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