Friday, March 30, 2012

blessed are you...

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)

I don’t guess I’d really ever thought about it before.  I’m sure the word was in there, but for some reason or another it never caught my attention like it did this time.  I mean this passage is always a challenge to read, because it significantly upends and upsets so many of our typical ways of thinking, and being, and seeing—our most comfortable patterns of living and believing.  Maybe in the past I was too consumed by how far I seemed to be from any healthy sense of even wanting to be poor—or hungry, or weeping, or hated—to ever see this little word.  But there it was, right in verse 22…exclude.

I don’t guess I had ever really thought about the spiritual value of being excluded; probably because I was too busy working hard at making sure I never was.  But when you stop for a minute to really think about it, being excluded—just like being poor, hungry, weeping or hated—produces spiritual fruit within us that nothing else can quite produce, fruit that eventually makes us more like Jesus.  In fact, if you plant excluded in the soil of your soul, what is it most likely to produce?  Maybe the first thing to poke its head through the soil is a deep sense of humility.  There is something very humbling, even humiliating, about being excluded; something that lowers you, makes you smaller, takes you down into the dirt—which is exactly what the word actually means.  This humility then can lead us to a true dependence on God’s Spirit.  In a world where self-reliance and independence are encouraged, it can be easy to overlook the spiritual value of dependence.  To be dependent is to allow something else—something outside ourselves (God)—to be the main source of our value and worth; to give us our true sense of identity.  This dependence (on God rather than self, or others) can result in us being able to live our lives in a more detached way; a way of living that is not as affected by all of the voices and people and things in the world that tend to try and define us.  This detachment, in turn, leads to a true sense of freedom—freedom from needing people to define or determine us, freedom that allows a true lessening of the false self, in order to discover our truest self—our identity in Christ.  It is a freedom that makes space within us for God to work.  It is a freedom that ultimately allows us to really love others, rather than cling to them out of a demanding neediness.   Hmmm…so that’s humility, dependence, detachment, freedom, a lessening of self, and making space for God.  Sounds more and more like what Jesus had in mind.  As a matter of fact, it sounds more and more like Jesus himself.  So maybe, from now on, I need to not allow myself to get so out of sorts (sad, mad, frustrated, and feeling sorry for myself) when I feel excluded.  Because maybe, just maybe, excluded has a work to do in me.  Maybe excluded is something to embrace rather than something to run from or fight against.  Maybe excluded is something that will actually grow the very things within me that will make me more like Jesus himself.  Maybe that's why when Jesus uses the word exclude he also uses the words Blessed are you.  Who would’ve imagined…only God…Thanks be to Him!!!



Then he spoke:
“You're blessed when you've lost it all.  God's kingdom is there for the finding.
You're blessed when you're ravenously hungry.  Then you're ready for the Messianic meal.
You're blessed when the tears flow freely.  Joy comes with the morning."
     "Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don't like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.”

But it's trouble ahead if you think you have it made.  What you have is all you'll ever get. And it's trouble ahead if you're satisfied with yourself.  Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it's trouble ahead if you think life's all fun and games.  There's suffering to be met, and you're going to meet it.  There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.” (Luke 6:20-26 The Message)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

writing

I'm not exactly sure why, but there is something about good writing that opens up a space deep within me and creates new life.  Something magical happens inside as I read the words of Robert Benson or Henri Nouwen or Frederick Buechner; it is as if the words strike a chord deep within me that I barely knew was there, a chord that can only be struck by a certain voice...or Word, or Spirit.  It is the strangest thing, somehow I know as soon as the words enter my mind and my heart that they are for me, spoken to me, somehow a part of me.  I know that it is a work of God's Spirit because only the Spirit knows that chord within me, only the Spirit speaks with that Voice within me, only the Spirit opens up that space deep within me and creates new life...that is simply what he does.  Thanks be to God.

So here is something that opened up a beautiful space in me this morning, and that still is stirring up new life.  Enjoy...

I love the plough that opens up the earth, lays bare the soil where seed can fall.  It matters little that the widening wound of earth still hesitates, uncertain of the nutrients it has to offer falling seed.  The seed is sown, the wound of earth closed up again.  The broken soil becomes a womb, a sheltering tomb of life protecting what must die to live.  We wait then for signs of life: the stem, the leaf, the bud, the fruit or vegetable to wend its way from dark to light.  The image of the plough opening the soil to welcome seed offers us a metaphor for the human heart.  The heart too must be prepared, readied to receive its daily seed.  No more looking back!

I love the Word of God that pierces the human heart, lays bare the soul where seed can fall.  The sower's passion invites the heart to receptivity.  The sower looks not back to see if the heart is worthy.  Sower and plough become one.  With contemplative awareness they trust the widening wound of the opening heart.  This laying bare the heart's good soil is a moment of readiness.  She or he who receives the seed of the Word of God receives also the silence of the Word and waits to be transformed.  No more looking back!

I love the disciple who allows the heart to be pierced.  Obedient to the piercing Word and broken heart, the disciple learns to wait, trusting the Word to die and live within the heart's good soil.  The disciple's heart becomes a sheltering womb and tomb for what must die to live.  I love the one who is transformed into a disciple by surrendering to the Word of God.  Rooted in obedience to the Word, there is no more looking back! (Abide by Macrina Wiederkehr)


P.S.  A great book!!!  I highly recommend it!!! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the limp

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. (Genesis 32:31)


     the limp

i walk with a limp
a true thing of beauty
that came about
when you took me to the ground
wrestling and struggling
when you tore me to pieces
that you might make me whole

thank you
for loving me
too much to allow me
to continue to live by a false name
to continue to be someone
other than the one
you created me to be

that you would care enough
to wound me
your beloved
that i might live truly
and become my truest self
makes this limp
a true thing of beauty
a living reminder
of your great affection

Friday, March 16, 2012

torn

“Come, let us return to the LORD.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.


After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.

                         Hosea 6:1-2


Thank you, O Lord, that you would rather tear me to pieces than allow me to continue being something other than that which I was created to be.  Now that is true love!!!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

mowing

So I went out and mowed my grass today for the first time this spring...or I should say I mowed my weeds.   I'm actually not sure if there was a single blade of grass in the entire yard.  Now when you have a yard full of weeds there are several strategies you might adopt to remedy the situation: you can decide just to live with them, or you can ignore them and hope they will go away, or you can mow them short and try to make it look like they aren't there, or you can try to get rid of them completely.  One of the things about weeds is, that if you decide to adopt the cutting them short strategy, you can actually make your yard look pretty good from a distance.  So much so that you really can't tell the difference between the two...I mean they're both green, right?  The problem is that weeds have a tendency to spread and, if you allow them to, they will take over your entire yard, leaving the grass no room to grow.  Therefore something needs to be done to eliminate the weeds entirely; they have to die in order to make fruitful space for the grass to live.  If you just deal with the problem on the surface, you are fighting a losing battle...they will grow right back with a vengeance.

This week I've been reading a lot about dying, and it's necessity in this mysterious journey of living life in Christ.  In fact, the subject is all over the pages of Scripture.  Whether it's 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 or you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God or we died to sin, how can we live in sin any longer, all of these point to the fact that life in Christ requires something to die in order for something to be raised to new life.  In other words, in God's economy, death always precedes, and leads to, resurrection.  The point of dying then is not in the dying itself, but in the new life the dying makes room for.  The old/false self must die in order to make room for the new/true self to live.  My problem comes when I try to adopt the same strategy with the old/false self that I employ with the weeds in my yard.  If I decide to just live with it, or to ignore it, or try to cut it off at the surface, or try to make it look better, you can rest assured that the old/false self will not go away, but will grow back just the way my yard full of weeds does. The old/false self must die, I must allow God to kill it completely; to rip it up by the roots.  For only when I allow God to mercifully put this old/false self to death will there ever be any room, or hope, for the true/new self to live and to thrive within me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

a companion for the journey

This prayer has been a great companion for me during this journey through Lent, as I face the challenge within of dying (taking off, letting go, etc.) to all that is false and embracing (living into/becoming) all that is true and right and good.  Maybe you will find it to be the same...

You, O Christ, are my wealth.  All those things I thought I couldn't live without "dissolve" in a glance from you.  They are nothing when considered in the larger light of your intimate presence.  How difficult it has been to come to this moment!  The moment of letting go!  I. who have learned so well to hoard, grasp, clutch, and control!  Now I want only to be grasped by you.  All my possessions are empty when they become obstacles to my union with you.  O Glance of God, prepare my heart for the Great Surrender.  Enable me to surrender my ego self so that I may put on Christ.  Then I will begin enjoying heaven on earth.  Amen. (Abide by Macrina Wiederkehr)

Friday, March 2, 2012

lingerings

As last night has lingered on in my Spirit a little a few things have come to the surface...

-my arrogance, agenda, and insecurity often get in the way of me being able to both recognize and receive good and beautiful things from God that might come in a little different form than I am used to.

-In the life I was leading this time last year, I wouldn't have been able to be both places.  Life would have kept me spinning in my own little world, consumed, and unaware that there are equally beautiful worlds out there, where equally beautiful things are going on.  I am grateful for this space and this time...it expands my seeing.

-I am unnecessary...Young Life (just like the rest of the world) is getting along just fine without me...and that's a thing of beauty as well.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

a thing of beauty

Ok, so I had a night tonight that I cannot not write about.  But I have to warn you that I am not at all sure what to think—much less say—about it yet…other than the fact that it was absolutely beautiful. 

I have a friend named Tony that is a youth director at a very large Independent Baptist church in my community.  Tony and I have known each other for about a year and during that time I have really grown to love and respect him.  I have also become incredibly grateful for who he is and what he does.  As a part of his job at the church he runs something called Teens for Christ bible clubs in each of the high schools and middle schools in the entire county!  A monumental task!  But one he does with such great energy and care; as well as an incredibly positive and passionate spirit.  Well tonight Tony and his church had a Teens for Christ Crusade in the auditorium at our high school and Tony asked me to come.  As I said, I really love and admire Tony and wanted to go and support my friend…and I am so glad I did.

I have another friend named Justin, who is one of my dearest friends in the world.  Justin and I have known each other for about 10 years and walked a lot of life, and faith, and ministry together.  Justin is a brother, an intimate friend, a partner, and so much more.  As a matter of fact I’m not sure I have enough words to tell you about our relationship…suffice it to say he is a true gift to me!  Well Justin was speaking at a Young Life club for 4-5 high schools in our part of town tonight as well.  It was the kick off for the camp sign-ups for these five schools and the hope was that it would provide some life and momentum to the ministry in each of these schools as they try to get kids signed up for summer camp—which it certainly did!!!  It was an absolutely wonderful YL club, and an absolutely wonderful message as well.

Luckily for me, Tony’s crusade started at 6:30 and was over by 8:10 and the YL club Justin was speaking at was about ¼ of a mile away from the high school and started at 8:00…which was perfect, I could make it to both.  I had braced myself for the differences in the two…and they were indeed different in significant ways.  As a matter of fact, on the surface, they were worlds different.  But what I wasn’t particularly prepared for was how similar they were. 

As I parked my car and walked to the Teens for Christ Crusade I was met in the parking lot by incredibly kind people that were genuinely glad that I was there.  And as I approached the school to enter the auditorium I met wave after wave of more incredibly kind and genuinely glad people that made it obvious to me that this event was being put together by an entire community— a purposeful and passionate community.  Everything was thought through and set up with vision, purpose, and intention.  Once inside the meeting, the thing that captured me most was not the difference in style or flavor compared to what I was used to, but the passion.  The people, both on the stage and on the floor (with the kids) were passionate about these kids hearing the incredible news of God’s great love for them in Christ.  And as I sat in my seat and watched it all unfold; as I heard the message, and saw kids giving their hearts to Jesus, tears streamed down my cheeks.  It was so beautiful…so very different than what I was used to…and so beautiful.  I went up afterward and told my friend Tony how proud I was of him and how grateful I was for who he was and how he is giving his life away.  And as I went to my car the gratitude continued to overflow…so grateful that I had gotten to share a wonderful night with a wonderful friend.

So I got in my car, and I drove less than 2 minutes down the road to the Barn, where, by now, the YL club was in full swing.  I got there at about 8:15 and saw that all of the kids were already inside—as I thought they would be—and in the middle of club.  As I walked to the door I was captured by what I saw outside, and had to stop to drink it all in.  Just outside the Barn doors, on the tennis court and the grassy lawn, was an intricate set-up of wonderful activities that had obviously just been abandoned as everyone rushed in to begin club.  There were cornhole boards, games, balls, Frisbees, refreshments, sign-up tables…things that just moments before had been in full use by various groups of kids and leaders.  It was everything you needed, or could imagine necessary, for the perfect atmosphere; wonderfully and intentionally set up to provide just the right space for kids to feel safe, cared for, and at home.  And as I looked in the doors of club I saw a very different looking room, in some ways, from the one I had seen just moments earlier, but with some striking similarities.  It was a room full of kids dressed a little differently than the ones before and engaged in activities that were a little different than the ones before, but I couldn’t get past what was the same.  Sitting beside these kids were their YL leaders—and entire community of them—all of whom were intentionally passionate about their high school friends hearing the incredible news of God’s great love for them in Christ.  I pulled up a rocking chair just outside the open back door and took it all in….and it was simply beautiful.  And as Justin spoke to them about the amazing love of Jesus, once again tears began to stream down my cheeks…and once again I began to overflow with gratitude, that in one night I had the privilege of seeing two different mission communities, led by two different wonderful friends, loving Jesus and loving high school kids in two very different, but beautifully similar ways.  Thanks be to God!