We love our boxes.

Boxes keep people isolated and crumpled up.  And religious people can be experts at building boxes with labels to put people in.

A young woman wears something deemed inappropriate and a so-called “Christian” slaps a box on her labeled “tramp” or “whore” or “slut”, and then goes on their way.

You see, if I can place another person who is different from me in a box labeled “liberal” or “conservative” or “weird” or “snob”, etc. then I am off the hook.  I don’t have to do the hard and uncomfortable work of building an actual relationship.  Or, dare I say, loving that person!

But Jesus Christ is in the business of cutting boxes and breaking neck irons (I will explain that one below), and loving people for exactly who they are.

Three exchanges take place in Luke 5 and 6 that back this up.  First, the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don’t fast (abstain from food for religious purposes).  Jesus explained that they didn’t fast because they were with the Bridegroom himself.  No asceticism was called for.  Celebration was more appropriate.  Later they would fast, Jesus told them, but now was not that time.

But wait!  The Pharisees didn’t understand that.  It was outside of their religious box.

A little while later, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field on a Sabbath and they picked grain and ate it.  The Pharisees considered that a violation of the law.  Now technically it was not because they were poor travelers, and the law made that food available to them.  But for a recognized Rabbi, the action was outside of the religious box.

The third examples happens again on a Sabbath, but this time in a synagogue.  A man was there with a withered hand.  He could not open it and stretch it out.  The Pharisees (expert box-makers that they were) actually preferred Jesus not heal him rather than do a “work” on the Sabbath day.  Jesus told him to stand up in front of them all and “STRETCH OUT YOUR HAND”.

You and I are supposed to stand tall and strong and enjoy the freedom and liberty of a lively faith that Jesus paid a dear price for us to enjoy.  We should not be cramped and crumpled inside a box of our own or anyone else’s making.

When John Newton (the author of Amazing Grace) was a slave-ship captain, God was beginning to move on his heart.  On his last journey he saw that the slaves he was transporting were actually mothers and brothers and fathers and children.  They were people and they deserved dignity.  He felt an urge to unshackle them all but knew his crew would mutiny if he did.  He recognized one thing he could do, however.

Remove the neck irons.

One of the most undignified and cruel devices used on slaves was the neck iron.  It would prevent people from lifting their heads.  They had to walk and moved in a hunched over position.  John Newton ordered the neck irons removed.

Apparently, the Holy Spirit was stimulating Jesus-type action through John Newton.

Will you continue that work?

Start with yourself.  Lift up your hands, your heads, your life itself!  Stretch out to your full height!  You are free!  You have liberty.  Jesus has cut that box and removed those neck irons.

Now look around and see if anyone else needs a box cut open or a neck iron removed.

That’s what Jesus does.  Hallelujah!

Chipmunk Love

August 1, 2013

Upon the recommendation of my sister and my mother, I hiked to the Pioneer Cabin overlooking the Pioneer Mountains yesterday.  The trail started at Corral Creek near Sun Valley, ID, and I am so glad I heeded their advice.

There was a specific purpose for my taking this solo hike on this day.  You see I, like so many others, experience the Lord of Creation in an especially exuberant way among the “high places” of the earth.  I was hoping this would be so again and I was not disappointed, but the means by which I would receive a special touch from God were absolutely new, surprising, and hilarious.

This was my destination…Image

You may have trouble reading the writing on the roof of the Pioneer Cabin, but it reads “The Higher You Get The Higher You Get”.  So true.

So I walked inside the little cabin and saw that it had been meticulously maintained…Image

I jest.  The place was rough, to put it nicely.  My favorite decoration was the beer poster of Jesus with WWJD.  I am assuming that stood for “What Would Jesus Drink?”Image

But the view from the front door wasn’t too shabby.Image

When I went outside I sat down on this little bench and read a chapter from Richard Foster’s book on Prayer.  I had my Bible and my journal and some snacks (including a bag of sunflower seeds).  I made an acquaintance while I ate, read, and reflected on the incredible love of God.  It was a chipmunk.  He was scooting in and out of the cabin after I departed, assumably in the hopes of finding some crumbs I left behind.  He seemed normal enough, not brain damaged or anything (you will see why I wondered this below), and I figured when he darted away that it was the last I had seen of him.Image

A few moments later I felt something moving inside my left pocket where I had stored my bag of sunflower seeds.  Yup. You guessed it.  My chipmunk friend was back, and he had stealthily climbed up behind me from underneath the cabin and zeroed in on his prize. When I realized there was another creature inside my left pocket, I jerked away like I had been electrocuted or something, and in so doing launched my chipmunk friend about four feet in the air.  He landed squarely and then ran away.  And I couldn’t stop laughing.

When I settled down, I realized that little chipmunk taught me something about God. It was simply and profoundly this (isn’t it cool how God is so consistently both?)…God wants to get much closer to us than we are comfortable with.  He wants to invade our space.

As I walked back down the trail I kept laughing when I thought of that chipmunk who had sneaked into my pocket unawares.  Perhaps God will surprise you this week as well.