As many as they were before

“I will whistle for them and gather them in, for I have redeemed them, and they shall be as many as they were before.
Zechariah 10:8 ESV

It has occurred to me
That the first garden and the last garden
Were always the plan

And the glory of the last garden
From its bejeweled walls
To the majesty of its tiniest leaf vein
Is brighter, deeper, more profound and poignant
Than it would have been
Without the serpent

Not because he was anything
But he believed he was making something
Something big
Yet in the end what had been intended
For very good
Turns out to be inevitable
And very good
And like the serpent never was

And even – and he’ll hate this –
Better
As if he’d never slithered

Because of the middle garden
And the blood-like sweat
And a cup drained
By one who did not slay the garden invaders
But submitted to their serpent whips
And venomed nails
And sweated out blood like thick rain

So to gather
All of his
Without one of them lost

Again

Without one of them lost

A snake-bitten people looked up at the exalted one
Crowned in thorned fangs
and were healed

And in the end
The serpent
Got nothing at all

Grateful

I was tired yesterday evening when I walked onto the Lone Star College University Park campus. It was time for our weekly Core meeting (the Core is the Christian club I help lead at LSC UP). I was lugging my backpack and a carry-case of thirty Chick Fil A sandwiches that Lone Star generously provided fo us. They are good to us.

It didn’t matter that I was tired. When i walked into the building i had the same energizing feeling that I get every week: deep affection for this great little community college campus and gratefulness and wonder that I get to do this.

Here is a picture of the group last night. They devoured the sandwiches, by the way. I’m blessed a million ways.

Escape

I haven’t posted recently because I  haven’t been on the bus for awhile. I spent last week in California at a data conference. Jill came with me; it was an enjoyable week and we even got some vacation time on Friday in San Francisco.

While there we visited the prison at Alcatraz. That was fascinating. Alcatraz housed the worst of the worst. As far as is known, in its 29 year history no one ever survived an escape attempt from Alcatraz. Even if you were able to get out of the facility, Alcatraz is an island a mile and a half off the coast of California and it is believed no one would survive the tides and hypothermia of the swim. But people still tried.

Fight or flight? When to escape from your circumstances and when to dig in and push through? I think about this a lot when I’m in difficult times, but I almost always pick “fight” over “flight”. I believe persevering through results in a better man in the end. Push through.

God has given me a lot of escapes in the midst of all that fighting and pushing. Home is an escape. Jill is an escape; home is where she is. My kids and grand kids are an escape.

I use the word “escape” the way J.R.R. Tolkien used it when responding to criticisms that the Lord of the Rings was “escapist.” He agreed that it was, in he same way that escaping from prison is “escapist”.

One thing I love about Jesus is that he didn’t escape when he could have. He persevered through the most horrible trial imaginable on the cross. He escaped death, not by avoiding it, but by literally submitting to it and then breaking out of a stone cold prison and walking forth in resurrection power.

In the same way, he didn’t die and rise so that we could escape this world. He is redeeming this world and building his Kingdom and one day he will set this world all to rights again. We won’t be escaping, we will be coming home to the garden for which we were created.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. – Revelation 22:5 ESV

Shaken

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord . Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.'” Haggai 2:4‭c-‬9 ESV

The covenant out of Egypt was a covenant of people-hood and adoption. Out of the plagued and shaken old kingdom to a Kingdom of priests, yet wandering, wandering, wandering from the furnace to a milk and honey-flow garden.

Don’t be afraid, God’s Spirit hasn’t departed. He has shaken and is shaking the heavens, the earth, the lands, the seas, the nations. All will fall before an unshakable Kingdom whose Sovereign rode into the town of the Temple, veiled power in humility, seated on a donkey. He shook the temple, small and close, in cleansing, righteous rage.

The Lord owns the treasures of the earth, and the cattle on a thousand hills. His Temple will be filled with glory as those he treasures come forth from every nation, drawn by the Advent, the Incarnation, the Atonement delivered on the day the earth shook, the Veil tore and the Blood flowed. Drawn by the Resurrection that fulcrumed the center of all history as a tomb door shook open, exploding the seals as hell shook apart

Out of the shaken ground, in an upper room tongue-lashed in bright flame, the true unshaken Temple stood as the wind shook the shutters and the tongues reeled back the Babel curse, the un-scattering together of a shaken-apart people.

The Temple.

Now in divine diaspora dispersed among billions of Spirit tabernacles world-wide, walking the earth in community unshaken by distance, in veiled glory, from glory to glory, as we await the final shaking when our beautiful King returns, and the shaking is fulfilled, and garden peace reigns once again.

Two steps back

I lost it yesterday.

Two things set me off. One was Donald Trump’s moral equivalence and open admiration for Kim Jong Un. The other was the SBC allowing Mike Pence to turn the convention into a Trump rally.

Unfortunately, I allowed these two newsbits to turn me into a person I don’t want to be. I said some things I shouldn’t have to people who deserve better.

I’ve done my best to make amends.

I’ll be glad when the painful work of sanctification is complete.

Four dimensional tribal chess

We live in a surreal time.

We just got through a G7 summit where our President treated our long-time allies like garbage; impugned their motives, hurled public charges of dishonesty, whiplashed through acceptance of the joint statement and follow up rejection of same.

We just got through a summit with North Korea where our President treated the murderous dictator of NK with profound respect and expressions of mutual trust.

Reactions to this have been brightly demarcated along tribal lines, in precise mirror-image to how the reactions would line up for the previous administration.

The four dimensional chess is getting exhausting.

The best way

And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
Acts 10:39‭-‬42 ESV

This is part of the talk Peter gave to the household and friends of Cornelius on the day that is often referred to as the “Gentile Pentecost”. I’m drawn to his statement that God made Jesus “to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

There is a lot in that sentence, but in particular Peter answers a question many have asked over the millennia. You may have asked it yourself. Here’s the question:

“God, why don’t you just show yourself?”

Why didn’t he appear to all the people? Wouldn’t that be easier? Jesus could have just flashed across the sky and the whole world would see and know. Why didn’t God do that? Why doesn’t God do that?

I can’t comprehensively answer that question. But I think Peter gives the main answer here: because God didn’t want to.

Jesus didn’t appear to all the people, as we might desire. Instead, he appeared “to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses.”

The whole point was to have us carry the message, imperfect and bungling though we might be. This is how God has chosen to do it, virally spreading the good news of Jesus to the world through people who, first, were the friends and followers who ate and drank with him, then through those they told, down through the centuries and untold spiritual generations to us.

It’s the best way. Because it’s God’s way.

Kingdom dreams

I read Matthew 6 yesterday. It’s cliche to say it, but sometimes you can read something you’ve read a bunch of times and suddenly see it differently; see a deeper theme you never pieced together before.

I saw the pattern, maybe for the first time. Jesus talks repeatedly about the motives we have for nearly everything “spiritual” we do (giving, praying, fasting) and what those motives should be. There’s that curious section around verse 22 referring to the good, healthy eye flooding us with light versus the bad eye flooding us with darkness. There’s the majestic ending full of encouragement and admonition against anxiety.

It is all one theme: be single minded and set our eyes on the Kingdom of God. Seek that and the rest is just details. We give, we pray, we fast for the Kingdom of God, not for attention. When we pray we pray for the Kingdom of God to come to earth, for God’s will done here as it is in heaven.  It’s not a long prayer because that’s a tight, straightforward outcome.

See the Kingdom clearly, have a “good eye”, and be flooded with light.

Invest in the Kingdom. Store your treasures there. Have faith, God will take care of you.

It’s so simple. It really is; simple yet so hard. It battles against those treasures on earth that scatter our vision: praise from others, caressing and feeding our worries, chasing the gold at the end of the rainbow. Earthly financial security. Work, work, work. The American Dream.

Jesus is calling us to the Kingdom Dream.

May I dream Kingdom dreams.

Just need to start living it

I made the mistake of getting back on Twitter this week. Big mistake.

So I’m getting back off of it. It’s too addicting and too troubling.

Facebook may be next.

Some wisdom I have undertaken to understand over the past five years, though I haven’t lived it as well as I would like, is this: simplicity is good. God speaks to us in simple things.

I have repeatedly seen a vision of what my life could be like.  It includes much, much less time before a screen. Breathing the open air. De-cluttering. Reading scripture in a physical Bible far more than I do. Paying in cash. Making good use of my time. Resting more. Living in the real world and not the meta-world.

It’s all right there. Just need to start living it.

I can’t wrap my mind around this

A quick rant. Well, maybe not a rant. More like a line of thought that is spoken very loudly and quickly and often in my mind.

I understand people having voted for Donald Trump. What I don’t understand is when they are Christians and they admire the man. And what I don’t understand at all is when they’ve bought into the narrative that Trump is the one who is honest (“tells it like it is”) and it’s everyone else who is lying.

It is a mystery to me. Maybe I’ll never understand.

If any one  can explain this to me, I’m all ears.