May 30, 2010

Reconcilers Blog

Hello Friends,

I am leaving for Duke Divinity tomorrow morning to attend the Summer Institute hosted by Duke's Center for Reconciliation. If you are curious or at all interested in reconciliation (God has called us to the ministry of reconciliation II Cor. 5), please click on this link:

Also, there is a blog that will contain updates and thoughts from those involved in the Summer Institute. Here is the link to the Reconcilers Blog:

You'll get to read about what we are up to.

Blessings to you,

May 28, 2010

Away For A Few Days!

I do not own a laptop that I can take with me. Neither do I have the internet on a cell phone. So when I am away from home, I am away from posting. I'll be away at a wedding this weekend and all next week, I'll be at Duke for a conference on reconciliation. If I can find a way to post there and I have time, I will. Otherwise, please feel free to read older posts. I try to share what has nourished me and hope it nourishes you.

Also, if you're so inclined, I'd love to hear your thoughts, what you've been thinking about, what God has been teaching you as you seek to follow Christ. Drop me a line if you want.

One more thing, I do recommend the blogs I have listed on the right-hand side. They are very good.

Warmly in Christ,

Thoughts of Heaven, of Eternal Life.

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26

When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on the mountain and he was transfigured, Moses and Elijah appeared in conversation with him. Scripture tells us that Elijah did not die but that he he was taken up, like Enoch in Genesis 5:24. Moses died, and I believe it is Jude who tells us that the devil and arch angel Michael argued over his body.

The appearances of Elijah and Moses with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration speak loudly to me about life after this life. Or should I say, our eternal life continues through the passage of death. Death is a doorway into another experience, a more sense-full experience. For those in Christ, it'll be pure joy of the senses and soul, for those outside of Christ, it'll be torment.

After thinking about the Transfiguration, I was thinking of my Abuelita (whom I love(d) dearly and who I wish were incarnate), who died just shy of her 89th birthday in 2004 and of my father-in-law, Paul, who died at 55 years old in 2002 due to liver cancer. I wonder if they remember me as I remember them? I think they do. I don't think God wipes out memories post-mortum.

I relish the thought of their rememberances of me. I wonder if they are aware of our fond thoughts for them? Probably.  As far as I can discern, Abuelita and Paul were both in Christ. Their absence takes something away from our lives; our lives were richer and more joy-filled because of their presence. Yet, memories of them nourish me. Right now, that's all I have. Memories of the departed. And when my family passes away in the next 50 years or so, it'll be as if Abuelita and Paul never existed because no one will remember them. The same is probably true about me. Once those who knew me walk through the threshold of death, will the memory of my existence be wiped from the face of the earth?

Whatever the answer, I thank God that we outlive the memories of those who outlive us. Although in this life we are a passing breeze that does not return, our memories of life and loved ones will continue and we will still live once we cross the passageway of death.

I do look forward to my reunion with Abuelita and Paul and all my loved ones in Christ...and all the saints I have yet to meet. My most earnest hope and prayer is that those who are not yet in Christ will be awakened from the dead so that they too might live.

May 27, 2010

George Mueller - A Person of Prayer and Faith and a Model For All of Us

George Mueller of Bristol is one of my favorite saints. He lived in the 1800's and was full of faith in God. His desire was to provide for the orphans around him. But how would he do it since the need was great and he didn't have money? He'd do it through prayer, not asking anyone for a penny in order to show that God provides and is completely trustworthy. He'd depend on God to nudge people. So through prayer, without ever asking for help or a handout, he provided food, shelter, and education for 10,000 orphans. God is powerful and good and works through his children. God hears our intercessions. May we be like George Mueller and seek God on behalf of those that have spiritual and physical needs so that he might provide and give us his power and wisdom to bring in as much of Christ's kingdom as we can. It is his doing not ours; we are simply vessels, like George Mueller.

Below I am going to include a little story about him from Streams in the Desert  (August 17 for those who have this devotional classic) by L.B. Cowman and edited by James Reiman. I am encouraged every time I read it. I hope you are too!

I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me (Acts 27:25).

A number of years ago I went to America with a steamship captain who was a very devoted Christian. When we were off the coast of Newfoundland, he said to me, "The last time I sailed here, which was five weeks ago, something happened that revolutionized my Christian life. I had been on the bridge for twenty-four straight hours when George Mueller of Bristol, England, who was a passenger on board, came to me and said, 'Captian, I need to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.' 'That is impossible' I replied. 'Very well,' Mueller responded, 'if your ship cannot take me, God will find some other way, for I have never missed an engagement in fifty-seven years. Let's go down to the chartroom to pray.' "I looked at this man of God and thought to myself, 'What lunatic asylum did he escape from?' I had never encountered someone like this. 'Mr. Mueller,' I said, 'do you realize how dense the fog is?" 'No,' he replied. 'My eye is not on the dense fog but on the living God, who controls every circumstance in my life.'

"He then knelt down and prayed one of the most simple prayers I've ever heard. When he had finished, I started to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. He said, 'First, you do not believe God will answer, and second, I BELIEVE HE HAS. Consequently, there is no need whatsoever for you to pray about it.'

"As I looked at him, he said, 'Captain, I have known my Lord fifty-seven  years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get an audience with the King. Get up, Captain, and open the door, and you will see that the fog is gone.' I got up, and indeed the fog was gone. And on Saturday afternoon George Mueller was in Quebec for his meeting."

Thank you O LORD for a strong reminder of your goodness and power. You are at work. Amen.

May 26, 2010

A Warning About Pride ~ John Wesley

"The first advice I would give those who have been saved from sin by grace is to watch and pray continually against pride. For it is pride not only to ascribe what we have to ourselves, but also to think we have what we do not. One man, for instance, ascribed his knowledge to God and therefore was humble. But then he thought that he had more knowledge than everyone else which is dangerous pride. We often think we have no need of anyone's advice or reproof. Always remember, much grace does not imply much enlightenment. We may be wise but have little love, or we may have love with little wisdom. God has wisely joined us all together as parts of the body so that we cannot say to one another, 'I have no need of you.'

Even to imagine that those who are unsaved cannot teach you is a very great and serious mistake. Domnion is not found in grace. Not observing this has led some into many mistakes and certainly into pride. Beware of even the appearance of pride. Let there be in you that lowly mind which was in Christ Jesus. Be clothed with humility. Let modesty appear in all your words and actions.

One way to do this is to own any fault we have. If you have at any time thought, spoken, or acted wrong, do not refrain from acknowledging it. Never dream that this will hurt the cause of God--in fact, it will further it. Be open and honest when you are rebuked and do not seek to evade it or disguise it. Rather, let it appear just as it is and you will thereby not hinder but adorn the gospel."

What wise words! This excerpt comes from Devotional Classics (edited by Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith) pp. 258-259. It is found in Wesley's famous book Christian Perfection.

I do recommend this very good book Devotional Classics.

May 25, 2010

You Are a Sinner. Receive My Grace.

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:15-17.

I am very glad that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. For I have learned that I am one of them. Jesus deigns to spend his time with the likes of me. God is at work in the cosmos and in my life (and in  your life, too). Like Eugene Peterson says in his new book Practicing the Resurrection, I just have to be receptive to God. I have to learn to receive. If we're under the delusion that we are holier than we are, we falsely believe that we don't need the amount of grace we do, and then we do not receive it because we do not ask for it. Of course, God does pour out a measure of grace on us even when we do not ask for it because those of us in Christ are his sons and daughters (and he even sends rain and good things to those who do not care for  him or acknowledge him). We must ask our Father for the grace to become like him. That is a prayer he answers.

How freeing it is to trust him, even when we can't understand what is going on. How I need Jesus every moment! Growing up, I was continually let down by those important to me. It's hard learning how to trust. But God is showing himself to be trustworthy. Many are the reasons that the Lord of the universe should not give me the time of day. I am a sinner. However, I am beyond grateful that his action and his love for me is not dependent on my worthiness but on his lavish love, goodness, and grace. The same is true for you this day and every day.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

May 23, 2010

Downward Mobility - Henri Nouwen

"The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid. Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose poverty when wealth is within reach? Who will choose the hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands from all sides?

My whole life I have been surrounded by well-meaning encouragement to go 'higher up,' and the most-used argument was : 'You can do so much good there, for so many people.' But these voices calling me to upward mobility are completely absent from the Gospel. Jesus says: 'Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).  He also says: 'Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Finally he says: "You know that among the gentiles the rulers lord it over them, and great men make their authority felt; among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among  you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

This is the way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus. It is the way towrad the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless--toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God."

From Here and Now pp. 138-139

May 22, 2010

Falling Apart

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba,[e] Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Mark 14:32-36

What do you do when you're falling apart? Unraveling at the seams? Don't we all have moments like this? Yes, we do. But some of us hide it better than others. When Jesus was falling apart, he took his disciples into the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He wanted and knew he needed the companionship of others as he began to taste the hell that he would go through. True enough, Peter, James, and John fell asleep. No, they couldn't do anything about what he was going through. They probably could've tried harder to stay awake. Yet even their sleeping presence provided some comfort.
Jesus fell apart. He didn't curse God, but his soul was "overwhelmed to the point of death." If we are feeling so overwhelmed, like we are traversing hell alone, we need to let others know. We are not meant to be alone in this. And if we know of someone that is going through a difficult time, it is imperative that we reach out to them. Even Jesus, God of very God, needed companions in his darkest time. These are the same disciples who were with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. They tasted a bit of his glory and of the hell he went through. Jesus had good friends.
If we don't have any let us pray for them and seek them out. Once I said to a lady I admired, "I really like you and respect you. Let's be friends." She agreed and is one of my best friends. It was a bold move, and vulnerable, but it was worth it. Sometimes we have to take steps like that. But if we have no one, let us try to find someone in the Church to talk to.
God's peace to you this day.

May 21, 2010

Jesus or Mammon?

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself,"[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. James 2:1-9

Last night, when I couldn't sleep a wink, I began thinking about a recent conversation. While I can't divulge the specifics, I can share what thoughts the conversation sparked within me. Let me explain. I don't come from a rich family nor do I have connections. On the contrary, I grew up poor and somewhat isolated--in a rural area. While I wasn't naive concerning the sins of the flesh and spirit, I was naive concerning Christian churches and institutions--the ways of the world within the Church and American Christian culture. Let me get to the point.

While Jesus through Scripture teaches us that the love of money is the root of all evil, that we can't serve God and Mammon (money), and that our hearts will be where our treasures are, I've been implicitly taught by the American branch of the Church that money matters (there are exceptions of course, I am just talking about widespread Christian practice).

Who gets the important positions on church councils, organizations, and school boards? The rich and influential (influence is tied to money believe it or not). They are courted because of their donations. Now, many of these rich people are godly. Because of his wealth, Joseph of Arimethea was able to provide a tomb for Jesus's body prior to the resurrection. But isn't it interesting that studies show that the poor give a bigger percentage of their money away than do the rich?

But let us not be deceived into thinking that those who court the favor of the wealthy and influential aren't looking for some money for their church or institution--money in exchange for power. The rich  and influential often call the shots.

At one point in my life, someone said to me, "Marlena, I'd love for you to be a trustee at this institution." When I asked what qualified someone to be a trustee at that particular institution they said, "Money and influence." "Well" I said, "I have neither money, nor great enough influence." He laughed knowingly. So while someone might have widsom and integrity, they are disqualified because of lack influence and money.

The same thing is true with Christian publishing. It is a business, they are looking to sell their books. What books? Those whose authors have a big enough platform or influence. Those who are famous. Christian celebrities. The best writers? Not necessarily.

The bottom line in many of these Christian churches, insitutions, and Christan media is money. And believe me, I know we need money to function. And I do not in any way discount the godly who are rich and influential. However, we are showing preference for the rich. We are playing favorites. We do court those who can put up the money for our organizations--the givers. We court the influential even if they lack substance. That is natural I guess, but when they get to call the shots because they give more than others, or because they're recognizable--that's favoritism. How many poor, wise, godly people full of integrity are on the boards of churches and institutions?

I am sad about the disparity between what Jesus teaches and what the Church teaches in practice. I used to be naive about these things but I am not any longer. It's the way of the world within the Church. It seems that in this case, it the Christianized Mammon that we are worshiping.

May 20, 2010

Encouraging Words From Tony Evans - If You Can't See Your Way Through - Our Thorns

I appreciate Tony Evans. I am just passing this sermon on in case you need to hear it. I certainly needed to hear it today.

On Spiritual Change or Transformation

Continuing the conversation from yesterday's post, today I include an excerpt from Dave Johnson's article which appeared in the current issue of Conversations Journal. The article is entitled: "Can Change Really  Happen?"

In Gatlatians 6, Paul was dealing with a group of people who were investing enormous amounts of time and energy into what he refers to as a "good show in the flesh." In other words, how things looked on the outside was what mattered most to them. I remember discovering that text many years ago, and I realized it was precisely the spiritual environment I had grown up in.

The unspoken motto for how we did our life together was that what matters most is how things appear. The problem with that, among many problems, is that if you are in a system of any kind--in which how things look is what matters most, then I promise you that how things are will never get dealt with. And if how things are on the inside never get dealt with, you will never, never change. It all just stays.

This stuff, this fear, and this sin, it all just stays in here, in the dark, instead of coming into the light where God can heal it, forgive it, and transform it. And before you know it, having people think you are happy becomes more important than actually being happy. Having people think your marriage is great becomes more important than actually having a good marriage.

p. 36

May 19, 2010

The Kingdom of God Is Not Merely Talk.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. I Corinthians 4:20.

We can talk a lot about Jesus and spiritual formation, but the question is: how much transformation is occuring in our lives? Does our talk far surpass our Christ-like being and practice? God is not concerned with all of my talk and writing. God is not concerned with all of the Church's talk and writing. He is concerned that I love him and become more like him (Romans 8:29), that his bride, the Church, love him--that she be transformed from a harlot into a loving and beautiful and faithful wife.

A couple of months ago, I was in a conversation with two people, a pastor and an elder. Both expressed doubts about whether much tranformation takes place in the Christian life. They said that they saw very little evidence of tranformation within themselves and those around them. I agree that if we look at the Church and even ourselves, we can be discouraged by the lack of transformation. Or at least, we might be discouraged by the pace of sanctification and transformation. But then I remember Exodus 23:30 "Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land." God promised to drive out the inhabitants of the land "little by little." Transformation can occur daily. We can daily move forward, even if just a little, in the Christ life. Almost all decisions and thoughts (I am not talking about whether we should wear a blue or red shirt type of decisions) allow us to choose between life and death. If we give into our fleshly inclinations or temptations--death. If through the power of the Holy Spirit we choose to do and be what Christ would have us--life.

So here is a more pointed question, if we look over our life, if we reflect on our soul's past, do we see that God's power is at work as he little by little rids us of all within us that is not of him? Do we notice God giving us the grace to do things that aren't natural? Are the fruits of the Spirit increasing, even if ever so slightly, in  our life?

I will share some more along these lines tomorrow.

May 18, 2010

The Folly of Envy

This is the last of my old posts. I have arrived home safely and hopefully will now have some time to ruminate. Tomorrow I will return with some fresh words.

“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--

May 16, 2010

Taking Up My Cross to Follow Jesus

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:37-39

I daily pledge to follow Christ closely. But now that he has given me a heavy cross, I balk. I realize that I wanted to pick and choose my cross. The cross that I am currently bearing isn't the one I would've selected. It's unbelievably harder than I imagined. I left all to answer this call, I sacrificed my Isaac, but now I'm complaining daily about it. I have a bad attitude.

You know, I always thought I would've been Caleb or Joshua in the wilderness. Yet upon reflection, even though I would've never dreamed it possible, I know that I would've died in the wilderness with most of the Israelites. Why? Because I've treated God with contempt by complaining which displays ugly unbelief.

When we ask God to give us our daily bread, one thing we are asking for is the nourishment that will provide the strength for us to carry our cross to our death.

After he puts to death in us what he will, he'll raise us to new life. That's what I believe. That's what I remind myself of today. I need strength for today, tomorrow has enough evil of its own (Matthew 6:25-33).

"When we follow Jesus, it means that we don't know exactly what it means, at least in detail. We follow him, letting him pick the roads, set the timetables, tell us what we need to know but only when we need to know it . . . . When Jesus says 'Follow me' and we follow, we don't know where we will go next or what we will do next, that is why we follow the one who does know."

--Eugene Peterson The Jesus Way p.240

May 15, 2010

Isolation, Sickness, & Spiritual Health

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25

What happens when we are isolated from the body of Christ (even other denominations), or from people in general? Malperceptions. In the absence of healthy others, ill-informed emotions and opinions emerge. We disintegrate into neurosis, perhaps without even knowing it. It is impossible to be spiritually, emotionally, or physically healthy when we spend our days alone because there's no one to tell us we're wrong, in left-field, no one to encourage us when we need it most.

Life-giving nourishment comes from being immsersed in the body of Christ. Probably the only reason that we would withdraw from the body is if we're homebound for one reason or another. Otherwise, let us not merely attend church, but immerse ourselves in the body. Our health depends on it.

May 14, 2010

Ora et Labora - The Discipline of the Mundane

"Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house."

--Proverbs 24:27

We loathe the mundane. We'd much rather be off doing something more exciting, something more meaningful. Doing laundry, homework, dishes, yardwork, cooking and cleaning seems so underwhelming. What would happen if we let all the monotonous tasks go, if we didn't fulfill our daily responsibilities? Chaos sets in. We see it all around us, people addicted to adrenalin, neglecting the tasks and people at their fingertips. I'm talking to myself here. If I neglect the laundry or dishes or daily task of picking up the apartment because I'd rather read or spend time in other places with other people, I suffocate from clutter. Stress invades. Conflict arises.

  • If we daily neglect acts of love and service to our loved ones, death invades our relationships.
  • If we daily neglect our work it catches up to us. We get a bad grade, bad review or get fired.
  • If we daily neglect caring for our bodies, we lose teeth, gain weight and contribute to the onset of disease.
  • If we daily neglect to intentionally remember the poor, oppressed, orphans, and widows, we develop a lifetime habit of ignoring them. We live for ourselves. And Jesus says we'll go to hell (Matthew 25).
  • If we daily neglect caring for creation, we'll make it uninhabitable.
I wonder how often governments that ignore fingertip tasks have stirred up conflict?

There is a spiritual discipline involved in fulfilling the mundane tasks set before us. When we fulfill our daily assignments we do our part to hold the world together. When we fail to, we add to its dissolution.

May 13, 2010

Jaded By Christians

Welcome. I am in Rochester, NY, our former beloved hometown. My husband is graduating with his Ph.D. in Philosophy. So'll be doing some reposts for the next few days! Enjoy!

"A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." Isaiah 42:3a

You’re in a swirl of darkness. You experience soul-searing pain. Open wounds. Not only from your own pain, but from the countless injustices and atrocities around you. Numb. Your soul is numb. Your faith fragile. One wrong move and you’ll fall to pieces. You can’t see God through the fog of his people. Jesus said that people would spot Christians by their love, if that’s the case, then you couldn’t be surrounded by Christians because these people are selfish, stubborn, mean and angry. Grinding all sorts of axes. Tunnel-visioned.

You’re disillusioned, don’t know what to believe or if you believe. “Is God who he says he is? Is what I’ve been taught about him true?” you wonder. Moreover if God is good and loving why so much evil, pain, and suffering? Why so many professing Christians who are nothing like Jesus? What can be done for you? Is this all there is? You fear falling into the bottomless abyss of unbelief. What you don’t want, what you don’t need is someone to quote Bible verses to you. Giving you pat answers. You bristle at the thought.

You know what? Jesus isn’t that way. He doesn't kick you when you're down. But he asks, “What can I do for you?” Jesus came to reconcile you and all of creation to God. He wants to show you how to live, to make you whole--fully human. And he will walk with you as you heal. He knows the pace you can manage.
He will sharpen your perceptions of reality through his word, through Christians who behave(d) like him, and through creation's graces. He'll answer many questions, and make you okay with not knowing the answers to others. He'll pour his life into you as you follow him. In turn you'll live your life to serve God and others. It's not the end for you. Right now, the best thing you can do is trust him and relax in his arms even if you can't pray or go to church or serve (he knows all this). He'll bring you around to truth and life and comfort.

One more thing. There are plenty of Christians who are like Jesus.

May 10, 2010

On Loving Others - Re-post From 2/08

I thought this would go well with my Her.meneutics post. Please see the side bar for article entitled: "Toying With Adultery."

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." I John 3:16

It easy to "love" those far away, those we have little interaction with. We can be patient and kind with those hard-to-love people we run into infrequently. The real test of our love for others is manifested in our day-to-day lives. How do we love those we experience everyday? Do we lay our lives down for our spouses, children, parents, neighbors, members of our church community?

Obviously loving is not merely having positive feelings for a person, not merely wishing good upon someone. Notice in the above verse, John indicates that our love is measured by how well we lay our lives down for our brothers, not our enemies, even though Jesus tells us to love our enemies. So how are we doing?

When we're impatient and annoyed--that's when the real test of love comes. When we're tired and would rather be refreshed than refresh others--do we consider others above ourselves? Choosing to love is a cure for selfishness. Love is a choice because more often then not, we don't want to expend the energy it takes to love others. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can love consistently. And of course, Jesus is our prime example: he laid down his life for us. And out of love and appreciation for him, we lay our lives down for others.

In the Lord's prayer, when we request our daily bread, we need to ask for the strength and energy to love those we encounter. Otherwise, we'll fail miserably.

Love begins by taking care of the closest ones - the ones at home.
-- Mother Theresa

May 9, 2010

On Sexual Immorality - C. S. Lewis

Yesterday, I wrote about the good, the true, and the beautiful and about how we exhange them for poor, spiritually deadly, substitutes. I wasn't speaking of sexual immorality (porn addiction) alone per se. However, I thought it might be wise for me  to shed some light on this (via the words of C.S. Lewis) since so many are enslaved to this particular sin. Please know that if you are, you can get help. Christ can set you free. You'll have to choose to turn away from it, starve the sin, and seek help and accountability. Do confide in someone within the body of Christ you can trust. This addicting sin is not too big or too consuming or too hard for Christ. Nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).

Here is Lewis:

"In the first place our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so 'natural,' so 'healthy, and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humor. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth--the truth . . . that sex in itself (apart from the excess and obsessions that have grown around it) is 'normal,' and 'healthy,' and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all of our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of good health, good humour, and frankness. For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary . . . For 'nature' (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life.

I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of  Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

pp. 92-94

May 7, 2010

Enjoy Life.

While it is true that we suffer and have many setbacks, God has given us all things for our enjoyment. As I hinted at the other day, it is only when we are spiritually sick (keeping in mind that our physical states also affect us), that we despise or take for granted the good that we have. God has called us to follow him in obedience. In our obedient journey, there is much to celebrate and enjoy. We need not be somber all of the time. Jesus knew that he was going to die. He could've been depressed everyday. Not only by thoughts of his impending death, but by his apparent lack of success with numbers of converts and because of the constant harrassment and insult from those who opposed him. But again (as I've mentioned in the past), people were drawn to Jesus. He was so graciously truthful. I am sure he had a sense of humor. I wonder what it was like? What did he find funny? I bet he marveled at his creation, just like I marvel at the miracle of my daughter and other children.  Was he steeped into an awe-full silence at a mere glimpse of the earth's beauty? Was there a stray dog that was his favorite? What was Jesus like at a Jewish wedding? Was he a wall flower or did he let loose with joy in the middle of the floor? Did he get the urge to dance every time he heard tambourines and flutes playing? He probably loved music and loved dancing. In his miracle at Cana, he showed many things, but one thing he demonstrated was that he wasn't opposed to a good party. Why do you think he was called a drunkard (the son of man came eating and drinking . . .)?  Jesus enjoyed those things that were to be enjoyed and we should, too. He was without sin, but not stuffy and somber and staid. He was joy-full, even celebratory. He loved and enjoyed his Father, others, and life!

In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says that joy comes from obedience. He also has this to say:

The spirit of celebration will not be in us until we have learned to be "careful for nothing." And we will never have a carefree indifference to things until we trust God . . . . When we determine to dwell on the excellent things in life, we will be so full of those things that they will tend to swallow our problems . . . . The decision to set the mind on the higher things in life is an act of the will. That is why celebration is a discipline. It is not something that falls on our heads. It is the result of a consciously chosen way of thinking and living.

p. 195

May we learn to love and enjoy God, others, and life!

May 6, 2010

An Absurd Life Becomes Obedient - Henri Nouwen

This quote is taken from the book Making All Things New.

"From all that I said about our worried, overfilled lives, it is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when his is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us. Thus our lives have become absurd. In the word absurd, we find the Latin word surdus, which means 'deaf.' A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear. When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means 'listening.' A spiritual discipline is necessary in order to move from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there is some free inner space where we can listen to our God and follow his guidance. Jesus' life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was 'all ear.' That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God."

May 4, 2010

Wilderness Testing Unveils the Condition of Our Hearts

Listen to what Moses says to the Israelites and to us about wilderness testing (Deuteronomy 8:2-5):

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

Like the Israelites, we are unaware of what lurks in the depths of our hearts. But if we are ever to be transformed in the wilderness, we need to know the true condition of our hearts. St. Macarius accurately and picturesquely describes the heart this way:

The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. (H.43.7)

When wilderness testing unveils the condition of our hearts, we are humbled because we realize just how often we’re on the verge of denying Christ and worshiping idols. And we realize how completely dependent we are on God and his Word for every breath of grace-filled air.

May 3, 2010

The Value of a Soul

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Matthew 4:8-9.

I'm reading through Matthew again and yesterday it struck me that satan knows the value of a soul. He proclaimed that he'd give Jesus all the power and riches of the world if Jesus would worship him. That is if Jesus would in essence say, "You are God, I acknowledge you as the supreme power of the universe and will do your bidding." Satan and his demons know the value of our souls, too. That is not to say they value (esteem and honor) our souls. However, they'll put up a huge dowery for Christ's bride. They, in combination with our own flesh, will do anything to indulge us away from God. How easily do we, like Esau, sell our birthrights.
I am also reminded that the devil is often disguised as an angel of light. Some examples? Illicit relationships. Power in the church and Christian institutions that does not belong to us, but to God. Our indulgence in "godly activities" while ignoring God or those closest to us.
The devil and his demons will not tempt those maturing in the faith (most of the time) with what is obviously evil. No, the evil he comes at us with is bathed in light. We need discernment to see through that dark light, to notice that he is trying to get us to worship the good, to commit idolatry (we can ask ourselves if a good thing is consuming all of our thoughts, our time, our attention--if a good thing is calling the shots). We need the Church to help us discern. It is amazing how Scripture or the words of a saint either living or dead (living with Christ) or even beauty can jar us into reality.
Many more than we know are bowing or tempted to bow in exchange for something deeply desired. We are all tempted toward idolatry, to sell our souls for the good because we haven't figured out that the good is not God (Of course I am not saying that God is not good!).
I realized that of myself recently. I had to repent and I must continue to be on guard.
I realize again and again that I am capable of every evil, every sin but for God's grace.

May 2, 2010

More on the Discipline of Waiting on God

Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

For about a year and a half I've been thinking about the discipline of waiting on God. My thoughts have been motivated by life's circumstances. I wrote an article on the discpine of waiting that will soon be published and when it is, I'll link to it. But because I've been thinking about it, anytime I read about it, I take note. So, I'll share from Eugene Peterson's book again, Where Your Treasure Is. It is an excellent book and I recommend it highly (actually anything that Peterson writes is worth reading and spiritually nourishing!).

"My soul waits. Another will is greater, wiser, and more intelligent than my own. So I wait. Waiting means that there is another whom I trust and from whom I receive. My will, important and essential as it is, finds a will that is more imporant, more essential. While waiting, I discover there is more reality outside of me than inside me, and I take up a position to respond to it. I begin to pray by attempting to manipulate the will of God; I end by putting myself in a position to be moved by his will. There is a kind of waiting that has nothing to do with prayer: opportunistic waiting--a predatory, disciplined holding back until everything is right for me to pounce. This is the waiting of a cat stalking a bird or of a person cannily watching for an opening thrust, the telling word. That is not prayer-waiting. In prayer, we are aware that God is in action and that when the circumstances are ready, when others are in the right place and when my heart is prepared, he will call me into action. Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts. Waiting is our paricpation in the process that results in the 'time fulfilled.'"

From his chapter entitled Unself-Assertion a reflection on Psalm 62 p. 87.

May 1, 2010

Creating God In Your Own Image

I got this quote from my friend John who got it from Anne Lamott:

"You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."