Saturday, December 31, 2011

new years

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to keep and a time to throw away. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6)

It seems to me that times of transition have a lot to teach us if we are willing to listen.  They are times when we are leaving the old and familiar behind in some way, shape, or form, and moving out into the new and unknown…whatever that may be.  They are times of great possibility because they are times when we tend to be a little more open and vulnerable than usual—a little less secure, a little less sure of ourselves.  They are times, it would seem, that are ideal for God to really get his hands on us. 

It is during such times that we are likely to stop and reflect on the content and direction of our lives; looking back to see the people, and events, and things that have formed us up to that point.  And looking ahead as we dream about, and consider, and hope for what we most want our lives to be.  It is in this fruitful space (liminal space as Richard Rohr calls it) that the words of Ecclesiastes offer us a great guide.  They ask us to consider what must we keep, of all that has been part of our lives up to that point, and what must we throw away?

I have only to look back to the summer to find a classic example of this; as I said good bye to my job with Young Life and began the process of weeding through 9 years of “stuff” that had accumulated in my office and on my computer.  Literally, with every item I held in my hands I was faced with the decision, should I keep this or should I throw it away?  It was almost as if as I held each item—and as each item held me—that each contained not only a wonderful memory, but also a question…and a prayer.  I quickly realized (with the help of Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Leaving Church) that this process was bigger and more symbolic than each little item I held in my hands.  It was a point of deciding who God wanted me to be from this point forward—what I would keep—and what, of a wonderful past, needed to be deeply valued for what it was, but left behind—what I would throw away. 

The New Year invites us all to consider this question for ourselves.  As we look to the year ahead, what do we keep and what do we throw away…because there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

incarnation

There was once a young couple who was deeply in love and had decided to marry.  A few weeks after a beautiful wedding and an incredible honeymoon, they had settled in and begun the process of crafting their new life together.  It was everything they’d ever dreamed.  But before too long the new, young wife began experiencing a strange dizziness and a slurring of her speech.  It was soon discovered that she had a tumor in her brain that was growing daily and had to be removed.

The surgeon met often with the young couple over the next days and weeks, explaining in detail all the treatment options available; of which surgery would be by far the most beneficial.  He told them everything about what the surgery would involve, including both his highest hopes and the greatest risks of such a procedure--one of which could be partial paralysis of one side of her face due to the tumor’s proximity to a nerve that controlled many of her facial movements.  So in hopes of extending their days together as long as possible, they decided to go through with it.

The day of the surgery came, and the procedure was completed.  The young couple sat together in the recovery room anxiously awaiting word from the doctor as to the success of the operation.  The good news was that the tumor was removed and the prognosis for the future was very good.  The bad news was that, indeed, during the procedure—in order to get all of the tumor—a nerve  had been damaged that would forever alter the smile of this beautiful young woman. 

The young wife was so thankful for the success of the surgery, but inwardly devastated to learn that her face, from this day forward, would always be contorted; and that her beautiful smile would be permanently disfigured as a result.

The young husband was simply wonderful in his love for and affirmation of his new bride’s beauty as she dealt with the hard news.  “I think it looks cute,” he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”  And as tears streamed down both of their faces he leaned over to kiss his bride gently on her newly disfigured lips.  And as he did he twisted his own mouth to fit hers in order to show her that their kiss still worked.


Christmas is the season where we celebrate the incarnation--God taking on our distorted flesh...in Jesus.  God twists his own lips to match ours, in order to show us that our kiss still works.  O Come Let Us Adore Him!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

room for christmas

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)

Room is a very important thing in the life of the Spirit.  As a matter of fact, new birth seems to require it.  Unfortunately, and ironically, during this season—just as in the time of Mary and Joseph—it is so easy for life just to fill up.  And when life is over-filled there is simply no room for something new (of the Spirit) to be born in us; the pace and demands of the season are at odds with the room and reflection necessary to pay attention to how, where, and when God might be entering our lives/world.

Maybe that’s why the words of the old Christmas carol remind us, “let every heart, prepare him room.”  It seems that the writers of those wonderful songs of old knew well the secret that unless we work diligently to make room for him, it will not simply happen on its own—it will not just “fall on our heads.”  Making room takes effort and intention and prayer and planning.  And unless we are willing and able to put forth the  energy and effort to pay attention, it is likely that when he does eventually come, we will miss him too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

joseph

Luke only mentions his name a couple of times; Mark and John not at all.  The little we do know of him comes from a few verses in Matthew—and that’s not a lot.  We know he cared enough for Mary that he wanted to protect her from the public scorn and disgrace that a young woman in her circumstances was destined for.  We know that he was a righteous man that believed what the angel of the Lord had spoken to him (in a dream; always in a dream) and thus was obedient in all that he was asked to do and to be.  We know that he led his family to Bethlehem for the census and was resourceful in providing a safe (yet humble) space for his young bride to give birth.  And we know that he protected his young family from danger when he fled with them in the middle of the night to Egypt to keep them safe from Herod’s wrath.  Caring, protective, righteous, believing, obedient, providing…a pretty good list of qualities to say the least.

And yet Joseph was never intended to be  a main character in the story, probably because, although his role was important, he realized that he was not the point—Jesus was.  It is as if he voluntarily stepped aside, into the background, in order for the main character to take center stage.  His role in this drama would be one of background rather than spotlight.  He was simply part of the supporting cast; somehow both recognizing and embracing this reality.  In fact, Joseph’s very best work—the nurture, care, and guidance of Jesus in his formative years—was done in virtual anonymity.  Not a word, other than the instance at the Temple when Jesus was twelve, was ever written about it.  He was a hidden and silent partner in the unfolding story of God’s life on earth.  For the most part he was unrecognized, unsung, and unnoticed—and it is simply beautiful.  It makes me want to be just like him; to realize that God is the point of the story, and therefore to embrace the covert and behind-the-scenes ways we are called to help “bring him into” this dark and broken world.   

Saturday, December 17, 2011

john

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9)


It is such a temptation in this life to try and be something you’re not…at least it is for me anyway.  Somehow, thru the years, I have become convinced that who I really am is simply not enough.  So I subtly—and sometimes not so subtly—begin to seek people, and/or things, and/ or accomplishments that will make me feel like I have value and worth; make me feel like I am somebody.

Maybe that’s why I have been really drawn to the life of John the Baptist for the past few days.  He seems to get it.  He seems to realize that life is not about him.  He seems to clearly see his place in the larger story—and embrace it.  John is fully aware that he is not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  He knew who he was and fully embraced his role; he didn’t succumb to the temptation to try and be someone or something that he was not.  He didn’t try to pretend that he was the light, but instead was wonderfully able to point people to the light, rather than to himself.  What a great example to follow.  John encourages me to be careful: to not block the light, to not get in the way of the light, to not dance around for attention in front of the light…to not try and be the light.  He reminds me that any light that is seen in me is only a reflection of the True Light, nothing that I—in and of myself—possess or produce...it is all Him.  So whenever people are drawn to that light in me, or in any of us, I/we must always point them quickly back to Jesus, lest they mistake this little reflection of the light in us for what it truly is--not us, but the True Light itself.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

mary

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…Luke 1:35


What exactly happened in that moment?  That wonder-filled instant when the Holy Spirit came upon you; when the Most High overshadowed you?  What was it like?  I have to know!  Was it heavenly?  Was it more wonderful than anything you ever dreamed of, or dared to imagine?  God entered into you; he penetrated you to the core, more deeply than anyone ever thought possible.  God, the Most High, entered into you, and that entry created new life within.  He left something of his life-giving-self deep inside; something beautiful beyond imagination was conceived in you.  You are pregnant with God and have the unbelievable privilege of carrying him around inside of you; of nurturing his new life within you until time reaches its fullness and he is ready to come forth, to show himself, to be born into this world.  You, Mary, are the Holy Theotokos—the God-bearer, because God entered into you.  And because he entered into you, he can enter into us as well.  May we, too, be come upon.  May we, too, be overshadowed by the Most High.  May God enter into us, penetrate us to the core, and bring to life something of himself deep within our souls.  May we, too, be pregnant with God; and nurture and care for his new life within us until it is ready to be born into our lives…born into our world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

centered

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?

                                                              (from the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder)


What a question…a great, great question.  Do they?  Do we?  Do I?  It seems that if I did, it would make a world of difference in the way I went about living that life every day.  It would affect the who and the what and particularly the how of every single minute of every single day.  A few years ago I was sitting with a dear friend at my favorite table in my favorite restaurant and a similar question bubbled to the surface: “Are you living the life you want to live?”  Of course the question was not about winning the lottery or living in a house on the beach, but more about, “In the life and the place you have been given, are you living the quality of life that you really want to live?”  It is a question, not so much of circumstance, but of depth and quality, of priority and investment.  And as we sat with that question and considered it deeply another question followed on its heels…”If not, why not?”  Sometimes we live our lives feeling more like our lives are living us instead.  Feeling like our life and our world is filled with things we really have no choice about; running frantically and busily from one thing to the next, out of control.  I think that’s what Jesus was addressing at Martha’s house (Luke 10).  Martha was distracted.  The word for distracted, I am told, in this context can be more descriptively translated “to drag around.”  Martha was feeling drug around.  She had no choice…after all look at all that “has to be” done.  But Jesus always has a much different perspective, a different way of seeing and of being.   Look at what Jesus has to say to her: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41).  It is almost as if Jesus is saying, “Martha, dear Martha, you are missing it.  Realize life while you are living it.  See what is truly primary and what is only secondary; what needs to be foreground and what has to be kept in the background; what is important versus what is merely urgent.  Do not center your life on circumstances, or on duty, or need, or reputation, or agenda…center your life on me.  Everything else, including the “to do list,” will take care of itself.  You are worried and upset about many things…why is that?  Come to me, the one needed thing—the best thing.  Be with me, sit at my feet, listen to my words, look into my eyes, and allow the rest of your life to be determined by that.” 

Friday, November 4, 2011

prayer

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them… (Matthew 6:6-7)

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that there is much more to most things than meets the eye—prayer for instance.  For years I was under the impression that prayer consisted of closing your eyes, bowing your head, and talking to God.  The pictures and images of prayer that I carried around in my heart and mind, quite frankly, left much to be desired.  Prayer was not an activity I was particularly drawn to or excited about.  My guess is that this had much more to do with my definition of prayer than it did with the real practice of prayer.  It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to see that maybe my definition of prayer was far too small and rigid.  Prayer wasn’t so much about performing a duty as it was about building a wonderfully intimate relationship.  Prayer was not simply throwing all the words I can muster at the unseen God, but it—at its very core—has always been about union with the God who lives within us.  I think that’s what Jesus is really getting at in Matthew 6; he is trying to recapture the true meaning and practice of prayer, which is simply being with God.

Don’t stand on street corners, don’t babble on and on; prayer is much more intimate and personal than that.  Instead go into your closet—that space where true intimacy is possible—and shut the door.  Leave everyone and everything else on the outside; I want it to be just me and you.  I want us to be together in a way and a place where I have your undivided attention.  I have so much I want to say to you; so much of me that I want you to know.  And this space and time is the place where that is most possible; the place where I can have the deepest desires of my heart fulfilled, which is just to be with you, my Beloved.  Come inside where things are still and quiet and you can hear every whisper of my loving Spirit deep within your heart and soul.  That’s prayer.


"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6 The Message)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

room

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. (Romans 5:2 - The Message)

I read these words the other day and just can’t get away from them, they have continued to echo and reverberate deeply within me.  I guess that's because the idea of spaciousness has been one I have always been drawn to.  Maybe it’s because of the freedom (and life and grace) that is inherent in a spacious place.  A  spacious place offers room; room to roam, room to grow, room to flourish, room to be…and room to become.  I like room, I don’t like to be crowded or constricted or restrained.  And I don’t just like room, I need room…the life of God within me requires it.  It seems to me that the very life of the Spirit is one of spaciousness, ever expanding us within.  The more deeply we journey into God, the more room there is, and the more spacious and free life becomes.  I like that…I like it a lot.  It is so inviting.  It makes me want to throw my doors completely open to him; knowing that when I do, I find his doors already wide open before me—with the wide open spaces of his grace and love going on and on and on.  What could be more inviting than that? 

Friday, October 21, 2011

being with

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17)

There is a definite art to being with someone.  It involves being fully present to them—open and attentive.  It consists of listening to them and offering them space and room to be.  It requires that we not be occupied or preoccupied with other people or things, and ultimately asks us to let go of our agendas and control.  Being with someone involves and investment of time and focused stillness; it is one of the most important disciplines in all of the spiritual life.

Paul prays that the Ephesians might have a deep work of the Spirit go on within them, so that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith.   The word that Paul uses for dwell is the word used for a permanent and durable residence—not a short-term and temporary condition, but a lasting and enduring state. This dwelling has to do with the art of with-ness; God being with us and us, in turn, learning to be with Him.  It requires a bit of a shift from our normal mode of operation; a shift from doing to being.  It’s almost as if Paul knew that we all have a tendency to take the outside-in approach to the life of faith—to think of it in terms of behavior modification and sin management—when the truth is that faith is in actuality an inside-out process.  True transformation does not start with doing and then somehow magically impact being.  It starts with being and then works its way out into doing.  The work of the Spirit is a deep work of the heart that always finds its way out into the way we live our lives.  That’s how genuine transformation takes place. 

Therefore, we need to shift our minds and hearts away from our normal doing mode and become more proficient in the art of being—particularly being with God.  We need to learn to be with God in prayer; not just coming before him with an onslaught of words and requests, but sitting in silence before him, listening to him, and keeping company with him.  We need to be with him in his Word; paying attention to it and letting it speak to our lives and hearts in a personal and profound way.  We need to stop working on the Word all of the time and let the Word start working on us.  We need to be with him as we are with one another; paying attention to his presence and movement and work within and among us.   And once we become more adept at the art of being with God, a deeper and richer and fuller life in the Spirit is just ahead (Ephesians 3:16-19).


Friday, October 14, 2011

live and learn

I was sitting at lunch yesterday with two of my dearest friends talking about life and the ways that certain people and events have marked us; both wonderfully and painfully.  And how both the wonderful and the painful leave something within us that holds the possiblity of life and growth.  I remember reading Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet years ago and how he says:

     I believe that almost all our sadnesses are the moments of tension that we find paralyzing because we no longer hear our surprised feelings living.  Because we are alone with the alien thing that has entered into our self; because everything intimate and accustomed is for an instant taken away; because we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing.  For this reason the sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more,—is already in our blood.  And we do not learn what it was.  We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered.  We cannot say who has come, perhaps we shall never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens.  And this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside.  The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be our destiny, and when on some later day it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to others), we shall feel in our inmost selves akin and near to it.


And so as I sat with God this morning and reflected on it all, something began to bubble up.  I'm not quite sure what it is (a poem maybe?), or if it is done, but I thought I'd pass it along in hopes that it might offer something of the Spirit to those, like me, that wonder from time to time, "What in the world is God up to?"

 
     that left a mark

it was not invited
and at the time not welcomed
but nonetheless it came calling
bursting through the door
barging into my settled life
turning everything upside down
wounding me to the bone
leaving a deep mark
both upon and within
one that has taken up residence inside
entering my very bloodstream
it will never leave
it is a part of me now
a companion and guide
willing to teach if i am willing to listen
willing to lead if i am willing to follow
life as it was before
has ceased to exist
nothing will ever be the same
it is not bitterness
it is reality
I am forever different
in an incredibly painful
but very good way

Monday, October 10, 2011

an old friend

     For a man of prayer is, in final analysis, the man who is able to recognize in others the face of the Messiah and make visible what was hidden, make touchable what was unreachable.  The man of prayer is a leader precisely because through his articulation of God’s work within himself he can lead others out of confusion to clarification; through his compassion he can guide them out of the closed circuits of their own in-groups to the wide world of humanity; and through his critical contemplation he can convert their convulsive destructiveness into creative work for the new world to come. (The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen)



So I’m looking at the bookshelf in my office today— looking for something or other—when my eye is caught by a familiar title that somehow seemed to leap off the shelf and grab me.  It wasn’t so much that it was by one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, who has had as much impact on my spiritual journey through the years  as anyone I can think of, but it was more the title that caught my attention: The Wounded Healer.  Maybe it’s just the season I find myself in.  Maybe it’s just that the older I get the more I realize the beauty and the necessity of ministering from such a place.  Maybe it was what I had for lunch…I don’t know.  But whatever it was, it caused me to pick it up again.  Picking up an old book for me is like sitting down to lunch with a dear old friend; it stops me.  I have to sit down with it and get reacquainted; catch up, hear its voice again, and remember what it has to say to me.  And when I picked up this old friend once again the words above are the first that I read.  Pretty good, huh?  And as I continued to read, the smile quickly began to spread across my face, and the words quickly began to warm my heart.  It is almost as if I could sense the smile of the Father upon me as He led me to the shelf and watched the scene unfold…like the feeling you get when you have the perfect gift for someone and can’t wait to see them open it.

Years ago I made a realization that when I am at my best spiritually, when the soil of my soul seems most fertile and my ears most attentive to the whispers of His Spirit, I am practicing, in addition to my other normal practices, the discipline of spiritual reading.  It means I’ve got some book going that is offering a fresh voice and a fresh breath to my heart and soul.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that I am spending a lot of time reading it, often it is no more than 15-20 minutes a day.  It just means that I am taking care to make the space each day for the practice to occur.  And my heart responds.

It looks like I have found a good friend to journey with for the next few weeks.  And I am excited.  Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

open hands or clenched fists?

I don’t know how God usually speaks to you, but he usually speaks to me in themes.  And it is usually the fourth ,or fifth, or sixth, or thirtieth time something happens before I catch on and begin to think, “Hey, wait a minute!  You’re trying to talk to me aren’t you?”  Well that has been the case this week around the images of open hands and clenched fists.

First it was a quote (Nouwen) and then a book (Discovering Our Spiritual Identity by Trevor Hudson); then a Scripture (Mark 12:41-44), topped off this morning by another quote (Albert E. Day).  And finally I began to see the streams converging…I know, I’m a bit slow sometimes.  Luckily God doesn’t shrug His shoulders and walk away in frustration, wondering if I’m ever going to notice that He is speaking.

The Nouwen quote contains a powerful image; the image of an old woman in a mental health facility.  She has a small coin in her hands that she is so terrified someone will try to take away from her that her fists are clenched so tightly that the circulation in her fingers is almost completely cut off.  She holds on so tightly that no one could possibly pry her fingers open to see what it is that she is so terrified to let go of.  Controlled by her fear, she hangs on for dear life—as if the coin were more valuable to her than all the treasures of the earth combined.

The book is one I have been journeying through with some college friends once a week.  As its title indicates, it is about the process of discovering who God really is in such a way that it allows us to deconstruct the false narratives we harbor (and thus live by), of both God and ourselves, and allow God to transform us (and our identity) from within.  The fourth chapter is called Receiving the Kingdom and talks about the process of opening our clenched fists in order to be able to receive the gift of God’s kingdom.  It points out the fact that nothing can be received from God (our true identity) until we let go of our clenched-fisted approach to life and relationships (particularly with God) and open our hands to whatever He desires to give us (or make us into).  Clenched fists represent a refusal, a resistance, an unwillingness to trust.  They distance us from the intimacy God desires both for us and with us.  The bottom line is that clenched fists say no to God.  In order to be truly transformed, repentance (change of mind and heart and direction) must come about.  We must move from clenched fists to open hands.  Open hands say yes to God.  They abandon agenda and control.  They show a willingness and desire to receive Him and all the gifts of life with Him.  The book encourages the daily (and often times minute-by-minute) process/discipline of moving from clenched fists to open hands.

The Scripture has to do with the widow’s offering, and again, reveals contrasting pictures of two distinct ways of living.  Jesus is sitting across from the temple treasury, watching carefully as the people come forward and put their money into the offering box.  The rich come forward first, one after another, and place large sums of money into the treasury.  From the outside, it must’ve look fairly impressive, but Jesus always sees deeper than that—he sees the heart.  He sees, within them, not only a misguided pride in how much they were putting into the offering, but also, beneath that, a clenched fist.  Although they were giving large sums, there was a definite limit to what they were willing to give—to how much they were willing to sacrifice.  Their offering, although big, cost them very little.  It didn’t affect their comfort level; it didn’t call them to trust anything or anyone but themselves.  The true test of their dependence upon, and affection for, Jesus was not how much they gave, but how much they kept.  That was the thing that revealed the true state of their hearts—what they were willing to let go of.  Then the poor widow came forward and put in only two small coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.  Again, Jesus sees to the true core of the situation and speaks the truth.  What He sees in the poor widow’s case is totally open hands—she willingly gives all she has to God.  A truly open hand holds absolutely nothing.  It simply lies open, waiting to receive whatever God chooses to give.

Finally, the quote from this morning topped it all off.  It was about the idea of “possessiveness” and how lethal it is to the life of the Spirit within us.  Possessiveness involves clinging tightly to our own stuff, or our reputation, or our agenda.  When our hands are so tightly wrapped around our own way, it squeezes the life right out of our soul—which was created to be filled by God and God alone.

So today, finally, I began to get a sense that God was indeed speaking.  And so I listened…and began to start trying to connect the dots.  And with the dots I have been able to connect so far, a question is becoming more and more clear.  Where in my life am I living with clenched fists?  And what would it mean to open those clenched fists to God?  And finally, what would it look like to live my life with completely open hands?

Monday, October 3, 2011

old dog...new tricks?

Today marks the first official day of a new journey for me.  An old place of life and ministry is quickly fading in the rearview mirror; leaving a sadness deep within me as some of the ones I have ministered along-with and along-side for years and years become less frequent parts of the new terrain that lies before me.   And this new road that stretches out ahead is filled with adventure and excitement of its own; just waiting to be had, to be dreamed, to be lived.  So I find myself at the beginning, but not really at the beginning at all, but at the “continuing;” for the who and the where I am will not really change…only the how and the what.  Therefore, the road seems oddly familiar and exciting, but in some ways anxious and uncertain at same time.  Who knows, maybe it is a journey that will enable me to become more and more myself as the years go by.

I do know that at the beginning of this new season I have been given a great gift; a time away with some of my heroes…Buddy, Ken, Charley, John, Ray, Bill, Bret, Moldy, and Fil.   A time at a beautiful place, on a beautiful day, with a hospitable host, to simply be with people I deeply love and respect.  It is a total gift—and probably the best way I could imagine to start this new chapter. To listen to these brothers share their lives and their journeys; their joys and their struggles; their hopes and their dreams, gives me faith and courage for what is ahead.  They are dear friends and traveling companions; they are mentors and teachers; they are instructors and guides.  They are deeply in love with Jesus and deeply committed to his kingdom—and genuinely in love with me…what more could you ask for?  

So here’s to the new season ahead…May we go in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

Friday, September 23, 2011

in the arms of the shepherd

My Psalm for the week this week is Psalm 23.  A very familiar passage indeed.  In fact, so familiar that I almost missed it completely; I almost missed out on the way God was coming to meet me right in the midst of the place I happen to be living these days.   I have to admit that I have a tendency to be a bit of a sentence finisher.  Oh maybe not out loud, but definitely within my spirit.  When something is familiar to me on the surface, or I hear a conversation where I think "I know where this is going,” I have a tendency to stop listening because I “already know” what’s going to be said.  I'm sure it drives my wife crazy…and rightly so.

Luckily, with Psalm 23, God didn’t allow me to finish his sentences for him.  He had something very specific he wanted to say to me—and I am so glad.  Because, these days, I find myself in some rather uncertain and anxious circumstances; and I am in need of being reminded of the character and power and faithfulness and trustworthiness of my God.  He is my Shepherd…I have no need to want.  He will provide for me, protect me, defend me, and guide me.  He will make me lie down in green pastures.  If I will truly believe in his desire and his ability to care for me, then I will be able to let go of my anxious, fearful, controlling behavior and will have the freedom to lie down in his presence and simply trust in his love.  He will lead me beside quiet waters—not chaotic, frenzied, crazy-out-of-control  waters—but quiet and still waters where he will (and he alone can) restore my soul.

Every image that God gives us of himself is actually an invitation…a picture to step into.  Because with just about every image of God, there is a corresponding image of us.  In this case, he is the shepherd, and thus, we are his sheep.  So, this week I have received a great gift.  I have found myself often in the arms of my Shepherd, and it has been exactly what I have needed…as well as longed for.  I’m  so glad he didn’t allow me to finish his sentences this time around, because mine wouldn’t have been near as good as his. 


Monday, September 19, 2011

bump or touch?

He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
     “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
     But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. (Mark 5:30-32)


His question revealed that someone had done far more than press upon him and crush him.  Someone had made such contact with him as to draw the answer of power out of him.  His question proved that he knew the difference between the jostle of a curious mob, and the contact of a soul in need and in faith. (The Great Physician by G. Campbell Morgan)

a bump or a touch?
Jesus knew the difference
the crowds bumped into him
that’s all they really wanted
they weren’t looking for anything more
just curious to see
wanted to get close enough
but not too close
no touch was necessary
just a little nudge would do
quick and easy
no fuss, no muss
nothing crazy
 
but the woman wanted more
so she reached out and touched him
which is a different proposition altogether
her desire came from a longing heart
from a hunger for genuine encounter
and a deep yearning for wholeness
for real transformation
a touch is risky
it takes guts
and maybe a little desperation
because once you are touched by Jesus
you are never the same again
 
so each day
the choice is also mine
will i be like the crowd
and settle for a bump
will i rush in and rush out
leaving no time and space
for a face to face encounter
or will i work my way through the crowd
of worries and fears and distractions
that press upon my heart and soul
and reach out for more
for a touch
 
so often it seems
that if i’m really honest
i’m just looking for a bump
when a touch is what
my heart most longs for
O God help me to not just settle
to not stop short
of what you desire most for me
a touch that will change me to the core
that will help me to know that i am not
what the world around me tells me i am
but that i am yours and therefore
i am loved

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

reorientation

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)



Over the past few months, full of change and transition, the Psalms have been a dear friend and a close companion.  They have given me words and images for prayer that speak both to my heart and for my heart; especially at times when, for some reason, I was unable to come up with words of my own.  They have been my prayer book, literally offering me prayers for all seasons.  And it, indeed, has been an interesting season; one in which I have needed and treasured their companionship.  I had a seminary professor once tell me that the Psalms could be broken down in three very general categories—psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation—which would seem to cover just about all the bases.  Therefore, whether I find myself, as I did several months ago, in the desert of disorientation due to life’s chaos and circumstances, or find myself being slowly led back into the garden of reorientation (a new way of seeing and being), which seems to describe my current season, the Psalms offer me a place and a language to meet my God in the midst of it all…and I am so grateful.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fathers and Daughters

I’ve been thinking a lot about fathers and daughters lately.  I guess that’s partly because my sweet wife lost her father this summer.  He was an amazing man who loved and led his family well.  I’ll never forget the privilege of watching and listening as his children circled his bed for the last time and prayed and thanked God for all their dad had meant to them.  I remember thinking that what I was witnessing had to be every father’s dream come true.  I know it would be for me.  It was a fitting tribute to a life well-lived; a life invested in all the right things and all the right people.  But at the same time I felt really sad for my wife; because I knew his passing would leave a void in her life—an absence.  After all, a father’s presence in a girl’s life is such an important thing; meant to bring stability and security and safety and guidance...and so much more. 



That made me start thinking about other daughters that experience that absence too.  It must be a really tough thing to go through, especially the younger you are.  I’m not sure how old the woman was in Mark 5:25-34; or whether she had a father in her life at that point or not.  But I do know that in her time of greatest need, he didn’t seem to be around.  Imagine if you were her.  Here you have carried on a twelve year battle with this bleeding inside of you, that not only took a huge toll on your body, but also on your heart and soul.  Not only did she have the physical effects to deal with, but she had the social and spiritual effects as well—she was unclean.  She was damaged goods, a reject, a social and spiritual outcast.  Who knows, maybe this was the reason her father was not around.  Whatever the reason, she appears to be alone and desperate as she approaches Jesus in the crowded street.  And to make matters worse, she had just watched a desperate father come to Jesus pleading and begging him to come heal his little girl.  That just had to add to the pain.  I mean here is a loving and noble father coming to Jesus fighting for the life of his twelve-year-old daughter; and here she is alone and desperate.  Where was the father than would travel unlimited miles to fight and plead for her?



Obviously Jesus recognizes this.  Because when he heals her, what does he call her?  Daughter!  Almost as if to say, “I know that there is an absence in your life.  I know that you long for a loving father that will care for you and protect you and provide for you and fight for you.  Well, don’t worry little one, because I am that Father.  You are my beloved daughter.”  Jesus becomes the father she always longed for.  And because of that, the healing goes far deeper than her body and her bleeding, but it goes clear down to her heart and her soul.  Jesus replaces the absence with a Presence…with the Presence…with His presence.  And he will do the same for my sweet wife as well.  Thanks be to God. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Dynamics of Delight

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."  -Matthew 13:44 

Life with God is like treasure.  It is like treasure, not it is treasure, not it will give you treasure, but it is like treasure.  Something about the quality of this life that God invites us into is similar to the qualities of treasure.  Exactly what qualities is Jesus getting at in this story?  What qualities of treasure does he have in mind?  Is it the value?  Treasure is on immense value.  Is it beauty?  Treasure is of breathtaking beauty.  Is it desirability?  True and lasting treasure is our heart’s great desire.   Life with God is like treasure: valuable, beautiful, desirable.   There is nothing greater, nothing sweeter, nothing that compares to living life with God.

But it is like treasure hidden.  It is not in plain sight; it must be sought after, it must be looked for, it must be found.  It is covered up; it can be overlooked at first glance.  You could walk right by it and never see it.  If you weren’t paying attention you could miss it altogether.  And an unfound treasure is a tragedy. Therefore, we must be attentive, we must be seeking, we must be in search; the treasure—this life with God—will not just "fall on our heads."  Each day, and each minute of each day, we must seek out the treasure of life with God, or else it will sit idly by in the field, hidden from our sight, and we will miss it.  We will be distracted by 101 things and tasks (and yes, even people) and we will simply miss it.  We will allow our attention to be taken away by things much less valuable, much less beautiful, and much less desirable

But when we do find it—when we finally find the elusive treasure—it completely captures our hearts.  That is what this particular treasure does; it totally transforms its finder.  In joy he goes out and sells all he owns in order to have it (this treasure within) for his very own.  For the things that capture our hearts are the things we really give our lives to.  It is called the Dynamics of Delight.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Change of Seasons

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

I've noticed a shift over the past couple of months.  A shift that has been very subtle...and very welcome.  A shift that I didn't fully recognize until one morning when I read these words from John 12, my scripture reading for that day.  It is a shift in seasons...a shift from the first half of John 12:24 to the second half.  It is the slow shift from a season of dying to a season of living; from a season of "unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies" to a season of "if it dies, it produces many seeds."  Somewhere in the past few weeks and months I've shifted from mourning a loss to celebrating the "many seeds."  And they are everywhere.  And I am so grateful!  Thanks be to God!