jonathan stone's blog

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Nearness

I have read many wonderful reflections during this first week of Lent. Unfortunately, I grew up in a faith tradition that largely ignored the Christian calendar, even Lent. The good news is that I have seen that changing in recent years. As for me, it has been nice to read the Lenten prayers, reflections and meditations of others. It is as if they are filling in the gaps for me left by my upbringing. And so, encouraged by these examples, I thought I would chip in my two cents worth. Here is my first ever Lenten reflection.

In the beginning God not only displays His power and creativity, He also demonstrates His love by drawing intimately near to His creation. With the creation of man His creation is complete, but His work is not finished. Most importantly, his nearness does not wane. God continues to draw close to man, parading the creatures in front of him to be named. And even after He creates the woman, bringing about the full community of humanity, He is still there drawing near to them.

However, in the midst of such serenity calamity strikes. Humanity rebels against God and suddenly senses their own vulnerability. In their guilt they attempt to cover themselves and, most tragically, they hid themselves from the presence of God. But again, God’s nearness does not wane. Instead He draws near and reorders the situation. He gives them new boundaries to live by and a God-given covering for their newfound shame.

Time and time again we see this theme throughout the bible. Humanity continues to make devastating choices that bring dire consequences. All hope appears to be lost. But at just the moment that we want to give up on the situation God shows up in the most shocking ways. He renews His nearness with His people, even uses their sinful mistakes to bring about His love-filled plan of redemption. The whole routine leaves us with wonder: What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him (Psalm 8:4)?

When we arrive at the New Testament the story offers its most outrageous development. God humbles Himself, takes on the flesh of humanity, and dwells among us. He does not come in radiant splendor, but in the likeness of a humble servant. And most surprising of all, we now know that God’s nearness not only comes to us, but also comes through us.

The story continues to twist and turn with surprising developments. Yet, God’s nearness, once again, never wanes. As we reach the end we get a promising glimpse of God’s final plan, and by now we should not be surprised. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (Revelation 21:4). Thus, the scriptures begin and end with the same simple message: Immanuel, God With Us. 

We are called to embody this same fundamental message. That is, we are called to draw near to the lost and broken, to be the gift of God wrapped in flesh. We are the body of Christ, the embodiment of God–one of the most profoundly mysterious statements in all of Scripture. We bring hope into the world, into the lives of hopeless people. A hope that the story is not finished. A hope that God is not only real, but surprisingly close and full of love.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:4-5

22 comments on “Nearness

  1. JD(
    February 29, 2012

    Bro. We agree to disagree on a few things here. First. Lent IS NOT a God-ordained event but s human ritual imposed by the Catholid church as doctrine no differently than how Pharisees did to the Jews. Lent is the reconstruction of the 40 days of weeping for Tammuz, the son of Nimrod, the founder of false religion and sun worship. The Bible is clearly against “weeping for Tammus.” (Ezek 8:14-19)

    People need to wake up & know the truth, for the truth you know will set you free. I’l reserve further comments until later.

    God bless.

  2. Scholiast
    February 29, 2012

    I think JD( just spammed you, given the complete irrelevance of the comment vis a vis what you actually say; probably a spambot that is hunting down any blogposts with ‘Lent’ in them.

    Thanks for this reflection!

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 29, 2012

      You’re welcome. Thanks for taking the time to read it, Scholiast.

  3. lbtk
    February 29, 2012

    I, too, grew up in a denomination that ignored the church year. Six yeas ago we found a congregation that was truly worshipping God and it just happened to be a United Methodist Church. I have learned to love and celebrate God in a much more intimate way through this congregation. I feel close to Him and yes, I feel Him near to me. Sandy

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 29, 2012

      Sandy, thanks for the comments. I’m glad you found a spiritual “home.”

  4. JD
    February 29, 2012

    @Scholiast: No, I am not a spambot or spammer. When i read the caption under the image and it’s references to a Catholic church “tradition” and not an ordinance of God, I speak out. Bro. Stone is a wonderful man of God! I appreciate many a good writing of his and follow his blog. There is no “church calendar,” yet there is a Catholic church calendar.

    God did set in place the three feasts of the year: Feast of Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, and the Feast of Trumpets, along with Pentecost, the Day of Atonement (which has been fulfilled through Christ’s death and resurrection), the Sabbath weekly rest, the year of Jubilee, and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper stemming from Pesach (Passover). These are the only “official” holy-days from the Bible.

    The Catholic church founded by an ungodly sun-worshiped and last Roman Emperor, Constantine, who wanted to unite his segregated empire, which was about to be split apart. To prevent the ultimate collapse of the Roman Empire, Constantine falsely “converted” to Christianity, made it the official religion of Rome, and used Christianity as the common denominator of the empire because of the impact true Christians had had on the empire since Jesus’ death and resurrection. To further unite the empire, he ordered that existing rituals of many faiths be incorporated into the new official Roman “Christianity,” so as not to offend pagans within the empire and see its collapse.

    When you look at the many “traditions” of the ROMAN Catholic Church (RCC), you find that they are based and steeped in pagan tradition. The church continued for the last 2,000 years to “christianize” pagan rituals and perpetrate one of the greatest frauds on humanity. The saints of Catholicism are ungodly. God’s Law states that we are not to make any graven image in heaven above or on the earth below or in the waters of thereof, whether of man, beast, or anything. We are not to bow to any idol, statue, or crucifix. We are not to call any man “Father” because there is only one Father, the LORD God of heaven. I can go on and on about the so-called “Christian” events on the church calendar that are not godly.

    Sure, Paul said to let no man distress you over whether one observes a Sabbath or holy day or ritual. I am not harping on Bro. Stone for offering up a prayer. I am merel warning people that there are lies perpetrated by the Catholic church on “Christians” regardless of what denomination with which they associate.

    Let’s take a moment and look at Lent. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday when people put ashes on their forehead to signify their repentance. Well, Mardi Gras is about as satanic as it comes. People out reveling in wine and debauchery and sex and every ill under the sun. Then, the next day, on Lent, they go and put ashes on their heads to mourn over their sins and to remember the 40 days leading up to the death and crucifixion of Jesus????? Thus, we use grace as a license to sin, contrary to God’s Word?

    The Bible doesn’t specifically point out the final 40 days of Jesus’ life as a time to be mourned. Quite the contrary. In fact on his way to the cross, Jesus told the women of Jerusalem not to weep for him! BUT instead weep to weep for themselves and their children (Lk 23:27-29). In Ezekiel 8:14-19 we have evidence of Jews weeping over the dead son of Nimrod, the sun god, Tammuz. It was a practice from the time of the original city Babylon and was well established in Jewish circles several centuries prior to Jesus coming to earth.

    Do a quick Google search using the key words “Weeping for Tammuz” and see the numerous sites that pop up teaching the same truth I point out here. ALSO, you’ll find one, which I will list here, from a woman whose blog is all about ancient goddesses and explains about the story of weeping for Tammuz.

    This is a bonus question for free. Lucifer is not completely stupid. He knew from the Garden of Eden that one day a virgin would give birth to a Son who would crush his head. Thus, through the millennia of human existence, he introduced the idea of a virgin birth and worship of the son born to her. Under Nimrod, it was Tammus and his mother. In Egypt it was Isis and her son Horus. All the major ancient religions had a virgin birth and the son becoming a God. Why? To counter the virgin birth of Jesus the King of kings when he arrived.

    Then, the Catholic church came along and adopted the worship of a virgin and her son as gods from the ancient sungod worship to keep the Roman Empire from crumbling completely, even though it eventually did. I don’t like looking like I’m bashing Catholics, but the Catholic church is an abomination from the pit of hell along with all of her “Christianized” pagan traditions and (un)holy-days.

    Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?….Thus you have made the commandment[d] of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matt 15:6-9) The Catholic church continues this “tradition” of replacing God’s Word with tradition to this day. As the Bible says in Revelation, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” (Rev. 18:4). They have the appearance of godliness but deny the power thereof.

    Bro. Stone, I applaud your effort in this article because there are many things of merit within it and with which I subscribe and believe. I am sorry if I went off topic a bit, but it bugged me none the less when I read of Lent (a pagan holiday christianized) on my brother’s blog. Sorry, bro. I wasn’t spamming you or trying to hijack the thread. Thanks for letting me take time to explain my position.

    JD

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 29, 2012

      JD,

      Thanks for explaining your position. I don’t agree with your take on the RCC, but can agree to disagree, as you said in your first post.

      My perspective on church history is that Protestantism is not quite 500 years old. The Christian church is not quite 2000 years old. That means that 1500 years or 75% of church history is made up of a time when we all shared the same history (of course this is referring to the Western church–the Eastern Orthodox church has a whole different split). Sometimes people talk about things that happened before 1517 and refer to it as Catholic church history. But that history, in fact, belongs to all of us. For example, I cannot call the crusades a Catholic church incident, as there was no protestant church.

      There are some things that I adamantly disagree with in the RCC. However, I still consider members of the RCC to be my brothers and sisters. I come to that conclusion based on the fruit I see in their lives, which is the way that Jesus told us that we would be able to identify false prophets (Matt. 7:15-20). There are some docrines unique to the RCC that I disagree with. However, I have never found a religious sect or denomination that I completely agreed with.

      In my work within my community, as well as my encounters from living on the mission field, the RCC is most aligned with us on certain issues, especially areas of social outreach. For example, no group of Christians have done more for issues on the right to life than the RCC. Furthermore, find a group of homeless people, go to a prison, look for hungry people, check out free medical clinics, visit a pregnancy center that advocates life, etc., and chances are you will find Catholics already there doing everything they can to obey the commission of our Lord in Matthew 25:31-46.

      The RCC as an institution has issues. But again, I have yet to find an institution of organized religion that does not. However, what I find when I stand shoulder to shoulder with my Catholic brothers and sisters is the fruit of the Spirit, a record of good deeds, and obedience to Christ. In other words, sheep, not goats.

      I have friends that grew up in the RCC and had a very bad experience. They struggle to say much good about it. They found it to be dead religion and meaningless traditionalism. One of my favorite quotes comes from the historical theologian, Jaroslav Pelikan. He states, “Tradition is the living faith of dead men; traditionalism is the dead faith of living men.” All Christian traditions have the potential to offer life giving, faith building tradition passed on to us from the faithful Christians who went before us. But all Christian traditions also have the potential for weighing us down with dead religion.

      So, I think that we could point to anything as being potentially dangerous. But to dismiss out of hand over one billion Christians, or nearly half of the body of Christ, over things that MAY have been inspired from pagan rituals seems a foolish thing to do in my opinion. You are probably aware that Luther wrote hymns to the tunes of popular bar songs in his day, including the famous “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” John and Charles Wesley did the same. I am not afraid of pagan holidays, and do not believe that God instructed us to flee from them. Rather, He sends us out on His mission to redeem the world. There is truth and there is error. I do not deny that. The problem is that a little of both lies in each of us.

      Lent is neither a doctrine nor a requirement. It is a rich tradition, that builds the faith of billions of Christians every year (Lent is practiced in most Christian traditions, not just the RCC).

      I appreciate the opportunity to share my position. I do not expect that my perspective will sway you from your perspective. But hopefully we can, as you suggested, agree to disagree.

      Shalom,
      Jonathan

    • Scholiast
      February 29, 2012

      JD,

      My sincerest apologies for calling you a spammer. I, too, appreciate this blog, and I am so pleased that the Lord can use Bro. Stone to bring so many of us together, even of widely differing opinions. One looks ahead to the Day when the concerns of a corrupt Catholic Church or a young Protestant Church are no longer issues but all who truly love the Lord Jesus Christ can embrace in the Heavenly Jerusalem and praise the Father with one accord.

      • Jonathan Stone
        February 29, 2012

        Thank you, Scholiast. I sincerely long for that day as well!

  5. Cindy Skillman
    February 29, 2012

    Thanks for the great post on Lent, Jonathan

    I hadn’t even thought about it being Lent season, nor have I ever celebrated it, but I believe you’re right. We lose a lot when we leave behind these contemplative traditions. God speaks to us through all sorts of things, and certainly not everything about orthodox traditions should be tossed out with the bits that, well, the bits we’re possibly better off without. There are wonderful, beautiful things there, too.

    Blessings, Cindy

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 29, 2012

      Thanks, Cindy. I agree with the whole “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” angle.

  6. mendicant
    February 29, 2012

    Very informative–both the article and the dialogue about the RCC. I don’t practice lent but as usual, you’ve given me something to think about. Good stuff.

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 29, 2012

      Thank you, Larry. I really enjoyed your last post as well.

  7. cloakedmonk
    March 1, 2012

    Very interesting conversation. I love that you have taken the time to explore Lent. As to the conversation happening, I would venture that very little of what any of us does is “God ordained.” However, authentic, God-seeking, ritual as embodied in spiritual disciplines, such as can happen during the season of Lent, can bring people closer to God.

    Any ritual when human-centered can go awry. Any ritual when God-centered becomes life-giving.

    Blessings on all of you!

    • Jonathan Stone
      March 1, 2012

      Well said, cloakedmonk. Thanks for reading and chipping in.

  8. Father Ron Moses Camarda
    March 5, 2012

    Breathe in…
    Breathe out…

    We can’t choose if we are born Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, Methodist, Jewish or Agnostic…. The thinking part of our triune brain doesn’t even kick in until we are around 20 years old. All of us have to learn to be less fused, but connected, to our family of origin. We must all develop our own values and beliefs without hammering down someone else’s throat.

    As a born and bread Catholic, I grew up in a family with strengths and limitations. As the head of the United Nations once said, “For everything that was…Thank You! For everything that is…Thank You! For everything that will be… Thank You!”

    Whenever we get “there” we will all know the truth. We might all have a piece of that truth. And some of us might realize the truth as we walk this pilgrimage on earth.

    When people came into Bravo Surgical injured or even dead, I didn’t care what their religion was. I simply loved them and taught them to breathe in… and breathe out…. I did everything I could to avoid going into the Battle for Fallujah in a War that I thought was not justified. But I was glad to be there as a small and loving heap of ashes in the midst of so much hatred and fog of war.

    I have also gone on Spiritual Missions to Haiti 7 times and Honduras 3 times. As the guide to these missions, I don’t allow the people to do any work. We don’t “mission” the poor. We allow the poor to “mission” us.

    When the earthquake hit Haiti…we had the resources available and the friends in Haiti to make a pretty big impact. One Catholic Church I am associated tithes 10% to the poor. However for that disaster…they raised over $105,000 in one weekend and had doctors and nurses from the parish within weeks. However, they worked side by side the Haitian doctors and nurses they helped to train.

    Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves.”

    The prophets introduced “fasting and prayer”, the discipline of Lent. But God spoke through the prophets and told us the fasting and prayer most desired: love of the poor, releasing those in bondage, sheltering the homeless, etc. Then our light will shine and God will say:

    “HERE I AM!”

    A broken humble heart, God will not spurn.

    Love one another.

    Keep up the great work Jonathan.
    Ron (your brother)

  9. Michael Conner
    March 6, 2012

    Great post! Love it! I’m not Catholic, but I regularly observe lent. It’s helped to get me off of sodas and other things. The thing I focus more on though is to detach myself from something and attach myself more to Him. No matter what anyone says, that is a good practice.

    • Jonathan Stone
      March 6, 2012

      Amen, Michael. Thank you for reading and for the comment. Glad I found your blog. Blessings, my friend.

  10. Catholic Glasses
    March 12, 2012

    Reblogged this on Catholic Glasses and commented:
    Awesome Lenten Reflections

  11. Catholic Glasses
    March 12, 2012

    Beautiful and consoling thoughts of God’s ever present redeeming love. I found this Scripture the best fit for Eucharistic Adoration, on your blog: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (Revelation 21:4).

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