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On the Edge, Leaning Into the Mystery


Over the years, especially the years where I served as a youth pastor, associate pastor and lead pastor in three different churches, I estimate I’ve had to show up to teach a lesson or preach a sermon well over a thousand times….maybe two thousand if you count all the bible studies, classes and also all the messages I’ve delivered as a retreat or camp speaker.  Granted, I’ve been out of church ministry for going on 13 years now, I still receive a request to speak now and then….mostly then.  Naturally, one important factor in delivering a message or a lesson is to be prepared and show up on time. I've always been on time.

 

A few months ago, I was asked to preach at a local church where I’ve preached several times before over the years.  Their pastor retired and they needed to “fill the pulpit” as we say.  At first, I was uncertain about being in “the pulpit” given my journey over the past number of years leaning more into the mystery of God rather than the dogma of certainty we Christians in the West understandably would rather lean into.  But then I thought, “Why not deliver a message on the mystery of God”?  Why not? 

 

So, I agreed, and the date and time was set.  This small church is full of loving dear people, some of whom I know personally, and the associate pastor is a great guy.  Instead of going to the well and reusing an old message delivered at another time in another galaxy far, far away, I decided to put together a heartfelt message on the mystery of God related to my journey.  As the Sunday approached, I felt pretty good about sharing on the subject and looked forward to delivering the message at 10AM on the upcoming Sunday.  On that day I got up early and spent time reviewing the message adding a few final changes.  At 8:50AM I was about to go get dressed and prepare to leave in order to be there at 9:30AM.  Right then my phone rang, and I could see it was the associate pastor calling.

 

“Hello Nick.  Are you coming?”  My heart sank as I now began to realize, “Uh, oh.”  “Isn’t the service at 10AM?”, I asked?  He replied, “No, it is at 9AM and starts in 10 minutes.”  I was so embarrassed and apologetic and said, “I’m on my way! I’ll be there ASAP!”  The church is about 15 minutes from my house, and I had to get dressed real quick but got on the road accelerating towards the church.  Of course, I know all the police officers in the two towns that cover the distance between my home and the church, so I took a little liberty to get on the gas a bit.  I parked at the church and ran into the foyer where two sound guys were waiting with the mic headset.  We got that squared away and I walked in as the last worship song was ending. 

 

The associate pastor got up made some announcements, had the congregation do the "meet and greet" and then had myself and another man come up who was to introduce me.  Bob is a fellow chaplain who became interested in chaplaincy after reading my book and us subsequently spending some time together.  So, at about 9:30 I was “in the pulpit,” ready to give my message, “Leaning Into the Mystery of God.” Fortunately, the associate pastor and the church members are a loving, grace filled bunch and offered me that very grace and understanding.  I was able to use my faux pas in my introduction, “This morning you were faced with a great mystery….where is Nick??” 

 

Then I asked, “How come the message of God, the love of Jesus, the resurrection and eternal life is not attracting people, especially our Gen Z and Millennials?”  I continued, "You have to admit that over the past two thousand years we’ve canonized, doctrinized, theologized, exegeted, we’ve well developed, maybe overdeveloped our soteriology, eschatology, epistemology, we’ve debated infra and supra lapsarianism ad nauseum, over debated Calvinism vs Arminianism, we got reformed, informed, confirmed, catechized and even though mankind became enlightened a few hundred years ago….things seem to be on a downhill slide for Christianity as a religion.   

 

Haven’t we become very linear in our Christian thinking and in our practice in the West? A+B=C. Think Four Spiritual Laws perhaps, eh?  Think, and I don’t mean any disrespect here, but think Billy Graham Crusades….God loves you, he has a plan for your life, confess you’re a sinner, accept Jesus into your heart…be saved…fill out a card…find a church….study the bible.

 

Have we neglected to embrace and lean into the mystery of God as a way to experience God?  The contemplatives and the mystics have been around for quite some time coming into notoriety since the second and third centuries…John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure, Julian of Norwich, and in recent times, Thomas Merton, but for the most part, for most evangelicals, we’ve been unaware of them, know little of them and their body of work or experiences; we’ve for the most part ignored them, their ways, their writings.  Too un-linear. 

 

Christian mysticism is a difficult term to define.  It is often thought of as the practice of experiential knowledge of God. The word mystic is where we get the word mystery and the word mute.  A mystic acknowledges there is a great mystery about God for which literal words cannot completely describe.  Perhaps that is why John refers to Jesus as the Word and as the Light in the beginning of his letter.  John1:9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. We would prefer to solve mysteries rather than be enlightened.   Our media culture is inundated with mystery ”who done It” shows and series.  We would never think to watch a mystery show if we knew there wasn’t an ending which solved the mystery.  A mystic, I believe is willing to lean into the mystery of God without the need to solve exactly who God is, how God exists, how God exists in another realm without time or space.  A mystic accepts that God IS. He is who He is.  The great I am who I am."  

 

In 2Cor. 4:18 Paul writes:  So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are visible are temporal [just brief and fleeting], but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable.

 

On the edge of this life as we peer into the unknown over the edge there exists a great Mystery which even in this life is both knowable and unknowable at the same time. I could go on but I think I’m supposed to be somewhere soon….

 

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