Jeremiah 29:8 ff
“Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.
They are prophesying lies to you in my name.”
We who are in exile, hear what we want to hear...and then call that a message sent from God. But it’s not God’s message, it’s ours. The case is exactly this:
We mail a letter addressed to ourselves, then open it and are so amazed it says exactly what we were thinking that we say it must be from God.
But this is a lie.
God says, “I didn’t send that letter. You did."
Here is my message:
“Learn to live where you are now, in your exile, not the promised land where you think you should be. It is by always looking towards what you want instead of what is at your feet that you lost the promised land in the first place. When you shift what you should have into what you already have, you discover that any plans for the future do not do much for the man with no capacity for enjoying life right now, because when his tree finally bears fruit, he is unable to see it, eat it, or taste it. He can't even enjoy the fruit of his own labor. Because although he is there, he is no￼ longer there. He is already worrying about what to eat as his fruit rots on the ground around his feet.
If you really want to find me, I will be found.
The only way to find your way home is by accepting that you’ve lost it, because otherwise you won’t listen. It is the first step in discovering that the home of your imagination—the home your ego experiences (yes, even that actual address on the mailbox) is just a concept and not really home at all. It can be a hell-hole, a heaven, a haven, just one more frustration to bear, a way-station, a limbo, a hidey-hole...anything. If you can accept you have somehow lost your way home as you stand at your own mailbox, you begin to see finding your way back home is the point—that seeking your destination IS your destiny. In the same way, you can find me only when you accept you’ve lost me. Because then there is no more wasted energy on what you think is going on and what should be done about it. You will seek me with all your heart; in every nook and cranny; under every bush and behind every blade of grass; in every corner of the house; in every human face. And maybe you will discover along the way where it is you actually lost me.
Live first, plan second. Choose life—not your plan for life. You are not the plan maker. I am. I am the only one who understands how plans work and I know the plans I have for you.”
Crime is not a disease although it is treated as such. Like a patient with a disease, the criminal afflicted with crime is held in a sterilized environment waiting for remission or relapse; passively accepting life as a prisoner, asking the arbitrary and unanswerable question, "How much longer?" But crime is not passive and is not cured with passive measures. Behind it all is an active choice whose only cure is an active choice.
So what about a weak, lukewarm, anxious, unheroic life that never hits a bullseye (in short: a life of sin)?
This also is an active choice. It is not passive.
This is also a crime.
To be a mediocre Christian is impossible. It simply means to be a mediocre person. To live (or die) like a patient resigned to his distant fate--a mere innocent victim with a diagnosis of original sin waiting for its cure--is the sin. It is the choice to passively sit by as the disease takes its toll; choosing to live one's entire life in hospice because there is nothing else to do except wait. "Look, maybe I am in remission for awhile! Oh no, of course not, I have relapsed! The cure is not here and first, but out there and last! Well, at least I have a disease to blame it on!"
No! to be a sinner "neither hot nor cold" is not nearly as tepid and passive as it sounds. It is an active and thriving participation in the most heinous crime of all: the murder of LIFE. To live out a grayish mediocrity before the red blood and flowing water of Christ on the cross is a hatred of life. It is an act of violence against goodness, truth, and beauty--a choice to live opposite: to live in bland, dull, fearful clinginess.
A million tiny willful violations slowly accumulate into a life of empty insanity. And it takes a counterbalanced choice--a violent choice-- worth a million insanities to jump out of it:
It is Jonah's violent leap into the stormy sea that cures its rage and saves the foundering ship. It is Christ's headlong flight into the torrential furnace of Old Jerusalem and down the gullets of beasts that snuffs out fires in three days. It is always a singular act of volition, in bright opposition to all “common sense,” that everything terrible with a mouth regrets devouring. It quells and sickens the heart-fires of Old Jerusalems, Old Covenants, and Old Kings. It is then the irrevocable happens--from the depths comes a distant song:
“I lift my eyes to the hills.”
The earth lurches.
The Old Men, The Beasts, and The She-dragons have no choice but to hurl the new born back to shore.
New Jerusalem is here.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
I have always been mystified by this verse. I have mostly read it as a description of God’s provision: a table set with mercy and blessing after a victorious battle; or something like a future hope to set my eyes on after a life spent battling the enemy. But this verse also has the echo of the ram prepared for Abraham; not in his presence; but just beyond, on the other side of his choice, in the presence of his enemy—which is Abraham himself—his “wanting.” And that lead me to reconsider: This psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” the fifth verse included, is about a lamb.
The purpose of the lamb is not be cared for—not to be guided—“for its own sake.” The purpose of the lamb is to be sacrificed.
I now imagine God preparing a table:
All is darkness; all is shadow; all is valley; all is enemy—eyes hungry—hearts devouring. Yet, in the center of the darkness, is a table. A lone figure stands in candle light; the only light in the valley; setting the table. It is the Shepherd. The Father. Waiting. In the presence of the lamb’s enemies—those hungry wolves and snarling lions leaning on their cushions— the shepherd clears the center of the table: the place the lamb will be laid. Like the cross being prepared for Christ. The lamb walks toward it. Accepting. Letting go. Listening. Following. Obeying. The Father, the shepherd, anoints the head of the lamb with oil—marking it—to reveal its purpose, like Jacob poured oil on the stone to reveal the center of the world. The center of the cross. It is time for the purpose of the lamb to be revealed. It is time for the king to satisfy his purpose—to take ultimate responsibility for his kingdom. The lamb lays in the center of the table and exposes his neck. The Father, the shepherd, raises his knife. Blood pours out; stains the wool, covers the threshold between darkness and light; protects, saves—cup after cup—guards all portals from death, opens them to life—to freedom.
And all this done in full view of his enemies— the Philistine, the Pharisee, the Saducee, the Roman, the Pharoah, the king and the governor, the Caesar, the slave, the zealot, the Jew, the gentile, the pious, and the pagan—crowded around the table. What a powerful image! And goodness and mercy follows. THEY FOLLOW. They ensue as a result of lamb’s willing acceptance of the Shepherd’s plan. A plan for victory over the powers of darkness through living sacrifice.
I just had a great meditation this morning on a question a friend asked related to why Peter wrapped his garments around himself before he jumped in the water as he swam to Jesus at the end of John. Because, as she said, “Everything in the Bible is there for a reason. Every word.” And she’s right. John included that detail for a reason.
It is the last chapter. Peter has denied Jesus. In his rejection, he now pulls empty nets out of the water, fishing in the darkness. Then Jesus arrives at dawn and asks him to cast his nets one more time. And they fill and fill and fill. Now, let’s see where this goes:
Jesus watches Peter. As he watches you. He speaks to Peter. As he speaks to you. Then he watches Peter gather his garments and jump in the water and swim to shore. What an act of love! Of devotion! What a beautiful act of desiring only Jesus!
But then why doesn’t the scene on shore begin with a soggy hug and the joyous tears of a restored relationship?
Because of that garment.
The scene on shore begins as it must: Jesus teaches Peter. He tells Peter to go help bring the fish to shore. He then sits around a fire and teaches Peter about love. Because it is critical. It is everything. Because Jesus sees that Peter still has not learned what love is. And he must. He must . He must! Or it is all for naught!
“But, you know I love you! Right?” says Peter.
But then the teacher:
“See, Peter, you think love is like wanting; like desire; or devotion. But to ‘want’ me—to ‘want’ anything—to ‘want’…means you don’t have it. It is to ‘want’ for something—to be lacking. So it is something you must get. You must grab. Like, ‘I love breakfast.’ Which is, ‘I want breakfast. I am wanting…breakfast.’ It is a desire for something you are lacking. But like the tree of life, I am the opposite of desire. I exist outside of wanting. I am fulfillment.
See, you already have me. You have always had me.
Out there, in the darkness, facing the unknown, I spoke and you listened. You responded. And when you responded, I revealed abundance. You went to fish, right? You went for a purpose, right? Well, I showed you ultimate fulfillment of your purpose—of meaning. And remember, Peter, it happened precisely when you trusted a voice from the unknown.
And then, when I revealed what lies beneath what you can see, I watched. I watched your response. And what did you do? As soon as you knew it was me, you "thought" you knew what to do. You turned from that purpose; you turned from the responsibility that emerged as a result of your miraculous power to extract meaning. You turned from it and gathered your garments, and wanted me because you thought that was love. You thought that was what I ‘wanted.’
But wanting me is not loving me. I am teaching you the answer to ‘Do you love me?’ because you don't know. The answer is: ‘feed my sheep.’ Like the line I came from—David’s line--the line of the shepherd boy who knew that to fulfill his purpose, his father’s will, was the same as loving his father; and in that kind of loving is where meaning is found; is where strength is found; is where victory is found; is where dancing with joy is found; is where everything is found--as he was; so I am; and so you must be; like the boy with the heart of God. Loving me, immature spirit, is not getting me. It is not getting what you want and going where you want and gathering you garments, and then sitting at my feet; while the purpose and meaning I showed you sinks in the water for others to bear. If you love me…fulfill your purpose! I will show you abundant meaning and purpose if you listen. If you follow, mature spirit, if you will be lead, then I will reveal a miracle of meaning with which to offset the suffering and insufficiencies of the world. If you listen, if you respond, I will show you how to save the world—how to love me. And it absolutely exists outside of what you want."
Are you swimming towards Jesus while responsibilities that were revealed to you; that you know are full of life and life-giving; are left sinking behind? Put the garments back down. Go. Grab the nets, full to bursting with life. Help bring them to shore. And let’s eat breakfast.
What is the difference between zero and 153?
Zero is darkness. Zero is blindness and nothing. Zero is neither hot nor cold. Zero holds the keys to hell. If we see life as giving us nothing, zero, then we are giving Satan back the keys to the gates of hell; and he gladly opens his dominion in our lives, behind our back, beneath our blindness. We are Polyphemus crying, “Nothing is killing me!”
Jesus says, “You’ve got it all wrong.”
What happens beyond the horizon? We don’t know. Only the sun knows.
What is the purpose of life?
Jesus says, “Loving me is giving. Loving me gives purpose that eternally calls and eternally satisfies.”
The young get what they want—go where they want. Those are brief satisfactions. They end when the goal is attained. So, therefore, that goal, that frame, must constantly be replaced by another goal another frame. It is eternally unsatisfying. “I’m going to get fish.” Wrong goal. Wrong “why.” Wrong frame. Satan just can’t wait to see those empty nets.
I’m sure Peter would ever reflect; maybe even while hanging inverted on his cross; remembering his nets, full to the bursting with 153 fish, as he helped drag them to shore:
Others will always—eternally—be unsatisfied, eternally dirty, hungry, thirsty, sick, hurting, dying. I will help. I will cast my nets the right way and for the right goal. I will stop being young and become old. I will make myself sicker, hungrier, dirtier, and die, because I know better—Christ taught me better—because I know how to satisfy. I know, now, the goal set before me by Christ: ‘Feed my sheep.’
The lamb that willingly sacrifices himself—sacrifices his wants, his goals, exposes his vulnerability— feeds all sheep, and becomes a new, perfect lamb willing to walk to the alter again. It is living. It is sacrifice.
It is the Way, the journey, that satisfies.
Am I a “young” person or an “old” person? Are you young or old? Today—right this moment—which are you? Young or old? The answer is, interestingly, not immediately clear. Like many things it depends on something like, “compared to what?”
In John 21, Jesus told Peter what being “young “ was like; then what being “old” will be like. John, the one whom Jesus loved, watched Jesus possibly closer than anybody. The gospel writer then compressed Jesus’ life—the full account of which could never fit in all the libraries of the world— into a cosmic diamond. Each word part of a crystalline structure. Natural, yet no less perfect for its naturalness. Its hardness only outmatched by its beauty. Held to the light, Jesus’ own words; his own questions and answers; surprise at every turn. They are packed and folded with such density, that should I be granted a thousand more lives to live, I would never be able to fully unfold them and, must often simply gaze at the cross-shaped kaleidoscopic lights that shine forth. In verse 18, one small example is the lesson of “young and old.” Notice the absence of what a person’s life looks like who is neither young nor old. (Or…uh oh…are you like me—smack in the middle of your lives?) Jesus is making the point to Peter, and to us all, that there is no in between—you are either aiming up or down, reaching for heaven or hell, walking in light or dark, following Jesus or Satan, proclaiming curses or blessings—being young or old. As you gaze into this facet, you must ask yourself: just when—exactly—and how, does that transfiguration occur—where is that inflection point between going where we want and being led? Jesus describes it—like a compass describes an arc—he describes this continuum from “young to old” with his life. He tells Simon Peter—the same Simon Peter who thought he knew…what? What was best? He thought he knew more than Jesus? As we also are; he was always quick to step in front of his Master:
“Our victory—my victory—will surely not have to go through suffering and death!” says Peter. And Jesus’ emphatic answer: “Get behind me Satan!”
Jesus tells that same Simon Peter on the shore of Capernaum—at the end of their journey—at the very end of John’s gospel:
“I am telling you the Truth: when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Jesus was always going to the cross. That is what made him the ultimate leader; He always knew exactly where he was going. He goes there still.
Relent control. Become old. Let go.
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
The eyes are the lamp of the body (v22). Jesus seems to be teaching that the ἁπλοῦς (simple singularity, wide-open perfection, generosity) of our aim and attention has the ability to let us see our world in a way that is bathed in light. It is not a way that I viewed the world in the past. What a marvelous idea: that our body—our temple we are called to keep; the place of our action, the creation we are given to tend—will light up everywhere: It will be full of light—it is a completely different way of looking at the world. To see with a perfect eye seems to mean that our landscape (a landscape of action where the kingdom of heaven meets the kingdom of earth) will glimmer with light. It is something much more like: “If I set my eye on Jesus, my responsibilities will shine forth before me. And if I accept and follow that flawlessly lit path, I get to be a royal priest transforming this world into a new heaven and a new earth.
A lamp is simply a lamp. It has no light of its own. It must receive light to give light. But beware of improper aim and attention. That lamp is lit with a dark light. And the light it gives is a darkness that fills the body—this kind of darkness is not an absence of light—it is a great and terrible presence.
A C.S. Lewis quote that I often think about is:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”