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Finding Francis: part one

I spent the year 2017 meditating on the writings of St. Francis of Assisi. It was a truly inspiring journey for me. I also read numerous books about his life and faith adventure. I experienced such good disruption in my soul as a result that I decided to work through my “Francis Encounter”  by writing a blog entry each week. I plan to expound on a thought, quote, or concept that I learned from Francis along the way trusting that it will aid you in your journey.

I believe the way of Francis is the best way to reclaim a world gone over the edge.

He launched a Reformation before the Reformation…
He saw the macro story of God in the micro story of all things…
He revealed his faith in God through his actions and his worship…
He cared little for the power structures and systems of his day…
He longed, with all his soul, to be united to Christ through love, devotion, and intimacy…

In his 44 short years of life Francis reformed the church and showed us how to be human, not super-human. So many of the stories surrounding Francis of Assisi paint a picture of a man who wandered through life-like a magnet of love. The creatures of the forest would gravitate toward him, eating scraps from his outstretched hands. A spiritual master who easily slipped in and out of heaven with little effort. A saint who floated over the trials of life will little effect, A sage who spoke the language of the stars and the insects and the unknown tongue of God.

Images such as these make Francis inaccessible, unapproachable, and too “other.”  They make him more divine than human, making it easy to dismiss the earthy, real, human life and invitation he offers to us all. As I have poured over his writings, and stories about him, I was thankful to meet a different Francis. A Francis who struggled and didn’t always get it right. A Francis that got angry, got real and suffered deep pain. But the remarkable thing about Francis was how he continued to lean into God when he fell off the path time and time again, getting back up, and stepping into the newness of grace each time.

It is this Francis we can follow. This is the man of earth, with dirt under his fingernails and regret in his gut. He helps us get up again, recommit our awkward spirituality to God with humility and hope, and experience a real life. It is in his authentic, raw, and broken humanness that we see his wonderful holiness.

The allure of Francis crosses the borders of believers and doubters, skeptics and faithful. He wasn’t trying to gain a following, in fact, the growth of his movement was somewhat of an irritation for Francis. He welcomed followers but didn’t really want to lead them. His longing was to immerse himself in the life of Christ so that he might swim in the unity of Trinity which would result in living a life of compassion, love, and justice. A life-like Jesus.

Francis knew that the spiritual world was significantly larger [if that term can even be justified] than the tangible world. That what we see in the physical is a portal to the spiritual. There was no binary thinking for Francis. His world was God’s world, everything seen and unseen. There is no dark corner where God’s presence does not also exist, including the darkened rooms of our sin affected soul. For Francis, the dualities which run our world were illusions to be dissipated through faith in the one who is everywhere and is everything good.

So, if the kingdom of heaven was somewhere out there, it was also in here, in us, with us. To experience the deeper places of God meant to more fully meet Him in our humanness. In order to reach into heaven, one must stand on earth. This gave Francis an amazing sense of God’s mercy which allowed him to approach the newness and grace that comes to us from God with every breath we take.

In his book “Eager To Love” Richard Rohr writes:

“Francis knew that if you can accept that the finite manifests in the infinite, and that the physical is the doorway to the spiritual (which is the foundational principle we call “incarnation”) then all you need is right here and right now–in this world. This is the way to that! Heaven includes earth. Time opens you up to the timeless, space opens you up to spacelessness, if you only take them for the clear doorways that they are. There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments–and it is we alone who desecrate them by our blindness and lack of reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it. You really cannot get any better or more simple than that, in terms of a spiritual vision.” (pg. 6)

In our day and age, people are hungry for something more… just as Francis was in his day. The current menu of moralism and ritual offered up by the church has by and large been received by the seeking multitudes in the same way broccoli and brussel sprouts cause a three years olds nose to crinkle up in disgust.

Men and women who hunger for something that they haven’t known or seen are looking for answers anywhere but the church, so it seems. When a Christian lives, speaks and interacts with love, grace, and humility, she is either seen as the exception or considered to be a pretender. The church lives in the land of duality but Jesus didn’t. The church seems incapable of living a “both-and” or a “now-and-not-yet” theology as Jesus and Francis did. The mindset of duality creates an “us” versus “them” mentality where we become a label factory identifying who is in and who is out. One main problem here is that every Christian tribe labels different kinds of people, well, differently. This leaves many confused, angry and disillusioned.

For Francis, there was no label maker, just the compassionate call to love those people God placed in his path the best he could, regardless of who they were, what their sins were, or even what their socio-economic background was.

Our world is longing to feel, be embraced by, and swim in the ocean of God’s love, but they aren’t finding it in the followers of Jesus often enough…so, they look elsewhere.

Francis cared for the poor.
Francis cared for the sick.
Francis cared for the earth and creation.
Francis cared for the hungry.
Francis cared for the seeker.
Francis cared for the marginalized.

This is the apologetic our spiritually starving world is waiting to see. They know it was in Jesus, some know of Francis, now they are waiting to see it in you and me.

Francis was free from the political, religious, and consumeristic machinery of his day. Faith, simplicity, compassion, and love were the driving force of this reluctant saint. Yet, he wasn’t always a saint. He was raised with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. His childhood home was one of wealth and status. He was born in the town of Assisi in 1181(2) to the given name Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone. His father was a cloth merchant which afforded Francis the opportunities to pursue pleasure and popularity. After a somewhat failed and short military career, Francis began a conversion process of faith in God which put him at odds with his family.

In 1206 Francis heard the voice of God when he was in San Damiano. The voice told him to “Go and rebuild my Church.” This invitation consumed Francis until he died at the age of 44 in 1226.

Francis lived out what he believed and taught. He was radical in his approach to faith and life. His love for Jesus consumed him and stoked the fires of his passion and mission. His message and his method are divine navigational stars for this generation to sail the seas of God’s kingdom here, with us, in us, and around us.

I’ll close this entry with Francis’ Te Deum (Praises to God). He wrote this for a friend, Brother Leo, who had been struggling with some form of temptation. When Francis heard of his friend’s struggle, he asked him for a piece of paper and wrote out the following praises to encourage his dear friend. May they encourage you too.

Praises To God

You are holy, Lord, the only God.
You do wondrous things.
You are strong.
You are great.
You are the most high.
You are the almighty king, holy Father, king of heaven and earth.
You are three and you are one, the Lord God of gods.
You are good, every good, the highest good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love.
You are wisdom.
You are humility.
You are patience.
You are beauty.
You are meekness.
You are a stronghold.
You are rest.
You are joy.
You are hope.
You are justice.
You are all one needs.
You are all the riches we require.
You are beauty.
You are meekness.
You are strength.
You are refreshment.
You are hope.
You are our faith.
You are our only love.
You are all our sweetness.
You are our eternal life.
Great and wonderful Lord,
God almighty, merciful Savior.

On the other side of the parchment he wrote a benediction to his friend Leo which said:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be
gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give
you peace.
May God bless you, Brother Leo.

…and may God bless you today too…Grace and peace.

 

 

 

 

 

God is always up to something: Ezra-Nehemiah intro

I am looking forward to journeying through the book(s) of Ezra-Nehemiah. Below is a link to download a PDF file of the devotional/study guide that goes along with the weekly conversations. I am also linking The Bible Projects overview video which is fabulous!

Download the devotional/study guide here:  EZRA NEHEMIAH Discipleship Guide SAPN

 

World Water Day & Planet Changer!

Today is world water day. The theme for this year is:

“World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about focusing attention on the importance of water. The theme for World Water Day 2018 is ‘Nature for Water’ – exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.”

Creating sustainable, eco-solutions to providing communities in rural areas with fresh water is what we do at Planet Changer!

If you would like to make a sustainable eco-safe difference then I would love to have you join the planet Changer team and make a donation today in honor of World Water Day! You can donate here:

We are currently working on two new spring protections in Uganda and are ready to continue making a difference and inspiring hope!

Monty

 

Re:Lent

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Every year I have many people ask me “What is the purpose of Lent?” Why do we emphasize or practice something that isn’t found in the Bible?” What are the origins of Lent” and  “isn’t it Catholic?” If you did not grow up in a main-line church (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist etc.) then Lent might be foreign to you. However, if you did grow up in one of those denominations, you see Lent as a 40-day focus on repentance, and removing the things that distract us from living a God-centric life.

Another way to put it is that Lent is a 40-day retreat that helps us realign with God. I don’t know about you, but I need as many opportunities as possible to realign my heart with the heart of God.

The Biblical connections would be the 40 day period that Moses encountered God on Mt. Sinai as well as the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert and was tempted by Satan. In light of the latter, that is why fasting has been a traditional part of the Lenten journey.

We miss the power of Lent, though, when we simply think we need to give up chocolate or something we like for forty days because it’s Lent…This misses the point and is a waste of good chocolate. When we desire to draw near to God, we ask His Spirit to reveal those things which continually negotiate for His attention and we choose to reprioritize that thing in our life so that God is first. Perhaps you do have an issue with food. Food is fuel, nothing more, nothing less. So if food is used for comfort, or dealing with stress or any other way to medicate your life, then food would be a good thing to fast from. There are, however, many things that get lodged into first place leaving God in the dust.

What is it for you? Sports? Movies? Alcohol? Sex? Power? Leisure? Bad Religion?

Or maybe it’s more subtle like, stress, anger, manipulation, blaming, negativity, hatred, self-hatred, fear, excuses, arrogance or even judging.

All of these things carry something that we like, even though on the outside we would think it wrong, but somewhere there is a pay-off, and that is why we keep doing them.

Yet, when we continue to live this way, unrepentantly, these things become the gods we worship, and they are vicious gods.

Lent is a season in the church that helps us as individuals, and as a community, rid ourselves of the sins that entangle, ensnare and sabotage our spiritual growth, and that is powerful.

As life is always a two-way movement of sorts, Lent, for me, is also a time of “adding to” not merely subtracting from.

What do you need to add into your spiritual journey this year?

How about Grace-giving, compassion, meditation, prayer, reading life-giving books, forgiveness, compliments, positive words to others, pursuing justice for the marginalized and oppressed, being a conduit of love to every person you come into contact with. Teresa of Calcutta said it well:

“As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent?  Our indifference, our hardness of heart.  What are we to believe?  Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”  

I think that the most beautiful moment of Lent happens when you do your soul work, realize that there is much shadow still inside of you, and yet experience the overwhelming and irrational love and grace of God. This kind of love knocks us off of our feet, makes our head dizzy and confounds the wisest in the world. This leaves us astonished, as Brennan Manning noted:

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” 

Grace and Peace…

Fat Tuesday Syndrome

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The season of Lent is here, it begins on the 14th which is Ash Wednesday.

Interestingly enough, the huge celebrations of Fat Tuesday sprang up as a reaction to the imposition of religious ritual concerning the observance of Lent…a season in the church year whose focus is on repentance and realignment with God.

In and of itself, having a time of spiritual realignment is good for everyone…however, when the grip of religion laces its fingers around anything, it tends to strangle out the beauty and grace, and in their place are born rules, regulations, and legalism.

Fat Tuesday, then, became the last opportunity before the 40 days of Lent to go and sin wildly. As I ruminate on this, isn’t that always what happens in our lives when rules replace relationship? When we live by a checklist of dos and don’ts, we begin to think and respond in contractual terms instead of relational exchanges. When this happens, we experience Fat Tuesday’s surrounding every area of our life.

For instance, when a marriage becomes a contractual exchange, then love is something that is earned in light of certain actions having been done well. And, contractually, if certain actions are not done, or are not done to the expectation of the other person, then love is contractually withheld until those things are accomplished.

This is not a marriage though, it is a contract based on rules. A relationship that is based on an unconditional covenant understands that sometimes things don’t always happen or get done the way we want, desire, or expect, but since the marriage is based upon covenant love, love is always infused regardless of contractual performance.

You might also see the Fat Tuesday effect in marriage happen when a spouse is bound by duty to “do something” “be something” or “go somewhere he/she doesn’t want to go.”  Since he/she did their contractual duty they feel justified to overindulge some area as a “reward” for their work. Maybe a husband finds justification in going on an extended hunting trip because he just got word that his In-laws are coming to stay for an extended period, so he needs to get out-of-town for a while before that happens and his In-laws rules cramp his style…or perhaps a wife limits out the credit card on a spa day because her husband’s college buddies are due the next day, and since she is being the “good wife” and allowing it, she’s gonna splurge!

Do you see how contractually we live? Do you realize contractual living or religious living results in the creation of Fat Tuesday’s? When genuine love and relationship fills our world, we can enjoy life, have fun and not feel guilty about it! Isn’t that a novel concept. Religion creates Fat Tuesday’s…Fat Tuesday’s create guilt and shame…Guilt and shame turn a powerful season of grace and alignment like Lent into a ritualistic experience of dos and don’t devoid of their real meaning.

When we approach God contractually, we turn something that is holy, cool, and cosmically awesome like Ash Wednesday or Lent, into a checklist of contractual duties to appease God into liking us again…This is so far away from the God revealed through Christ.

If we would live in a sense of daily alignment, in other words, simply realizing that God is for us, not against us and that as we make mistakes, or perhaps over-indulge in something that isn’t good for us, we stop, and have a relational conversation of confession, repentance, and forgiveness. God isn’t standing by with the lightning bolt of contractual misuse ready to smite us, but rather is simply waiting for us to say…“ man, I blew that one, I’m sorry, please forgive me..”

In that moment, the spirit of religion is thrown out the window, and a relationship is born. Religion focuses on rules to keep you in line. God invites you into a relationship, where the interactions are based on a mutuality of love.

Because I am so grateful that God loves me on my best days as well as my most abysmal days, I look forward to a season like Lent not in such a way that compels me to go out and get bombed out of my skull because I won’t be able to drink for the next 40 days, but instead, I long to have a season offered to me where I can realign my thinking process with God’s…Where I can experience grace in the midst of economic trials…Where I can be reminded that God doesn’t care about how well I perform for Him, only that I love Him, and He is thrilled that I simply showed up!

Maybe what I am saying is that an excessive emphasis on rules naturally finds its outlet in sin or doing things that we normally wouldn’t do if we lived relationally. Perhaps Fat Tuesday’s exist because the religious rules push people where they don’t need to be pushed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the dumb choices that are made in the Fat Tuesday’s of life wouldn’t happen if we understood God relationally and religiously…hmmm, I think I’m right.

What would be even more powerful is if we all realized that God intends our lives to fully experience fun..joy..laughter…and good times. Sure there are some incredibly hard valley’s we will go through, but the religionists among us seem to think that that is all that God wants us to experience…”Stay in the lines, only use these colors, don’t have fun if at all possible, chin up, gut in…etc.”

As I think of Jesus, and all his human interactions, I think of how often He was at parties, amongst friends, enjoying the things of life…not just sitting in Temple or Synagogue assailing Himself religiously. Jesus had an incredible sense of humor that is lost in translation from the Aramaic and Greek into English. He enjoyed living, had fun, and avoided the mistakes of the Fat Tuesday’s of life while enjoying all the celebrations of this life.

So on Wednesday this week (Ash Wednesday) take some time to remember that you are human, a creation of God’s, made of earth, and that one day you will return to the elements of this planetary creation. In light of that truth, ask God to help you realign your heart and soul to His, not because you are doing all the right things, but because He is such a great God who loves you and will never leave you in the hard moments of life.