Apr 30, 2010

God Deals With Self-Pity in the Wilderness

This is an excerpt from Eugene Peterson's book Where Your Treasure Is. I highly recommend it. He reflects on the Psalms to show how God "unselfs" us. I thought you'd appreciate what he has to say about unself-pity. Below is part of a reflection on Psalm 77 pp.107-108

"Not until this wound is dealt with for what it is--in this case, malodorous self-pity--can salvation be said to be accomplished . . . self-pity is not pressure that exacts concessions from the Almighty. Rather, it is an occasion that God uses to work in our largely self-generated misery to bring about his pleasure, which we are surprised to find is also our pleasure. The hand outstretched in self-pity is answered by the hands of Moses and Aaron. Their hands do not protect people from trouble but train them in the midst of it. They do not hold the hands of the people, sympathizing with them over their loss of home and security in Egypt. They take their hands and lead them into the harsh desert. The redemption has already been accomplished (by the 'arm' of the Lord, v. 15). Now the life of faith must be learned. A life of compassion must be nurtured. This can only be done in the midst of hurt and pain, where wisdom is inaccessible to self-pity. God does not answer our self-pitying request but our need for unselfing. He enters our lives and provides prophet and priest to lead us into and through the wilderness of temptation and trial. Only then can we learn the ways of providence and discover the means of grace--a long difficult, mercy marked, grace-guided forty years that represents the middle of the journey for persons who live by faith. It is a journey through which we learn personal morality and social responsibility. Salvation is put to the work of building community, engaging in worship, encountering evil.

Arrows of God - Repost

In his commentary on Psalm 36 Origen is talking of Christian preachers under the metaphor of arrows of God. 'All in whom Christ speaks, that is to say every upright man and preacher who speaks the word of God to bring men to salvation--and not merely the apostles and prophets--can be called an arrow of God. But, what is rather sad,' he continues, 'I see very few arrows of God. There are few who so speak that they inflame the heart of the hearer, drag him away from his sin, and convert him to repentance. Few so speak that the heart of their hearer is deeply convicted and his eyes weep for contrition. There are few who unveil the light of the future hope, the wonder of heaven and glory of God's kingdom to such effect that by their earnest preaching they succeed in persuading men to despise the visible and seek the invisible, to spurn the temporal and seek the eternal. There are too few preachers of this calibre.'"

From Michael Green's book Evangelism in the Early Church p. 245.
Oh that my words and life be an arrow of God!

Apr 29, 2010

Perception of Time/Waiting - Kathleen Norris

Our perception of time is subject to technological revision, and increased speed has generally translated into subtle diminishment of our capacity to appreciate our immediate surroundings. In his 1849 essay, "The English Mail Coach," Thomas DeQuincey noted that while the new, high-speed coaches of his day offered much faster travel than had been thought possible a few years before, they also distanced passengers from the countryside. The simple pleasures available to the stroller or wanderer on horseback--the scent of wild roses, a glimpse of a fox with her kits, an exchange of greetings with other travelers or laborers resting from their labors in a field of sweet smelling, newly-mown hay, -- had been traded for increased efficiency . . . .

Waiting seems at odds with progress, and we seldom ask whether it might have a purpose in and of itself. Etymology helps us here, for when we look up the word wait  we are instructed to see vigor. Waiting, then, is not passive but a vigilant and watchful activity designed to keep us aware of what is really going on. Isaiah evokes this radical waiting as a source of vitality: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,/they shall mount up with wings like eagles" (Isaiah 40:31). Such waiting is meant to engender a lively hope rooted in the physical as well as the psyche. It is in an action "hop" contained within the word. To hope is to make a leap, to jump from where you are to someplace better. If you can imagine it, and dare to take that leap, you can go there--no matter how hopeless your situation may appear.

From Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life pp. 220-221.

Apr 28, 2010

Stages of Christian Maturity

I take this quote from Gary Thomas' book, The Beautiful Fight p. 151

The ancients, better versed than most moderns in the reality of the human heart, talked about three stages of spiritual maturity. In the beginning, we make keep the law out of fear; we want to do something, but we refrain because we don't want God to punish us. This is willful obedience. In the next stage, our obedience grows and flows out of love and gratitude; we don't want to hurt the God whom we love and to whom we owe so much. This is relational obedience. We reach the highest state when we are truly satisfied with the good, when we obey because our heart desires only what God desires. This is transformed obedience.

This evolution takes time, and there are no shortcuts. True transformation of the heart is a chosen, focused, intentional lifelong journey of surrender, repentance, and renewal. And the longer we keep choosing cheap substitutes, the more obstacles we create in our journey toward transformed obedience. That is why we are told, above all else, to guard our hearts.

Apr 27, 2010

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Is God A Reality In Your Everyday Life?

Following Jesus. Obedience, trust, and love that flows from a God-changed, God redeemed heart. Obeying means doing what God tells you as revealed in Scripture, when he speaks to you, and through guidance that you receive from his body, the Church. Romans 12: 1,2 tell us that as our minds are transformed we'll be able to discern God's good and perfect will. The more we are transformed into the image of Christ, the more quickly and accurately we'll be able to discern his will for those things not specifically mentioned in Scripture(and of course we do not discern his will in isolation, we need help from the body of Christ most of the time so that we don't go off the deep end).

Sometimes God guides us by shutting doors. In those situations,  it seems like our backs are up against the wall, like the Israelites' whose backs were to the Red Sea with Pharoah and his army in front of them. And then we have to wait, which often can be painful if we're anxious and untrusting. Waiting is a spiritual discipline. Don't berate yourself if you have some anxiety, especially if it feels like everything in your  life is up in the air. We're human. Even Jesus asked the Father to take the cross-cup from him if it were possible. Jesus anticipated the forsakeness and abandonment he would feel on the cross--the crushing weight of sin that results in seperation from God. Seperation from God is truly hell.

The Old American Protestant hymn captures what it means to follow Jesus: trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. Trust and obey what you know. Live according to the light that you have. As we grow in Christ, our understanding is illumined and more is required of us. As we grow in knowledge and in grace, we have to live according to that, with God's help.We need grace every moment. Another old American Protestant hymn entitled Stayed Upon Jehovah also says it beautifully, they who trust him wholly find him wholly true.

Although most churched people would never say this explicitly, we behave like we believe the following. "If I read my Bible regularly and pray, if I tithe and attend church, then I am following Jesus." Not necessarily. Jesus takes issue with that way of thinking. Here are his words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, people who knew the Scriptures well, people who gave a portion of their money to the church and to the poor, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

God through his Son Jesus Christ (very God of very God), saves us from our sins and from ourselves. We cannot earn that. However, if we accept that and seek to follow him, we'll find ourselves seeking to obey him--loving, being merciful, practicing justice--faithfully in the little as well as the big things. Of course, we need the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to trust and obey. But it doesn't follow that because we read the Bible, attend church, and pray that we are following him. The question is are we trusting and obeying him through the power of his Spirit? Not perfectly of course, but are we obeying and moving in the direction of greater obedience?

I just think some people are deceived. They believe that prayer, Bible study, and church attendance automatically makes them a Christian. But God says that the evidence we follow him comes from an inner heart change that manifests itself in daily trust and obedience. You can do all those things that Christians do and not have a heart change. In Matthew 23, Jesus called the Pharisees, the people who were very good at religious practice "Sons of Hell" and he warned them not to make others twice the sons of hell that they were.

It is a warning to me, a warning to us.

Apr 26, 2010

Christian Have You Fallen? Given In To Temptation? Christ Can Help You!


If you are a Christian and feel like your world is crashing in all around you (even if you're not a Christian, Christ welcomes you), feel like you're a slave to sin, that you can't get out of an illegitimate relationship, that you're consumed by an addiction, if you feel like there is no help, please stop a second. There is hope for you. Christ can set you free. But freedom comes at an expense. It'll be a painful process of restoration and redemption, but it is possible. Nothing is too hard for God (Jer. 32:27), not even your sin or situation. If you are a pastor or church leader who is sinning, having an affair, addicted to porn, stealing, trying to share the gospel but hollow yourself--whatever--you know you need to get help to stop. You're not beyond Christ's redemption either. God can go into your hell to pull you out. Help usually comes from the Christian community, when you confess your sins to someone trustworthy, someone who can handle what you're going to tell them. But the first step is that you have to admit to yourself and to God what you are doing is sinful, and that you need help. Then confess it to a trustworthy believer.

I live in the United States. I heard a pastor named Chuck Swindoll give a sermon today about this very subject. I recommend that you listen to it. If you need prayer, you have a sister here who is willing to pray for you! Here is the link to the sermon: http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/Insight_for_Living/

And here's the title and a brief synopsis:
Getting Through Tough Stuff of Disqualification 3

Monday, April 26, 2010 Disqualified. The mere mention of the word stirs up strong emotions. No matter the situation, the word smacks the shame, humiliation, and the worst kind of failure. The Scriptures call us to be like Christ, but they also offer warnings regarding disqualification. Some of us wrongly claim immunity from such attitudes; others of us believe we are beyond help. Paul reminds us that God's faithfulness provides a way through the temptations that lead to disqualification. Series: Getting Through the Tough Stuff: It's Always Something!

Who's In Charge Here? More On Being A Servant Of Jesus

Many people say that they’d like to be self-employed so as not to have to answer to anyone but themselves. If you’re self-employed, you set your own schedule and you decide what you’re going to do. The only person you have breathing down your back is you. You answer to your customers if something goes wrong. If your business grows you decide who to hire and who to fire and perhaps when to retire and pass the baton to someone else. I realize there are cons to being self-employed, but I was just thinking about some of the benefits.
Some of us act as if we’re self-employed servants in the kingdom of God and as if God is our employee. To put it another way, we act as if we’re the Master and he is the servant. At least that is what I discovered a few years ago after thinking about Mark 9:35 and others verses like it.

In Mark chapter 9, Jesus is transfigured with Peter, James, and John as witnesses. After the Transfiguration he and the three disciples come down from the mount to find that the rest of the disciples couldn’t cast out an evil spirit. After Jesus casts out the spirit and tells them that some of these spirits come out only by prayer and fasting, they start their foot tour to Capernum. On the way, all save Jesus got into a hushed verbal fist-fight—a quietly incendiary debate about which one of them was the greatest disciple, about which one of them was Jesus’ favorite--superior to all the rest, excelling in discipleship. I can imagine Peter James and John thinking, “Well of course we’re among the greatest. We saw him transfigured, but he told us to keep it on the down low. We’ve got a corner on the market of greatness, the rest of you don’t know what we know and haven’t seen what we’ve seen.” But perhaps James or John, whom Jesus called Sons of Thunder in Mark 3 piped up with, “You guys certainly can’t be the best disciples, you were beside yourselves in trying to drive out that evil spirit. You couldn’t even do it.” Apparently Jesus could tell they were arguing, sort of like when you stumble upon a couple who obviously has been arguing but are trying to play it cool, playing it off, acting like everything is normal until you’re out of earshot and out of the way. The disciples didn’t do a good job of disguising their argument.

So when they got to the house in Capernum, probably their homebase, Jesus asks, “What were you arguing about?” You could hear a pin drop, crickets chirping, the wind in the trees, but you couldn’t hear their answer because they didn’t give one. And that is where we get to Mark 9:35, the verse I’ve been thinking about for a while. In that verse Jesus says, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Years ago, I understood what Jesus was literally saying: if you want to be first in God’s Kingdom you’ve got to be last, the servant of all. Pretty simple right?

But, what does that mean really, in daily life? I wonder, because the disciples didn’t get it right away and they were with Jesus day in and day out for three years. Check our Mark 10. Right after Jesus laid out the great reversal in the Kingdom of God in Mark 9:35—those that desire to be first shall be last and the servant of all—this is what happens. James and John ask Jesus if they can sit on either side of him in glory, when his kingdom comes. In Matthew’s gospel, it is their mother who asks Jesus. Interestingly enough, their mother seemed to travel with the band of disciples. Seems she wanted her sons to make it big time when Jesus came into the kingdom. Whether she got that into their heads or they had it in their own heads without her prodding, mother and sons wanted power, glory, and to be first in Jesus’ kingdom. Perhaps they thought that they’d left all, left their livelihood and deserved much in the coming kingdom. After all Jesus had alluded to that in other places. Jesus’ response to them, is similar to the responses he gave throughout the gospels when speaking of serving. “It’s not my place to grant those positions. You two will suffer just like me.” Then he turns to the rest of the disciples (who he called together knowing they were ticked off when they found out about James and John and their mother’s request) and says:

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.

A couple years ago, I recalled telling the Lord that I loved him and that the desire of my heart was to follow him closely. I remember telling him that I did understand the verses in John that said, “if you love me you obey my commandments”. I thought I was being obedient. But then, he called me to do something I didn’t want to. Something that was very trying and hard on me. It was at that time that I sensed him telling me, Marlena, you don’t want to be the servant of all. You want to be master and call the shots in your life. You want to decide how and when you will serve me and who you will serve. You want to be master and want me to be the servant. I am not at your service (although I serve you), you are at mine. That is what it means to love me and follow me. You obey, you don’t choose your assignments. I make them and you are to lovingly and joyfully obey. I was shocked to discover the true state of my soul.

There is hope for those of us who have a proclivity to be served instead of a proclivity to serve. We see that James and John ended up becoming great servants in the early church. Commentators think that James was executed sometime between A.D. 41-44. So, he gave up his life for Jesus in whom he believed. John became known for his love and was persecuted and banished to Patmos and was also a New Testament author. As James and John followed Jesus and began to understand the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection, it seems that they started to get it. Whether or not they’re at the right and left hand of Jesus remains to be seen. But from their example we realize there is hope for those of us who don’t get it, those of us who are hard of heart, selfish and self-absorbed, those of us who want to be masters.

We cannot serve God at our own convenience with the option of turning down his requests when we want to. That is bad for us and bad for others. Sometimes elementary aged children, teenagers, and young adults think, “I’ll serve Jesus and others when I am older. I am too young.” Seniors think “I’ve served Jesus, I am old, my body doesn’t work, I am retired. I’ve done my duty already.” That’s the wrong way to think. We’re not ever too young or too old to love God and love others by serving them. Really, loving and serving God and others starts at home or with our closest friends. It often ends up being those things that we don’t want to do that is of most service to others. In daily life, being a servant or slave isn’t heroic. But it is being lovingly obedient--obeying with a good spirit.

Apr 24, 2010

Being a Servant and Finding Our Lives

Loving God with all our hearts souls and minds and our neighbors as ourselves—the two greatest commandments given to us by God--entails that we will be servants. We will be slaves to all. As Jesus bent down to wash the disciples' feet he lowered himself. In lowering himself, he put himself in a vulnerable, nearly defenseless position. In the upper room he could’ve been kicked, spat upon or beaten by his disciples. He soon would be by Roman soldiers. In his life, we see that though he was the Lord God, completely almighty, he became human—he lowered himself (as Philipians 2 says) and did not lord it over anyone. It is really hard to be a servant, to be a slave to all. It doesn’t come naturally. And it is much more difficult for some of us than others of us. We can barely serve our own families. Being a servant is humiliating. It requires giving up our lives, losing the lives we think we want. But Jesus says in losing our lives we find them.

Apr 23, 2010

Some Definitons of Lukewarm People in the Church

These come from Francis Chan's book Crazy Love (excerpts taken from pp. 68-71):

Lukewarm People attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe "good Christians" do, so they go. (ref. Isa. 29:13).

Lukewarm People give money to charity and to the church . . . as long as it doesn't impinge on their standard of living. If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so. After all, God loves a cheerful giver, right? (I Chron. 21:24).

Lukewarm People tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives (Rev. 3:1).

Lukewarm People are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for "extreme" Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call "radical" what Jesus expected of all his followers (Jas. 1:22, 4:17, Matt. 21:28-31).

Apr 22, 2010

The Gift of Your Presence is Christ's Presence to Others

“A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”  Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me."  John 14:19-24  

Last night, I stayed overnight with a friend who had surgery. I was glad she asked me to come over and be there for her--just in case. I started thinking again about how important it is for us to  meaningfully be with those around us, for our presence not to bring them down into a cesspool, but for our presence to encourage or assure them. Perhaps we cannot be physically present to all of our friends or people around us, but are we the kind they can call anytime of day or night? Or do we keep people at arm's length? Are we dependable? Do we bring life and refreshment to those around us? In John 14, Jesus says that he and the Father will make their home with us (his believers). The triune God fellowships with us and in us. That is hard to grasp. But Jesus speaks of communion. He communes with us as individuals and as the church. Have you ever thought about how important your presence is? It has the power to give life or to destroy. It has the power to comfort or make uneasy.

Perhaps you are lonely for some reason--desiring the gift of presence. You sense God's presence but would like the presence of a human companion. One way to receive the gift of presence is to let others know that you are lonely. And also to serve them. Gift them with your presence first. It may mean writing a card, making a phone call, sending an e-mail, or visiting. It could mean leaving a comment on a blog like this one.
Many godly people have bestowed on me the gift of their presence and Christ's presence. And in the process, I have been transformed for the better.

To those of you who are present with me online but not in person, please know that I am continually encouraged by you...by your words and thoughts. You have in some way been Christ to me.

Thank you for the gift of your presence.

Apr 21, 2010

Discontentment, Greed, & Idolatry

Have you ever wanted something, a good thing, desperately? Has your desire for that good thing been thwarted or unfulfilled for some reason or another? When our desire for that good thing goes unfulfilled does that lack send us into a tailspin? Do we despise all the other good things we have simply because we don't have that one good thing? If so, that's idolatry. We've taken a good thing and lifted it up to the position of God. We let possession of it or lack of possesion of it call the shots; it dictates how we feel on any given day. We no longer appreciate the thousands of blessings around us because we don't have one blessing, that blessing. That is idolatry and I think that is why Paul, somewhere in the New Testament, calls greed idolatry.

Apr 20, 2010

Disillusioned with the Church

What do we do when we're disillusioned with the Church? Growing up, my parents were nominal Christians at best. I became the first committed Christian in my immediate family. My abuela (Grandma) was a devout Roman Catholic who loved Jesus Christ. I remember watching her read her Bible out loud (she only had a third grade education) everyday. Her behavior had a profound influence on me. So did the influence of uncle Craig who was mentally unstable but a peach of a man who loved Jesus. I remember him telling me that I had to "fear God." At ten years-old I thought that meant being scared of God. It'd be years before I learned exactly what that meant. I had simple Jesus followers (Abuela and uncle Craig) demonstrate by their lives what it meant to follow him. So, when I arrived at Christian college, where I thought everyone would be passionately following Christ, I became disillusioned by the sheer amount of God-talk coupled with  God-less lives. It took me a while to recover. Then of course, working in the church gave me a lot of insight. I've seen some of the most beautiful people/things and some of the ugliest people/things imaginable (even more ugly because of their claim to follow Christ).

I can understand why many refuse to believe in Christ. Perhaps they wonder, "How powerful and how worth following can Jesus be if his own disciples look and act nothing like him?" The thing about grace (in the gift of salvation) is that none of us deserve it. We can't earn this gift through moral uprightness. That is why the church is full of broken, ugly people. However, even though we can't earn it, if we are following Jesus, there will be changes in us. We should be moving toward wholeness--toward holiness and away from death and destruction.  Remember David? He had a motley crew following him in the wilderness, a band of outlaws and castaways. Jesus too has a band of outlaws and castaways following him. He has a lot of work to do in sanctifying even just one us, but he is at work in the Church and in the world. We're not very pretty, although in following him we become more like him.

There are a mix of believers and unbelievers in the visible church. Many who think they're following Christ look and act nothing like him. Perhaps they are trusting themselves, or haven't been taught, or are self-deceived. There are a variety of reasons why someone who isn't following Jesus claims to be part of the Church, a Jesus follower. At 32 years old, I can now see that the Church has a mix of darkness and light--and so does my soul. The Church throughout history has done much good. And of course, I cannot deny the evil that it has done.

But for those of us that are or have been disillusioned with the Church, the question is: have we examined the claims of Jesus? Have we tasted of the real Jesus, not a fraud? Have we met people that exhibit the Christ life? Do we or could we see God at work in us and in the world?  There are millions of people throughout history that have-- the simple and those who are every bit as intelligent or more brilliant than you and me. I can witness to God's work in my life, in the lives of others, and throughout the world.

I think one of the ways to avoid disillusionment is to come to understand that within the church there are true sons and daughters and imposters. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that at the end of the age, he will judge between the two. He will indicate who is a true follower and who is not. Until then, those of us who follow him must ask for daily grace to obey him and grace not to bring shame on his name.

We don't want to give unbelievers, or even other believers, a reason to become disillusioned with the Church, his body.

One of my worst fears is that I will bring shame on his name. May that not be.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Apr 19, 2010

Now Serve -- Serve Jesus by Serving Others.

"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." John 13:13-17

As I mentioned yesterday, I returned home from Calvin's Festival of Faith and Writing (Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI). I am nourished with streams of living water about to burst forth from my soul. Late yesterday afternoon, I arrived home to a feverish husband and an almost three year old sweetheart bent on going her own way (like we all are). Today, my husband was so unwell he had to cancel all of his classes. I took him to the doctor and we found that he had strep throat. My daughter, as I mentioned, is charmingly seeking to go her own way at every turn, even today. Me, I am tired though well fed while trying to look after my family and work.

What I am thinking about today is how wonderful of a time we can have on retreats or in solitude or with other believers. But when it comes down to it, when the rubber meets the road, what is important, what serves as a barometer for our spiritual health, is if and how we serve others. Do we serve saturated in bitterness and grudgingly? More times than not, I'd rather be served than serve -- honestly. Or, I'd rather serve on my own time schedule, in my own way. That is to say, I'd rather call the shots about whom I'd serve, when I'd serve, and how I'd serve. But that's not the Jesus way.

Coming down from my Mount of Transfiguration (The Festival of Faith and Writing) I'd better put all that I heard from God and others into practice. That means joyfully serving my family today (doing laundry, picking up, making food, comforting the sick) and completing job assignments. Of course, I cannot do it in my own strength. I need to do it in the power of the Spirit. Everyday life, the mundane, can often wear us down. And even as I write this, I realize there are billions in the world that would give anything to worn down the way I am. So, even my weariness is nothing compared to that of billions of people. What's my problem? Still, the way I serve those closest to me is the best indication of my spiritual health and obedience (How can we say we love God and hate our brother?). Jesus says that I'll be blessed if I lovingly serve.

I remember his words as I write and as my husband rests and as my daughter naps.

In the name of Jesus, blessings to all who stumble across these letters.

Apr 18, 2010


I returned from the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing around 4 p.m. today. It was a 5 1/2 hour trip. It was a time of refreshing and encouragement. I met beautiful people of nearly every stripe in Christendom. Brilliant, beautiful, and godly. I certainly encourage writers, editors, and avid readers (appreciators of literature) to attend in 2012. It's every two years. While there, I picked up a book on Flannery O'Connor. And I like her conception of salvation as a continual turning toward God and continual turning away from ego-centricity. Something to chew on and digest!

I am a little tired and caring for a sick husband. So, I will end with this tonight and resume sharing my thoughts with you tomorrow. Blessings to all of you.

Apr 15, 2010

Calvin's Festival of Faith and Writing!

I'm at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing!

Posts will resume when I get back Sunday. Be sure to check back then. (I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about....)

Apr 13, 2010

A Snake in My Bed!

Last night, our precious almost three-year old, Iliana, let out a hysterical cry around 12:30 a.m. Daddy rushed to get her. He thought she said, "I got sick in my bed" but what she really was saying was "There's a snake in my bed." She really hasn't woken up before because of bad dreams, but I think she's at that age where she's starting to. I also woke up to comfort her and began wondering why on earth she'd think that and then I remembered; we are reading through her children's Bible every  night. A few weeks ago, my husband Shawn told me that she asked several questions about the garden like: "Why was the snake in the garden? Who let the snake in?" So, I think that must of been on her mind as she shrieked and sobbed about the snake in her bed. She woke up again around 1:30 a.m. saying the same thing.

I couldn't help but wondering what snakes are in bed with us, what snakes have invaded our gardens. Are we aware or unaware of them? If you saw the movie, the Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson creatively and not too far fetchedly portrayed the snake, the deceiver, in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. The ancients and other wise saints also know that the closer one follows Jesus the more temptations one has--the more one is tempted by Satan and his minions. Of course, he wants to take down those who are advancing the Kingdom of God--his faithful ones. Temptation and affliction aren't always because of sin in us. Remember Job?

Apr 12, 2010

On Loving Those in the Church

The other day as I was in the car alone, driving to a doctor's appointment, I began thinking of those people in the church that slander, that stir up strife, that make me want to apologize to the world for their behavior. I thought of those who have mistreated me. I thought of those that get on my nerves and those whose behavior makes me reticent to admit they are my brothers and sisters. Then I remembered G.K. Chesterton's quote: "The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies, probably because they're generally the same people." 

These brothers and sisters sometimes act as enemies. And they are the people that I am to love.

Of course, I could turn it around; I wonder if I have been an enemy to a brother or sister. I wonder if someone has had to work very hard to love me (I know my husband has at times!).

Our neighbors, those closest to us, can be our enemies.

Apr 10, 2010

Mellowness of Heart

Mellowness of heart flows from trusting that we belong not to ourselves but to God, and that we are not entitites that stand alone but are part of the whole that connects us to each other and to creation . . . . Richard Foster describes fulfillment that comes from losing oneself in a perpetual vision of the holy. "We are catapulted into something infinitely larger and more real than our petty existence. A blazing God-consciousness frees us from self-consciousness. It is freedom. It is joy. It is life." As we grow less preoccupied with ourselves, we are filled with wonder at the God who created us and that surrounds us . . . . As we grasp this joyful reality, we become less self-conscious about our successes and failures, our popularity or lack of popularity. We see God in the hard times as well as the good.

Lisa Graham McMinn The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life p. 60

Apr 8, 2010

Nouwen on Leaving Home

Yet over and over again I have left home. I have fled the hands of blessing and  run off to faraway places searching for love! This is the great tragedy of my life and of the lives of so many I meet on my journey. Somehow I have become deaf to the voice that calls me Beloved, have left the only place where I can hear that voice, and have gone off desperately hoping that I would find somewhere else what I could no longer find at home. At first this sounds unbelievable. Why should I leave the place where all I need to hear can be heard? The more I think about this question, the more I realize the true voice of love is a very soft and gentle voice speaking to me in the most hidden places of my being. It is not a boisterous voice, forcing itself on me and demanding attention. It is the voice of a nearly blind father who has cried much and died many deaths. Sensing the touch of God's blessing hands and hearing his voice are one and the same . . . . But there are many other voices voices that are loud, full of promises and very seductive. These voices say, "Go out and prove that you are worth something." Soon after Jesus had heard the voice calling him the Beloved, he was led to the seser to hear those other voices. They told him to prove that he was worth love in being successful, popular, and powerful. Those same voices are not unfamiliar to me . . . . They want me to prove to myself and others that I am worth being loved, and they keep pushing me to do everything possible to gain acceptance. They deny loudly that love is a totally free gift. I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me Beloved and follow the voices that offer a greaty variety of ways to win the love I much desire.

From The Return of the Prodigal pp. 39-40.

Apr 7, 2010

The Grace and Discipline of Simplicity

Here is some of the content of a talk I delivered during Lent.

"God never guides us into the intolerable scramble of panting feverishness.” Thomas Kelly

Richard Foster calls this modern frenetic pace and the obsession with accumulating more and more mania. I (and the ancients) contend that such a pace and such obsession is not only physically and mentally ruinous, but spiritually ruinous. All three are connected. Our pace, our frenzy, our desire to accumulate more, our clutter, is unhealthy and unnatural. That is not God’s intention for our lives. Christian simplicity (not the same as being simplistic) provides space in our lives, frees us to really live, to to be human beings not human doings. It is one way to prevent the cares of this world from strangling the gospel in our lives, our families, and churches. Jesus did and spoke only what he heard his father telling him to do and speak (John 5:19). Inner and outer simplicity contribute to wholeness.

Simplicity allows us to see: Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush aflame with God. But only those who see take off their shoes. ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

• Live a prayerful and Christ-obedient life.

• Figure out what is important to you and your family. What are your ( and God’s) priorities in this life?

• Ask God to free you and be intentional in trying to break free from the tyranny of having to be in-the-know.

• What kind of atmosphere do you want in your home?

• Understand and accept seasons of life. We cannot stuff all of life into a season. There is a time and place for everything under the sun. Live in the season that you’re in. In most cases, it doesn’t define you and won’t last the rest of your life.

• Be present in the present.

• Understand that you cannot control others. Life will be less stressful.

• Accept yourself for who you are.

• Change what you can, ask God for grace to accept what you cannot change.

• Outer simplicity should be indicative of an inner simplicity. It is possible to be outwardly organized and inwardly anxious.

Practical Suggestions

• Read the books you have before buying others.

• Share kids’ toys with friends. It’ll prevent both families from purchasing more, cluttering houses, and kids from getting bored.

• Before you buy your own lawn mower or major power tool, think about sharing it with another family or friend. If you already have such things, make them available to others.

• Disconnect from or do not always be connected to technology.

• Take time to be refreshed, even if it is a night or few nights away. Both you and those closest to you will be better for it. Can’t afford to pay for a hotel or bed and breakfast? Ask around. It is probable that older friends and mentors without children or young children will allow you stay and rejuvenate with them.

• Think about going cable-free.

• Fast from buying clothes.

• If you haven’t worn clothes for six months, get rid of them. Haven’t worn that winter sweater this winter? Good-bye!

• Purge and de-clutter continually.

• Consider limiting your activities (now and in the future).

• Learn to say “No.”

• If you are committing to a new ministry or engagement or activity, think about giving up one you’re  already involved in. That helps prevent over-commitment.

• Get outside. It refreshes the soul.

• Include fun and laughter into your life.

• Consider a spiritual director.

• Recycle.

• Care for Creation through conservation.

• Appreciate beauty.

• Be intentional about not comparing yourselves to others. Accept that we all have different gifts and abilities.

"If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

"Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.  Matthew 6:25-33 (The Message)

Apr 6, 2010

Christ's Life Blossoming in Us - Resurrection

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,“Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:5

The other day, Holy Saturday, I sat staring at the living blossoms on a seemingly dead bush. It happens every Spring; life shoots forth from by what all appearances, is dead. It's a resurrection every Spring, pointing to what will happen to our bodies and what happens now as Christ's life invades our beings. In Christ, eternal life begins now, spilling forth into every part of our lives. He proclaims his words in Revelation 21:5 to be faithful and true. He makes all things new. There are dead things in us, dead and twisted passions that are misdirected and misguided. Dead relationships. Some of these he will cut off and others he will sanctify and resurrect. There are hopes and dreams that we have pronounced dead, but that are living. We're just not aware of their life. They'll spring forth, be resurrected in his time.

Another thing I thought of, was that only through self-denial can his life spring forth. Only as we put to death (through the strength of the Holy Spirit) all in us that is not of him, can his life spring forth. It is not merely self-denial with no consequences. The consequences of self-denial (in order to carry the cross of obedience) are life. Ressurection life for ourselves and others. A new creation.

Apr 5, 2010

Christ Presence vs. Our Presence & Transformational Consequences of Sin

Not blogging during Lent has provided more open spaces and moments of silence for me to hear God. I can't let life encroach on the recreating silences. I am still not sure if I'll continue blogging everyday or a few times a week. If I blog every day, I'll need that time of solitude and stillness that I've again experienced during Lent. I just started reading the Life of Christ by Francois Mauriac. Has anyone read it? It was translated from French into English in 1937. I am always looking for good books to read, so if any readers have suggestions, let me know. Perhaps sometime I'll post my own reading list. For now, I post two quotes from the Beautiful Fight by Gary Thomas, a book I recommend and read during Lent last year. Blessings this day!

"While it is a stretch to suggest no one would have heard of Jesus if not for us, the fact is, there are individuals who might not think of Jesus if not for us . . . . Sadly, like the biblical Esau (see Genesis 25:29-34) we sometimes feel pridefully tempted to sell this amazing birthright of Christ's presence for our own presence. We focus on our work, our influence, and our ministry. One of the biggest threats to incarnational living is pride. Instead of manifesting Christ's presence, we want to showcase our own presence; instead of dispensing Christ's wisdom, we want to spotlight our own insight; instead of speaking Christ's truth, we want to spout our own opinions; instead of adopting Christ's agenda, we want to accomplish our own five-or ten-year plans; instead of building Christ's kingdom, we want to spread our own ministry." p. 38

"Sin has transformational consequences--it squelches God's work within us. In fact, one commentator's definition of this "corruption" is " the disintegrating power of evil." That's a remarkable image. Sin does indeed blind our eyes, anesthetize our spiritual senses and lead us into many destructive illusions. As sin begins to creep more and more into our lives, we grow increasingly deadened to God as well as to the world he created. . . . As the disintegrating power of evil takes over, our lives become smaller, more self-absorbed, more trivial and less like Christ's. But as we are made alive in Christ and gain release from this corrupting influence, becoming participators in the divine nature through the uniting work of the Holy Spirit, a marvelous transformation takes place. Formerly wasted and even pathetic lives can become compelling." p. 47