Thursday, December 31, 2015

new year

O God, as we come to the end of another year, help us to look back on all that has happened—both to us and in us—only as it is helpful to looking forward to all that you long to do in us and through us in the year to come.  Thank you that you long to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19).  Help us to be totally open to whatever that may be.  For your Kingdom and your glory we pray.  Amen.


The years that lie behind you, with all their struggles and pains, will in time be remembered only as the way that led to your new life.  But as long as the new life is not fully yours, your memories will continue to cause you pain.  When you keep reliving painful events of the past, you can feel victimized by them.  But there is a way of telling your story that does not create pain.  Then, also, the need to tell your story will become less pressing.  You will see that you are no longer there: the past is gone, the pain has left you, you no longer have to go back and relive it, you no longer depend on your past to identify yourself.

     There are two ways of telling your story.  One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences.  But there is another way.  You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you.  You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom.  The compulsion to tell your story is gone.  From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you.  It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God’s way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others. (The Inner Voice of Love by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

 

 
Lord God, do a new thing in me, both this day and this year.  And when you do, please give me eyes to see it and a heart to perceive—and receive—it.  Through your son Jesus, who makes all things new, I pray.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

must

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49)


Don't you love it?  Even as a child Jesus knew what his musts were; one of which was that he must be in his Father's house.  It is the season for us, once again, to take stock and consider our musts as well.  What is the life you most deeply long to live?  Or, more accurately, what is the life God most deeply desires to live in and through you?  And what are the things and who are the people and what are the practices that will lead you in the direction of that life?  After all, and you've heard me say it many times before, "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time."  As the New Year approaches, now is the time to look back and take stock of what has been fruitful in our lives, and to look ahead and consider what our musts need to be for the next leg of the journey.   What are your musts for the year ahead?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

a great prayer for the season

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
 
                                        ~Psalm 98:1-6

Thursday, December 24, 2015

christmas eve

If
you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
forever,
as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.
If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing ...

 
~St. John of the Cross

Monday, December 21, 2015

consumed

See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:15)


It is so easy at times to get completely consumed with the wilderness we find ourselves in the midst of, that we are unable to see the God who is making a way for us in the midst of it, much less the new thing he is trying to do both in and through us as a result.  I guess that's because we have a tendency to get so consumed with where we are in our own lives and journeys, so caught up in our own smaller stories, if you will, that we cannot see the larger story of God and where he is leading us and what he is doing in our lives and in our world. 

Being in the wilderness is a necessary part of the process.  The saints called it purgation.  It is the part of the journey where we empty ourselves--or God empties us--of whatever we might be full of other than God.  It is the part of the journey where we make room within us to receive whatever new thing God might want to do in us.  For if we are too full--of guilt, or shame, or fear, or anxiety, or insecurity, or even ambition--then there is no room for God to work.  Purgation makes space for illumination (the second part of the ancient dance), which then brings us to the possibility of union, the thing God desires most, both for us and from us. 

The problem is that if we end up in the wilderness for a substantial amount of time, we begin to believe that that's all there is.  We forget that there is more to the story.  We forget that this season is making a way to something, or somewhere, good and beautiful.  We forget that purgation is simply one part of a much larger dance.  In fact, we can become so consumed with the wilderness we find ourselves in the midst of that we really can't see anything else.

Therefore, it is essential to remind ourselves of, and engage in, the larger story.  When we focus on the larger story, of God and his work in our lives and our world, then it gives us perspective and hope.  Therefore, we must not get caught up--or consumed, or stuck--in the smaller story, but continually push ourselves to look beyond it.  Because God is always about a larger story, and all of our smaller stories only make sense in light of his story.

Friday, December 11, 2015

pregnant with hope

I don't know about you, but my soul groans a lot.  My soul groans when I get word of a precious baby who likely will not be in this world much longer.  I groan when I pray for a young father with a brain tumor.  I groan when I am told of marriages that are falling apart, of husbands and wives living parallel lives rather than the union they were made for.  I groan when I see friends grieve the loss of a brave and winsome young man who was so full of life and hope the days he walked on this earth.  And I groan when I take a good long look at the state of this fragile, dysfunctional heart of mine, so full of doubts and insecurities and anxiety and fear.   I groan when I wonder if it will ever be what it was intended to be, if it will ever experience the freedom and the wholeness and the life it so desperately longs for.  I groan.  Do you?  What has you groaning right now?  And how will you make the journey from groaning to hope?  That is what this season is all about.  Hope.  Hope that God will one day show up in the midst of all the groaning.  Hope that God cares for us more deeply than we could ever ask or imagine.  Hope that everything, someday, will all become what it was meant to be.  In fact a very wise saint once said, "The purpose of Advent is to make us pregnant with hope."  I really like that.  I want to be pregnant with hope.  I want to be so full of hope that I just can't contain it any longer; it simply must be birthed into my life and world.  O how I long for that day!  The day when hope bursts forth and is born in me and through me and around me.  It will come dear friends.  The day will come, the day when God will visit his people once again, as he did in that manger in Bethlehem, and bring his kingdom into this dark and hurting world; that day when he comes and sets everything right once again.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

the life you most deeply long to live

In view of the fact that all these things are to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be? Surely men of good and holy character, who live expecting and earnestly longing for the coming of the day of God. (2 Peter 3:11-12, JBP)


"In view of these things, what kind of people ought we to be?"  What a great question.  Since everything we see will one day be destroyed, what kind of life do we want Jesus to find us living when he returns?  Let your heart and mind--and soul--run with that one for a while.  What is the life you most deeply long to live?  The life that makes you the best version of who you were dreamt to be.  And notice that is says what kind of people ought we to be, rather than what kinds of things ought we to do.  It is a question aimed at our depths, not at our surface.

The first words that come to mind for me are: passionate, loving, peaceful, selfless, and diligent.  And after looking at my list I guess I could've just written down the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and been done with it.  But these are the first things that bubble to the surface of my heart and soul. 

First, I want to live passionately.  I want my passion for Jesus, and my passion for his kingdom, to be the thing that determines the content of my days and the quality of my life.  I want to live with an excitement, anticipation, and intensity about my life with him and for him, instead of living with a constant sense of frustration (which is most often directed at myself). 

Next, I want to be loving.  I want love to be the thing that compels me, the way Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 5:14.  I don't want to be motivated and controlled and compelled by a constant sense of fear, or anxiety, or insecurity, or self-centeredness.  I do not want to be self-consumed, I want to be God-consumed. 

I also want to live a life of peace, and be a person of peace.  I want to have a constant sense of harmony within myself, not disharmony or discord.  I want to be whole, and to seek wholeness in my own heart and soul, as well as in my life and in my relationships.  I do not want to be contentious, or insecure, or competitive. Instead, I want to have the same heart as Jesus, a heart that frees me to be compassionate and caring. 

And finally, I want to be diligent.  I do not want to be lethargic, or lackadaisical, or lukewarm, or passive, or lazy in my faith, in my life, in my marriage, in my family, in my vocation, or in my relationships with others.  I want to be intentional and engaged on a regular basis, and that takes work.

So how in the world can I be all of those things?  How do I become the man I long to be?  I guess I could just try real hard.  But if you are like me you've been down that road before, and it is a dead end street.  In a matter of days or weeks--or in some cases hours or minutes--you end up right where you were before: frustrated, defeated, and disheartened.  The problem is that we can't behave ourselves into holiness, we can only be captured into holiness (Watch and Wait, p 37).  Therefore, the first (and maybe only) step in the process of transformation is to be totally and completely captured by the great affection of our God, and pulled into this life of delight, rather than somehow trying to push ourselves into it through guilt or shame.  We have to make time and space to be with God, to listen to his whispers of delight, to sense the fullness of his embrace, and to be captured by the wild passion of his love.  That is how transformation happens.  That is how we become the men and women he intended us to be.  Let us take a step--no matter how small of how large--in that direction this very day. 

Lord Jesus, help me to make time and space in my life today to be captured by the power of your great affection.  For only then do I have any hope of being the man you long for me to be when you come again.  Amen.