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!