Saturday, August 29, 2020

haughty eyes

“My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1)

I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically use the word haughty a lot.  Thus, when I come across this word as I pray Psalm 131 each week, I’m not really sure what to do with it.  All I know is that having haughty eyes is something King David wants to avoid at all costs.  That’s probably because, as Proverbs 6:17 tells us, it is one of the things God hates.  Which are pretty strong words.

The word haughty, in the Hebrew, is ruwm, which means to be high actively, to rise or raise, to bring up or exalt (self).  It is very similar in meaning to the word most often translated proud, which is also in this psalm—gabahhGabahh means to rise, or soar.  So the goal of both words is basically the same—the elevation of self—but how it goes about accomplishing that goal is subtly different.  To see the distinction, it is helpful to see the core meaning of the two words in English.  To be haughty, the dictionary tells us, means “to have a big attitude and act like you are better than other people.  A haughty person acts superior and looks down on others.”  So the key difference between pride and haughtiness is that pride focuses too much on self, puffing up, while haughtiness focused too much on others, looking down.  Pride has too high a view of who we are, while haughtiness has too low a view of others.

Strangely enough, it is haughtiness, and not pride, that makes the list of “six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him” in Proverbs 6:17, which is probably because of how haughtiness causes us to treat others.  While pride can cause us to be far too focused on ourselves, haughtiness can cause us to be cruel, dismissive, critical, condescending, and even judgmental of the very people God has called us to love and care for.  It can cause us to belittle them and see them as incapable, inadequate, and insignificant.  It is bad enough when we have a distorted or delusional view of ourselves, but when it causes us to mistreat those who have also been made in God’s image, then it has gone too far.  That is when it really draws God’s ire.

Very wisely, David prayed against both, since one often feeds the other.  He prayed that he would not have an overinflated view of his own importance, or an underinflated view of the worth, value, dignity, and significance of others.  Only then could he be the leader God wanted him to be, a leader who cared more about God’s people than he did about himself.  A leader who was able to be still and quiet before his God, totally content and utterly dependent.  And maybe, just maybe, if I continue to pray his prayer, I will be too.  Well, a man can dream, right?

Lord, my heart is meek before you.  I do not consider myself more important than others.  I am content to not pursue matters that are over my head—such as your complex mysteries and wonders—that I’m not ready to understand.  I am humbled and quieted in your presence.  Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap, I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you.  O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust, waiting upon the Lord now and forever. (Psalm 131:1-3, The Passion Translation)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

psalm 23

Lord, my shepherd, you are enough; I don’t need a thing.  Help me to live like it.  

You invite me to stop scurrying around, trying to manipulate and control everything, and ask me to lie down with you in green pastures and sit still with you beside quiet waters.  For one of your greatest desires is the restoration of my soul to its creation intent.  

You invite me to walk through life in a new way, attentive to your voice, and concerned only about your name and your kingdom, rather than my own.  

Even though fear and anxiety are sure to rear their ugly heads again and again, I will not let them control me, for you are with me: you protect me, you provide for me, and you comfort me.  

You invite me to pull up a chair to your table, you soothe my head with healing oil, and you make my heart overflow with love.  

You relentlessly pursue me with your goodness and your love all the days of my life, so that I might live in your divine embrace forever.  

How could I possibly say no to all of that?

Friday, August 21, 2020

need

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)

What do you need in order to be okay?  No, really?  And I’m not looking for the right answer here, but the real one.  Do you need success and achievements and notoriety?  Do you need affection and affirmation?  Do you need financial security?  Do you need others to think well of you?  Do you need to do a good job?  Do you need good health?  Do you need everyone in your family to be thriving and flourishing? 

So, let me ask you again, what do you really need in order to be okay?  The real answer to this question has so much to say about the way we live our lives, because need is not the best foundation to build a life upon; it is tenuous and shaky and ever-changing.  It can fill us with agendas and demands and expectations, often leaving us anxious or depressed or angry or frustrated or all of the above.  Thus, when we build our lives around what we need—or what we think we need—we place ourselves at the mercy of mood, whim, and circumstance.

But when we finally realize that all we really need is “God alone,” everything begins to fall into place.  Oh, not in circumstantial terms maybe, but in terms of our inner landscape—the state of the heart and soul.  The saints called this detachment.  It is the ability to be okay regardless of what is going on around us.  It is not allowing our well-being to get too “attached” to things that can, and will, change, but fully attaching our well-being to the One who never changes—God alone.  Only then will we be the people he created us to be, and only then will we be able to love the way he created us to love.   

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8)

Monday, August 17, 2020

through

   psalm 77:19

if i’m honest
i must admit
that there are times
i would rather just
go around

it’s easier

but your path is 
rarely the easy one
your path always seems
to lead through the sea
through the mighty waters

through must be 
better than around
because through is
the place of dependence
the place of surrender
the place of trust

so may i never miss
the beauty and goodness 
of the way through
by constantly trying
to find a way
around

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

streams

john 7:37-38 

every now and then 
i catch a little taste 
of a larger flow 
that dwells within 

an underground river 
of life and love 
that holds the key 
to all my soul desires 

but why only a taste 
and why only now and then 

is it me or is it you 
have i not yet learned 
how to tap into the flow 
or are you simply 
trying to allure me 
is it your way 
of drawing me 
is it the hope 
of what could be 
or what will be 
beckoning me 
to become 

the hope of the eternal 
welling up from within 
drawing me onward 
ever onward 
into you

Friday, August 7, 2020

being a non-anxious presence

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)

In the midst of the crazy and chaotic times in which we live, what does the world really need from us, the people of God?  Another argument or opinion?  Another agenda or platform?  Another voice of anxiety or anger or frustration or suspicion?  There are an abundance of all of the above, it seems, so why just add another one to the fray?  No one seems to be listening anyway.  In fact, it’s hard to listen when everyone is speaking. 

So what does the world really need from us?  How about a calm, loving, non-anxious presence?  People who are willing to listen, not only to each other, but also to the times, to our lives, and to our God.  People who aren’t trying to protect or attack or defend, but who are looking to love.  People who are not driven by anxiety or insecurity or control or demand, but are driven by compassion.  People who are willing and able to sit still long enough, and be quiet long enough, to have any idea where the Spirit may be leading, or what the Spirit may be up to.  People who are not merely reacting to fears or circumstances or scenarios, but are prayerfully open to whatever the Spirit of God may be doing in and through the chaos.  People whose first response is not to jump, but to pray.  And then, and only then, are willing to act.  That is what the world really needs.

So how do we become that?  How do we become people who are rooted and planted in the love and wisdom of God?  We stop.  We sit still.  We look.  We pray.  We shut our mouths and open our ears.  We listen to God and we listen to each other.  We discern together what he is saying and what he is doing.  And when we arrive at some communal sense of what God is saying and what he is doing, of where the good way is, we walk in it.  We go and do whatever he says.  We love.  We serve.  We live.

Never let me forget, O Lord, that this life is about you and not about me.  Because when I forget that one truth, I end up frustrated and fearful and angry and anxious, rather than loving and caring and compassionate and at peace.  Make me more like you today, so that I’ll be better able to express you in the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

moving from micro to macro

What a strange few months it has been.  I don’t know about you, but for me, in these days of global pandemics and calls for social justice, it has been so easy to “miss the forest for the trees,” as the old saying goes.  It is easy for me to become so focused on my own little world and how these things affect (or don’t affect) me personally, that I fail to see the bigger picture.  I fail to step into a higher calling.  I become so concerned and consumed with my own well-being that I fail to see, or even think about, the greater good.  Granted, seeing the greater good, and understanding exactly what it takes to get us there, is way more complicated than I might imagine, but it seems like it is an endeavor that is worth the time and effort and conversation.

We are living in a time and a season where things like wearing masks and canceling sporting events and being asked to stay at home have become a part of the landscape, as has our willingness or unwillingness to adhere to each.  Should bars stay open or should they close?  Should there be football or should there not be?  Should schools reopen or should we only have online learning?  Questions abound.  How on earth are we, as God’s people, supposed to even begin to answer these questions?   

And what about social justice issues?  How have we allowed people who are made in the image of God, with beauty and dignity and purpose, to be cast aside or held down or belittled or marginalized?  And how do we keep creating systems that make it almost impossible for them to thrive and grow and flourish?  When the well-being of one part of society is defended and maintained at the expense of another, should that not repulse us and call us to action? 

Israel wanted a king, so God gave them one.  The king was to be an extension and a representative of God to his people.  The king’s job was to lead and to guide, to provide for and protect and defend.  The king was to be about God’s reign, God’s rule, and God’s kingdom on earth, not his just own.  One of the main ways the king was supposed to do this was by assuring justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedeq) for all (see Psalm 72).  Justice meaning that the standards of the kingdom were to be applied equally and fairly to everyone.  And righteousness literally meaning to be straight, or that everyone and everything would be as it was meant to be; everyone is given the opportunity to be exactly who and what God intended them to be—in right relationship with him and in right relationship with one other.

The main way you could tell whether a king was doing his job or not, was by how well the poor and vulnerable and marginalized were doing (the anavim).  If the anavim were flourishing and prospering, then the king was doing a good job; he was being God’s leader and representative to the people.  And if the anavim were not prospering, if they were not being treated rightly and justly, then the king was failing in his role and needed to be replaced.  Everything hinged on how well the poor and vulnerable and weak and marginalized were doing, which might be something we need to pay attention to these days.

In the midst of any health crisis, particularly COVID-19, it seems like the most vulnerable are always the poor, the newborn (and unborn), and the elderly.  What if we made our decisions about openings and closings, masks or no masks, sports or no sports, school in person or online, based on what is most beneficial to the most vulnerable among us?  Would that not be the most God-like (king-like) thing to do?  Especially in the midst of a virus that can so easily and unknowingly be passed along from one person to another.  What if we stopped making it about our own individual rights and wants and preferences, and started making it about what was most loving and caring to everyone, even the poor and the elderly?  Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge football fan, and I want there to be football.  I just don't want it to be at anyone's expense.  Would it be too much to ask to miss a football season if it was in order to save the lives of those who are weakest and most vulnerable among us?

And what about social justice?  Living where I live and doing what I normally do, I can go for months without even thinking about it, but others are not so fortunate.  What if my level of contentment with where things are in the country and the world, as far as justice issues are concerned, was dependent upon those who have to deal with them on a daily basis?  What if I was never content until they were content?  What if I refused to flourish until they were free to flourish?  What if we all cared about everyone being treated with the dignity and respect and kindness and equity and love that we hope to be shown ourselves?  What if it is wasn’t enough just to be aware of what the issues are, but to actually be a part of doing something about them?

You see, when we focus on the micro, we tend to get ourselves in trouble; it brings out the absolute worst in all of us.  Things become combative and defensive and argumentative, and even violent.  We just start spinning around in our own little lives, worrying about our own needs and wants, and we miss the great big story God has called us (all of humanity) to take part in.  But when we are able to shift our focus, our seeing and our thinking, to the macro—to the bigger picture, to the greater good—God begins to do amazing things.  God works in and through us, and the world becomes a better place to live…for everyone.


Monday, August 3, 2020

the fruit of waiting

All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.  But it’s not only around u; it’s within us.  The Spirit of God is arousing us within.  We’re also feeling the birth pangs.  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.  That’s why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting.  We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful the expectancy. (Romans 8:22-25, The Message)

Waiting is such an interesting phenomenon.  It is a spiritual practice that appears to be passive, yet is far more active than we would ever imagine.  It is a season in which it seems like nothing of value is going on, when the truth is that big things are going on that we know nothing about.  It is a time when it looks like God is up to absolutely nothing, when, in actuality, God is doing something more than we dare to ask for or dream about.  In fact, it is through seasons of waiting that God does some of his very best work, if we are careful not to miss the journey for the destination.
     
The problem is that we often get so focused on the desired results of our waiting that we forget that the bigger, more valuable part of waiting may well involve what God is doing within us as we wait.  That’s the part we miss.  And, yet, it is the only part we can really do anything about—we can pay careful attention.
     
I think that’s why I like this section on Romans 8 so much.  It reminds us that waiting is not as much static, as it is dynamic.  It is always intended to accomplish something, not only around us, but within us.  Through waiting, God is arousing and enlarging and expanding and growing and stretching us.  We just can’t allow ourselves to get so consumed with what we are waiting for, that we miss what he is trying to accomplish in us.    
     
It reminds me of the last scene in the movie Field of Dreams.  Ray has been on an epic adventure, trying to figure out what the voices he has been hearing mean and who they have been leading him to.  At first, he thinks the whole journey is about Shoeless Joe Jackson, and then about Terrance Mann, and then about Moonlight Graham.  Until finally he recognizes that one of the players who has been playing baseball in his field is his dad, as a much younger man.  And when he recognizes his dad, he says, “It was you,” thinking that the entire journey had been about easing his dad’s pain.  But no sooner had these words been spoken, than Shoeless Joe, standing out by the cornfield responds, “No Ray, it was you.”  The whole journey had been about Ray’s healing all along.
     
I don’t know about you, but so often, in my waiting, I make the same mistake.  I think the entire thing is about someone coming around or something coming about, when what God is really trying to get me to notice is what he is doing in me as a result of the waiting.
     
So today, instead of focusing on that thing or that person or that event you have been waiting for, focus instead on what God is doing in you as a result of the waiting.