Friday, June 28, 2013

surrender

"When you undertake some special endeavor, do not concentrate your attention and heart on it, but look upon it as something secondary; and by entire surrender to God open yourself up to God's grace like a vessel laid out ready to receive it." (The Art of Prayer)

Only when we are open and empty will we ever be truly able to receive whatever it is that God is longing to give us of himself.  When our hands, and thus our hearts, are full of agendas and plans, expectations and demands, then we are indeed too full of ourselves to ever be able to see or to notice, much less receive, the gift of God's peace and His presence.  Somewhere a surrender must take place; a giving up, and a giving over, of all that so often fills our hearts and our souls; in order to make room for God's Spirit and God's grace to do its work in us.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

what are you doing here?

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9,13

It's a great question.  And to underscore the fact that it is a great question--one we all need to spend a little time considering--God asks it twice, just to make sure we (as well as Elijah) don't miss it.  Elijah, the great prophet of God, is afraid and on the run, fleeing for his life.  Circumstances have altered his perspective and shaken his faith.  They have caused him to get so completely caught up in his own smaller story, that he has forgotten the larger story (and his larger God) altogether.  So God comes to him, and asks him this incredibly penetrating question, to try and help him regain his vision and restore his trust. 

Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by," God says to Elijah.  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

It is so easy to lose perspective in the midst of the chaos and craziness of life.  It is so easy to get completely caught up in our smaller stories and circumstances that we forget that there are much larger things afoot.  It is so easy to be lulled to sleep by thinking that it is all about me, when, obviously, it is not.  It is so easy to get consumed thinking about my life, or my ministry, or my circumstances, or my desires, or even my vacation, that I desperately need someone to come to me and ask me that wonderfully terrible question, "What are you doing here?" in order to wake me up to God, and to what He longs to do in and through me.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

stuck in the mud

So I got my lawn mower stuck in the mud in my back yard last week.  Well, it actually wasn't me, and it wasn't actually my lawn mower, but that's a longer story.  Anyway, it was stuck in a ditch in the back of the yard where the pond drains out into a creek that runs behind our property.  It was stuck good too; the tires were half way buried in the mud.  Three people pushing still couldn't get it out, in fact, the harder we tried the deeper it went.  Ever feel like that?  Like the harder you try to extricate yourself from those broken and hurtful patterns, or ways of thinking; the harder you try to get yourself out of the mud, the deeper you seem to sink?

It is like when you try to rest.  Or when you try to go to sleep.  Or you try to be still inside.  The trying seems to make it a more remote possibility.  Or when you try not to worry, or not to think about something in particular.  It seems like the more effort and energy you focus on the problem, the deeper it seems to get.  Maybe that's why Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 not to worry, but instead to pray.  After all, that's where the peace of God (which surpasses all understanding) enters the picture; in the prayer...letting go of worry and holding on to God. 

And maybe that's why a little later on he tells us, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:8-9).  Peace comes not when our hearts (and thoughts) are consumed with the problem, but when they are consumed with that which is excellent and praiseworthy...God himself. 

Years ago I had a friend that made the Olympic Team in the 100 meter hurdles.  I mean this guy could run--and still can, although he's in his early 50's.  Anyway, once I asked him how he was able to run the hurdles so fast and so effortlessly (seemingly).  And of course he talked about practice, and preparation, and working at it.  But he also talked about the movements becoming so familiar and natural to him over time that he was able to knock a quarter off of each hurdle with his leg without actually touching the hurdle.  Is that not amazing?  I told him that if I tried that, I would kill myself hitting the hurdle.  And then he said, "You can't focus on the hurdle, you have to focus on the finish line.  If you focus on the hurdle, you hit the hurdle."  And to this day I still remember that little piece of wisdom, because it is not only true on the track, but also in life.  We must keep our eyes focused on the good part, that which is excellent, i.e. on the finish line.  If we are consumed by the hurdles, we will never get over them; in fact, they will actually seem to grow larger and larger.

Maybe that's why David counsels us (in Psalm 37:1-4) not to fret, but to: "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:1-4).  In fact he says a little later on "do not fret—it leads only to evil."  The dictionary definition of the word fret is to feel or express worry, annoyance, discontent, or the like.  Or to cause corrosion; gnaw into something.  In other words, fretting is a consuming activity.  Don't do that!  Instead, be consumed with that which is beautiful...God...trust in Him, delight in Him.

Anyway, so the mower would not budge.  We could do nothing, in and of ourselves, to get it out.  We would have to rely on something bigger and stronger than us to pull it out for us.  So we drove a four-by-four into the back yard, tied a rope to it, and pulled the mower out.  The mower had to be attached to the truck.  Funny that the Hebrew word for trust literally means to attach.  Of course it does.

So what is it exactly that I'm trying to say?  Good question.  I'll have to think about it some more and get back with you.  Just kidding...sort of.  I guess I'm saying that when we get consumed with the doing of something, sometimes it actually hinders rather than helps that certain something become a reality.  Sometimes the harder we try the more stuck we become.  So am I saying not to try?  In one sense, not at all, but in another sense, maybe I am.  Maybe what we really need to be doing is focusing our attention and affection and efforts on the beauty and character and majesty of God instead of whatever it may be that we are trying to solve or correct or conquer.  And as we are more and more consumed with that magnificent vision of Him, we will be more and more captured by the vision that we see.  And as Paul put it so beautifully, transformed into that very image: "We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Thanks be to God!
 
 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

ananias

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”  And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”  But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.  And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”  But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:10-19)


A few days ago, as I was beginning my time with the Lord, I noticed that my reading for the day was Acts 9:1-19, and to be quite honest with you, I couldn't have been less excited.  "Paul's conversion," I thought to myself, "I feel like I have read this twenty times in the last six months."  I know, I know you aren't supposed to admit things like this, but it is honestly how I felt.  I wondered, "What in the world could God have for me today in a passage that is oh so familiar?"  But then I remembered his words to me a week or so ago about the treasure buried in the field, and his admonition to me, in all areas of life, to keep digging until I've found the treasure.

So that's exactly what I did.  I turned back to the scriptures that day with a renewed sense of energy and determination.  And as I dug through the soil of Acts 9, it came to life.  In fact, it didn't just come to life in a general sense, but it came to life in my life very specifically.  Because what God did that day is that He opened up a window for me to see Him through the life and ministry of Ananias.  I mean, compared to Paul, Ananias' life and role and ministry seems relatively minor.  All Ananias did was simply pay attention to God, listen when He spoke, and respond to God in the specific ways that He was calling him to.  He went only to one man, prayed, laid his hands on him, and touched him in a way that allowed him to see again.  Not big.  Not flashy.  Not even noticeable.  No fame.  No fanfare.  No applause.  No one (other than Paul) even knew about it.  Ananias was not called to touch thousands upon thousands, that was Paul's job.  Ananias was not called to do anything particularly heroic, again, that was Paul's calling.  Ananias was called to touch one.  Specifically, all he was called to do was pay attention, listen, and go to the one to which God had called him to speak.  Then  he was to speak the words God had given him, touch his eyes, and allow him to see again.  in fact, the name Ananias means "he whom Jehovah has graciously given."  What a great name; Ananias was God's gracious gift...to Paul, and ultimately to all of us as well.

Now I have to admit, through the years I have always carried with me this sense in ministry that I was never doing enough.  As hard as I tried, I was simply not heroic, not spectacular, not impacting thousands.  In short, I felt guilty that I was not Paul.  And somewhere deep down inside, I think I thought that I should be.  But here, in this passage, on this day, when I was reluctant to even want to read Acts 9 to begin with, God told me some amazing, and incredibly freeing news.  You do not have to be Paul; you are Ananias.  Well you know what I mean, not literally Ananias, but the life and the role and the ministry he has called me to is more similar to that of Ananias than that of Paul.  Almost as if God was saying, "Be who I have made you to be."  How incredibly freeing.  No guilt.  No should.  No false pressure.  Just paying attention to Him, listening, going to the one he calls me to go to, placing my hands on him, telling him what God has said to me, and helping in the process of him seeing in a new way.  I'd found the treasure.

I'm certainly glad I kept digging.