Sunday, April 12, 2009

Alleluia

Alleluia! He is risen. He is risen indeed! Thank you Sam, and Ken, and Cyndi - and Henri Nouwen, for helping to show me the way. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

death: Life

Death: existence
Life: promise

Death: cruel end
Life: beauty

Death: cling
Life: appreciate

Death: relativized
Life: revitalized

Death: sad recognition
Life: dear memories

Death: the end
Life: a beginning

Death: "What you should do is..."
Life:

Death:
Life: "I'm sorry"

Death: serious...
Life: ... but not hopeless

Death: placate
Life: present

Death:"That won't work.  I tried it already"
Life: I think I know how you feel.  I felt that way one time.  This is what I found..."

Death:  law
Life: grace

Death: Friday
Life: Sunday
 
Death: who is the greatest?
Life: dirty feet

Death: lent
Life: relent

Death: givers and receivers
Life: community

Death: certainty
Life: faith

Death: my answers
Life: mystery

Death: the fall
Life: creation

Death: my way (or the high way)
Life: the Way

Death: reality
Life: the Truth

Death: life
Life: the Life

death: Life

Waiting and believing

Waiting for the third day, having hope that there will be eternal life, that leaving behind all that means something to us comes with an awareness that this is not all there is - there is hope. Jesus asked simply that we believe, just believe. Enjoying this life here and now, and the beauty that is in this world, I believe, is also part of hope about the eternal life. Practicing the Golden Rule that Jesus taught us, to the best of my ability, helps me to keep it simple about what I need to do in regards to relationships - I fall short often, but it's my responsibility to act as God would want me to act to the best of my ability. In the process, I am waiting and believing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

No More Tears

In the Maundy Service Thursday night, the Invitatory Psalm (Ps. 125) really spoke to me, especially the last three lines:

“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)

Reflections on This Lent Thing

Things aren't as they appear to be.

If there is one "lesson" that's screamed at me consistently during this Lenten season, it's that sentence, that observation, that fact, that state of mind.

Bad pretends to be good.  Good, however, is hard.  And painful.  And thankless.  And inconvenient.  Which makes it bad to those of us accustomed to the easy life.

Good Friday is anything but good.  Or so it appears to be.

The desert is anything but good.  Or so it appears to be.

Lent, like life on earth, is a journey.  Or so it appears to be.

Lent has turned out to be a lot more like Scripture than a journey for me.  It's a practice.  A discipline.  Let's face it, a chore.  Kind of like creative writing.  It glistens in the storefront window, but requires ongoing maintenance once at home.

But the more I've glimpsed God through the eyes of Lent, the more I've realized how much more there is to see.  And I want to see more.

Lent is a beginning.

Easter is a beginning.

Heck, each day is a beginning.

That's the joy of life in Christ.  No matter how many times I fall, there is always a new beginning, a second chance.  I don't have to be imprisoned by the fear of failure or humiliation, since my life is not about me.

And as devastating, frustrating, painful, horrific and unbearable life is or becomes (and it will), this discipline of seeing the familiar in unfamiliar ways will offer others, if not myself, hope for a new beginning.  If not today, maybe tomorrow.  (Or maybe the third day.)

My hope is that Lent has not been what it appeared to be for you.  My hope is that it has changed you a little each day.

It has for me.

Good Friday

Good Friday. "The cross of horror became the cross of hope." This paradox of Good Friday is something that will probably always be troubling for me. "Why" people are so cruel and ignorant that they/we crucify people who are good and glorify people who are not, especally as this occurred in the life of Jesus, makes no sense. I understand that this was to happen to fulfill the prophesies of the Scriptures and lead to Christianity, but how it still occurs today among believers and non-believers alike is quite disturbing. At least on this occasion, Good Friday, despite human ignorance, something miraculous happened.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

An Appointment With A Donkey

Sunday’s meditation by Henri Nouwen was titled “Christ on a Donkey.” I can easily picture Jesus in my mind riding on a donkey into Jerusalem because of recently seeing a lot of donkeys at work.

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.”

A mystery

The last days of Jesus' life on earth, with Judas, Pilate, the Romans, the believers, and that final walk he had to make, is a mystery to me. Fulfilling of prophecies, dying for our sins, a mystery. God's will for me; what is it? I keep coming back to church, I keep reading the Scriptures, I keep praying, and hopefully I will listen more than I talk. That quiet, still voice within keeps telling me to listen more carefully, and that more will be revealed.

Help!

Have you made the transition yet?  Have you made the turn from "action to passion"?(p. 159)  

Or:

Are you finding yourself absent-mindedly circling Ted's Montana grill now that you have been without red meat for 40 days?  Find yourself without any more blog posts to offer?  Ready to turn from passion back to action?  Ready to go where you want to go again?

Theologians and liturgists, I understand, have been stressing the importance over the past few years of less celebration and more passion on Palm Sunday.  Faith communities, the reasoning goes, (for what ever reasons) are finding less time and energy to devote to the passion week Worship of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in favor of the celebration of Palm Sunday, the Easter Egg Hunt on Holy Saturday, and of course the celebration of Easter Day.  We are a spring break culture and a culture of busyness and  "a culture that savors a more upbeat religion."

Maybe.  But we are certainly no strangers to that transition from action to passion.  Whether you welcome Jesus joyfully at the gates of Jerusalem or you are one of the few who stick around for the whole week: we're all looking for the same thing.  The word is the same: Hosanna (Help!).  I remember the first time I understood the real meaning of pall bearer.  I remember after the death of that special loved one as I stood shoulder to shoulder with the other pall bearers.  I remember watching the mourners throng out of the sanctuary with tear filled eyes and broken hearts.  I remember feeling that weight.  I remember the tangibility of it.  I remember I didn't want to be there.

We have seen our children grieve.  We have watched them live with the consequences of love.  We know of the child who leaves in anger.  We celebrate the ones who come back, but we also know that some: we never see again.  We live forever looking in the distance.

I often thought that I wouldn't have to worry about the time when " somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go"(p. 160) until I got old, but I realize that time is already here.

To turn yourself over to love means you are not in control anymore.

I'm ready for Lent to be over.

I'd rather not be here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mercy

The sentence that keeps standing out to me in Nouwen's passage for today is: "Beyond physical poverty there is mental poverty, beyond mental poverty there is spiritual poverty, and beyond that there is nothing, nothing but the naked trust that God is mercy." Then he goes on to say that we need to have Jesus with us on our walk to the place where there is nothing but mercy, and that we need to help others through service. Prayer, action, service. Those open our awareness of grace somehow, and our own poverty, and our need to have help along the way. Grace, love, mercy, trust.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tolerance>Respect>Love

Saturday's reading indicates that "God cannot be understood; he cannot be grasped by the human mind."  (p.148)  Now you tell me.  I read a piece in the New Yorker magazine one time about the difference between a puzzle and a mystery.  With a puzzle, according to the article, there is a direct correlation between amount of information compiled and ability to solve the puzzle.  Understanding a mystery on the other hand isn't directly related to how much information you can put together and process.

As I become more genuine in my participation in communities in our church and in the world, I realize the importance of taking time to learn about one another.  I'm coming to realize the importance of being tolerant of different ways of thinking about and of doing things.  I'm finding a connection with understanding others and having them understand me because I find that we develop respect for one another when this starts happening.  It takes time and usually works in smallish groups, but I'm finding that once we take time to learn about one another and begin to respect our thoughts and passions and gifts, then we can love one another.

If we can struggle through our "limitations of our human capacities to 'have' or 'hold' the truth" (p. 148), and find that indeed God is love, this might be as close to the truth about God as we need to get.

For all the times I try to find the right pieces to put together in a meaningful way.  And for all the times that I think if I can just get the right words or have everybody on the same page as me or speak the same language about God.  And in my efforts to make sure that everybody understands that the way we want to do things is the best way:  I realize it's really about understanding and allowing myself to be understood. It's about respecting and being respectable.  It's about loving and being lovable.  That might be as close to grasping the way of Christ as I will come.

TMI?
 

Friday, April 3, 2009

Keep Me on the Path Lord

I know so little about Jesus, about God, about life, that I sometimes feel quite inadequate. I liked today's reading, 'Divine Humanity' because it reminds me that God is all about love. Jesus told us that, emphasizing that our primary job during our lives is to love. He showed us how to do that by how he lived his life. I don't do this each day as I should. I need reminders, teachers, the Holy Spirit, the church, wise counsel, all of these, to help keep me on the right path.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Effort

With most of the things in my life that have really given my life meaning and have given me peace inside, I have had to work at them. They 'don't come easy' so to speak - my relationships with family and friends; my relationship with God; becoming part of a church; learning to play guitar; being in a band; getting my blackbelt in karate; getting and staying in recovery from addiction; becoming physically fit; I could name a few more, but these are the things that really mean something to me - and I've had to work at all of them. Nouwen's passage today based on Jesus's words from the Gospel of John ask that we stay in the church - that the church is where we need to be. That takes effort, and that's ok. I'm pretty sure that Sam gives extra credit for coming to church when it's raining.

Communion Prayers

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.

Amen.  Alleluia.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pointing to the Mystery of God

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

Suffering God

"The pains and struggles of which Jesus became part made him listen more perfectly to God."(p. 136)  Does this mean somehow Jesus grew in his divinity through his willingness to embrace his humanity? 

What does embracing our humanity mean? 

Old Testament theologian Walter Bruggeman, in his book on the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, indicates that the passage 22:16 : "He cared for the poor and the needy; is not that what it means to know me?" informs us that "It's not just that caring for the needy acquaints you with God, but caring for the needy is God."

So Jesus listens to God (draws closer?) by making our pains and struggles a part of Himself.

Do we draw closer to God by making His pains and struggles a part of us?

Ever use the phrase "I'm only human"?

Maybe we should consider that we, like Jesus are fully human.

Our capability for drawing closer to God may have less to do with our ability to be better and do more than our willingness to take on the suffering of the poor.

We begin to have eternal life when we begin to live eternally.

If God is the center of existence...

...then I am not.

That means that my life is not really mine.  

Which also means that everything I "have" in my life...my wife, my children, my friends, my talents, my body, my soul, my stuff...are not mine.

Which makes me wonder what I really have that's "mine."  And why I spend so much time on all this stuff I thought was mine.

Which draws me toward God in prayer.  And in the study of His word.  Which demand active listening.

Which leads to Jesus.  What He did.  What He said.  Whose "ministry pointed away from himself to the Father who had sent him." (page 134)

Which leads to a life that's not about me.  A life of compassion (i.e. suffering with others).

Which leads to the cross.  The humiliation of facing my sinful nature.  My living as if I were God.  My will.

Which leads to repentance.  And the death of self (ideally).

Which leads to the Father through Christ.

Which means the only thing I appear to have that's "mine, all mine," is eternity with God.  Or the hell of His absence.

That's all.  And, thank God, that's all I need.

"...outside God, nothing is, nothing breathes, nothing moves, and nothing lives." (page 136)

The Chronicles of Nicodemus

On Saturday, Henri Nowen’s meditation involved the actions of Nicodemus. Specifically, he stated that Nicodemus tried to walk both sides of the street by wanting to continue his role of power and influence among the Jewish Pharisees while at the same time being attracted to Jesus. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. Nicodemus was very puzzled by Jesus’ answer.

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

Alex Zdolshek

Guest post from Reed Stephenson:

Friday was rough.  Many things to do and trying to leave by 3:30.  Need to finish a few slides for presentation... have to add addendum for a contract...

Dang--someone just put meeting on my calendar today for 4:00 p.m.... on a Friday no less.  Landscape guy just called and wants to know why check is not in the mailbox... forgot to do that.  I have a meeting this Saturday... going to miss Pace's soccer game and my tennis--a little bitter right now.

Hard to get any work done during March Madness.  Can watch the basketball games on my laptop now just like I were watching at home.  The mighty VOLs, who were up with 30 seconds to go just lost.  Not a good year for the SEC in basketball this year.

Have company at the house tonight... the house is a mess and I have no food.

I had a supplier come in to talk about plastic bags for 30 minutes--very bad timing.  There are probably 112 other items I should be working on right now.  I greet him in the lobby--he would not even look me in the eye when he shook my hand.  His prices are too high and he knows it.  I have other things to do and he needs to make this quick.

Small talk--"how was your trip"--"weather is nice"--"should be a great weekend"... "my son has been sick"

"Does he have the flu bug that has been going around?"

"No... he has cancer"

In September, Alex was having pain in his hips.  Doctor thought it was "growing pains" or maybe a contusion he suffered while playing little league football... but the pain continued.  After doing a little more research--it was determined that Alex had two cancerous tumors.  Alex is fighting for his life right now.

All this other stuff is simply nonsense.

I try to keep this blog fairly loose and political/religious free.  But we are in the season of Lent-- a period where we all go into a "spiritual wilderness" to try to find that best self, made in the image of God, that lies in each and everyone of us (Dr. Sam Matthews reiterates this at the beginning of every Sunday service).  I would not know Alex if he sat next to me--but, for that one moment, Alex taught me to put away the extra noise going on in my personal and selfish life and to be compassionate.  In the words of Henri Nouwen... "compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery."

The meeting lost all business relevance.  At the end of our time together, I mentioned that I would pray for his son.  I need your help.  Please keep Alex, a 12 year old boy, who months ago was playing basketball and football and is now going through intense chemotherapy, in your prayers.

Reed Stephenson is a member of MFUMC and is currently a participating in Disciple I, plays on the MFUMC basketball team, and recently agreed to engage folks in discipleship opportunities through the Golf Cart Ministry.  You can follow Reed's musing and ruminations through his blog, Life at Jockey Hollow

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Clean Heart for the Church

This week Henri Nouwen returned again to the subject of "A Clean Heart." Usually when we hear this term our mind quickly runs to the need of the individual Christian to recognize their sin and confess the sins to God, thereby obtaining a clean heart.

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.

Like me, you might ask "For what sins might a church need to ask forgiveness?" We as a church would have to anwer questions such as these "As a church do we love our neighbor; as a church do we help the poor; as a church are we living the Great Commission; and as a church are we a house of prayer?"

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

Participants, supporters, skeptics, opponents

Saturday's reading reminds me of the ways I find myself lukewarm to the Gospel. Sometimes I'm so confounded by those who seem opposed to Chirst's message, I fail to partcipate fully in it the way I should. Sometimes I find myself affirming the idea of the way of Christ without really taking on any of the burdens of it. Keeping it real? Some of that stuff Christ talked about: I'm like...really? At other times, I'm so intent on supporting others in their opportunties to develop their spirituality more fully, that I neglect to find my own authentic place in the community of faith.

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

Unfathomable mercy

Today’s devotional prayer astounds me with its beauty and comfort. I found myself reading it again and again, and I think I will come back to it each day for the rest of Lent. It’s a little longer than the others so I’ll focus on a few passages that really touched me. It starts this way:

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.

Let go and let God

In my work as an addiction treatment provider, I am aware each day that patients and their families are hurting, scared, lonely, and feel very vulnerable when it comes to what treatment requires to get well, that is, stopping the use of alcohol and other drugs (for the alcoholic/addict) or stopping trying to control the alcoholic/addict (for the family member). We also let them know that they have to change many of their associates and they have to change their attitude and lifestyle as well - a big order. We point them towards coming to believe that a "Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." A loving God will be there to catch us and embrace us and guide us as we let go of trying to control something we cannot control - our addiction. Today's reading, A Clean Heart, illustrates this process beautifully. Whether we are recovering from addiction, the effects of someone else's addiction on us, or from any one of those life experiences that cause suffering in our hearts and souls, God is always, always, going to be there to catch us when we let go and surrender to him. That's a good thing.

From [In Competition] Toward [In Love]

"Our competition with God" (p. 108) is a concept that hit me rather flush because it's one of those things I didn't think I did until somebody wrote it in the sand.  And then...Wow.

Blunt force trauma from Henri Nouwen.

It would be foolish to think we can compete with God.  In being right about things.  In not doing any of the wrong stuff.  In being the right person, of having good theological understanding, or of having the right vision.  But the more I think about it...Wow.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a piece about [falling in love with those around you] vs. [falling in love with your personal vision of community].  One creates community wherever you go and the other kills community wherever you are.  [pick one].

As I sometimes struggle with my vision of my personal relationship with Christ and how I sometimes sin in my competition with God; I realize what sustains me is your relationship with Christ.  Your prayers for me.  Your presence with God.  Your willingness to be the place where "God's Spirit who prays" (p. 110) for me is what leads me to fall in love with God again.

So my willingness to fall in love with those around me--to be fully present with those who come into my office, sit at my kitchen table, walk with me to Subway for lunch, or hold my hand while we pray--is what sustains them during their times of struggle?

Wow.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What Is in Our Heart?

Sunday’s meditation from Henri Nouwen’s book was titled “The Seclusion of Our Heart.” The scripture passage in the meditation was from I Samuel 16:7 and pointed out that God doesn’t look at appearances but at the heart.

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!

To trust that you are loved

This morning reading Nouwen describe faith as trusting that you are already loved (p 105) was an interesting experience.  

If you ask me, "Does God love us unconditionally?"  I would say, "With out a doubt."  But if asked do I truly believe it...if asked how I lived that love...it is much harder.  

What would I do with my life if I didn't spend so much time proving that I am worth loving.  All of my positions, all of my titles, all of my degrees, all of my stuff is wrapped up in proving to the world that I am good enough to love.  It seems to me that it is much easier to work for God's love then to believe that we are already loved and live into it.  

What would life look like if we really bought into God's unconditional love.  What would life look like lived with out the anxiety and fear that we are not worth being loved?  

Yesterday my daughter and I were playing a game we play in our family.  It is the "I love you more" game.  I love you more...No I love you more...I love you the mostest...I love you more then that...I love you infinity...I love you infinity on top of that...I love you the most ever...and then my daughter said..."Nauh, not as much as God loves me."  I said, "Well that is easy for God.  God is made out of love."  She said, "Really?  I like that."  I am thankful that my daughter knows the love of God, and feels comfortable with it.  I hope she never looses that.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Still looking for the way

In seeking God's will for me, I have had to look at some hidden parts of my heart that are hard to look at. However, it is in looking there that I also find I am not alone; God is there to help me be a better person, to do the right thing next time, and to show me that I have others in my life to show me the way. I'm on my way now to have Sam show me the way. Thank you Sam. Thank you God.

I think I'm starting to get the message

I have fallen away from reading our daily devotions. My life became too busy to allocate the time. But, as I spend some time catching up on several days reading at once, I think it’s coming together.
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

Brave New Swirl

In as much as the church is a body of transformation, and conversion is a vital part of that process; I often speak to folks about how to be more faithful to the transformation.  How can we be more mindful of the conversions?  How can we encourage our community to deepen its commitment to growing in transformation into Christ-likeness?

I've become so consumed by it that I tracked down a list from the Harvard Business Review on transformation theory.  It has several steps.  They are secular primarily, so I converted them to our more spiritual understanding of the process.  "Change of heart", "inner experience of oneness", "the mystery of God's life within us" (p.99), and the classic terms such as "surrender", "detachment", "compassion", and "forgiveness" instead of "develop a sense of urgency", "develop a powerful coalition", "empower others in short term wins".  

The Harvard Business Review numbers its list.  Does this mean the process is linear?  The more I talk to folks about their experiences of transformation in the church, the more I understand that it doesn't work that way.

So from Church Street to Wall Street: maybe it's not a linear process.  Perhaps the "poverty, pain, struggle, anguish, agony, and even inner darkness" (p. 100) that continue to be a part of our experience is because our conversion, our submission, our compassion and our forgiveness swirl around back and forth.  Once we go through all the steps we aren't done with them.  We go back.  And forth.  And back.  And forth.

We revisit God's claim on our child when he was 3 months old when at 18 he let's us know that he's just not into church anymore.

We remember our submission to God's love for us when we find ourselves overcommitted and burned out and we don't have any love or anything else to offer ourselves or anybody else.

We go back to God's forgiveness when our spouse says: "I can't live this way anymore."

Our first reaction might not be: "But I'm transformed!"

Sometimes the best we can do is swirl back around.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sunday School Answers

"Poverty, pain, struggle, anguish, agony, and even inner darkness may continue to be part of our experience...But life is no longer boring, resentful, depressing, or lonely because we have come to know that everything that happens is part of our way to the house of the Father." (page 100)

This sounds like a Sunday School answer to me.

A Sunday School answer is an answer that, on the surface, is correct, but completely fails to connect with the human experience.

Sure, "Everything happens for a reason."

Sure, "It'll all work out in the end."

But I have a hard time thinking that the Stephen Curtis Chapman family doesn't continue to experience depression, anger and loneliness with every little reminder of the loss of their daughter.  Sure they love and trust God.  But there's still anger and hurt and unanswerable questions.

Why has a movement (and book) like Anne Jackson's Mad Church Disease struck such a chord with so many ministers and church workers who are admitting they are burned out, ill and depressed?  Sure they love and trust God.  But there's still loneliness.

As Christians, we face a dilemma.  

We have faith in God.  We know "that everything that happens is part of our way to the house of the Father."  But we still feel lonely.  We still get depressed.  We still harbor resentment.  And, as "good Christians," we're led to believe we're not supposed to feel these things.  Sentences like Nouwen's can feed this belief.

So we have to take a big risk in sharing our struggles.  And are typically met with Sunday School answers.  Or, we must hide what we really feel and pretend everything is okay.  Which means we offer Sunday School answers to those taking a risk with us.

As I understand it, a key freedom in a functional family is the ability to feel whatever you feel and honestly express it.  No "supposed to."  No "should."  Let whatever it is be what it is.

Why is this so hard to do within the Church (i.e. Christian body, not MFUMC)?  Are we a dysfunctional family whose members continue to play out assigned roles?

How did today's piece resonate with you?  Do you sense this struggle within the Church or did I completely miss the point?

No Sunday School answers, please.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thankslisting as a Spiritual Discipline

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?  

Slow me down, Lord

Slow me down, Lord. Help me to listen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Note to Self

Maybe I should say less and do more.

And, in doing more, I can overcome the fear that tells me to live less (i.e. safe).

Maybe saintliness is living at the edge of our faith.

Nouwen's Life-Giving Memory connected.  I hope you read it.

Pass It On

In the scripture reading, Deut. 4:9, I heard God tell me to pass on what I have learned that is of value. Nouwen speaks of saints living without division between words and actions. It appears that I am not a saint. I have learned that God speaks to me when I listen, and that by reading scripture it helps me to live my life in a better way. I intend to pass that on to my children and to my children's children when I am blessed with those - and to anyone else who cares to hear what I have learned that I see as valuable.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brave New World

The word that jumped out at me for Tuesday's reading was concrete.  How could he say that?  The words always resonate with me when someone shares their frustration that God doesn't just come out and tell us in a clear voice what we're supposed to do.  Nouwen seems to indicate maybe God does.

The concreteness of God's compassion seems to have something to do with God's with-us-ness.  That through Jesus, God comes to us as one who "dares to come close--to us a man has come who could truly say, 'I am with you'." 

Sometimes I think that the miracle of our church feeding 5000 people each year through the MUST Friday Lunch Program is the dozen of so of our feeders who sign the book, pick up a tray of food and sit with those we feed. They try to be present with them over a meal.  They allow themselves to be fed.

We get together as ministry teams and as committees and boards and allocate, debate, discuss, pray over and strategize about millions of dollars so that a child can bring in her pennies and nickels and donate them to the park project.

Amazing: most any Sunday, we'll have 1200 people gathered to worship as the people of God in and through our church.  Remarkable: several times a year twelve or so people gather for 9 months or more and learn some things about the Bible and lots of things about being open, transparent, and honest with one another about life.

I recently heard a radio program called Speaking of Faith .  Author and speaker Parker Palmer described a particularly dark time of depression he went through.  Some people attempted to help through the "Gosh, Parker" method.  "Gosh, Parker--it's so pretty outside, why don't you go outside.  It'll make you feel better."  And, "Gosh, Parker--you've helped so many people, you're such a good person..."

But there was one man who, after asking permission to do so, came over every afternoon and rubbed Mr. Palmer's feet.  No advice.  Not really much to say other than the occasional "I can feel your struggle today".

Mr. Palmer said that the massaging and the presence "kept me connected with the human race."

That's pretty concrete.

The vision from Revelation 21 is compelling, but eerily familiar to one we hear in Isaiah 65:17.  

Surely Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of that vision.  Yet the vision remains.

To make it concrete, it's going to take all of us.  We'll need the 5000 and the dozen.  The 1200 and the 12.  The millions and the nickels and pennies.

So not to steal the thunder of Visa's new ad campaign (after all, we had it first):

Let's Go.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Loving Father

This weekend’s meditation was on Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son.” Henri Nouwen speaks to our drifting away and returning to the Father that loves us over and over throughout our life just like the prodigal son returned to the loving father.

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.

"There was nothing special about Jesus' life."

When I read that sentence on page 82, I stopped.  And re-read it.  Then I came back to it.

I think I get what Nouwen is trying to convey.  But I have trouble with this idea.  And not for the obvious reasons (I hope).

It's obvious that Jesus didn't seek "publicity" in the way we use the term today.

But He was remarkable.  Still is.

He's remarkable, because remarkable simply means worth making a remark about.  Worth sharing.  Worth spreading.

Jesus was authentic.  He didn't manufacture an image.  He didn't manipulate.  He didn't inflate.  These are the characteristics associated with "publicity" today.

Even today, individuals who are authentic are remarkable.  Maybe because they're so rare...like hidden treasures.

God doesn't reveal Himself in our proof.  He reveals Himself in our search.  Because our search is real.  And other seekers can relate to that.

Jesus was special, because he was remarkable.  Not in the modern sense.  In the universal sense.

When we discover Him (and realize He's always been here), we can't help but share this with others.

Remarkable = remark about.

Is my walk with Christ remarkable?  Is yours?


Who's hiding, God or me?

It can be frustrating. Why does a God who wants us to live in communion with Him feel so distant sometimes? Why doesn’t He make himself more readily known to us? Maybe it’s me; maybe I’m the one who’s distant from Him.

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

No one who drinks will be thirsty again

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.

Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then I see you, and I remember your pain; your loss is so near. Yet still, you sing. Not exultantly, like those who surround us. But you sing.  

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;

I am humbled.  You sing.  Death so near, yet you sing.

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

You lower your head and a tear runs down your cheek. Lips move, mouthing the words. No sound emerges. Yet, still 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

___________

I was looking over an application from an organization that sponsors mission trips and noticed one of the items of information it called for:

Date of Salvation ____

I was thinking about it and asked a couple of friends what they thought John Wesley would have put down for that.

"His birthday.  1703!"

"Maybe when he was rescued from the burning rectory?"

"How about when he saw the tears on the checks of the coal miners when he started preaching to them above God's grace?"

"Could it have been on that ship when he saw the calmness of the Moravians during the storm?"

"Lots of people would say when he felt his 'heart strangely warmed' at Aldersgate- what was that, 1738?"

"I think it's when he realized in he wasn't making much headway converting the Indians in America, so he headed back to England"  (One of my friends is a Buddhist)

In as much as I think of Salvation in the terms of the title of today's reading- "Returning", and in Nouwen's phrase "God... embracing us"; I suppose we could try to figure out what the prodigal son would put down for his date of salvation.

Was it when he was born into such a home of wealth and grace?  Was it when he received his inheritance?  When he discovered the freedom of being on his own and doing what he wanted to do?  Was it when he realized the misery his choices led to?  Was it when he decided to "leave this place and go to my father"?  Maybe it was when he realized he wasn't what he thought he was.  Or, was it when he father decided to start looking for him in the distance, or was it when his father saw him.  When he ran to him?  When he clasped him in his arms?  When he kissed him?

So what would I put down?

Was it my earliest memory of my whole family driving around and visiting churches every Sunday in the new town until we found our church home?  Maybe it was when I awkwardly got out of my seat at MYF and came down to the camp fire and said to the counselor: "I'm in."  But maybe it was when I started dating my wife and after I told her I didn't really go to church anymore and she said, "Wanna come to church with me?"  Or could it have been, after our two daughters got a little older, my wife said, "Let's go back to church."  But then again it could have been the time that I thought I was the world's worst father for taking my family from a community and friends they adored to a new place.  They were miserable.  But a colleague commented one morning: "I saw you throwing the softball with your daughter last night on the field-- you're a good dad."  It might be one of the times upon returning home after a day when the programs don't seem to be working and I'm not doing a very good job of leading. But the note stuck to the closet door says: "I love my daddy."  Or it could be those dates when I sit around a table with 12 or so people and they say to one another after 33 weeks of bible study together: "There's lots more to you than you think."

I guess one thing's for sure.  If we ever put such an item on a mission trip application it will have to look something like this:

Dates of Salvation (optional)
______________________________________________________
______________________________________________________
______________________________________________________
______________________________________________________
______________________________________________________
______________________________________________________
(use back of form if necessary)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Disquieting Truth

I had to read and re-read today's passage, 'A New Creation' because I usually want something nice and solid to hang onto, to make my own, and to be able to cling to when life becomes very difficult. The author brings up the disquieting paradoxes that Jesus often made known to us - such as those from the Sermon on the Mount - and how we often find ourselves being in the group that Jesus criticized. I want to be in the good group, the one he favored over the other group. The author suggests that when we settle back and become comfortable with how things are, we are not in the good group - that we should be "irritated by satisfaction and self-content in ourselves as well as in others" because we know that "something great is coming" - that we "believe that there will never be a moment in our lives in which we can rest in the supposition that there is nothing left to do." I find comfort in knowing that I can do my best to do my part in making this world a better place than the one I found - to best of my ability - and that God is in charge, not me. I am a mere human who fails to do the right thing many times. It is my responsibility to try to do the right thing. I don't understand many of the things that happen in God's world. The mystery of it all is part of this experience of being alive. What I do have to cling to is faith that, in the end, I will be ok as long as I believe, I just believe.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Servant Leadership

Yesterday's meditation was on "A Servant God" (page 62-65).

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?

A Quiet Center

Today's reading is causing me to consider how I view my quiet place inside. Nouwen says that place can be a lonely place; he later seems to refer to solitude as essentially the same thing. I have been comfortable with differentiating loneliness and solitude as 'how much I enjoy the company', with loneliness being something negative and solitude as something positive. Maybe I need to reconsider this. Loneliness certainly feels, well, lonely; solitude can feel great - when all is right so to speak. Loneliness does cause deeper searching for God to help me. He always does.

Measuring the Immeasurable

"What gets measured gets done."

I don't know who coined that, but I've heard it most of my life.

If I want to get in better shape, it requires measures...blood pressure, cholesterol level, heart rate, body mass index, etc.

Measurement is essential for us to mark and map our path.  However, as Nouwen points out in "Measuring Our Worth" today, measurement can become unhealthy.  It becomes unhealthy when we use it to separate ourselves from others and elevate ourselves.  It becomes unhealthy when we strive for our own ambitions, not God's will.

We're reading about dying to self and becoming poor with the poor and being a servant.  But when I browse Christian bookstores, I don't see many books about this.  I see tons of books on how to become a better Christian.

It's as if we've made this descending way we're called to, a source of pride, measurement and separation.  It's as if we have set up our own alternative Christian world and are encouraged and rewarded for pandering to our own grade-givers.

Contemporary Christian musicians are not rewarded and recognized for their artistic accomplishment.  They're rewarded for fitting into the established expectations of consumers.  Christian authors are not applauded for challenging our faith and culture.  They're rewarded for churning out another feel good self-help book or defending a vocal group's doctrine.  Because, in both of these cases, sales volume is the measure.  And the bestseller lists are the grade-givers.

Faith, hope and love can't be measured.  Discipleship can't be measured.  Servanthood can't be measured.

One of my greatest struggles is ambition.  I want to make things happen.  I want challenge and change things.  But I can't get out of my own way so that God can steer.  I can't tune out the grade givers, because I have a deep desire to measure myself for improvement.

Nouwen writes, "Being is more important than having." (page 68)

I like that.

I hope I can get there one day.

Wonder how can I measure my progress? :)

In solitude

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.

The In-Between Place

Ken Cross said something in one of his sermons that has had a impact on my journey as a follower of Christ. He said that Jesus "disturbs" us. Being a Christian, if anything for me, means being disturb. I think of being disturbed as both a good thing and an uncomfortable thing.

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

Most Divine

When I was at Candler I heard Dr. Bill Mallard say, "God was most divine when God was most vulnerable on the cross."  

God teach me what it means to serve others and to see you in that service. 

A servant God

I had an offbeat reaction to this piece. Henri Nouwen writes about how when God reached out to us, he did it not as a conquering hero but as a servant. That fact awes and amazes me. It would be so obvious, so cliché for God to play the role of the almighty, and it’s so unexpected, so clever for Him to come the way He did. But the part of Nouwen’s piece that struck me was the one line about how a mother does not need to be rewarded for paying attention to her child, she does it for the joy of it. That reminded me of a sermon Dr. Sam once gave. He had been driving around town when another motorist motioned, asking to be let into traffic. Dr. Sam complied, then waited for the obligatory wave of thanks. It never came. The motorist cut in and drove on. Dr. Sam admitted he was annoyed, then wondered: did he do this small good deed for the joy of it – out of servanthood – or for the reward of a momentary accolade? Doing good for the pat on the back can be a disappointing experience. Doing it for the sake of doing good – out of servanthood – should never disappoint us because we are emulating, in our imperfect way, our Savior.

Brave New World

When I read passages like this, “the first among you must be your slave”, and Henri Nouwen’s call to radical servanthood, I am struck by the bravery of the first Christians.

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

The Way of Humility

Nouwen entitled today's reading 'The Way of Humility.' When I think of a 'way' of something, I think of following a path, a certain way of progressing along a journey. He suggests prayer as a way of clearing the weeds that block access to the descending way of love. He makes part of his prayer one of praying for the attitude of Jesus. Prayer and changing my attitude are two things that I can do, with the attitude change I so often need the harder of the two for me. The way of humility doesn't get a lot of acclaim, but peace inside beats that every time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Those People

You know them and I know them. Every situation we find ourselves, there is ALWAYS someone we dislike or who rubs us the wrong way. Do you ever find yourself saying, "Well, we can't like everyone" or "I have plenty of friends" or "I don't need to go out of my way for that person, I'm busy!" If you have never thought or said these, then you should just stop reading, but those who join the "guilty as charged" group continue on.

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.

Can you see me?

I glanced over the myriad scriptures on page 58 of Tuesday's devotion.  So the way to take control of my spiritual life is to precisely give up complete control of it.  I have a weed problem.

What about this warm weather, huh?  Take a look at the weeds.  With the warming soil, they are already going crazy.

Reminds me of my own "so seldom walked on it's so overgrown with weeds" descending path to the "way of love".  (p. 60)  So full of weeds it's hard to see.  Much less follow.

Kind of.

A weed isn't necessarily a bad plant.  A weed is simply a plant out of place.

A weed is defined, not by its genus and species, but by its place.

So:  I suppose the things that obscure this descending way aren't necessarily the ugly overgrown horse fennel, crabgrass, or dandelions.  

Sometimes: it's the "good" things that are simply out of place.  The heirloom tomatoes and Japanese Maples growing up in the cracks of the driveway.

I'm so busy making sure the "inner city kid" has a mentor; my daughter has given up on me helping her with Algebra.

Going on the retreat has cost time away with my wife where God awaits the opportunity to meet me in the light of her eyes.

Five straight blog posts, but no thank you note to my brother who gave up his vacation to spend time with my aged parents.

Help!  I'm in the weeds.

I Must Confess...

I must confess, I don't do compassion very well.  Charity...I am good at, but compassion...not so much.

When I see someone that is poor, sick, or hurting I like to make things better.  I like to comfort, give, help.  To be honest I do it because pain, especially the pain of others, is uncomfortable for me.  When I see pain, sadness, anguish I just want to make it go away so I help.  

In the reading for today Nouwen says, "Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless." (p.56).  I don't want to do that.  I want to fix it, to make it go away, to make it better.  

I think we look at Jesus that way.  The most popular understanding of the work of Jesus is that he came to make it all better.  For me though the power of the work of Jesus is that he came in flesh, "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:7).  Jesus is the incarnation of compassion by Nouwen's definition, "Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human." (p.56).  

As I grow toward the cross I hope to let go of my need to make it go away and instead learn to live my life with those that Christ came to live with.  

Sunday, March 8, 2009

He took, he blessed, he broke, he gave

I treasure the words that we say during Holy Communion: He took, he blessed, he broke, he gave. Nouwen provides a beautiful reminder that these four actions describe the life of Jesus, especially in his giving of himself for others.

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

Difficult Prayers

Praying for someone who has wronged me or has wronged someone I love is a very difficult prayer. When I have done this, I have done it to rid myself of a resentment. Resentments destroy peace of mind and make me a less of a good person. I learned a way to deal with resentments many years ago that I will share here. This is not easy to do, but it does facilitate healing. When that resentment is solidly in place and won't go away with less drastic measures, I have had to pray for all the good things I would want for myself for the person towards whom I have the resentment, listing them out, for 14 consecutive days. If I miss a day, I must start over until I have done it for 14 consecutive days. A bit compulsive, yes, but doing it this way causes me to really think about doing it so I don't have to start over. The first few days are the hardest. At the end of the two weeks of doing this, there is usually some relief from the resentment - my resentment may still be there, but it is lessened. Over time after that, the person I prayed for takes a different space in my heart. This came right from Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies. The 14 days part is optional I suppose, but seems to be necessary for the really powerful resentments in my case anyway, so I thought I would pass it on if you haven't heard of it before. Difficult prayers.

Friday, March 6, 2009

If you get afraid, say your prayers

Nouwen's admonition in Saturday's reading for us to love our enemies would have been a throw away for me--yeah: it's Biblical, but it's not practical--were it not for a friend sharing with me about a story he recently read.  It was the story of Ruby Bridges, the first grader who helped integrate the New Orleans Public School system in 1960.

Her mom was all about it.  Her dad: opposed.  He thought things weren't going to change and "blacks and whites would never be treated as equals," according to Ms. Bridges' account of the story at rubybridges.org.

But as you can see from the Norman Rockwell painting, Ruby Bridges walked to the white-school under the protection of federal marshals  amid the angry shouts and the furious fists (every day for the whole school year) of militant segregationists.

Ruby Bridges' teacher always watched her walk into school.  One day she thought she saw Ruby talking to her tormentors.  "I wasn't talking to them," Ruby explained to her, "I was praying for them."

That year of first grade came and went for Ruby Bridges.  The angry mob dwindled away.   Segregation in New Orleans became a part of the past.

What changed it?  The federal judge's decree?  The Marshals--two in front and two behind?

Was it the daily defiant march of a six year old girl?

Could it have been her prayers for her enemies?

It's not easy for people to change.  It's not easy for us to offer friendship to our enemies. Maybe we don't know how.  Maybe if we just got to know them a little better.  Maybe we're just afraid.

Can our prayers for them change them?

Maybe our prayers for them can change us.  And then, after a while, maybe they won't be our enemies anymore.

Maybe they can show us the way?


Forgiving myself...there's the rub!

Forgiveness seems like such a cornerstone of our faith, doesn't it? To me, that's one of the most beautiful blessings of being a child of God...unconditional love from pure Love Itself.

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.