Thursday, March 26, 2015

i choose you

If you knew me at all, you would know that I am the last person on earth that thinks he is qualified to give marriage advice--and that is not what this is by the way.  I am, however, blessed with an incredible wife and a wonderful marriage (33 years in August), but very little of that has anything to do with me.  My recipe for a great marriage involves a wonderful wife and tons of God's grace. 

I have begun to notice something about relationships recently though.  It is something I have seen for years in myself, and have recently begun to notice it in the lives of the people I love as well.  And it has to do with what goes on in our hearts and souls when relationships function, and don't function, the way they were designed to.  What I have noticed is that in any relationship--particularly marriage--there are two options that we face regularly as we attempt, by God's grace, to love each other.  The first option is that I can choose me.  And the second is that I can choose you.  It's really pretty simple.  Years ago a wise man said that, at all times and in all places, we can either choose to minister to people or to manipulate them.  It's kind of the same thing that I'm talking about here.

In any situation or interaction in my marriage (or significant relationship) I can either choose myself, or choose my wife.  And one would think that after these 30+ years I would have figured out that when I choose me (my agenda, my way, my comfort, my ease, my will) it almost always turns out badly.  Because when I choose me, rather than choosing her, it does something deep in her heart and soul, something that I can never completely undo.  It cuts into her and how she was designed and leaves a bit of a mark or a scar.  It is almost as if when I choose me in our relationship something dies inside of her, something that I cannot fully resurrect or heal.  Oh it might be a small thing, and it might be a little "dying," but still something does indeed die within her.  And that is a tragic thing.  Why in the world would I ever want to do that to the person I love more than anyone in this world?  The person that scripture tells me that I have become one with.  The person that God has given me to take care of her heart and to present her without mark or blemish back to him. 

The reason that something dies deep inside of her when I choose me is that deep in her heart and soul there is a burning desire to be chosen.  It is how she was made.  It is just woven into the fabric of her being.  In fact, one of the deepest questions of her heart is, "Am I worth (beautiful enough, captivating enough, alluring enough) being chosen?"  And when I, even in a very small way, choose me instead of choosing her, it cuts her to the bone.  It tears at that image of God that is fashioned deep within her.  It tears at her identity the same way the question, "Do I have what it takes to love you?" tears at mine. 

And the really sad part is that once the damage has been done, it cannot be taken back.  You have probably seen it as well as I have...You are in the midst of some discussion or debate or argument and the next thing you know you choose yourself instead of choosing to love her; and you can immediately see it in her eyes.  There is a deep pain.  A significant wound.  The slow dying of a soul and spirit.  And it cannot be taken back.  It is like toothpaste that has been squeezed out of the tube.  There is now a permanent mark, a scar, on the heart of the one you love the most.  And you are the  one that left it there.

The good news is that the opposite is also true.  When I chose her, instead of choosing me, it brings something beautiful to life within her.  Her eyes light up.  Her soul leaps within her.  She is like a flower coming into full bloom.  Beauty begins to radiate forth from her.  That is what being chosen was meant to do--bring her to life.  But why is it so hard to remember that, and even harder to choose that, in the heat of the moment?  Most likely that has to do with perspective.  Maybe if I could step back and keep the bigger picture in my heart and mind--the one where I was given this tender, vulnerable, beautiful heart to nurture and treasure and take care of and then present back to God unmarked and unblemished--then maybe I would have enough wisdom to know the power I hold in my hands (or more accurately with my words) to bring life to the heart and soul of the one I love most deeply.  Then, just maybe, as the bullets are flying and chaos is reigning, I will have the grace to step back and hear the voice of God within me, reminding me to say to her, "I choose you."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

in

God wants us to live in him.  It's as simple as that.  The main thing God wants both for us and from us is intimate union with himself.  It's all over the pages of scripture; look no further than the upper room discourse (chapters 14-17 of John) to see exactly what I'm talking about:

Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me..." (John 14:10-11)

Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:4)

Now remain in my love. (John 15:9)

...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21-23)

As Thomas Merton so beautifully pointed out in Thoughts in Solitude, God's desire is not that we live merely for him, or even with him, but to live in him.  That is the kind of relationship he most desires with each of us.  Anything short of that is settling for less than what God created us for.  So let us not stop short of God's deepest desire.  Let us always press on to live our lives in him.  Let us live in loving, intimate union with he who made us for himself.  Let us live in the abundance of his great affection.  After all, that's what union with him is really all about.


Friday, March 13, 2015

ease

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)


It's amazing how addicted I've become to ease.  And it's even more amazing how that addiction doesn't seem to alarm me the way it should.  Maybe that's why this reminder from Matthew is so helpful.  It reminds me that if ease is my number one goal and pursuit--be it in my marriage, or my friendships, or my job, or my parenting, or my ministry, or even in my spiritual journey--then I are heading toward destruction.  Oh maybe not destruction in the "eternal destination" sense of the word (after all, I've entered by the narrow gate, right?  Now I must choose to walk in the hard way), but destruction of all the things I hold most near and dear.  The bottom line is that choosing the easy way tends to lead to destruction, or, at the very least, disintegration.  Be it destruction of my marriage, or my friendships, or my community, or even my very soul.  If I am constantly choosing the easy way then I am never pressing past what is easiest onto what is best.  And what is best is seldom easy, but almost always hard, or at least much harder. 

Why do I tend to settle for what is easiest rather than pursuing what is best?  Why do I continually settle for less than all God has for me and all he desires me to become?  For it is the hard way that leads to life.  It is the choice to constantly be engaging others rather than sitting back.  It is the choice to constantly be moving toward those in my life and world rather than retreating in fear or apathy.  It is the choice to drop the mask and come out of hiding rather than continuing to pretend and act and perform.  It is the choice to continually be vulnerable, genuine, and honest rather than to opt for shallowness, fearfulness, and self-protection.  It is the choice to continually be willing to risk rather than playing it safe.  The choice to continually love rather than manipulate.  All of this is hard.  Yet it is the hard way that leads to life.  So the choice I have before me today is to choose one or the other--the easy way or the hard way.  And although the easy way might seem more attractive in the short run, it is hardly ever the best way in the grand scheme of eternity.  Today, let us take the road less traveled.  Let us enter by the narrow gate.  Let us walk the harder, but way better, way.  It is the way of Jesus.  It is the way to Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.



Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet him, than one,
that traveleth byways.
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand and more,
May strengthen my decays.
(Lent by George Hebert)



O Thou, Far off and here, whole and broken,
Who in necessity and in bounty wait,
Whose truth is light and dark, mute though spoken,
By Thy wide grace show me Thy narrow gate.
~To the Holy Spirit by Wendell Berry

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

willing

     When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.  A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
     Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:1-3)



     “Lord, if you are willing….”  Does that phrase sound familiar to you?  It certainly does to me.  I’m glad to see that I am not the only who prays it.  “Lord, if you are willing, you can take this difficult circumstance away.  Lord, if you are willing you can heal this cancer.  Lord, if you are willing you can reconcile this broken relationship.  Lord, if you are willing, you can help me find the right job.  Lord, if you are willing, you can provide for our financial needs.  Lord, if you are willing, you can bring back my wayward child.”  The list is endless, it seems.
     And the answer we get often seems to be different than the one given to the leprous man.  But what we always need to remember is that Jesus is willing.  Oh maybe he is not always willing give us what we think we need (or want) at any given moment, but he is always willing to give us himself—which is ultimately what we want the most anyway.  Even if he is not willing to “take this cup from us” whatever this cup may be, it is only because he has learned firsthand that ultimately God’s will is the one most likely to move us in the direction of who he wants us to become and who he wants us to understand him to be.  He is always willing to form us more and more into his image—which is exactly what we were created for.  He is always willing to draw near to us when we are brokenhearted.  He is always willing to work out what is most in line with his glory, and our ultimate benefit in the long run (see Romans 8:28).  And he is always willing to give us his love, which more than we could ever ask for or dream about, but which might come in a rather painful disguise from time to time.  He is willing.
 
 
Lord Jesus, thank you that you just couldn’t stay away.  Thank you that when you saw our plight and our struggle you came to walk among us.  Thank you that when you saw our desperation and our pain and our need that you couldn’t keep your hands to yourself.  Thank you that you were—and still are—willing.  Touch us in our places of deepest need.  In your name and for your glory.  Amen.    

Monday, March 2, 2015

unwilling

But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. (Ezekiel 3:7)


     The journey through Lent is a difficult one.  It involves coming face to face with things we would rather not see, and hearing truths we would rather not hear.  It is like someone showing us a picture of ourselves that is exceedingly unflattering; and, unfortunately, there is no delete button to hit so we can wipe it all away.
     I don’t know about you, but I am not usually good at hearing the hard truth about myself.  In fact, I go to great lengths to avoid it, and to try to make sure that no one will be able to uncover it either.  Sometimes I do this by going on offense; spending my time and energy making my case, trying to convince myself and my world that the truth about me is not so ugly after all.  And sometimes I do this by going on defense; trying to avoid or escape or deny the truth by rationalizing, comparing, medicating, or running away into extreme activity or busyness.  One of my “go to” strategies when I have hard, unpleasant truth about myself that I need to face is to race off into my world to manipulate affirmation out of anyone and everyone I meet.  It is pathetic really.
     But God loves us much too much to allow us to get away with that for long.  At some point he comes into our lives—or world—and speaks with such clarity that the truth simply becomes unavoidable.  But God’s intent in this process is always love, making us into the people he dreamt for us to be.  Anything less that his creation intent for us will not do.  So he comes and he speaks.  And if we are wise and courageous, we listen and heed.  Because the hard things that he might have to say always lead us to what we most deeply desire—freedom, joy, and peace.  And the very taste of those things will be as sweet as honey in our mouths.  Thanks be to God!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

a stormy God

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. (Psalm 29:5)


If I approach Lent with a genuine desire to follow Jesus into the wilderness, it will be a season in which God's voice may break some of the cedars in my own backyard.  It will be a season of storms, some of which God will protect me from, some of which God will provoke--and in all of that, God will be present. ~Lauren Winner (taken from God for Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter)