Sunday, January 29, 2017

seasons

There is a particular rhythm and design to the world in which we live.  And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.  All we have to do is pay attention.  The leaves come and then they go, only to return once again in the spring.  The sun rises and then it sets, only to rise once again the next morning.  Day and then night, summer and then fall, winter and then spring, all a part of a beautifully choreographed dance that is ongoing in all of creation.  A dance that we were made to take part in.  But in order for us to be able to fully participate in this divine dance, we must recognize its existence and learn its movements.  For this dance has a certain progression that must be honored and joined into before we can know the beauty of its Creator's intent.  Simply stated, this life is comprised of different seasons, each with its own beauty and design that must be embraced and entered into, rather than denied, avoided, or resisted.  I guess that's why Solomon wrote: "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)  And it is not until we recognize and embrace these seasons that we begin to discover that, he has, indeed, "made everything beautiful in its time." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Unfortunately, sometimes we aren't the best dance partners.  Sometimes we get so ingrained or entrenched in a particular season that we try to hold onto or prolong it long after the next season has arrived.  And one of the main characteristics of seasons is that they are ever-changing.  Seasons change, but will we?  Will we try to take the lead in this cosmic dance?  Will we try to control it and determine what it will look like?  Or will we be able and willing to surrender ourselves, and our will, to the will and the direction of the One who breathed us into being?  For if we do not trust ourselves and our care completely to the God who formed us and made us, then we will constantly have trouble keeping in step with whatever season we find ourselves in the midst of; either because we cling too tightly to a season that has gone by, or we jump ahead to a season that has not yet arrived.  Either way, we miss the beauty and the intent of what the here and the now has to offer us and to teach us.

The church calendar illustrates this well.  Advent is a beautiful season of watching and waiting for the coming Christ, but we can't continue to watch and wait for him if he has already arrived.  If we do that, then we miss him completely.  And Christmas is such a magical celebration of the gift of the Child who is born unto us.  But we can't continue to celebrate Christmas on into Epiphany, or we run the risk of trying to keep Jesus a baby, rather than allowing him to grow into our Lord and Savior.  No, we must allow ourselves to enter into Epiphany, where we see God in the flesh as he walks among us.  And we cannot stay at the foot of the Cross and refuse to run to the empty tomb, for He is Alive.  He is risen, that we might be as well.  It is the nature of the seasons that each has its own time and its own purpose.  And each prepares us for what is next.

The poets and saints who wrote the Psalms knew this well.  For each of the Psalms falls into one of three categories: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  Psalms of orientation describe a certain state of being (or season of life) when life is good and all is well in our world and in our souls.  It is a season that we all enjoy, and try to extend in any way possible.  But we can't stay in a state of orientation forever, lest we become lethargic and complacent.  We must be challenged or we will become stagnant and stop growing.  That's where disorientation comes in.  Psalms of disorientation are the ones where life has taken a horrible turn and we find ourselves reeling.  We are undone.  Life is out of control and we desperately want our equilibrium to be restored once more.  Disorientation occurs when life as we knew it has ceased to exist, and has thrust us into a new place and time which demands a new way of being.  Thus, the whole point of disorientation is reorientation.  God is disrupting us in order to make way for a new way of being and seeing to emerge.  That is what the Psalms of reorientation are all about. 

It is a continual cycle: orientation moves into disorientation, then to reorientation, which eventually settles back into orientation once again.  And if we fail to recognize and embrace whatever season we find ourselves in, then we run the risk of disconnecting from the larger story and getting stuck in our own smaller story; our own perceptions and explanations of where we are and of what is happening to us.  This can lead us down the slippery slope of thinking that we have been betrayed, or abandoned, or treated unfairly by life, or by God.  At which point we just simply refuse to move on to the next season until all of our questions have been answered or our demands have been met.

A beautiful passage in the Gospel of John (20:11-18) shows us a perfect example of this whole idea of seasons.  Jesus has been crucified, died and has now risen from the dead.  Mary is outside the empty tomb trying to process all that has just taken place, when she is approached by one whom she thinks is the gardener, but is, in fact, the risen Jesus.  As he utters her name she recognizes him and immediately reaches out for him.  And as she does, Jesus tells her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father."  Jesus is not being cold and uncaring, he is simply telling her that one season has come to an end and a new season has begun.  She mustn't try to cling to the old way on seeing him and being with him, for a new season had arrived.  From here on out life will forever be different.  Mary arrives at the tomb grieving and disoriented, sees Jesus and immediately in her joy tries to jump back to her old orientation of him, when  a total reorientation of her image of him and her relationship with him is necessary. 

And I think Mary offers us a great picture of what is required of us as we journey through the different seasons of life; whether it be the seasons of married life, seasons of parenting, seasons of friendship, seasons of community, seasons of career, or seasons in our lives with Jesus.  First, we must recognize and acknowledge that, whatever season we may have been in, a new season has arrived.  This will likely involve both a celebration of the past season, as well as a grieving of its passing.  If we do not adequately celebrate the joys of the former season we will likely become ungrateful, and if we do not adequately grieve its passing we will likely become bitter and frustrated.  Either way, a time of prayerful reflection on where we have been is enormously fruitful.  After recognizing that a new season has arrived the second step in the dance is to let go of that former season.  This is a place where we frequently get stuck.  Most of us are not very good at letting go.  Our tendency is to try and hang on to the old season far after its life has ended.  The problem is that when we refuse to let go of the old, we are unable to embrace and engage in the new.  For the old must not be merely let go of, but the new must also be embraced--which is the next step of the dance.  This is not merely a begrudging, reluctant acceptance of what is to come, but an active engagement in what God is up to, how he is at work, what he is trying to bring about both within and around us.  For it is not until we embrace this new thing, whatever it may be, that we are fully able and willing to receive it.  It is a gift to us, not just something to be dreaded and endured.  God is always about our becoming.  And what he wants us to become is the beautiful, strong, brave, courageous, kind, loving people he created us to be.  Reflections of his heart and his face and his Son on this earth.  For ultimately this entire process is not about us, but about him.  And the sooner we realize that, the more willing we will be to let the seasons run their course.

One last thing to be aware of in this whole discussion of seasons is what the saints call liminal space.  Liminal space is the space between.  It recognizes that between each of these seasons there is a transition period.  A space and a time where one season is vanishing and a new season has not yet arrived.  Liminal space is the place of trust.  It is the place of transformation.  It is that space between the passing of the old and the emergence of the new.  It is that time when we have been required to let go of one trapeze bar before the next one has arrived.  It is the place of dependence and surrender.  It is the space where all we can do is trust and pray, that in his own time and in his own way God will show up.  And when he shows up he will make us more alive and more whole than we were in the season before.  The new will come and it will be deeper and truer and more beautiful than we ever could have imagined.

So where do you find yourself in this discussion?  What season does God have you in right now?  What is the look and the taste and the feel of it?  What is he accomplishing in you in the midst of it?  Where in your life are you welcoming a new season?  How is that going?  What scares you?  What excites you?  What does it look like to let go of the old?  What does it look like to embrace and receive the new?  Whatever it may look like, do not fear, just remember that "He has made everything beautiful in its time."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

delight

"No longer will they call you Deserted, but you will be called Hephzibah (My Delight is in Her), for the Lord will take delight in you.  As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." ~Isaiah 62:4-5


O Lord, do you really delight in me?  Could it possibly be true?  I have lived as Deserted, Unlovable, and Not Enough for far too long.  Those names are planted so deeply within me that I can't seem to uproot them.  But you can.  For you bestow a new name on me. You call me by a different name.  In fact, you call me Hephzibah; My Delight is in Her.  For you take great delight in me and long for me to know your delight, to be your delight, and to live out of your joy and delight each day.  That is what will make me the best version of myself; the me you intended me to be. 

But all too often I live out of my shame rather than out of your delight.  Shame not being "I have done something wrong," but "I am something wrong."  My shame tells me that I am unlovable, that I can never be anything of real value, that I suck.  And unfortunately I listen to my shame.  In fact, often I believe my shame more than I believe you.  And I live out of my shame instead of living out of your delight.  When I live out of my shame it really gets ugly, for I become the worst possible version of myself.  And thus, my interactions with others become needy and insecure and clingy and defensive, which has a terrible impact on my relationships.  The worst in me calls out the worst in those around me.  It is a death spiral of dysfunction.

But when I am able to live in (from a place of) your delight, I am free.  Free from needing people so much that I can actually begin to love them.  Then your delight in me brings out your delight in them.  And they, like me, become the best version of themselves.

O Lord, my God, help me to know the depths of your delight this day; that I may become an expression of that delight in the world.  Amen.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

seeing and being seen

     When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.”
     “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
     Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
     Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
     Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:47-51)

When Jesus sees Nathanael, he really sees him.  In fact, he sees right into him; nothing is hidden.  And when he looks deeply into the heart and soul of this man, what does he bring attention to?  He brings attention to what is true and what is beautiful.  He sees a man being exactly who and what God truly intended him to be; nothing false.  No hiding, no masking, no posturing, no proving.  How beautiful is that?

And you can tell by Nathanael's response that he has truly been seen.  "How do you know me?" he replies.  He didn't disagree with Jesus, because Jesus had spoken to his deepest parts.  Jesus had recognized what was most deeply true, and spoken into that.  Not to say that Nathanael was perfect, obviously he wasn't, but what Jesus saw, and chose to call attention to, was the fact that deep within Nathanael was a longing (and an attempt) to live truly.  To be the best, God-breathed version of himself.

I love this story because I live with the desire to be seen as well.  Not just the screwed up, messy, insecure, neurotic parts of my self--my worst self that is--but the good and true and beautiful parts of myself.  I long for those parts to be seen and acknowledged and called forth and called to life, so that I am drawn to live more and more out of my best, God-intended self more and more each minute of each day.  I love that this seems to be Jesus' desire for me as well.

And not only is it his desire for me, but it is his desire for how I go about seeing and relating to others.  In essence, it is what true ministry is all about: really seeing people, really knowing people, and really loving people.  People are dying to be seen, known, and loved.  And if we follow Jesus' example here, that is just what we will do.  We will go about our days and our lives with our eyes wide open; looking beyond the surface of things and of people and seeing into their depths.  And once we do, we will try to draw out and call out and call forth that which is most true and most beautiful about them.

O Jesus, give me eyes like yours this day.  Eyes that see the way you see.  Eyes that look into the depths of whomever is before me at the moment, and see what is good and beautiful and true about them, and then call it forth into being.   




Sunday, January 15, 2017

wheat and chaff

some would say it's simple
an either-or proposition
but i think there might be
far more to it than that
there might also be
an element of both-and

all i have to do
is look within me
to realize that i am
but a sad combination
of wheat and chaff
grain and weed
fruit and thorn
beauty and blemish
good and bad

i am an enigma
an assorted jumble
of that which is worthy
of being gathered and harvested
and that which is worthy only
of being tossed into the fire

and unfortunately
i have grown
far too comfortable
with this dichotomy
far too accommodating
to this enemy of my soul
somehow i have made room
for it to exist unchallenged
and even accepted

but life with God
requires more of me
than resignation
the wheat and chaff
must not coexist
at some point
there has be a separation
of the two
and then a destruction
of that which is contrary
to the life that God
wants to live
in and through me

so maybe i should pray
that your winnowing fork
would fall on me
as terrible as that sounds
as much as it terrifies me
to pray such a thing
for only then will
my inner conflict
be resolved
only then will that
which is of you within me
and that which is not of you
be separated and culminated

O Lord God
master thresher
take away the chaff in me
until only wheat remains
for until then
i can only be
a sad combination
of wheat and chaff




Holy God, you promised the renewing presence of your Holy Spirit , and today I ask you to fill me again.  Renew my life, deepen in me a humble repentance for my sins, and empower me to pursue a holy life.  May your beauty in my life be obvious to all.  Amen. (Seeking God's Face by Philip Reinders)











Friday, January 13, 2017

mine

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. ~Jeremiah 1:4



O God, what was in your mind when you formed me and dreamt me into being, before the foundations of the earth?  What was your divine intention for me and for my life?  What were your grand plans for me?  What mission did you have for me that only I could accomplish?  How did you mold and make and form me to be a unique expression of your love, care, and creativity?  And was there a smile on your face and joy in your heart as you breathed me into being?

For what, O God, have I been consecrated and appointed?  To whom did you intend to send me, and what words did you specifically put in my mouth to deliver?  O Lord, forgive me when I fall short of your grand design.  Forgive me when I think too little of myself—and too little of you—to think that you could possibly have made me for some grand purpose when you formed me.  Forgive me when I let fear or inadequacy stop me from fulfilling the mission for which I was sent.  And forgive me when I allow the busyness and chaos of everyday life to distort or distract me from that mission.

Lord God, I belong to you.  I am the work of your strong and loving hands.  You made me to be a unique and beautiful expression of yourself in the world.  Give me the strength and the courage to be that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

the life of ministry

the stewardship of God's grace
that was given to me for you.
~Ephesians 3:2

grace must be revealed
and then received
before it can be
passed along

i wonder why
that is so hard for us
this receiving

it cannot be achieved
but only given
and for some reason
that drives us crazy

but we cannot give
what we never been given
and receiving is an integral part
of the process of being
good stewards of god's
inexhaustible grace

therefore
o god
we beg you
make us good stewards
of the divine riches
of your grace
today and every day

help us to
fully receive it
for ourselves
that we may
freely offer it
to others


Friday, January 6, 2017

epiphany

i am here
follow the star
and you will find me
search the obscure
and hidden places
and you will come upon me
look into the eyes
of the broken and lowly
and you will discover my presence
i am here
in every conversation
you have today
in every joy and every sorrow
you will experience
in every circumstance
you will face
in every challenge
you will confront
don't ever forget
i am here

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

hearing

have we become so deaf
to the voice that whispered us into being
that we can no longer hear anything
but the incessant noise of our own inner dialogue

is our hearing like any other bodily function
that must be regularly exercised over time
lest the muscles atrophy and decay to the point
where they no longer function properly

is the reason that we do not hear you o god
simply because we do not try
because we fail to make time and space to listen
is hearing you a lost art that must be rediscovered

how then shall we hear you o god when you say to us
he who has ears to hear let him hear
how can we stimulate that auditory nerve in a way
that the ear of our soul comes to life once again
and makes hearing you a possibility

for we do long to hear your still small voice o god
that voice that softly resonates deep within us
that voice that subtly reveals your great affection
that voice that touches our inmost being
and brings us to life inside

we do have ears o god
so please help us to hear

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

grace

For the grace of God has appeared...Titus 2:11

i was not looking for it
nor was i expecting it
yet there it was
it just appeared
right out of the blue
it took me by surprise
and filled me with delight

grace had appeared
it just showed up
on my doorstep
uninvited
and now has
taken up residence
within me

that is the nature of grace
it just appears
that's what it does
it can't be
commanded or controlled
it can't be
manipulated or manufactured

it can only be
given and then received
it can only be
conceived and then born
within us

all we can do
is be open and hopeful
willing to let grace
have its way with us
whenever and wherever
it chooses to appear



Monday, January 2, 2017

god is doing a new thing

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? ~Isaiah 43:19

The life of faith is not only about what God has done—although that is certainly important—or even about what he will do, for that matter.  Isaiah is very clear to tell us that it is about what God is doing; that’s what he is calling us to pay particular attention to.  God is always up to something.  The good news of the gospel is that God is always at work, doing a new thing within and among us, whether we can yet perceive it or not.  The real question is: Do we really believe it’s true?  For if we do, it will significantly change how we go about living our lives.


O Lord, our God, thank you that you are always doing a new thing within and among us, whether we can perceive it or not.  Work you good work in us and through us, both this day and every day. Amen.