Saturday, February 28, 2015

plough, soil, and seed

I loved this and just wanted to pass it along.  If feels very appropriate for the season:

     I love the plough that opens up the earth, lays bare the soil where seed can fall.  It matters little that the widening wound of earth still hesitates, uncertain of the nutrients it has to offer falling seed.  The seed is sown, the wound of earth closed up again.  The broken soil becomes a womb, a sheltering tomb of life protecting what must die to live.  We wait then for signs of life: the stem, the leaf, the bud, the fruit or vegetable to wend its way from dark to light.  The image of the plough opening the soil to welcome seed offers us a metaphor for the human heart.  The heart too must be prepared, readied to receive its daily seed.  No more looking back!
     I love the Word of God that pierces the human heart, lays bare the soul where seed can fall.  The sower's passion invites the heart to receptivity.  The sower looks not back to see if the heart is worthy.  Sower and plough become one.  With contemplative awareness they trust the widening wound of the opening heart.  This laying bare the heart's good soil is a moment of readiness.  She or he who receives the seed of the Word of God receives also the silence of the Word and waits to be transformed.  No more looking back!
     I love the disciple who allows the heart to be pierced.  Obedient to the piercing Word and broken heart, the disciple learns to wait, trusting the Word to die and live within the heart's good soil.  The disciple's heart becomes a sheltering womb and tomb for what must die to live.  I love the one who is transformed into a disciple by surrendering to the Word of God.  Rooted in obedience to the Word, there is no more looking back! (Abide by Macrina Wiederkehr)



By the way, Abide by Macrina Wiederkehr is a really good book!  Just sayin'.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

returning to our first love

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
     “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.  I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.  But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.  If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.  Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’" (Revelation 2:1-7)



It is amazing how easily love can turn into duty if we are not careful to keep the fires of romance alive deep in our hearts.  Not that duty is a bad thing mind you, but if that’s all we’ve got, it is far from the passionate love that is what our hearts most deeply long for in relationship; particularly in our relationship with God.

I wonder if that’s what happened to the church at Ephesus?  I wonder if over time their relationship with God had turned from loving romance to routine duty.  I wonder where, when, and why they just started going through the motions rather than allowing themselves to be seized by the power of the Great Affection.  Don’t get me wrong, duty is very definitely a significant part of the commitment of love, but if our affections are not engaged as well, it will quickly digress into something not resembling love at all.
    
It seems like that’s what God was asking of the church at Ephesus.  He wanted not only their actions, but their affections.  He wanted their hearts, not just their behavior.  For he knew if he had their hearts, their behavior would follow.  He wanted the attention and affection and passion and intensity with them that he had “at first.”  He wanted them to return to the days when all they could do was think about him and long for him and yearn to be with him in an intimate embrace.  So he called upon them to repent—which does not seem like a particularly romantic word, but is—and return to their Lover of their souls, who continually longs for intimate union with his creation.

Friday, February 20, 2015

turn up the heat

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.
     “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.  Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:14-22)



I'll have to admit that when I think of classic Lenten passages I do not typically think of the book of Revelation, but this particular passage hit me right in my Lenten sweet spot--whatever that is.  I think that's because as the season of Lent has rolled around this year it has felt more like a beautiful invitation rather than a hard obligation.  Maybe it should feel that way every year, but, sadly, that has not always been my experience.  But this year Lent has felt more like an invitation to "wake up" spiritually and set aside those things that keep me sleepy in my spiritual life and practice.  It feels like an invitation to come alive, to sharpen, to deepen, to turn up the heat of my inner fires, to encounter Jesus in an intimate way.  And I like that a lot.  

That's actually what this letter to the church in Laodicea is all about.  They had allowed their wealth and prosperity to lull them to sleep spiritually.  Or, to use the metaphor the letter itself uses, they had become lukewarm.  And lukewarm-ness is a trait that God doesn't care for at all.  Come to think of it, nobody cares for it.  Because being lukewarm just wreaks of apathy.  It has no backbone to it, no commitment, no passion, no zeal.  Which is one of the things God asks them to become--zealous.  The word zealous in the Greek is zēloō, which means "to boil."  God longs for their hearts to boil with love for him.  In other words, God is telling them to turn up the heat of their affection for him; be lukewarm no longer.

The image of stove comes to mind immediately.  God is saying, "Right now your passion and desire for me is about a four or five (out of ten).  Is that good enough for you?  Because it is not good enough for me.  I didn't create you to be just a four or five; turn up the heat.  I want more for you and I want more from you--don't settle for less."  I think that's why I love this invitation.  God wants my inner life to boil with affection and desire for him. 

The reality is that we all boil inside for something.  There is something in our lives that is getting our passion.  It might be work, it might be family, it might be a significant relationship, it might be wealth (like it was for the Laodiceans), or it might even be ministry.  Something is on the front burner of our lives, receiving all of the heat of our passions and desires that only God deserves.  Lent is the season when we are given an opportunity to figure that out, and to return (repent) him to his rightful place on the front burner of our lives.

The way we do that is by simply opening the door to him, the One who knocks and knocks.  To open our hearts and souls and invite him into our days and our lives to spend intimate time with us around the table of our hearts, feasting on the Bread of Life.  He will not intrude, he will wait (and knock) until space has been made, and the door has been opened, and he has been welcomed in.  Lent is that season when we make space and time for him. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

demandingness

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
     Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4: 5-7)
 
 
 
I believe that the second temptation that confronted Jesus in the desert was about what could be called demandingness.  You see, the Israelites had put the Lord their God to the test at Massah (Exodus 17:3); and not in a positive way I might add.  In fact, the way they put him to the test at Massah is referred to numerous times in the scriptures as something not to do.  They were thirsty and demanded that God provide for them.  And not only did they demand it, but they also quarreled and tested and grumbled.  It was not a pretty sight.  They had a particular idea for how (and when) God should show up for them, and they didn't mind telling him about it.  In fact, God disliked their attitude so much that he actually named the place where this occurred Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling), so that anytime the encounter was remembered, this particular attitude would be on display (Exodus 17:7).  It seems that a spirit of demandingness and manipulation is something that God doesn't take kindly to. 
 
So what in the world does that have to do with the second temptation presented to Jesus in the desert?  Well, it would seem that the root of what the devil was trying to tempt Jesus to do is to demand that God act a certain way on his behalf.  "Throw yourself off the temple and force God's hand," he seems to be saying.  "Make him operate by your agenda.  Force him to intervene on your behalf."  But once again, Jesus knew better.  "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test," he replied, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.  But he didn't finish the quote, which states, "...as you did at Massah."  That is, when you quarreled and tested and grumbled.  Jesus obviously knew God's heart.  He knew that an attitude of demandingness and manipulation were two things that God would not stand for.  So Jesus would have none of it.  He entrusted himself completely to God's care and God's agenda.

How does this temptation play out for us?  Good question.  As a matter of fact, it likely plays out a little differently for each of us.  In order to see the way it plays out for you, ask yourself, "What do I do when things don't go my way?  What do I do when I experience suffering, pain, or disappointment?  How do I deal with it?  What does it do in me?  Do I get angry, or blame, or accuse?  Do I try harder, or perform, or try to butter God up?  Or do I quarrel and test and grumble?"  I don't know about you, but I tend to do all of the above.  All in a feeble attempt to get my way, to get God to act the way I want him to.  And when our feelings are hurt, or our demands are unmet, or we are disappointed that things aren't going the way we had dreamed or planned or hoped, we immediately ask why.  We immediately accuse God of mismanagement.  We begin to doubt the goodness of God's heart.  Which, in turn, causes us to turn on him just like the Israelites did.  We grumble and complain and quarrel, or we sulk and whine and pout.  We withdraw.  We distance ourselves from God.  Oh it can be very subtle, but it is still there.  And it can even appear to us as if God is the one who is absent, but we are in fact the ones who have moved.  And until the root issues of our disappointment are identified, exposed, and wrestled with, there can never be any hope for the intimacy with God that we most deeply long for.

So help us Lord Jesus.  Help us to see this temptation for what it is.  Help us to be attentive to all of the ways we are tempted to believe that you do not really care for us.  Help us to recognize the ways in which we are demanding and manipulative of you.  Give us the grace and the strength and the wisdom to respond to these temptations as you did.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.
 
 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

feed on me

     Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”~Matthew 4:1-4



Yesterday, my reading for the day was about the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  I've always thought this passage was pretty significant because of what it has to tell me about when and where and how the enemy might choose to attack me as well.  So, as I read it once again yesterday, I wanted to pay close attention to what God had to say to me through it. 

And I'll have to admit right from the start that I always thought it was a bit curious that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted to begin with.  I don't even pretend to know all of what God was up to during those forty days, but it does at least give me some confidence that he was definitely up to something.  And oftentimes I need that confidence, especially when I am in the very midst of hard or trying circumstances myself.  Especially when I am in the midst of desert-like experiences.  I need to be reminded constantly that God always has intention and is always about accomplishing his purposes, both in me and through me.   And it is quite possible that those purposes can be accomplished in no other way.  Obviously Jesus knew this, and trusted in the Spirit's leading.

It is also worth noting that the temptation came at the end of the forty days of desert fasting; the time when Jesus (humanly speaking) was the most vulnerable.  The time when he was the most needy, if that's even a word we can use of Jesus.  The time when he was the most hungry.  Thus, those are the very times when we  really need to be "on our toes," because those are the times when the enemy is most likely to come whispering to us as well.

And look at the approach.  "If you really are the Son of God..."  Trying from the very outset to stir up doubt about identity and belonging, mission and calling, and the heart of a Father who would send his children to a place such as this.  The enemy knows that if he can cause us to doubt the goodness of God's heart, or the goodness of our own position in the heavenly family, and if he can make us question the Father's enormous affection for us, then he has a foothold toward us beginning to believe his lies and his deception.  

"If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."  Or, in others words, "Make something food that was never intended to be food.  Take matters into your own hands.  Feed yourself.  Be self-sufficient.  After all, you're hungry.  You've got a right to care for your own needs."  It is a familiar mindset in our world.  One that is even applauded and held up as an inspiration and an example of character and strength. 

But Jesus knew better.  “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” he replied.  And a beautiful reply it is.  As a matter of fact, I'm not sure I fully understood the true temptation until I heard his response.  "I will feed on nothing, or no one, other than God.  It is on him alone that I will feed."  Bulls eye!  Direct hit!  Right to the heart.  Because I tend to feed on so many things other than Jesus.  I feed on affirmation.  I feed on achievement.  I feed on attention.  I feed on applause.  I feed on reputation.  The list goes on and on.  God desires me to feed only on him, for then, and only then, will I be able to love those he has called me to love without feeding on them.  Therefore, when I am hungry in the depths of my soul.  When I am starving to be loved, or cared for, or noticed, or affirmed, I really need to be careful because the enemy is very subtle.  And before I know it, I will stop feeding on Jesus and start feeding on the very people Jesus has called me to feed.  And the kicker is that I might never know the difference until it's almost too late; until my soul is near death, until I am starving for the bread I was truly created to eat (see John 6:48-51), and until those that I have been called to feed have been devoured and have also devoured me in the process; in one gigantic dysfunctional feeding frenzy.

O Lord Jesus, Bread of Life, help me to feed on you and you alone.  For man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.