Monday, May 29, 2017

the divine dance

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:20-21)


Out of the overflow of Divine Love we were dreamt into being, in order that we might participate in the intimacy and affection of the Trinity.  In the words of Paul Marechal: "The Trinity is a round dance in which Love flames forth from one Person to the Other in a flow that never ceases.  The Father is One and his Dance is Three: Love flaming out of the Silence of the Secret One, and returning to Abba in one concurrent, timeless motion—in the embrace of the Spirit."  This is the life Jesus is praying for in and among us; a life of intimate union with God and with one another.  Why would we settle for anything less?  It is by seeing and tasting this life within and among us that the world will believe.  As we dance with God, and dance with each other, those around us will be drawn into this intimate, beautiful mystery.

Enable me today, O God, to join the Divine Dance of the Trinity.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

essential

As for man, his days are like grass;
     he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
     and its place remembers it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to
everlasting for those who fear him. . . (Psalm 103:15-17)


No matter how hard I try to deny it, I am not indispensable.  I might try to convince myself and my world otherwise, but the truth remains.  One day I will be gone, either from this job or this life, and those who are left will remember me for a while, but, in the end, I will be like a flower of the field.  I will be gone and my place will remember me no more.  That truth should not be a surprise to me.  I am pretty sure that my old office at the church has probably forgotten me three or four occupants ago, or even been turned into a classroom or a storage closet.  And the Young Life club at Powell High School that I invested almost ten years of my life building and guiding, has never missed a beat in my absence.  In fact, it continues on, going strong.  And I'm pretty sure the kids who come to club these days don't have any idea who I am or that I was once a part of what God was doing there.  And I think this realization is supposed to produce something really good in me.  King David certainly thought so.

Years ago I was finishing up a month-long program assignment at a Young Life camp in Colorado. At the end of our time together my Camp Director (who was a dear friend that knew me well) pulled me aside for my evaluation.  "You did such a great job." he said.  "The creativity and quality of your work were simply outstanding.  I do, however, have one observation.  It seemed like you felt that you had to be present at everything in order for it to go well.  I wonder if you trust God much more in your presence, than you do in your absence."  And he was absolutely right.  Somehow I had convinced myself that in order for God to really work, I had to be a part of it.  Who knows, maybe I was afraid it wouldn't go well if I was not around, and maybe I was even more afraid that it would.

The painful reality is that we tend to take ourselves, and our contributions to the work of God's kingdom, way more seriously than we probably should.  It is a grace and a gift that God chooses to use us for a time, and while are here (wherever here may be) God desires us to be fully engaged and invested.  And we are.  The problem comes when we begin to believe that we are somehow essential to God's long-term effectiveness in our own little corner of the world--and maybe in one way we are.  But in a much larger way, we are not.  We are only one tiny piece of a great big whole.  That is not to minimize our contributions, or our efforts in the direction of his kingdom, it is simply meant to remind us that God is the key component, not us.  God is the Eternal One, not us.  God is the focal point, not us.  And that is not meant to demean or diminish us, it is meant to set us free.

A couple of days ago I was reading an article in our local newspaper about one of the co-head coaches (the wife of a husband-wife duo) of the softball program at the University of Tennessee.  In the article, as she was describing why the softball program was so successful (currently the most successful program in the entire athletic department), she said, "I don't know how to say this, but neither of us need this.  We want to do this, but it's not like we have to do this.  I think that is what makes it so fun for us.  I think that is why I can do what I do now, and I don't get all crazy about it.  I want to win.  I love to win, and I am super competitive.  But it's not like if I don't win a championship I won't die happy.  I am out here every year trying, but it's really all about growing these young women.  That is what's important to me."  That is exactly what I'm talking about.  Living of lives in a healthy way is all about operating out of a place of desire, rather than a place of need. 

God wants our lives and our ministries to flow out of joyful desire, rather than needy dysfunction; out of the overflow of his love and affection, rather than the scarcity of our own need to be significant and to make an impact.  And somehow remembering that he is from everlasting to everlasting and we are like flowers of the field is meant to free us up to do just that.  For if we are driven by our own need, rather than by his immense love, things turn ugly really quick.  For it is not we who are essential, but him.  Only him.  Thanks be to God! 

Monday, May 22, 2017

goodness

goodness
hidden in a husk
disguised and unrecognizable
in the chaos of life
lurking far beneath
the surface of things
only come upon by trust
often seen only
by a backwards glance

the narrative of circumstance
tells us there is no such thing
yet deeper down
beneath the tears and the pain
an invitation is whispered
to believe a different story
in spite of our doubt
that goodness really exists

a voice of love and care
a deep and transforming magic
a counter-spell to all of
the lies and half truths
an invitation to peace
and to wholeness
offering hope that
goodness is real
and possible
and attainable
in this life
in spite of the pain

occupied

O Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with this too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul , like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1-3)


I don't know about you, but all too often in this crazy and chaotic life I find myself exactly like King David--occupied.  And I do not mean that as a compliment.  The definition of occupied is to take or fill up (space, time, etc.).  Thus, to be occupied is to be full.  And, for me anyway, that is not a good thing.  It is what I am full of that is the problem. 

I long to be fully occupied by God, but all too often I am occupied by so many other things.  I am occupied by my needs and my insecurities and my fears.  I am occupied by my worries and my cares and my anxieties.   And, at the same time, in an incredibly odd way, I am also occupied by my pride and my arrogance, by my opinions and my agendas.  How in the world is that even possible?  Simply stated, I am full.  Full of things that take up space in my inner landscape.  Full of things that do not produce life and love in me.  Full of things that actually make me the worst version of myself, instead of the best. 

So full, in fact, that there is no room for anything else.  There is no room in me for God to move and to work and to act.  And if there is one thing I've learned through the years about the spiritual life, it's that it must have room in order to grow.  The soul needs open space and time, room for the winds of God to ignite the fires of the Spirit in a way that helps me burn with the passion and love for him for which I was created.

Thus, room must be made.  And how can room be made without the process of emptying taking place?  In order for the Spirit to have free reign in my soul, I must begin to empty myself of all that is not God.  I must let go of the chaos and the clutter and the sin and the dysfunction that fill my life.  I must spend time in reflection and confession and release, in order that there might be room created in me to receive the things that God most wants to give: joy and peace and love.  Please pray that I will have the courage and the strength to do so.


O great God of highest heaven, occupy my lowly heart.  Own it all and reign supreme, conquer every rebel power.  Let no vice or sin remain that resists your holy war.  You have loved and purchased me, make me yours forevermore. (O Great God by Bob Kauflin)

 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

wait and go

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. (Acts 1:4)


Long, long ago in a land far, far away, I was once a child.  And in that childhood, which is getting harder and harder to remember as each day goes by, we used to play a game called "Red Light, Green Light."  I'm sure there were a million-and-one variations of this particular game, but the one I remember the most had to do with one person being "it" (any good game had to have someone who was "it") and everyone else, who, on command, were trying to make their way to the place where whoever was it stood.  The catch was that you could only move toward your goal when the person in command uttered the words "green light."  And whenever the words "red light" were spoken you had to stop in your tracks.  As I describe it now, I'm not really sure what made that game so much fun, but as I spent time in the scriptures today I became aware of how great it would be to have someone uttering those words in the chaos and frenzy of everyday life.

The spiritual life is filled with tensions.  And one of those tensions is that the scriptures clearly tell us that we must wait (Psalm 130:5-6) and we must go (Matthew 28:19).  Our job is to try to and figure out when to do each.  We even see it after the resurrection.  Jesus tells his friends to go and make disciples and he also tells them to stay in the city until they had been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49).  Since Matthew and Luke don't give us any indication as to which of these was spoken first, we can only assume that the waiting preceded the going.  Which, in general, is probably a good principal to live by.

But in the course of our everyday lives things are a little messier.  When the dust is flying, how is this call to wait and to go supposed to flesh itself out?  I don't know about you ,but I know that I tend to go at the expense of waiting far too often.  Which may mean that I am actually going in my own strength, or before I have been clothed with power from on high.  I know,  know, we all have the Spirit 24/7 now and are thus always technically clothed with power from on high.  But you know what I mean.  Many times I charge ahead and go without taking time to wait on God to empower and direct me the way he longs for me to be empowered and directed.  Which means that I am probably much less effective, and my activity is much less fruitful, than I would have, or could have, been if I had stopped and waited from him to fill and to lead and to guide me.

So maybe this whole tension is not that complicated after all.  Maybe all I really need to do is listen.  Maybe when I pay attention to God, and to the voice of his Spirit within me, I will actually hear him telling me when to do each, rather than constantly trying to figure it out on my own--or worse yet, constantly going without ever stopping to wait for him and listen for his guidance and direction in the first place.  Maybe it is time to blow the cobwebs off of that old game I played so many years ago.

"Not it!"

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

building vs. being built

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood . . . (1 Peter 2:5)


We are builders by nature.  It seems to be woven into our DNA.  From the Tower of Babel, to the Roman Empire, to Microsoft, we just have a propensity to build things--be it a building, or a dynasty, or a business, or even a ministry.  Which is both a blessing and a curse.  For while building can be an asset if you are running a business, it is definitely a liability in the spiritual life. For in the spiritual life, the focus is not so much on building, as it is on being built.  It is not so much about what we can do, as it is about what God wants to do.  We can charge ahead into a thousand-and-one seemingly good plans, schemes, and agendas, and totally miss out on what God wants to build in us and through us.  So instead of grabbing that hammer and beginning to swing away at whatever grand project we have in our minds at the moment, let us, instead, consider how God might want us to be open and available for whatever he wants to build.  For apart from him, our very best work is only in vain.


O Lord our God, forgive us when we start constructing our own houses--living by our own agendas and devices--and attempt to pawn them off as yours.  When we do this we are greatly deceived; we are toiling in vain.  You build the house, O Lord, whatever that may be, whatever it may look like.  For only then will the work of our hands be of any eternal value.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

joy

o joy
you are such a puzzle
elusive and mysterious

you can't be manufactured
but can be grown
you can't be forced
but can be chosen

you are much more
than just a feeling
more durable and substantial
than mere happiness

you can bear
the presence of sadness
you can endure
the company of pain

but at the same time
you are hard to capture
difficult to tame and
impossible to conjure

you are foreign to me
not a natural part
of my typical
mode of operation

yet you continually invite me
to come and live in your house
to taste your fruit
to see through your eyes

o the mystery


Saturday, May 13, 2017

losing myself

there it goes again
that familiar struggle
between desire and need
between love and fear

it is such a fine line
one that is so easily
and subtly crossed
from i love you
to i need you

it is amazing how
something so beautiful
can become so tainted
in a matter of seconds

it is like a switch
is flipped inside
and i suddenly forget who i am
and instead start to grasp
for someone to be

Monday, May 8, 2017

good

in the midst of
the pain and chaos of life
the temptation arises to ask
am I being punished somehow
is that how it works
are you really good, o god
and what does that even mean

it is an epic struggle
to truly believe
in the goodness of god
especially in the presence
of the great sadness
it is a struggle indeed

but your goodness o god
is much bigger than
my circumstances
it simply has to be

your goodness
is not dependent upon
or determined by
my perception of
whatever is going on
in my life at the moment
for if it is then
heaven help me
i am in for
one hell of a ride

your goodness
must be deeper
and more substantial
than any circumstance
life could hand me
for it is rooted
in eternity
and thus
not easily seen
this side of heaven
unless of course
we are given eyes
to see

you are good
o lord
and that is that
when i choose
to believe
in your goodness
in spite of appearances
there is a rootedness
born in me
a solid place
from which to live
a on rock on which
to set my feet
in spite of whatever
storms might come

help me
o god
to believe
in your goodness
help me
to see
all of life
not as
right and privilege
but as
gift and gratitude
for you alone
o lord
are truly good

Sunday, May 7, 2017

fallow

every now
and again
the land must
simply lie fallow
in order to be all
that it was
intended to be

the same is true
of the soul

there is
a deep need
and a great necessity
in the life of the spirit
for our hearts
and our souls
to lie fallow

to create
a time
and a space
where we do
nothing
but rest
and recover

a time where we
accomplish nothing
produce nothing
achieve nothing

a time where
we do not try
to be helpful
or available
but only
replenish and renew
our souls
for years of
future fruitfulness

but o how difficult
the task
how hard it is
to create
and maintain
this time and space
to hold onto it
doggedly
against all
that would try
to fill it up

it takes
an enormous
amount
of discipline
and wisdom
and courage
to let the soul
just lie there
undisturbed

that is why
so few
ever do it

Friday, May 5, 2017

do you love me?

     When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
     "Yes Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
     Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15)


The resurrected Jesus gets right to the point.  He asks us the very same question he asked Simon Peter: "Do you love me more than these?"  It is the question of the entire spiritual life.  Do we love him more than these?  Do we love him more than our families?  Do we love him more than our friends?  Do we love him more than our careers?  Do we love him more than our very selves?  For until we love him, above and before all else, we cannot possibly do the work he has given us to do--feed his lambs.  For if we do not love Jesus first and foremost, we cannot possibly feed his lambs, we can only feed on his lambs.

Lord Jesus, help me to love you before all else today.  For only then can I truly love others the way you want me to--fully and freely.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

recognizing

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not recognize that it was Jesus. (John 21:4)

It seems that one of the disciplines most necessary during the Easter season is the discipline of recognizing.  After all, the risen Christ could appear at any moment and we must pay careful attention, lest we miss him--just ask the disciples.  They were so busy not catching fish that they were oblivious to the fact that Jesus had been standing on the shore, at least long enough to build a fire and get some coals hot.  Why had they missed him?  The simple answer is that they were preoccupied.  They were so busy with the task at hand that they were paying no attention to anything else.  I get that.  I can get caught up in the comings and goings of my day just as easily.  Busyness, preoccupation, and hurry can blind me to the fact that Jesus is standing right there on the shoreline of my life and I have not recognized him.  I must learn how to slow down, to pay attention.  I must learn how to go through the course of my days with an eye out for the Risen One.  I must not let the chaos and activity of everyday life sweep me away and distract me from the real reason I am here in the first place--Jesus.

Lord Jesus, give me the grace and the ability to recognize you today, however you may come to me.  Amen.