Monday, February 22, 2016

onlooker or companion

For forty days, we follow Christ to His cross.  Are we going to follow as onlookers, or are we going to be real companions to Christ?  This is the question we should all ask ourselves. ~Mother Mary Joseph Rogers


What an incredible, and uncomfortable, question!  Am I content just to watch it all from a distance and therefore remain basically unaffected by the season once again?  Or am I willing to really enter into it?  Am I going to ask Jesus to give me the courage and the strength and the grace to be a true companion to him on this journey through death to new life?  And if so, how?


So far this season, Lord Jesus, I must confess that I have been merely an onlooker.  Allow me, for the rest of the season, to be a companion.  But I do not have the strength or the courage to do it on my own, so you will have to help me.   It will have to be you, Lord Jesus, you, Holy Spirit, doing it in me.  Lord, have mercy!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

perfect

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~Matthew 5:48


I don't know about you, but every now and then I read a verse and it has the opposite effect on me than I think it was intended to have.  This verse in Matthew is a prime example.  I think it is supposed to create this wonderful desire in me to strive to be like my Heavenly Father.  But, if I am really honest, most of the time it makes me feel deflated, defeated, and hopeless.  Why is that? 

I think it might be because my definition of the word is so skewed and flawed.  Most of the time, when I think about the word perfect, I tend to define it as being without flaw, which makes me feel like it is something unattainable, impossible, and beyond my reach.  So when I hear Jesus saying, "You must be without flaw, as I am without flaw," it feels depressing, frustrating, and a little oppressive, which is not at all the way I think Jesus intended it to feel.  I think he meant it, and said it, in a much more positive, hopeful, inspiring way.

Which made me start to think that maybe my definition of the word perfect was the problem.  Maybe I had a flawed definition to begin with.  So I decided to look it up.  As it turns out, the forth definition on the list (dictionary.com) was indeed without flaw, but the first three were much more positive and hopeful, defining the word as the state of something becoming what it was intended to be.  Which is further supported by the Greek word that is used in Matthew (teleios) that means to be complete or whole; to be brought to its intended end or purpose.  Now that's a definition that I can embrace, one that creates some really good momentum in me.  It is a definition that pulls me toward change rather than trying to push me into it.  And I discovered long ago that pull (love, affection, longing, desire) has always produced much more long term transformation in me than push (ought, fear, guilt, shame) ever has.  Not saying that both aren't necessary, because they are, but one (pull) has definitely been much more fruitful in my life.  When I hear Jesus say, "Be all that I intended you to be," it does something very good in me.  It creates some positive energy toward living a quality of life (both with him and for him) that I most deeply long for.

So I think Eugene Peterson may have been on to something when he translated this verse in Matthew: "In a word, what I'm saying is Grow Up.  You're kingdom subjects.  Now live like it.  Live out your God-created identity.  Live graciously and generously toward others the way God lives toward you." (Matthew 5:48, The Message)

Lord Jesus, continue to capture my heart with your great affection.  Continue to transform me into that beautiful image you imagined for me long ago, before the foundations of the world.  Continue to make me more and more gracious and generous with each passing day.  Continue to make me more like you.  Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

emptying

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  ~Jonah 2:8 (NIV, 1984 edition)

Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32:22-32).  And for some reason that seems to fit the season for me.  Wrestling with God seems like a very Lenten thing to do.  It feels like the season in which God would get his hands on us, and we would get our hands on him, and in the process he would strip away all of the old and false that we are clinging to and replace it with the new and the true.  Thus dying to our old names and our old identities in order that we might receive new ones.  A death that leads to new life.

Jonah (Jonah 1:17-2:10) wrestled too, but his wrestling with God looked much different.  He wrestled with God's plan and God's call and God's direction, so much so that he ran away; only to be swallowed by a great fish, in the belly of which he spent three long days and nights.  Talk about wrestling!  Can you imagine what all was going on in his heart and mind, and soul, during those three days?  What in the world was God trying to accomplish in him?  My best guess is that God was trying to empty him: empty him of plans, empty him of agendas, empty him of resistance, empty him of attitude, and mostly to empty him of self.  Because that is one thing Jonah was completely full of.  And when you are so full of yourself you are not much use to God.  He has to take you to the depths.  He has to take you to the end of yourself.  He has to empty you.  He has to take you to a place of extreme brokenness and of total surrender.

Jonah was clinging to worthless idols.  In fact, he was clinging to them so tightly that his fists were clenched around them.  And one of the major movements necessary in this life with God is the movement from clenched fists to open hands.  When we cling to worthless idols, be they agendas or attitudes or anxieties or whatever, we forfeit the grace that could be ours.  What a tragedy!  What a shame that we will not let go or that which is worthless so that we might be given that which is priceless. 

During this season of Lent, may God empty our full hands in order that we might receive his abundant grace.  Lord, have mercy.

Friday, February 12, 2016

wrestling

I have a suspicion that at least part of what needs to happen within me during Lent has something to do with God wrestling away the old in me in order to make way for the new.  It's almost like I am stuck in a decaying orbit and have no hope of breaking free from the gravitational pull that keeps me bound, unless I am liberated by Someone much larger than myself.  Someone who can set me free from my old ways of being and of seeing, in order that I might live my life more fully the way He intended (and desperately desires) me to live.  The problem is that the way to this new life of freedom and wholeness leads through a wrestling that is likely to leave me, as it did Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32), wounded and broken first.  Yet that path seems the only way to the new life and the new (true) identity I most desperately long for.  Thus, this wrestling cannot be avoided, or bypassed. 

Thomas Merton said it so well when he said that: "Only this inner rending, the tearing of the heart, brings this joy.  It lets out our sins, and lets in the clean air of God's spring, the sunlight of the days that advance toward Easter.  Rending of garments lets in nothing but the cold.  The rending of heart is that tearing away from ourselves and our vetustas--the oldness of the old man, wearied with the boredom and drudgery of an indifferent existence, that we may turn to God and taste His mercy, in the liberty of His sons."  There is a wounding in this wrestling that is intended to make way for the new to be born.  So the wrestling, albeit frightening and uncomfortable, is a glorious necessity in the process of being made whole.  I cannot do it on my own (heaven knows I've tried), only God can give me the power to break free from the old and the tired, and step into the new and the fresh.

The tricky part is that we, like Jacob, don't always recognize right off the bat that we're actually wrestling with God.  Jacob just thought, at first, he was wrestling with a man.  It wasn't until later, new name and all, that he finally realized that it was indeed God with whom he was wrestling.  The same is true for me.  At times I think I am wrestling with my anxieties or my insecurity, or that I am wrestling with a person with whom I am in conflict.  At times I think I am wrestling with my circumstances or my church or my spouse or my vocation.  At times I think I am wrestling with motivation or frustration or discontent.  But if I look closely at each one of those, I will recognize that the man behind the curtain, the one I'm really wrestling with, is God.  And once I realize this, it changes everything.  I am able to see that this wrestling is not only about my death, but is also about my life.  It is not my circumstances or my relationships or the people in my world that need to change, it is me.  God is wrestling with me, trying to accomplish something deep in my soul.  Something that will change everything about me, the same way it did with Jacob. 

O God, give me eyes to see that it is You.  It is You that I'm wrestling with and not the face, or the circumstance, that is before me at the moment.  And it is You that is wrestling with me; trying to strip away all of that old man, trying to keep me from living out of those old (false) names and patterns that I tend to live out ofIn order that I might receive the beautiful new name that You long for me to know myself by and to live out of.  Thanks be to You.

must

     And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
     And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:21-25)


"If anyone would come after me he must deny himself (as I did), he must take up his cross daily (as I did), and he must follow me.  It is part of the Paschal Mystery; you must be buried with me in order to rise with me to new life.  If I must die to be raised, so must you." ~Jesus


Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. ~C. S. Lewis


Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast.  It cannot be otherwise, as it forms part of the great Easter cycle.
     The Paschal Mystery is above all the mystery of life, in which the Church, by celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ, enters into the Kingdom of Life which He has established once for all by His definitive victory over sin and death. ~Thomas Merton

Sunday, February 7, 2016

the end

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai carrying the two Tablets of The Testimony, he didn’t know that the skin of his face glowed because he had been speaking with God. Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, saw his radiant face, and held back, afraid to get close to him.
     Moses called out to them. Aaron and the leaders in the community came back and Moses talked with them. Later all the Israelites came up to him and he passed on the commands, everything that God had told him on Mount Sinai.
     When Moses finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face, but when he went into the presence of God to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. When he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they would see Moses’ face, its skin glowing, and then he would again put the veil on his face until he went back in to speak with God. (Exodus 34:29-35)


I don't begin to know all of the reasons Moses covered his face with a veil after he spoke God's words to the people of Israel (there are a few hints in 2 Corinthians 3), but something deep within me really loves the fact that he did.  The very worst parts of me, if I were Moses, would want the people to see the radiance as long as it lasted, so they might think more highly of me as a result.  "Oh, there's the guy that talks with God face to face.  Look at him!  Wow, he must be pretty special.  I wish I had a relationship with God like that."  I mean, it wouldn't be the first time I'd used some sweet gift God had given me just to get people to think more highly of me than they ought. 

The best parts of me, on the other hand, love the beauty of Moses not wanting the people to see his shining face.  After all, it wasn't for them.  It was something that was the direct result of the intimacy that Moses had experienced with God on the mountain.  And intimacy, by its very nature, is something that is spoiled when it is broadcast.  Some things just aren't meant to be shared, they are meant to be savored and cherished.  That's what intimacy is all about.  So Moses put a veil over his face, almost as if to say, "This radiance is not for you.  It is for me.  It is the sweet result of an unspeakably intimate relationship forged on the mountaintop as God and I shared indescribably beautiful moments together."  I mean, God obviously had specific things he wanted Moses to share with the people of Israel when he came down from the mountain.  In fact, he was carrying those things on the stone tablets in his arms.  But there was also a part of the experience that was just for Moses, and Moses knew that.  Therefore, he put the veil over his face when he was with the people, almost as if to savor the sweetness of the time he had spent with God. 

Moses knew that God was not just a means to an end, but he was the end itself.  C. S. Lewis once said that if we are approaching God as a means to and end, we are really not approaching God at all.  Moses obviously knew this.  He wasn't using God to further his own reputation or standing or position or ministry.  He wasn't using him to gain admirers.  He wasn't approaching God just so God might give him something to say that might wow all who heard.  He wasn't just approaching God so that God would give him something to make an impact on the lives of those around us.  That is the great temptation of ministry.  He was approaching God simply because He was God, and the rest would take care of itself.  I pray that I might be able to do the same.