Dec 31, 2010

What does it mean to lose our life and find it in Jesus?

I take this straight from Dallas Willard's book, Renovation of the Heart (Navpress, 2002). I would list it as one of the top contemporary books that I have read about spiritual formation, and of course, his classic work The Divine Conspiracy (Harper San Francisco, 1998) should also be included. He draws on the faith throughout the centuries to explain the process of spiritual formation. He isn't say anything new, but is explaining these truths for those in this day. These are two books I suggest that all read, especially those who are serious about following Jesus.

"When Jesus says we must lose our lives if we are to find them, he is teaching, on the negative side, that we must not make ourselves and our 'survival' the ultimate point of reference in the the world--must not, in effect, treat ourselves as God should be treated, or treat ourselves as God. Thus Paul shockingly said, 'Covetousness is idolatry' (Colossians 3:5 PAR). Isn't that somewhat exaggerated? No. Covetousness is self-idolatry, for it makes my desires paramount. It means I would take what I want if I could. To defeat covetousness means we rejoice that others enjoy the benefits they do.

To make my desires paramount is what Paul described as having a 'flesh mind' or 'mind of the flesh,' which is a state of death (Romans 8:6). Such a mind 'sows to one's own flesh'--invests only in one's natural self--and 'out of that flesh reaps corruption' (Galatians 6:8 PAR). 'Corruption' or 'coming apart' is the natural end of the flesh. 'Flesh' can only be preserved by being caught up with the higher life of the kingdom of God and thus 'losing' the life peculiar to it.

In other words, when Jesus says that those who find their life or soul shall lose it, he is pointing out that those who think that they are in control of their life . . . will find that they are definitely not in control: they are totally at the mercy of forces beyond them, and even within them. The are on a sure course to disintegration and powerlessness, of lostness both to themselves and God. The must surrender.

By contrast, if they give up the project of being the ultimate point of reference in their life--of doing only what they want, of 'sowing to the flesh' or to the natural aims and abilities of the human being--there can be hope. If they in that sense lose their life in favor of God's life, or for the sake of Jesus and what he is doing one earth...then their soul (life) will be preserved and thus given back to th em."

Renovation of the Heart (Navpress, 2002), 65.

Dec 29, 2010

Banging Your Head Against the Wall

"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." I Corinthians 10:13. 

One of the most frustratingly painful things in life is to watch someone go down the drain--knowingly make bad decisions--that lead to ruin-- despite loving warnings. Do you know of a friend or a loved one who continues to make bad decisions (primarily based on their feelings)? Perhaps he or she thinks this time around it'll be different--even when wisdom says otherwise.

I must say that as a teenager there was a time when I made a string of bad decisions. It started with one decision. I decided to date a non-believer even though I knew that the Lord forbade it. That one decision led to five years of pain, disillusionment, and darkness (and I must say, it's not only unbelievers that Christians shouldn't date. Some professing believers are not worth dating because they are unhealthy--they are enslaved to self and sin). I wish someone had said to me, "Marlena, don't do this." But even so. I was still responsible for my disobedience and much of the destruction I brought upon myself. Looking back, I remember asking, "God why did you allow this to happen to me?" What I at first didn't see is that I brought it on myself. It wasn't God's fault. No, no, God wasn't culpable. I was.

Perhaps that it is why it is so difficult for me to watch friends and loved ones knowingly enter poisonous, destructive, life-sucking relationships or watch them slowly circle the drain and then eventually go down the drain. They ask for advice. I give it. They reject it. I want to bang my head against the wall--especially when I am giving advice straight from Scripture.

But I must remember, that much of the time advice is easier given than followed. It can be very painful to do the right thing after we've stepped into a den vipers. Their bites stun us. We know we'll get bitten when we try to escape. But Oh! Better to get bitten on the way out than to remain inside.

It can be painful to do the right thing. But that pain, leads to life and healing. Whereas continuing on the road of destruction leads to death. Every time take the way of escape. God always provides one (I Cor. 10:13).

What you and I need to do...after we've given the advice sought from us is leave the person/situation in the hands of God. We cannot control people even if we intend their good. We must continue interceding on their behalf.

It's funny. Perhaps God feels this way all of the time. He gives us his commands and wisdom in love so that we might have life, but we choose death. He provides ways of escape after we've gotten into the most complicated of messes, but we don't take them. We then wonder why we're in the messes we are in. And blame him.

He will not force us to obey even though obedience leads to life.

If I feel like I am figuratively banging my head against the wall, does not the Lord? Maybe not. He is much more patient than me.

Dec 20, 2010

What is that to you? The Folly of Envy

“What is that to you? You must follow me.” -- John 22:21

Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Yet at times during the race, we take our eyes off him. What diverts our attention from Christ? Sideline distractions? Other participants?

Imagine running a race and then suddenly hearing the quick strides and controlled breathing of another runner. As the runner approaches, you sneak a quick peek to determine the runner’s proximity to you and whether or not you recognize the face. And then it happens: in the split second it took you to turn your head you drifted off the path, tripped and fell into a ditch. You’re livid. There’s no use getting up now. The other runner is way ahead. You’ll come in last for sure. So you lay there, staring at the sky, sulking in the ditch, bitterly complaining to the Lord, “Why’d you let me fall? You could’ve prevented it. You could’ve made me faster. It’s not fair that so and so is ahead. So and so is always getting ahead of me.” You grow angry at and envious of so and so. As you fume in the ditch, runners pass by. A few slow down, beckoning you to get up and keep running. You ignore them. You’d rather stay wallowing in the ditch of dejection.

In John 21:15-20, Jesus identifies Peter’s calling and reveals details about Peter’s death. Yet Peter didn’t ponder his calling or the specifics of his death. Instead, his first impulse was to turn when he noticed John and ask, “Lord, what about him?” (John 21:21). Peter wants to know what the Lord plans on doing with John’s life and how John would die. Jesus gently rebukes him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). In essence Jesus was saying, “Peter, don’t concern yourself with John, concern yourself with me. Keep your eyes on me, fulfill what I’ve just commissioned you to do and leave John’s life in my hands.”

Do you get tripped up because you’re too busy focusing on others instead of Christ? Do you compare and then become discouraged because of their abilities, beauty, or accomplishments? Do you question God about your own pace and wonder why he hasn’t given you the opportunities he has given them? When you do that, bitterness towards God and envy towards others creeps into your soul. Your race comes to a screeching halt. You’re in the ditch. In the sin filled ditch of envy, we project our values on God acting as if he values the object of our envy and the role he has ordained for him or her to play more than he values us. However, it is we who place a higher value on that person, not God.

When we do this, Jesus says to us, “What is that to you? Follow me.” Jesus did not let any person or thing deter him from accomplishing what he was sent to do.

“Envy is the ulcer of the soul.” --Socrates--

Dec 18, 2010

Do Not Judge . . .

 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." Luke 6:37

Most of us, even those considered wise, have the tendency to rush into judgment. We hear one side of a story or a piece here and there and think we have the person or matter all pieced together--all figured out. We become smugly convinced of our own ruling in the matter.

Yet Jesus warns us not to judge others.  Does that mean we cannot call actions wrong that God clearly does?  Does that mean that we keep silent when others trespass against us and others?

Clearly, the answers to the two questions above is "no." We can question actions and call sinful sinful actions and behavior. We shouldn't always keep silent when people trespass against us and others; that could encourage oppression. Yet, some of us need to be more practiced in overlooking minor offenses.

I think Jesus is warning us not to assume insight into another's motives or to condemn people to nothing more than what we have pigeon-holed them. God knows all the circumstances, nuances, temperments and histories that lead a person to do what he or she does. We just don't have the knowledge, wisdom or evidence that God does. We can lovingly call people to the carpet for sinful behavior; we cannot render a judgment on their souls.

God is good and just. Any judgment or sentence he issues will fit the crime. Yet, we should be careful with how we label people or how we think of them in our hearts.

And if the Church must discipline for actions, it should be a communal decision, with  input from the wisest members. It should be careful to have as much evidence as possible.

I think Jesus was telling us to be sure to remember that God holds court and that we do not. God is the judge. We are netiher judge nor jury.

Dec 17, 2010

Please Support The Dream Act (In The USA)

Hello friends. The Dream Act is very important. It passed the house and all of sudden came up for a vote in the senate. There will be a senate vote tomorrow, Saturday,  12-18-2010. I ask that U.S. citizens read this, consider this, and hopefully act!

I copied and pasted this report from:

UMNS Report

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

5:00 P.M. EST December 1, 2010

Carlos Amador, 25, and Sofia Campos, 20, grew up thinking they could be part of the great American dream that promises hard work and perseverance leads to prosperity and success.

The two bright, talented young people are waking up to the reality that despite excelling in academics and devoting a large portion of their time to community service, their dreams will probably not come true.

Amador was born in Mexico City and his parents brought him to the U.S. when he was 14. Campos, born in Lima, Peru, arrived in the U.S. when she was 6. Both are good, hard-working students. Both are also illegal immigrants.

Amador is in graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles, pursuing a master’s degree in social work. Campos is in her fourth year at UCLA and wants to go to graduate school for a dual program in law and public health. But when they graduate, their immigration status will likely prevent them from finding work in the United States.

They are two of more than 800,000 young people who could benefit from passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or DREAM Act.

The legislation would allow illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children — 15 and under — and have lived in the country for five years to apply to the Homeland Security Department for conditional legal status after graduating from high school.

Their legal status would make them eligible for in-state college tuition rates and some forms of federal financial aid. If they attend college or participate in military service for at least two years, they would qualify for legal residency and be on the path to citizenship.

Supporters say the act will encourage young people to join the military and attend college.

Opponents call the bill an amnesty program for children whose parents broke U.S. immigration laws.

Praying for a vote

As Congress reconvenes for the lame-duck session, DREAM Act students are rallying again in hopes that the bill will come up for a vote and pass.

Earlier this year, the Senate voted 56-43 against a defense bill that included the DREAM act as an amendment. The act has been introduced in Congress in various forms since 2003. United Methodist Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, introduced the DREAM Act in 2009. This is the third Congress in which Lugar and Durbin have introduced the legislation.

Opponents to the act say it would send a message to parents that violating immigration laws could eventually allow citizenship and access to taxpayer-funded financial benefits for their children.

”The DREAM Act is a nightmare for the American people. It is an assault on law-abiding, taxpaying American citizens and legal immigrants,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who has signed on as a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, said the act is an incentive for bright and motivated students to become responsible, valuable members of society.

“Every year undocumented children graduate from our nation’s high schools or receive the equivalent of a secondary degree. From there, they can take one of two paths: They can look at the hopelessness of their situation and get involved in crime, even join street gangs; or they can continue their education, find a good job and give back something to the United States.”

“Many of these young people make the shocking discovery that they are not American citizens when they attempt to get a driver’s license. When they realize they have no country, no future, no hope, this sends many of them into the depths of depression.” –Lori Stafford.United Methodist support

Amador and Campos are two of the “dreamers” Jeanne Roe Smith works with in IDEAS@UCLA, a student organization made up of DREAM supporters. Smith is United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at UCLA.

“Their dream is to create legal pathways to citizenship by demonstrating their academic, moral and emotional fortitude and capacity to be recognized for what some of us already see — as incredible, gifted, committed, compassionate, productive members of our community, campus and world,” she said.

She said the DREAM Act would be a good first step toward correcting “a wayward and broken immigration system.”

Lori Stafford, a member of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas, said it breaks her heart to see the impact being undocumented has on young people.

Many of the students were brought to the U.S. as infants and have grown up as Americans, she said. She wonders why society would invest so many resources into education and then deny an opportunity to work.

“Many of these young people make the shocking discovery that they are not American citizens when they attempt to get a driver’s license,” she said. “When they realize they have no country, no future, no hope, this sends many of them into the depths of depression.”

William Lawrence, dean and professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, said education is an investment in the next generation of leaders.

In a column published on the religion blog for the Dallas Morning News, Lawrence addressed the moral argument for passage of the act.

“Let's be clear. The places at publicly funded universities are available on a competitive admission basis, as everyone knows. While some … might try to push the notion that a dependent child of someone who entered the U.S. illegally could occupy a place that might be occupied by somebody else’s child, the reality is that all young applicants will compete for admission to such places — their grades, leadership gifts, extracurricular achievements, scores on standardized tests (SAT or ACT), along with other measuring devices, will determine invitations to enroll.”

In the 2008 Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, the church supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes students being able to get an education at an affordable rate.

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society supports the bipartisan DREAM Act of 2009 (H.R. 1751/S.729).

“We hope that Congress acts quickly to enact this piece of legislation,” said Bill Mefford, director of civil and human rights at the agency. “Passage of the DREAM Act is one important step toward the just and humane reform the broken immigration system needs.”

The agency is urging United Methodists to pray daily and call senators and representatives in support of the DREAM Act. United Methodist Bishop Minerva CarcaƱo of the Phoenix Area has asked United Methodists on Dec. 1 to call their senators and representatives, and ask them to vote for and publicly support the bill.
Dream means everything

Amador participated in a hunger strike outside of Sen. Feinstein’s office last July. He said the students felt they needed to put their lives on the line to show how much the dream means to them.

After the bill failed in September, Amador said he is still hopeful it will pass and vows to continue to work for passage by the end of 2010.

“We are upset and saddened that our dreams have not yet become true, but I feel as many other students that the DREAM Act will pass sooner than ever,” he said.

From the National Association of Latino Evangelicals

Call now, and we'll connect you to a Senator still wavering on the DREAM Act: 866-587-6101. Colleagues, they’re saying the odds are against us right now, but we know better than to let that stop us. Last week, when the DREAM Act came up in the House, we were in the same spot. We didn’t have a clear path to victory. But we made over 70,000 calls to Congress on the day of the vote, and we won by a margin of 20 votes

Dec 14, 2010

Blessing Tied To Obedience.

You live your everyday life in obedience to God. The best you know how. But  no one notices. Then again, you're not anything spectacular, no one high-profile--even in obedience. You wonder sometimes if it is worth it--if God even takes note of your obscure, unseen life.

It's not that you want pats on the back--you just want to know if you're on the right path--if you're pleasing God. It'd be nice to hear from him sometimes. Maybe a little "I've noticed you, I've noticed your faithfulness. You're work is not in vain" would be good.

May I encourage you and myself with the truth that God pays particular attention to you? He notices every detail about your life. Strengths, weaknesses, sins, dreams and aspirations, hardships, faithfulness.
He sees your motivations and self-sacrifice. He knows that you love him deeply.

He doesn't waste your obedience; he treasures it. Your obedience brings forth his kingdom. And it makes you healthy and whole. Do you realize that? Have you noticed that as you obey, you are becoming more fully human--and healthy? It's true.

And you are overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Do you know that your obedience brings goodness and health to those around you (and in some cases, to those on the ends of the earth, those  you've never met)? Your obedience births temporal and eternal blessings. None of us are ever quite fully aware of the implications of our obedience.

Another beautiful thing about obedience, perhaps the most beautiful of all is found in a promise from Jesus in John 14:21:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

In your obedience you show that you love Jesus. And you, the one who demonstrates your love  of Jesus by obeying him, you are the one who is loved by the Father and the Son. The Father and the Son will show themselves to you. God has a special affection for you. A love you cannot comprehend.

To me, these are some of the most precious words spoken. God sees your obedience. Whether you're aware of it or not, your obedience is tied to both temporal and eternal blessings for yourself and others.

Now you and I, like Hagar can say, "He is the God who sees me."

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

God sees you.

*Note: I am not saying that these blessings are necessarily material blessings in this life.

Dec 13, 2010

Spiritual Poverty

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3)

Most of us Christian folk think ourselves to be much holier than we are. We point the finger at others, not realizing that the very things we see and despise in them reside in us. Yet others see it. And we wonder why we are labeled hypocrites. If we could just resist pointing out the wrong in others and trying to right the wrong in others, maybe we'd see the wrong, or as Jesus says, the plank in our own eyes. If we are to confront, we should do so gently and lovingly.

In no way should we expect unbelievers to act like Christians or believe what Christians believe. When they do or say things we wouldn't...that should come as no surprise. Show them Christ and let him Christianize them.

But O the day when we realize that we too are very much like those we perceive to be less mature than we are! Perhaps that is the day when spiritual poverty (humility, sense of weakness and reality--sober and accurate judgment of ourselves) will begin to reign in our lives.

Have you noticed that we thoroughly resist others when they point out our sins and shortcomings though they may be dead on?

Then again, once we do realize who we really are, we are tempted to fall into despair. But we need not. Let us see ourselves for who we are and beg for God's grace. In him, in our weakness, we are strongest. He is gracious to those who are humble. He resists the proud, not the humble.

We need Jesus desperately, Immanuel, God with us. We need the God who comes and is coming.

O Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner. Amen.

Dec 11, 2010

Prepare For The God Who Comes - An Advent Meditation.

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "

Originally posted December 6, 2009.

Prepare the Way for the Lord!

In ancient times, inhabitants of cities built wide, straight, smooth roads when kings were coming into the city. The king had to have a special entrance. Craig Barnes tells us that:

One of the most exciting archeological digs going on in Israel is in Beit Shean which is uncovering a great Roman City. If you go there today you can see the main entrance into the city which is a wide, straight, even road, with magnificent columns on either side. That city is located at the juncture of the Jezreel and Jericho valleys. John the Baptist must have been by it all the time. Anyone traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem would have seen it. Everyone knew that a long straight road was what you made when a king was coming.[1]

The Romans spent a lot of time building good roads so that they could expand their empire. Roads were used as trade routes, for foot travel, and to move armies from place to place. And as I said earlier, the best roads were built to welcome the royal entourage. It is said that at the height of the Roman Empire, there were 53,000 miles of good road.[2] Of course the roads fell into disrepair when the empire crumbled. But some of those ancient roads are still used today, although they’ve been paved and repaved over and over again.

During Advent, we wait in joyful expectation preparing for the God who comes, for the God who is always coming as Carlo Carretto so beautifully put it. We need God to come because we are inclined toward destruction. Left to ourselves we make straight paths crooked and smooth places rough. We throw booby traps onto the road, make pot-holes or manholes that people fall into and can’t climb out of. Left to ourselves, we cut paths that depart from the way, the truth, and life without even knowing it, ending up God-knows-where. Left to ourselves, we become destroyers of the road and destroyers of all who pass by—robbing them, beating them up and even killing them. We pollute. We corrupt. We devalue the valuable and value the worthless. So you see, we desperately need the God who comes and is always coming and will eventually come to redeem all things.

I love my husband and daughter infinitely, but at times I say and do things that can destroy, things that mar the beauty of our marriage and family. I cringe as I think about a time when words that I meant for good, had an evil effect in the church, on a friend, because I didn’t think more about how to say them. And you know, as Coldplay sings, sometimes I wonder if I am part of the cure or part of the disease, the destruction. So you see, I desperately need the God who comes, who is coming.

John the Baptist has been considered by some to be the last Old Testament prophet. Although he wasn’t the Messiah, he paved the way for Jesus the Messiah. He was filling religious valleys and excavating spiritual hills and mountains. But his road construction didn’t just affect and threaten the gospel-less religious institutions, his message paved socio-political and economic roads that some didn’t want paved. He both intrigued and threatened Herod in the political establishment. However, neither Herod nor his wife would allow John the Baptist to build inroads. So eventually he lost his head, beheaded on the road to Zion. Sometimes that happens when you make ready the pathways for the Lord. And God will reward those who sacrifice their lives to pave the way for his coming.

John the Baptist still speaks. He speaks to us in the words of Isaiah the prophet in Luke chapter three and calls us to prepare the way for the Lord, to make straight paths for him so that every valley is filled in, and every mountain and hill is made low. Then the crooked roads will become straight and the rough ways smooth. But we’re going to have a hard go of it, a hard time making straight paths for others if we are all crooked inside. And all of us are crooked in some way.

It is said that the phrase, “I am stumped” comes from back in the day when tree stumps were left on wagon trails.[3] Apparently, when the trees weren’t completely taken out, when stumps were left, sometimes wagons got hung up on a stump, thus the phrase, “I’m stumped.”[4] Are we stumping Christ, stumping others or are we currently stumped?

This Advent, Christ is knocking at the door of our hearts asking if he can come in to make the rough places in us smooth. Are we going to be hospitable to God? Are we going to allow him to get to work and fill in the valleys and bring low the hills and mountains in our souls so that we can do the same in the world? We must. For as Saint Teresa of Avila says (as quoted in A Guide To Prayer For Ministers and Other Servants):

Christ has
No body on earth but yours;
No hands but yours;
No feet but yours;
Yours are the eyes
Through which is to look out
Christ’s compassion on the world;
Yours are the feet
With which he is to go about
Doing good;
Yours are the hands
With which he is to bless now.[5]

Missing His Coming

We know Christ came, is coming and will come again, but we need to remind ourselves that it is possible to miss his coming. Many who looked forward to his coming, missed it because he came unexpectedly. Most of the educated religious people of his day missed it. And today, we can miss him because we’re too busy. Too busy paving our own roads while claiming to be doing his work. Notice that the word of God came to John the Baptist in the desert. The desert wilderness was a place where people went to hear God.[6] Sometimes God sends us into the wilderness to get us away from our busy lives, so that we can hear him. Sometimes, we have to pack up and head there ourselves if we are to hear him. What I mean is, we have to have silence and solitude to hear God. It could be in our rooms or in a park in the city. But we have to make time to hear him speak.

Why? Because our incessant busyness puts us in grave danger of missing Christ when he comes. We want to advance ourselves, sometimes in the church or in Christian institutions. So we miss him as we play church or play at Christianity. It is a very real danger. In Matthew 25, at the end of the age, when Jesus rewards those who were hospitable to him, who noticed him when he came, he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”[7] We can’t say, Oh Jesus, I wanted to, but I was too busy doing things (or paving my own roads) to welcome you when you came. He’ll tell us to depart, that we never knew him. May that never be for anyone here. May we not miss Jesus when he comes.

I close with a poem written by monk John L’Hereux reprinted in the book, Monk Habits For Everyday People by Dennis Okholm:

Christ came into my room
and stood there
and I was bored to death.
I had work to do.
I wouldn’t have minded
If he’d been crippled
Or something—I do well
With cripples—but he
Just stood there, all face,
And with that d—ned guitar.
I didn’t ask him to sit down:
He’d have stayed all day.
(Let’s be honest. You can
Be crucified just so often;
Then you’ve had it. I mean
You’re useless; no good
To God, let alone
Anybody else.) So I said
To him after a while—
Well, what’s up? What do you want?
And he laughed, stupid,
Said he was just passing by
And thought he’d say hello.
Great, I said, hello.
So he left.
And I was so d—ned mad
I couldn’t even listen
To the radio. I went
And got some coffee.
The trouble with Christ is
He always comes at the wrong time.[8]

Christ is coming this Advent, may we be prepared for his coming and pave the way for him to come into the lives and institutions and the world so that all humankind will see his salvation. Amen.

[1] Found online at:
[2] Found online at:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ruben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants, (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1983), 22.
[6] Found online at:
[7] Matthew 25:34-37 NIV.
[8] Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits For Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2007), 88.

Dec 9, 2010

All This Jesus Talk . . .

"Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." James 3:1

"Not many of you should become teachers" or seek to become teachers Saint James says. And I think to myself, "Am I seeking to become a teacher?" Not in the strictest sense. However, by writing and talking and living in the situations I do, I find myself in a tutorial position. And then at times I become self-conscious and tremble with a real fear. I see how far short of the glory of God I fall--how far short I fall of the very things I speak about (see Romans 3:23).

Should I not speak of such things then? For I do have the sneaking suspicion that I am going to fall under the category of those who will be judged more strictly. But then I think of all of us Christians who talk an awful lot and read an awful lot about Jesus, about his ways, about the Church, about our heavenly father.

We mistake our talk for a life lived (We're full of God-talk but quite God-less). In a sense, God cares not how much we talk about him. What he cares about is if our life is consistent with how we talk. And of course we need his grace for our life to match our words. But if our words far out pace the life of Christ in us, creating a large gap, we better rethink what we actually believe. Because we live what we actually believe, not what we think we believe.

I do tremble. And I pray, "God have mercy on me a sinner." My worst nightmare is to make God look bad because of how I live in my everyday common life. I do not want to misrepresent him in the mundane, even in the unseen--in my thoughts.

God have mercy on me a sinner. This day. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Fully Present? Living Incarnationally? CT Post

Here is something I wrote recently that was posted yesterday. This article highlights the question: What does it mean to live incarnationally, to be fully present to one another? Are you fully present to those around you? That is something I must ponder.

Dec 7, 2010

God Doesn't Fly Off The Handle

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love." Psalm 103:8

Earlier this evening my daughter was being naughty. She wasn't listening. I was becoming frustrated, but trying to be patient. I was thinking about whether or not I should fight this or that battle with her (she is supremely strong-willed so every little thing can turn into a battle when she is on a roll) or whether I should chalk up some of her misbehavior to being tired. I wasn't really sure what to do.
And in the moment, in the midst of all this, I had the thought, "I am sure glad that God doesn't fly off the handle. I am glad God is patient and kind with me." The thought fueled my own patience; I wanted to be an icon of God even if she doesn't know that was my purpose.
Do we view God as someone who flies off the handle? Do we think him cruel--just waiting to pour out his wrath upon us at our very least trespass?
God does judge. Yes, he does. But he is patient and kind and makes a fair and righteous judgment. He delights in kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth.
This is what the LORD says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD.

Remembering about how good God is to me,  how patient, and how kind he is...and how much he loves me, enables me to be more patient with my daughter and others close to me. Hopefully, it will allow her and others to be patient with me. God doesn't fly off the handle even if that is what we do.

Dec 6, 2010

Cold creeping in . . .

There is a cold advisory tonight for the region I live in:


And I think of all the homeless people or those that don't have the wherewithal to heat their homes. Sometimes the warmest place for children is in school. The warmest place for an adult may be a convenience store, a grocery store, library, or restaurant. A snow day is so hard for some children because they go home to cold dwellings and no food.

Lets pray for them and for those in such need no matter where we live. And perhaps the Lord would now have us do something in one way or another. Are we doing what we can? We must now and throughout our lives.

Sometimes we think we have little to be thankful for when really we have so much.

May the God of peace and love protect you and be your refuge.

Dec 5, 2010

A Contemporary Testimony

All spheres of life --
family and friendship,
work and worship,
school and state,
play and art --
bear the wounds of our rebellion.

Sin is present everywhere--
in pride of race,
arrogance of nations,
abuse of the weak and helpless,
disregard for water, air, and soil,
destruction of living creatures,
slavery, murder, terror, war,
worship of false gods,
the  mistreatment of our bodies,
and our frantic efforts to escape reality.

We become victims of our own sin.

In all our striving to excuse ourselves,
we stand condemned
before the God of truth.

But our world,
broken and scarred,
still belongs to God,
who holds it together and gives us hope.

Contemporary Testimony from the Christian Reformed Church 16,17

Dec 3, 2010

Evangelical Dishonesty

I received this link from a friend. It is very poignant and compelling. Convicting. It comes from Randy Alcorn at Eternal Perspective Ministries.

Dec 2, 2010

Compassion: Being in the World Who God Is

Father Greg Boyle writes, "If we long to be in the world who God is, then, somehow, our compassion has to find its way to vastness." He goes on to quote Wendell Berry, "You  have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours." And then he continues, "Compassion isn't just about feeling the pain of others; it's about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what  God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. 'Being compassionate as God is compassionate,' means the dismantling of barriers that exclude. In Scripture, Jesus is in a house so packed that no one can come through the door anymore. So the people open the roof and lower this paralytic down through it, so Jesus can heal him. The focus of the story is, understandably, the healing of the paralytic. But there is something more significant than that happening here. They're ripping the roof off the place, and those outside are being let in."

~ Father Greg Boyle in the book Tattoos on the Heart pp. 66,74,75

Dec 1, 2010

Taking the Long View

"It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Bishop Oscar Romero
Original Post 6-10-2010

Nov 30, 2010

Crushed By Another's Burden

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2

The Lord asks us to bear one another's burdens. We are to be yokefellows with others, to assist them however we healthily can with their troubles in this life. Sometimes it is just listening. Other times it is taking action, providing money or food, or childcare. It could be visiting someone in the hospital or jail. It is being  hospitable and a friend. It is helping to do what needs done. It is conducting ourselves like loving brothers and sisters in Christ. It could be offering guidance. All this involves discernment and wisdom. And certainly prayer.

Sometimes we are unsure of what to do. We wonder if helping would be hindering or enabling. That is where prayer and the counsel of wise brothers and sisters comes into play. But let us suppose that we are predisposed to helping one another however we can. That's not the problem. The problem is that the burden of the other starts to crush us. On our beds at night, we turn the problem over and over in our minds. We toss and turn. We lose sleep. That is when the weight of another's burden crushes us.

We've taken on too much. We've stepped into God's position. He tells us to carry one another's burden. But he also tells us not to worry (Matthew 6:25-33). We have to choose not to worry. After we have done all we can to assist (not more than we can that is God's work) we have to choose to trust God and leave that person and their burdens with him. We bear the burden by praying and helping.

It is God who disentangles and purifies a person. And yes, he uses others to help that process along. We do not disentangle and purify a person; we provide guidance and help. But the person ultimately must make the decision to do what is right, or to take steps toward wisdom, to take steps towards life. God is more than sufficient to help them to do so. He gives his grace (divine aid).

So if we are worrying, losing sleep, and in so doing condsidering that part of bearing the burdens of another, let us stop the worry. No one benefits by our loss of health. God says to ask for the manna we need today and not worry about tomorrow. Let us do what we can today and lay down without worry on our minds.

If we find ourselves worrying about a person or situation and losing sleep, let us turn to God and thank him and praise him for all his wonderful attributes. Let us pray or read. Anything but worry. Worry is sin and not good for us, although some of us are more prone to it than others.

Nov 28, 2010

Three "Nevers" Having To Do With Humility

It is true. Lately, I've posted much about humility. I know not why exactly except that it has been on my mind. It just seems I am reading about it and also hoping that God will knead it deeper into my soul and that I will do (or be) my part, too.

That said, here is a morsel I gleaned from our Renovare discussion thread. It is from my friend in Huntsville, Texas, Helen.

1. Never pretend
2. Never presume – that you deserve things.
3. Never push – standing for what is right is different than sticking up for your rights. Standing up for what is right is not a personal issue. Get out of the business of making things happen. You don’t push…you let God do it. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God means let him carry the load. Don’t trust your best.

This is from a discussion about Dallas Willard's book, Renovation of the Heart.

Nov 23, 2010

Questions About Christianity

My husband ( a philosophy professor) was recently asked some questions about Christianity by a student concerned for her friend.  He shared the questions and his answers with me. I found the questions to be good questions and his responses so thoughtful  and helpful that I wanted to share them with my readers and whoever else happens to providentially stumble upon the blog. I do so with permission.

(My next post will probably be after the U.S.'s Thanksgiving. So please feel free to look around at others. May the Lord bless you.)

First his disclaimer to the student asking the question:
As I'm sure you are aware, this is a long journey you are on with your friend. There's no reason to expect it to resolve quickly. In fact, it's not even clear what 'resolution' means here. Deeply devout, fully committed followers of Jesus have asked these questions throughout their walk with Jesus. There is a grand tradition within the Church of faith seeking understanding. Perhaps you and your friend are falling right in line with that tradition. If so, rejoice!

Of course, these questions may be symptomatic of other underlying matters. I don't presume that's what's going on here with your friend. I do not know your friend, and as I've already noted, plenty of deeply devout, fully committed Jesus followers ask these same questions. The mere presence of questions doesn't all by itself indicate some underlying, and troubling, issue. Even so, it is possible that your friend has other matters to attend to (e.g., broken relationships, unmet expectations, disillusionment, hurt at the hands of some Christians, moral tension, dissatisfaction with some particular stripe of Christianity), and these questions are symptoms of those other matters. I don't know, but you may discern that's the case with your friend. Either way, walk in grace and humility with your friend. Love your friend.

Here are some brief responses to the tough issues you raised. Obviously, volumes have been written on each. I can't do it all justice here. More conversation is needed. Feel free to pursue any one of these points.

Shawn's responses are in bold.

Here are some of her questions:

She is thinking that God unfairly put punishment on us when it was the true fault of Adam and Eve. She says we sin today because it is after the fall and sin has already entered the world.

"After that we were all born with sin! Is that really an excuse for humans that were created perfect in the eyes of God? I also very truly believe that they did not understand the consequences of their sin. Would they have done it if they would have known it was going to impact mankind for the rest of time?

 [Distinguish between (1) performing an action knowing that it is wrong and that there will be bad consequences, and (2) performing an action knowing that it is wrong and knowing all of the bad consequences that will follow. Take a corporation that knowingly dumps its toxic sludge into a nearby river. Let's assume that the corporation knows that it is wrong to do this, and knows that there will be bad consequences (e.g., some negative environmental impact and some corresponding human suffering). Of course, the corporation may not know the full extent of the bad consequences that will follow. So, the corporation may not know that the environmental impact and human suffering will be irreversible and extend far into the future, affecting numerous generations. In fact, this may not even be knowable. The corporation may have had no way to know that the effects would be so terrible and far-reaching. And the corporation may not have dumped the toxic sludge had they known. But even granting all that, we still hold the corporation morally accountable for the wrongdoing it did commit, the damages that it did know about, and we still (minimally) identify the corporation as the cause/source of the widespread environmental damage and human suffering.]

Regardless I understand the sin was committed and there is nothing we can really do about that now, but since God is just and fair, is it really fair that we all bear the consequences of the first sin?

[It's not fair that a newborn baby is addicted to crack due to the behavior of the mother while pregnant. While not fair, it's also simply a natural consequence of abusing crack while pregnant. Similarly, perhaps it's not fair that we are all addicted to sin due to the behavior of our original parents. While not fair, it's still a natural consequence of the original sin of our original parents. And it's still objectionable for us to refrain from attending to our addiction (though doing so will be quite difficult) just as it would be objectionable for an adult crack addict (who started life as a crack baby) to refrain from attending to his crack addiction (though that would be tremendously difficult as well).]

It seems like the Bible sometimes contradicts itself in that matter.

 [I'm not sure what your friend has in mind here.]

Also, is there such a thing as free will? He told Adam and Eve not to do something He already knew they were going to do. Can we change our fate? And doesn't any of the paths I take, lead me where God wants me anyhow?"

[Compare: In some cases, I know that my three year old daughter is not going to obey when I tell her not to do something. I tell her not to do something, and I already know what she is going to do. But this fact all by itself does not entail that my daughter lack significant freedom.]

She also asked about that fact that we base our faith on a book of faith. She mentions that other religions base their religion on their books of faith too, so is it really ok to say that other people are heathens when we are following faith too?

 [No objections to other religions should target the fact that they appeal to an authoritative book or to the fact that they involve faith. Those would be bad objections. As your friend points out, if those things alone were objectionable, we'd be in trouble, too. I do think that I'd question the assumption that "we base our faith on a book of faith". I'd want to know what exactly that means and why we should think it's true. Surely we have good reasons for regarding the Bible, and not some other religious text, as authoritative. Moreover, our religious convictions don't just "fall out of" our Bible reading. Rather, they arise (in part, at least) out of communal reflection upon (1) divine testimony (especially as given in the Bible), (2) the deliverances of reason, (3) our collective experiences, and (4) the testimony of the global Church through the ages as it reflects on such matters.]

She says, "how do we define morals? In this country we say it is wrong to put women into slavery in a business that sells them. But in another country such as Africa and Uganda they do not see any problem with that, what gives us the right to tell them what they believe is wrong, if what we believe is right is completely based on faith and not anything concrete to another person?

[Again, I wonder about this: "what we believe is right is completely based on faith". Why think that? Surely ethics is a rational inquiry, with true moral claims being supported by good reasons. For example, presumably there are good reasons for thinking that slavery is morally wrong, reasons that go well beyond (or don't even include) "our country says so". What might such reasons be? We might begin by pointing out that slavery often causes tremendous physical and psychological pain and suffering, it violates the autonomy of the slave, it fails to respect the intrinsic worth dignity of the slave, it harms the slave by setting back or defeating the slave's interests, and there are a lot of other ways we could treat the slave that don't cause such pain and suffering, that do respect her autonomy and worth/dignity, and do serve her interests. The issue is not whether there's anything special about us that "gives us the right to tell them what they believe is wrong". Compare: there's nothing special about us that gives us the right to tell flat-earthers that what they believe is wrong. That's not the issue. Rather, what is the issue is that there are good reasons for thinking that the earth is not flat. Morality is no different in that respect. (Incidentally, your friend is no doubt right that we get some of our moral convictions from the Bible. But divine testimony via the Bible is just another way to get good reasons for thinking that something is true. Compare: I have good reason for thinking that human DNA has a double helix structure because scientists tell me so. Similarly, I have good reason for thinking that some act is wrong because God tells me so (through the Bible). Of course, this raises the issues of whether the Bible really is divine testimony and whether our interpretations of the Bible are good interpretations, but those are different matters.]

What if a person is involved in a lifestyle like this and believes it is part of their faith? several examples such as a man who takes multiple wives and believes that it glorifies his god, or the men that give take their lives and the lives of others because they believe it glorifies their god.

 [No doubt this happens. But nothing of substance really follows from this. I may think going to a ballet for our anniversary will really make my wife happy, yet be mistaken about that. Being earnest and sincere doesn't guarantee being right about what glorifies/honors God.]

I guess what I am asking is what gives us the authority and the right to say what they believe is wrong?

 [As already indicated, that's not the issue. We don't have any special authority here. Even so, we do have a right to tell someone they're mistaken, don't we? Suppose someone claims that Toledo is the capital city of Ohio. Do I not have the right to tell them that they are mistaken about that, pointing out that Columbus is the capital? Why is morality any different? But again, that's not the main issue.]

Last thing, I really don't understand how the only thing we can be sure of is Christianity and the Bible if those are the only two things that require the most faith and the most belief?"

[I guess I'd have to hear more about this. I'm not sure why your friend thinks that it requires "the most faith and the most belief" to think that Christianity is true and the Bible is authoritative. I'm also not sure why your friend thinks that those are "the only things we can be sure of". I'm sure that I'm married. I'm sure that I have a daughter. I'm sure that in my office right now. I'm sure that I'm looking at a computer. I'm sure that 2+2=4. I'm sure that all bachelors are unmarried. Of course, I could go on. Furthermore, why think that we must be sure (in some really strong psychological or epistemic sense) that Christianity is true (or that the Bible is authoritative)? There is room in the kingdom for those who aren't so sure (psychologically or epistemically). The kingdom belongs to them, too.]

Stories on Humility from the Desert Fathers

An old man was asked, “What is humility?” and he said in reply, “Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all.” Then a brother said, “What does it mean, to be subject to all?” The old man answered, “To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and to pray without ceasing to God.”

An old man said, “Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even so, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for that thought destroys everything.”

I copied these stories  from Father Vasile Tudora at with permission

Nov 22, 2010

Romantic Advice and Musings - Red Flags

We become like the objects we love. So we must take utmost care where and on whom we set our affections. Just to be clear, God must have our highest affections. As we are captivated by him, enraptured with him, all other things are set in perspective. We see better. Without that, we steer off course, unless we are esconced in a more or less healthy Christian community where others flag us down and redirect us and we're willing to listen.

That said, whenever I am asked about relationships or a particular relationship this is one of the first things I ask: Do you have any red flags concerning him or her? Does your gut make you unsure of this relationship? If so, I'd pause, reexamine your relationship, or possibly get out of it. Now by red flags, I don't mean a few little annoying things, things that might irk you. But are there deep character issues, or something that you can't quite put your finger on, but some sort of insecapable feeling or evidence that makes you question the health of the person or relationship?

Have parents, friends, or others whose opinion you respect expressed doubts about the relationship or its health?

Could you marry this person as he or she is today? If you're honest with yourself could you? Could you live with them the way they are the rest of your life or 'till death do you part? If not, I would step by and reexamine the relationship. Do so in community, with those you trust. Never have a secretive relationship. Your family and friends should know well the one upon whom you set your affections. If we are in a secretive relationship it shows we have something to hide or are ashamed of.

The mistake a lot of us make is that we dismiss and devalue the negative opinions of those around us regarding our romantic relationships. We say, "They don't know him or her like I do." That is true. But they can observe things we might be blind to.

We must be very careful with whom we are entangled. They suffocate us, squeezing the life out of us, or they can entangle us in the holy life of God. It is a life or death thing these relationships. Even a good one is not perfect. But far better not to be in one, than to be in a bad one or one where your affections are taken off of God.

A good relationship helps you to be God-directed and others directed. Even professing Christians may be quite unhealthy. The label Christian cannot be the litmus test for believers considering marriage relationships or even a dating relationship. It must be Christian + health.

(This post of course is directed to those not married).

Nov 20, 2010

Pride and Arrogance Contrasted With Humility

"The proud and arrogant person is a trouble to all that converse with him, but most of all unto himself: every thing is enough to vex him; but scarce any thing sufficient to content and please him. He is ready to quarrel with any thing that falls out; as if he himself were such a considerable person, that God Almighty should do every thing to gratify him, and all the creatures of heaven and earth should wait upon him, and obey his will. The leaves of high trees do shake with every blast of wind; and every breath, every evil word will disquiet and torment an arrogant man.

But the humble person hath the advantage when he is despised, that none can think more meanly of him than he doth to himself; and therefore he is not troubled at the matter, but can easily bear those reproaches which wound the other soul. And withal, as he is less affected with injuries, so indeed is he less obnoxious unto them. 'Contention which cometh from pride,' betrays a man into a thousand inconveniences, which those of a meek and lowly temper seldom meet with. True and genuine humility begetteth both a veneration and love among all wise and discerning persons, while pride defeateth its own design, and deprives a man of that honour it makes him pretend to."

~ Henry Scougal in The Life of God in the Soul of Man p. 73

Nov 19, 2010

Pilgrim's Heart

I have permission to include this post by Lazarus on my own blog. I so appreciated it that I wanted to share it with my readers. It is from Lazarus of Hyacinth over at Oasis: Thank you Lazarus for kindly allowing me to post this here. Please do visit his blog. He is a very wise man.

The innocence of childhood is soon replaced by the prejudices of culture and country, which we learn to wear as if they were a fine suit of clothes.

The happy, carefree smile of our youth is soon replaced by the tightly drawn, thin lips of self-righteousness, bitterness, and disdain for others, who are seen as intruders into our petty kingdoms. Our modes of experience, knowing, and feeling are reduced to what is 'approved' and 'acceptable' within the little niche we have carved out for ourselves in the world, and so are narrowed accordingly, cutting us off from mystery and wonder.

And so Jesus tells us that we must become as little children, and only then do we begin to sense that interior Light and Voice of Spirit, to acquire another way of knowing and feeling that beckons us to move beyond our self-centered prison, to break the chains of our enslavement.

In our sad state, the narrower our vision became, the more everything became centered around us alone, the more we sat as judge and jury in our own court of last resort, and so we became cut off from the possibilities of encounter, and shielded ourselves against communion with the other, aside from the opportunity to advance our own interests. Worse than a blind man is the one who has eyes, but refuses to even look. The lone duck in his small pond does not believe the duck who has been to the great lake and seen the huge flocks, even less can he conceive of the ocean.

By means of The Jesus Prayer the Holy Spirit begins to cause all this self-centeredness to come crashing down, as a different Light of Knowledge appears in the heart, expanding outwards into the mind and body. We begin to perceive things at first in small flashes that shake our most cherished confidences, and then at times it comes in a flood that sweeps everything else away but the blazing Light that to our pride of life is like a drowning. A death is happening to us, a transformation and birth is taking place.

And once we begin to see things from heaven's point of view, we will never be the same again. A wounding will take place in the heart, and it is the wound of knowing that, beyond any doubt, there exists a type of love that can NEVER be enough.

Once we have tasted of that sweetness, we shall be forever bound to journey into that Infinity... forever seeking within the Unfolding Mystery the Wonder of the next embrace...

Nov 18, 2010

Outside: The Glory of God

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." Psalm 19:1-4a

If we stay inside of our homes, we'll slowly rot from the inside out. It is a sad commentary on our times, but these days, most of our business and recreation is conducted inside. And I propose that's why we see little of God's glory. If we'd just step outside more often and breathe fresh air (perhaps some of us will have to take a drive away from our towns to breathe fresh air, I know), if we'd notice the million little details all about us: the congregation of sparrows who gather every morning on the power lines breaking into a chirping chorus of song, the cat on its trip through the field going who knows where, the larvae trying to inch through the door, the dark purple cumulus clouds, the sun, the moon and the stars . . . .

Holed up in our homes or offices, we miss God.

And we wonder at the extent of our depressions.

Stepping out the door, even on a cold winter day warms the soul.

Get outside.

Original post 3-15-08

Nov 16, 2010

Deep Sensitvity to Others

"Deep sensitivity to the suffering of those in need comes from our ability to put ourselves in their position, and from remembering our own experiences of vulnerability  and dependence. This sense of shared human experience extends even to those most foreign to us. Calvin wrote that when seeing a poor person, we should think 'now I have been in that condition and certainly wanted to be helped; indeed it seemed to me that people ought to have pitied me in order to help me':

But what [is the usual case]? When we are comfortable, it is not a matter of our remembering our human poverty, rather we imagine that we are exempt from that and that we are no longer part of the common class. And that is the reason why we forget , and no longer have any compassion for our neighbors or for all that they endure.

~ from the book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl

Nov 13, 2010

A Scroll of Remembrance

"A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name."  Malachi 3:16

Perhaps you’re tired and weary. Overwhelmed by your marriage, family and financial problems, worried about being popular and cool in school. Worried about grades. Maybe it seems like nothing is going right in your life.

Maybe this contributes to you being weary in well-doing. Haven’t we all been weary in well-doing at one time or another? I know I have. We get tired of the evil and hypocrisy in others and institutions and if we are honest, in ourselves. At those times, we get frazzled by the slowness of change. Painstakingly slow---incremental---change.

If we allow ourselves to continue in this vein, if we continue to focus on the evil and hypocrisy, and seeming prosperity of the wicked, without repentance, without reconsidering our life, and our thoughts and our ways, if we don’t cry out to God and others for help, our souls begin to fill with bitterness and resentment.

With our eyes off of Jesus, our perspective gets seriously off and we unknowingly mistake this new perspective for reality. Our attitude colors the world black and gray. We become cynical and spread the cynic’s poison. I once heard that cynicism is thinly veiled anger. So we become angry and contemptuous of others. Unbeknownst to us, we have climbed a high-horse. We’re self-righteous. We are cool and sophisticated, arrogantly condemning people with ease. We poke fun at the good people and the goodness we see and question even the apparently good motives of others. We elevate our opinion to the status of a god. We become miserable and make those around us miserable. Through our words and through our lives we declare, “It’s futile to follow Jesus, to believe the testimony of the Church throughout the ages.” But we hang around Christendom ‘cuz we’ve got nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.

Through our sinfully poisoned attitude and behavior, we manipulate others into having to walk on egg shells around us. Because well if they don’t, we’ll blast them, we’ll let them have it. God forbid they call us out and try to lovingly confront us. That’d be World War Three.

Said differently, we become what Scripture calls, hard-hearted. We become cold and hard toward God and others. We are hardened to life. If we allow such an attitude to continue, it’ll ruin us and become a force for evil in the lives of those surrounding us. And the thing is, everyone will know, but few if any will say anything to us. We’ve made it impossible for them to. They’re walking on eggshells don’t we know? Do we not see this in our churches and throughout the body of Christ? It is sad and in Christ, unnatural.

Now what I was just talking about is a pervasive attitude or bent that can enslave us to death if we are not vigilant. I wasn’t talking about the every-now-and then weariness in well-doing, when we want to throw in the towel. Maybe a lot of our weariness is due to over-commitment, lack of sleep, and not caring for our bodies. Still in our every-now-and-then weariness we can be miserable and make those around us miserable.

God hears the rumblings our hearts and words of our mouths. I think of Ezekiel 35:13 where he says, “You boasted against me and spoke against me without restraint, and I heard it.” But he is also very aware of joys, our trust, our fears, our strivings on his behalf. He is so aware that he records it.

I treasure the picture painted for us in the Malachi chapter three, “Then those who feared the LORD , talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard.” Their conversation warmed his heart, it gave him great joy to know that in the end, they trusted him, even when it seemed like they were suffering and the wicked around them were prospering. Their words about God, their humble posture towards him, delighted him. It delighted him so much, that he wrote an Ode to them. God Almighty, the King, called for a scroll. He called it the Scroll of Remembrance. Within his presence, the names of those who feared and honored his name, the names of those who were in awe of him, were recorded.

And God says to them in Malachi and to us throughout Scripture and history and life:

“Listen. I’ve seen all you’ve gone through because of me. I’ve heard your cries and prayers and laments. I’ve seen your suffering over evil in the world and because of evil in the world. I’ve seen how you remained committed to me in sickness and in health, in riches and poverty. You’ve cherished me. And I cherish you. Oh how I love you! You have worshiped me with your body, soul, mind, and strength, because you know me. You know that although you don’t have all the answers, and although you might wonder about my ways and sometimes angrily and exasperatedly shake your fists at me, because of the seeming senselessness of it all, you know that my ways are higher than your ways (Isaiah 55:8).

You know that I love you and all of my Creation (Psalm 145). You know that I am faithful and true (Revelation 19:11). You know that I will judge the world in righteousness and the people with equity (Psalm 198:9). You don’t boast in your wisdom. You don’t boast in your power. You don’t boast in your riches. You revel in truly knowing me and understanding that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth. You revel in my delight in these things (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

You are convinced that I have not come to steal, kill, and destroy. That is the work of our enemy the devil. You are completely confident that I have come to bring life, abundant life (John 10:10). And I give my life to you and for you, that you may be whole. And you gladly pass on my life to others. You delight in me. Listen dear child, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. The glory radiating from me illumines your path and your mind. With it, I blanket you, warming you and comforting you in the long cold winter. Because of your knowledge of me, because you are deeply aware of my love for you, you go out and frolic like well-fed calves (Malachi 4:2). Believe me my child, you will live to see the day when there is a clear distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not (Malachi 3:18).

 If you open your eyes now you can start to see it. You believe me when I say that I am for you and not against you (Romans 8:31), don’t you? I will open your eyes so you can see like Elisha and his servant. Remember how they were surrounded by the Arameans and his servant was scared that they’d get taken out? But what happened? I opened the servant’s eyes and what did he see? He saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding him and Elisha (2 Kings 6:17). My angels were encamped around them and they are around you. They are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14).

You’ve trusted me wholly, and found me wholly true. I am making all things new, do you not see it springing forth? Yes you do. Oh how I delight in you delighting in me. I have kept you as the apple of my eye (Psalm 17:8), I have written your name on the palm of my hands (Isaiah 49:16a). And I have recorded your name on my scroll of remembrance. Your recorded name is an ode to you, to your perseverance and love. As you stand firm, you will win life (Luke 21:19).

Nov 10, 2010

Icons of God?

"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality." Romans 12:9-13

She sat in my office voicing everything that she'd kept bottled up for years. "I internalize things," she told me. I sit and I listen. She asks, "Do you have any advice?" I  gently tell her what I tell myself and others: We cannot live the Christian life alone. And I tell her that I was honored that she'd even share with me. Then I encourage her to find trusted others to share with. Others who would share her joys as well as her pain. I can't remember where I read this or who said this (otherwise I'd attribute it to the person), but I remember reading that a person doesn't know us until they know what brings us joy. We share our lives with others--not just joys but pains, too. Real friends know our joy as well as our pain.

I remind her that although her struggle is unique, others suffer...others who have smiles pasted on their faces. In my work, I am in a unique position. Daily, people come to me, and I have the sacred privilege of peering behind the veil of their souls, of sharing my own journey, of living life together with them.
 Most of the time they think that no one else is suffering or is insecure. But I have a distinct vantage point; I can see that many are--only they don't disclose it to others. Over and over again, I see that no one has it all together. And many times the difference between those who are moving toward health and those that aren't is this: those who share their joys and suffering with others have a safety net--a web of support--those who bear their burdens and share their joys. Most frequently, they were first vulnerable. They had courage to reach out.

Often, I have to be the first to be vulnerable in a situation. The first willing to be humiliated and to share with trusted others. I find that what I dread the most--rejection because of what I share--seldom comes to fruition. Instead what I often find is love and least compassion.

The body of Christ should be a place where we can be transparent of our unraveling. Transparent in saying, "I am falling apart." Or transparent in saying, "I just got a promotion." We are to share each other's joys as well as each other's pain. The Church is the first place we should encounter invitation from God.

Are we inviting souls? Are we a spacious place? Do others have the confidence to approach God because we are approachable? Are we an icon of God in some mysterious way?

If you are lonely, feeling rejected, depressed or abandoned do reach out to someone that you find trusthworthy. Sadly, sometimes we find unbelievers who are more gracious and trustworthy than those who profess the name of Christ. We find that we cannot easily find living icons of God in the Church. That is profanity. Sacrilege.

Do you have someone you can share your little and big joys with?

Often it will involve you being vulnerable or saying, "Hey, I like you and respect you, let's be friends." I have done that many times and have been truly nourished and blessed with deep and lasting friendships.

Jesus had a circle of intimates--Peter, James, and John. Did he not show him his glory--his joy on the Mount of Transfiguration and also share his pain with them in Garden of Gethsemane and at Golgotha?

Nov 9, 2010

Those Who In Humility Depend On God

Hello Dear Ones. This morning I read this from Philip Kenneson's book Life On The Vine:

"Arrogance, pride, haughtiness. These attributes characterize those who through power and strength of will attempt to secure their own future well-being. By so doing, they deny their need for God. Israel is itself often characterized as stubborn or "stiff-necked" . . . . The image is telling: not only does it suggest stubborness but a refusal to bow to another's authority . . . . Opposing the Holy Spirit. Quenching the Spirit. These are dangers that must be avoided by anyone who desires to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. In the above contexts these dangers arise on account of our stubborn pride and our desire to secure our own futures apart from God.

Rather than placing our trust in ourselves and our own abilities, God calls us to humble ourselves and place our hope and trust in God and the kingdom that God is ushering in. The kingdom is an upside-down kingdom, where God's order is restored by reversing or inverting the order routinely instituted by human beings. The kingdoms we construct almost always exalt the rich, the powerful, the proud and the aggressive."

pp. 201-202

Nov 5, 2010

Beholding God I

Probably the most important thing you can do in your life is to keep your gaze on God. Behold God.  Pay attention to God, focus on God in every possible way. You will have abundant life (John 10:10). You will become whole, holy--like Christ--conformed into his image (Romans 8:29). But how might you and I do that? I will post on that soon. I alluded to it the other day when I posted Charles Wesley's words about a single eye toward God.

I believe this is the most important thing I can tell you.

May you be filled with his shalom.

Nov 3, 2010

A Single Eye Towards God

" His one desire, is the one design of his life, namely, 'not to do his own will, but the will of Him that sent him' His one intention at all times and in all things is, not to please himself, but Him whom his soul loveth. He has a single eye. And because "his eye is single, his whole body is full of light." Indeed, where the loving eye of the soul is continually fixed upon God, there can be no darkness at all, 'but the whole is light; as when the bright shining of a candle doth enlighten a house." God then reigns alone. All that is in the soul is holiness to the Lord. There is not a motion in his heart, but is according to His will. Every thought that arises points to Him, and is in obedience to the law of Christ."

~ John Wesley