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.