Common Ground

common-ground-title-slide

In a culture that elevates a “winner takes all” approach to life, it is often hard to have “common ground conversations.” Most of our conversations quickly de-escalate into a “who is right, or here is why you’re wrong” type which serves to insert a strong halt to the topic(s). This is acutely seen when it comes to religion, right? Many feel religion is the source of all conflict, Marx believed it to be the opiate of the people, others wonder which one is right, and each one thinks their belief is the right belief.

While surrounded by religions today, we tend to live religiously illiterate lives preferring a 140 character understanding, or better yet an amazing Facebook meme.

Our knowledge concerning the belief systems of others runs only as deep as our tweets. This creates fear, hate, antagonism and worse.

I am excited about a new conversation I am starting at Snoqualmie Valley Alliance this weekend called Common Ground. We will be looking into seven religions that seem to have the most power and influence in the world today. My goal is to focus on the truth that exists between us rather than simply illuminate our differences. When we find areas of common ground we expand our understanding beyond our personal bias or a great tweet. We are able to experience a greater level of community with our neighbors who think and believe differently than we do. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul first sought to find common ground with people, and the result was a radically changed world.

I believe that when we have a better understanding of other religions, we become more confident of our own faith. This removes the fear, hostility, and animosity that is created by a lack of understanding.  In its place we will experience a new level of grace, humility and compassion…and boy, does our world need more of that.

Matzah, Maror, Kharoset and a Lazy-Boy

table

In the midst of the sights, sounds and smells of Pesach (Passover) a young child stands to recite the Ma Nishtanah:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

  • On all other nights we can eat bread or matzoh. On this night why do we eat only matzoh?
  • On all other nights we can eat all kinds of vegetables. On this night why do we eat only bitter herbs?
  • On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables even once. On this night why do we dip them twice?
  • On all other nights we  eat our meals sitting or reclining. On this night why do we eat only reclining?

Four questions that really serve to answer the bigger question, “Why is this night so different from all other nights?”

As the questions are explained, a growing sense of thankfulness to God is ignited.

The four questions also serve as four paths to connect with God.

Humility is the first step on the path towards God.

Matzoh is not an elaborate or fancy bread. It is thin, looks somewhat strange and has no leaven in it. In haste the Children of Israel made their bread and were ready for God’s escape plan. The larger image here ,though, is of purity. In the Bible, leaven is a metaphor for sin. If we want to journey deeper with God, we start by admitting who we are and seek to become who we are meant to be. This is a humbling journey that reveals the darkness that resides within us. The good news is  that God longs to heal and restore and remove all the effects of sin in our lives.

Most of our energies are spent trying to gather attention, move up in the ranks, get noticed and find success. We want to be on the New York Times best seller list and have a video that goes viral. We want the biggest house, the nicest cars, the most lavish vacations and designer clothes. But the God-hungry long for holiness.

As leaven works through an entire batch of dough, sin affects the totality of our spirituality. When we begin to remove all the leavened (sinful) areas of our life, humility is a natural by-product.. Now we know that we are not “all that” ask God to do His cleansing work in us.

What things are you still trying to control?

What secret sin is robbing you of peace?

What hurt, habit or hang-up is tripping up your efforts to live a godly life?

In humility, we acknowledge our desperate need for God and seek to remove anything in our life that gets between us. This leads to the hard part of the path.

 

Brokenness is the hardest part of the path.

Maror. The bitter herbs are a reminder that the path is often hard, even as life was hard for the Children of Israel. Forced into slavery making bricks to build treasure cities for Pharoah. We make our horseradish sauce from this root, and when you eat a glob of it, you will cry some real tears!

What do you do when life goes sideways on you? How do you handle the sudden loss of a spouse, friend or job?

No one is exempt from pain and struggle. In fact, those fraternal twins are part of God’s process to expand your joy. That probably seems like a strange statement, but it is true. Without resistance muscles cannot grow. Without adversity your virtues are only theories. Without pain you will never know joy. Tears flow in life as a way for your heart to speak about the reality of life, love and loss. If you never cry, you have probably never loved.

Most of the people I know try to avoid pain at all cost…and that is why few people know God. The entrance to His presence is found in humility and brokenness. When you live in a culture that leans towards narcissism over humility and pretending to be someone you are not instead of brokenness, it is hard to know God.

God already knows all your secrets…and He loves you anyway.

God already knows how you will handle that stressful situation at work next week…and He loves you anyway.

God knows you just blew it with your daughter today…and He loves you anyway.

When you allow God to love you as you are, raw, naked and broken, you will begin to understand grace and know what real love is.

 

Presence is the surprise viewpoint along the path.

Kharoset. we have already dipped the Karpas into saltwater once. This reminds us that life (greens) is mixed with tears (saltwater). next we dip a second time  by taking some matzoh with maror and kharoset. The kharoset is a sweet mixture of apples, honey, nuts and wine. The sweet taste mixed with the bitter herb and the matzoh is surprisingly good.

Have you noticed that the good times seem to come with the bad times?

Beauty and pain ride twin rails of reality.

In the same day you might lose a father and welcome a new son.

All of these emotions are present in you at the same time. I think of a long, steep hike. Your muscles are tired, You are thirsty and out of breath, You might even be feeling the burn! Then, out of nowhere, you come upon a stunning view.

Even though your body is screaming your eyes are feeding your soul as you take in the beauty. It is in this moment that you realize that you are always surrounded by beauty, but sometimes it is obscured by the path we travel.

The most bitter of circumstances can be sweetened when we have the presence of God.

Humility and brokenness remove the veil that keeps you from seeing God.

He is always with you.

You are never alone.

This awareness transforms the brokenness in your life and infuses it with His living presence. There is still pain, but it is made sweeter, and you experience the goodness of God even in a dark time.

Humility, Brokenness and Presence reveal the path that you are on, and it is called freedom.

 

Freedom is not a destination, it’s a lifestyle.

Why do we recline tonight? The child asks. In the Exodus story, they ate standing up, ready to go because they were slaves. Slaves stand, free men and women recline in comfort. When you have experienced deliverance from slavery, a Lazy-boy is what you need!

Humility is the movement when we choose to actually leave Egypt (slavery, bondage).

Brokenness is the parting of the Red Sea. Only God can bring you through it.

Presence is God’s  sustaining power as you travel through the wilderness…but freedom…freedom is when you enter the Land of Promise.

Practicing His presence means that anyplace where you are is a promised land because God is there with you…freedom.

Practicing His presence sets you free to experience His grace and mercy in every moment…freedom.

Practicing His presence is a lifestyle of humility, brokenness…freedom.

Wherever God’s presence is…His power is there as well…freedom.

The power that created the universe is right there with you.

The power that rose Christ from the dead is right there with you.

The power that holds the universe together is right there with you.

The power to forgive and give you a fresh start is right there with you.

The power to free you from anything that disrupts the shalom of God in your life is right there with you.

So, why is this night so different?

This night reminds me that God is with me…For me…and leading me into greater expressions and experiences of His presence.

 

 

Thanks Brennan

imgBrennan Manning2“God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because you’ll never be as you should be.”

Thank you Brennan for showing us the Abba of Jesus as only you could…RIP…

I have had a few great opportunities to be with Brennan and experience his love for God through his teaching. He was always impacting, always honest, and always revealed a picture of Jesus and the love of Abba that was real, radical, scandalous and immersed with ruthless grace.

I remember asking Brennan about dealing with a particular “hot button” issue in the church, and how to approach dealing with the people involved…his answer was quick, and honest. He said, “You know Monty, God has just called me to love whatever person or group of people who are in front of me, no matter what or who they are.” I thought, “that’s too easy.” But I knew he was absolutely right. Grace has a way of simplifying issues. Grace is the great equalizer of -all- sins. Grace is the reality of Jesus that Brennan breathed in and out daily.

Here are some of my favorite Brennan quotes:

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

“Real freedom is freedom from the opinions of others. Above all, freedom from your opinions about yourself. ”
― Brennan Manning, The Wisdom of Tenderness

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”
― Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

“Imagine that Jesus is calling you today. He extends a second invitation to accept His Father’s love. And maybe you answer, “Oh, I know that. It’s old hat.”

And God answers, ‘No, that’s what you don’t know. You don’t know how much I love you. The moment you think you understand is the moment you do not understand. I am God, not man. You tell others about Me – your words are glib. My words are written in the blood of My only Son. The next time you preach about My love with such obnoxious familiarity, I may come and blow your whole prayer meeting apart.

Did you know that every time you tell Me you love Me, I say thank you?”
― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

“While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.”
― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”
The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”
My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”
― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

In his book “The Furious Longing of God” Brennan told the story of Yolanda. She was in a care center for Hansen’s disease (leprosy). Brennan was serving as a chaplain, and on one particular day he was told that Yolanda was dying and he should go and see her quickly.

“… I went up to Yolanda’s room on the second floor and sat on the edge of the bed. Yolanda is a woman thirty-seven years old. Five years ago, before the leprosy began to ravage, she must have been one of the most stunningly beautiful creatures God ever made.  . . . But that was then.
Now her nose is pressed into her face. Her mouth is severely contorted. Both ears are distended. She has no fingers on either hand, just two little stumps.
Two years earlier, her husband divorced her because of the social stigma attached to leprosy, and he had forbidden their two sons, boys fourteen and sixteen, from ever visiting their mother.  . . . As a result, Yolanda was dying an abandoned, forsaken woman.
I… prayed with her. . . .  [T]he room was filled with a brilliant light. It had been raining when I came in; I didn’t even look up, but said, “Thanks, Abba, for the sunshine. I bet that’ll cheer her up.”
As I turned to look back at Yolanda – and if I live to be three hundred years old I’ll never be able to find the words to describe what I saw – her face was like a sunburst over the mountains, like one thousand sunbeams streaming out of her face literally so brilliant I had to shield my eyes.
I said, ‘Yolanda, you appear to be very happy.’
With her slight Mexican-American accent she said, ‘Oh, Father, I am so happy.’
I then asked her, ‘Will you tell me why you’re so happy?’
She said, ‘Yes, the Abba of Jesus just told me that He would take me home today.’
I vividly remember the hot tears that began rolling down my cheeks. After a lengthy pause, I asked just what the Abba of Jesus said.
Yolanda said:
‘Come now, My love. My lovely one, come.For you, the winter has passed, the snows are over and gone, the flowers appear in the land, the season of joyful songs has come.The cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.Come now, My love. My Yolanda, come.Let Me see your face. And let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.Come now, My love, My lovely one, come.’
Six hours later her little leprous body was swept up into the furious love of her Abba. Later that same day, I learned from the staff that Yolanda was illiterate. She had never read the Bible, or any book for that matter, in her entire life. I surely had never repeated those words to her in any of my visits. I was, as they say, a man undone”

As Brennan closed his eyes forever on this side of the grave, and then opened them and saw Jesus face to face, I believe the first thing he heard from the mouth of God was:

‘Come now, My love. My lovely one, come. For you, the winter has passed, the snows are over and gone, the flowers appear in the land, the season of joyful songs has come.The cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.Come now, My love. My Brennan, come.Let Me see your face. And let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.Come now, My love, My lovely one, come.’