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.