Monday, September 29, 2014

The End is Just a New Beginning

I want to stay in this glorious place

In the bright sunny spot where heaven is perfectly reflected on earth, the way the Sun glistens against the dome of morning dew…or inside the rain puddles pooling on the sidewalk after the storm has passed… or on the glassy surface of a retention pond I pass by on the way to school…

Alas, it’s not meant to be…

While we are still here, the time comes when we must say good-bye. We must let go

The two-day city wide party that gave its attendees a glimpse, a taste of what heaven is going to be like…and, perhaps even more importantly, what on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven looks like…had to come to an end.

The Samaritans got to skim the edge of unfathomable mystery … pleased as man with men to dwell… and somehow, in that process, their own hearts were transformed into Bethlehemian stable.

When the time came, they also discovered that once you taste heaven, it’s really difficult to settle for anything less on earth. This face-to-face encounter with God-Man, permanently altered their own DNA... But they didn't quite understand any of it at the time. 

All they knew was that they had to say their good-byes, just as we do. And their good-byes hurt just as much as ours. No way of around it.

We have to go through it.

They had to let go of what they just received. No holding onto the touching and seeing,  that sense of soaring like eagles and the effortless flying on the wings of the wind.

If they had not, they couldn't have received what was still waiting in store for them...

... what was still being prepared for them...

... what was yet to be received.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

To Savor the Savior

The Samaritan men discovered that one day with Jesus simply wasn't enough.

There were just too many questions to ask, so much to hear and learn and unlearn, and, to be honest, it felt good, plain good, to have Him around. It was like the world suddenly went right back into its joint and with Him near everything felt the way it was supposed to be.

They wanted more of it.  More of Him.  Not just for their own sake, but also for the sake of their loved ones who didn’t get to meet Him.

So, they begged Him to stay longer.

And He did.

Because of their word, He stayed there two extra days.

I imagine those two days like a big city-wide party with Jesus as the honored guest.  Party where old hatchets are buried and good will is passed around like pitchers flowing with good wine and platters loaded with good food. 

Sure, there were some old wounds that needed healing.

And some deep rooted hidden prejudices that needed realignment.

But with Him there, none of it seemed insurmountable. None of it felt hopeless.

They basked in a spirit of generosity and grace and love that influenced their perception of old problems and ancient animosities with a brand new light.

In that new light they realized that they all needed Him... every single one of them… just as much, or perhaps even more than the woman with, what appeared to them as, the 'obvious' problem.

And they were saying to her, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Risk Worth Taking

Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; could this be the Messiah?”, 

turned out to be quite compelling because the Samaritan men went out of the city and were coming to Jesus.

It could have been simple human curiosity.  Nothing better to do.  Nothing to lose.

So, they came to Jesus.

Check Him out.

See for themselves what’s all the hubbub about.

They could tell that there was something different about the woman the moment she returned from the well not carrying the bucket.  She used to spend her days avoiding being seen which only proved the rumors true and sealed her already scarlet reputation.  

But, this day, some Tuesday or Thursday, she suddenly got out of hiding and went pubic.  As if all the things that kept her behind the closed shutters, all the things that shackled her to her past, that kept her doomed to repeating the same cycle of regrets were suddenly severed and she was free… truly free, from the inside out!

Some of them, of course, might have felt like fools.

Because leaving the city – its comfort, its traditions and the safety of crowd-sourcing the truth – is risky and it does make you feel like a fool.

But, sometimes we might be called to risk the going out part, in order to come face-to-face with Jesus.

Sometimes we have to risk leaving the fortified fortresses of our minds and hearts, the safety of black-and-white world in order to meet face-to-face, eyes-to-eyes, nose-to-nose with God-in-the-flesh…

Sometimes we have to risk being fools and listen to the outrageous word of a disreputable woman…

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Wait's Over

When what we know (or think we know!) of God recognizes Him as real and present and active - but only in the distant future or the distant past…

… when we feel like we arrived at the party too late, stumbling upon the cleaning crew clearing the tables of the remnants of the feast somebody else enjoyed…

… with the candles burnt out and all balloons deflated and nothing but the dried-up crumbs left behind for us…

… when the disappointment is mingled with the waning hope that with a bit of luck, next time around… we, too, perhaps will be invited and won’t miss it altogether…

When we are stuck between the God of Yesterdays and God of Tomorrows, with no God of Today anywhere in sight…

… we all reach out … we all go back to our old, dinged up, leaky buckets. 

And just as the woman’s fingers curl around the crooked handle, she hears, for the first time hears the Voice:

I AM here.

I have come…to you...

I AM speaking with you…

You are hearing My Voice…

I know you…

I love you…

I want you to know Me…

And this Voice, produced by the vocal cords of the Galilean-Carpenter-turned-Rabi resonates through the bones and marrow…

… through the thoughts of the mind and intentions of the heart…

… the loves and the fears… and…

… deepest secrets of the Samaritan woman…

And the whole conversation, from the very beginning, when He asked her for a drink of water from her old dinged up bucket... everything suddenly clicks together!

In her astonishment, her shaky fingers uncurl without her even realizing, and the bucket drops on the ground next to His dusty feet…

And she races away…
Like any one of us would run away from the sheer wonder of God of Today…

And she runs into the city uncontainable – nothing to hide, nothing to cover up – and calls out to her friends and pretend-friends, her safe-distance-keeping neighbors,

Come and see a man who told me all the things that I have done! He can't be the Christ, right?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

System Overload

It turns out all this God-talk

…all this releasing-God-the-Spirit-God-the-Father-out-of-our-little-national/religious/location-box talk…

…all this throw-all-your-pretenses-and-come-to-the-Father-as-you-are, bringing-Him-the-heart-and-the-soul; everything- that-is-you- real-you-from-the-inside-out; the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-and-hand-it-all-over-to-Him-in-worship talk…

… all this God-as-our-Father-as-our-daddy-as-our-tata-as-our-papa talk turns out to be just a bit too much for the Samaritan woman.

It kind of overloaded her systems.

It kind of blew up her circuit.

Maybe it was just all too different from everything she’s ever heard and experienced before regarding this God…

Maybe it felt a bit like tearing down the walls of something we can control, like ritual and replacing it with something we can’t control like relationship… where prayer suddenly becomes a dialogue, a conversation rather than a monologue…

Maybe it was just too unnerving, too personal and she felt exposed and vulnerable…

Maybe the woman was just too tired of talking, even all this great God-talk-ing, but no real life change…

For she knew that everything always remains the same… the same old, same old…

Whatever the reason, she looks at Jesus and decides she had enough,

I don’t know Sir. You and I can shoot the breeze as much as we want… but it’s not gonna change one jota of my god-forsaken life. I think I’m gonna wait until God Himself  shows up on my doorstep and THEN I’ll figure it all out. When God comes down from heaven to this messed up, screwed up earth… and sees and feels for Himself what it is like to be a human… from the inside out... when He gets His hands and His feet dirty with this mess we made of our lives… when He learns what it is to be thirsty and tired, weary and weak... and... rejected and betrayed... When the promised One I heard about shows up, I’ll be all ears… until then, well... it’s just words. In our case,  your word against mine…

And she turns back to her bucket and bends over to reach it. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Filial Imprinting

Somebody might say,

Well, good for you! With that kind of dad, it’s easy for you to imagine God as a good father.  You don’t know MY dad. You don’t know the scars, the wounds that man left on my soul… He left his bloody boot footprints all over my broken heart and nothing can ever change that!

I admit that my dad made it easy for me to ruthlessly trust God the Father.  In some ways the older I get the easier it becomes to trust, because now that I am a parent, I can understand his unwavering heart towards me better… I have gained a new perspective on old misunderstandings and disagreements. 

But, the reality is, even the best dads on this earth fail. Even the best dads are insecure, and weak, and tired, and bent in their own way. Or simply, mortal. Even the best dads, if they are honest, would admit that they feel incomplete, truly inadequate for the daunting task of being a parent to another human being! To a son or a daughter. 

If the thought of parenting a son or a daughter doesn’t scare you spitless, you must not be a parent.

The human fallibility however doesn’t scare Jesus off from bringing the Father, His Father, front and center, into our lives.  Our lives of worship – whether we are in the church or the courtroom; in school or soccer field; kitchen or bedroom…

He knows that all of us – who grew up with great dads, and those who grew up with horrible dads, or no dads – we all need new parenting order… or rather, new filial imprinting.  Just as the movie Fly Away Home so poignantly portrays…

Friday, September 12, 2014

Closer Than You Think

My Dad and I live in two very different worlds.  Divided by a lot more than just tens of thousands of miles of airspace that hovers over the continents and oceans. On any ordinary day, we live two very different lives and even speak two different languages. It's beyond weird. 

And even though I think of my dad virtually every day, I haven’t talked to him in over a month.  I’ve been sick.  I’ve been tired. No real excuses except, maybe, that last time I called, my mom answered the phone.

Yesterday, just after I finished posting my latest entry about dads, Your Dad, My Dad,  I felt I really needed to talk to my dad. So, I called:
‘Alo!  It was him!

Tata... It's me. 


Sometimes my Dad is hard of hearing so I have to repeat myself… louder.


What followed… well, it wasn’t so much the kind words that he said…or what we talked about… It was that he was sooo incredibly HAPPY, just tickled ... to hear my voice!  So genuinely delighted and pleased and glad… just to hear the distinct vibration of my own vocal cords as they form syllables and words coming out of my mouth.

We chatted for a while… our usual stuff of gardening and science, neighbors and projects, health and weather, kids and school… But all through the conversation I could tell it really didn’t matter to him what we talked about, he was just so happy to have me on the other end of the line, and hear my voice… And that made me happy… just to have my Dad on the other end of the line, and hear his voice...

The feeling lingered long after I hung up the phone… and I wondered if our God… our Father is just as happy, just as tickled to hear our voice… to hear my voice…calling Him...

Dad? … Dad?  TATA!

Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Your Dad, My Dad

What an outrageously bold imagery this is – God…as Father.

We all have fathers. Dads. We carry their genes, semblance, little idiosyncrasies. In some small or big way, we display to the world what our father is like. Handsome. Ordinary. Hard-working. Smart. Shady. Kind. Bossy.

A complete stranger once told me that they recognized me, because I was a spitting-image of my dad! Even if I wanted to, I couldn't hide that I am my father's child!

This is as personal as it gets.

For better or for worse.

We don’t know what Svetlana’s dad was like.

He could have been a wonderful, caring, present father who made her feel loved and special in a thousand different little ways every day; who made her believe she could do anything she set her mind to… who gave her wings to fly and rubber-sole shoes so she could run a marathon… A father who had no greater badge of honor than being her dad…

Or he could have been a foul-mouthed, verbally and sexually abusive shattered soul who drowned his brokenness and inadequacies in alcohol, drugs, pornography or all of the above.

He could have been strict, rigid and demanding, never-good-enough, impossible-to-please George Banks.

Or a Darth Vader!

He could have been detached or absent. Physically absent. Emotionally absent. Never there when you need him the most.

Or, most likely, some unique, unrepeatable mix, a combination of all those at some time or another.

Somehow, none of these scenerios - confusing or even harmful - seem to deter Jesus from bringing Father – His Father – back into the picture of worship.  Whether you had The Best Dad in the World or the Worst – whatever your filial imprinting is… Jesus in turn says,

Take all that and bring it with you – all of you – the good, the bad, and the ugly and offer it to My Father as you worship Him. Bring your honest, sincere, real you and give it to Him... and He'll transform it... He'll transform YOU... And My Father will become your Father…

Monday, September 08, 2014

Heart of Worship

We get so easily muddled up and confused.

We use religion as a flimsy cover-up instead of a solid-brick path to true freedom.

Majoring in minors.  Missing the melody for the notes, the forest for the trees, the baby... for the bath water!

In the woman’s mind, the primary question about worship is a debate! An argument about location, selectively chosen based on tradition, national identity or even personal style preference.

Which church do you go to?

Oh, I don't do THAT! I worship on a golf course every Sunday morning.

Jesus’ response to her in effect is this,

Woman, trust Me. The ‘where’ doesn’t matter. The time is coming when neither in church nor at a golf course shall you worship the Father.

This must have sounded as radical to her ears as it does to ours.

It’s like breaking open a bottle of perfume with a crack and pouring it out… out of the church and out of the golf course… spilling it over into the kitchen and the bathroom… into the bedroom and the study… across the soccer field and concert hall… school and restaurant... movie theater and art studio… conference room and courtroom….

But, Jesus does something even more radical than that… something perhaps even more drastic than unleashing God out of the church building and location debate.

He takes the foggy ambiguity out and brings a National-Geographic-quality resolution, the 20/20 vision into our act of worship.

He brings… the Father... back to our worship! Our Daddy. Our heavenly Tata! Abba! Papi…

He puts a father’s face on the face of God. 

The Invisible Omnipotent, Creator Almighty Unchanging – same yesterday, today, and forever, All-wise One and Only President of Presidents and King of Kings, Eternal Spirit – GOD – wears a father’s face. 

Your Daddy's and mine...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Caught Naked!

Like most of us when caught naked, even with our clothes on, the woman’s immediate response is to seek cover.  And there is no better place to hide than in the vast ambiguous realm of religion. It provides practically limitless array of diversions, the juicy bones to chew on which easily deflect our eye from the pain of excruciatingly personal exposure. She throws one at Jesus:

Oh, I see you are a prophet! Well, then explain this to me: Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that Jerusalem is the only place where men ought to worship. So, which is it?

If you are from God, why don't you solve your big-God problems. Take the perennial Us vs. the Them conundrum. The here and the There. God might be present in name only.  Kind of God-In-Absentia. Where worship is a performance but God is not the audience.

The best place to hide is in plain sight, using God – or whatever we mean under that three-letter-word - as a smoke-screen.

Take it a step further, zoom out a bit, and you find this us-them conflict escalating and leading to human blood splattered all over the pages of history and the cover pages of your daily newspaper.  The ubiquitous justification of unimaginable evil done by men… women… to men…women...

...End justifying the means. …Covering up ‘the lesser evil’.in the name of some higher good. In the name of God. Allah. In the name... of Christ?

While all along the Cross still stands – undisturbed at the center stage - with Christ – God-with-us, God-in-the-woundable-killable-body - just like yours and mine... still bleeding….

… still offering this bloody cover…

...still offering life… the villain and the victim …

... if only they would come…

...naked and


... to Him!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Can You Bottle Living Water?

It’s so easy to prepackage God.  Or, at least, try to.  It’s so easy to assume that, because of our experience or knowledge or even our history with Him, we know what He would say or do in a particular situation, so we think there is really no need to ask Him.

Why bother? What’s there to ask?

Or we ask Him, without really waiting to hear what His answer is. For we already know it, right?

I’ve done it myself many times.  I still do.

My kids also do it to me all the time.  They think they know what I think and nine out of ten times, they are wrong! And even if they are right, what they don’t realize is that I want the dignity of the relationship rather than a vending-machine response.

I am not advocating that we re-invent the wheel every time, but Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman is so outside-the-box unpredictable one has to pause and scratch his or her head. 

There is an incredible volume of truth imbedded in the woman’s lie, and Jesus’ reciting – restating – it back to her, probably shook the woman’s foundation of morality, relationships and view of right and wrong.

It’s that moment when you realize that you may be standing fully clothed, but still be stark naked in another’s eyes. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

You Can't Drink Living Water Out of the Old Bucket

The only way we know how to cover up our shame is to sew a see-through garment of fig-leaf lies.  

We are quick to shake our heads and wag our fingers at cowardly actions of others when they are caught – adulterers and thieves, politicians and murderers, especially when it becomes public domain, their dirty laundry aired on Twitter or national TV.

But Jesus is not about public humiliation…. airing our dirty laundry. He brings up the husband topic only because He knows that’s this woman’s particular mode of thirst-quenching. And, more importantly, it’s also the unquenchable source of her shame and need to hide.

We all have our own.  We all are deeply broken people digging for wells to satisfy our thirst… or deeply buried in denial.

He came to call us out of denial and hiding holes of shame into His light… but we must first see for ourselves… recognize that one can’t drink the living water while shackled to the old bucket. One can’t see the Light if his head is deeply buried in denial.

So, instead of condemning the woman for being not only an adulteress but also a big fat liar He actually agrees with her?!!! This is what He says to her in effect:

You are right, darling. You did have five guys who shacked up with you… who used to be your husbands… but if they really had been the husbands they were meant to be, you would not call them ‘used-to-be’s now… And the guy who is sleeping between your pure 1500 TC Egyptian cotton sheets right now…that guy? Nah, he isn’t a real husband either… So, you did speak the truth there, honey. You don’t have a husband. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Big Fat Virgin-Snow White Lie

Go call your husband and come back here,

must have felt to the woman like a big ice-cold bucket of water over her head. 

She’d rather forget. 

She’d rather avoid the topic.

She’d rather stuff her demons down and slam the lid over them. Cover up how filthy, and used, and dirty she felt… how scared and lonely and lost she woke up in the morning and fell asleep at night…some nights hoping she won’t wake up to see the light of the next day…

How could she even begin to explain to the Stranger the mess she is in… even if she wanted to… even if He wanted to hear…?

So, she looks Him in the eye, then looks away into the swirling desert sand, and whispers softly into the wind the biggest, the fattest, virgin-snow-white lie:

The woman of course knows that it is impossible to lie to God. Humans may be fooled by appearances. In fact, we humans are fooled by appearances all the time. Ironically, attempting to fool the Man, it is the woman who's been fooled this time... taken in by the appearance of the skin and flesh, bones and muscles, the Galileean accent... She was fooled by the appearance and missed the God standing right next to her... skin-and-bones, cloak and sandals... T-shirt and jeans... 

Skin and bones, jeans and sneakers notwithstanding, God not only sees through our big fat, or what we call 'little white' lies, but He sees beyond them.

He sees our fear, and our brokenness, and desperate efforts to quench the soul-thirst… to satisfy the craving of the heart which morphs into the craving for food, or sex, or power, control, acceptance, diversion, …Until it takes a life of its own, violent and uncontrollable, devouring us… from the inside out.

He knows that the craving is too strong for us, turning us into desperate people. And desperate people tend to do desperate things.