Dec 30, 2011

Gorging On Excess

Over the Christmas holiday I was thinking about how excess keeps us from truly appreciating what we have and from experiencing God. A shorter word for excessive consumption is gluttony. Gluttony of gifts or food. Gluttony of certain experiences.

Think about it. The first cookie tastes delicious, but by the fifth one, we've lost our appreciation for it. More than a few toys and a child throws the rest aside playing only with those that capture her imagination.

We can gorge on the internet or television or food or relationships or sex or clothes or work or hobbies or success--or even books. Yet as we all know...instead of being filled full we remain dissatisfied. So we start the gorging-dissatisfaction cycle all over again.

Money, prestige, success, power and relationships will not fulfill us. We hear that all of the time. But do we believe this? It's not that any of those things are bad in themselves. It's when they are used illicitly that destruction overtakes us and the world. They become evil when we misuse them and turn them into idols.

What can be done? Detachment from these things through prayer and fasting. For some it'll require a life-long detachment. For others frequent detachment.

When we fast from these things...the things we gorge on...we'll go through detox. We'll suffer all sorts of maladies and delusions--just like an addict going through detox. As we fast we'll see just how attached we are. We'll see what power these things have over us. They've become false gods.

But the truth is that a simpler life, a less excessive life, is hospitable to God and his ways. Remember how Jesus said we can't serve two masters?

Dec 28, 2011

How To Receive Abundant Life

This comes from Sarah Young's 40 Days With Jesus: Celebrating His Presence

"I AM PERPETUALLY WITH YOU, taking care of you. That is the most important fact of your existence. I am not limited by time or space; My Presence with you is a forever-promise. You need not fear the future, for I am already there. When you make that quantum leap into eternity, you will find me awaiting you in heaven. Your future is in My hands; I release it to you day by day, moment by moment. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow.

I want you to live this day abundantly, seeing all there is to see, doing all there is to do. Don't be distracted by future concerns. Leave them to Me! Each day of life is a glorious gift, but so few people know how to live within the confines of today. Much of their energy for abundant living spills over the time line into tomorrow's worries or past regrets. Their remaining energy is sufficient only for limping through the day, not for living it to the full. I am training you to keep your focus on My Presence in the present. This is how to receive abundant Life, which flows freely from my throne of grace."

Matthew 6:34, James 4:13-15.

Dec 19, 2011

Encouragement For The Downcast & Gifts of Grace

"God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." Hebrews 6:10

Do you ever feel like Job? I do.

What I mean is, I strive to follow and obey Jesus and to do as much good as I can to others. My greatest desire is that others would come to know God (which is eternal life according to John 17:3) and to taste, as I have, the love of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. Moreover, I want them to know that God is good (all of the time) and that he is with us and for us. He is all-powerful and is always working on our behalf in this life. He loves and cares for the world and all of creation in particular ways. God is at work all about us, we just need eyes to see him and ears to hear him.

I strive for him with all the energy that is within me--energy I know comes from him. Of course, there are times when I am tired and fail miserably. There are times when my good intentions remain intentions and do not manifest themselves in actions. But still, I can say with a clear conscience that I follow hard after Christ.

Even so, there are times when I get tired. Times when I feel like I want someone's well-being more than they do. Times when I think, "Lord do you not see how I've loved you? Why then the continued affliction, why haven't I seen you move for me?" Being human I wonder, probably just like you, why the wicked prosper (Psalm 73) and seemingly nominal Christians flourish in ways that I want to flourish. Like Job I feel trial upon trial comes upon me with no relief. The trials aren't always my own. They could be the trials of family members or others close by. But in some ways they become my own because I groan in prayer on their behalf.

Then there are times (this happened recently), when I had an idea and others took it and ran with it and received the credit without acknowledging the role I played. It happens all the time in this life. But it's still painful. And that is where humility comes in. The right attitude is: God used it for his glory and he knows my role. But like I said, it can be painful even if my reward is in heaven.

Speaking of rewards in heaven, I do have to believe what Hebrews 6:10 says, "God is not unjust, he will not forget your work or the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them."  "God, I help your people," I cry out. "I help them all the time. O God, I need some help myself." God hears these cries of mine. That is why he brought Hebrews 6:10 before me. He is telling me and you that he will not forget our faithfulness. He of all people is faithful and gracious. Our love and faithfulness cannot match the love and faithfulness of God. He wins every time.

But rewards do not just come in heaven. We will be rewarded here, too. God will not forget us here in this life. He will not forget the love and the hard work we've done because of our love for him and others.

When we get to this point of feeling like Job and it happens to all of us at intervals throughout our lives, we have to remember that God showed amazing grace to Job. There are times God's grace breaks into our lives with great surprise. Something good and unexpected happens and we've had nothing to do with it. We didn't strive for it, worry or lose sleep over it.

Can you remember a time in the past when you were surprised by his grace? There has to be one. Think hard.

I can remember times. And the thing is that these moments are not one time events. Gifts of grace occur throughout our lives. So now you and I have something to look forward to. My friend Glandion Carney, an author, spiritual director, and Anglican priest encouraged me with these words last year at a Renovare Retreat. He said, "Marlena, expect great things from God."

His admonition is not limited to me. Each of us should expect great things from God. After all, we are God's children and he loves us. Remember he asks, "Will I give you a stone when you ask for bread or a snake when you ask for a fish ?" (Matt. 7:7-12) The thing we cannot do is dictate how God's love and grace is going to break through in our lives. This is Advent, Jesus is coming. He broke through into our reality as a baby in a manger. His actions are of such seismic proportions that we still cannot comprehend the eternal implications of his overtures. But no one expected for him to come as he did.

So I say to you and to myself: let's expect great things of God, gifts of grace...especially those of us who are tired and feel like Job. They will come.

All we must do is go to him as we are weary and heavy-laden and we will find rest in the goodness of God. Rest in him and expect his goodness. It will manifest itself in the land of the living. It will. Take hope and comfort in this truth dear child of God.

Dec 16, 2011

At Home With Christ

Read this beautiful meditation by Caryll Houselander found at the inward/outward blog sponsored by the Church of the Savior.

Dec 13, 2011


“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The other day I started to worry about whether or not and how God was going to answer a long-standing prayer request of mine. I started reciting (to the Lord) all the reasons why, from a human standpoint, things didn't look good for me.

Then I started thinking about Jesus or rather, I believe the Holy Spirit brought to mind the life of Jesus. I thought, "He had good reasons to worry. I wonder if he ever doubted the Father's plans?"

I mean, if I were in charge of planning the salvation of the world, wouldn't I put Jesus in a palace in one of the centers of civilization like Rome or Constantinople or Alexandria or Athens? My thought is that Jesus' influence could radiate out from one of those centers to the then known world. He'd have scholars and artists and business and transportation and trade/travel routes at his disposal. He'd have worldly power, affluence and influence.

But God the Father saw fit to place him in a manger in Bethlehem with humble, poor, non-influential parents. He grew up in Nazareth. What a backwater place. He had no earthly influence or learning to recommend him. However, he did have obedience and humble submission to the Father.

I also wonder if Jesus was tempted to worry about how the Father was going to pull off what to the world seemed like the most foolish of plans: redemption through his death on a cross and resurrection. After all, people were divided about their opinions of him. The most influential people, the Pharisees and those who were part of the Sanhedrin, if they bought into his message at all, it was in secret. Did he worry that "one of these days I am going get knocked off by the palace guard, or some crazy, self-righteous, religious zealot who thinks me a child of the devil"?  I wonder if he ever worried about his PR or about whether or not the masses would accept him? At one point he asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" He couldn't be sure that they got it either.

My point is that Jesus had lots to worry about and be depressed about. First and foremost: a short life and a horrific death--and then what other people thought of him. I often wonder how worry and depression didn't strangle the life out of him. And of course, I know it's because he had such an intimate relationship with the Father that he wouldn't dream of doubting him, although in the Garden of Gethsemane he may have second-guessed his own ability to go through with the Father's plan.

I think Jesus really believed what he told us in Matthew 6. He believed in the goodness and beneficence of his Father. He knew it from experience. His father gifted the flowers with beauty and birds with food. The Father didn't need the flowers or the birds to remind him of his duty. He is a joyful giver and eternally concerned about the well-being of his children.

But still we worry. Yet Jesus says, "Look, on his own the Father cares for the flowers and the birds. He is interested in their welfare, don't you think he is interested in yours?" And later on he demonstrates he is interested in our welfare because he'd send us a helper, the Holy Spirit.

So after I had these thoughts, I went back to my prayer request. And I was like "God has got this. I am not to worry, but to wait and see how he pulls it off or if he doesn't, what happens instead." To be honest, I think it's going to happen, but I have to wait and see how. I can't plan for it but I do have to do my part in a posture of obedience and trust as I wait on him.

I think about how much less stress we'd all have, if we really would take God at his word and at his character. We are not to worry, that doesn't mean we don't do our part, but that we don't worry about how God is going to do his part. Jesus says we are well cared for--do we believe that even in the most seemingly dire of situations?

I have to practice trusting. My inclination, like yours, is to distrust God and goodness. And so I am waiting and reminding myself of the truths I just jotted down here on the blog.

I'll report back about this situation when things come to pass.

Blessings to you.

Dec 3, 2011

A Soul-Killing Experience

When we think we know the ways of God our so-called familiarity breeds contempt. We don't see our blind spots, only the blind spots of others. If we see only the blind spots of others, only the planks in other people's eyes, then we know something is amiss in us.

Here are the words of George MacDonald:

"Never did she question the truth of what she heard, and she became skilled in its arguments and forms of thought. But the more familiar one becomes with any religious system, while the conscience and will remain unawakened and obedience has not yet begun, the harder it is to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Such familiarity is a soul-killing experience."

~ from The Lady's Confession p. 62.

Nov 30, 2011

Speak Up! They Came For Others...Then Me

First they came for the Communists,

and I didn’t speak up,

because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak up,

because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak up,

because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,

and by that time there was no one

left to speak up for me.

by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945

See more information about Martin Niemoller here.

Nov 29, 2011

A Christian or Fox or Something In Between?

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.  Luke 13:31-32

What do you do with someone you believe to be a fox? I am talking about Christians that speak about Jesus and their desire to follow him--Christians that go to church and may even share the gospel with others but who commit glaring evils.

I think about the Christians who owned slaves in the South and thought nothing of having slaves or of mistreating their slaves but who would also try to convert their slaves to Jesus.

I am thinking of supervisors who claim to follow Jesus but badly mistreat their workers. They think nothing of ruling with an iron-fist and of hiding or twisting the truth when it comes to their jobs.

I think of the Christians who (as the story is told in one of  Erwin Lutzer's books, Hitler and the Cross) heard the cattle cars passing behind their church and the desperate screams of Jewish people and others who were being carted off to slaughter, on their way to the death camps. These Christians in the little church would just sing louder when they heard the train whistle and the screams every Sunday morning. They tried  to drown out the screams and the cries of their consciences by singing hymns.

I know all of us are a mix of good and evil. Sometimes we, like Peter, function like Satan and compel Jesus to rebuke us with "Get behind me Satan."

But what do we do when other professing believers commit injustices and salient wrongs --wreaking all sorts of havoc? Yes, we pray. But when do we speak up? When do we take action?

There are believers that are acting like foxes. They may be blind to their behavior or they may be maliciously intentional. I've met a few people I'd call foxes while also wondering if they're brothers and sisters.

At the same time, I must be careful that I myself am not blind to the planks in my own eyes. But what  if the plank in their eyes are sticking so far out that every time they turn to the left or the right they take out a bunch of people?

I would love to hear your thoughts. I am truly seeking wisdom in this matter; and I know, our responses may depend on the particularities each situation. But if you have insights, please let me know!

Nov 27, 2011

The God Who Comes And Is Always Coming - 1st Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "

This meditation was originally posted on December 6, 2009

Prepare the Way for the Lord!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing His Coming

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on December 6, 2009
[1] Found online at:
[2] Found online at:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ruben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants, (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1983), 22.
[6] Found online at:
[7] Matthew 25:34-37 NIV.
[8] Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits For Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2007), 88.

Nov 24, 2011

God's Comfort In Our Pain

The Conversations Journal Blog posted some of my thoughts on God's comfort in our wilderness of pain. I pray it'll be a comfort to you.

Nov 22, 2011

The Folly of Envy

What is that to you? You must follow me.” -- John 22:21
Repost from 2009.

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--

Nov 20, 2011

On Loving Others

From 2008

"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 every day? 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. Dallas Willard says it is acting on behalf of the good of others. 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 than 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

Nov 17, 2011

Downward Mobility ~ Henri Nouwen

Repost from May 2010

"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 toward 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

Nov 15, 2011

Pervasive Discontentment (Contempt For God)

Reposted from July 2010.

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. . . . But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:1-4, 10-11).

Monotony in our everyday life is no surprise. But what happens when we start to get restless--when things don't go our way? What happens when we feel fettered by our life's circumstances? Do we start to complain? Does wander lust fill our souls so that we'd rather be everywhere and anywhere else but here with the people and situations that surround us? Do we start to hyper-ventilate because we feel confined and restricted?

Think about how restricted Jesus was. He was born into poverty, in a backwater, out-of-the-way place. His friends and family struggled just to make ends meet, to have enough food and clothes for what they needed. He was far from the cultural centers of Athens, Rome, and Alexandria. I doubt the daily conversation stimulated his theological and intellectual curiosity. He chose to limit his power. Very few people knew who he was; others didn't believe he was who he claimed to be so they didn't give him the honor, respect, and glory due his name. Wasn't it better in heaven, where every knew his name and where everyone respected him? But he chose to come here to be despised--to lay his life down for us. It was the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. He was confined for us, but not discontent.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians. But they didn't do well with not knowing what would happen from day to day. They didn't do well with not being in control of their circumstances. Although God did miracles and spectacularly freed them from bondage--when things began to get a little tough, when they didn't know what to expect, when they started giving into the fear of the giants in the land, forgetting what God had just done, they began to complain. They chucked their trust in God out the window.

They became discontent because what God was doing was not what they had in mind or what they had expected. They figured that after he had delivered them from the Egyptians, they'd cruise through the promised land unencumbered and unopposed. But then the possible opposition in the form of giants caused them to forget everything God had done. They became so discontent, so fearful that they uttered the unimaginable--Egypt was better. Bondage was better to this! They were out of their minds.

And we are just like them. We go out of our spiritual minds when we have to wait on God or when we don't see him working the way we think he should in the time we think he should. We start to question everything. Unlike Jesus who faced so much opposition and bore it with humility and trust, we call God's character into question. We put him on the witness stand--we put God on the dock. We stop depending on him for peace and try to work out circumstances ourselves. We figure that since he ain't doing the job, we might as well give it a try ourselves. We become bitter. We become negative. We color our world and relationships with the darkness of our unbelief.

God renders a harsh judgment for such behavior because such behavior shows contempt for him. I looked up the word contempt and this is what Merriam Webster's Dictionary says it means: 1) the act of despising; the state of mind of one who despises 2) the state of being despised 3) disobedience to or open disrespect of a court or legislature. Here are synonyms: despise, disdain, scorn; also abhorrence, abomination, execration, hate, hatred, loathing.

By all means, let us pray for better circumstances--flee abuse if that is what is happening. But if God has us in normal life circumstances in which we feel uneasy and restless, yet circumstances we are convinced he has allowed us to be in or even appointed us to be in, let us not act like the Israelites by treating God with contempt.

Dear friends, I preach this to myself frequently. This was a sermon to myself first and foremost-- sermon to myself that I share with you.

Nov 14, 2011

What Is Choking The Jesus Life Within?

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”  Mark 4:15-20

Every now and then it hits me: there are thorns growing in the garden of my life. Thorns that threaten to choke out gospel life, the life of Jesus within. St. Mark tells us that some of these thorns are the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for things other than Jesus and his life.

Worries of this life. These can be terrifying days with wars, rumors of war,  hate, sickness, family problems, unemployment, and lack of money to make ends meet. We are tempted to allow these concerns to consume us, to become idols that control us. Worry (the cares of this life) feeds our fears and if we don't cut it off, it becomes a powerful force that chokes off God's life in us. It chokes out the gospel. We start to believe our worries are accurate reflections of reality and we bow to them instead of to God. Our eyes become paralyzed. They become laser-focused on our trials and can't move instead focusing on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Like Peter, we sink.

This is when we need to turn to Scripture and prayer and to the community of believers so that they can speak truth to us. However, let me not limit truth telling to these avenues. Reading all sorts of literature including stories of saints who have overcome trials can encourage us. But let us cling to God and his word so that our minds will be transformed--because his word cuts deep into us and sets things right (Hebrews 4:12).

When I feel especially overwhelmed, when I worry there is no way out, I think about the Israelites with their backs up against the wall. Pharaoh's army is behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. At that time God did the unimaginable, the unthinkable. He made a way through the sea back then and he does the same for us today. Can you remember a time when God rescued you from a difficult situation even if it was internal?

When I feel trapped, my mind turns to the question God asks in Jeremiah 32:27, "I am the God of all flesh, is there anything too hard for me?" I know he is directing that question to me. I have to answer. Eventually, I have to say, "No, Lord there is nothing that is too hard for you, not even this situation." And so again, I place my trust in the goodness of God (note: placing my trust in God doesn't always happen in an instant. It can be a struggle, but these are things I think about when I am in a difficult situation.)

The Deceitfulness of Riches. We are all tempted to find our security in money instead of God. Jesus said we must choose whether or not we will serve God or money. "If I just have all my school loans paid off and am debt free, I will have peace." "If I just had a better job and got paid more money, I would have no need for anything else." We are deceived into thinking money will provide security. Think of the rich celebrities in our culture; many are tormented even though they are swimming in money. Allowing money or the lack of it to become an idol leads to self-deception and to the gospel being choked out in our lives. We must learn that we cannot find our security in money and instead trust in God who provides what we need.

(Proverbs 30:8-9)

give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

You can be poor with money as an idol or rich with money as an idol. But let us remember what Jesus says to us in Matthew 6:32, "Your heavenly Father knows what you  have need of."

The Desire For Other Things. As I alluded to in other posts, our desires for other things can choke out the gospel. We become selfish and self-centered. For example, we're in ministry and it starts becoming about us instead of God. Somehow in the process, we've lost our first love. We are more focused on our own notoriety and the largeness of our ministry rather than God. Somehow we kid ourselves into thinking we are living for God when really we are living to promote ourselves or to get a nice paycheck. We chase success (spiritual even) instead of God. We enthrone educational degrees, relationships, or a perfect body. These desires for other things choke out the gospel. But what does God say? To love him with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and of course, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

What is choking the Jesus Life in us?

Nov 13, 2011

What Would You And I Have Done? What Will We Do?

My Thoughts On Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Recently I've heard about students who object to what I am about to say because they say, "We shouldn't break the law." But sometimes to do what is right, we have to break an unjust law. Daniel broke the law in Babylon by praying five times a day. As a result, he was thrown in the lion's den. Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego broke an unjust law. They would not bow down and worship the statue. As a result, they were thrown into the furnace. Early Christians broke the law. They continued to meet. They went down into the catacombs or were burnt at the stake.

Those who hid Jews and helped them during World War II broke unjust Nazis laws. Christians all over the world break unjust civil laws by meeting together, by sharing the gospel, and by distributing literature about Jesus. They are breaking their countries' unjust laws.

Also, many who were a part of the underground railroad in the United States--broke the law. Those who didn't abide by Jim Crow laws and those who spoke out against them were retaliated against even though they were doing what was right. History shows they were right; but there were Christians who said back then as they do now, "But you are breaking the law" or "It's the law." What we fail to remember is that laws can be unjust. There were laws here in the U.S. that at one time discriminated against the Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Irish Catholics and others. These were law. But they were unjust. And much injustice resulted from these laws. Travesties, in fact.

Over the years I've asked myself: Would I break the law to hide the Jews? Would I have been an abolitionist or stood with African-Americans and have broken an unjust law during the Civil Rights Movement? Would I have stood together with Native Americans who have been mistreated since the inception of this country?There is no way to know for sure what I would've done back then. I'd like to think that I would have. But all I have is now.

John Perkins, a Christian and founder of Christians for Community Development (CCDA) has said that immigration is the new Civil Rights Movement. I stand for immigration reform now (even if it isn't popular). These are unjust laws that need to be changed. Flagrant human rights abuses are occuring. Families are being torn apart. And these aren't just "those people." They are part of our churches and communities. It is a problem for the Church. Jesus, please help us to change these laws and reach out to our brothers and sisters. If you want to be better informed about what is going on, I welcome you to watch this video from PBS's Frontline Series:

Nov 11, 2011

God Sees And Remembers You

"She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.' That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered." Genesis 16:13,14.

I don't know where you are this moment as you read these words. Maybe you stumbled across this place by accident. Even if that is the case, I want you to know that God sees and remembers you. Your prayers are heard by God most high (even if you don't know him quite well yet). He does not turn away those who call out to him (those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved). In Isaiah 42:3 he says that he will not break a bruised reed or as I translate it, "God doesn't kick us when we are down."

Instead, this is the God who says, "do not fear" and "grace and peace be yours in the name of Jesus Christ." Perhaps you are suffering. Maybe you are depressed and not sure that you can survive another day. Maybe you are unemployed--without money, low on food--wondering where your next meal will come from and if you will be able to pay your bills. Perhaps you are chronically or terminally ill. Maybe you lost a child or a spouse or are going through a divorce or are in a bad marriage or are suffocated by your singleness. Or maybe you're in college or just graduated and wondering what will become of your life. Maybe you feel as if you are drowning in your sins.You're lonely. Know that God sees you and remembers you.

I also think of Christians in Iran, Christians in Iraq, Christians in Saudi Arabia, Christians in North Korea, Christians in China --Christians in places where you fear for your life because of your devotion to Jesus. Or maybe you're in one of these places or a place like it and trying to find out who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Perhaps I can assist you as you read my posts. But know this: God sees you and remembers you.

Abraham and Sarai got impatient with God. God had told them they'd have a child in old age. But sometime during what scholars believe was a 25 year waiting period, they lost faith. "Maybe God meant that someone else would bear my child" Sarai thought. "I know," she said, "I'll tell Abraham to sleep with Hagar and the child she bears will be our child of promise." She decided to play God and concocted a plan. The plan worked--kind of. Hagar became pregnant. But then Hagar began to despise Sarai and then Sarai mistreated Hagar.

Hagar ran away. But God ran after her. He had compassion on her in her distress. He told her to go back to Sarai and Abraham. And he told her that she'd have many descendents. She was moved by the love and compassion God showed her and was overcome by his goodness and love. She named him "The God Who Sees." And she went on to say that she'd seen the one who sees her.

God sees you in your distress and hopelessness. Throw yourself upon his mercy and grace. I often picture myself leaping into white way of throwing myself on God's mercy and way of banking on his goodness and love. In Jesus Christ, God has said "Immanuel" ... I am with you. Immanuel means "God with us." When Jesus came to earth as a baby (soon we will be celebrating Advent) the angels proclaimed that it was good news and great joy for all people.

Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God says to you and me "Everything I have is yours." I pray that wherever you are that he would open your eyes to his presence and care and that he would open mine, too. I pray that you would see that everything he has is yours if you are his child.

Remember, God speaks to us through his words and in others ways. He speaks to us through his people and creation. Maybe this little post is his way of encouraging you, of reminding you that he sees you and remembers you. I will pray that you become aware of his eye beholding you and of his arm that is not too short to save.

Nov 8, 2011

How Power Corrupts

"We grew older, and we came to understand one of the central truths of human nature, which is that when you brush up against a truly powerful force, it is never quite as benevolent as you imagined it to be. In order to acquire power, you have to be at least a little ruthless.5 All you can hope for is that those who do acquire power operate by some sort of rough ethical standard, and even if I no longer deified Paterno, I continued to believe that the monolith I'd grown up inside was essentially a force for good. They did things I found untoward, but I always presumed they did them for the right reasons . . . . "

This comes from this article, a reflection on the Penn State scandal where young men were sexually abused and no one spoke up--all to save a football program. See the article here:

This sometimes happens in the church too.

Nov 7, 2011

Workers Not Master Builders

A repost from 2010 - In honor of All Saints

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

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

Nov 1, 2011

Seeking Paradise

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:14-15

We're all driven by a desire to make something of ourselves, to find meaning and purpose, to know and be known by another person--to be loved and accepted for who we are. We seek the paradise that was lost, to return to ourselves and to our maker, to the way things were in the beginning. Whether we know it or not, we are seeking to become the people that God created us to be. We are seeking paradise, salvation and escape from death even though we might not be able to articulate what exactly we are doing or searching for.

We do things to attain this feeling of rightness, a feeling of all being okay. It is the feeling of biblical shalom that we seek--a feeling and knowledge that everything is and will be as it should be. But in our twisted states, in our desperate desire for shalom, in our desire for love, joy, and peace, we start to try to manufacture it ourselves.

Some of us do this through being control freaks--in our pain we are slavishly seeking to control ourselves and everyone around us. But in the end, we only make ourselves and everyone around us miserable. Perfectionism--it manifests itself in many ways--even through eating disorders.

Other pains. Maybe we are suffering from depression. So, we sleep our lives away in order to attain some peace. For others of us, our pain drives us to anesthetize ourselves (maybe a different way of dealing with depression). We might anesthetize ourselves through workaholism or illegitimate sex (trying to find solace in a person or virtual person) or by stuffing most minutes of our lives with frenetic activity. Others of us stuff ourselves with alchohol or drugs or food. We try a buffet of gods.

And of course there is the allure of success. We think that climbing the corporate ladder or having our fame and money will satisy the gnawing feeling in our souls that we just can't put our finger on.
Some of us think that marriage is the solution to quelling the ache in our souls.

You see, we (even some Christians) are held in slavery by our fear of death. We fear physical death to be sure, but also a death of who we dream ourselves to be. We fear the death of our dreams. In order to prevent these deaths--because of our fear of death and desire for paradise-- we chase after everything but God, the life-giver and sustainer.

Remember, God gives us life. He always leaves life in his wake. Jesus has come to free us from death--including physical and spiritual death and the death of us (the children of God he created us to be). Death encompasses so much. But Jesus has overcome death. He gives us life (which includes shalom and the fruits of the Spirit) abundantly. He restores life. He restores us to the people he has made us to be. Do we believe this?

In our decisions we are either moving forward in life or in death. That's why God tells us to choose life. We don't have to let the fear of some sort of death lead us into death-dealing and death-making decisions. We don't have to be held captive in slavery by our fear of death. Jesus has set us free. Now, we need to learn to walk in freedom and we need to learn and experience what it means to be free. Sure, because of the Fall, shalom and all the good and all the life God has for us will not be experienced in this life. But my goodness, a lot of it can be.

We need to learn the ways of the Lord, to take Jesus' yoke (his teaching) upon us and learn from him. We learn from him through faithful followers of Jesus whether living or dead, through spiritual disciplines, creation, etc. But we have to intend it. We have to want to move toward and into life. And  God will give us life. Sometimes though, in his grace, he rescues us even when we're not looking for him.

My dear one, do you seek paradise, the paradise that was lost? God is restoring it to you and all of creation. I do pray that in some way this blog is life-giving. Turn to him and also ask for help from believers. We're in this together.

Hebrews 2:14-15 along with the Coldplay song, "Paradise" combined in me to bring these thoughts to you today.

The blessing of the Lord Jesus upon you this moment.

Oct 29, 2011

Oceans of Justice

I've been sick and out of commission for a little bit. I will explain more another day. Here it what I am thinking about today. This is from Amos 5, the Message version:

I can't stand your religious meetings.

I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.

I want nothing to do with your religion projects,

your pretentious slogans and goals.

I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes,

your public relations and image making.

I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want?

I want justice—oceans of it.

I want fairness—rivers of it.

That's what I want. That's all I want.

Oct 8, 2011

Driving Drunk On Sin

When we have a sin that we nurse whether it be the likes of pride, greed, coveteousness, idolatry, or sexual immorality--whatever it is, it impedes our judgment. It is as if we are driving down the road of life drunk. The truth is we're liable to injure or kill ourselves and any others that cross our path. But most of the time we are denial that such is the case. Like a drunk person, we think our judgment is fine enough to drive and so we get in the car.

In August, Shawn and I attended a late afternoon wedding. By the time we exited the banquet center, it was pushing on ten-thirty. On the sidewalk, we happened to fall in line behind a man who was stumbling his way toward the parking lot. He was swerving while walking. We were very uncomfortable with what was transpiring before us. I said to Shawn, "Surely he doesn't plan on driving." Well, we followed him because our car was in the direction he was headed.

He approached his sporty Cadillac and just leaned on it. Shawn asked him if he was okay and if he needed any help (which he obviously did). He rejected Shawn's offer of help. So we got in our car and kept an eye on him. We saw him fumbling for his keys and attempting to unlock his car. I called 911. There was no way Shawn or I could in a good conscience let him drive away--if he could get into his car. We stayed in the parking lot until the police arrived and then headed home.

And so the story reminds me of what we are like in our sin. Whether we are addicted to fame or money or getting affirmation or porn or if we're full of anger and selfishness and bitterness--whether we are physically lazy or too lazy to follow Jesus --sin impedes our judgment and leads to ruin if we do not repent.

To be free from sin, we need to repent and call it what it is, but we also need the help of trusted community to assist us in our freedom in Christ so that we do not return to slavery. Freedom will come even if little by little.

Let's take sin seriously less we injure or kill ourselves or those around us. It is very possible that some souls will not recover from the injury we have done to them in ignorance (or with full knowledge). So if we are aware of our sin, let us cry out to God. If we are not, let us ask God to show us if there is anything in us that is damaging to ourselves or to others.

Oct 2, 2011

Forced Desert Retreats

This  meditation of mine appeared in the Conversations Journal blog. I thought it might be helpful to you!

Sep 28, 2011

Measuring Delight

Oh how our views about God siffon off the eternal life that is waiting to burst forth in and through us!  But here's an image for you and for me, one we should contemplate for our good.

God our dear father has placed a huge box in front of us. It is a shiny gold box, quite large, with a  royal red bow carefully and lovingly tied to it. It's one of those beautiful fancy bows. Our father is eager and expectant in his anticipation, giddy as he waits for us to unwrap the gift. Using Father Greg Boyle's words, God can't wait to "measure our delight." As we peek into the box, we'll be floored by an untamable never-ending joy. We will with our father throw our heads back in delight, mouths agape with the laughter of joy and goodness. Laughter will wrack our bodies, our bellies will quake, mouths will hurt from the perpetual grin, and tears will stream out of our eyes because of his almost incredible goodness to us. We can barely believe it, but it's true. This is the way of our God, our Father. And this gift is not just for the life to come.

The gift is sitting before us. We can unwrap it moment by moment.

Contemplate the image, the image of our giddy joyful father full of expectation, waiting for us to open the gift of eternal life.Can you see the delight in his eyes?

Remember what he said to the older brother in the story of the prodigal? "All that I have is yours." He is our father. Everything he has is ours. Are we immersing ourselves in all that is ours, using it, relishing it, delighting in it? In 2 Peter 1 he tells us that he has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

God is not stiff, cold, stingy, or uncaring. He is our father whose love for us makes him giddy with joy because he delights in us so. He provides.

Receive the gift of eternal life (life now and forevermore) and all its implications--the fruits of the Spirit--justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 4:17b).

Receive his gift and provision.

The gift of abudant eternal life.

Sep 26, 2011

The Basics

We get all out of sorts all of the time don't we? Disoriented. We wonder where God is at, wonder why there seems to be no deepening in our relationship with him or much goodness blossoming in the world. Instead of walking away from the person we were a moment ago we find ourselves walking toward the person we don't want to be--walking toward the person we were a moment ago.

Why is it that we find ourselves constantly in such a state, a state where there seems to be no growth in grace? Well, obviously there is not a simple answer, but I think I can add a piece to the puzzle of the answer. A piece that you and I are familiar with, but one that we need to be reminded exists.

It could be that our perceptions are just jazzed up or it could be failure to engage in the basics.

The basics. You know how eight hours sleep, healthy eating, and excercise are of great help in living a salutatory life? Likewise so are the basics of prayer, solitude, fellowship, service, confession of sins, the reading of Scripture, and celebration of great help in the spiritual component that makes up our life.

The problem is, it's so hard for us to do the basics in the physical part of our life as well as in the spiritual part of our life. They are both part of the same life and so I don't want to dis-integrate them. Our physical part of life affects our spiritual part of life and vice versa.

So why don't we pray for grace to do the basics?  Pick one thing? It's impossible to change all at once. But God working through us and in conjunction with decisions of our will--does bring about change.  Little by little.

I encourage you and myself to pick one of the basics and ask God for grace to make it a habit in our lives. The more of the basics that we practice the more peace and stability in our lives. May this truth travel what appears to be the short distance between our heads and our hearts.

Sep 16, 2011

Henri Nouwen - Downward Mobility

"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 toward 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

(Repost from May 2010)

Sep 10, 2011

Properly Ordered Love

This is from my friend Karen Swallow-Prior.

In On Christian Doctrine, St. Augustine defines justice as loving things in proper measure. In Book One of that work, Augustine writes,

Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally.

Sep 5, 2011

Godliness With Contentment

Paul says that godliness with contentment is great gain. Having the character of God with contentment in God is soul-wealth. But can we manufacture our own contentment?

Not really.

However, we can cultivate a posture and discipline of gratitude. And we can surrender our fears, our discontentment, and sometimes accutely painful present to God. In my last post, I wrote: "the key to peace is surrender." It was something I believe Dallas Willard (or one of our retreat directors) said.

Ever since I reread that statement in my journal I decided, to the best of my ability, to practice the surrender of a particular pain and dissatisfaction. Sometimes daily, sometimes moment by moment surrender has been required of me.

But, I wanted to report to you that the insight is correct. Peace follows our surrender. I surrendered and continue to surrender this particular circumstance. For full disclosure, it has taken me five years to get to the point where I comprehend what it means for me to surrender what has up until this point  been a thorn. Sometimes it takes a while for God to work in us and for us to work out our salvation with fear and treambling; purification isn't instantaneous.

For me it has meant kissing a dream good-bye. It means accepting the possibility that this dream may never materialize into reality. It means trusting that if the Lord chooses not to grant me this desire that he is and will continue to fill me with shalom without granting me this desire.

I've been very content, more joyful, and thankful.

Very little has changed in my outward circumstances. But I do remember the song that the Taize Community sings from Romans chapter 4:  "The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."

All this to say, more and more I am experiencing contentment with what I hope is godliness in my life. And it's not hit-and-miss contentment. This is not to say that I don't have my share of sadnesses. But there is this underlying shalom in my soul that is bubbling up like a spring. I do hope that it spills forth into my environment and to yours, too.

Remember, God is a peacemaker. He wants to bring contentment to your soul--Jesus says when we take his teaching or yoke upon us, and go to him, we'll find rest for our souls. In turn, as his shalom fills us, he uses us in his great world-wide divine conspiracy to overcome evil with good, to reconcile all things to himself. God desires to bring peace on earth, good will to all people. It's part of the good news that the angels proclaimed when Jesus was born. It is gospel.

Receive it.

Your peace and shalom has eternal implications not only for your own life, but for everyone and everything you touch.

Aug 30, 2011

The Key To Peace

"God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction."

Psalm 23: 1-3 (The Message Version)

Do we really believe that God makes us lie down in green pastures, or lush meadows? Or is He a negligent shepherd who provides scraggly, straw-like grass for us to attempt to rest in? Grass that pricks us, grass that is uncomfortable? Grass that is full of fleas and biting bugs such as red ants and pesky flies that torture us? Are we dying of thirst because he has failed to provide us with water? Are we emaciated sheep because our shepherd is slowly starving us?

Sheep do not lie down unless they feel completely safe. Do we feel safe enough in the arms of our shepherd to relax? I wrote down in my journal something I believe that Dallas Willard said at one of our Renovare Retreats. It was this: the key to peace is surrender.

I thought about how I can never sleep in a car or in an airplane. I have to be able to stretch completely out to be relaxed. And another reason I don't like to sleep in public is because I am out of control; I can't control whether or not someone is looking at me (and therefore hide my face as I sleep), what my face looks like when I sleep, or whether or not I drool.

I envy those people who can sleep anywhere. So cross continental or trans-continental flights are exhausting unless I put my head on the tray in front of me, face down, resting on my arms. Only then will I fade in and out of light sleep.

The only person whose arms I feel safe enough to relax in are my husband's. With him my intensities go limp. I have confidence in him. I trust him. And that is how I need to be with the Lord--for me to have peace I need to surrender control to Him. He is good. He is not going to leave me wanting.

I think of Isaiah 40:11 (NIV): "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."

I can unwind in the arms of God. I can trust that he has gently placed me by still waters and in green pastures where I can drink and bathe and sleep in peace--internal peace. If a wolf or another predator should come to attack me, He is going to take his rod and run after it. He won't let a predator take away my eternal life or my peace. I am the one who gives up peace. If a predator of disease or natural disaster or accident should attack my body, I know I am still safe in the Shepherd's arms. He gives me abundant life, everlasting life. That death attack will be my next step into the rest of life. 

But my question to you as well as to myself is what do we really believe about God? It is a good question to ask ourselves when things aren't going the way we want them to, when we are suffering. Because when we do suffer, what we believe about God comes to the fore.

Ask yourself and I will ask myself: Are we mal-nourished, starving sheep trying to relax on a scratchy, flea-bitten piece of earth, panting for water and nearing dehydration? Or are we filled to overflowing, content in the Shepherd's care?

If there is a problem, it never lies with God's character or with his care of us. It's with our perceptions and perhaps obedience or lack of it. If we are not experiencing the fullness and care of God, let us not berate ourselves. Our shepherd wouldn't want that. No, let's ask him for eyes to see and ears to hear. Let us open our mouths wide like baby birds that he might feed us.

Peace will come as we surrender and open our mouths while relaxing in his presence.

Aug 27, 2011

Kitchen Scraps and Tractors

This is a meditation from my friend Susan Green the Executive Director at Scenic City Women's Network in Chattanooga, TN USA

“We are – each and every one of us – a tangled mass of motives: hope and fear, faith and doubt, simplicity and duplicity, honesty and falsity, openness and guile. God knows our hearts better than we ever can. He is the only one who can separate the true from the false; he alone can purify the motives of the heart. But he does not come uninvited. If chambers of our heart have never experienced the healing touch, perhaps it is because we have not welcomed the divine scrutiny.

The most important, the most real, the most lasting work is accomplished in the depths of our heart. This work is solitary and interior. It cannot be seen by anyone, even ourselves. It is a work known only to God. It is the work of heart purity, soul conversion, life transfiguration.

Though we cannot see the work itself, we can detect some of its effects. We can experience a new firmness of life-orientation. We experience a settled peace that we do not fully understand and cannot fully explain. We begin seeing everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good. And, most amazing of all, we begin to feel abiding, unconditional warm regard for all people.”

- Richard Foster – Streams of Living Water

A few years ago I bought a CD, “singing bones”, by The Handsome Family. I don’t remember now who introduced them to me, but their music and lyrics are interesting and tell intriguing stories. Lyrics and credits information is wittily followed by their contact information for “the curious or angry.” I’d count myself in the former category.

One of my favorite CD selections is “The Bottomless Hole”. In the song “kitchen scraps and dead cows…tractors broken down” have for years been thrown down a hole in the backyard of a man from Ohio, and he’s never once heard them hit bottom. So he rigs himself a roped chariot to ride down the hole in search of its bottom. The rope could only take him so far, so he kisses his wife and children goodbye, and continues his pursuit. The song ends with him still sinking down that hole.

As I listened to this story it made me think of the depths of darkness in each human heart and of our continual pursuit of dark things that always cut us off from what is real, important, and beautiful, and from the people around us who need our love.

In the song, it had become a perpetual habit for the man in Ohio to toss things down that hole. The tossing started small, just kitchen scraps, and then tossed away things got bigger, and throwing things down that hole became a free-falling, black and consuming abyss. Pursuit of those things became more important than his wife and kids.

Doesn’t this scenario seem a bit extreme? Like the man from Ohio, habits and patterns do become a life pursuit for us, so we should be honest about the kind of life we are pursuing. In the gospels, whenever Jesus came on the scene, out of love, He put his finger on the things keeping people from a bottomless free-fall life imitation.

If we allow God to look with us at what is really true about us, He will show us, and our free-falling can end. Light exposes darkness and love overcomes fear. But just seeing truth, like the rich young ruler, isn’t enough. We have to make a choice about the truth we see. We have to want a certain kind of life and pursue it.

We have an enemy who longs to see us in perpetual free-falling. But, we have a God who will help us see the bottom of our big hole if we want to see it. We can only see truth with God’s help and we can learn from Him how to fill our lives with good things. And seeing truth needs to become one of the habits we pursue.

It’s hard to imagine that we couldn’t see something as big as a tractor – but sometimes, even things that big, we can’t see without God’s help. Only God can help us unearth, redeem, and see that good can be brought out of big scary things. The cry of David for God to know us (Psalm 139) and to be led in the everlasting way isn’t something we should fear, but something for which we should long. Richard Foster calls this way of allowing God to look with us at our life “a scrutiny of love.” The image evoked by those words brings tears to my eyes. Jesus wants you and me to daily experience true life. Only with God’s help can see that our kitchen scraps that lead to tractors, and work with Him to change, to discover our firm foundation for standing. Lives filled with light overcome darkness, the Kingdom is brought to earth, and God is glorified.