Sunday, April 12, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
“Those who sow in tears sing as they reap.
They go out, they go out, full of tears, carrying seed for the sowing;
They come back, they come back, full of song, carrying their sheaves.”
It is true that many times tears are required for anything good to happen.
In Mark 9, we have a father bringing his demon possessed son to Jesus for healing. The encounter with Jesus ends in the father crying out with tears, “Lord, I believe...” Often tears are required before we believe and trust God.
In Luke 7, a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears born out of so much love for the Master. Often we love so much that we shed tears and reap the joy that comes.
In Hebrews 5, Paul says that Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane pleaded with tears and agony of soul. Out of these tears came my salvation. Out of these tears, Jesus showed me that He loved me more than Himself and gave His life for me.
In this world, we will sow with tears as we “love one another, as Christ has loved us.” As we sow, Jesus has put a song in our heart because we have a harvest to look forward to.
At the harvest, when Jesus comes back, there will no longer be a requirement for tears:
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain...'' (Revelation 21:4)
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Last October, my wife and I visited Egypt and Jordan for several weeks. There we saw many people riding donkeys or donkeys pulling small carts in the countryside and even in Cairo itself. The donkeys were very small and always looked over-burdened with the people and loads they were carrying. They looked gentle and willing to serve as required without protest.
Jesus, as he approached the cross, had an appointment with a donkey. As prophesied in the Old Testament (Zech. 9:9), the Messiah as King was to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Messiah was also prophesied in Isaiah to come as a suffering servant. Furthermore many theologians believe the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem as King was exactly prophesied by Daniel (69 weeks of years) when counted from the commandment to rebuild the temple in Nehemiah’s time.
Because they were aware of the Old Testament prophesies, the Jewish people of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to come during their lifetimes. Somehow they forgot the Messiah was to come on a donkey, be a servant to the people, and reign as King in their hearts.
As I think about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and the expectations of the Jewish people, I wonder what my expectation is of the King. I also wonder when Jesus has an appointment with me if I, like the donkey, am willing to accept my burdens with gentleness, serve without protest, and come when the Master says “I have need of thee.”
Monday, April 6, 2009
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
The best assurance that we’ll keep listening to the church is our regular participation in the Eucharist. - Henri Nouwen, p. 143.
The ushers gesture and some seem startled, surprised that it is time to stand. No matter how many times we’ve done this, there is still uncertainty. Already time? Isn’t there something else we need to do first?
Give her your grace, Lord. Let her know that she belongs to you and to us and is welcome at this table.
Parents carry a squirming toddler; they wear grim smiles, shushing as they stand in line.
Abba, Father, may your delight in this child be contagious. May we all join in your love for this family.
A child whispers loudly; those nearby chuckle. “But it tasted like juice.”
Thank you, Lord, for the joy of being together.
Barbara walks alone, slowly raises hands once again.
Abba, Father, she looks so small without Tom standing with her. Surround her with your love, with your presence, your peace. You don't forget her; neither will we. Help us to surround her with your love.
This is my body.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
There are certain authors whose works I cherish; when read their descriptions of their own experiences of God, it as though I am praying along with them. Early on in my “revived” Christian journey I gravitated toward writers like Richard Foster, Evelyn Underhill, Thomas a Kempis and Thomas R. Kelly. Their writings each reflect years of listening to God and responding with obedience. As I prayed with them, my soul seemed to open up to God.
Because I am a bookish person, it took me a while to realize that there are certain people that are like that, too. They also encourage my soul, with a word or gesture. When I pray with the UMM prayer group, I hear in their voices the years of turning to God, opening self to God in as they lift the concerns of others. With others, praying one on one, I hear a desire to know God, a desire to understand God’s presence in this world. These passions are contagious.
I imagine this must have been what it was like for Jesus’ disciples. When with him, they tapped into Jesus’ relationship with God. No wonder they asked, Lord teach us to pray. What are the boundaries within which we can hear the “loving, caring, gentle presence of God” (135)?
Henri points out that Jesus learned obedience through his sufferings and struggles (136). As the writer of Hebrews points out, although [Jesus] was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
I think that’s what I hear in the voices of the authors and the prayer partners I treasure--their struggles to be obedient and listen to God, despite disappointments and experiences of loss. I hear in their voices the peace of time spent in God’s presence, the quiet certainty of knowing God as loving and caring.
Their words, their smiles, their tears point beyond themselves.
That’s who I want to be when I grow up.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Nicodemus shows up again by speaking up for Jesus when the Pharisees wanted to seize Jesus. His third appearance in scripture is when he and Joseph of Arimathea claim Jesus’ body, prepare it for burial, and put the body in a tomb.
You have to wonder if Nicodemus ever got it. After Jesus’ death, did he become a follower of Jesus? Did he believe in the resurrection?
These questions are addressed in Nelson Price’s wonderful new historical novel titled “The Chronicles of Nicodemus.” This easy to read book is especially appropriate at this Lenten season. After Jesus’ body goes missing, Nicodemus is still trying to put the pieces together. He and Joseph of Arimathea go about interviewing persons who were eyewitnesses to the crucifixion and the resurrection. As the reader journeys along with Nicodemus and Joseph in their search to find answers, they also find their own answer to the question: Is the resurrection of Jesus a miracle of miracles or just a tactical theft?
When you finish this book, you, unlike Nicodemus when he came to see Jesus, will be on one side of the fence or the other.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Until recently, I had not thought about God requiring churches and nations to also have a clean heart. In researching this subject, I found the Bible was full of stories where God asks the nation Israel, cities, and churches (e.g. seven churches of Revelation) to repent of their corporate sin.
God realized that groups of His people would commit corporate sins and would need to corporately ask His forgiveness. In Leviticus chapter 4, God gave instructions for how the nation of Israel should ask for forgiveness if they committed a corporate sin.
The process for a church or nation to to ask for forgiveness and obtain a clean heart is the same as the process for an individual. God's directions for a church or nation to have a clean heart is given in II Chronicles 7:14: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
As we prepared for communion several Sundays ago, I read the prayer for corporate confession of sin from our United Methodist Hymnal with new meaning. Listen to the words:
“Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
As we prepare to take the Lord's Supper together before Easter, I encourage you to join me as we read this prayer and earnestly seek together a church with a clean heart.
Friday, March 27, 2009
I suppose, like Nicodemus(p.124), it's as much about my fear of giving up my control of my standing and my own destiny as it is about my spates of unbelief or my general laziness.
Oh, I'm lazy. My theology's probably pretty weak, too.
But it's the vulnerability and the humiliation that growing toward the cross requires that keeps me so far from it.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
O Lord Jesus Christ,
you who forgave the sins of the paralytic
before you let him in again,
I pray that this Lenten period
may make me more aware of your forgiving presence in my life
and less concerned about performing well in the eyes of my world.
It’s such a simple notion; glorifying Christ for his forgiveness and mercy while asking Him to train our attention on His ways instead of ours. But it’s so hard to do this in day to day life, with work and family and everything else tugging at us. These words are the perfect reminder for us to focus on what matters.
After a few lines, the prayer continues:
Take away the many fears, suspicions and doubts
by which I prevent you from being my Lord
and give me the courage and freedom
to appear naked and vulnerable
in the light of your presence
confident in your unfathomable mercy.
I really am my own worst enemy, aren’t I? Why should I, a follower of Christ, be fearful, but yet I am. Do others doubt at times like I do? It’s freeing to know that God forgives all this and much, much more. His mercy gives confidence – I’ve never thought about it that way, but it does.
The prayer goes on in that same vein:
I know how great my resistance is,
how quickly I choose the darkness instead of the light.
But I also know that you keep calling me into the light,
where I can see not only my sins
but your gracious face as well.
What gorgeous imagery, of God calling us into the light and allowing us to glimpse his face.
The prayer ends simply and gracefully:
Be with me every hour of my days.
Praise and glory to you, now and forever. Amen.
Monday, March 23, 2009
The heart, as generally used in the Bible, refers to the rational and emotional elements of man’s soul. The heart contains our true character. It reflects our true innermost self. That means God looks straight into our true self and knows who we really are.
If God looked into my heart, I wonder what he would find. I would hope that he would find a large part of my heart filled with love, joy, goodness, faith, knowledge, peace, kindness, and gentleness.
However, I know there are dark parts of my heart where He would find evil thoughts and other things I don’t want to admit. I would like to keep them secluded, but I know that God already knows about them.
Nouwen suggests that “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” As I seek the face of God in quite solitude and prayer, the Holy Spirit reminds me of the dark parts of my heart that need to be transformed.
We are commanded in Roman 12:2 to “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” God wants to transform us into the image of His son. Unfortunately, I do not have a choice as to whether I want to hold on to my dark side or not. God wants to renew my heart.
As I face the dark side of my heart, like David, all I can do is say:
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Lord, show me the way to a clean heart!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
First, no matter how many times we stray, we are welcomed back to Jesus and our God – unconditionally. Second, silent listening is the only way to hear what is intended for our life. Third, the world doesn’t want us to hear. Forth, it will always be a struggle to be still and listen unless we are still and listen. It’s becoming clearer to me what I need to do to be closer to God. I need to be quite. Our prayer for Saturday of the third week in Lent on pages 100 & 101 is where I am in my journey.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Spiritual Discipline: A concentrated effort to create space…where obedient listening can take place.
This week we’ll read Psalm 107 in worship, and in preparing the pastoral prayer, I have been praying this Psalm. My study Bible points out that the opening verses describe God’s people as gathered from the 4 corners of the earth, east, west, south and north; the Psalm then describes four situations of affliction, suggesting that all of us, no matter which corner of the earth we live in, will have a time of suffering. Yet in every situation, the people cry out to the Lord from their distress. They are answered and they offer thanksgiving.
When I started praying this Psalm, early in the week, I reasoned that if the Psalmist could offer thanksgiving coming out of every situation, this week, I too should be offering thanksgiving. So I set about on a discipline of giving thanks. During morning prayer, I have been writing a list of things for which I am thankful.
Early in the week it was easy to list things for which I am thankful:
- healthy family,
- pleasant home,
- reliable car,
- parents who live nearby,
- sister who makes me laugh when I check facebook.
But as the week progressed, adding to the list began to take work. Once all the “obvious” items were listed I needed to concentrate and get creative. My list becomes one in which details make for precious moments:
- son who lets me hug him when he leaves for school,
- other son who doesn’t complain of busy-ness to do but instead lets me jabber on the phone to him,
- puppy who looks at me like I’m crazy when I sing a hymn during morning prayer,
- husband who tells me he is proud of me,
- the words “I’m glad you’re here”,
- the friend who stretches out arms for a hug when we meet in the hall,
- the email “I’m praying for you”,
- the hospital patient who doesn’t let go but keeps holding my hand long after our prayer has ended.
The inner mathematician demands that I review the definition…are all the conditions met? Spiritual Discipline: A concentrated effort to create space…where obedient listening can take place.
Concentration, check, the list takes more concentration as every day passes.
Listening, check, both while writing the list and throughout the rest of the day. I feel more aware of those around me, listening in a new way to them.
Obedience…there’s a sense of obedience—not simply checking off a literal obedience to Biblical commands to give thanks—but that something more is going on. In the awareness of others around me, and giving thanks for what makes them unique, I am learning to love them in new ways.
As I make the list, and pause, struggling to name another moment, there’s a space being created. Who else, Lord? Who else do you want me to see in new ways? Who else do you want me to give thanks for?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
So often our focus is on the things our Father can give us rather than on God himself. The things of self interest such as money, power, and prestige can cause us to take our eyes off the Father and like the prodigal son wander into a foreign land.
The prodigal son was totally focused on the money he would get from his father and the good times it would buy. It was later after he had squandered his inheritance and was starving that he realized that what he really missed was the relationship he previously had with his father. His father had loved him, cared for him, and provided for his every need. The prodigal son was in crisis and needed his father to just stay alive. Thus, he decided to return home and humbly ask his father for a job lower than a slave.
The amazing thing about this story to me is that the father loved his son so much that he demonstrated his total forgiveness by embracing him with a hug and a kiss and gave him a robe of honor, a ring of authority, and the shoes of a son.
When I drift away from God, which is often, the picture of a loving Father waiting with open arms willing to forgive me no matter what I have done, or how many times I have done it, is overwhelming. I get incredible comfort in knowing my Father will forgive me and love me without limit.
Regardless of how far I drift away from the cross, Jesus is always there to show me the way home.
My mom died suddenly last year. We had exchanged voice mail messages one morning, everything seemingly as fine as ever, then Dad called that afternoon to say he had found her collapsed, lifeless. It was heart failure, she was 64, and I never got to say goodbye or prepare myself for the loss. I didn’t blame God and her death didn’t shake my faith. But I’ve felt distant from God since that day. Not as distant as I was in college, when out of laziness I quit going to church. But distant all the same. Who moved? God or me? I can’t imagine it was Him.
When I returned to church at age 27 my new rector told me a faith journey is like climbing a mountain. There will be plateaus, he explained, but I would need to keep going and be patient. Hopefully soon I will begin ascending again. I will pray for that.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.Familiar notes from the organ, and the procession begins, cross at the lead, choirs and ministers following.
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hands have made.
I am thrilled by the surrounding voices, loud and exultant. We always sing, but this morning we sing with every fiber of our being. We know these words, we love these words. No murmuring faces buried in the hymnals, but heads lifted, singing strongly.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
I look from face to face, reveling in expressions of heartfelt desire to praise God. I smile back at the looks of joy, sharing in praise.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
I am humbled. You sing. Death so near, yet you sing.
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Tears follow, drops of salty tenderness bubbling forth, each one mingled with living water of Christ. You lift a hand, smearing away the evidence. In pain and in promise, you sing.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be asked to join the board of a group called "Lead Like Jesus," who is headed by Ken Blanchard, the author of the best selling "The One-Minute Manager." Ken is one of the top experts on the subject of leadership. He became a Christian a few years ago around the age of 60 and realized that Jesus was the greatest leadership role model of all time. Also, Ken found that what he had been teaching about leadership in a secular sense for the last 30 years was the same thing Jesus taught over 2000 years ago. Jesus took 12 ordinary men and taught them servant leadership principles over a 3 year period, and they changed the world. The goal of "Lead Like Jesus" is to train Christians around the world to lead like Jesus every day.
Everyone is a leader. Somewhere, whether it is at home, school, church, work, or play, you are being called upon to lead. Leadership is an influence process. Our job as Christians is to influence the world in every way to come closer to the cross. As we lead, we have a choice of being either a servant leader or a self-serving leader. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 20:26-28 that we are to be servant leaders.
Seems to me that everything about God is backwards: the first shall be last, you have to believe before you can see, and the more you give away the more you receive. Being a servant leader is not the natural thing to do.
Whenever I think of Jesus as a servant leader, my mind runs to the Last Supper when Jesus lowered himself to the station of a servant and washed the disciples feet. I heard a sermon one time that said Jesus was willing to do this because He knew who He was, He knew where He was, and He knew where He was going. Jesus did not feel it was beneath Him to show love by humbling Himself and doing menial jobs. He was self confident and was not concerned with the opinions of others (like Peter).
Sometimes I think about this when I feel I am too good to lower my self to do a menial job at home, work or church. Am I worried what others will think if I do a servant's job? If indeed I am worried, then I am a self-serving leader. If I am confident that Jesus is in my heart, there is no job too lowly for us to do to show our love for others.
Today, will you choose to be a servant leader or self-serving leader?
In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.
In solitude…My intention is to listen to You. Yet, I replay yesterday’s hallway conversation. Was I too hurried? I told her if she needs me to call. Did she know that was earnest, or does she think it merely polite?
Gently I tell myself no, don’t think of this. This conversation is Yours. Abba, I turn to you.
In solitude…I remember the appointment later today. What does he want? I’m sure he wants me to do something. Do I have time for a new project? What if I need to say no, will I know what to say?
Gently I say no, not this either. This time is Yours. Abba, I turn to you.
In solitude…I wonder whether we could live on my salary alone. My thoughts skitter over to the mortgage, cutting out restaurants, could we remove the house phone and use only cell phones?
These worries, they are Yours. Abba, I turn to you.
In solitude…I wonder if I can squeeze in a peek at the match. Does Mark know that I wish I could be there to watch him and cheer on the team?
This thought is Yours. Abba, I turn to you.
In solitude… the clock ticks, the puppy snuffles.
These too are Yours. Abba, I turn to you.
In solitude…I wanted to listen to You, but instead kept thinking. I wanted revelation. This desire, too, I give to you.
In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.
This morning I am disturbed in a good way and an uncomfortable way.
Somebody has finally explained to me what it means to be "in this world but not of this world." Thank you Henri Nouwen. That is the good disturbed.
Now for the uncomfortable. Somehow I have to find this in-between place where God exist the loudest. Thank you Henri Nouwen. One more thing for me to do. Add it to the list, love your enemy, both external and internal, live in tension, choose life, descend into the absence, do not babble in prayer, live without competition, and so on and so on... Man this is hard.
Hard, and yet I am drawn to it like "a moth to a flame" (thanks Jerry)... You know what? I think I just came to understand what it means to live with the mystery of God. I am drawn into this relationship because something internally is pulling me. When I get quite, I cannot help but be drawn into this wrestling, into this way... see there it is again "the way." OK now I am really excited. And you know what? I am going to stop writing now and re-sit (I know that is not a word) in that in-between place and see what I hear from God. I am sure I will be disturbed.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I imagine a church meeting in a home, master and slaves gathered together. How could a patriarch, a head of the household, allow these words to be spoken? What brave soul read these words to this group of slaves, women (translate women as property), and their master?
What did it mean to the patriarch, the head of the household, the master? What would be the reaction of his colleagues, his friends, if they knew he had allowed words like these to be spoken in his household gathering? Even riskier—if he tried to taken on servant attitude, wouldn’t he be taken advantage of?
What did it mean to the slave knowing that when he left the worship service, he would have no choice, he would still be a servant? What did it mean to a woman knowing that when she left the room, she would have to be submissive to her husband? Perhaps some among them would say, “it’s just words, some things never change”.
Henri Nouwen describes the way of self-giving servanthood as one of joy and gratitude (63, 64). I want to add another word: hope.
Hope that somehow, God brings change. Enough hope to let me take risks.
Even when I give of myself and I am taken advantage of, I hope that even in this situation God can bring resurrection.
Even when I give of myself and there seems to be no appreciation, I hope that even in this situation God can bring new life.
Like the early Christians, I want to trust in the resurrected God; I want to take risks. The words of Christ calling us all to servanthood are more than mere words. They are resurrection, new life, a life of joy and thanksgiving. They are hope.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Monday, March 9, 2009
Sometimes people frustrate me. There always seems to be some (at the time) overly important ordeal that people focus on and sometimes I just want to escape from clique-ish groups and dramatic gossip. Of course, I remain blameless in every situation and I make excuses for all the rude, over bearing, mean comments I make. I am always right, the rest of the world is always wrong.
It's tough to admit, but sometimes I just don't like myself. I will sometimes step back from my little self-absorbed world, and I can't bear to play back all my interactions with my brothers and sisters and Christ. I can completely understand the justification in the horrible depression many people experience. The person I spend the most time with, myself, is the most ugly and rude person I know. I see all the times throughout the day I could've reached out and shared my experiences with someone, instead of making a sarcastic remark about what that person just said. And if I didn't have God sitting there holding my hand saying, "I love you, you are forgiven, and I am here trying to change your heart, " I might just lose it. (Especially now that I am relying on my own non-caffeinated body) But I do have God and I have a special personal relationship with someone who stretched His arms on the cross to show just how much He loved me.
Today, Nouwen reminds of us the Great Commandment: Love. Compassionate attitudes and out-of-my-comfort-zone experiences embody this command. Consider this compassion when you do everything: driving to work/school, talking on the phone, standing in line at Publix, going through the buffet line at Stevie B's. These small moments that build our day are moments to show the compassion God has shown us. Change how you relate to your world. Remember: you are the vessel.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
We who follow Jesus in turn examine our lives. How are these four actions present within us?
In what ways am I taken? How did God reach out to me before I even knew I needed God?
In what ways am I blessed? How is God present with me in the midst of the chaos and confusion of this life? I consider the fruits of the Spirit—growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—and while I have so far to go in each of these, I see how God has provided joy and peace at times when there is no reason to expect them. I’m grateful. I'm blessed.
And broken? I get angry when I hear people suggest that God “breaks” people with harsh circumstances. I have counseled women who were abused, but encouraged to be submissive to their husbands, as though being broken by another person is a good thing. I refuse to believe that is God’s way.
Instead, the example of Jesus is one of offering himself to be broken. Yes, difficult circumstances may make us feel broken so that we turn to God, but the brokenness of Jesus is one of choosing to be human, choosing our pain, choosing the cross, and choosing our death. It's a choice of obedience to God.
I’m struck that this is the brokenness that God desires: to choose not to hold on tightly to what I have but instead empty myself and follow Jesus' obedience. What do I hold onto? What am I grasping as security?
Lately, it seems to be the need to be always right. Perhaps there are times when the more loving way is to let someone else have the last word. Definitely there are times when I don’t need to say, “I told you so”. While at times it is important and right to stay true to my beliefs, at other times the more loving way is to bite my tongue and shut up rather than attempt to prove my way is the right way and only way.
Can I choose this way, allow myself to be broken of this need? Could this choice be a way God gives me to others? It seems such a small thing, compared to the way Jesus gave of himself. This emptying of self, these blessings, no doubt will take a lifetime.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Friday, March 6, 2009
You know what I struggle with most of all? Forgiving myself. For some reason, I can forgive and forget with the best of them. I think my husband especially likes this about me. :) But when it comes time to face the crud in my heart, the times I let God down, I have a hard time forgiving myself, all the while begging God to forgive. Why is that? Is this what Nouwen means when he says he doesn't believe he is a forgiven person (pg. 44)? I don't think so, because I fully believe that God isn't holding anything against me. At least I don't want to think so. Then why do I feel guilt long after I've confessed, repented, and changed?
I'm glad God forgives me more easily than I forgive myself.