Friday, November 22, 2019

Book Review: Life Signs by Henri Nouwen


The concepts Henri Nouwen wrote of in the chapter “Intimacy and Love” spoke right into the journey of healing I am on personally.  I was particularly struck by his statement that “we are so possessed by fear that we do not trust our innermost self as an intimate place, anxiously wandering around hoping to find it where we are not.”  He includes the explanation that as a result, people become strangers to themselves and he quipped, “as if they have an address, but are never home,” and thus are never able to answer the call to love.


After a series of personal crises, I began protecting myself by abandoning my inner space of intimacy, which had been violated, and I moved “to the outdoors” of my life.  I could keep the outside manicured and well-groomed, outdoing my neighbors and getting the proper rewards.  Staying outdoors provided stability and predictability.  My life was lodged in the cognitive where I could use reason and effort to maintain some semblance of control and order.  


Meanwhile, the interior of the house filled with cobwebs, was darkened and visited rarely by myself or those in relationship with me.  Thus, I rarely was in communion with others.  I definitely was well-entrenched into a state of mistrust and fear of my innermost self and not just because I had been wounded there. In the collapse of my own defenses, I had participated in my own injury:  I was not to be trusted with myself.


Being outdoors worked as long as the external world answered to my demands, but I became increasingly aware of the danger if the external world failed me.  I knew I was going to have to re-visit the rich and vast rooms of my own “interior castle.”  It was through the call to unconditional love, having to first give it and later receive it, that I realized I was going to have to re-enter.  


Nouwen’s concept stood out as I realized a language describing my personal recovery, although I would like to challenge some of the language the author used.  “Jesus creates the space to freely move around without fear, transcending feelings, emotions and passions.”  I would rather think of Jesus moving “through” feelings, emotions and passions instead of going “beyond” them.  Going beyond seems to indicate other-worldliness, which would be a favorite pastime of mine:  trying to remove myself from the reality of pain and suffering and risk-taking.  I like to think Jesus can embrace the intimate (and painful) parts of humanity and work and heal in light of them, independent of them, yet present with them.


Oh, to help people find their inner space, the place where Jesus can find them and get a call to them.  There is much to be modeled, said and taught about the impact of the busyness of today, the hurriedness of the day and the restlessness of the night.  The Lord Jesus has created a protective space around those he loves, but we fill it with the activities of daily living and do not use it to join him in that space.  Instead, we fill it with our works, hoping they will represent us in our stead.  Jesus is not interested in being close to our deeds and actions, he is interested in us.


I have been teaching an adult Sunday School class on spiritual disciplines and often we stop and create safe harbor in our learning.  I encourage them to find themselves in God’s word and God’s word in themselves.  Whether we reflect on God’s word, on the presence of God in fresh-baked cookies or explore the deeper meaning of our testimony, they get a taste of that inner space.  I pray it makes them hungry to spend more time there.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Faith

                                                                                     

love
belief →→→ →→→→ Faith→→→→→→→ trust
 loyalty

When belief turns into trust
and love is demonstrated through loyalty,
there Faith exists.

Confession

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise. Psalm 51:17

broken - shabar - shattered, destroyed, broken down, crippled or wrecked

contrite - dakah - crushed, broken in pieces

As I look for Jesus, I must remember my place. I have a feeling I don't regard sin with the same disdain as the Old Testament writers.  I white-wash it, minimize it.  I don't even own it sometimes.

God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14

God is seeking out and looking for those with contrite spirits.  They are the ones who most desire him, who don't have the shield of pride and ego up to protect themselves. Pride and ego have been shattered, reduced to dust and they must be because pride and ego keep me from God, from entering his presence.


God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14

I must bow down and cry out for the forgiveness that God wants to lavish on me.  I cannot receive it when my hands are full with defensiveness, excuse-making, fury or even shame.  I must empty myself of  these things so I can receive rightness, protection, healing and hope that can only come from God.  The slate must be cleared.

God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14


I desire God's desire.  Whatever confession I need to make to give me opportunity to be in God's company, to receive the grace of forgiveness and subsequent "rightness," I will do it.  I want to be in the tightest spot next to him as possible.  Thank you, Lord, for making a way and showing me how!

God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:10-14

Amen.
Make it so!



Monday, November 11, 2019

The Struggle

I struggle.  I am besieged. I make mistakes.  I suffer with being human.

Every person comes into real and existential struggle.  Crisis emerges.  Trauma besieges us.  Being human - dealing with myself and others - is often taxing, in the least, devastating, in the worst.  

God wants to ease our struggle (as our champion) or for us embrace our struggle (necessary as Christ-following humans).   Yet, we often don't know what to do with our struggle because struggle is usually wrapped in shame.  

Shame can keep us from solution, from hope and from God.  In our struggle, when shame takes over, we pretend that the bad parts aren't that bad, or  maybe aren't even real.   Shame causes us to be paralyzed, because we can't see the possibility of hope.  Shame causes us to turn inward and fold out of a need to create a safe space for ourselves, helpless because no one is there to help us and we cannot ask for help because of shame.  

Some of our greatest cultural failures are exacerbated because of this.  When someone is physically assaulted, where does one access trauma recovery?  What is a real path out of poverty?  Who will mentor me out of it?  Where are those great resources for domestic workers, immigrants, women seeking greater pay equity, sex trafficking victims, abuse victims?

Our personal narratives must rise up, the voices must be heard so others can hear the story and be comforted in the fact that they are not alone.  When the struggle is voiced, we an remove shame from the struggle.  When we hear victory stories, we can see that nothing is permanent.  We may need to hear a different ending for victory where people find peace, community and their God in the struggle.

Yes, God offers a solution even when the situation does not improve.  "Go to the God of all comfort.." Paul tells the Corinthians.  Let Him be enough for you.  Let gaining awareness of His presence be the first step.   Give in to the one who knows the way out.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Storehouse



Matthew 6:19-21

·       Some store treasures on earth

·       These are susceptible to attack

·       Instead, store treasures in heaven

·       Which is completely safe.

For where your treasure is, there will be your heart (motivation, dedication).


Thesario – storehouse – treasury


What are we sending ahead? What do I desire to most preserve for eternity?  The answer to the second question will reveal my heart and, subsequently, my path.  Motivation will determine the life I live: whether I live it for myself and my goals on earth or for God and his goals in heaven.


Treasures are often thought of as goods and wealth, and it may include the use of our goods and wealth, but only if those are involved in the pursuance of the things of heaven.  Jesus tells us much about heaven:  that it’s near us, (Matt 3:2, 4:17; Luke 10:8,9; Mark 10:34) is given to us (Matt 5:3), that we can enter it while still on earth (Mark 10:15; Matt 5:20), that it has arrived (Matt 12:28; Mark 9:1), that it belongs to us (Matt 18:3; 19:14), that it is seen (John 3:3-5) and that you can tell when someone is a disciple of heaven (Matt 13:52).  The treasury’s door is opened by the Kingdom of Heaven’s presence today.  


Through these teachings, Jesus describes what actions will be in the treasury:  repentance, healing, understanding, obedience, living in the Spirit, having the faith and humbleness of a child, realizing your need for God, even being persecuted demonstrates where our hearts are.  Casting out demons/spirits, power for life, knowledge, relationship with God’s people are the treasures which garner interest in heaven.  The treasury is filled with the stories and the life within the Kingdom’s presence today.


My storehouse in heaven needs more repentance – being able to own up and confess my sins to God and others.  It will hold the delight of honesty and integrity of coming clean.  It will hold the healing which began on earth and will be completed in heaven.  It will be the full expression of how I have gotten right with myself, no longer burdened or held back by the offenses of others or to my own sin.  Freedom will exist there like no other place.


The history of the places I have obeyed God’s commands and of Jesus’ measure of the enactment of love, including the love of my enemies, will fill the songs of heaven.  When I have been able to obey God and not the world, when love was acted out with purity of motive, heaven’s coffers brim with the contribution.


The Kingdom of Heaven has arrived with the casting (drive out, expel with force) out of demons (evil spirits, ministers of the devil).  Let great fear and awe come over you when the Spirit of God has overcome these evil spirits, whether illness or addiction, bad intent or sin.  The story will reverberate and be sung in the halls of your mansion.


Life in the Spirit will lay up memories of the obvious places where I was led, guided, taught and protected by the Holy Spirit, including when I got invited into the Kingdom and the veil was lifted about the Holy Spirit.  It is the story of the hole in my heart and how God filled it, of the places for prayer in my life and how the Holy Spirit directed the solutions.  Salvation’s story in me is awaiting its fulfillment in that treasury.


The power that became dynamically present and publicly displayed will have a heavenly display.  That power will be magnified by being in its proper home, where it originated.  What was thought to be the actions of people, will be fully seen as to its source and will glorify the One who shared it.  It will show itself by its true source, it will come into full view, in heaven.


The humbleness of a child – knowing my rightful place with God, my complete dependence on God – will electrify and grow the treasury.  When I could believe with innocence and dependence on God, the stories of the possibilities of letting God have his way will be fully explored and grown.  What humbleness stories will go ahead of me?  Maybe I could lay down my sword, my ego more.  Lay down myself so as to build the treasury’s hold. 


The obedience of my heart will be displayed for its motivation, not to preserve my own place but to allow God to have his way. The stories of deliberateness and willingness to live God’s way will be to his honor.  Whenever I could want and pray for God’s way is displayed in a prayer that says,  “Lord, do whatever it takes,” and then concede to his way.  That story is laid up in the treasury because it gives attention to God’s rightful claim to my path, my decisions.


In the relationships with God’s people, remember what lasts into eternity are the hearts and souls of godly men and women.  The stories you could tell of those you nurtured, those who nurtured you.  those who walked alongside you in darkness and celebrated the victory with you, those who taught you and whom you taught!  That annals of heaven will reverberate with our victory songs.  


Healing will be complete there. Healing of bodies, hearts, minds and relationships are the evidence of heaven’s presence.  I want to work for that reward!





Kingdom of Heaven



Verses

Conditions
Kingdom of Heaven’s proximity


Matt 3:2; 4:17

Repentance
Near
Luke 10:8, 9

Healing
Near
Mark 10:34
Understanding of  God’s command
Near
John 3:3-5

Born of water and spirit
Seen
Mark 10:15

Faith of a child
Entrance
Matt 5:3
Realize your need
 for God
Given
Matt 5:10
Persecuted for living
 for God
Is yours
Matt 18:3; 19:14

Humbleness of a child
Belongs to you
Matt 5:20

Obedience of the heart
You can enter
Matt 12:28
Casting out spirits/demons
arrived
Mark 9:1

Great power
arrived
Matt 13:52
Teachers who can demonstrate God -truths from a storehouse of knowledge
Is a disciple of
Luke 17:20, 21
With the relationships of God’s people
Invisible yet lived
Matt 11:12
Battles over
God’s Word
Advancing



Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Holy Shimmer

God is everywhere and everywhen - in place and moment.  He pines, "If they would see, then I would heal..." (Matthew 13:15) and he bemoans when his people have hardened hearts such that they are "ever seeing...but not perceiving..." Matthew 13:13.  


This seems to be a continual theme for God and he has many times "opened the eyes" of people, whether it be Elisha (2 Kings 6:17), those who need to see sin for what it is (Psalm 91:18) or the truths of God's instructions (Psalm 119:18).  Opening the eyes of people is part of his plan for bringing the Messiah to earth and freeing people (Isaiah 42:7) and for them to be able to live in the light of his salvation (Acts 26:17-18)  


What catches your eye?  What light reveals God's truths and salvation which can open your mind, also?  We usually stay in the abstract with the words that we read, but could you use your optic sense to take in greater God-Truths?  Could you see him in nature, in art, in faces, in beauty, in storm and calm?  


Ask God to show you his truths through your senses.  Wait for it.  Thank him for the chance to receive revelation through any means.  Don't let it go in one eye and out the other. 

  

Praying in Color I

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Western Ten Commandments

Y'all have no other god b'fore me.

No makin' idols.

When y'all use my name, y'better mean it.

Lay off the trail one day a week.

Mind yer ma & pa.

No killin' folks.

Dance with who brung ya.

No swipin'.

No lyin'.

No hankerin' for things that ain't yers.

                                              - Veggie Tale Folks

Humbleness

God gives us even more grace to stand against evil desires.  The scriptures say, "God opposes the proud but favors the humble." So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Come close to God and God will come close to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts.  For your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
                                                                                                          James 4:6-8


It is pretty simple:
  • Humble yourself.
  • Submit to God.
  • oppose the devil - he's a coward.
  • Get close to God.
  • Clean up your act. 
  • Clean up your motivations.  
  • Don't have divided loyalties.
Humility:  I need growth.  I bow before God fairly easily (or so I think), but before others, I don't easily acquiesce.  This probably reveals the truth of my relationship with God, if I would admit it.  I try, but when someone is not in agreement with me and my contrivances about how things should be, I know I resist.


The solution is to clean up my sinful self in the obvious places.  Wash my hands - purify myself from sinful actions.  Cleanse my heart - in the core of my intentions and motivations.  My loyalty is divided on whether I will serve God or myself.  The question becomes:  who is on the throne of my heart?  How do I unseat myself from that throne?  


It is a pitiful sight when I live my life for just myself:  I will lose it, Jesus assures me.  But to gain life, I must give up the throne, give up the helm.  Richard Rohr says, ultimately, we are addicted to ourselves, which can be seen when I am at the center of every decision and action.  When that is true, the "Christian" life is a sham.  It is not Christ at all.  


That sham is a shame and verse 9 of James 4 explains what our reaction must be:  Let there be tears for what you have done.  Let there be sorrow and deep grief.  Let there be sadness instead of laughter and gloom instead of joy.  



It's a terrible offense to relegate God to second place in my heart.  Worse yet to think he would serve me and my purposes.  Am I truly stricken by the awfulness of usurping God's rightful place in my heart?  Do I lament and grieve?  Do I see my betrayal of God as a cause for deep sorrow?  Any joy I might seek for myself should be a place for shame!


So, now my choice is clear.  I must submit - keep God on the throne of my life by deciding to whom I am loyal.  He is the ruler.  He holds the power.  He has the plan that is perfect and perfect for me.  It is a good plan, though maybe not the easy plan, but it is the plan which makes life worth living. It is the plan that prepares me for heaven.  It is new every day.  It calls me higher.  It brings peace. 


Being loyal to God alone:  that's worth pursuing.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Wisdom

Who in your community is understanding and wise?  Let her example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others...The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom, for it originates in earthly realms and is earthly, unspiritual and even demonic...Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits untainted by hypocrisy.  It results in a harvest of righteousness which is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:13-18 (selections)

I need to look for the wise in my community and not be fooled by the world's definition of wisdom, which is easy to note by its jealousy and selfishisness and the resulting chaos and evil.  

A pursuit of righteousness follows the path of wisdom.  The Greek for "righteousness" includes the thought that a person would "be as one ought to be."  To finally be right.  Yes, ultimately, to be right with God and to be the wise, sincere, peace-seeking person God intended.

I have had so many other pursuits! To be "as I should" seems to be a quest of identity or, at least, of character:  a sincere reflection of God-character in me, as he made me to be.  Because of the other-focus of this section of James, it seems to involve a sincere effort to pursue peace and plant peace so that others can be as they should, too.

The steps to that rightness is through purity, peace, gentleness, deference to others (remember not selfish ambition) and mercy.  I feel God drawing me into those definitions; his measures for these qualities come from him.  As he draws me to those qualities, other worldly measures for wisdom no longer apply.  I can be free.  To be me.  (Wasn't there a book title?)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Good

Good deeds must accompany faith, otherwise it is not faith at all.  It's just a good idea.

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Will that kind of faith save him?  Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  Show me your faith apart from your works and I will show you my faith by my works."  James 2:14-19

Faith is demonstrated by our actions.  Jesus tells the same truth about the good apple which can only come from a good tree.  It sounds simple, yet, what are "good" deeds which result from faith and NOT FROM SELF-SATISFACTION OR SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS?

How does my faith determine my deeds?  Do my good deeds "feel" good? Or do I engage in deeds which require me to be uncomfortable because they are from God.  In fact, when I operate out of "my" gifts, I may tend to take credit for the deeds.  Excess turns all gifts into curses, says Richard Rohr.  What should be used for God's good is used to help me feel purposed, useful or more gifted.    

My deeds must originate from who God is, not who I am.  If God means to draw all men to him or for his people to be unified or to be love itself, which deeds honor his character/his truth?  Jesus said it simply, as you treat the least (by whatever definition that is for you), that is how I treat him.  Am I patronizing? Am I empowering?  Am I meeting their needs or my own?

What is "good" is determined by God and points to his goodness (not mine).  Knowing God guides me to understand how he sees people and what he wants for them.  I want to bridge cultural divides so more can have access to material goods and spiritual good because Jesus often talks about meeting the needs of the poor, both physical and spiritual.  

I also have to confront systems which oppress.  Isaiah 58 uses strong language of a true fast:  loosen the bonds of wickedness, undo the straps of the yoke which oppresses and to break every yoke.  These are action-centered efforts, which often cause me to be uncomfortable.

It is  the Lord's good when I march for change, when I write my representatives, when I advocate for changed legislation, when I empower others to vote.  I stay uncomfortable so that others can be set free.  Not as fun as teaching a class - not as succinct nor with immediate feedback - but for the cause of Christ in the world, I do this unlikely "good."

The Perfect Psalm

Psalm 19:7-10

God's law is perfect, turning lives around.
His words are reliable and true,
instilling wisdom to open minds.
The Eternal One's directions are correct,
giving satisfaction to the heart.
God's commandments are clear,
lending clarity to the eyes.
The awe of The Eternal One is pure,
sustaining for all of eternity.
The Eternal One's decisions are sound;
they are right through and through.
They are worth more than gold -
even more than abundant, pure gold.
They are sweeter than honey
or the drippings of the honeycomb.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Come Alive!

Listen to me:  You must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  For human anger does not produce the righteousness of God.  So, get rid of the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept this word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
Don't just listen to God's word, you must do it.  Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the Word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.  You see yourself, walk away and forget who you are, what you look like.  But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free and if you do what it says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
                                                                                                                 James 1:19-27

I am so convicted by this set of verses.  While I am not prone to anger, I am prone to speak first and listen later.  What a practice to keep my mouth shut!

Actually, the thought-provoking statement is "forgetting who you are, forgetting what you look like."  The challenge is for my statements to reflect God's ultimate Truth about me (and not the sinful-evil/filthy truth).  If I claim the truth that I am a child of God, that I follow Jesus Christ, that I desire to obey his commandments for me, then my speech should follow accordingly.  My actions should follow in such a way to produce the "rightness" of God.

This is neither novel nor complicated.  It is quite simple, but incredibly hard.

I think though, there is clear directive about how to do it.  If I can keep my thoughts in my head and measure it by the righteousness (rightness) of God then my words would change.  "Slow to speak" gives me time to evaluate the tone and emphasis of my words within the context of the intent of God.  Then my words would be first loving, then clearly constructive and, finally, a blessing.  They could still be a challenge or correction, but more readily received and God more easily seen.

What a great opportunity!  To have my words reflect God!  Glory!