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.

Aug 24, 2011

Aug 20, 2011

Mean Thoughts . . . Sharon Hodde Miller

I thought this was a great post by Sharon Hodde Miller (she is a fellow Her.meneutics writer).
Thanks Sharon!

Aug 17, 2011

Listen To Theology or Else . . .

"If you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today, are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected."

C. S. Lewis

Thanks to Lewis for this delicious truth. If you learn Church history and historical theology you'll see there is no new heresy found under the sun. You'll also learn of a great many good, true, and beautiful thoughts about God that were considered long ago. These will nourish you.

Aug 15, 2011

Evil Hiding Among The Good

My Photo"In his People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck says that if one is looking for genuine evil, then one ought to look first within the synagogue and church. It is the nature of evil to 'hide among the good.' Satan masquerades as an angel of light. Lucifer is his name, after all. Leaders of the church beware, not only because we work among the godly, but also because we ourselves, called to speak to and for God and to God's people, are in a morally vulnerable position where sin is always lurking about the door (Gen. 4:7)."

Will Willimon in his book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. p. 266

Aug 11, 2011

The Speed of Godliness vs. The Speed of Technology

Technology is speeding things up and people feel like everything in their lives should speed up. Spiritual formation takes time. Here’s a quote from an interview with Dr. James Houston in the Denver Seminary Magazine, on spiritual formation and integrity. Responding to a question about speeding up the process of spiritual formation, Dr. Houston says:

"Well, I think the vocabulary is wrong, because it’s all part of living in a technological society. And so processes, procedures, programs are all, in a sense, technical devices or a technical mindset for fixing things. So we want to fix things quickly.

But the very nature of integrity is that we have a speed that is appropriate to what we are doing. The speed of gaining information is very fast, but the speed of godliness is very slow. Or the speed of making a friend is very slow in comparison with other forms. So we lose integrity when we use the wrong mindset or the wrong speed at which we’re operating. My problem is that I can think faster than I can speak, I speak faster than I can act, I’ve got more acts than I’ve got character for… so maintaining integrity is acting appropriately."

These are notes from my friend Peggy Reynoso that we took at one of our Renovare Conferences. Thanks Peggy!

Aug 9, 2011

Is Our God Talk Far Ahead of Our Behavior?

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I've parked myself in the book of James. I've been thinking about silence and how it is good to ruminate on our relationship with God, on what we know about him, and then reflect on whether or not we are really following Jesus. I've said this before; but we mistake God-talk for godly lives. We can talk very sophisticatedly about God and yet live a God-less life. It's a sort of functional atheism. It is also self-deception.

When I was younger and perhaps into my early twenties, I couldn't believe the unfaithfulness of the nation of Israel as recorded in Scripture. Time after time, God did miracles, proved himself faithful, yet they worshipped other gods. They had rebellious spirits and wandering hearts.

The other day I was thinking about it and realized that our church, I'll say the American Church because that is my context, is just like ancient Israel. We are anemic, ill Christians as a whole--although there are many, many,  incarnate icons of God walking around and drawing many to him--if we only have eyes to see them.

I think about my own life and wonder if I too am anemic. Where in my life does my God-talk exceed my God-living? Oh there are areas. Yes, there are. When we ask those questions of the Lord he will reveal things to us. For every deficiency in Christ character (deficiency in spiritual fruit) that I have, there is a corresponding fruit of the Spirit that God wants to grow in me.

So there needs to be times of silence and solitude in our lives--communal and individual reflection too--so we can get an idea of what fruit God is trying to grow in us. During these times, we must cease striving to right the wrongs in others and allow God to lovingly till our souls. Silence and a listening ear instead of a wagging tongue allow us to do that. As far as I go, I feel the Lord showing me that I need to train myself to pause when I am naturally inclined to speak. I just need to listen.  To listen.

I am a monastic activist by nature--a missional mystic I suppose. But the silence and stillness of the holy is calling to me. I need to reel that activity in. There are a million causes and needs all around me. But I need to retire to my cell, like Jesus, I need to head off to the lonely places in the wilderness to pray and be.

 Isaiah 30:15 says, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength...." That's what I mean. A rhythm of repentance and rest and quietness and trust is calling to me in this season. And as I get into that rhythm, I think that my God-talk and God-life will be more evenly matched. I will choose my words more carefully; my words will count for more.

I think this will be a year of further training in listening to God and others. May God have mercy on me a sinner and give me these graces.

Aug 7, 2011

8 Principle Thoughts & Temptation

The Words of Abba Evagrius (d.399)

"There are eight principle thoughts, from which all other thoughts stem. The first thought is of gluttony, the second, of fornication; the third, of love of money; the fourth, of discontent; the fifth, of anger; the sixth, of despondency; the seventh, of vainglory; the eighth, of pride. Whether these thoughts disturb the soul or not does not depend on us; but whether they linger in us or not and set passions in motion or not--does depend on us."

Aug 4, 2011

Bitter Anger Sloshing About

Have you ever felt trapped by certain circumstances and been chomping at the bit for a way of escape? I have and very recently. In my case, it was a matter of my soul turning sour, acidic. I knew that I was off because negativity was sloshing out of me and spilling onto others. I wasn't being mean to them. No, not at all. However, I was talking too much about my frustrations, frustrations that many of them share, but that had started to consume me.  My simmering anger was poisoning me and I fear starting to poison them.

My husband warned me about it the other night. I didn't deny it; I knew he was right. So, I repented then and there.

I am going to have to practice the discipline of silence on this one. Dallas Willard says that the discipline of silence is helpful because it frees us from managing our world through the use of words.

So, I've parked myself in the book of James. And James tells us that anger does not bring about the righteousness of God. My anger is not changing the injustice. But what if I watch and pray and see how God might work without my barrage of words? Without fueling my anger? What if I prayerfully speak when I am sure I have his words? I am not advocating keeping quiet when we should speak up.

But some of us need to learn to be quick to listen, to be slow in speaking and slow in becoming angry.

Our anger doesn't bring about God's righteousness. And sometimes we don't even realize we're angry. I didn't.