Dancing with God

I had a conversation with a friend this week. We were talking about performance oriented spirituality and I heard this come out of my mouth:
I really don't want to dance for God anymore ... I want to dance with God.
Kind of an interesting thought isn't it. I feel that most of my life has been driven by this sense of pleasing God by doing spiritual things ... interesting how subtle this form of performance based spirituality is ... we want to dance for Him when He wants to dance with us. Relationships are all about how we dance ... sad that some of us feel we need to do a tap dance solo rather than a jitterbug or waltz.

In light of these thoughts I would like to take a look at a very well known passage of scripture:

"Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2)

I think that words like sacrifice, transformation and the will of God are concepts that can get weird when they are built on shaky foundations. Sacrifice can become perverted, transformation a formula and God's will a narrow rigid path. Consider the person who interprets 'laying down your life' to mean being a doormat for other people. This person subconsciously believes that their true worth is based on service to others ... a noble thought but truly a performance based version spirituality. A more correct version of this would be when Jesus said this about His life in John 10:18 ...

"No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again."
Jesus knew that His life was valuable ... he knew that the decision to lay it down was His call alone ... He could not be manipulated into laying it down against His will ... He wanted to do it ... that is what made it a magnificent act. Likewise, we are not doormats for people or for God ... laying down our lives is truly spiritual when we are doing it because we want to.

Over the years I have heard some pretty weird stuff about God's will. Some use this verse in Romans to separate His will into three categories - good, acceptable and perfect. They build an artificial hierarchy around the will of the Father and create a performance scale to judge themselves by ... have you ever done that? It is another version of performance based thinking ... tap dance is good ... soft-shoe is acceptable ... ballet is perfect ... pretty silly. God doesn't want us to dance for Him ... He wants to dance with us and He doesn't care if it is a tango, a mambo or a waltz ... the dance is ours to choose. I'll go out on a limb here and say this:
Being in God's will is not about what we do but all about who we are and who we are becoming. God's will is that we become like Jesus ... and there are many ways to get there!
How often do we seek out God's will to determine whether we do this or do that totally missing the point of 1Corinthians 10:31
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
The glory of God can be manifested in whatever we do. So why do we focus our energies on being in His perfect will? I think that it is yet another way that we try to dance for Him. We say to ourselves: "If I can only do this or do that then I will be in His 'perfect will'". All the while missing the opportunity to dance the dance of love with Him today.

Remembering My Dad

My dad passed away in January 2002. He was a wonderful, kind and gentle man. What follows is the eulogy that I shared at his funeral in Red Banks, Mississippi. I was greatly moved today as I read it and remembered my dad. I pray that this will bless you on this Father's Day.

Good morning. I am blessed today to have this opportunity to tell you about my Dad. I will be reading from my notes ... I hope that I haven’t left too much out ... please accept my apologies, in advance, if I forget to mention anything.

I’ll start by introducing to you Dad’s brother, Fred Lee Edwards ... good morning Uncle Fred Lee. I would also like to introduce you to my Dad’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who are here today ...

Lawrence’s children ...
· My brother, Bill Edwards, from Manalapan, NJ
· My sister, Eydie DeLuca, from Lakewood, NJ
· I am Bob Edwards from Lenexa, KS and
· My sister, Nancy Zylstra, from Jackson, NJ

Lawrence’s grandchildren ...
· Steven Cady and his wife Gina from Manahawkin, NJ and
· Lynn Dowlin from Little Egg Harbor, NJ

Lawrence’s great grandson ...
· Nicholas Cady from Manahawkin

We welcome you and thank you for being with us today as we celebrate the life of our Dad, Lawrence Jefferson Edwards.

Our Dad was born on September 30th, 1914 to Willie and Myrtle Edwards. Dad spent his childhood years growing up on the family farm in Red Banks with his sisters Catherine and Irene and his brother Fred Lee. Dad had wonderful memories of growing up. He loved to hunt and fish and loved to tell his kids about his times growing up in Mississippi.

In 1931 Dad left home to join the Civilian Conservation Corps ... then in 1932 he joined the US Army where was stationed in Georgia, California, Hawaii and New York. Over a seven year period in the army Dad learned two skills hat he would use all of his life. He began his tour of duty as a cook ... he mastered cooking so much that he was given the duty of preparing meals for high ranking officers when he was stationed in Hawaii. Dad was at home in the kitchen ... whether cooking for six or sixty ... growing up I have many memories of my Dad in the kitchen. He regularly prepared Sunday meals and our holiday feasts ... his Thanksgiving turkeys were very special ... I can still see him bent over the oven basting the turkey. Dad used his cooking skills at Amvets’ dinners, Elks’ parties and, of course, in these last fifteen years, at the annual reunion at Tony and Pearl Kelly’s house. He was an amazing chef ... I know that I will never forget this part of his life.

Well, back to the Army. The second skill that Dad acquired while serving our country was that of a diesel mechanic. He was trained to repair tanks and he soon became very proficient at it. My Dad was a very intelligent person ... he had the ability too to quickly grasp the complicated concepts of diesel engines. Around our house he had the reputation of being able to fix anything that was broken ... especially car engines. Dad was a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers. In 1939, while stationed at Miller Field on Staten Island, New York, Dad met Catherine Roe. After a period of courtship dad married Catherine the following year and left the Army.

In 1941 Dad and Mom had their first child, my brother Bill. The following year my sister Eydie was born and their young family began to take root on Staten Island. An interesting note from this time - after the US entered World War II my Dad’s old army battalion was sent to North Africa where most of them died in combat ... because he had children my Dad was not required to return to military service and escaped the fate of his comrades.

Well, several years past and in 1949 a second son was born to our family - Me. The following year my sister Nancy was born and we were now a family of six. During these years Dad worked on the New York harbor fixing diesel engines on tug boats and barges. He would often have to work extra jobs fixing cars to keep our family going. My brothers and sisters and I could tell you many stories from our childhood ... you can ask us later ... you might want to talk to Bill about car repair stories.

Well, lets fast forward thirty years ... there is a lot in between ... the kids grew up, got married and had kids ... there are now ten grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

In 1976 Dad fell at a job site and seriously injured his back. He was forced to retire early. By this time Dad and Mom had moved to New Jersey. He spent the ensuing years healing and fishing. He bought a boat and spent a lot of time tuning his inboard engine and heading out on the ocean fishing. As the years went by Mom and Dad drifted apart and were divorced in 1983.

That year Dad surprised all of us by moving back to his childhood home in Mississippi. He bought a home next to Fred Lee and Minnie and spent most of his time working on it and fixing it up. My family and I drove down from Kansas that first Thanksgiving and spent the first of many holidays with my Dad. Those first several trips were wonderful times for me meeting all of my Mississippi family. Over the years I noticed a change in my Dad ... he seemed to be at peace with life ... it was a wonderful thing to see. I came to understand that this peace had its source in God. I remember one phone call in particular when my Dad spoke to me of loving the Lord ... I was so happy for him ... I got choked up talking to him.

In 1986 my Dad married Nettie Gardner. I remember that day so well ... in their front yard Dad and Nettie exchanged vows ... I had the honor of being his best man. I was so happy for my Dad. These last fifteen years have been happy ones for Dad and Nettie. They both shared a love for God, a love for each other, a love for gardening ... and a love for spending time with their families.

I already miss my Dad. I want to end my talk by sharing a few thoughts with you about him. When I think about my Dad I will always think of kindness, friendship, acceptance and love. My Dad was the kindest man that I have ever known ... I have spent most of my adult growing to appreciate this godly attribute. When I think of my Dad I will always remember him as a friendly, outgoing man ... when I was growing up it seemed that Dad knew everyone in town. He was a true friend ... I so admired the way that he loved people ... he taught me by his actions to be accepting of people who were different. I will always remember how hard my Dad worked ... he set a standard of hard work that I aspire to.

But most of all I will never forget how much he believed in me, growing up I had a sense that I could do anything and be anyone that I wanted to be. All of his life my Dad took great pride in his children ... no matter what we did in life ... our Dad expressed much joy in our accomplishments ... he was blind to our faults, quick to forgive and so loving towards us. Oh, how I want to be like him.

From our family to yours - please accept our thanks and blessings. Because of your love and concern for our Dad we have worried a little less for our Dad, especially in this last year ... we are grateful to all of you. May God bless you.

The Trilemma

A passage from Lewis' 'Mere Christianity" came to mind as I was out walkin' around in blogdom ... in case you haven't heard it before I thought that I would share it with you:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said [about Himself] would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come away with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
I just got back from a road trip to New Jersey to celebrate my Mom's 90th birthday. As I was traveling along on Interstate 70, every now and then I would catch a religious billboard that would say "Jesus is Lord" - words stated in several places in the New Testament. For me the billboards came across a bit vague.. I would have preferred "Jesus is God".. it would have been clearer for a nonbeliever.. and might help them with the choices of the Trilemma.

Awe

Brian of watching and waiting posted the following comment on my Centurion Faith post:
The fear of the Lord is such a misunderstood phrase. I think the more we understand the love of God, the more deeply we will fear him. Awe is a better translation of the word than fear. The more clearly we see who He is, the more we will love Him in return, and the greater our awe will become. The host of heaven fall before Him in unspeakable awe, declaring His worthiness, His holiness, His great power. Leonard Ravenhill said that the highest form of worship is speechless adoration. That is the fear of the Lord, and I want to experience it more and more.
It reminded me of an experience that Isaiah had:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Master sitting on a throne--high, exalted!--and the train of his robes filled the Temple. Angel-seraphs hovered above him, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew." And they called back and forth one to the other, Holy, Holy, Holy is GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies. His bright glory fills the whole earth. The foundations trembled at the sound of the angel voices, and then the whole house filled with smoke. I said, "Doom! It's Doomsday! I'm as good as dead! Every word I've ever spoken is tainted-- blasphemous even! And the people I live with talk the same way, using words that corrupt and desecrate. And here I've looked God in the face! The King! GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies!" Then one of the angel-seraphs flew to me. He held a live coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with the coal and said, "Look. This coal has touched your lips. Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out." And then I heard the voice of the Master: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" I spoke up, "I'll go. Send me!"
(Isaiah 6:1-8 The Message)
I guess you could conclude from Isaiah's account that awe is the result of being in God's presence ... awe that convicts us about our language ... awe that leads to confession and forgiveness ... awe that results in change ... awe that answers God's call.

Will You Let Your Heart Break?

I find that compassion is an overused word in Christian circles. Somehow we seem to have homogenized this word in a way that eliminates heartfelt emotion. I think that if broken hearts are to be mended we desperately need to understand this word in a different way. Here is how the 1828 Webster's Dictionary defines it:
"A suffering with another; painful sympathy; a sensation of sorrow excited by the distress or misfortunes of another; pity; commiseration. Compassion is a mixed passion, compounded of love and sorrow; at least some portion of love generally attends the pain or regret, or is excited by it. Extreme distress of an enemy even changes enmity into at least temporary affection."
Compassion costs us. Loving someone often involves feeling their hurts ... entering with them into their pain and suffering. Everything inside of me seems to fight against this idea ... all seems to protect and shield me from hurting with people ... it sometimes seems that I have lost the ability to feel. At times when I feel like this it seems that the Holy Spirit will break through ... a woman will call and tell me that their husband left her ... and I will cry with her ... I will hear a news story ... and I will cry as I pray ... someone will come for prayer ... and I will be moved to tears as I hear their story. When I think about times like these I am reminded of what Jesus said:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
I think that true intercession is not taking on the pain or yoke of another but taking that pain to Jesus at a heart level ... as we let our heart break for another then we can then carry their broken heart (with ours) to Christ through prayer where He can help them ... this seems to be the effectual fervent prayer that James tells us about.

The ministry of Christ was indelibly marked by compassion. At every turn His heart seemed to break for hurting and sick people ... He was mercy and compassion personified. Here are a few passages from the gospels that give us a peek into the heart of God ... as you read them picture Jesus as the disciples saw him ... moving in a very visible and emotional fashion ... how else could they recognize compassion:

"when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd."

"he came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick."

"And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed."

"Now as He approached the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep." And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother."

Jesus was not afraid to let His heart break ... for sick people ... for outcasts and lepers ... for distressed leaderless people ... for grieving people. With hurting people all around us how can we be any different. When we, with brokenhearts, take the hurting hearts of others to Jesus He will help them ... give them rest for their souls and bind up their broken hearts.

Centurion Faith

In the time when Christ walked the earth the Roman army occupied Israel. Centurions were Roman officers ... each a captain in charge of 100 Roman soldiers. One day Jesus came upon one such man. The encounter is recorded by Matthew:
And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, entreating Him, and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering great pain." And He said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered and said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. "And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed." And the servant was healed that very hour. (Matthew 8:5-13)
In the book of Acts we read about another centurion that Peter encountered:
“Now there was a certain man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually. (Acts 10:1-2)
We don't know much about Cornelius outside of what is written in Acts. Mathew Henry comments about him with this:
Pure and undefiled religion is sometimes found where we least expect it. Wherever the fear of God rules in the heart, it will appear both in works of charity and of piety, neither will excuse from the other.
I think that the key to understanding the faith of these men involves their fear of God. These men did not seem to be people who merely adhered to religious rules. This fear they had for God seemed to result in genuine care for others and moved them to pray. I think that the fear of the Lord is the key to a healthy faith.

The fear of God is an interesting animal ... it seems to show up when you least expect it. In 2001 I lost my job at a large corporation ... it was a difficult loss for me and I was very angry. As the days progressed towards my termination date I was frustrated at my inability to relocate within the company and became consumed with thoughts of payback. I conjured up e-mail after e-mail of what I would say to the appropriate men that had maligned me and caused me to lose my job. I wanted to tell others of how unfairly I was treated. I felt betrayed and wanted to vent my pain. It was during this time that the Lord began to speak to me about revenge ... the Holy Spirit began to make me aware of what I was beginning to do. One day, as I sat at my computer composing an e-mail message to an executive in my organization, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me ... You can go there if you wish ... but if you do I will not go with you. I’m not sure that I can adequately put into words the sense that came over me. I can only describe it as the fear of God. I immediately deleted the message.

You know, when we fear God we are not alone. I am reminded of what Moses said to God after the exodus from Egypt:

"If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here." (Exodus 33:15)
The fear of the Lord will keep us humble ... it will cause us to understand our true need for Him ... it will prevent us from acting unwisely ... it will cause us to pray. Moses knew who he was and who God was ... he was meek because he feared the Lord. The gospels say this about the centurion who watched Jesus die on the cross:
Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54)
Again we see the effects of the fear of God. It is a sad fact that many people are religious but know nothing of the fear of God. I think that it can be said that one who doesn't fear the Lord doesn't know Him very well ... these centurions seemed to know God well enough to fear Him ... and it affected what they said and how they acted.