The sermon contains orders; the creed is our response, a willingness to receive and obey; the prayers of the people are the weapons we engage with, and at the very bottom of our descent is the inner most cave of confession of sin and absolution. We are to be holy people; royal priests who die to self, pick up our own cross and follow the King.
Thursday, December 03 2020
This is #38 in Crossing the Threshold series.
We have finally come to the climax of our series Crossing the Threshold and will begin to weave the story back into worship. We want to see using our imagination the whole story instead of simply going through motions of ritual which we process like pieces of information. More importantly we want to see with the eyes of our heart the person who is the focus of our worship; the one in whom all of ourselves; body, soul, and spirit ought to be centered as we enter his presence. Lastly we want to enter into his Kingdom, his story, his life and have union with him in order that we might be transformed into his image. This is what worship is all about…. so here we go.
We have seen there are four parts to the Hero Journey which is the life of Jesus Christ; the four Acts are: Act I Separation, Act IIA Descent, Act IIB Initiation, and Act III Return. This is his life, his story, his journey it is all about him.
We learned there are four “Acts” to the early church pattern of worship which has been carried on through most Christian denominations, they are: Act I Gathering, Act IIA Word, Act IIB Sacrament, and Act III Sending. This is the life, the story, the journey of his body the church, and it too is all about him.
Act I Separation/Gathering
Just as the hero receives a call to adventure to leave his ordinary world and enter the special world; the church each Lord’s day is invited to leave the world of space, time, and matter and be gathered together to enter the special world of the Kingdom of God….to enter His presence. Refusal of the call is always a possibility; one does not have to go and can remain in the ordinary world or one can go physically but not mentally ; there are always threshold guardians who pop up desiring to subvert the journey and prevent the body from connecting with its head. This is one reason why prayer in preparation for worship is not an option it is a vital necessity.
The opening songs of praise and adoration, along with prayers and the reading of scripture are all led by the Holy Spirit; he is the teacher, comforter, mentor given to the body of Christ to come along side and help them cross the threshold into the presence of their God and King. Just as in the Hero Journey the mentor gives the hero a special weapon; ….the word of God is…sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). The reading of the scripture in a service is powerful and serious, the Holy Spirit is speaking individually and collectively to the congregation with words they need to know for their lives and their mission.
Sunday, November 29 2020
This is #37 in Crossing the Threshold series.
I am going to try and wrap things up for the series Crossing the Threshold by weaving narrative (story) back into worship. Just as a brief reminder, in the first part of the series I took you on a journey into the world of story; specifically the story which is known at all times and in all places as the Hero Journey. I proposed that the reason this story is mythic in scope and touches peoples hearts is because it is God’s eternal story of his son Jesus Christ.* Then we diverged and went into a whole section on the what, who, why, and how of Christian worship and now we are going to put the two parts, story and practice, together to try and recapture a truth which has been lost. It is a truth which can transform your worship, your life, and call you into a much larger story…but in order for this to happen you will need your imagination.
Imagination is something which is seriously lacking in Christianity as it is so often practiced in a sacred/secular split world. I want to recommend a lecture given by Kevin Vanhoozer entitled In Bright Shadow: C.S.Lewis on the Imagination for Theology and Discipleship. Don’t let the title scare you …it is wonderful and can be found on the internet and on You Tube. One of the many quotes I liked in this paper (I printed all 28 pages off to save) is: “Where Reason excels in taking things apart and analyzing individual pieces, the imagination perceives the whole of which the pieces are a part. Imagination is the organ of discerning meaningful patterns. It is the power of insight, that Eureka moment when all the parts fall into place, transforming what would otherwise be an incoherent jumble into a meaningful whole.”
Ever since the 18th century “Enlightenment” reason has excelled taking apart the Bible, making the 66 books individual pieces…you know “Bible stories” not a story. There is no qualm now about taking verses out of chapters and using them for inspirational posters or bumper stickers in which they lose their entire context and meaning. Worship services have also been broken down into pieces and parts which can be rearranged and changed by every new pastor. It is no wonder then, most people are unable to see the world in biblical terms and often find their faith waning.
What we need is a “baptism of imagination” (C.S. Lewis’ term). We need not only to see the whole story to which all of the pieces are a part, we need a way to enter and embody the story. To prepare for the journey it might be good to stop and pray asking the Lord to baptize your imagination!
Thursday, November 19 2020
This is #36 in Crossing the Threshold series.
Years ago I was involved with a prayer group for a Christian school. Every year before the year began the school held what could be described as a holy convocation; administrators, teachers and families would come together to consecrate the year to the Lord. The headmaster would cast his vision for the year and principles and teachers would share what they hoped would spiritually take place in their respective schools and classes. Last but certainly not least everyone would unite in prayer.
However a day came when a new headmaster arrived. He was a godly man I have no doubt but it seems that no one told him about the convocation. So a “back to school” festival was planned, which looked more like a picnic and trade show. Tables were set up in the gym where every club and sport was represented. Teachers were in the classrooms so parents could visit and see where their child would be. The campus was filled with people but no one was connected; each was doing their own thing. From that day the school took a different turn. Something precious and powerful had been lost.
I tell that story to illustrate how much the true meaning of Christian worship has been lost over the years. The whole concept of leaving the world and entering the Kingdom as I shared in the last post has disappeared. Most church goers if they were told that truth today might well say “What Kingdom”? But I have to say that the loss of the Sacramental portion of the service and its meaning is to me the greatest loss by far.
I am not getting into Catholic verses Protestants debates over what takes place in the Lord’s Supper, as I have already recommended N.T. Wright’s wonderful book The Meal Jesus Gave Us which discusses the Eucharist in great detail and a balanced way. What I want to share which has been lost is that it is at this point in the service of worship that the church enters into heaven. The Sursum Corda is the Latin meaning of “Lift up your hearts” the salutation offered by the minister to the congregation; with their response being “we lift them up to the Lord”. As Simon Chan writes in Liturgical Theology; “In this dialogue the liturgical journey reaches another critical point. The Sursum Corda signals the church’s ascension to heaven” (pg142).
After being gathered out of the world and immersed in the whole story by the word portion of the service (sermon, scripture reading, creed, and prayers of the people) the individuals have been shaped into a corporate body. The body of Christ now ascends into heaven to be united with him, sitting down at his table to share in the life of the New Creation to come.
As Galadriel spoke in the opening lines of the Lord of the Rings……. “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost”.