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!