Shepherd (pastor) Lawrence Davidson (Larry the Sheep Guy) travelled through time to be part of our living Nativity scene on Christmas Eve, and then stuck around to help us all understand Concept C—Christmas.
Just one look at our Nativity scenes and he could tell: we just didn’t get the concept. “To understand Concept C, you got to understand Concept A and Concept B,” said Larry.
“’A’ stands for stuff like A+, Antiseptic, Angelic, Alleluia and Amen. No one knew exactly what Concept A, or holiness, was, excepting we were pretty sure it wasn’t sheep poop, spit, nor sin.” “’B’ stands for Bottom, Behind, Butt, Booger, Burp, Bad gas and Barn—my Barn.”
“I seen hundreds of yer Nativity scenes,” said Larry, “and not even one little sheep poopoo… and that there’s your problem. If you don’t understand Concept B, you ain’t never gonna understand Concept C.”
He said religious folks in his day didn’t understand Concept C neither. That’s because religious folks are so good at playing “Hide the Stink.” “We shepherds had already lost the game of Hide the Stink,” said Larry.
“We were unclean, and to get clean, them pastors and priests said we needed to sacrifice a lamb… and we supplied the lambs,” said Larry. “They needed us to feel clean, but they wouldn’t touch us ‘cause we was unclean.” “I figured we had a sick God, a cruel God. I hated God. Do you hate God?” asked Larry. “Have you been hiding that stink?”
Along about 0 (AD or BC, he wasn’t sure), while he was out “abiding in the fields,” the Heavenly Host appeared to him and the Glory of the Lord shown round about him. And the angels revealed to him, that Christ the Lord (the King of Concept A) would be born unto them and this would be a sign for them: They would find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—Larry’s manger—"the very epicenter of Concept B.”
Religion is all about hiding Concept B in what folks pretend to be Concept A. But this was Concept A born into Concept B, making Concept C: Christmas.
Larry found the baby and the baby found Larry’s heart… and it was funny. He said it was like a joke deeper than this entire world—not covering the stink, but transforming all the stink into perfume. “They were all building walls to keep the holiness in and keep me out, and lo and behold, my manger becomes the Holy of Holies!” “And the King of Glory is a redneck—born in a barn, to an unwed pregnant teenage virgin—that’s about as redneck as you can get!” said Larry.
Thirty years later, Larry followed Jesus like a little lamb—he knew his voice. He was the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.
He described how the false shepherds tried to dispose of him, like a piece of Concept B, “outside the camp.” Larry thought, for sure, the Heavenly Host—the angel army—would appear and it would be Judgment Day. But the angels didn’t appear, and yet it was Judgment Day. The Lamb of God lifted his head on the tree of knowledge and Life and cried, “Father, Forgive.”
Suddenly he understood: It was atonement, but not to a God who is cruel. It was atonement, to a people and for a people who are cruel. Concept A is burning Love, the judgment of God. It’s Grace.
“God consigned all people to Concept B, in order that he might have Concept A on all people, in order that all people might become Concept C. Christmas is Christ in me. The living Nativity scene is me,” said Larry. “The Sanctuary is us.” “But it can’t happen, or at least you won’t see it happen, until you stop playing Hide the Stink.”
“We’re all looking for God—looking for Beauty, Truth, Life, and Love—and you’ll find God, but in the last place you’d think to look: ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in your stinky manger,’” said Larry. “That’s Christmas.” “And when you see him there, covered in your stink, for the love of you—well, your manger won’t stink no more. That’s Easter.”
Dec 24 2019
Space for God
Dec 23 2019
How to Wish God a Merry Christmas
Years ago, housesitting for a friend who was also pastor to Ronald Reagan, the phone rang. My wife picked it up and heard Nancy Reagan on the other end. She panicked. I panicked. Totally discombobulated, we made her wait on the phone in the kitchen; neither of us wanted to talk to her—or could’ve actually talked to her—the person.
A person is the breath of God in dirt; a person is an “I” with some accumulated “me.” Over time, a person acquires a persona. And sometimes the persona is so imposing, it utterly hides the person.
I suspect that’s why famous people are often such lonely people.
“The central idea of the great part of the Old Testament,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “may be called the idea of the loneliness of God.” I wonder if God ever feels like Nancy Reagan waiting on the phone, or a lonely beauty queen, wondering if anyone actually loves her—the person. Supposedly, Norma Jean Mortensen once said to a friend, “Everybody loves Marilyn Monroe, until they find out that she’s me and then they leave.”
It’s shocking to see the baby picture of someone like Marilyn Monroe, that is, Norma Jean Mortensen—you suddenly realize there is a person under all that persona.
A baby is a person without much persona, an “I” without much accumulated “me.”
When I was a baby, I was just as much “I” as I am now. However, I hardly had any “me” (I had no resume whatsoever). But my mom loved me just because I was. And I still long to be loved just because “I am.”
Does God long to be loved just because he is “I Am?”
One night after a busy day, talking to important people who thought they knew me, as I was tucking my three year old daughter into bed, she grabbed my head, pulled it to her chest and said, “I’ll be the big mommy, and you be the little baby.”
And for a moment I think I was. She didn’t know how the sermon went. She asked for no favors and made no demands. She patted my head and said, “I love you little baby.” And in that moment, I rested. In that moment, she knew me (or “I”) better than anyone in the world.
I wonder if that’s how God felt as Mary held Jesus to her breast?
In that moment, she knew God better than Moses at the burning bush, better than Job staring into the whirlwind, better than Isaiah in the heavenly throne room. She held God to her breast, and she was not consumed by fire. Is that because God said to Mary, “You be the big mommy and I’ll be the little baby.”
Why would God empty himself and become a baby? Could it be that he wants what all babies want? To be cuddled, to be chattered to, to be known just as an “I am”—an “I” with little accumulated “me?” To be loved unconditionally? To hear you say, “I love you forever. I like you for always. As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be”?
He loves you like that. Perhaps he longs to be loved like that? How could we love him like that—when he’s good for nothing, just Good—like a baby?
Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the last and least of these, you do to me.” At Christmas time, I wonder if God is sneaking into baby cribs and mangers all over the place, just so moms would pick him up and hold him tightly to their breasts. … Or sneaking into the destitute and the poor, just so you’d love him when he seems to be good for nothing—just Good. … Or sneaking into the worst of sinners, in the hope that you would sacrifice yourself just to find him there, buried beneath fame or shame or both.
Maybe he constantly longs to save and be saved. (Babies constantly need “saving,” and in this way, we—his “mother”—are saved.) Maybe he longs to love and be loved, just as every member in your body longs to constantly give and receive the life that is in the blood.
So, what does I Am want for Christmas? (Not gold, frankincense and myrrh.) He wants what all babies want. He wants you—to be held tightly to your chest, to be chattered to in love, to hear you sing: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my beloved you will be.”
How could you wish God a Merry Christmas? You could love him in the stinky mangers that constantly surround you. You could even love him in the manger that is you.
Perhaps you are your own “last and least of these?” Well, whatever you do to “the last and least of these,” you do to him. So, speak it into the depths of your being, to the person beneath the persona, the “I” under all that “me.” Say, “I wish you a Merry Christmas.”
Dec 15 2019
Envy (How Skipping “Church” Makes You Stupid)
“My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant…” (Psalm 73:2).
Envy will make you steal the Good, which is evil. Envy will make you take the Life, which is death. Envy was the temptation spoken by the snake in the garden.
To hope for the Good and the Life is Salvation. To envy the Good and the Life is Hell.
Envy assumes that the Good and the Life are limited commodities that one can possess. Envy is arrogance: literally, “praising one’s self”. Envy is taking credit.
Psalm 73:3, 16-17 “I was envious of the arrogant” and “understanding this… seemed to me a wearisome task until I went into the sanctuary of God.”
Entering the Sanctuary was entering the story. People didn’t enter to take knowledge of the Good and make judgments. People entered to be judged, and the judgment made them good.
The Psalmist didn’t enter to learn that envy wasn’t good. The Psalmist entered and woke from a nightmare—an evil delusion called envy. And when he left, envy just seemed “stupid.”
“Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise their phantoms… I was stupid and nothing. I was like a beast.” (Psalm 73:20,22)
1. When you envy the arrogant, you envy evil, which is nothing. 2. When you envy the Good, you envy God, for “God alone is good.” 3. When you envy God, you envy the opposite of envy, for God is Love.
Envy is the desire to take the Good and take the Life. Love is the desire to give your life to another and that’s the Good.
When you entered the temple, you entered the Story. When you arrived at the inner sanctuary you encountered the End who is the Plot, and who gives meaning to every event in every story that’s any story.
In the Psalmist’s day, few but the high priest could see, but now we know: behind the curtain, between the cherubim, and on top of the throne was the Good in flesh and the Life enthroned on a tree in the middle of the garden: Jesus Christ and him crucified, the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
When you envy, you envy him hanging on that tree. Who would envy that? Everyone. This is Love.
“In this is Love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son—Jesus from the bosom of the father—as an atoning sacrifice for our sin” (1 John 4:10).
Envy is taking the Good and the Life from the Tree. Love is giving the Good, and that is Life—the heart of God offered to us on a tree.
“Did God want us to eat from the tree?” That’s the very same question as: “Did God want us to crucify the Christ?” (There is a law against such things.) “Did God want to make us in the image and likeness of Love?” “Did God want us to know the Good and inherit eternal Life?
Perhaps we cannot comprehend the answer, but the answer will comprehend us and make us in his own image.
We took the life of the Good on a tree in a garden and everything died. And God gave His Life on a tree in a garden and everything lives, and that is the Good: All things new and humanity in the image and likeness of God.
Envy took the Life of the Good on a tree in a garden. But the night before, the Good in flesh fore-gave his Life at dinner.
4. We envy God, and God has already given himself to us.
The Life is in the Blood. And the temple was all about blood. Blood cleanses our bodies of waste and disease, and constantly delivers the good. We think God is into bloodshed, but God is into blood shared.
When we envy, we take the Life of the Good and we hold it in our souls. But when we worship in hope, we return the Life as praise and gifts of sacrificial Love.
In the Sanctuary is the Heart of God. The temple is his Body. We are that Body, and everyone that’s anyone will be that Body.
5. Envy is stupid, for we are all members of one body.
One member of my body doesn’t envy the next member of my body. But every member of my body hopes in all the other members of my body.
Envy seeks to make every member just the same, in fear of every difference. Faith, Hope, and Love unite every difference in one body and that’s what makes every member happy.
Love is not a commodity. Love is a limitless and eternal communion; Love is God. You have nothing to envy but God, and He’s already given himself to you. Don’t envy Him. Hope in him.
Believe the Gospel. And envy will just seem stupid.
Dec 08 2019
Advent-ually: Hope Fatigue
Dec 01 2019
Why Go to Church?
Psalm 84 “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!" “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord…” “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
The Psalmist is singing about what the Israelites considered to be “church.” He’s singing about the temple. I don’t normally say, “My soul longs, yes, even faints for church.” What made the temple so attractive?
It must have something to do with where it was, what it was, what was in it, and how you entered.
It was believed to be built on the spot where God made Adam in the garden of Eden, where Abraham went to offer Isaac, who was everything he had hoped for. It was the spot where David confessed his sin and offered to suffer for Jerusalem; the spot where his son would be crucified by, and for, Jerusalem, on a tree in a garden. It was the spot where the Old Jerusalem would be destroyed, and the New Jerusalem would descend from God.
What it was, was a stone tent—the tabernacle. What was in it was what God had carefully stipulated to Moses.
In the heart of the temple, on the foundation stone, was a coffin (the word is also translated ark.) In the Ark was the “knowledge of good and evil” written on stone—the law. On top of the Ark, was “the Mercy Seat,” on which the high priest would sprinkle blood; It was a Mercy Seat, a judgment seat, and a throne. On either side of the seat were two cherubim, like those that guard the way to the tree of Life.
It was the Covenant of Law, literally encased in the Covenant of Mercy. It was laws, contained in the story of Grace. Standing on that throne, John saw the Passover Lamb, our Lord Jesus.
We took the Life of the Good (God alone is good) on a tree in a garden just outside the temple walls, and everything died. But the night before we took the Life, the Good gave his Life at dinner. He fore-gave his Life, and everything began to live. In fact, “It is finished.” Jesus is the Life and the Good; He is Love lost and Love that finds.
Just outside the Holy of Holies and a drawn curtain were lots of flames and knives, like the flaming sword that turned every which way guarding the way to the Tree of Life. And outside of that Holy place was a courtyard with an altar for sacrifice. And outside that courtyard, an outer courtyard for worshipping and feasting.
In Leviticus God makes it clear that anyone who eats meat makes a sacrifice… to something. The Jews were commanded to bring all meat to the tabernacle, so the priests could offer the blood to God. The Life is in the blood. Sacrifice is surrendering the life we take, to the one who constantly gives. The Temple was like a heart circulating blood in one giant lovely body.
It’s our ego that tells us the Life is our own and so dams the river and ourselves. It’s the Judgment of God that cuts the false from the true, un-dams the river, and teaches us to lose “our lives” and find them in God… Life is a decision to Love.
Every story is the story of Love lost and Love that finds.
To enter the temple, one often travelled through Gehenna, and then the outer court, and then, through intermediaries, into the inner court, holy place, and finally, the Holy of Holies. It was a journey, not only to a place, but a time, or all time in one place; Scripture tells us that it represents the age to come. And it’s inside was bigger than all the outside; it is the New Creation. It was the Beginning, and the End, and the Way from one place to another. It was—actually, is—the Plot to the Story, that is all things.
Once you trust the Plot, once you see that “It is finished,” the plot transforms every moment of the Story; A day in His court gives meaning to a thousand elsewhere.
Stories store meaning. Stories reveal persons. Stories unite people. Stories tell us who we are.
When my children were little, every night they would say, “Daddy, tell me the story of the day that I was born.”
Stories tell us who we are, and they make us who we are.
The Story of Superman, for instance, is not a story that a little boy can create. But it’s a story that creates little boys and turns them into men. It’s not a story of what the boy “needs” to do, but what the Superman has done. The boy loses himself in the story, and finds himself in the story, for the story has found a place in the boy.
You can only live your story, by trusting the story that’s been written.
Entering the temple was entering a story. Entering most churches is like entering a classroom.
We want “knowledge of the Good,” so we can do good, and make ourselves good. The Gospel is the story of “the Good” knowing us, and making us, good.
The Gospel is: “God saves you from yourself!” But we take the law out of the coffin, and try to rewrite the story, to make it depend on ourselves; There’s a reason it was kept in the Ark, covered in Mercy. We turn, “God saves you from yourself” into, “You save yourself from God.”
We literally crucify the Plot, “God saves,” and everything dies.
To enter the temple was to enter “The Story,” The Story of Love lost and Love that finds; the story of the eschatos man, the Superman, Jesus, which means “God saves.” The Story is not dependent on us; we are utterly dependent on the story. The Story of Grace creates a heart of faith.
Maybe that’s why we “Go to Church?” To be known by the Word of God. To hear the story of the day we were, are, and will be born. We are born through a torn curtain. This is the sixth day of Creation and the seventh day is your home.
God is your home and you are his. “How lovely is my dwelling place,” declares the Lord.
Nov 24 2019
God’s Rest (and How to Enter It)
Psalm 95 starts sweet, and we love to quote it: “Oh come let us sing to the Lord… Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker (literally, ‘our Doer’).” But we don’t quote the end: “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as at Meribah… for forty years I loathed that generation… Therefore, I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
We don’t quote the end of Psalm 95, unless we’re trying to get someone to do something that they don’t want to do, and that’s ironic, for “rest” is to do only what you want to do.
If I’m commanded to rest, I don’t rest; trying to sleep is the most unrestful thing I do.
Repeatedly, God commanded Israel to rest. In numerous ways, he tells them why: “You will sabbath, for in six days I labored and on the seventh I rested, for all was done. I create you. I save you. And I sanctify you.” Then God says, “Above all… You shall keep the Sabbath… Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.” (Exodus 31:12-14).
The harder I work at resting, the less I do. The Sabbath commandment is a death sentence and a promise: “You shall keep my Sabbath.”
Hebrews 3 and 4 quote Psalm 95 extensively, and then the author writes, “Strive to enter that rest.” That rest is God’s rest, which Moses and the Israelites “did not enter.”
And yet, we know that Moses was transfigured with Jesus and stood on the mountain in the Holy Land. And we know that all Israel will be saved, for the Son of Man prophesies to the dry bones (Ez. 37), and the whole house of Israel rises from the dead, and God places them in the land.
“Today… Strive to enter that rest,” wrote the author of Hebrews. He didn’t write “strive to rest,” and that’s good for that’s an oxymoron. He wrote “strive to enter God’s rest,” as if God’s rest was a reality that one could enter, like a tent, tabernacle, house, garden or land. What is God’s Rest?
The author of Hebrews says that it remains for some to enter. It is God’s works, “finished from the foundation of the world.” It is the Seventh Day of Creation, when God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good and it is finished.
Every week we’re commanded to testify that God’s work is finished, and that the seventh day is not like the other six days. It’s sometimes pictured as an eighth that, in Hebrew thought, is an endless seventh.
The seventh day is older than the first day and has no end, for it is the end and the beginning; it is not perishable, but imperishable; it’s not temporal, but eternal.
God’s rest has always been and will always be. And God’s rest is all that is, for all that is, is what God has done, for his works were “finished from the foundation of the world.” And you are his work… so is Moses.
This means that the Moses transfigured on the mountain is older and younger than the Moses that wandered in the desert. And it means that you are already seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
God’s rest is reality. So, what is unrest, but a lack of reality and the presence of evil?
So where is evil? Evil is like an emptiness in chronological time, that is, space-time.
This world is not an explosion of somethingness in the nothingness. It is an explosion—a big bang—of nothingness in the somethingness that is God. But one day, the seventh day, it will be filled with Glory, just as Moses was filled with Glory on the mountain, and we will, and have been, filled with Glory—the manifestation of God’s Word spoken into the void: Jesus.
Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your heart. You can’t create yourself; you can only be yourself, now. Your identity is not “an achievement;” it is a gift.
I enter God’s Rest, because God’s Rest, enters me… and then I know, “it is finished.” I know that all that needs to be done, has already been done, so all I can do is what God has done and is doing, which is what I want to do.
I’m not the Creator, but I am the re-creator, the recreator. The seventh day is a holy day, a holiday, when I only do what I want to do; and I can do all things in Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. Little children do everything, not because anything “needs to be done,” but because all has been done. And so, all their work is play: toy mowers and easy bake ovens. Heaven is not doing nothing, but doing all things without the illusion of independence, isolation, shame, and fear.
God’s Rest is constant freedom, love, life, and ecstasy. And “it is finished.” But it doesn’t exist, by definition, if there is a place where God’s work is endlessly unfinished and some of his children are endlessly not made in his image. We can’t “enter his rest,” if there is no such place.
The dirtiest trick—maybe the only trick—of the devil is to get me to think that God’s Rest is dependent on me, when I am totally dependent on God’s Rest.
So How do we enter God’s Rest? 1. We must have faith that there is such a thing, which means: 2. We must die… to our own ego.
And that’s a miracle, for you can’t kill your ego with your ego, and faith is a gift of grace that none may boast (that’s your ego). At best, we can position ourselves for the miracle; we can expose ourselves to the Judgement of God… And that’s exactly what Psalm 95 is all about.
“Come into his presence with praise.” Worship is the sacrifice of praise and what we sacrifice is the ego. “Let us kneel before the Lord our God our Doer.” When I realize that all I need to do has been done, my ego dies. That hurts. But it is a beautiful death; it is Life Eternal.