Tuesday, January 27, 2015

fire

Cast aside everything that might extinguish this small flame which is beginning to burn within you, and surround yourself with everything which can feed and fan it into a stronger flame.
                                                                              ~The Art of Prayer


Be dressed and ready for service and keep your lamps burning...Luke 12:35



There is a flame within us, started and sustained by God's Spirit, that we are required to tend.  It is the part of us that burns for God, for intimacy with him, and for his Kingdom to be revealed in this world.  In some this fire is a raging inferno.  In fact, it is so real and so present that if you get within a certain proximity of these people you will be warmed by the heat of its passion.  And in others this fire is weak and smoldering, like a dim wick that is on the verge of being snuffed out completely.  It is of no use to anyone. 

And though we cannot control the source of this fire, we are called to tend and feed and fan its flame.  We are called to make sure to keep our lamps burning.  Therefore, we must be thoughtful and intentional as we consider how to nurture and grow this fire within us.  We must learn to listen and reflect and pray in a way that allows us to see how to create the proper conditions for this fire to thrive, and for its flames to grow.  We must regularly ask ourselves certain questions like: "What are the things that keep my inner fires going?  When and how will I make those things a regular part of my life?  What fuels my soul to keep me stumbling toward love?  Who are the people and what are the practices that ignite something deep within me?"  And when we finally begin to get a sense of the answers to some of these questions, we need to go to work; to start gathering these logs and tossing them on the fire. 



O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center!  Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate!  If it be your will: tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!  O sweet cautery, O delightful wound!  O gentle hand!  O delicate touch that tastes of eternal life and pays every debt!  In killing you changed death to life.  O lamps of fire!  In whose splendors the deep caverns of feeling, once obscure and blind, now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely, both warmth and light to their Beloved.  How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love.
 
                                                                                      ~John of the Cross

Saturday, January 24, 2015

justified

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29)


Do you ever find yourself trying to do that?  Trying to justify yourself?  When I read this phrase the other day, it simply stopped me in my tracks.  Because I do that all the time.  In fact, most of the things I do in my life are nothing more than feeble attempts to justify my own existence.  It reminds me of a line from that old classic movie Chariots of Fire where one of the characters (Harold Abrams) is asked about his upcoming race and he says, "And now in one hour's time, I will be out there again.  I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; four feet wide, with ten lonely seconds to justify my existence.  But will I?"  What a powerful, yet incredibly haunting, line.  You can hear, and feel, the very weight of the world squarely on his shoulders.  It is simply too much for one person to bear.

Justifying my existence doesn't involve running in the Olympics, but that doesn't make it feel like any less a burden.  Daily I live with the idea in my head that I am "not enough" and can never "measure up."  It is an idea that has grown in me and taken root deep in my heart and soul.  It is an idea whose roots run so deep that it is incredibly difficult to uproot them completely.  And it significantly effects the way I go about living my life; constantly pushing me to try and prove to myself, and to my world, that I am valuable.  To convince myself that what I have to contribute is important.  I don't know about you, but I constantly feel the need to prove to the world that the work that I do, the ministry I have, that the gifts I possess, are necessary and significant.  It tends to keep me running breathlessly about, and can be overwhelming and exhausting at times.

But Jesus calls me to live out of another voice altogether.  For he has given me all of the justification my life will ever need.  I am fully and freely justified in him (see Romans 3:24).  His love for me defines me.  His deep affection for me gives me my value and worth.  So I don't have to run around looking for someone or something to justify my existence; he alone does that.  He alone gives me freedom.  Freedom to be loved, and more importantly, freedom to love.  I can genuinely love his world, because I do not need anything (affirmation, attention, importance) from his world.  I think that is why the main character in Chariots of Fire (Eric Liddell), when asked why he ran, was able to beautifully answer, I run because "when I run I feel his pleasure."  May it be the same for us.

Lord Jesus, help me to live in the fullness of the freedom you have provided; the freedom from having to justify myself--my life, my existence, my work, my worth.  Thank you that justification is a free gift from you, the fruit of your love and obedience.  You have taken away my sin and have given me your righteousness.  All that you have, you give to me.  Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

be

We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do.  Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual—even on the spiritual—plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life. (The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill)


To want, to have, to do, or to be.  To which of these will the majority of my energy go today?  And which of them is really worth my energy and attention anyway.  I have a suspicion that unless all of the others (want, have, do) flow out of that deep inner place of being--particularly being with Jesus and being in Jesus--then all of them will amount to nothing of Kingdom value or Kingdom significance in the long run.  All must flow from that place where Jesus resides deep in my soul; call it dwelling, call it abiding, call it whatever you wish, but the bottom line is that it is all about being. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

thirsty

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55:1-3)



A million and one things will demand or require my attention this day.  But of all those million and one things, which ones, if any, will really matter?  Which things, in the grand scheme of eternity, will be things that will have any lasting value or impact.  And which things, at the end of the day, will simply vanish into thin air?  Which things are of true substance (bread that will satisfy)?  Which things are about God and his life and his Kingdom?  And which things are only the illusion of substance (like cotton candy)?  Which things are about me and my significance and my kingdom?  This day, why will I spend money on what is not bread and labor on what does not satisfy?  Why in the world would I do that?  Why would anyone do that?  How pointless.

Yet, evidently, there is a way of living this day that can offer real life and real substance to my starving soul.  It is the very life God is inviting me to here in Isaiah 55.  It is the invitation to come, all you who are thirsty.  I don't know about you, but I am thirsty.  My problem is that I tend to run to those same old broken wells (see Jeremiah 2:13) that can hold no water, rather than running to the well of living water in an effort to satisfy that thirst.  But here it is, right here in black and white, God invites us to come, so much so that he mentions it five times in five sentences.  Come, listen, give ear, eat what is good, feed on me, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Why would I go anywhere else? 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

a belated christmas gift


Here's a beauty that I read this morning.  Better late than never.  Glad Christmas lasts for twelve days!



Mary's Song

 Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by doves’ voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
 
Luci Shaw