Monday, December 31, 2012

the friend

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:29-30)


In life and in ministry, it seems like all too often we have the goal of becoming greater and greater in the lives of those we minister to and with; when our actual mission is to become less and less.  The bride belongs to the bridegroom...not to us.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that, and to begin to think that we are the point, and that it all somehow depends on us.  We are actually just the friend of the bridegroom.  Our job is to wait, and to listen, and to be filled with joy unspeakable when the bridegroom finally arrives and takes his beloved bride into his arms.  At that point our main job is to step aside.  After all, what groom wants his friend around when he takes his new bride into his arms, begins to whisper his words of deep love and affection in her ears, and completely captures her heart?  Our presence at that point just gets in his way.  So, in life and in ministry, I need a constant reminder that I am not the point.  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  I am just the friend. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

a new years prayer

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;
     I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
      like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

                                                                     ~Psalm 131


I think this might be my prayer for the New Year.  It reminds me of what is really important, and what God seems to desire as far as my outlook and my attitude is concerned.  Which appears to be the polar opposite of everything the culture and the world encourage me to pursue.  In a culture that says make a name for yourself, achieveperform, jockey for position, be ambitious, accomplish much; this perspective can seem odd, if not diametrically opposed.  Can you imagine if someone asked about your goals for the new year, or what your New Year's resolutions are, telling them, "Well, I'm trying to keep my heart from being too high or proud, trying not to get too full of myself.  And I'm hoping to try not to be lifted up in my own eyes, or the eyes of those around me.  I'm actually kind of hoping that I become smaller, less significant, and less visible.  I want to stay out of the limelight, and be about the things that no one ever really sees.  I want to make sure that I don't occupy myself--my heart, mind, and soul--with things that are simply too great and marvelous for me.  I'm actually kind of hoping that my soul will be stilled, calmed and quieted; like a weaned child with its mother; totally content just to be, totally dependent on God and His great care.  I really just want to be held by Him and loved by Him.  I don't want to put my hope in what I do or achieve or accomplish; in my own gifts , abilities, and efforts.  I want to put my hope totally in the Lord, both now and forevermore."  What kind of response do you think that line of thinking would get? 

But that is what I long for, and more importantly what I think God longs for in me.  Just to be His.  Not to be heroic, or epic, or wonderful, or legendary; not popular, or admired, or successful, or productive...but just simply His.  And everything else will take care of itself.  Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

pierced

"And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:35

Surely as Simeon spoke to Joseph and Mary, telling them all of the incredible things about their newborn Savior, this couldn't just have slipped by unnoticed.  Can you imagine how disturbing these words would have been?  Can you imagine how disturbing they would be even now if someone uttered them to you this very day?  What do you mean a sword will pierce my soul too?  What in the world does that look like?  And how does it even happen?  How incredibly painful it sounds.  I mean it would be painful enough for a sword to pierce our bodies, but piercing our soul seems even worse, like another level of pain and suffering altogether.  Those who have experienced it know only too well. 

And too.  What is that supposed to mean?  What in the world do you mean by too?  Is my newborn baby's soul going to be pierced by a sword...as well as mine?  Please just pierce me, and leave this precious little one's soul in one piece.  To have the hearts and souls pierced of those we love most deeply is more than most of us can bear; way worse than those very things happening merely to us.  But, then again, nobody knows that more than the Father, the One from whom all Fatherhood derives its name.  If our souls can be pierced by tragedy, or loss, or desolation; imagine His very own...pierced to the core.  Why on earth would God allows His own heart to be pierced? Or even more amazing, His own Son's?  Something beautiful and life-giving must happen in the midst of the piercing...His, Joseph's, Mary's...and even ours.  But that certainly doesn't take away the depths of the pain.
   
So as excited as Mary and Joseph must've been with angels, and shepherds, and stars, and wise men, and gifts, and prophesies, and such...somehow this one little line must've stopped them in their tracks. Surely this strange and awful phrase must've lingered in the backs of their minds and disrupted them...at least a little.  So as we celebrate the gifts of these twelve days of Christmas, and the incredbile Gift given both to us and for us.  Let us recognize, and embrace--as did Mary and Joseph--the notion that maybe, just maybe, this terribly disrupting little word is somehow meant for us as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

waiting

...Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.  And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.  But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying...Matthew 1:18-20


I wonder how long you made Joseph wait in that agonizing tension before you told him your plan?  And what was it you were trying to accomplish in the midst of his struggling and wrestling?  Were you trying to teach him to pray?  Were you building his character? Testing his faith?  Were you increasing his groaning, because it would make the soil of his soul so very fertile and receptive?  Was the time of struggle designed to increase the depths of his gratitude once you finally told him the truth?  Was it to test his love for Mary, the mother of your Son?  Was it to test his love for You?  What was that awful, struggle-filled waiting meant to do in him?  What is it meant to do in me?  How am I like Joseph, looking at an apparently no-win situation and trusting you to somehow show up in the middle of it?  To help me begin to make sense of it?  Where am I desperately waiting for you to arrive? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

emptying

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

                                                                                  ~Philippians 2:5-8 (NASB)


O Jesus, how far down you had to come to reach us.  How small and how low.  Can anyone really comprehend the magnitude of that downward journey?  You who had always enjoyed true delight, the loving intimacy of the Trinity, willing to step out of the ecstasy of that intimacy because of your great desire to bring us into it.  You who was in very nature God, laid aside your Divine privilege and position to become a man of sorrows, despised and rejected by men.  You, the Eternal One, willing to become a mere mortal.  You, the Creator of all, willing to become one of the created.  O the great sacrifice,! O the immense love!  Christ emptied himself...of more than we can ever comprehend or imagine.  And gave us an example, for us to do the same.  Lord Jesus, during this season when we celebrate your stepping down out of the throne room of heaven to become one of us, show us what this emptying looks like for each of us in the days ahead.   

Monday, December 17, 2012

elizabeth

After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.  “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:24-25)

Our lives are full.  Oh, maybe not full in the qualitative sense, as in all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19), but full of other, not so quality things.  We are full of doubt, full of fear, full of insecurity.  We are full of activities, full of responsibilities, full of stuff to do.  We are full of disappointment, full of groaning, full of pain.  We are full of voices. full of distractions, full of expectations.  We are simply full.  And, if the truth be known, what we are most full of is ourselves.  No wonder that there are so few times that we actually feel full of God.  How could we?  We are so full of other things there is simply no room.  There must be an emptying to take place, in order for any new kind of filling to be a possibility.

Elizabeth was full of disgrace.  She had lived for so many years being called "barren."  What an awful name to be called.  Look at some of the definitions of the word: not producing or incapable of producing offspring; sterile: unproductive; unfruitful: without capacity to interest or attract.  The Greek word used here is steira, which means hard, stiff, or unnatural.  If you are a woman, I'm guessing, it is not the type of word you would want to be known by.  It is probably not a name you want to be called.  It is a name that points out your inabilities as a woman.  And so Elizabeth, because she was barren was filled with disgrace.  But God was about to change all of that.  He was about to take away, or empty, her of all that disgrace; and fill her  instead with favor.  What a great word.  God was going to fill Elizabeth, not only with the child she most deeply longed for, but with something much, much more...His favor.

God has birthed something new deep in the body, as well as the heart and soul, of Elizabeth, and she is totally overwhelmed.  She must ponder all of this, she must reflect on the magnitude of what has happened and begin to nurture this new birth that is just now taking shape within her; both physically and spiritually.  So instead of running around showing everyone that God has taken away her disgrace, she goes into seclusion for five months.  She immediately goes into silence, where she knows this new birth can best be cared for and nurtured and grown, before it is to be seen by the world.  I wonder what those five months were like for her?  And I wonder if she was a totally different person when the time in silence, with just her and her God, was complete?  She had received a gift from God and had to make it her own before it would be of any value to this lost world.

I'm really drawn to Elizabeth during this season.  I'm drawn to her emptying, and her filling, and the silence she goes into to nurture the new life of God within her (as her cousin Mary would in the days and months ahead, in a much more literal way).  Elizabeth is such a great guide for me during Advent.  What emptying needs to take place in me?  What life does God long to plant within me?  How will I pay attention, and care for, and nurture this life within, so I can allow it the space and the time and the care to become all that God desires it to be? 

Friday, December 14, 2012

groaning again


groaning  by Jim Branch

o groaning
you wear many faces
today you are loneliness
yesterday you were longing
last week insecurity and inadequacy
and before that struggle, sadness, and  hurt

you are a constant companion
always present in some form or another
at times visible and recognizable
and at times hidden and buried deep within
so that i can hardly tell you are there

you walk with a purpose
opening up something deep inside me
creating fertile soil in my vulnerable heart
you expand my soul
hastening my becoming

you bring me low when i’m too high
make me smaller when i’m too big
you empty me of self when i’m full of it
and meet me tenderly when i’m bruised or broken

you open me up
making me receptive to true presence
you accomplish a purpose
that only a Dreamer could possibly dream up

sometimes i run from you
sometimes i ignore you…or try
and sometimes i embrace you as a long lost friend
which is exactly what you are
 
o groaning
you wear many faces
            work your work in me

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

groaning

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Hebrews 2:10-11)

I don't know about you, but I struggle pretty regularly with loneliness.  It is a wrestling that has gone on for years, but one that has only been accentuated by the new life (which I adore) and new terrain I find myself in these days.  It is not something that is fun, either to struggle with or to admit, but my suspicion is that all of us, to some degree, walk pretty regularly alongside this hidden companion.  Is he friend or is he foe?  I think my answer through the years would have normally tended toward the foe category, but these days I'm not so sure.  Could it be that this loneliness is a companion that has a lot to teach me if I am willing to listen; one that can be a guide and a friend if I choose to embrace him rather than run away from him.  Could it be that loneliness can produce some fertile ground for God to work a work deep within me?  Could it be that loneliness is a gift?

Loneliness seems to be a part of a much larger family--the family of groaning.  Paul wrote about it often, both in Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 5.  Groaning is something that comes up from deep within us as we live in a broken world and long for the creation intent (shalom) of God to be our constant and current reality.  It is almost as if the brokenness of the world, and even our own hearts, was given to us as a gift...a gift to let us know deep within that there is something (or Someone) more...a gift that serves as a constant invitation us to lean into or seek or long or watch and wait for that More to appear among and around and within us.  So whether I call the groaning loneliness, or disappointment, or depression, or insecurity, or anxiety, or whatever it may be at the moment; groaning is a gift.  It is a gift because it is a doorway to something God desires to do deep within us.  So during this season of Advent, this season of watching and waiting and groaning, let us embrace the groaning in whatever form it may be presenting itself, rather than trying to avoid, deny or escape it.  Because God is in the midst of it, He is up to something in the groaning that could be accomplished within us in no other way.  He is using it to make us holy, like our brother, and Savior, Jesus.  Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

be who you is

A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5


Do you ever catch yourself trying too hard?  I caught myself doing that a couple of times last week.  It is a very interesting phenomenon.  I'm not 100% sure what happens, but somehow a situation or a setting bumps up against my insecurity and the next thing I know I'm either trying to be someone I'm not, or trying to be who I am on steroids--both of which are not a pretty sight.  And I'm not even sure most of the time whether the people I'm with can actually sense it or not, but I sure can.  There is a neediness deep within me that rises to the surface and is impossible to deny or escape.  A neediness that gives me one of two options: face it down and turn to God with it, or go with it and turn away to my own efforts, patterns, or devices.  It definitely makes the words "In returning and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.  But you would have none of it" come to mind, and to life.  It is only in turning--or returning--to God in the midst of the insecurity that I am able to face it, and turn away from it, back toward God.  Unfortunately, the couple of times I'm thinking about from last week didn't turn out quite like I would've hoped.

Which brings me to Isaiah 40:1-5...my reading for the day.  It is a passage about preparing the way for the entry of our God.  It is a passage filled with all kinds of construction and demolition that apparently are necessary parts of the preparation; removing the obstacles so that the King may arrive among us...and within us.  There are valleys, low places, that must be raised up.  There are high places that must be made low.  There is rough ground that must be smoothed out.  And there are rugged places that must become a plain, or garden.  And as I think about my trying too hard, I realize that there is much work to be done in me this season as I prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings.  The good news is that it is not all up to me.  I am not left to face it on my own.  It does not all depend on my efforts and my strength as I recognize what a mess I am inside.  It is God's work, He will do the work in me.  He will free me of the compulsion of trying too hard...to make an impression, or win friends, or be "the man," or whatever I might be trying too hard at the moment to achieve.  In the midst of the trying too hard somehow, once again, I've forgotten the truth that me can never be created or achieved, it must be received (see this).  So trying too hard is not just unfruitful, but also unnecessary.  Mine is just to watch and wait, to pay attention, to recognize his voice and his Spirit, and allow Him to do the work in me.  Mine is just, in the words of a saint of old, to be who I is.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

advent

For most of my Christian life I was unaware of the beautiful way the story of faith retold itself each year through the church calendar.  How each and every year, through its feasts and celebrations and remembrances, the incredible story of God’s extravagant love for His people is lived out again and anew by the community of faith.  It is an invitation to us all to journey with Christ (and the people of God) into a more intimate and vibrant relationship with the One who made us for Himself.  It is an invitation for each of us to enter in to the story—to live the season in a way that gives us a deeper love for, and a stronger faith in, the God who dreamt us into being.  The beginning of this yearly pilgrimage is the season of Advent. 
 
The word advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Thus Advent is a season in which we are invited to watch and wait for God’s arrival among us—making it a time of intense yearning and deep longing.  It is a time filled with hope and anticipation, a time that reflects the 400 years (between the Old and New Testaments) that God’s people waited for Him to appear, to speak once again after all of the years of silence.  Can you imagine?  Four hundred years of silence.  Four hundred years of watching and waiting.    
 
How easy it would have been to lose hope.  How easy it would have been to be filled with doubt and despair.  How easy it would have been to give up, to lose heart, to stop believing that God was ever really going to show up again.  How easy it would have been to say, “My master is taking a long time in coming” and begin living by our own rule and by our own agenda.  Advent is the time where we take heed of the words of Jesus, “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”  So during the days and weeks ahead, may we pay very careful attention, lest when he finally arrives, we miss him altogether.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

living

They were two conversations that I will remember for a long, long time, even though they were separated by seven years or so.  The first was with a friend sitting over breakfast at Chick-fil-a one morning.  We had both been assaulted by a season's worth of busyness and hurry and chaos, and somewhere among and amidst the conversation a question arose.  I'm not really even sure who asked it.  In fact, now that I think about it, maybe it asked itself.  Wherever it came from, or more probably Whoever it came from, it ended up on the table between us.  Are you living the life you really want to live?  It is a question that needs to be understood before it can be answered.  The essence of the question has nothing to do with houses and cars and money, or even success and ease and comfort.  At its core it is really a question about the inner quality of our lives: the life of God living inside of us and how that expresses itself in the significant relationships in our lives and world.  In fact, maybe a more appropriate way of asking the question is: "Are you living the life God wants to live in (and through) you?"  And if not, why not?  So there it was, on the table for us to answer.  I don't exactly remember what my answer was that morning, but I do vividly remember the deep, rich conversation that followed as we dreamt together about what that life really looks like.  It made me come alive inside.

The second conversation was actually seven (or so) years earlier.  I was sitting at lunch with a dear friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer and told that he had (roughly) three months to live.  I remember asking him what it felt like to hear those words, and what went on inside of him as a result.  His answer amazed me.  He said that he had always imagined that when he heard those words that he would immediately start making a list of all the things he wanted to do and the people he needed to see before his time was up.  "But," he said, "that's not the way it was at all.  As a matter of fact, what I found out was that I had been living the life I most wanted to live."   He had lived a life of depth and quality with his family, with his friends, in his work, and most of all with his God. He had lived a life of majoring on the majors; of being about the things that he (and God) most wanted to be about.  There were no regrets, there was no frenzy, no long list...just peace.  What an incredibly powerful thing to realize!  What an incredibly powerful thing to be able to say!  And,  needless to say, I was deeply impacted; both challenged and overwhelmed. 

How do we go about living the life that we most deeply long to live?  That life of depth and quality with our God that leads to a life of depth and quality with our families and our friends and our world?  Apparently it doesn't just happen, say the saints and the poets, it takes some reflection, and intention, and desire.  We fool ourselves if we think that such a sacramental way of living is automatic,” wrote Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline.  “This kind of living communion does not just fall on our heads.  We must desire it and seek it out.  We must order our lives in particular ways.”  Call it christian practice, call it spiritual disciplines, or call it means of grace, but somehow we have to prayerfully consider how to move in the direction of the life we think God most wants to live in us.  The church fathers called that somehow a Rule of Life.  St. Benedict's rule would be the most famous example.  It involves identifying what we most want our lives to be about--in St. Benedict's case prayer--and then figuring out, as best we can, how we will move in the direction of making this life a possibility...of creating space and time for this life to be able to happen.  The happening of it is ultimately up to God, but making the space and the time is our part.  It is where we must listen and pray and plan and order our lives in certain ways, so that at the end of our days we don't find ourselves wondering how we've somehow missed it.  Therefore, St. Benedict wrote a rule to order his life and his community around the practice of prayer; for in his heart and soul he knew that everything else must revolve around that.  That everything else would involve the things that were necessary to make prayer possible: in order to pray we must eat, and in order to eat we must work, and in order to work we must rest, all in order that we might pray...spiritual, physical, vocational, relational.  It was the simple rhythm his community lived by.

And if we are serious about living the life that we most deeply long to live, it must be the same for us.  It won't just fall on our heads either.  We must begin to live our lives purposefully and intentionally.  What is the old adage?  "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time."  We must begin to live by a thoughtful and prayerful Rule as well (in actuality, we all live by a Rule whether we realize it or not).  In order to create this Rule of Life--in the words of my good friend Robert, the Rule of Whatever Your Name May Be--we must listen and reflect and dream with God about the life we most deeply long to live (or the life He most deeply longs to live in us).  And once we begin to get a vision for what that life really looks like, we must begin to reflect on the life we are currently living and ask, "What am I currently doing that is fruitfully moving me in the direct of the life I long to live in Christ?  And what am I currently doing that is not moving me fruitfully in that direction?"  In the words of Robert Benson: "Only by taking our life apart from time to time and examining it carefully, and then putting it back together thoughtfully and prayerfully, only then can we have some measure of confidence that we are living the life that we were meant to lead."  After recognizing the fruitful and unfruitful parts of our current "practice," then we begin to ask God, and dream about, what things, or practices, or disciplines, or means of grace might actually help make space for the life He longs to live in me.  And I begin to consider how to make those things a part of my daily routine?  What will I do daily?  What will I do weekly?  What will I do monthly?  And what will I do yearly?  All in the name of making space for God to speak, and to move, and to act.  And we also must ask questions like: What is the fruit that I seek from this Rule?  And who will hold me accountable?  And when will I reflect and re-evaluate?  And thus, a Rule of Life (and hopefully much, much more) comes into being.  Thanks be to God!!!



Here the deeper meaning of any rule in the spiritual life becomes visible.  Instead of giving us methods to control and direct and determine our own life, a spiritual rule wants to offer an open and free space within and among us where God can touch us with God’s loving presence.  It wants to make it possible for us not so much to find God as to be found by God, not so much to direct our life towards God, as to be directed by God, not so much to love God, as to be loved by God.
     This might sound quite passive.  But the contrary is true.  It requires active spiritual work to keep space for God.  Why?  Our ever-present fears keep trying to fill up every bit of free space with countless thoughts, words and actions that can give us the illusion that after all we are in control.  Even though we have learned the hard way how little in control we really are, and even though we continue to suffer from the consequences of a life built on illusion, it remains very difficult to let God be the director and guide of our lives.  ~ Henri J. M. Nouwen (from the Foreword to Rule for a New Brother)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

retreat

there is a certain
gravitational pull
that must be broken
when you go on retreat
not by might or power
not by trying
but by untrying

we cannot control
or contrive
we can only make space
we cannot determine
or demand
ours is only to surrender
and wait

there is a certain  doing
that must be abandoned
and a certain being
that must be embraced
a spinning
that must come to rest
a chaos
that must be stilled
a foldedness
that must be unfolded

a breath to be received
an embrace to be welcomed
a laying of a weary head
in the lap of God
eyes to be opened
ears to be unstopped

find rest o my soul
in God alone
my hope comes from him

Monday, November 12, 2012

flowers

“I must make my office with great care. It is my daily offering of fresh flowers to the Beloved Spouse.” ~Charles de Foucauld


Lord open our lips,
     And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in your world.  Stir up in us the desire to serve you and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior Jesus.  We praise you with joy, loving God, for your grace is better than life itself.  Once again you have sustained us through the darkness and blessed us with life in this new day.  Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we might sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Let us bless the Lord.
     Thanks be to God
Thanks be to God--Creator, Redeemer, and Giver of Life.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord, and to live our lives so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in us generous friends.  Amen.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

preparations and prayer

Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. (Luke 10:40)


My life, especially this new life that I have been living for the past year and a half, is absolutely filled with preparations.  It seems like I am always preparing for something, and oftentimes many somethings all at the same time: small groups I am leading, retreats I am facilitating, events at which I am speaking, etc., etc., etc.  It is really easily if I am not careful, because of all of this preparing, to allow it to interfere with my prayer--the life of God that desires to grow within me.  In fact, if I am not very careful the two (my preparation and my prayer) can get easily enmeshed and entangled.  Now, on the surface that might sound like a good thing, and I am sure it can be, but I am not talking about a good enmeshing or entangling.  I am talking about the kind of enmeshing and entangling that causes me to lose sight of the voice of God in me and to me.  I recognized it again this morning as I was reading this very passage.  God was speaking to me, He had a word for me, and before He knew it I had rushed off into preparation-mode about how this might apply, or be used in the lives of the people I would be sitting with or standing before in the days ahead.  I had missed it.   I had once again taken something that God was trying to say to me and converted it quickly into a lesson for others.  I had once again skimmed over the surface of God's word to me in order to figure out how and why it might also be God's word to someone else.  And all of the sudden His word to me, and ultimately and ironically His word to them, was lost or diluted or skimmed over.  It was not listened to and reflected on and savored and prayed in like it was given to be.  And the funny thing is, that because I had run so quickly from prayer to preparation, everybody loses. 

I simply cannot allow my prayer to get diverted or waylaid or sidetracked; I can't allow it to become enmeshed and/or entangled with my preparation if I ever want God's word to have any lasting impact and power in my own heart and soul.  The flow must always go the opposite direction.  Preparation cannot determine my prayer, my prayer must always determine my preparation.  The natural flow of the Spirit is that God's word and my prayer speak to and impact my life, and then whatever things I am preparing must flow out of His life and His voice deep within me.  Only if my preparation flows out of my prayer will it ever have the power and the value it was intended to have.  It takes great attention to keep these two distinct because they have a tendency to grow side-by-side within us and get easily entwined without us even recognizing it, until we begin to become dried up or burnt out or overwhelmed within and start to ask ourselves, "What is going on within me?  Where is this coming from?"  It is one of the great and subtle tensions (and dangers) of ministry, therefore I must keep watch.

Lord Jesus, help me.  Help me stop preparing and start paying attention.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

planting and watering

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7)


At times it is so easy to overestimate our own importance, particularly when it comes to the Kingdom of God.  We get the feeling from time to time, or should I say we deceive ourselves into believing from time to time, that if we don't make things happen for God, them no one will.  What a great reminder from Paul that God does very well on His own, thank you.  We are not a necessity.  Ours is not to make the seed, or person or church or whatever may be before us at the moment, grow.  That is God's job, and done in God's time I might add.  The salvation or growth of people is not something I can make happen no matter how hard I try.  Ours is a much simpler task, to plant or to water...or in the case of some of the other parables, to scatter the seed.  What happens from there is the important part and fortunately--or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it--the part we cannot control . 

I planted some seeds by my front door at the beginning of the summer, hoping that one day they would turn into beautiful flowers.  The container they came in warned me that nothing would likely come of the planting until the next spring or early summer, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to speed up the process.  All I could do was to plant them and then consistently water the soil and let the soil, the seed, and the sunshine do its work.  It was a slow and hidden process that would need to occur.  And as I faithfully watered each day, I secretly hoped (but never told anyone) that somehow the flowers would miraculously appear any day.  No Luck.  Nothing.  In fact, I became so impatient and so filled with doubt that there was anything really going on under the soil, that I was often tempted to dig them up just to see if, indeed, there was any growth taking place at all.  Of course that would've been a ridiculous thing to do, and would certainly damage or delay the process, but I have to admit that I was tempted nonetheless. 

But planting is just that way, there is a letting go that is a necessary part.  There is a trust.  There is a knowledge of our role...and God's.  There is a patience necessary, as well as an attentiveness.  But also, there is a lot of waiting.  Waiting on the soil and the sun and the water and the seed to all do what they were made to do.  You just can't make a lot happen.  We can just work to make sure the conditions (the space, if you will) are right and make sure the seed is well planted--by means of conversation, relationship, writing, reading, or whatever your means of planting might be--and leave the rest to God...and to the waterer of course.

Watering is another proposition altogether.  It's a little more involved.  It's a little more constant.  There is a little more attention necessary, and a little more work required over the long haul.  Last summer I planted a flowerbed in my back yard, in a spot I love to sit and enjoy the silence and the beauty of God's creation.  I made sure the flower bed was in a good spot for sun, and had good rich soil, but I didn't really think through the watering process.  Actually, we don't even have a water supply to that part of the yard.  Unless of course you use a hose, but in this case the flower bed was so far from a spigot that 3-4 hoses joined together wouldn't even reach it.  I thought of running the water line out to that part of the yard.  I thought of rain barrels.  I even thought of trying to use the water produced by the condensation from my air conditioner.  And after I shot all of those ideas entirely full of holes, I just decided to dip a bucket in the creek that runs along the back of our property line and do it by hand.  So, every day of the summer I took my 10 gallon bucket, dipped it in the creek several times and watered my flowers.  It was a pretty labor intensive process, especially when the dry season came. 

It reminded me of Teresa of Avila and her thoughts on prayer as the way of watering the garden of our souls.  She mentions that prayer comes in seasons: some when you must use a bucket and get it by hand, some when you use a waterwheel to help bring it from its source, some when you can water by means of a stream or brook where the water flows more freely and easily, and lastly when it comes from the rains of God's Spirit as it falls from the heavens and drenches and soaks the ground.  Well, in my case, in absence of a waterwheel or irrigation system, my method was to continuously carry the water from the creek...and pray for rain.  For most of the summer the bucket was a necessity, but O the joy for several weeks toward the end of the summer when the rains fell about every day (for at least some period of time).  And on those days when it rained I rejoiced, and really began to understand what St. Teresa was talking about...rejoicing in those days and those seasons when God takes over and prayer just comes like rains from the heavens.

But now back to the point of the whole passage: So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  We should never take ourselves too seriously, or think of ourselves as too important in this process.  In fact, we are nothing.  We can produce nothing.  Fruitfulness only comes from God.  He is the One who makes things grow.  Mine is to plant or to water, to pray and to pay attention, to trust and to wait.  And watch what He does...and rejoice.  Thanks be to God!!! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

don't just do something, stand there

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
            “In repentance and rest is your salvation,
               in quietness and trust is your strength,
                     but you would have none of it.

                                  Isaiah 30:15
 
 
I made a realization not too long ago, and the more I think about it, the more significant it seems to be.  It involves a shift deep within me, one that has to do with the age-old tension between doing and being.  For most of my life--and even more so, honestly, in my Christian life--I have constantly felt the pressure to try and make things happen.   It is a mode of operation (a way of thinking and believing) that is very subtle, and seems noble and right at first glance, but one that is incredibly deceptive, and has an enormous effect on how you go about living your life--particularly your life with God.  At its heart, it says: "Everything is up to me." 

But recently I have noticed a change, one that has shifted me from the pressure of doing to the freedom of being.  A realization that I do not have to make things happen, in fact I cannot make anything of true value happen, that is all up to God.  He is the One in charge of salvation and growth and transformation, not me.  He is the One that causes the heart to change, the seed to grow.  

What I have noticed is that when I finally let go of the need to make things happen, somehow mysteriously (and miraculously) things just begin to.  Things just come to be.  These days I often find myself looking around in amazement and surprise at the fruitfulness and the beauty springing up all around me (and deep within me) and ask myself, "How did that happen?"   It is simply extraordinary.

So what are we to do?  Sit idly by and never do anything?  Not at all.  What we are to do is to try and learn the lesson God was teaching Israel in Isaiah 30.  You see, Israel was the same way we are.  In fact, as Isaiah 30 unfolds they are under attack, their world filled with fear and chaos.  But instead of turning to God--the One who knows them best and loves them most, the One who longs to save them--they panic, they take matters into their own hands, and they run off in another direction altogether, trying to insure and/or secure their salvation.  In fact, they turn to Egypt (of all people) and beg Pharaoh to come to their rescue.  Because when it came right down to it, when they were desperate for something or someone to set their world right again, their true beliefs came out.  Instead of turning to God, they try to make things happen for themselves. 

So God comes to them and reminds them of what life with Him is really all about.  Your salvation will be found in returning and rest.  Don't try to take matters into your own hands, don't carry out plans that are not mine (Isaiah 30:1).  Turn back to me: once, twice, and always again.  For when you turn (or return) to Me, you will find rest, because I am the Sovereign God, the only One that can truly save you, the only One worthy of your trust.  Find rest in Me, trust quietly in Me, for I am in control.  So a shift is required, in them...and in us.  A shift very much like my own.  A shift from trying to make things happen, to turning constantly to God and trusting Him to work and to act.  A shift that helps us begin to understand that the significant elements of life with our God are not do this and do that, but returning and rest, quietness and trust.  Those are the bricks to build our spiritual house (lives) out of.  Because when you turn constantly to me, I will be the One to make things happen...like you never imagined. 

So don't just do something, stand there.





 
 
 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

schola caritatis

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” Mark 12:28-30 (The Message)

Before anything, love Me.  Just love Me, it's as simple as that.  In fact, that is the one thing I really want from you, your love.  And I want all of it.  I want you to love me with everything you've got; all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Every bit of you.  And I want you to love me for Me, not for the sake of anyone, or anything else.  I must be the end, and not just a means to some other end.  So love me because that's what I made you to do.  And when you do what I have made you to do, you will know joy and fullness like you have never known it before.  Then, and only then, will you be able to truly love others; for then you will be free from needing them to come through for you in some strangely dependent way.  This freedom from needing them will allow you to truly love them, rather than to try and manipulate love out of them.  For this second love can only be a reflection of the first.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

tenderness

This past summer I was at home one night watching the ESPYs with my daughter.  Anyone that knows my daughter very well at all knows that she is a huge Peyton Manning fan; I think it had something to do with the fact that she got his autograph and a picture made with him when she was in first grade.  Well anyway, Peyton was scheduled to make an appearance on the ESPYs, so we sat down to watch.  For those of you that saw it, I'm sure you'll remember that Peyton was there to present Pat Summitt with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award; his words to her filled to overflowing with kindness and respect and the utmost admiration...classic Peyton Manning.  After his introduction there was about a ten minute video on Coach Summitt's life and achievements that was narrated by Reese Witherspoon.  Now I'll have to admit, I was not much of a Reese Witherspoon fan at that point...but I am now.  It was absolutely beautiful!  It was filled with person after person telling their story of how Pat Summitt had impacted them, and how much she means to them, and what kind of amazing person she is.  And after the video she came forward with her son and humbly and gracefully accepted this prestigious award; it was just incredibly powerful.

I sat there in awe of the whole thing, not really knowing what to say, not really able to move, and deeply, deeply affected by it all.  In fact, after everyone had gone to bed that night, I went back and watched the whole thing again, wondering why it had impacted (and was continuing to impact) me so profoundly.  Whatever it was doing in me would just not go away, so I continued to reflect on it.  Sitting in the dark, unable to sleep, I began to pray: "Lord, what is going on in me?  What is it about this video that affected me so deeply?  What is this all about?  What are you trying to say to me?"  Not really sensing any answer, and content with just wondering, I decided to go to bed.  I got changed and laid down in the bed, still miles and miles from sleep.  And as my spirit calmed and my mind cleared, I heard that oh so familiar Voice whisper in the ear of my Spirit, "You desperately want people to feel that way about you."  And the tears began to roll down my cheeks because I knew it was the truth.  It was not a voice of accusation, you know, the one you and I hear so often, the one that immediately turns us toward guilt and shame.  But instead it was the Voice of One who loves me deeply and wants me to know the truth of my own heart.  And so I sat with (I guess technically I was lying with) this recognition, or revelation, or whatever you might want to call it; grateful for the space and the silence to take in this truth and allow it to speak.  But then, a few moments later, the Voice again whispered deeply into my heart and soul: "I feel that way about you."  And then the tears came full-force as I was held in the intimately loving embrace of the One who knows me like no other and loves me more than I could ever ask or image.  That night, that Voice, and those sweet words will mark me for a long, long time.  It was the night when my Father, in His infinite tenderness, drew His mouth close to my ear and whispered His great affection to me.  Thanks be to God!!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

names

names
 
not enough
is the name
i hear
echoing off the walls
of my heart
i wear it like a name tag
i allow it to determine
my identity
it sends me
into a spin
running after
affirmation
achievement
value
why does this liar
have such power over me
to determine
who i am
what i do
somehow he
has made me believe
that his words
are true

 
beloved
is the name
i am known by
by the one
who made me
and knows me
the word of truth
that can set me free
if i dare to believe
the beauty that is bestowed
from his lips
if i dare to see
myself through his eyes
for if i dare
then i can live
true and free
with nothing more
to run after
i am at rest
in the arms of the one
who loves me
more than i dare
ask or imagine

awakening

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! Romans 13:11-12 (The Message)

Day-to-day life can be so consuming.  It can definitely absorb and/or exhaust us.  In the midst of daily demands and obligations it is so easy to lose sight of what is truly important (or needed--see Luke 10:42), in contrast with what is merely urgent (or seems to be at least) .  And sadly enough I am still so easily swayed, so easy distracted from the One Thing by the many things.  It's almost like I need a daily awakening, if not a minute-by-minute one, to remind me of what is really important; to shift my vision from all of the things around me, to the One who lives within me.  A daily call to stop living out of the false names, and selves, and stories I tend to live out of, that lead me to live in fear and insecurity and anxiety; and to live in the true name that God knows me and calls me by--Beloved.  A name, and a life, that allows me to be up and awake to what God is doing rather than being overcome, and overwhelmed, and overly-affected by all that is going on in the world around me.   

O Lord, my God, help me to live my life in you.  Wake me up minute-by-minute, day-by-day, to your presence within me and around me.  Wake me up to your love, and to your care, to your voice, and to your Spirit.  Help me to come all awake within, and when I finally do, help me to find myself in your loving arms.

Those who have shaken off sleep eventually become all awake within.  ~Clement of Alexandria

Saturday, September 29, 2012

fruit

     So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
     The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God
     But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)

Too often it seems, that when dealing with these verses, I've had a tendency to see them from an outside-in point of view rather than the way I know true fruitfulness really occurs, inside-out.  I don't really know what makes me revert back to this old, broken way of seeing and thinking, I just know that somehow I always seem to find my way back to that default setting.  I start thinking that if I want fruitfulness in my life, then I have to somehow do it myself.  I need to eliminate the bad fruit and replace it with the good.  It's crazy when you really think about it.  It's almost as if I believe that what I really need to do is pick the rotten apples off the tree and then staple on some good apples.  Of course the problem is that when I do that, I have not dealt with the core issue, the source.  I'm just treating everything on a surface level, which, at best, can only last a short time.  The real issue, as Jesus tried so often to tell his friends and followers, is what's underneath the behavior.  And that is exactly what Paul is talking about here.  Good fruit always flows from a good source, it cannot be produced independently of that.  If I want to see the fruit of the Spirit grow in my life, then it can, and will, only happen when it originates from the Spirit of God's work within me.  It is far deeper than just trying to change my behavior. 
     It has more to do with living by the Spirit, as opposed to living out of the sinful nature.  I think it's a true self/false self sort of thing.  When I am living according to the Spirit, I am living according to my true self, that self that is the truest expression of what He created, and intended, and dreamt me to be.  When I am living by the Spirit I am listening to who God says that I am (those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God, Romans 8:14 and the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children, Romans 8:16) and living out of that place, which produces the fruit of the Spirit within me.  And conversely, when I am living out of my sinful nature, or false self, and listening to the lies it tells me about who I am, who God is, and where life can be found, the only "fruit" that can grow in my life will be rotten...jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, envy...and the like.  So the real question goes past the surface, all the way to the depths, "Am I living by the voice of the Spirit or am I living by the voice of my sinful, fearful, insecure self?"  The fruit that is on the tree of my life will tell me everything I need to know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the question

     When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”
     “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
     Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15)

They are walking down the shoreline in the early morning sun.  It had been days, maybe weeks, since that fateful night.  It is just the two of them, with John following well behind.  Jesus had something he wanted to say to his friend, and he didn't want to put him on the spot by asking in front of the others.  It was an intimate question that He needed to ask, and it called for an intimate setting.  Peter could sense something was coming, but didn't quite know what.  There was still a good bit of shame and disappointment (in himself) lingering deep within his soul as he replayed that scene from the night Jesus was betrayed over and over and over again.  He had denied Him, his master, his teacher, and his best friend.  He had done the very thing he swore just hours before that he would never do.  It was still so fresh, so painful, so haunting, so humiliating. 
     As they walked, Jesus sensed that there was a lot below the surface of his friend's silence.  A deep wrestling was going on.  So He turned to Peter and asked His question...asked the question, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”  In fact, three times he asked, and three times Peter was able to answer; each question and its answer such a sweet picture of grace and intention and restoration. 
     And it wasn't just the question for Peter, but it was/is the question for us all.  It is almost as if Jesus was saying, Peter, I love you more than life itself.  I dreamt you into being and knit you together in your mother's womb.  I formed your innermost parts with great care and intention, and I deeply love what I have made.  When I think of you it brings a smile to my lips and joy to my heart.  When I look at you my eyes light up and my heart leaps within me.  How I long for you to know and understand the depths and fullness of this love.  How I long for you to live your whole life from this reality.  Peter, you are my Beloved...am I yours?
     It is indeed the question.  It is the question because understanding His incredible love is the only thing that can give us the sense of identity and purpose we most deeply long for.  It is indeed the question because only when we live our lives firmly in the center of His love and affection are we able to be truly free; free of our deep need for acceptance, and affirmation, and significance.   It is indeed the question because only when we live our lives firmly in the center of His love and affection are we genuinely able to love anyone else.  It is indeed the question because only when we live our lives firmly in the center of His love and affection are we truly able to feed His lambs rather than feed on His lambs.
     Do you love truly love me more than these?  It is indeed the question.  And it is indeed my question as well.