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Here I stand, bare feet on ancient stone. Looking down at the water…
How did I get here?
It’s 3am in Tsfat, Israel. Dark outside. Full moon over the 4,000 year-old graveyard behind me…
I was on the way home to California from a business trip in London.
As if by an unseen hand, I was led out of my well-worn hotel room and down the switchbacks to this holiest of places in this holiest of cities. Yitzak Luria‘s Mikveh.
I feel like Indiana Jones, except there is no khaki or wide-brimmed hat…I am as naked as the day I was born, no barrier, coram Deo. Even my watch and wedding ring have been taken off.
Just me. Just God. Just now.
My name, David, which never made much sense to me, seems oddly right for, perhaps, the first time ever. I have cultivated nicknames all my life. I think of the double delta of David’s monogram…
I think back over the last 48 hours here in Galilee.
Invited into the back rooms of synagogues…
Rabbis pointing through the texts of “secret books” in Hebrew and asking questions….
- How did you learn Hebrew?
- Your name is David, are you sure you aren’t Jewish? You look Russian…
- Where do you sense the presence of God here in Tsfat? Where is that feeling the strongest?
- What are you doing here?
I did not choose to stand here. I’m not even sure what a mikveh is…I was led here…
I need answers to three questions. Just two days ago, I wrote those questions on a tiny slip of paper, rolled it up, and placed it in the Western Wall of the temple mount in Jerusalem at sunrise. My forehead against the cool ancient stone, my palms up high, time collapsed…the better part of an hour evaporated like the morning fog…
It is dark outside. Not even the roosters have begun to crow…
I slide into the biting cold of the fresh spring water, holding the pole and stepping down the ancient steps. I breathe deeply and submerge….
The world disappears.
I pull my knees up against my chest, going fetal in this womb-tomb.
An avid surfer, I am used to being underwater and I gently roll backwards….
A glow emanates from nowhere and everywhere. I open my eyes underwater to confirm the experience and the light vanishes…
I come up for air twice and submerge again. The glow returns, and I feel enveloped in the Khesed-love of the Creator. Answers come to me faster than I can receive them.
I generate a will to receive.
Something shifts around me. The third time under turns into a dream. I feel as if I am breathing underwater. The glow gets warm.
All of my theological legalisms about baptism vanish and dissolve into an ocean of God’s presence.
As I climb out and dry off, my soul comes to total rest. I will walk for hours until the hilltop town awakens. Like an old snakeskin, I have shed something. A new season is starting…
Where is your “mikveh” where you take off everything in the presence of God?
When’s the last time you were there….?
The final copies of my first novel just arrived!
Have a look at the 90-second intro-to-the-novel video movie:
Please pass it on to others, thanks!
The book comes with a built-in study guide for groups, book clubs, and classes.
- purchase information (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, etc)
- reviews (via Powell’s in Portland)
- study guide
- more videos
This is the number two question I get, after:
Are there pets in heaven?
Both questions are tough to answer in a simplistic way!
First of all, there is often a “question behind the question.” So, before answering, I counter with “What do you mean by Lutheran?”
Let’s start with Martin Luther (1500′s in Germany). I once was blessed to meet the greatest Luther scholar of the 20th century, in person, Roland Bainton, in the early 80′s after a lecture. I asked him why he never joined a Lutheran Church. His witty response was: “I’ve never seen one. Luther himself, ironically, would not be welcomed in most Lutheran churches today.”
So, are you Lutheran? If you can answer difficult theological questions simplistically, you probably aren’t following Luther’s pattern.
Asked whether there is pre-destination, Luther answered “yes and no.” Asked if we can lose our salvation, Luther answered “yes and no.” Asked if we are basically sinners or totally justified, he answered “yes.” Luther was a Bible teacher, and not a systematic theologian. He loved the (obvious) dramatic tensions in scripture and was OK with just leaving them be. His counterpart, Calvin, seemed to have a high need to cram the Bible into a neat system.
There are parts of Luther’s teaching and personality that I, without reservation, condemn and reject. His bizarrely anti-Semitic view of European Jews was an outrage. His mowing down of the peasant revolt was inexcusable. His eschatology was primitive at best and incomprehensible at worst (He thought Pope Leo was literally THE Antichrist). He had no sense of Christian mission to the majority of the non-Christian world.
But he was spot-on right about the whole Bible revolving around Grace, Faith, and Christ. And he was crazy-courageous in standing up to the whole authority structure of his world (Popes and Emperors) to make it stick. He rediscovered Paul’s “Jesus plus nothing” and remade much of the Western Church around it.
Along with Isaac Newton, he is one of the most mercurial and influential humans ever to walk this planet (Newton, like Luther, had his mega-quirks). By deconstructing the monastic world-view (which had been dominant for centuries), philosophically and practically, Luther helped lay the foundation for the Modern World in which you and I live.
Ironically (I thought of this while walking the ancient stones of the Via Sacra), Luther and Paul were the two greatest historical figures ever to walk the streets of Rome. No one at the time, in that city, even noticed them. Luther and Paul could care less–they just went out and re-made the world. All of the emperors and heroes of Rome amounted to: not much. We name our sons Paul–and our dogs, Nero.
Am I a follower of Paul or Luther? No. So perhaps I’m not a Lutheran, in that sense. Luther didn’t want us to use the term “Lutheran” (see his exact quote at the bottom of this page) and Paul, in 1 Corinthians, was horrified that people would label themselves with his name. I, like Luther and Paul, am a follower of Jesus Christ alone.
But what about faith families? What about denominations? I am totally a product of Lutheran theological-cultural upbringing, and can’t do much about it. It’s like being Jewish, it’s a cultural tattoo which you can’t remove without lasers. Even if I (God forbid) were to become an atheist, I’d be a Lutheran atheist.
If I were to join a Baptist or Catholic congregation, I’d still be a Lutheran member of that church. If you are Jewish or Lutheran, you understand the tribal implications of these labels :-). I’d actually, if I had my ‘druthers, like to be a charismatic Anglican (the Alpha London folks), but I’m too blue-collar Lutheran to pull it off long term.
So, is the church I pastor, Robinwood Church, Lutheran, because I am the primary teacher? Perhaps. We affirm (in our bylaws) the unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Small Catechism, and the ecumenical creeds. We would qualify, thus, for joining the Lutheran World Federation.
But we are non-liturgical. Totally. More than you think. And we are very Pentecostal in our expression. It doesn’t look “Lutheran.” We have no Euro-centric trappings of any kind. We are a California beach church that meets in a warehouse. No Lent. No Advent. No lectionary. No altar table. No permanent cross. I don’t own a clerical collar. There isn’t a single hymnbook in the building. It would be hard to find the word “Lutheran” on our website. I only wear shoes if it’s a cold day. The music is loud.
But if any trained theologian were to visit us for three Sundays, he or she would say:
They sure aren’t Calvinists or Arminians. Not Roman Catholics. Not Southern Baptists. Not Eastern Orthodox. Not liberal North American PC activists. Not Anglicans. By default, they must be Lutherans. Expressive, non-legalistic, missional–but pretty dang Lutheran at the core.
If Luther were to show up at Robinwood Church, I’d probably tell him off (privately) for that goofy Jew-bashing (and a few other things) of his, but we’d pour him a beer (and cut him off at two) and share his love of God’s Word, and the tensions that are simply there in it.
Is Robinwood Church Lutheran? Yes and no
And like Luther and Paul, we don’t care if “important” people don’t notice what we’re up to, we’re busy remaking the world.
For more information:
Follow me on Twitter @RobinwoodChurch
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LUTHER’S QUOTE on LUTHERAN LABEL:
“People should not call themselves ‘Lutherans’. ‘What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone . . .How then should I — poor stinking maggot-fodder that I am — come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name?’ Not so, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names and call ourselves Christians, after him whose teachings we hold.”
Who said that?
–from, “A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion 1522”
Nothing wrong with wearing red on Pentecost.
But if no one
-gets filled with the Spirit
-speaks in tongues
-accuses your members of being drunk at 9am in the morning
-gets converted (there were 3k on Pentecost)
…then we need Linus to get up on stage and read us the Bible story (which he does so well for Christmas) to remind us of what Pentecost is really all about.
As with much of the high-octane faith in the Bible, we have de-natured it for “polite” church use. Instead of calling down fire from heaven, we wear red sport shirts.
Veni Sancte Spiritus
I have always been fascinated by Cranmer’s poetic rendering of Matthew’s (and Luke’s) rendering of Jesus’ phrase:
Give us this day our daily bread.
Please stick with me through some heavy linguistics. It will be worth it.
In Greek, which Matthew wrote and Jesus didn’t use when teaching his Lord’s/Kingdom/Father prayer, it says:
THE – BREAD – OF – US – THE – EPIOUSION - GIVE – TO – US – TODAY
Apparently, according to Danker’s Lexicon, the word epiousion was coined by the evangelists where they were translating Jesus’ Aramaic “Abba” prayer (see also J. Jerimias: Abba). Origen said early on that the word was coined by the evangelists.
The word exists nowhere else. In the New Testament or in secular Greek literature.
“Ousia” means substance/being. “Epi” means marked or designated “right on top of.” Think “epicenter.”
In depth-etymological terms, it can’t mean “daily” or “tomorrow’s bread” as so many have suggested.
We have to go with depth etymology, because we can’t go with any parallel Greek usage outside of “our” literature.
Thus they coined a Greek word to get at what Jesus was saying in Aramaic, because what he was saying was not to be contained in a normal “off the shelf” Greek word. The problem is, our current Aramaic versions of the New Testament are, in some ways, translations from the Greek. We don’t have pre-Luke/Matthew Aramaic versions of the gospels.
When doing a depth-etymology, it’s best to stick with the un-spun core-root meanings of the parts involved in the compound word.
Thus “designated-present-substance” is the best we can mine from the root words.
It unravels if we try to project it beyond the Greek into what Jesus may have said in his language–we end up with compound speculation.
But in hand, we have EPIOUSIA.
What do you think, based on what we have said, that it means?
I’ll take a stab at it:
Jesus saw provision as dynamic, and not as static. Everything we need comes out of the Father-substance (hence the Father prayer). Have a lunch box? Feed 5,000 people.
Need to pay taxes? Take the Krugerrand out of the fish’s mouth. The Father feeds and provides for us as he does the lilies and the birds.
Don’t store up treasures in barns. Rely on daily manna. Trust God for your abundance.
Get your provision from substance, don’t try to gather it from the circumstances around you.
The epiousion is the designated/marked substance from which our bread comes.
This is the abundance we are teaching a Robinwood Church. Not some form of American consumer greed.
The world is not a zero-sum game (more for you, less for me), it is an “open system.”
Give us of the designated substance our bread today. I know it’s not as “sexy” as Cranmer, but nothing in English is
What are your thoughts?