Wednesday, December 24, 2014

a christmas prayer


O Lord, how hard it is to accept your way. You come to me as a small, powerless child born away from home. You live for me as a stranger in your own land. You die for me as a criminal outside the walls of the city, rejected by your own people, misunderstood by your friends, and feeling abandoned by your God.
     As I prepare to celebrate your birth, I am trying to feel loved, accepted, and at home in this world, and I am trying to overcome the feelings of alienation and separation which continue to assail me. But I wonder now if my deep sense of homelessness does not bring me closer to you than my occasional feelings of belonging. Where do I truly celebrate your birth: in a cozy home or in an unfamiliar house, among welcoming friends or among unknown strangers, with feelings of well-being or with feelings of loneliness?
     I do not have to run away from those experiences that are closest to yours. Just as you do not belong to this world, so I do not belong to this world. Every time I feel this way I have an occasion to be grateful and to embrace you better and taste more fully your joy and peace.
     Come, Lord Jesus, and be with me where I feel poorest. I trust that this is the place where you will find your manger and bring your light. Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Amen. (The Road to Daybreak by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

Monday, December 22, 2014

with us

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us). ~Matthew 1:23


What a promise!  And more than just a promise, what a statement of who God is!  He is Immanuel!  That is his name!  Thus, he is the God who just can't stay away.  He is God with us!  In the midst of our deepest darkness, he is with us.  In the midst of our most desperate loneliness, he is with us.  In the midst of our most unimaginable pain, he is with us.  When our hearts have been broken beyond repair, he is with us.  When we have made a total mess of our lives, he is with us.  When tragedy strikes, he is with us.  When we are lost, left, or abandoned, he is with us.  At the times we feel most unlovable and ashamed, he is with us.  When we feel like complete and utter failures, he is with us.  When we feel like all hope is lost, he is with us.  When we feel completely broken and inept, he is with us.  When we are terrified of what lies before us, he is with us.  When we are uncertain about our futures, he is with us.  And even when life seems to be going "just fine thank you," he is with us even then.  In fact, the Psalms (Psalm 139:7-12) tell us that there is nowhere we can go where he is not with us.  Just open your eyes and your ears, he is there.  Somewhere.  Even if he is there in a way--or a place, or a form--that you didn't expect.  He is with us!  It's just who he is.  Thanks be to God.


I'd love to hear your stories of how you are recognizing God to be with you these days.  Leave your comments so all of us can celebrate Immanuel.

Monday, December 15, 2014

prepare

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. (Exodus 19:10-11)


"Are you ready for Christmas?"  It is funny this time of year how many times a day you are asked that question.  And I don't know about you, but the minute I hear it my mind goes immediately to whether I have bought all of my presents, or if the lights are up, or the tree is up, or the million-and-one other things that must be done before Christmas Day arrives.  Getting ready for Christmas can be a bit overwhelming at times.  But I wonder if there is not a deeper call I need to hear in that question.  What if being ready for Christmas has more to do with being prepared, which seems to have much more to do with the state of my heart and soul than it does the state of my decorations and/or Christmas list? 

Isaiah (and John the Baptist) knew what I'm talking about: A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)  There is a certain amount of preparing that needs to be done when the God of all creation is about to enter that very creation.  And it has much more to do with what is going on within us than it does about what is going on around us.  There is much work to do within before God arrives.  Valleys must be raised up.  Mountains and hills must be made low.  The uneven ground of our hearts and souls must be made level, and the rough places smoothed into a plain.  After all, the King is coming.  Let us prepare the way for him.

It is easy to get lost in the visions of mangers and shepherds and angels and stars and babes in swaddling clothes, and forget that this tiny baby is both the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  It is easy to allow ourselves to be filled with wonder and amazement about the beauty breaking in within us and around us and miss the awe and the reverence (and even terror) of realizing that a holy God is about to enter our world.  So maybe I should spend some time, like God directed Moses to do, doing some serious preparing within before he arrives.  Maybe I too need to turn my mind and my heart to the ways I need to be cleansed and consecrated before he appears.  The word consecrate comes from the Hebrew word qadash which is a verb meaning to sanctify, to be holy, to separate, to set apart, or to be pure and clean.  God tells Moses to make sure the people of Israel have prepared themselves in this way for his coming.  "Wash your garments, and your hearts, because a holy God is coming down out of the heavens to descend on Mount Sinai.  Therefore, be it Sinai or Bethlehem, get ready."

Which makes me ask myself, "Am I really ready for Christmas?"  If Advent is about watching and waiting for his coming, shouldn't I be doing the same?  Shouldn't I spend the days and weeks of Advent consecrating and cleansing, preparing myself for the arrival of my awesome and holy God?  And what does that look like for me?  God, how do you want me to prepare for your arrival?

So I guess tomorrow, when the next person asks me if I'm ready for Christmas, I think my reply will have to be,  "Probably not.  I've still got some preparing to do."  


God said to Moses, "Go to the people.  For the next two days get these people ready to meet the Holy God.  Have them scrub their clothes so that on the third day they'll be fully prepared, because on the third day God will come down on Mount Sinai and make his presence known to all the people." (Exodus 19:10-11, The Message)


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

hope

Ultimately the season of Advent is a season of hope.  Hope that God will somehow show up amidst all of the chaos and turmoil and pain of this world.  And after watching a significant amount of pain in the last few weeks in the lives of several different friends, I am coming to believe that where we perceive God to be in the midst of our chaos and pain is a very significant thing.  It determines so much about our process of healing, or at least it has for me.  Because in order to heal us, Jesus needs to get his hands on us.  In order for us to find ourselves in his healing embrace, to hear his words of deep affection, and to allow his hands to tenderly mend our broken hearts, we have to be willing and open for that to occur.  For the most part, Jesus never healed anyone, or put his hands upon them, without some amount of willingness and openness from their side.  And this willingness and openness is largely determined by where we think God is in the midst of our pain.  Or, in other words, how we see him. 

If we believe him to be distant or disinterested, much less the source and cause of our pain to begin with, we are unlikely to ever seek his healing touch.  In that case we are more likely to feel abandoned or betrayed, which becomes a source of anger and bitterness.  But if we are able to believe that God is somehow mysteriously and wonderfully with us in the midst of our pain, it is a different story altogether.  Then we are likely to have a deep sense of compassion from him and companionship with him.  We are likely to realize that since he has experienced the depths of pain himself, he is wonderfully able to understand ours, and to truly be able to comfort us in the midst of it. 

Thus, the season of Advent stands at the mysterious intersection of groaning and hope.  When we stand with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, seeing his tears and hearing his groans, we are likely to see the tears in his eyes and hear the groans of his heart over our pain as well.  And then we can rest assured that, even in the midst of our pain, we are both deeply known and deeply loved...and deeply understood.  I don't know about you, but that gives birth to hope deep within me.  Hope that I can, indeed, make it through this, whatever this may be.  Hope that I am not alone to navigate it, but somehow more connected with him than I've ever been--more fertile to whatever he wants to plant within me and more receptive to the movement of his Spirit.  Hope that somehow, someday I will be able to live again, not just surviving, but thriving because of the beauty he was able to bring out of my ashes.  Now that's hope!  Come, Lord Jesus!


"The purpose of Advent is to make us pregnant with hope." ~The Work of the People



 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, December 1, 2014

jp

So the day after I had the amazing privilege of meeting Sean and his family I attended the funeral of another young man.  This young man's name was Jonathan.  We all called him JP.  JP was 25 years old and had graduated from Powell the same year as my daughter.  He was also on our football team for all four of his high school years, so I knew him pretty well.  JP was bright, fun-loving, outgoing, and had a warm and infectious smile.  He was really fun to be around, on top of being a pretty good football player.  But apparently, since his days at Powell, things had not gone quite so well for JP, especially over the past few months.  Through the years I would see him from time to time around the Powell community, or when he came back to one of our PHS football games, and from all appearances he was doing fine.  But inside it was a much different story...he was really struggling.  So much so that on Monday, November 10, JP decided to take his own life.  Shock, sadness, and sorrow filled my heart as I heard the horrific news.  "Not JP.  Really?!?  Are you sure?"
 
Well, on Thursday night, November 13, I joined family and friends at JP's memorial service.  "What do you say?" I thought to myself, as the pastor began the service.  And what I heard over the course of the next hour was so honest and so real, so sad and yet so beautiful.  The pastor who led the service had known JP, and his family, from the day he was born.  And it showed.  I've been to five or six different funerals that came about as a result of suicide during my years of life and ministry, most of which refused to face the tough questions that were firmly lodged in the hearts and souls of everyone in the room.  But not this one.  It was truly incredible.  Having had 25 years of relationship with JP the pastor began the service head on, by acknowledging that in the last few minutes (if not years) of his life JP had made some devastating decisions, but those terrible choices were not "who he was."  He encouraged all of us to remember JP for "who he was," rather than for "what he had done" just a few days earlier.  He then spent the next few minutes recalling who he knew JP to be; which was then followed by his father, his mother, his sister, and then his brother, all of whom spoke, remembering who JP was to them.  The image of a grieving father talking about the life and death of his dearly loved son will be something I will remember for a long time.
 
After a time of remembering who JP was, the pastor asked the question: "So what happened?"  He then went on to describe some of the darker days and disappointments in JP's life that had left him in a pretty dark place.  He talked about the hope of Christ in the midst of darkness and spoke a bit about JP's journey of faith, the time he had trusted Jesus with his life as a younger boy, and how he had recently started coming back to church again.  But by far the most impactful moment in the service is when he turned to JP's parents, his dear friends, and began telling them that God knows exactly what they are going through.  So much so that he is wonderfully able to meet them in the deepest places of their pain.  He told a story about how he had been in Israel last summer with some folks from the church, touring all of the places of Jesus' life and death.  He said one day while they were in Jerusalem touring the places related to the death and crucifixion of Christ, their guide, who was a Jewish Christian, turned to them and asked them if they knew why the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom as Christ died on the cross.  After hearing the correct theological answer the guide informed them that, in his culture, when someone was overcome by grief or pain, the proper expression of that was to tear their robes.  He then introduced them to the idea that maybe God the father was so filled with grief and sadness at the loss of his son that He tore his robes from top to bottom, in the rending of the temple veil.  It was an incredibly beautiful and profound image to offer these grieving parents, and one that I will remember for years to come.
 
Please pray for the Price family in the days ahead as they continue to grieve the tragic loss of their dearly loved son.

Monday, November 24, 2014

grief

I've been thinking a lot about grief lately as I have watched, in the last couple of weeks, two different families experience the tragic loss of a dearly loved son.  One was from a heroic two-year battle with cancer and the other from a heartbreaking decision to take his own life.  In both cases loved ones were left in the wreckage that only death can bring, filled with pain and anguish deeper than they ever imagined possible, trying to make sense of it all, and wondering how they will ever be able to survive the next minute--much less the next day, week, or year--without their beloved child.  It was incredibly hard to watch.  Maybe because it was too familiar.  For, looking into their eyes, I saw something that I recognized.  It was a deep, indescribable pain that only the most difficult moments of this life can produce; one that reminded me of a different time and a different place when that pain was my own (Jackson).  And I remember clearly that it was into the midst of the pain (almost 27 years ago) that God spoke, reminding me that he too had experienced the agony of losing a son.  Reminding me that he could understand my anguish like no one else. 

Another beautiful reminder of this was given to me just last week at one of the memorial services, in which the pastor turned to the grieving mother and father and said to them, "God understands what you are going through."  He then went on to explain that at least a part of what may have been happening as Jesus died on the cross, and the sun hid its face and the rocks were split open and the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, was that God himself, a grieving father, was tearing his robes in pain and grief.  I don't claim to fully understand how that is even possible, but when I heard those words it brought up a "yes" from the depths of my soul.  "Of course," I thought, "that's exactly what God would do."   It touched me to the core; a God who would share our pain, a God who would voluntarily take that pain upon himself that we might have life and hope.  Only God would do something that beautiful.  Only God would put himself in those shoes...for us.  Why?  So that in the midst of our deepest darkness and suffering, we might have an even deeper companionship with him.  So that when we found ourselves in times of most desperate need, we might be met by a more beautiful vision of his heart.  So that at those moments when we felt the most lost and hopeless, we might find hope and healing in the midst of our pain.  Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

why

A few days ago I was given an extraordinary gift.  A dear friend of mine invited me over to his house to meet a truly remarkable young man.  The young man's name is Sean and at the time he was in the midst of a two-year battle with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of tissue and bone cancer that predominately attacks adolescents and young adults.  Sean grew up in Brentwood and came to Knoxville to play tennis at UT, where Ben (my friend) became one of his coaches.  But shortly after signing with UT, in October of 2012, Sean was diagnosed with cancer, which was the beginning of a heroic two-year journey.  And it was also the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Ben and Sean.  If you know Ben at all, you know two things: he loves his players and he loves Jesus.  Well, eventually Sean's most recent stage of his battle with cancer required a significant amount of care and attention, but because of his love for his teammates and his friends he did not want to leave Knoxville.  Therefore, my friend Ben invited Sean, and his family and friends, to come live with him.  Again, if you know my friend Ben, this is no surprise at all.  That is where the "extraordinary gift" part comes in.

On Wednesday of last week Ben invited me over to join some friends and family as they prayed for Sean.  It was an incredibly beautiful and intimate time.  Beautiful in the sense of a man selflessly opening his home, and his heart, to a group of folks in tough circumstances in order to kindly and compassionately make their lives as easy as possible.  Beautiful in the sense of the love poured out on this young man by a community of family and friends who were loving him selflessly and extravagantly.  And beautiful in the sense of an incredibly strong and courageous young man fighting an epic battle with heroic perseverance and bravery.  I watched as Ben warmly and gently made such wonderful space for this beautiful story to unfold.  I watched as a group of women cared for Sean with such tenderness and affection that, as a bit of an outsider, I didn't feel worthy to witness it.  And I watched as Sean tenaciously fought a battle that would have overwhelmed, and long since defeated, a lesser man. 

And so we prayed.  We gathered around his bed and laid our hands upon him and poured out our hearts.  We prayed for healing.  We prayed for comfort.  We prayed for peace.  All of which God graciously granted; for on Sunday, November 16, Sean peacefully went to be with Jesus.  Now he is, indeed, whole.  Now he is, indeed, comforted beyond our wildest imaginations.  Now he is, indeed, fully at peace.  In the immortal words of  Dwight L. Moody, “One day you are going to read that Dwight L. Moody is dead. Don’t believe it.  For at that moment I will be more alive than I have ever been."  And so it is with Sean.

I realized that day that I had been given an extraordinary gift.  During times like these we are often tempted to ask the question "Why?"  And as I drove away from the house I began thinking about that very question.  But it wasn't the whys you would have normally expected, it was a whole different set of whys.  The whys that recognize that all of life is a gift.  Like, why did I get the privilege of spending thirty profoundly impactful minutes with such an incredible group of people?  Why did I get the privilege of meeting this amazing young man?  Why was I somehow chosen to be one of the ones that were fortunate enough to have found themselves in his life-changing path?  And I thought about his parents.  Why were they given the incredible gift of being this young man's parents?  Did God have a broad smile on his face as he gave them this amazing son?  And why did they get the privilege of having him for a full twenty years?  Why not just twenty minutes?  Or twenty days?  Why did God want them to have hearts and minds filled to overflowing with a full twenty years of wonderful memories?  What a gift!  And I thought about his friends.  Why did they get the gift of being able to be Sean's friend?  Why did God specifically pick them out to be next door neighbors, or classmates, or doubles partners with this extraordinary young man?  Why did they get that privilege and not someone else?  For they are so much the richer for having known him and having been around him.  And then I thought about his teammates.  Why were they the ones to be chosen to come to Tennessee, in just the right place at just the right time, to get to be on Sean's team.  And why did God give him to the UT community to begin with, and not to Vanderbilt, or Florida, or Georgia?  Why did they get the gift of walking this journey with him?  Why did they get the gift of seeing the courage and the tenacity and the bravery and the strength and the fight of this one remarkable young man who would forever change the course of their lives by having known him?

 I know I am a richer man for having met Sean and his family, and I was only around them for about thirty minutes.  I can't imagine the impact of being around him for two years, much less twenty.  And I am forever grateful for those thirty minutes and this one amazing young man who helped change forever the way I see the question, "Why?"
 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

o my soul

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. (Psalm 103:1)


I love the way David seemed often to live from his soul.  There is something about that idea, and about these words that begin Psalm 103, that is very appealing and intriguing to me.  I tend to live, all too often, from my head, or from my fears and insecurities, or from my surface reality, or from my circumstances.  But when I do this I get the constant sense that I am missing something, that there is much more to life than what I am experiencing at the moment, something much deeper.  And I think this something deeper has a lot to do with living from my soul.  My sense is that my soul is the deepest part of me, the uncharted depths of my being.  It seems very mysterious and abstract, but at the same time it seems to be the most real part of me that exists.  And it is a place that I long to live from regularly, but one that I, unfortunately, seem to be aware of and in touch with far too infrequently.

So just what is a soul anyway?  And how do we bless God with it?  The word soul in the Hebrew (nephesh) comes from the root naphash which means to breathe, to take a breath, or to strongly pant.  Our breath is the part of us that gives and sustains life.  Therefore, nephesh (soul) is that part of us that makes us most alive.  It is our being, our essence, our is-ness, who we really are.  It is who God dreamt us to be.  Dallas Willard once called it "the deepest part of the self."  Or, as a dear friend said to me recently, "It is the part of you that burns inside."  In short, the soul is the place we were created to live out of.  It is the part of us that was made for intimate union with our God. 

And the word bless in the Hebrew (Psalm 103:1-2) means to kneel or adore.  So when David says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name."  He is saying, "Let the depths of who I am, who I was dreamt to be, adore the one who made me that way."  To bless the Lord with all my soul means to turn towards God and open my most intimate places, in adoration, to him.  To engage him with all that I have and all that I am. 

But the soul can be an elusive animal.  As a matter of fact, I once heard someone describe the soul as a deer; which makes total sense since Psalm 42 uses the image of a deer to describe our soul's longing for God.  "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you , my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go meet with God?" (Psalm 42:1-2)  I am not much of a hunter, but I do know that if you want to see a deer it will take time and patience, stillness and attentiveness; any sudden movement or commotion will scare it away, back into hiding.  And so it is with the soul.  If you want to have access to your soul, most likely all of these things will be necessary as well.  There are times, however, when you just "happen upon" a deer completely by accident.  You just look up and there it is, as surprised to see you as you are to see it.  These moments happen with the soul as well.  Sometimes, when we are least expecting it, the soul just shows up.  It might be a scene from a movie, or a song, or a sunset, or work of art that suddenly captures you, and low and behold you and your soul are standing face to face.  These moments, as they are with deer, are rare and beautiful.  They leave us different than they found us.  And if me are willing to take the time and the space to reflect, and to mine their treasure, they can offer our souls food for days and weeks to come. 

But what of the intentional moments?  How can we be more like David?  How can we live our lives more consistently from my souls?  I guess the easiest answer is to pay careful attention to the things that bring us to life inside, and to consistently make these things a regular part of our practice.  These things can help us to have access to, and live from, our souls more often.  The other day I heard an incredible question in this regard, one that I hope to reflect on and wrestle with in the days and weeks (and maybe even months and years) ahead.  The question was: "What fuels your soul to keep you stumbling toward love?"  And what a great question it is!  It is a question that realizes a few central truths.  First, it realizes that our soul is the engine that drives us, in whatever direction we may end up going.  Secondly, in recognizes that the soul can't run on its own, it needs fuel to keep it going, whatever that fuel may be.  That is up to each of us (since we are uniquely and wonderfully made) to figure out.  And lastly, it clearly shows us that the purpose of it all is to continually stumble in the direction of love.  Ultimately life, even my life and your life, is not about us, but about God, and about him being known and glorified both within us and around us.  So, this day, let us consider our souls.  Let us live constantly from them.  Let us consider what offers them the fuel they need.  And let us, always and everywhere, continue to stumble in the direction of Love.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

given

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to give to set before the people. (Mark 6:41)

Ultimately, we are taken, blessed, and broken in order to be given.  Thus, we have to realize that this life is not about us, it is about God and his Kingdom.  When we really understand that, then all of the other pieces somehow begin to fall into place.  Christ is given to and for us, so that we might be given to him, and then to others. (Mark 12:29-31) 


The more I think about the meaning of living and acting in the name of Jesus, the more I realize that what I have to offer others is not my intelligence, skill, power, influence, or connections, but my own human brokenness through which the love of God can manifest itself.  The celebrant in Leonard Bernstein's Mass says: "Glass shines brighter when it's broken...I never noticed that."  This, to me, is what ministry and mission are all about.  Ministry is entering with our human brokenness into communion with others and speaking a word of hope.  This hope is not based on any power to solve the problems of those with whom we live, but on the love of God, which becomes visible when we let go of our fears of being out of control and enter into His presence in shared confession of weakness.
     The great paradox of ministry, therefore, is that we minister above all with our weakness, a weakness that invites us to receive from those to whom we go.  The more in touch we are with our own need for healing and salvation, the more open we are to receive in gratitude what others have to offer us. (Gracias! by Henri J.M. Nouwen)

Monday, October 27, 2014

broken

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to give to set before the people. (Mark 6:41)

I am more and more convinced that until we fully realize the fact that we really have no idea what we are doing we will never be of any value to God, or to anyone else for that matter.  That's where brokenness comes in.  After Jesus takes us, and blesses us, he then must break us.  Unfortunately the breaking is a necessary part of the process.  It is only in the breaking that we realize that we can't do it on our own.  It is only in the breaking that we discover that we don't have the resources, in and of ourselves, to give the people in our lives and in our world what they most desperately need and most deeply long for.  It is only in the breaking that we recognize our total dependence on God.  It is only in the breaking that we can be multiplied enough to be given.  A very wise friend once told me, "You can't be multiplied enough to be given, you can only be broken enough to be given."  Somehow it is in the breaking that the multiplication happens.  So much so that, in the end, a crowd of up to ten thousand people had eaten until they were satisfied and there were still twelve basketfuls of broken pieces left over (Mark 6:42-43).  Thanks be to God.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

blessed

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to give to set before the people. (Mark 6:41)


After he takes the loaves from the disciples, he blesses them.  This is the second movement in the dance of faith.  After God takes us to (and for) himself, he blesses us.  It is a phrase that we hear all the time.  In fact, it is one we hear so much that I'm afraid it has lost its meaning.

To bless someone is to invoke life into them.  Dallas Willard said it so beautifully when he said, "Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another.  It isn't just words.  It is actually putting forth your will for the good of another person.  You bless someone when you will their good under the invocation of God.  You invoke God on their behalf to support the good that you will for them.   This is the nature of blessing.  It is what we are to receive from God and then give to one another."  So after God takes us to (and for) himself, he blesses us.  He speaks words of life and affection and goodness deep into our souls.  It is this that inspires, renews, energizes, captures, and transforms us.  God draws us tenderly to himself and infuses his goodness and love and affection into us by his Spirit. 

Numbers 6:24-26 is maybe the most classic example of blessing.  In Numbers 6 we find the blessing that Moses instructed his brother Aaron to place on the people of Israel.  And what a blessing it is! "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace."   It's almost as if Moses is saying, "May God continuously bring his good into your life (bless).  May me protect you and build his hedge of protection around (keep) you.  May his face always shine upon you, transforming you more and more into his image, and causing your face, in turn, to shine with his glory.  May his gracious favor be poured out upon you and well up within you.  May the smile of his face (countenance) be ever upon you.  And may he restore you to the wholeness (peace) you were intended for.  Pretty great words, huh?  God's words of life being infused into our very being.

So may we draw near to God and receive his blessing, this day and every day.  And may we, in turn, bless others with the goodness and the life and the affection and the peace he has blessed us with.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

taken

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to give to set before the people. (Mark 6:41)


He has taken us to himself.  It is the first step in the dance of faith.  He takes us to himself again and again and again.  It is what the saints call union; that deep, intimate union that we all were created for and most deeply long for.  It is what gives the rest of the dance its life and meaning, its depth and substance.  It is this intimate taking of us to himself that leaves us completely taken with him in return.  Without this step, ministry is hollow and superficial.  Without this step we cannot fruitfully arrive at the final step, being given.  Without first being taken the seed planted within us will never grow into the beautiful, fruitful plant it was meant to be, but will instead stagnate or die or wither or fade.  For it is his love that compels us, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:14.  This life of love that God has planted within us is meant to provide the life and energy for all we do.  Thus, our desire to be given cannot last without this love kindled (and continually rekindled) deep in our hearts and souls.  Therefore, we need to continually make time and space to be taken by him: to listen to his whispers of affection, to feel the tender touch of his hands, to receive his passionate kiss upon our lips, to know the deep intimacy of his abiding presence.  It is what brings us to life on the inside.  And it is what offers life to all who cross our paths.

Friday, October 3, 2014

behind

     From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
     Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, "Never Lord!" he said.  "This shall never happen to you!"
     Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." (Matthew 16:21-23) 


I don't know about you, but it is easy for me at times to get ahead of myself.  To move and act and live life before I have really reflected and thought and prayed about the life I most want to live.  And it is also easy, in this life of faith, to get ahead of God at times as well.  It is easy for us to charge ahead with our plans and schemes and agendas--for the kingdom, mind you--without really listening and seeking and getting direction from God.  Glad to see that I am not alone.  Peter had the same problem.  So much so that when Jesus told him what was to come, he adamantly disagreed with him--even rebuked him--because those plans did not agree with his own.  That's where the "Get behind me, Satan!" part comes in.  Peter had charged ahead when the place he needed to be was firmly behind; behind Jesus.  And Jesus reminded him of that, quite boldly I might add.  It is so easy to charge ahead sometimes; to follow our own plans for how we think things should work and should go and should be.  There is a great danger for us when that happens.  For when we charge ahead actually become a stumbling block to him, rather than a follower.  For ours is not to charge ahead, ours is always to follow closely behind.  What will that look like for us today?

    

Monday, September 29, 2014

pull

You will do well so to regulate your time that you may have every day a little leisure for reading, meditation, and prayer, to review your defects, to study your duties, and to hold communion with God.  You will be happy when a true love to Him shall make this duty easy.  When we love God, we do not ask what we shall say to Him.  We have no difficulty in conversing with a friend.  Our hearts are ever open to Him.  We do not think what we shall say to Him, but we say it without reflection.  We cannot be reserved.  Even when we have nothing to say to Him, we are satisfied with being with Him.  Oh how much better are we sustained by love than by fear!  Fear enslaves, constrains, and troubles us; but love persuades, consoles, animates us,; possesses our whole soul, and makes us desire goodness for its own sake.
                                                                                               ~Francois Fenelon



Fear and love.  The two great motivators.  One motivates by push: ought, should, guilt, shame.  And one motivates by pull: desire, longing, persuasion, affection.  In the words of Francois Fenelon, one enslaves, constrains, and troubles and one consoles, animates, and possesses.  Both have their place and time to do their particular work, I suppose.  But, in my experience, as far as true and lasting change is concerned, pull seems to produce the best fruit.  At least it has in me anyway.  Pull is that wooing of God, that way he draws us to himself.  It is a deep romancing, if you will.  Pull captures our hearts, and our imaginations, and totally transforms our lives.  It invites us into intimate union (always more intimate union) with God.  And it is this intimacy that changes everything.  When I am seized by the power of the Great Affection everything within me is affected.  My life is totally captured by a Love that makes me want to please my Beloved in all I do.  It is a love so big that it begins to purge me of all other (less wild) loves.  Instead of trying to change by grit and effort and determination (the American way), I am changed by simply being in love.  The romancing of a God who is crazy-in-love-with-me makes me fall more and more deeply in love with him in return.  Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister from the 1800's, called it The Expulsive Power of a Great Affection.  I like that.  It is only a larger, Greater Affection that can capture our hearts and turn us away from the a smaller, more trivial, affections that tend to consume, corrode, and occupy our lives.  When we take the entire burden of change upon ourselves, it is, indeed, much too heavy to bear.  It is both exhausting and overwhelming.  But when we surrender our hearts to the love of the One who invites us to "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden," and "take my yoke upon you," we discover that this way of love (pull) is actually the way to "find rest for our souls."  Because the burden of change is no longer solely upon us, but rather falls upon him.  Thus, the words, "You will be happy when a true love to Him shall make this duty easy."   Thanks be to God!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

one life

Here's a question for you: Would you say you are living a divided life or a unified life these days?  It is a question I've been thinking a lot about for the past couple of weeks; both because of what I sense in myself, as well as what I have been noticing in those around me.  It is so easy at times, due to the demands and chaos of life, to live in a reactionary type of way that views life as a collection of disconnected parts that have to be managed and attended to, rather than viewing it as one unified whole.  And I am coming to find out more and more that how we see things makes a significant difference in how we live things.

What about you?  When you stop and reflect on the life you are currently living, what feelings arise?  Do you feel more divided or more unified?  If you're still not sure, maybe this question can give you another hint: Are you typically overwhelmed and exhausted or are you typically energized and engaged?

My kids loved playing with Legos when they were little.  There is a distinctive sound that occurs when a child is rummaging through a container of Legos looking for just the right one to complete his masterpiece.  And that noise was a constant in our house for many years.  In fact, one year my youngest son asked for a Lego Pirate Ship for Christmas, which he got.  And I still remember his excitement as we opened up the box and looked at the enormous amount of pieces (756, to be exact) that were somehow necessary to create this object of his delight.  Now I'll have to admit that while his dominant emotions were sheer joy and utter excitement, I was a bit overwhelmed, and somewhat paralyzed, by the seeming enormity of the task ahead.  "How in the world will I be able to turn all of these separate pieces into something that resembles the impressive structure pictured on the front of the box?"  It was exhausting to think about.  You see, I've never been one that is particularly gifted in the area of building and construction.  Nevertheless, we waded in to the project together.  And as we began assembling the (as yet) mythical pirate ship, something happened within me.  Somehow I stopped seeing it as 756 parts and started seeing it as one thing.  A thing of beauty.  And when that shift in my seeing took place, the feelings of being overwhelmed and paralyzed began to vanish and a sense of excitement and energy began to grow within me.  I became totally engaged in the process.

We all have a tendency, I think, to see our lives that way.  We tend to see them as 756 separate pieces rather than seeing them as one unified whole.  I mean, there are just so many parts to manage: faith, ministry, work, family, school, friendships, etc., etc., etc.  All of which we tend to treat separately (compartmentalization) rather than treating them together as one whole, unified life.  And when we live life this way it is both overwhelming and exhausting.  I mean, who can possibly balance all of those things at once?  It reminds me of the guy on TV that balances the spinning plates on top of sticks and constantly runs from one to the other trying to keep any of them from falling off and crashing to the ground (Plate Spinning).  It seems like an impossible task.  Even life and ministry become two separate parts rather than one unified whole, which is a tragedy.  And not at all what Jesus had in mind (As you go, make disciples...Matthew 28:19). 

I suspect that God's vision and desire for our lives is much different, and much greater, than that.  I think that God desires us to see life as one thing rather than as 756 things.  And when we start recognizing the fact that life is really about one thing it simplifies everything.  It allows us to breathe a little rather than continually running breathlessly about.  When we begin to see life as one thing (a thing of beauty) we begin to be engaged and energized rather than overwhelmed and exhausted.  And that one thing is the same one thing Jesus spoke to Martha about in Luke 10.  That one thing is this: living life with God.  That's it!  In its most simple terms, all of this life is about this one thing: just live life with God.  Everything else will take care of itself.  Because when we do that there is a wholeness and a purpose and a vision and a unity to our lives.

A great example of this can be seen in Jeremiah 6:16: "Thus says the Lord, 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'"  Within these 33 words is a wonderful pattern that shows us what it looks like to simply live one life with God--wherever we go, whoever we are with, whatever we do.  In fact, it is a pattern I have adopted over the past few years that seems to make good and fruitful space for the Spirit of God to speak and to lead and to guide in all areas of my life and ministry, if I will continually live from it.

It all starts with stand.  In other words start by stopping.  Stand.  Be still.  Be present--fully present.  First to God within you, and then to God around you.  In other words, show up.  I believe it was Woody Allen that once said, "Eighty percent of life is just showing up."  Show up with God and show up with others.  That's where it all starts.

Next comes look. Stand at the crossroads and look.  Pay attention.  Look for God.  Look deeply for him in whatever, or whoever, might be in front of you at the moment.  Look past the surface.  Look into the depths.  Search.  Seek.  Seek him in all things.

Then comes ask.  Specifically, ask God.  Ask God, "What are you up? What are you up to within me?  What are you up to around me?  What are you up to in this circumstance?  What are you up to in the life of the person in front of me?  Ask.  Ask for the ancient paths.  The ancient paths are those well-worn paths that lead straight to the heart of God.  Those paths that multitudes of other saints, poets, and pilgrims have traveled well before us.  In fact, whenever we see someone walking deeply and intimately with God we need to take note because that person has found these ancient paths, and watching them can show us the way into the heart of God.  Solitude, silence, prayer, scripture, etc.,these things, indeed, are a significant part of the good way. 

Notice that, up until now, we still have not moved.  We are still in one place (stand, look, ask), seeking God's heart, mind, and direction.  And it is not an easy thing to do because our default mode of operation is movement.  Our norm is don't just stand there, do something.  We tend to operate (whether we like to admit it or not) out of a "ready, fire, aim" mentality.  Which, in all likelihood, leads to a significant amount of wasted motion.  Our default, it would seem, needs to change more to a don't just do something, stand there mindset.

And finally, once we have stood and looked and asked, it is time to move.  Walk in it is the phrase Jeremiah uses.  Walk in the good way, whatever that may mean.  For, once we have received our direction and guidance from God, it is time to enter into whatever he is doing.  It is time to move toward him (and his work) whatever that may look like.  Sometimes it will mean speaking a word he has given us to speak and sometimes it will mean keeping our mouths shut.  Sometimes it will mean simply being present and sometimes it will mean reaching out to embrace.  But whatever it is, we can be sure of its power, substance, and authenticity because it has come directly from his heart and not merely our own.

And the result is incredible: you will find rest for your souls.  No longer exhausted and overwhelmed, we will be energized and engaged by the winds of God's Spirit.  We will no longer be divided, but unified and at peace because we are just trying to do the one thing rather than the 756.  Thanks be to God!




 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

behold

Truth sees God, and wisdom beholds God, and from these two comes the third, and that is a marvelous delight in God, which is love.
                                                                       ~Julian of Norwich


I have been thinking a lot lately, thanks to Lady Julian of Norwich, about the value of beholding.  Particularly the value of beholding God.  It seems to be a bit of a lost art in this busy and hurried world, but one that is essential to the process of spiritual growth, as we journey towards the destination of delight.  As a matter of fact, it seems that the journey towards delight must pass through the land of beholding.  In order to be captured by the beauty of the truth, we must look long and attentively at the object of that truth (Jesus).  We must not be content to stop at truth once we discover it; or it discovers us, whichever you prefer.  Once seen, the truth must be beheld.  It must become a part of us.  It must be deeply seen, deeply known, deeply experienced.  We must be captured by its beauty.  To behold literally means to hold onto that which we see and to be with it.  This seems, however, to be the part that is most often left out of the spiritual equation.  Because of our busyness, or our impatience, or our unwillingness, or even our fear, we tend to skip over that part, much to our own demise.  Truth is a wonderful thing, but wisdom would tell us that if we do not allow ourselves to be captured by the beauty of the truth it can easily be missed, or, even worse, turned into a weapon.  So let's recapture this important part of the spiritual process.  Let us make time and make space to continually behold our great God, and thus allow the truth, through the power of the Spirit, to transform our lives.


And 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.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

do

"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17)


What must I do to inherit eternal life.  Did you get that?  I have that mindset most of the time as well.  Somehow I convince myself that my eternal destiny (and that of others, if I'm really being honest) depends on me.  I convince myself that I must do certain things in order to inherit God's blessing and favor.  Yet inheritance, when you really think about it, comes from who you are, not from what you do.  But still I continue to do in hopes of achieving something that can only be received.  How much better would it be if my doing flowed out of gratitude for what I have freely received from God, rather than out of fear that I will somehow miss out (or get left out) due to my own inadequacies or inabilities.  Trying to achieve something that can only be received will leave you frustrated, not to mention completely exhausted.  So what must we do to receive this delightful inheritance?  Just be his.  Be his child.  Delight in our Father.  Let him capture our hearts with his love.  And live our lives in response to his abundant grace.

Monday, August 18, 2014

on mission

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”  But he did not answer her a word.  And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”  He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.”  She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.”  Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly. ( Matthew 15:21-28)


You hear a lot these days about the need to be missional.  "The church is only really the church when it is on mission," the experts say.  And they are so right.  But what in the world does that look like?  Well, Jesus gives us a wonderful picture--albeit rather odd--right here in Matthew 15.  And if we can get past our initial resistance to the image he's using, and see what he is really trying to say, I think it has a lot to teach us. 

Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Tyre and Sidon when a Canaanite woman approaches them, begging for mercy in the form of help for her demon-oppressed daughter.  But, we are told, Jesus did not answer her a word.  Interesting.  Not really a side of Jesus we are used to seeing.  Why in the world would he hear the desperation of this woman's cries and say absolutely nothing?  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Jesus knew his mission.  And knowing your mission has a lot to do with knowing, not only what you have been called to do, but knowing who you have been called to do it to.  Jesus did not let needs and demands determine his course, but only the voice and will of his Father.  So he stayed true to his mission: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  And this woman was a definitely not one of Israel's lost sheep, but a Canaanite. 

The Canaanites were one of the peoples that inhabited the Promised Land before the Israelites finally arrived from their pilgrimage in the wilderness and settled there.  The Canaanites were notorious enemies of God's chosen people, constantly worshipping and serving their own gods rather than the God of Israel.  So God commanded the Israelites, because of his deep love for them (his chosen people and his treasured possession) to drive all of the Canaanites out of the Promised Land, lest they remain in the land and infect the children of Israel with their defiant mindset and detestable practices.  God wanted the hearts of his people to remain pure and holy, fully belonging to him in every way (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).  So naturally the disciples, like any true Israelite, tell Jesus to send this Canaanite woman away. 

That's where it really gets interesting, because then she comes and kneels before him, begging for his help.  And when she does, Jesus makes a incredibly interesting statement: "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."  And if we can get past the fact that it appears that Jesus has just called her a dog, we can see the amazing quality of what he is saying.  I was called to the lost sheep of Israel.  They are the ones I came to proclaim the good news to.  Your day will come.  The Father has a plan for that as well, and I will fully trust his plan.  But for me, right now, my mission is to the lost sheep of Israel.  And if I allow myself to get diverted or distracted from what the Father has sent me to do and to be, it would be like taking the bread right out of the mouths of the very ones I have been called to.  I mean, none of us would ever do that to our own children, right?  But that is what Jesus says we're doing when we know our mission and allow something or someone to distract or divert us from that mission.  When we are not being about what God has called us to be about, we are disobedient.

One day a good friend of mine was innocently asked by someone in our church if he would consider teaching Sunday School for a group of Middle School students.  And before the request was fully out of his mouth my friend had already replied with a quick and firm no.  "Well, don't you even want to pray about it?" the man asked.  To which my friend replied, "I've been praying about that all of my life.  Let me tell you what God has told me I am to be about."  And he went on to list a number of things that God had clearly communicated to him that he was to be about--his mission, if you will.  Then he went on to say, "If I said yes to your request, I would be disobedient to what God has called me to be about."  In essence, that's what Jesus seems to be saying here, but the story does not end there.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." the woman replies.  And what a beautiful reply it is.  I'm not asking for the children's bread, says the woman, I realize that you were sent for them.  All I'm asking is for a few crumbs that might fall off the table, that will not cost you (or them) anything, as far as your mission and direction is concerned.  She got it!  And Jesus fully realized that she got it.  In fact, he was moved with compassion.  Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done to you as you desire."  And her daughter was healed instantly.

So what does it mean to be on mission?  It means being attentive, alert, and obedient to God.  It means seeking his face and listening to his voice.  It means having a very clear sense of who he has called us to be and what he has called us to do.  It means constantly keeping that mission on the forefront of our hearts and minds.  It means allowing that mission to determine how we will spend our days and our lives--determining all that we do or say.  It means constantly staying alert for distractions and disruptions to that mission.  And finally, it means continually asking ourselves the question, "Is what I am doing right now taking the children's bread and throwing it to the dogs?" Because, ultimately, the question is: "Are we being faithful to the mission and direction that God has called us to?"


Friday, August 15, 2014

one

In the mysteries of eternity past, God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit dwelled in unsurpassed union and intimacy.  The Holy Three have always existed as a divine dance of romance, a whirlwind of affection and pleasure and love unending.  It was from this pulsating intimacy that God created humanity and the natural order.  Though we will always remain the creation, He formed humanity to enter into relationship with the Trinity, the Godhead.  In His great mysterious heart was a desire to bring human beings into the holy river of affections known between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to share in this Divine communion with them. (Deep Unto Deep by Dana Candler)




God is three and yet he is one; the mystery of the Trinity.  It is something that cannot possibly be explained, but something that is most certainly meant to be enjoyed.  Union is at the very heart of God.  He lives in union.  He created us from that union.  He desires for us to join in that union.  It is why we were made.  We were created out of an overflow of love, in order to join in the very intimacy of the Trinity.  Therefore, the Trinity is the prototype for relationship.  Even when God created Eve and brought her to Adam, he did it for union--union with each other that would beautifully remind them and point them toward the union they were made for in Him.  That's undoubtedly at least part of the reason that God chose to make woman out of the very substance of man.  So that they were deeply a part of each other.  Just look at the words spoken after Eve comes to life and the two are brought together:   "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24)  And you have to love Adam's words just before that, the very first words of poetry ever uttered by humankind, "This is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh." (Genesis 2:23)  


To put it simply, God has a preference for union.  I think that's why when we have experiences of union (or oneness) in this lifetime it does something deep within us.  It strikes a chord that was made to be struck.  It can be a little tricky though, because when we have these transcendent experiences we tend to think that they came about as a result of the person (or the thing) directly in front of us, rather than realizing that they actually came from somewhere or something (or, more rightly, Someone) much bigger.  C. S. Lewis said it so well when he said "It was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." (Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis)  Thus, our true longing is for union with God.  And when we discover that truth, and fully embrace it, then oneness with others becomes possible as well.  Then we who are many can become one with each other the way we were created to be, and live as people made in the image of God.
 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

deep


When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.  And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.  But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
     And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Mathew 14:23-32)



If nothing else you have to admire Peter's willingness.  I mean, at least he desired to step out of the boat and move toward Jesus--and dared to do so.  It was not an easy step, to say the least.  The step into the deep waters never is.  It requires a lot.  Jesus was asking Peter to leave the security of the boat and his friends and his old life and ways, and to join him in a totally new and totally unfamiliar place.  A place of total surrender and total abandon.  That's what real life with God is all about.  We can't avoid it or deny it.  And when Jesus invites us to that place with him it always requires us to step out of our comfortable and controlled lives (and ways) and step into a life that is completely determined and ordered by him.  It is a place where real trust is necessary and real life is experienced.  Peter took him up on it.  Most of us never get that far.  Most of us hear the call and rationalize that it is for someone else.  Most of us hear his invitation to this deep life with him and allow the wind and the waves to effect us long before we ever consider stepping out onto the raging sea.  Peter's willingness meant that he was able to experience something that none of the other disciples (at this point at least) were willing to.  That is often the case.  So often we are simply unwilling--be it from fear, or preoccupation, or comfort, or control and agenda--to step out onto the sea (into the deep) with Jesus, where we must totally trust his care and his control.  The deep is a place where we cannot touch bottom, where we cannot control things, where we cannot manage life on our own terms.  The deep is a place where we have no idea what will happen when we actually set foot upon its waters.  Therefore, it is a place of total vulnerability, total surrender, and total trust.  Peter was willing to go there.  He stepped out.  He took nothing with him.  He completely let go of everything else but this burning desire to be with Jesus, wherever Jesus may lead, whatever Jesus might ask.  The call of Jesus is like that for us all.  Are we willing to take that step, whatever that step may look like?  Are we willing to join him?  If we really want to be his, there is no other choice.



Jesus tests our limits and invites us to go out into the deep, far from the secure shores of large savings accounts, comfortable routines, familiar places and situations.  There have been many times when I felt overwhelmed by work and family responsibilities,  There have been times when I felt depressed, wanting to escape to the comfort of home or to the security of familiar tasks.  I was afraid of what lay ahead.  Every year we wonder where the money will come from to sustain our ministry.  But in every one of these situations, Jesus has been there beckoning me, beckoning us, beyond the security of shallow water to go with him into the deep.

                                                                                  ~James McGinnis

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

delight

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret...(Psalm 37:3-7)  


Trust.  Dwell.  Enjoy.  Delight.  Commit.  What an incredible collection of words!  And all in one place to boot.  It is almost as if, here in Psalm 37, God is trying to show us how desirable this life with him really is; particularly when contrasted with the life of fretting--which is another significant word in the Psalm.  Don't fret your way through life, but instead trust in Me, dwell in the land I have given you, enjoy the safe pasture that only I can provide, delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart--because to delight in Me IS the desire of your heart. 

The word for fret is charah which means to be hot, furious; to burn with anger, or to kindle harsh feelings.  It is where we get the word charred.  I don't know about you, but I fret a lot.  Someone will say something that I interpret the wrong way, or I will do something that doesn't turn out quite like I want it to and bingo...fret.  It starts a fire within me that burns and stews and smolders.  One that I try to keep hidden, try to keep a lid on, which makes it continue to burn and burn deep in my heart.  Eventually it will come out, and when it does it is bound to char somebody. 

"Don't do that," David tells us, "It leads only to death."  Duh!  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but still somehow I have trouble remembering it anyway.  Most notably, the death that fretting leads to is the death of your soul.  And God longs for life for us.  So he tells us that instead of fretting, "Delight yourself in the Lord."  The word for delight is anag which means to live softly or delicately; to allure or entice.  It is used of the amorous gestures of a woman.  It is a very seductive word.  It invites us into a very passionate and intimate posture with our God; a deep romancing, if you will.  That is what God truly desires both for us and from us.  When we delight ourselves in him--when we enter in to that Sacred Romance--then, and only then, will the deepest desires of our hearts be met.  So how could we possibly choose to do anything else.  Today, let's delight in him.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

come

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)


I don't know about you, but the very sound of these words does something deep within me.  They make something come to life, something stand on tip toe, something leap within my soul.  I guess it is because my soul longs deeply for true rest.  The word used here for rest is anapauo, which means to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength.  How's that for a definition? 

Our souls also long to be filled.  Therefore, our lives are one long movement in the direction of pursuing our deepest longings.  The problem is that we stop too soon--too near the top.  When we taste something that tastes good to our soul, we assume that that is what our soul was made to be filled with.  And so there we go, charging off in the direction of that person or that thing, trying to extract something from them that they were never intended (or able) to fully give us.  C. S. Lewis said it so well: The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. (Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis)  In other words, the deepest, most wonderful things of this life were never intended to fully satisfy us, but to point us forward...to God.

We also stop too soon in our definition of rest.  Most often, when we hear the word rest, we think of bodily rest; and rightly so because that is a significant part of the picture.  Bodily rest is important and affects everything else about us.  But it is, however, only a small part of a much larger picture.  For the rest that Jesus is talking about here is much deeper.  Jesus is offering us soul restOur soul is the deepest part of  us.  It is our essence, who we really are inside, our innermost being.  And it was made to be filled and brought to life by God and God alone: And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)  That is the part of us to which Jesus is offering rest.  Deep soul rest that gives us the freedom from running around desperately trying to have our longings met by people and things that were never intended to meet (fully) those deepest longings.

So when he says to us, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened," he is offering us an invitation to leave behind all of the ways we are trying to perform (weary), and let go of the heavy load of trying to achieve (burdened).  To stop chasing recognition and affirmation and connection and security, from anyone and anything under the sun, and turn to him.  He is inviting us to take up his yoke.  He is inviting us to have all of the deepest longings of our hearts and souls met in him; with no more running, or posturing, or jockeying.  That is what will give us real soul rest.  So come...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

free

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)


I have been spending a good bit of time the past week or so thinking about freedom, and what it really means, and how it really happens.  Jesus was very clear in telling us that if we want to be truly free, it will only come through him.  In fact, a little later in John's gospel, Jesus tells us that he is the truth; as well as the way and the life.  So he is not only the truth, but he is the way to truth as well.  Therefore, the only way to truth, and thus the only way to freedom, is through relationship with him.  And, conversely, if we are not free, it must be because we are believing something that is not true.

My guess is that we even need to consider our definition of the word freedom to begin with.  Maybe our very definition of freedom is not true.  How would you define it?  If you look up the word free in dictionary it is defined as personal liberty.  But I'm not at all sure that this is a true definition.  At least it wouldn't seem to be true given Jesus' definition.  One of the biggest lies that we tend to believe is that freedom means getting to do whatever we want to.  And if we are not able to do whatever we want, then we must not be free.  But in reality, freedom does not have to do with being able to do whatever we want, it has to do with being who we were intended/created to be.  When we are being the person that God made us to be, then, and only then, is there any possibility that we can actually be free.

For example, I was on a day of solitude the other day at one of my favorite places in the world with two dear friends.  We spent most of the day by ourselves being with God in silence, coming together for lunch to talk a little about what God was up to and how he was meeting us.  Early on in our time alone with God I noticed a couple of hawks enjoying the beautiful day by riding the winds and soaring through the blue summer sky.  They are regular companions on my days of solitude at this particular retreat center.  And for some reason, this day they really caught my attention.  I began to watch them float and glide and soar.  And as I watched them, I realized that God was giving me a perfect picture of the beautiful freedom I had been reflecting on all week long.  Here's what came next:

          you ride the currents of the wind
          so smoothly, so effortlessly, so naturally
          no work or toil or strain
          yours is just to be
          content with wherever the breezes
          may lead or guide or direct
          not fighting against
          but joining with
          the created order

          you glide and ride and float
          you circle and spiral and soar
          offering no resistance, only cooperation
          with the forces much larger than yourself
          you are but a small piece
          of a much larger beauty
          which you so gracefully surrender to
          going only where the winds take you
          being only who you are
    
          now that's freedom!


That's when it hit me: going wherever you want is not freedom; going where you were intended is.  It is the truth that sets us free.