#020 Did Jesus Wear Flip Flops? [Podcast]

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Flip Flops

Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download

 

It all started with a lawnmower, a skateboard, a women’s clothing magazine, and a set of flip flops.

What if play is God’s idea and is at the epicenter of Kingdom living?

(A version of this podcast is also available in written form.)

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Chasing Wild – Part One

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We pierced the veneer of outside things. We suffered…and had grown bigger in the bigness of the whole. We had seen God in all his splendours, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man. – Sir Ernest Shackleton

 

The arrow flew intuitively, almost of its own volition. For that moment, my bow and I had become one. Upon impact, the bear whirled on his hind legs and thundered back into heavy cover. I was deep in the wilderness of Colorado’s high country, in dawn’s early light. Little did I know, the adventure was just beginning.


 

Many years ago, a hunting mentor spoke these formative words: “Luck is the combination of preparation and opportunity.” Never before had the relationship between opportunity and preparation been more apparent to me than on that crisp September morning.

Needless to say, the idea of “getting lucky” has taken on a whole new meaning. In the field, I consider it over and over again: “Luck IS a combination of preparation and opportunity.” Mostly, the preparation is our portion, as students of the land, the animals, and ourselves. Opportunity is largely up to God. We train and we trust. We train that we might be ready, and we trust that we are sons of the Living One who has our best interests at the center of His soul, all the way, all the time, whatever the outcomes may be.

My hunting pursuits began over 15 years ago. I didn’t grow up in a hunting family or in a hunting culture. Far from it. Argyle socks filled my drawer, and my wild adventures were confined to small pockets of untamed land gridlocked in a maze of suburban sprawl. God’s wooing drew me into wilderness and hunting, the prize of which is much more primary than meat in the freezer (though that is a high value in our family culture).

Wilderness,  and chasing wild in its infinite forms, has become the central context for my validation as a son and my initiation as a man.

As this hunting season drew near, my good friend Brian and I drew a pair of rare and coveted archery tags and the dream of harvesting an elk and a bear on the western slope of Colorado. I was going in for three days prior to Brian’s arrival, both for final reconnaissance and, more importantly, for the time of annual solitude with God that my heart craves. Heading out in my truck, I began praying and consecrating the trip, connecting my heart with the Father and sloughing off the shroud of stress that the previous days and months had cinched around me, then settling in for several hours of open road.

Driving into the Arkansas River canyon and happily leaving cell coverage, I eagerly fired up the Scriptures on an audio app I’d downloaded, anticipating  my soul being rinsed clean and fresh during these precious hours of transition. I started with Psalm 1 and then moved into Psalm 2, and then…silence. The app just went out—so much for the grid independence the app promised.

But the verse that it stopped on was Psalm 2:8, which, in The Message, reads:

You’re my son, and today’s your birthday. What do you want? Name it. Nations as a present? Continents as a prize? You’re my son, and today’s your birthday. What do you want? Name it.

For a good 30 minutes, I brawled with the app, trying to coerce it into working, until finally it dawned on me what Father was saying: for this hunt—and not only for me, but also for Brian—this was OUR verse from Him.

“You’re my sons and this is your birthday. What do you want?” When I hit cell reception again, I texted Brian and shared the verse. “Happy birthday, buddy,” I texted. “Make sure you ask Father for what you want for this hunt. I’m starting to ask Him now.”

Hours later, I neared the spot we intended for base camp and felt my apprehension rise. I’d prepared for months for this bear hunt. I’d read several books on bears and trained my body for the backcountry through countless workouts on stairs and off-trail ascents with a 50-pound pack. With the exception of an eight-day backcountry filming trip, I’d shot my bow 55 days in a row, and I’d brought all my working knowledge and experience from past years—mostly failures and a few successes—to this hunt.

But this was a new level of apprehension. I knew I was pursuing—with only a bow and arrow—an animal that, if provoked, was far more capable of harvesting me than I was of harvesting it. Furthermore, this vast country was uniquely rugged and bear-enticing. Graced with undulating hillsides of ancient oak brush, this region attracts bears from up to 200 miles away. A hunting buddy who’d been there a previous year described that when the wind blew, ripe-acorns falling from heavily laden branches pitter-pattered like raindrops on the ground cover. Such prolific food offered ripe hope for an archery hunter heaven-bent on a close encounter.

Physiologically, this season in the high country for bears is called hyperphagia. Bears feed up to 22 hours a day, putting on as much fat as possible to sustain their hibernation during brutal Western Slope winters. With these optimal conditions, the collision between opportunity and preparation could come at any moment of any day.

The first morning, I hiked into a drainage to a secluded watering hole we had identified on the maps that we hoped would attract bears in the heat of the midday. Grazing leases for domestic cattle dominate this section of National Forest, and groups of cattle regularly shuffle through the drainages, feeding on grasses and also depositing endless cow pies. In the heat of the day, the stench of smoldering cow pies was noxious. I harnessed my senses and stayed as still as I could, settling in for hours of vigilance over the water hole. Between the heat and the stench and the still-lingering racket from the world inside of me, it was an appropriately challenging baptism back into the wild.

After five hours, I sensed movement and, out of the corner of my eye, glimpsed first sight of a bear. I was caught off guard as I’d seen so few bears in hunting situations before. This was a small bear, and I immediately registered it could be a cub. Colorado hunting laws prohibit harvesting a sow with cubs, and though I was tempted to draw my bow, I thought, If this is a cub, the mother is surely coming behind it, and I am not going to arrow a cub and end up with an angry sow hunting me. But if it’s not a cub, I don’t want to pass on what could be my only chance.

Feeling the pull of opportunity, I began to draw, knowing I had a fraction of a second to make a decision.

Here was the moment: I had this bear in my sights…and then discretion edged its way into my soul.

I lowered my bow, choosing to pass.

In my past as a bowhunter, I have at times been quick to fling an arrow. Quicker than I’d like to admit. And in recent years, I have specifically asked Father to grow discretion in me, that I might be quick to assess a shot but slower to release an arrow. I have learned the hard way: with both a bullet and an arrow, once it is released, it can never be called back.

As quickly as I decided, the bear moved on. Sure enough, no mother ever came, suggesting in fact it wasn’t a cub. (I have learned since it was most likely a two-and-a-half-year-old bear, which is the first year of independence for a young bear. Typically, two-and-a-half-year-olds are small and easily mistaken for cubs.)

Several days stacked up void of any more bear encounters as I covered mile after mile, boots on the ground, glassing and looking for both bear and elk sign. In drainage after drainage and hillside after hillside, I noticed that most of the scrub oak were completely barren: no acorns. Even the chokecherry and serviceberry bushes, though lush with leaves, were virtually naked of berries. The reality began to sink in: though this section is typically a berry and acorn bonanza, something was wrong. There was almost no feed. And without feed, there were far fewer bears in the area than seasonal population data suggested. (We later learned there’d been a Mother’s Day freeze that had decimated the acorn and berry population. Bears that typically traveled from hundreds of miles to feast in this particular section had headed to different country in search of food.)

As I prepared for Brian’s arrival, I realized the likelihood of harvesting a bear this year was plummeting. Discouragement crept in like a slow-moving winter storm. I’d spent six years accumulating preference points and six months training for what perhaps was the hunt of a lifetime, and I would very likely go home empty-handed.

In the darkness of the third morning, I headed to explore another remote drainage. Praying and worshipping under the flume of the Milky Way and the unwavering stance of Orion, my perception of God’s presence heightened. I felt our Father’s nearness, His overwhelming kindness, and His unfaltering leadership over my life. Quickly, my soul ignited with presence and I knew I was receiving the greatest treasure of any hunt: an overwhelming awareness of God Himself that often prevails after several days in the context of wilderness and solitude. This kind of encounter with God is the ultimate prize of backcountry hunting.

Then I heard these words from a Father to his son, from my Father to me, as his son: “Son, I invite you to let the primary mission of this trip be to help Brian harvest a bull.”

The clarity of Father’s voice in that moment provided joy-filled reorientation: the discouragement vanished as the path of Life was illumined. Everything in my soul shifted from the pressure of strategizing about arrowing a bear to ease and joy in the abundant goodness of my Father. I knew the Father was interacting with me and inviting me to chose love for my friend Brian, and to love Brian’s dad and his brother, who also had highly prized hunting tags. He was assuring me that while my day would come in the fullness of time and in His abundance, I could relish coming through for Brian. (Brian and his dad had both patiently invested 16 years of preference points and cashed them in for this particular opportunity.)

By then, the first light of day was brilliantly coloring the horizon, and in this intimate space, I sincerely felt like it was being painted just for me. A deep sense of peace now pervaded my hunt: I had my orders for this mission. I consecrated my motives afresh to God, and as Isaiah said thousands of years ago, set my face like a flint (Isaiah 50:7).

Brian would arrive shortly, and the second chapter would unfold. Little did I know that giving my yes to the Father on that September morning would bring far more than I was prepared to handle.

Oswald Chamber says this,

The call of God can never be understood absolutely or explained externally; it is a call that can only be perceived and understood internally by our true inner-nature. The call of God is like the call of the sea—no one hears it except the person who has the nature of the sea in him. What God calls us to cannot be definitely stated, because His call is simply to be His friend to accomplish His own purposes. Our real test is in truly believing that God knows what He desires.

The call of God is ever being whispered into the place in us that truly wants to receive it. The writer of Hebrews suggests that God is enticing and disrupting us so that, in His goodness, He can become even more the Author and Finisher of our story (Hebrews 12:2). Where is it that God is inviting your willingness to let Him author you into a story far better than you could ever ask for or imagine? Where is it your Father is asking, “Would you give me your heart and follow me?”

What is your wild and how is He inviting you to chase it?

To be continued…

It’s Only Weird If It Doesn’t Work

Feb 28: Morgan's 33rd birthday =)

I am a yoga junkie.

There.  

I said it.

Picture me at my first class—in a sea of women in black, stretchy pants.

I had never been more uncomfortable in my life.

It took years of Cherie gently prodding for me to see a counselor.

And it had taken her far longer to bring me to this moment.

Over the years, when she suggested I consider coming to a class with her, I maintained a gracious and benevolent veneer.

But internally, my response went something like this:

Yoga!? Are you kidding me?!? What a waste of time. Especially when I could get a REAL workout. Besides, at best, all those women will think I’m a pervert. At worst, they might think I’m a predator. No, thanks!

Years later, I finally yielded my pride, cynicism, paranoia, and unbelief long enough to slip into the back of a yoga class in the gym of our local YMCA, wading awkwardly past foam rollers and spongy blocks and overly strong perfume, under what I suspected to be offended and incriminating gazes. The only other man in the class was an old guy in the front row with a head band and very short shorts, quite possibly from his high school track team in ‘74.

And it was in that space that Heaven came to earth for me, and something profoundly Good happened in my soul.

That was over a decade ago, and I still can’t find adequate words to describe the conversion.

After an hour of holding my breath and feebly attempting to stretch muscles that had long since fossilized, I found myself in what these yogis apparently call “final relaxation.” Pretty standard in nearly any yoga class, but unknown to me, the hour of mindful movement builds up to a closing time of rest and surrender—lying supine in total stillness on the floor, breathing and receiving.

And it was the first moment in my adult life that I gave myself full permission to simply receive.

The best way I can describe it is that I was utterly disoriented… by Love.

With each inhale, I could feel the Ruach—the very breath of God (Genesis 1:2)—breathing both dormant and dead places back to life. I was among the desiccated bones of the defeated army in the book of Ezekiel, and God’s breath was uniting bone to bone and then enlivening muscle and sinew and skin. Dry bones, enfleshed, then raised to newness of life.

Somehow, the hour of integrating my body with my mind and spirit, the hard physical work, the awkward but consistent attempts to breathe deeply, and then the final surrendering ushered in the deep waters of the Kingdom that unlocked in my masculine soul a door long obscured into a room long abandoned.

The driven and intense man I was opened the door for the needy, isolated boy within to receive nurture in a way I can describe in no other terms.

Here, in the back of a gym at the YMCA, breath was entering me, immersing me in the reality of the triune God, and making me whole through nurturing, engulfing love.

It undid me, and I’ve never been the same since.

It would be weeks of regular practice before I glimpsed the layers of benefit yoga could offer me, especially that stretching and strengthening my core would potently increase my capacity in other pursuits I love, like chasing wild with my bow or climbing single track high along Colorado’s Front Range.

It would be months before I painstakingly learned to breathe more deeply, slowing down and inhaling fully with holy awareness of the very life of God.

It would be years before I began to understand how to be kind to myself, how to “try easy” and embrace the wisdom of Kingdom rhythms, accepting that there is a time to go full throttle and there is a time to back off.

It would be a decade before I understood how much God was desiring to harness this spiritual practice in my life to mother me, to heal my self-hatred, and to apprentice me in the Kingdom-art of receiving love and so much more.

It would be beyond a decade before I would slowly become the kind of person who regularly tastes the depth and breadth of the Kingdom of God and the deep integration of my soul through the consistent practice of Kingdom-centered yoga.

If we shall know it by its fruit, I’m compelled to name the significance of the fruit I have experienced through Kingdom-centered yoga.  

Not as a prescription, but rather as an example laden with possibility.

Of all the spiritual disciplines I pursue, Kingdom-centered yoga is one of the top in regard to bearing the most prolific deepest fruit in my masculine journey. Who would’ve thought? Not me, that’s for sure. Looking back, I had put such limits on who God could be and what He could do even through an hour of intentional movement and deep breathing.

Now, if you are hesitant about or uninterested in this practice, that is fine.  

But I would like to simply ask you these questions.  

  • Where is it you are practicing regularly to receive? To receive love, mercy, kindness; to receive nurturing from the heart of the Trinity? For most of us, to say that receiving love doesn’t come easily is like saying the Pope doesn’t date much. It is actually deeply challenging to become the kind of person who can receive with an open and true heart, liberated from either habitual protest or the compulsion to try to merit the gift after it is bestowed.
  • Where are you learning to be still, to habitually dwell in the present moment in awareness of the enveloping life and presence of God? Where are you practicing taking in the breath of Heaven as your most sustaining source?
  • Where are you learning to accept God’s acceptance of who you are, just as you are, not because of your gifting or productivity, but simply because He believes you are worthy of love and belonging in your essence?
  • Where are you maturing to understand wellness in its depth and breadth rather than simply chasing fitness as another place of achievement and outcomes-based living?
  • Where is it that you are growing in your soul’s experience of “bursting with joy and feeling ten feet tall” from regularly receiving God’s intimate and feminine nourishment that God suggests is available to all of His people? (See Isaiah 66 in The Message.)
  • Where is your soul regularly in a safe space to further the integration of all the younger parts of you?
  • Where are you deepening in your union with God and your ability to listen in contemplative connection, receiving His words of affection as the fuel for obedience and casting off performance-based living?
  • Where are you learning to play for the sake of play?  
  • Where are you tending to your body and soul in a regular practice that is bringing ever-deepening sexual intimacy to your marriage bed?
  • Where are you regularly facing your addictions with grace, kindness, and a growing capacity and desire to address them with courage and cunning?
  • Where are you growing in the belief that self-care is not selfish, but rather it is heroic stewardship? How do you practice prioritizing union with God in order that the overflow of His life can be what you bring to this world?
  • Where are you engaging pockets of shame and fear and, in love, resolving to receive healing and see their influence ever diminish in your life?
  • Where do you participate in contemplative liturgy that is not dependent upon you but flows to you from generations of elders who have traveled the ancient path, reaching back to the Christian mystical Fathers and Mothers of our faith in the first few centuries and beyond?
  • Where are you regularly having exposed and dismantled the deep agreements you have made with the limits you have placed on who God can be, what He can do, and how He can do it in your body, soul and spirit, heart, mind, and will?

There are many ways these important questions and needs can be met and answered.

And for me, a regular practice of Kingdom-centered yoga over a decade has been one of the most powerful.

Let me just pause and borrow some credibility from Bud Light and Jesus.

I can’t help but recall the brilliant Bud Light commercial from a recent Super Bowl. You might remember: scene after scene of sold-out fans doing the most odd sort of things, living out their bizarre superstitions in the hopes of vaulting their team to victory. Wearing their random but oh-so-lucky shirts, rubbing the rabbit’s foot dyed in their team’s colors, chanting with their Bud Lights raised in homage, stacking their beer cans in the shape of their team’s emblem to frame the spread of nacho supremes and chicken wings.  

Sure enough, their team wins. Then comes this brilliant line:

It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.

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While depicting colossal superstition, there is a ironic resonance in this commercial with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Jesus has a remarkably simple test to discern, particularly over time, the active presence of God and His Kingdom.

“You will recognize them from their fruit.” Matthew 7:20

God is too wild to be tamed and hemmed in by our painful limits and feeble constraints. And as Jesus Himself points out, religious bullies through the ages have been brilliant at straining gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24). Therefore, we often can’t know if something is beneficial or harmful by habitual assumption. But we can know with confidence the nature of something if we test its fruit.

Test the fruit. If the fruit is the fruit that Jesus points to in the Gospels, then we must have come into proximity of some portion of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

This is not intended to be a carte blanche endorsement of yoga.

It is an invitation to find your deeper way with God and to become, even more, a student and a son.  

It’s about actively experimenting with and cultivating regular spiritual practices that nourish, strengthen, and integrate our souls, increase our experience of God, and restore us as men.

There are great sages who have gone before us and offer a rich introduction to regular spiritual practices as a primary means to access the resources of the Kingdom.

I’d suggest you start with Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

And then go into Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines.

These texts provide clear explanations on the life of the disciplines.

Ultimately, as Foster suggests, in exploring the spiritual practices, these guidelines will prove to be immensely helpful.

  • It always begins with consent to being a student of Jesus.
  • Heroism as a posture simply does not fit with disciplines.
  • There is no complete list.
  • It is experimental.
  • The posture of “practical not picky” is immensely helpful.
  • We must not be overly concerned about how others do them.  
  • If you practice enough, in time Jesus will show you what’s best for you

The key is a heart-centered decision to become like Jesus from the inside out. Systematically and progressively rearranging our affairs to that end, under the guidance of God and His Word.

The core question is this: How much of your current life is defined by the daily practice of activities which help you to mature in Kingdom living?  

What are you doing that is connecting your soul to the primary means by which God is bringing the wholehearted integration of you as a man?

In The Great Omission, Dallas poses this very honest and exposing question:

If we take as fact that we have been given the keys to the Kingdom in all of its abundance, why is it that we are not thriving?  

He goes on to conclude that we have not yet adequately learned how to use the keys of the Kingdom. He suggests that the key to the keys is to practice regular ways of seeking to “live and act in union with the flow of God’s Kingdom.” He reminds us that Grace is God acting in our life, enabling us to do what we cannot do on our own. By direct effort, I cannot heal my own soul. But I can intentionally participate in activities that connect me with the life of God and provide healing for my soul. Even if we had never fallen into sin, we would still need Grace, God’s action on our behalf. Grace is opposed to earning, not effort, and we are invited to actively become the kind of people “who burn grace like a 747 burns jet fuel.”

It takes humility.

It takes risk.

It takes sincere curiosity of the inner life.

It takes being led as an apprentice into unchartered territory.

Now for the record, I have yet to wear black stretchy pants to a yoga class. Last time I wore my wife’s black stretchy pants, I was also wearing a Britney Spears wig and doing a not-so-impressive keg stand.

But remember, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.

Hopefully I’ll see you in class.

 


 

Father, yet again parts of me are exposed for all the limits I have placed on who You can be, what You can do, and how You can do it in my life. I open my heart afresh to You. I ask that You would break every agreement I have made that limits who You want to be in my life, what You want to do, and how You want to do it. I open my heart to You and to no other to be the lamp unto my feet and the light unto my path. Show me what You have for us together. I choose to risk. I choose the narrow road. I choose to be honest with my limitation, my need, my brokenness, and my propensity to avoid the places where I need Your rescue and Your restoration the most.

I trust that You are pursuing me today, inviting me into more, if I am willing to be Your apprentice. I confess I need to invite You into the areas I could simply label “not working” in the life of my soul. I ask for Your forgiveness for how I have given myself over to defeat and hopelessness in these places. I receive the words from C.S. Lewis who reminds me that all of us who seek to grow with God and His Kingdom are “always and forever beginners.” I choose to believe You have more for me in these places.

I want to live a fully consecrated life. I want to wade into the depth and breadth of both the time-tested spiritual practices and the ones You are shaping uniquely for me and our story. I want to cultivate the keys to access the abundance of Your Kingdom and mature in oneness as You have invited it to be so.

Guard and guide me.

Be my strength.

My light.

And my motive.  

I choose You.  

I choose to be led by the Spirit of God as a son of God. Amen.

 


Footnotes

Looking to try out Kingdom yoga class for the first time?

My wife and two of her amazing allies have done the hard work of investing in a decade of 10,000 hours and becoming good soil as instructors of Kingdom Yoga and as apprentices in Kingdom Living. They now offer wonderfully intimate and soul-caring Kingdom classes in a hidden upper room of an old Victorian home in downtown Colorado Springs. Ascending the wooden stairs and stepping into this space, you just might think you’ve walked through the wardrobe and, if only for an hour, have visited Narnia. Let the Haven teachers know you were introduced to the studio through Become Good Soil, and your first class will be a gift from Haven.

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For someone with far more credibility and miles than I, you might enjoy Dan Allender’s journey into the spiritual practice of yoga.

Final Note: There are all kinds of funky and potentially spiritually oppressive things out there under the banner of yoga. (Just like there are oppressive things in the world that sometimes masquerade under the banners of Jesus, Christianity, and church.) I’m trusting you don’t receive this blog as some benediction of all things “yoga” as a category. Our faith ultimately comes down to a walk with God and a response to His movement in our lives, through both wisdom and revelation. “You shall know them by their fruits,” Jesus said. Walk with God, stay close to His heart, ask Him to protect you from evil and lead you into everlasting life. You will hear His voice. You will be led by the Spirit of God as sons of God. We are offered a wise and discerning heart for a reason.

Over my years of practicing the spiritual discipline of yoga, I have participated in classes at more than 20 yoga studios. The Kingdom of God, like in churches, is woven into all sorts of tapestries, people, contexts, and expressions. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. When the son is ready, the Father appears (2 Cor 6:18). The Gospel in our culture has been deeply westernized and significantly stripped of the integration of the body from the spiritual life of our faith. Unwelcomed by many churches and evangelical communities, it is not surprising that many Kingdom-hearted teachers find secular studios as the best context available for them to offer the Gospel through Kingdom-centered yoga. You shall know them by their fruits. If you look for the best fruit, you’ll find the great trees. If you find bad fruit, bless them and keep on walking down the narrow road.


Want to go deeper?

The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk

Prayer of Heart and Body, Thomas Ryan

Celebration of the Discipline, Richard Foster

The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard

The Great Omission, Dallas Willard

An Introduction by Amy Day

 

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#019: A Beautiful God [Podcast]

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Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download

God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field. -Matthew 13:44

In the sunset of his days, D. L. Moody realized that the catalyst for the deepest portion of his conversion was this sentence spoken to his soul by a trusted sage:

The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to him. – Henry Varley (quoted in A Deeper Experience of Famous Christians)

This quote equally entices and disrupts me.

How much more is available in communion with God than I’ve glimpsed or even remotely dreamed possible? How much have I taken for granted as “normal” in the life of a Christ-follower that is painfully less than what is available? How much am I willing to set out again in search of a treasure whose worth would prompt ecstasy, and in the wake of the encounter, the desire to sell everything in order to possess it would be my unforced response?

Surely this treasure is the invitation to share in the Life of the Trinity, and if I could only see both the invitation and the sensual grandeur of the Life of God for what it is, unforced and total consecration would be my ever-increasing response.

There is a woman I know whose heart has long been set on pilgrimage to search for this kind of vision of God. She is the woman with whom I share my children, my body, my dreams, and my life.

And in her search, she has glimpsed a God who is first searching for her. Of the many impacts of her life upon mine, she embodies the words of Simon Tugwell, as John quotes in The Sacred Romance:

“So long as we imagine it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about—He is looking for us.”

In response to a glimpse of the Treasure, I am witnessing her process of selling more and more to possess it.

After fifteen years of life together, we met up in the studio, pressed “record,” and dove into our first-ever shared podcast.

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#018: Wild Unfettered and Free [Podcast]

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Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download

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This episode of the Become Good Soil Podcast is a reflection I wrote after ongoing ventures in recent years through The Message paraphrase of Matthew 21:12-18, the passage commonly referred to as “The Clearing of the Temple.” My hope is that it might help us thirsty ones peel back the glaze of over-familiarity and experience the scene afresh, as we find ourselves among the crowds in the Temple on that day.

Once you’ve listened to this episode, I suggest you return to the text again as captured by The Message in Matthew 21:12-18 and immerse yourself in it.

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus afresh. Ask to see Him even more truly as He is so that you might offer Him your consent to become like Him, as He is making possible, in this hour of this day.

Enjoy the blog version of this podcast here.

Podcast: Subscribe in iTunes | Play in new window | Download

Strength and Honor,
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Click Here to access this podcast in written form.

 


Matthew 21 (MSG)

When Jesus neared Jerusalem…Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you…” The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!…” As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text: My house was designated a house of prayer; You have made it a hangout for thieves.

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.

When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”

Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left them and the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.

Early the next morning Jesus was returning to the city. He was hungry.

 


  • More on this “Wild, dangerous, unfettered and free” Son of God…

Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge

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Beautiful Outlaw Video Series by John Eldredge

BO Video Series Cover

The Jesus I never knew by Phillip Yancey

The Great Omission by Dallas Wilard

Mediations on the Parables of Jesus, by Thomas Keating

Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairytale by Frederick Buechner

 

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Wild, Unfettered, and Free

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The following is a reflection I wrote after ongoing ventures in recent years through the Message paraphrase of Matthew 21:12-18, the passage commonly referred to as “The Clearing of the Temple.” My hope is that it might help us thirsty ones peel back the glaze of over-familiarity and experience the scene afresh, as we find ourselves among the crowds in the Temple on that day.

Later, I suggest you return to the text again as captured by Matthew (The Message Translation) and immerse yourself in it. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus afresh. Ask to see Him even more truly as He is, so that you might offer Him your consent to become like Him, trusting that He is making it possible, even in this hour of this day.


 

Walk into this scene with me for a few moments. The swollen air of spring in Jerusalem. The dirt-packed roads of the bustling marketplace, throngs of folks kicking up dust to mix with the day’s gossip. Street peddlers clamoring, children playing games, animals under load winding their way through busy streets.

Everyday life is being momentarily suspended. Rumors have been building of certain happenings. The entire community, young and old, has poured out onto the street, caught up in the excitement of this remarkable day: the inauguration of a king.

Long has the ache deepened for the One to come lead and restore goodness to the land of Israel. And people believe that Jesus is it and the time has come.

Their time has come.

As the Scriptures describe, “Crowds went ahead and crowds followed.” Men, women, and children swamping this main corridor into the city center. People ripping palm branches off aged trees to lay as homage on the dusty road. Men and women peeling off their cloaks, creating a carpet of honor for the coming king. Wild cheering. Exultation. Anticipation charging the air. Yet straining nerves as well. The officials are beside themselves: what can they make of this? Matthew renders it this way: “As (Jesus) made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, unnerved.”

And this is all prologue.

It is in this context, this atmosphere, that Jesus dismounts the donkey, leaves the parade, and enters the temple courts.

Men have turned His Father’s house into a den of thieves.

And He is livid.

He begins first with the throwing of a single chair, its front legs splintering into pieces against an ancient column. With all His force, He kicks over tables, heavy-laden with merchandise. Chaos and outrage ensue, more than ever encountered in this place.

Really?

Really?!?

What would you do?

We cannot appreciate the Scriptures until we enter deep into them in the most personal manner. We must hear the commotion: the yelling and playing of children, the haggling of transactions in the marketplace temple. We must smell the stench of the crowded streets. We must feel the tension, the atmosphere pregnant with a sharp blend of anticipation and rattled nerves.

Like me, you have no doubt heard the story and even celebrated Palm Sunday and Easter Week. But never before had I linked this narrative together in a way that opened up even more of the marvel of Jesus’ personality and His unique union with His Father.

This is not how one might expect a king to act in the delicate moment of a deeply anticipated coronation. Surely, this is the kind of moment where it would be wise not to rock the boat. Tension is high; expectations are even higher. All eyes are on Jesus. And it is in this precise moment and atmosphere that He goes “straight into the temple and [throws] out everyone who set up shop, buying and selling. He [kicks] over tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants.”

Chaos. Disorder. Mayhem. Loan sharks yelling at Jesus as they throw themselves on the marble floor, desperately grasping at scattering coins.

Not exactly the kind of presidential acceptance speech one would think Jesus might offer to unite the people and mark His coronation and long anticipated rule.

Notice He moves in the exact opposite energy of the lure of the atmosphere around Him. How strong the pull must be to quietly smile, to “choose His battles wisely,” waiting for another moment on another day to address the corrupted system that has ravaged the hearts and pocketbooks of sincere folks who truly want to worship God.

But Jesus is different. He is not ruled by the false self, not informed by habitual reactions and pre-programmed responses (like us), crafted with sophistication over decades to disengage from real relationship, in order to self-protect and avoid shame.

He is free. Free to move in  the service of love. He lives in union with His Father. Ever accessing the resources of Heaven that flow freely into Him. Ever aware of what His Father wants to bring through Him in His day as a man walking among us, and making a particular life available to us.

It is the next line that grabs my heart, and which I never before connected with this scene. Immediately after Matthew describes the pandemonium of Jesus kicking over tables, manhandling greedy men and inciting riot, we have this line:

“Now there was room for the blind and the crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.”

Stunning.

Jesus is not merely reacting in anger to retaliate against the money changers. He is no hot-head, unbridled in overwhelming rage. Far from it. Notice how He is able to shift fluidly, without hesitation, between various styles of relating soul-to-soul with others, depending on the leading of Love.

First we observe how Jesus operates in this heroically defiant move against evil that has sieged the temple, His Father’s house. Then, in the very next moment, He moves in utter intimacy, offering love, connection, physical touch to the broken and the lame. These are the outcasts, those who have the least, who are the least—whose lives exist in the shadows of the community and of the temple. Jesus sees them differently. He knows that this temple is His Father’s idea. It is intended to be a house of healing, a house of Kingdom-Come, divine light reaching from the Heavens into humanity—touching and transforming and serving the lives of God’s people. It is men who have made it a “hangout for thieves.”

In union with His Father, free and flowing, Jesus turns on a dime from this bold move against to a profoundly intimate move toward. He speaks, touches, makes room and makes way for the outcast. And He heals them, His honored guests of the coronation.

I love what comes next.

Naturally the “religious leaders” (the version of churchianity of the day) are outraged. Of course. All their scheming to build their personal, religious kingdoms and line their own pockets has been called into question and uprooted from these ancient, marble floors. This outsider has seriously threatened their personal ambitions.

And in the background, in a few subsequent moments of rare stillness in this bustling market, it is the children who begin celebrating.

Loudly.

Of course. It always is.

The children know.

You see, they have yet to grow elaborate fig leaves to self-protect and hide their true selves from the dangers of this world and the risk of being known and being seen. That’s why Jesus says the way into the Kingdom is to become like them. The children can intuitively distinguish good from bad, true from false. They aren’t caught up in politics or power plays. Their hearts know that whatever just happened in in this temple, on this day,

it is really, really, good.

The celebration of the little ones incites even more rage in the religious leaders.

What will Jesus do? What will His next move be?

All eyes are on Him.

What sort of defense would you offer in this narrative being played out before so many? Tables have been thrown, money has been scattered, ravaged bodies have been healed, leaders have been outraged, kids have celebrated, and then we get this moment:

“Fed up, Jesus turned on his heels, and he left them and the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.”

Just like that, He bails.

He doesn’t offer a rebuttal or even reach to clean up any of the mess He has made in the temple and in the hearts of men. He simply turns and leaves it all behind. He heads out in a daring act of moving away. He really doesn’t care what they think about him. Any of them. He is unconcerned with how they choose to interpret His actions or motives. Unconcerned what the outcomes might or might not arise from this wild chaos which has ensued. He simply shakes the dust off His feet, stays in union with His Father, and moves on, choosing solitude, the soul-centering quietness of a solo walk and the reviving safety of His favorite town in the land.

It’s amazing, really.

We simply do not do the narrative justice if we read it with the end in mind. That’s not how it happened. We have to insert ourselves deeply into the text. We must smell and feel and question and wonder what it must have been like. Right there. With Him.

Jesus’ freedom to move against the evil of His day and in a moment to turn fluidly, moving toward the outcasts with scandalous intimacy; and then in the next moment, to move away and simply depart the scene, entrusting all of it to His Father…is simply astonishing.

And then, my other favorite part of the story…this next verse:

“Early the next morning Jesus was returning to the city of Jerusalem…He was hungry….”

Okay now, I’m not a rocket scientist or a neurosurgeon. But I will take a stab at Relational Strategy 101.

You’ve just paraded into Jerusalem the day before to be crowned king, then caused a mass riot to break out in the temple, performed some miracles that violated ancient customs and laws, and slipped out of town right before the establishment can seize and torture you. And if you’ve found yourself the next morning both miraculously alive and rather hungry, do you think it would be wise to head straight back into the lions’ den of Jerusalem for an Egg McMuffin and a handful of figs?

Oh, the courage, the freedom, the love at work in this Man.

Once again, Jesus moves in a way that is opposite to the lure of the atmosphere; rather than hiding out safe in the countryside, He moves toward, entering back into the city, offering a smile and some hugs, then sits down with a few friends and sips on a caramel latte.

Jesus is the wild one.

No one has ever lived a more whole and daring life than this man.

No one provides us with a better model of love.

No one provides a better portrait of what it looks like to live as a son, whose personality takes upon a quality of eternity, living beyond personal temperament and being free and constrained by love to move fluidly through all of the predominant styles of relating.

Jesus is simply unmoved by the opinion of others. By being rooted in His Father and the infinite resources of His Kingdom, He is unencumbered by the hinderance of outcomes.

Dallas Willard was asked, “If you could use one word to describe what Jesus was like, what you would encounter when you engaged Him, what would it be?”

After a long pause (as there is always a long pause with Dallas), he offered this.

“Oh, Jesus was very relaxed.”

Of course. It’s a way of saying there has never been anyone more comfortable in His own skin. He was at ease with Himself. He knew who He was. He lived from a place rooted and established in love.

And from observing this text, I would risk humbly adding that Jesus was also deeply unpredictable. Not in a chaotic, volatile sense; but rather, He was not programmed, not attached to reaction-driven predictability. People simply never knew exactly what He might do next; in other words, they never knew exactly what Love would do. His life was response-driven. He lived, as Dallas has said, in a

God-bathed,

God-breathed,

God-centered reality.

Here is the good news: we can have this life.

We can have His life.

It is the central invitation of His heart and His Kingdom.

His principal intention is to make you like Him.

Through His life.

He is asking your consent to live in you, to guard you and to guide you into an ever-increasing experience of Reality; a real faith, deepening hope, and radical love.

If we are willing to risk some honest consideration of the life of our souls, to take some honest inventory of our habitual patterns in relationship (particularly with those closest to us) and pre-programmed responses to circumstances, we can be transformed, over time, into the kind of people who live out of wholeheartedness in union with the Kingdom of God.

We can access, moment by moment, the abundance of supernatural provision flowing through us. Just as Jesus did. We can atrophy that part of us ruled and governed by not-yet-met-desires. We can partner with God in a way that allows us to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. And we can be constrained only by love.

Love for God.

Love for ourselves.

Love for others.

We can move against in valiant courage.

We can move toward in extravagant empathy and d deep, soulful knowing of another.

We can move away in heroic disentangling of the fears, concerns, and compulsive needs of others and our compulsive need to come through for them.

In choosing to engage in the real and raw practices that allow us to participate in an increasing atmosphere of love, we can become like Him and have a life that takes on a quality of eternity.

And the children will rejoice.

 

Strength and Honor,

Morgan-sig-Gray-100


Listen to this same narrative in audio format read by Morgan


 

 

 

  • More on this “Wild, dangerous, unfettered and free” Son of God…

Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge

BO Cover

Beautiful Outlaw Video Series by John Eldredge

BO Video Series Cover

The Jesus I never knew by Phillip Yancey

The Great Omission by Dallas Wilard

Mediations on the Parables of Jesus, by Thomas Keating

Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairytale by Frederick Buechner


Matthew 21 (The Message)

When Jesus neared Jerusalem…Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you…” The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!…” As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text: My house was designated a house of prayer; You have made it a hangout for thieves.

Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.

When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”

Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left them and the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.

Early the next morning Jesus was returning to the city. He was hungry.