Thursday, July 28, 2016

through

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. (Psalm 77:19)

I am becoming more and more convinced that the way to growth, particularly in the spiritual life, always involves going through rather than around.  The spiritual journey is not an easy one.  It is not for the faint of heart.  It requires that we be willing to face, and walk through, all of our stuff.  In order for us to grow, our mess cannot be avoided or denied.  As a wise saint once said, "There is no way out, only through."  That is how God forms his life in us, by leading us through.  It requires absolute trust and total surrender.  It requires us to face our own struggle and pain and sorrow and shame, rather than simply ignoring it or running away from it.

Take shame for example.  It is a theme that has been popping up in my life pretty regularly for the last few weeks.  And I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I have learned through the years to pay attention to repetition.  Whenever something continues to pop up in my life, especially when it comes from several different sources, I can usually conclude that God is trying to tell me something.  And in this case he was trying to tell me that shame was a significant issue in my heart and soul.  That probably doesn't sound like a big surprise to you, but it actually was to me.  Don't get me wrong, I knew that I had significant issues, most of which revolved around my desperate need to derive my worth and value from my life and my work and my world.  My sense of constantly living with the name Not Enough.  If you've heard me speak or been reading this blog for long, all of that is not new news.  What is new is that I had never labeled any of that shame before.  But that's exactly what it was. 

And when someone is in shame their first priority becomes, "How do I get out of shame?"  Which is where the whole idea of moving through came into play.  Because shame is not something I need to escape, but something I need to embrace and move through.  It is not something that only needs to be healed, but something that needs to be transformed.  And the only path to genuine transformation is through.  I must be willing to enter, shame and all, into the cocoon of contemplation, so that God can get his hands on it and transform it into something much more beautiful and life-giving--empathy.  Love is the only true remedy for shame, and contemplation is the place where love is born within me.  In contemplation, God is able to get his hands on me, to draw me into his passionate embrace, and to whisper his words of deep affection in my ears so that shame loosens its grip on me and love takes hold of my heart and soul and life.  Then and only then will I be free of shame and able to offer that same love--and empathy--to those in my life and my world.  Who could imagine?  God actually wants to convert my shame into love.  Only God could do that.  Only God is big enough to take something so ugly and so hurtful and turn it into something so beautiful.  All we have to do is be willing to go through.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

our father

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

     “Father, hallowed be your name.
     Your kingdom come.
     Give us each day our daily bread,
     and forgive us our sins,
     for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
     And lead us not into temptation.”

     And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1-13)



It is interesting that Jesus begins and ends this little instructional session on prayer with the image of God as our Father.  Obviously he is trying to help mold and shape both our thinking and our practice.  In fact, one always affects the other.  What we truly believe will always determine our practice; and our practice, in turn, will always impact what we genuinely believe to be true about God.  It is a continual loop.
     Therefore, Jesus is trying to firmly establish the idea of the Fatherhood and the Father-love of God deep in our hearts, minds, and souls.  Because this one image determines, to a large degree, how we see and relate to God.  He calls on fathers to consider how they feel about their own children, and to use that as a frame of reference for how God truly feels about all of us. 
     The way you feel about your own children—your deep love and affection for them, what you truly desire for them, and how you care for them—is only just beginning to scratch the surface of how your Heavenly Father, your Abba, feels about you.  Your desire for them to be joyful and free and prosperous and happy and free from shame is just the beginning of what I desire for you.  I am your Abba.  I love you immensely.  I care about every little thing that happens to you, every little detail of your life.  Live in my love.  Prayer is one of the main ways you can do that.  When you pray to me as Abba it helps you come to see me as your loving Father.  A Father who longs for you to be whole and peaceful and true to who you really are, who you were created to be.  A Father who longs to see you being fruitful and giving and loving the way I am.  A Father who longs for you to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are deeply, unconditionally, and eternally loved.  I love you.  You are my beloved and with you I am well-pleased. 




Lord Jesus, reveal to us the Father.  Let His name, His infinite Father-love, the love with which He loved Thee, according to Thy prayer, be in us.  Then shall we say aright, “Our Father!”  Then shall we apprehend Thy teaching and the first spontaneous breathing of our heart will be: “Our Father, Thy Name, Thy Kingdom, Thy Will.”  And we shall bring our own needs and our sins and our temptations to Him in the confidence that the love of such a Father cares for all.  Blessed Lord, we are Thy scholars, we trust Thee; do teach us to pray, “Our Father.”  Amen. (With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray)



Saturday, July 23, 2016

the sign of jonah

apparently
three days and nights
in the darkness
are required
before we are able
to come fully
into the light

we can’t avoid
the belly of the beast
or the darkness of the tomb
in this journey
of transformation

we must be swallowed
and taken to the depths
of our own inner darkness
before there can be
any real possibility
of being spit out
on some new shore

death is required
before resurrection
can take place
that is what
the sign of jonah
is all about

(Matthew 12:38-40)

Friday, July 15, 2016

shame

Then Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched out his hand and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. (Matthew 12:13)


He had hidden it for most of his life, from the day he first saw the expressions and heard the whispers of those around him.  And now it was just a source of shame and embarrassment.  As long as he could keep it from others, keep them from seeing and knowing, everything would be okay.  But always keeping it hidden was an exhausting and terrifying process.  That’s why he was so horrified on that fateful day when Jesus came along and called out to him, “Stretch out your hand.”  It was his worst nightmare come to life.  There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.  This was the moment when he had to bring it out of hiding.  This was the moment of truth when he had to put himself out there, completely exposed and vulnerable, and see everyone’s response to that ugly secret he had tried to keep hidden his entire life.

Jesus knew.  Jesus knew him.  Jesus knew his pain.  Jesus knew his fear.  And Jesus knew his shame.  Jesus knew that putting yourself out there can be a terrifying experience, but he also knew that it was much better than the alternative.  Shame lives and grows and thrives in the dark, silent, and hidden places of our lives—completely poisoning our souls with thoughts of unworthiness and unlovability.  It divides and isolates and defeats.  It is not until we expose our shame to the light, and bring it out into the open, that healing and wholeness and restoration can even become a possibility.  Once our shame is brought out into the open it loses its power over us and healing can begin.  Where has shame taken up residence deep in your heart these days?  How does it affect your life?  Where and how is Jesus asking you to stretch out your hand today?

Lord Jesus, thank you that you call us out of hiding and into your loving and healing presence.  Give us the courage this day to stretch out our hand, whatever that may mean.  Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

wounded

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away.  But after someone has carefully tended to our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others.
     When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing.  Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters. (Bread for the Journey by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

We are wounded people, in dire need of healing.  If you don’t believe it, just read the morning paper.  And unfortunately, in lieu of healing, our tendency is to shove our wounds into each other’s faces, demanding that they be noticed and paid attention to.  Or we try to inflict wounds upon others in anger, frustration, or retaliation.  Neither of these actions, however, get us the end result we are hoping for.  We must take our wounds to God first, only then can we have any hope of the healing and the wholeness we most deeply long for.  Only then can we be the agents of healing and wholeness to a wounded and broken world.


O Lord, we are wounded people.  We are a people in need of healing and wholeness and peace.  Unless you heal our wounds, O Lord, we have no hope.  Heal our land, O God, that we might choose love and kindness over violence, anger, and aggression.  Have mercy on us!  Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

my god, my god

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)


not my hands, my hands
not my feet, my feet
not my friends, my friends
but my god, my god

this shows the true agony
of that horrific moment
when you lord jesus
cried out in the dark

it was not the physical pain
that finally made you scream
it wasn't the flogging
or the thorns
or even the nails

nor was it the emotional pain
that caused you to wail
it wasn't the denial
or the betrayal
or even the abandonment of friends

it was the spiritual pain
that finally broke your heart
for all of the sin
and all of the pain
and all of the suffering
of all of the world
was placed upon you
and for the very first time
you were separated completely
from divine love

and god himself mourned
the loss of his beloved son
and tore his heavenly robes
in grief and sadness
as the curtain of the temple
was torn in two
from top to bottom

the sun hid its face
the earth shook its head
and trembled at the sight
the rocks split in half
the tombs gave up their dead
and the centurion looked on
in amazement

for lord jesus
your cry from the cross
is also the cry of our hearts
in our darkest moments
we too scream out
my god, my god
why have you forsaken me

so from the cross
you not only said,
"i get it."
i know the depths
of your sorrow
but you also said,
"i'll take it"
i'll take all of your sin
and all of your pain
and all of your suffering
and all of your brokenness
as well as that of all people
from all ages
on myself

for by my wounds
you are healed

*inspired by the sermons of Timothy Keller


Saturday, July 2, 2016

who do you say i am?


“My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.  And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are.  You are Peter, a rock.” (Mathew 16:17-18, The Message)



It is impossible to truly know who we are apart from Jesus.  After all, he is the one who made us, he is the one who dreamt us into being.  He is the only one who knows exactly what was breathed into us before the foundations of the world were made.  So he alone can tell us who we really are.  He alone can give us a true sense of identity. 

    
And in order for us to discover who we really are, we must discover who he really is first.  The two are vitally linked.  When we discover who Jesus really is, he helps us to discover who we really are—just ask Simon Peter.  In fact, who we are only makes sense in the context of who he is.  So regardless of how hard I may try to make a name for myself in this life, any name that I can make, or achieve, or create for myself can only be false.  Identity can never be achieved, it can only be bestowed.  And it can only be bestowed by the Creator.  Therefore, when we, like Simon Peter, recognize who Jesus really is, then he is able to tell us who we really are, and what our role is in his kingdom.