Saturday, October 31, 2020

wild abandon

There is a love that is filled with wild abandon.  It is the kind of love that throws caution to the wind.  The kind of love that holds nothing back.  The kind of love that takes a jar of costly perfume, breaks it, and pours every drop upon the head of Jesus. (Mark 14:1-9) It is a love that has no regard for self, a love that does not ask, “What’s in it for me?”  It is a love that cannot contain itself.  The kind of love that fills the heart to overflowing in such a way that it has no choice but to pour itself out on the One who is both the source and the object of that affection.

It is also a love that evokes a strong reaction from those looking on.  Those who wish they had the courage and the passion to do that very thing themselves, but were unwilling to do so.  Instead, they stand at a distance, they rebuke and hurl insults.  They comment and criticize.  If they cannot bring themselves up to a love that is so demanding and so complete, then they will just bring the lovers down.  These rebukers are the ones who are unwilling to let go, unwilling to abandon all, unwilling to love and be loved so fully and completely.  

The contrast is stark, and meant to invite each of us to consider our own love.  Do we love Jesus that way?  Are we willing to let go of all, no matter what the cost?  Are we willing to pour everything out, every single drop?  Are we so completely seized by the power of his great affection that we hold nothing back?  And is anything less really love at all?

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

God alone

It is no accident that, in the Hebrew, Psalm 62 begins with the words: “Only for God.”  Those words set the tone and the theme for the rest of the psalm—God alone.  For God alone, my soul waits in silence.  My soul finds rest in God alone.  He alone is my rock and my salvation.  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.  Only when we are trusting in God alone will we be living the life God most wants us to live.

Unfortunately, most often we tend to live for God and, rather than God alone.  God and comfort, God and ease, God and work, God and success, God and my own tastes and preferences; the list is endless.  It is the and that causes many, if not most, of our problems.  In the words of A. W. Tozer: “In the and is our great woe.  If we omit the and we shall soon find God.”  For it is impossible to seek God and something else; it is impossible to follow Jesus and someone else.  We must eliminate the and.  Most of the spiritual journey involves moving from God and to God alone.  In fact, that is the definition of true freedom—moving from God and to God alone.  

So why do we keep holding on to the and?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

taking the next step

At the very beginning of the book of Psalms, this wonderful collection of timeless prayers, we are given a bit of a roadmap for the entire spiritual journey.  And one of the main things this ancient guide tells us is that when we stop moving forward in our life with God, we are in big trouble. 

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers,” says the ancient prayer. (Psalm 1:1)  Thus, the life that is blessed—happy, prosperous, and all it was intended to be—is a life in which we are constantly moving towards God.  One in which we do not allow anything to stop, impede, or distract us.  For the world, the flesh, and the devil would love to try to make us give up on this sacred journey.  They would love for us to stop moving altogether—to go from walking to standing to sitting—because stagnation in the spiritual life always comes from a lack of movement.  When we stop moving forward, we actually end up going backwards.  There is no neutral in life with God; you are either growing or you are dying.  We can only tread water for so long before we start to sink.

The life that God blesses involves a constant movement in his direction.  It involves constantly delighting in and meditating on the words and character of God.  It involves a continual awareness of his presence and an ongoing engagement with his Spirit.  In order for our souls to prosper, we must be continually moving in his direction, taking that next step.  Thus, it is no accident that the word prosper in the Hebrew literally means to move forward.

What is the current movement of your life with God?  How are you intentionally moving towards him each day?  What is your next step in your life with him?  Will you take it?

Show us, O Lord, where and how we have stopped moving in your direction.  Show us those places in our lives where we have allowed ourselves to become complacent, stagnant, and lifeless.  Get us up on our feet, O Lord, and help us to start moving in your direction.  For only then will we be able to experience the life that you call blessed.  Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2020

sowing in tears

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:5) 

What is it about “sowing in tears?”  Why not sowing in joy, or sowing in comfort, or sowing in ease?  What is it about tears that makes the harvest so much more fruitful?  What is it about pain that produces more sheaves within us, among us, and around us?

The Greek tragedian, Aeschylus, once said: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Somehow, in God’s economy, tears and pain produce the most fertile soil for growth.  Our most painful seasons and experiences become the best seedbeds for future harvest.  In those times, God accomplishes things deep within us that could be accomplished in no other way—if we are open and willing.  Sowing in tears can bring about a harvest of righteousness.

So in your times of deepest sorrow and sadness, do not despair, God is up to something. He can and will bring about a harvest in due time.  One day, if you are faithful to keep on sowing, tears and all, you will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with you. One day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

surrounded

 “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” (Psalm 32:10)

What does it look like, this surrounded life?  A life where we are safe to live and to breathe and to work and to play and to rest in his loving care.  A life where there is no need to hide, nor jockey, nor posture, nor defend, nor perform.  A life where we are held safe in the strong and loving arms of the Divine Trinity and are invited into their great round dance of love.

Can you imagine the beauty and the delight of such a life?  A life in which we, as Thomas Kelly so beautifully described, are held in “a Holy Center where the breath and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us and we are wholly yielded to Him.”

That’s the life God most wants for us. That’s the life we were created to live.  The only thing keeping us from it, is us.  We must decide that that’s the life we want, and move toward it.  We must stop trying to do it all on our own and turn to him. We must open ourselves up completely to his love and his care, and trust our entire being to him. He will do the rest.

Monday, October 12, 2020

the question

 “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36, 51)

Just leave it up to you, Lord Jesus, to ask us the one question we should be asking you.  For this life is not about us. Forgive us when we get it backwards and think that it is. Forgive us when we so consumed with our own issues and agendas that we forget we are not the point, you are.  

Help us to be the ones to ask that question today, THE question: “What do you want, Lord Jesus? What do you want us to do for you?“ For life is about your kingdom, not our own.

Friday, October 9, 2020

losing track

“Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day.’ (Luke 2:44) 

It is so easy to lose track of Jesus.  And it’s not just us, even his parents did it.  You know what I’m talking about.  We get so preoccupied with our own activities and concerns and agendas that somehow they become primary and Jesus becomes secondary.  Then, before we know it, we’ve travelled a couple of days without him and haven’t even realized it.  We have gotten so wrapped up in own business that we have forgotten about him completely.

The problem is that we tend to let other things—seemingly urgent things—take up the foreground of our lives, while we, knowingly or unknowingly, move Jesus (the most important thing) to the background.  Other things become focal and Jesus becomes peripheral.  And once we lose sight of Jesus, it is hard to even notice that he’s not there.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Therefore, we must pay careful attention.  We must not allow our schedules and our hurry and our busyness to lull us to sleep.  We must stay awake and alert.  We must have eyes to see Jesus and ears to hear Jesus even in the tiniest little details of our lives.  For Jesus is not imperious or domineering.  He is not overbearing or oppressive.  He will stand and knock, but he will not bust down the door.  He waits to be noticed and invited in.  He will not compete for the time and attention that is rightfully his.  It is up to us to figure out how to keep him in the foreground of our lives.  He is always to be primary, not secondary.  And, in order for us to live the lives he created us to live, he must remain focal rather than peripheral.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

hiding

Hiding is an interesting phenomenon.  It is the art of concealing or covering oneself.  It comes about as a result of fear—a fear of danger, a fear of harm, or a fear of being exposed.

There was no hiding before the fall.  The man and the woman were with God in the garden and they were naked and unashamed. (Genesis 2:25) But only ten short verses later (Genesis 3:10), that very same man and woman find themselves hiding from the Lord their God.  “I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”  And, thus, hiding and covering has been a way of life ever since.

Which brings us to Psalm 32, a close companion of Psalm 51.  It is an ancient prayer of David describing what happens when we hide and cover up, and what happens when we stop hiding and turn to God.  “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer,” David says. (Psalm 32:3-4) But then he came out of hiding and “acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” (Psalm 32:5) That’s when the life and the breath and the peace reentered his soul once again.  So much so that he then states, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7)  Thus, in two short verses, David is able to go from hiding from God, to hiding in God.  And if that wasn't enough, the psalm even goes on to say that "the Lord surrounds the man who trust in him." (Psalm 32:10) Absolutely remarkable!

And that is our invitation as well.  We all hide.  We hide from God, we hide from each other, and we even hide from ourselves.  Like Adam and Eve, we spend most of our lives sewing together fig leaves in order to hide our nakedness and our shame.  And it is exhausting!  We long to live lives of authenticity.  We long to live lives that are genuine and true.  We long to get back to the Garden where we can stand before God, and each other, naked and unashamed, the way we were created to be.

God offers the same invitation to us that he offered to King David: “Come on.  Come to me.  Stop hiding from me and start hiding in me.  Let me be your hiding place.  Let me be the one who loves you, provides for you, and protects you.  Let me be the one who delivers you.  Let me surround you with my unfailing love and care.  Let me be your safe place.  True safety is only possible in me.”   

O Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.  Today and every day.  Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2020

fear and love

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him. . . .” (Psalm 103:17)  

What an odd combination: love and fear.  Normally, we think about fear as the enemy of love (see 1 John 4:18), but that must not always be true.  For, time after time, particularly in the Old Testament, we are encouraged to fear the Lord.  In fact, we are told in the Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)  And here, in Psalm 103, we are actually told that the Lord’s great love is with those who fear him.  So there must be a type of fear that is not the enemy of love, but an intimate friend.  A fear that doesn’t drive love away, but actually increases and deepens it.

It is the kind of fear that John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) exhibited when he encountered the Living, Glorified, Eternal Jesus, whose face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance, in Revelation 1:16.  John’s response to seeing that Jesus was to fall down at his feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:17)  It is the kind of fear that Simon Peter voiced in the middle of a boat full of fish in Luke 5:8, when he said “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  If is the kind of fear that sees the glory and the power and the bigness of our God.  It is the kind of fear that Job was overcome by after God showed up in power (in Job 40 and 41), asking Job a series of questions that he could not answer.  Job’s only response was: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  I therefore repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5) It is the kind of fear that actually makes love increase.  The kind of fear that shows us just how big and wonderful and powerful and glorious our God really is.

I am afraid that, all too often, we miss that kind of fear because we remove it from the picture.  We focus on the immanence of God, at the expense of his transcendence.  We focus only on the God who is with us, rather than also on the God who is high and lifted up.  We try to reduce God to our image, instead of remembering that we were made in his.  We get so comfortable with God that we tame him.  We remove the qualities and characteristics of God that scare us, or make us uncomfortable, in an effort to make him manageable and understandable.  We try to bring him down to our size, rather than allowing him to be the big and wild and free and holy and powerful and untamable God that he is.

Somehow we need to realize that fear and love are not an either or proposition, but a both and.  Somehow we need to recapture the glory and the awe and the magnificence of God’s transcendence, without sacrificing the beauty of his immanence.  Because this kind of fear is not the enemy of love, but its friend.

O Lord our God, high and holy, yet near and present, help us to honor both your transcendence and your immanence, as we come before you this day.  Thank you that somehow they are not enemies, but intimate friends; not opposites, but compliments.  Both of them help us to see a part of you that must always be seen, experienced, and acknowledged.  Give us the wisdom to know how to hold them together.  Amen.