Friday, June 26, 2015

beholding

     They say that the things we spend the most time beholding are the things we ultimately end up becoming in the long run.  Somehow those things that occupy our hearts and minds tend to form us in ways we are not even fully aware of.  Therefore, it seems pretty important that we be very intentional about what we are beholding on a regular basis.  To behold is much different from merely looking at something.  It involves really seeing it; seeing far beneath the surface to the very core of a thing.  I think that’s why Julian of Norwich once said: “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.”  Beholding is a spiritual practice, a discipline, a means of grace.  By beholding God we are able to see him in a way that transforms us into his image.  Therefore, we must take special care to make sure we are regularly beholding the One that we most deeply desire to become like.  That’s probably why, years ago, Marian Scheele wrote: “When the soul is occupied with looking away from present trials into the face of Christ, and making this a regular and passionate occupation, this soul will become more tranquil and still, and therefore more able to reflect the Being it adores.  This reflected glory will enable us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The only effort required is the giving up of all effort.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

finding rest

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence...(1 John 3:18-19)


I can never fully rest in Jesus if I am constantly trying to fill my soul with the affirmation and admiration of others.  It will wear me down and wear me out.  Rest only comes when I am not dancing for others anymore, not jockeying for position in their hearts and minds.  Rest only comes when, by God's grace and power, the chains are broken that bind me to the care of what others think and say, and I am able to fully attach myself (my value and my worth) to him, and him alone.  Only then can I truly rest.  And only then can I truly love.

Monday, June 8, 2015

doubt

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
     A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
     Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
     Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)


Okay, I have to admit it, I tend to give Thomas a bit of a hard time.  Every time I read this story I'm like, "Come on man!"  Thinking that maybe somehow I would not have had the same reaction.  Who am I kidding?  Maybe I have a hard time relating because my particular set of doubts don't look exactly like his.  Which can lead me to believe (wrongly, I might add) that I don't struggle with doubt.  Which is a complete joke.  Of course I do!  In fact, when I take any time at all to venture into this fragile heart of mine I quickly realize that I am filled with doubt.  My doubt, however, does not tend to be the kind that makes me wonder if there is a God, or if he is really there.  My doubt has more to do with really believing that God loves me and that I am of immense value to him.  It seems that no matter how hard I try to convince myself, I just can't become fully persuaded that it's true.  It's the old "it's not you, it's me" line.  My doubt seems to have more to do with how I feel about myself than how I feel about my God.  A wise saint once said that the most important thing you believe about God is what you think God believes about you.  That's where the major breakdown is for me.  And that sort of doubt has a significant impact on how I live my life.

Since I am filled with doubt about myself and my value it can make me pretty needy inside; constantly in search of affirmation, constantly in pursuit of achievement, constantly in need of acceptance, constantly seeking significance--all in order to somehow prove to myself and to my world that I am worth loving.  Thus, I am often filled with insecurity and anxiety, especially when things are not going according to plan.  That make me frustrated, critical, and defensive; often somehow making me see people as threats and competitors rather than as human beings deserving my love and compassion.

And though I might not feel like my doubt is the same as that of Thomas, the words Jesus speaks to Thomas speak directly to me as well.  Jim, put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  This is how much I love you.  Enough to allow all of this to be done to me.  How can you possibly question my love?  How can you possibly question your value?  Stop doubting and believe! 

Which brings up the same reply from deep within me: "My Lord, and my God!"  I believe.  And for a while all is well in my heart and life once again.  That is, until I begin to forget.  That's why I have been trying to relive this encounter several times each day--whenever doubt or fear or insecurity or anxiety or frustration begin to rear their ugly head.  And when I do, I hear my Beloved Jesus once again telling me to put your finger here, see my hands, and touch my side.  And once again his truth has set me free.

Thanks be to God for his unfailing love and relentless pursuit.  

Friday, June 5, 2015

reputation vs. reality

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. (Revelation 3:1-3)
 
 
  
A reputation is a powerful thing.  Because a reputation (good or bad) is often not reality, but only someone’s impression of reality.  And in our day and age—as well as that of the church at Sardis apparently—impression is everything.  If you can create and maintain the impression you are hoping for, then who cares what the reality is, right?  Thus, impression becomes all about reputation management.  What people think about you becomes more important than what the truth about you really is.  As long as you can keep up the charade you are good to go.


But keeping up the charade can be exhausting, and darn near impossible over time.  Eventually someone is going to find out the ugly truth.  There is always that one person in any crowd that is adept at spotting a phony.  Someone who is somehow magically or supernaturally able to see right through the fa├žade—right down to the core.  And when this happens we are horrified.  Because somehow our greatest fear—and maybe, at the same time, our deepest longing—comes true, we are exposed. 

 
That’s how the church at Sardis must’ve felt.  They had worked and worked at maintaining a good reputation, even though they knew deep in their hearts that there was no life in their souls.  And then, here comes Jesus into the midst of the pretense, calling their bluff and tearing their finely crafted costume to smithereens.  At that point they must have been in scramble mode.  I mean, what do you do?  Deny it?  Ignore it?  Avoid it?  Rationalize?  Or do you resort to attack?  What is the best strategy for damage control?  How can we spin it so that our reputation—which we have worked so hard on—still comes out intact?
    
Or maybe there is another solution.  Maybe we do exactly what Jesus is suggesting.  Maybe we admit the truth.  Maybe we come clean and stop trying to fool ourselves—and others.  Maybe we take it as a wake-up call to start living an authentic life with God.  Maybe we repent.  Maybe we change our minds, our way of thinking (as well as our direction), and begin to see everything and live everything differently.  Maybe we realize that reality is more important than reputation and we start trying to be authentic people in Christ; more concerned with how we’re loving than with what people are thinking.  Like Jesus; who made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8, KJV)
 
Most Holy God, wake me up from my soul’s deep slumber and bring my life under your complete control.  By your grace, awaken me daily to the reality of your presence within and around me.  And, by the power of your Spirit, make me responsive to your will and your direction.  Amen.
 
 
 

 

Monday, June 1, 2015

first love

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
     These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.  I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 
     Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.  Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first." (Revelation 2:1-5)
 
 
 

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’d 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.
 
 
O Lord, our God, forgive us when we run off and chase lovers other than you.  Forgive us when we have left you, or first and truest love.  Help us to repent and to return to the only true Lover of our souls.  Amen.