“I didn’t believe in prayer.”

For several years, I didn’t believe in prayer; or rather, I didn’t believe prayer made any difference. I had prayed for dear friends dying of cancer and they seemed to die faster. I had prayed that I would sin less and be a kinder and more “other-centered” person and my egocentricity seemed to continue unabated. I had recited the Lord’s Prayer in the same way that I said the Pledge of Allegiance. I gave thanks at meals because everyone expected that, but I rarely felt a connection to God or a sense of gratefulness to God.

What was the point? There seemed to be lots of beautiful words being spoken, but no transformation was occurring.

In 2007, my world began falling a part. Devastating illnesses all around me, lost jobs and financial ruin seemed to be closing in around me. I did still believe that God loved me. So, I turned to God. I came to him with nothing, but empty hands. No words. Only tears.

Amazingly, God began doing things in my life and the lives of those around me. Healing, financial generosity, friends bring us meals and my heart was being transformed. Spiritual transformation does not result from fixing our problems. It results from turning to God in the midst of them and meeting God just where we are. Turning to God is the core of prayer.

Slowly, I began to pray about everything. Not with special language, but like a conversation. I began to make a connection between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus I was meeting in prayer. Today, some 8 years later, talking to Jesus is the sweetest part of my day and the deepest love of my heart.

I never expected this to happen. If you don’t believe prayer makes any difference, I understand. If you don’t believe that God can transform your life or the lives of those around you, I understand. My testimony is simple. Bring God your tears and unbelief and see what he does.

“That’s just my cross to bear,” she said sadly.

Do you have to carry a cross, if you’re not following Jesus? And what is my cross anyway?

“That’s just my cross to bear,” said the suffering traveler. You’ve probably heard this from a variety of people in difficult situations. You may have been told that some challenge or illness or poverty is “just your cross to bear.” What is this metaphorical cross? And why does everyone have one? It seems to be central in the teaching of Jesus, as he called it a prerequisite for being his disciple, but what exactly is it?

Whether you are reading the biographical accounts of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark or Luke, eventually you will come across this direct demand from the Nazarene Jesus. It goes something like this, Jesus told his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In the Matthew 16 account, Jesus goes on to talk about the trade off of gaining the world while losing your soul and what is a soul really worth. So, we are left with the question of losing the world, but gaining our souls. That seems a fair prospect, but Jesus goes on to sweeten the pot by saying that he and his angels will come in the glory of the Father and “repay each person according to what he has done.” This is remarkable in its specificity – each person – as well as in the offer, which appears to be very generous.

Recently, I wrote this in my journal:

I am going through a sobering time of seeing, again, how slim our resources are and how anxious and fearful I can become. I remember that in 2007 our situation seemed even worse. Certainly, I felt more helpless and hopeless then. I can see now that health and financial challenges are my cross to bear.

As I wrote this, the Spirit nudged me with the questions of how do you know what your cross is and what was Jesus talking about when he called you to take up your cross? I took a step back and began to reflect more deeply.

Jesus was teaching his followers a very important principle related to both the deep religion of following him and a lesson in balance between the spiritual and material world. He did this often in responding to temptations of things like food versus spiritual food. “Man does not live by bread alone,” Jesus said. Of course, this is a bit confusing and disturbing because we do need food to live and, yet, Jesus tells us that that is not enough. This is where a sense of humility and naivetè comes into the picture. Jesus asks us to step out of the norm and accepted and apply his spiritual instruction to our physical and material lives.

Shortly after this teaching, Jesus broke through the physical with the spiritual reality of his identity as the Bright and Morning Star as he was transfigured and “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” This experience illustrated that the line between the physical and spiritual is a narrow space.

Let’s go back to Jesus’ description of what it takes to be his disciple. In Matthew 16:24ff, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

What is your cross? What was Jesus’ cross? What do we know for sure? Jesus’ cross was, in fact, a real wooden cross that he carried to the Hill of Death. He later hung on that cross and uttered that his mission and calling was finished. So, for Jesus, his cross, both actual and metaphorical, represented his mission, calling, purpose and vocation. It was the reason he came to earth. It is the single greatest symbol of redemption and hope that we have in the world. And it is a symbol of pain, suffering and execution.

For Jesus, perhaps, it was both a burden and a passion. Maybe it was more a passion than a burden, then more a burden than a passion. He was the only one who could carry his cross and I suspect that you are the only one who can carry your cross. And while it does require self-denial and work, there is a joy and sense of calling present that we have been missing – that I have been missing.

Jesus talks about “losing your life for Him.” The primary way I’ve seen that applied is through our giving up our ambitions and goals and taking on his ambitions and goals: the cross. We have to ask Jesus and our community of faith to help us understand what that means. As Jesus pointed out earlier, our reward is specific and our cross is specific. Only I can carry my cross. I have a part to play that is mine and mine alone. This is what Jesus knows is best for his mission and the best for us. We have limited our interpretation or application of this calling by focusing on an aspect of suffering or difficulty when, I believe the Spirit wanted me to see, Jesus was talking about something larger and all encompassing.

Jesus’ deepest calling was to creation, restoration and glory. And doing those with the Father and the Holy Spirit. While on earth, he paid particular attention to following the words he heard from his father. In the same way, we are to pay particular attention to the words of Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus. And we are called to carry a cross that might include sacrifice and difficulty, but also purpose and fulfillment. But you don’t have to carry a cross if you don’t want to follow Jesus.

Postscript

And what about my cross? I’ve learned that it is much more than my health struggles and my financial scarcities. It is my desire for you to know the depth and breadth of God’s love for you and the nearness of God to you. It is my passion to write and my passion to see families in love with each other. It is my submission and willingness to be naïve when it comes to following the teachings of Jesus. It’s all my stuff, too. It’s me.

The Intensity of Love

In April, I shared about the Intentionality of Love and today I’ve been reflecting on the Intensity of Love. This sprung from some reflections on Jesus’ reply about what is most important. What is the “One Thing” to use the vernacular of Curly in the movie “City Slickers.”

The Intensity of Love

“… as yourself.”

One of the more challenging and perhaps misunderstood, but often quoted sayings of Jesus was the reminder that we love God, love our neighbors and love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) The common interpretations are around the sequence, which purports to be the key to a humble life, if not a loving one. The common application goes something like this: If we put God first, others second and ourselves last, then we will be a loving person. Lately, my interpretation or application is more about intensity and purpose than sequence.

If we love God will all of heart, soul and mind (or our will, worship, emotion and intellect), then we develop the capacity of understanding that God loves us so much that he is accomplishing his will by loving us and he can, in turn, use us to accomplish his will. That is, that we can love our neighbors and realize our place in God’s heart.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux describes as the highest degree of love the love of our selves for God’s sake.

When we get to the point that we realize, accept and rest in the knowledge that God is accomplishing his own vision and purpose by loving us, it seems impossible to not experience a heightened degree of love for ourselves. Of course, our own patterns of selfishness and self-indulgence can keep us from living the love that we desire to express, but our intense love for God and his purposes empowers us to love our families, co-workers, and neighbors. Transformation takes place as we focus on loving and pleasing God. By listening to God we are drawn to his heart, which is a heart overflowing with love for all of his children. Do you see how that overflowing could even flood our hearts, souls and minds to the point that we love all of his children, too?

When Jesus said that the second commandment was like the first, it was not so much a simile as it was a literal connection. It’s not that the two are about love, but that they are both about God’s heart. They are like each other in intensity and connection to God’s purpose.

Put simply, start with focusing on God’s love for you. Put on the love as an oxygen mask and be engulfed in the overflowing rush of God’s purpose that you are inextricably a part of. Receive God’s love and let it flow through your heart to Him, your neighbor and yourself.

Much ado about Presence! How to be fully present to those you love

One of the most common desires that a growing number of Christians express when talking about family and close relationships is to be “fully present.” We have learned of this interpersonal dynamic through the speaking and writing of spiritual and faith leaders, especially those who combine a bit of psychology with their spirituality and theology. Nationally and internationally, we have heard of this disposition from people like David Benner, Henri Nouwen, John Eldredge, Richard Rohr, Jean Vanier and Thomas Merton. And regionally we have heard presence advocated by folks like Larry Bolden, Basil Pennington and others.

Like many ideals presented to us, we begin to aspire to and share these concepts with others and express them in our conversations. Unfortunately, for many of us, the actual meaning and practice of something like being fully present can become foggy. What exactly am I trying to become? What does this look like? We need a refresher course or cheat sheet for how we want to change and become more attentive in our relationships. So, let us begin!

First, I have to say that this will be a simplification of the process that leads to our ability to be fully present or to have presence. The church reformer John Calvin wrote in The Institutes of the Christian Religion: “There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.” And even earlier, St. Augustine prayed, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.” So, we are on a journey in knowing God and knowing ourselves and as we continue on that journey and are diligent in our attempts at being present, we will experience greater freedom in fully being ourselves and fully being open to others. This openness is one of the fundamentals of presence.

Benner wrote, “Presence is a gift, but it is also a practice;” in his book Soulful Spirituality (p. 154). This leads us to ask God for the motivation and understanding to grow in our presence. While, at the same time, consciously putting ourselves into situations where we can develop an inner stillness. We need a stillness of our souls or our hearts in order to be present. God has planted the seeds of stillness in our hearts by giving us grace, forgiveness, the promise of his presence from now to eternity and we have seen the demonstration of his love through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. How shall we cultivate those seeds?

IMG_0541Times of stillness and quiet are foundational for being able to be fully present. “One of the reasons most of us are limited in our ability to be present to others and ourselves is that we possess so little inner stillness. We are too full to be truly still – full of distractions, preoccupations, plans, worries, regrets, things that need to be rehearsed, and things that need to be reviewed.” (Benner, p. 146) I have found this to be true in my life, too. In fact, almost nothing has served to transform me more than times in stillness with the Holy Spirit. Nouwen called solitude the furnace of transformation. As we come to God with open and empty hands, we are signifying our dependence and desire to remove distractions. I believe this was the practice of Jesus during his years on earth and that he calls us to the same. In Luke 10 we read the story of Jesus visiting again with his good friends and calling Martha to presence, which was the one thing that she was lacking:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NIV)

Have you ever felt like Martha? There is so much to be done and we feel like we have to do it! Yet, Jesus calls us to just one thing: to be present with him.

So, the first suggestion on cultivating the seeds of presence is to give yourself 20 minutes of stillness a day. I have a place in my home where I can sit down and become still and alone. Initially, a few years ago, this was the place where I would sit and cry and say to God that I didn’t know what was going to happen. I told the Lord that I felt like everything was falling a part and I didn’t know what to do. So, your stillness may start in chaos, but don’t give up. As thoughts come into your mind, respond by giving them to God. You may want to say, “Lord, this is yours. Father, take this away. Jesus, I release this to you.” And this may take some time. Eventually, you may develop a shorthand word as you feel God’s presence and you just say Jesus or Spirit.

We live in a time when multitasking has become the norm. The term first appeared in an IBM document in 1965. It was originally the function of a computer, but more recently has become the expectation for humans. We may talk on the phone while typing an email or drive an automobile while listening to the radio. We become so accustomed to doing more than one thing at a time that our brains accept it as normal. To be fully present with someone, we have to unlearn multitasking. With this in mind, the second suggestion for cultivating seeds of presence is to practice doing just one thing at a time. Try doing this a little each day. One of my biggest challenges is reading while eating or watching TV while eating. Yesterday, I tried eating and just savoring the food. The food tasted better. In his teaching on being fully present, Larry Bolden of Wellspring Group talks about the value of “savoring the moment.” In order to get to that place, we have to take in the whole experience. We have to focus on the words a person is saying or taste the flavor of each fruit or vegetable or spice to savor them. Decide that you are going to get less done instead of more tomorrow and mono-task! You may need to put fewer things on your “To Do List” or put only one thing on your list.

Especially, if we are sitting down to talk with someone, it is important to make sure that we can hear just his/her voice. In time, you may be able to do that in a noisy area, but you may need a quieter place. Consider your surroundings and how the outer noise may affect your inner stillness is the third suggestion. And don’t be timid to ask someone to repeat what they said if your own thoughts got in the way of your hearing them. You know how some folks seem to bring peace with them when they enter a room or approach to greet you? That is what you are aiming to develop. We all can feel that and being conscious of your surroundings can foster a more peaceful and personal presence.

An overarching motivation for our desire to be fully present is that it is a sign of respect and humility. We know that if we are fully present we will have more to give to the people around us. So, our inner and outer posture needs to mimic our respect for the other person who was created in the image of God. We want to respect the sacredness of the encounter. We will turn toward the person and look at them.

Perhaps another tool that we can use in cultivating presence is to imagine that we are sitting across the table from Jesus. How would we respond in that moment? We would want to receive all of the wisdom, knowledge, love and guidance that we could from Jesus. We wouldn’t want to miss a single syllable or gesture in his words and movements. We would want to have the laser focus of all of our senses on Jesus. If we believe in the reality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in believers and that we are members of the Body of the Messiah, then we are in fact encountering Jesus when we sit across the table from one of God’s children.

Begin the journey of being fully present to those you love. We need all of you.

Your presence is a gift only you can give.

 

Fast Repentance: Taylor Swift, Peyton Manning and Jesus

For some time now, I’ve been wondering why believers and accepters of the free grace provided by Jesus the Messiah spend so much time worrying about their sin and feeling like they don’t deserve to be children of God. Instead, they try to be gods of justice over their own lives and come up with lots of reasons why they shouldn’t be forgiven and why God’s offer of love and forgiveness couldn’t be true.

I remember watching my late Grandfather say to the evangelist at the small, country church where his family worshipped, “I’ve done too many bad things for God to love me. Sorry, I can’t come forward.” Of course, to me, Pa was every bit as good as anyone in that church, but something was holding him back. I believe now that it was the voice of evil trying to rob him of God’s true forgiveness paid for by the death of Jesus on his behalf. And the fear he had of giving up control of his life to someone other than his own ego. Eventually, my Pa overcame that fear and received God’s grace and forgiveness. But many believers continue on in “unbelief” after their conversion.

“Your sins are forgiven, go and….” These were some of the most common words that Jesus spoke during his ministry on earth and I believe that still holds true today. That’s why I believe in Fast Repentance. We are sinning, broken creatures and the Trinity knew that pattern when the plan was devised for us to grow and become more whole over the course of our lives.

Many times we cower in the corner afraid that God is going to see us do something wrong and be completely shocked and amazed. Really? Jesus was and is still in the Forgive and Go business. Esteemed Christian psychologists Walter and Ingrid Trobisch said that we spend so much time thinking about our sin that it becomes inevitable that we are going to commit the same sins again. Our brains work like that. “It is like driving at night. When you look straight into headlights of the oncoming car for fear of crashing into it, it is very likely that you may do just that;” they wrote.1

Famously, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the village well to go and tell folks what had happened. It is in the going that we find healing. It is in the telling others about Jesus knowing everything and yet loving and forgiving us that builds our hearts back to wholeness. Again, the Trobischs wrote, “The more you get away from your own self, the more you think about others and occupy yourself with other interests, the less you will turn around yourself, and the temptation will be reduced.”2

Slow repentance becomes a form of self-indulgence and control that keeps us from surrendering our hearts and desires to God. So many of our addictions are based upon an illusion of control. “Our addictions are not to alcohol, drugs or pornography but to control,” writes David G. Benner in his book Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human.3 We try to control our domains and our lives instead of surrendering our brokenness and “un-wholeness” to God. Our sin becomes a security blanket covering our weakness and we hold onto it rather than giving up control of our lives to our Creator.

What should fast repentance look like? Actually, like the quarterback who forgets his bad throw on the previous play to focus on the next play in order to succeed for the team. Jacksonville Jaguars v Denver BroncosPeyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of American football, often talks about forgetting what happened in the past play or sequence of plays, or even the previous game, and moving on to the next play or the next game. “You have to shake it off and move forward,” he said.

And the lyrics to the top popular song by Taylor Swift gives us encouragement to “Shake it Off”. Some might ask if I’m being trite in my treatment of this topic by using a song to describe fast repentance. I would remind you that we are talking about disobedience to the Creator. It’s sin. There is nothing sacred or holy about our sin. And the point is to not dwell on our sin, but to say, “I’m sorry, dear Lord.” And ttaylor-swift-shake-it-off-video-2-2014-billboard-650o move on to helping someone else or taking the focus off of me and putting it onto God and others. The song says, “I shake it off!” I am not bound by sin. I’m free.

 

In John 8:1-11 we read,

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Wait a second, Jesus. This woman was caught in adultery. She’s going to need to be on probation for a few months, so that we can see if she is really sorry about what she has done. Don’t you know anything about church discipline? is what most any church leader would say in contemporary times.

How long did it take before the followers of The Way began to add to the message of Jesus? Those First Century Christians had seen Jesus interact with folks. They had heard him say, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” The echo of those words must’ve resonated for some time. The Apostle Paul talked about forgetting the past and leaving what was behind. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote repeatedly about the need for humility, submission and surrender, and the illusion of position and prestige.

It is clear that Jesus was not bound by a “one size fits all” philosophy when it comes to healing or growth. With some individuals, healing was instant. With others, Jesus would send them with specific instructions to put mud on their eyes or to wash themselves in the river. He even said that healing was synonymous with saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” So, it is possible that you would not find fast repentance to be God’s way for you. My goal is to observe the ways of Jesus ahead of following the patterns of others. As Paul reminds us, “It was for freedom that Jesus set us free. So, don’t let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1.

Shake it off and go. 

______________________________________________

1, 2      Walter & Ingrid Trobisch. My Beautiful Feeling: Correspondence with Ilona. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press; 1976: 119 pages.

3          David G. Benner, PhD. Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Brazos Press; 2011: 191 pages.

Sin’s Lingering Effect

 

There is an unsettledness that comes after we sin. If our hearts are most at home or we are most human when we are seeking God and responding to God’s calling, then it would follow that when we turn our back on Him we would feel uncomfortable and disjointed.

Once we have encountered and connected to God via the Gospel and the sealing by the Holy Spirit, we begin a journey of becoming whole, complete and at peace. Life begins to make sense in a way that it never had previously. So, when we wander and look for life in the created world rather than from the Source and Creator, our new roots are disturbed and we are shaken. Is my world going to crumble? We may ask ourselves why we are not feeling secure. We consider if we should return to the patterns of survival we had chosen in the past. Evil and our old patterns of survival and shame would call to us to avoid contact and conversation with Perfection – the One we had betrayed.

Yet, the Holy Spirit reminds us that chaos will ensue if we wander. Our restored home is with the Creator and Savior and we are an unmoored boat without a slip without God.

Photo by P. Vankevich.
Photo by P. Vankevich.

And the Spirit also calls to us saying that forgiveness is our “re-birth right” given to us through the crucifixion of Jesus. Repentance can be fast if we are willing to open our hearts to God and confess our weakness. We live in a fast-paced society and if we are un-hinged, we lose connection with our purpose and focus. The lack of focus and direction gives rise to a treacherous momentum toward confusion and hopelessness. So, restoring our relationship and re-focusing our hearts is critical to our survival.

I refer you to my post on Fast Repentance (coming soon) for help in restoring your relationship with Jesus.

The Intentionality of Love

March 3, 2015

If we want to grow in love, we might need to plot and meditate on how we want to love those we encounter. It has struck me recently that the hardest area of growth for me is showing love when I’m surprised by an opportunity or encounter. Even though we love someone from a volitional and intellectual standpoint and want to bring wholeness to a person’s life, our response emotionally to an unexpected situation can look like criticism, indifference or even rejection.

So, how do we learn to show love to those we truly love?

For starters, we have to develop patterns of behavior that come from a strategic and rehearsed place of consciousness. The idea that we will naturally give or receive love is not likely or is, perhaps, naïve. I had this reality come crashing in on me recently.

I returned home one day after a meeting and some errands and my son asked me to come to the garage to see how he had put away the case of bottled water that he purchases each month. When he proudly showed me his work, I responded by pointing out that he had put all of the bottles on one side of the refrigerators_freezers_general_use_3763shelf in the refrigerator, which pulled the shelf loose on one side and was pressing on the drawer below. His face saddened and he was crest fallen saying, “I just wanted to show you that I had put them all away.” He was looking for a “well done” and I gave him a “poorly done.”

My heart sank, too. I tried to recover with words of praise and explaining my comments, but the damage was done. I had wounded him. And I had learned a valuable lesson. Of course, this was not the first time that I had done this. But it was the first time that I had grasped the gravity of what I had done. And I also shared the story with my wife.

Later that day, my son invited me to the garage, again. This time I was prepared. And he was, too. Perhaps even more proudly this time, he opened the refrigerator door and showed the perfectly balanced shelf of bottled water. “Twelve on each side and the grease jars in the middle,” he said.

I smiled, and said, “Great job!” We fist bumped and then hugged. It was a sweet moment. We savored the experience and went back inside the house. He smilingly shared with his Mom the “twelve and twelve” good deed he had done.

We discussed later how God had given us a “do-over.” We don’t always get a second chance to restore love and acceptance. In fact, it is rare. But, it allowed me to rehearse how I should’ve responded initially and how I’d like to act in the future. I have often shared the principle that solitude is the furnace of transformation. And the corollary is that we need to prepare in advance to do the right thing.

The more we practice love and the more our hearts are connected to our actions, the more likely we are to do the deeds of Jesus.

“For God’s Glory…”

One of the ways that we often end our prayers or conversations in a church-related meeting is with the phrase that we want to do everything to God’s glory and not our own. It seems like a selfless and humble thing to say. It is an acceptable platitude, but what does it mean? If we examine our intent or search out our motives, how can we ever know if we are succeeding in what we say is one of our deepest desires?

First, let’s remind ourselves that we ARE the glory of God. In Genesis 2:7 we read, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” With that singular act, we were given the very essence of God’s glory, the breath of G5049161418940014od. We live because of God’s actions. This changes the question from, “how do I live for the glory of God?” to “how do I live who I am and who I was created as?”

 

We are told this in our post-gospel readings in the New Testament, too, when we are told that we are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. As such, we are restored to our created state of living as the glory of God. Our calling is to make a space for God to dwell. God has chosen to reside in us and to be the indwelling glory to shine through our lives.

So, what does it mean to live who you are? This should be a cause for meditation and for the reading of God’s Word with a slightly different perspective. Perhaps we can ask God to reveal to us how he means for us to show the glory he has put in us. Can you accept this? You are God’s place (topos tou theou). You are the place where God has chosen to live. You might want to meditate on the thought: I am the glory of God. And see what that does to the concerns of your life. Might this change how we live, what we think about and how we battle against the thoughts that would rob us of this reality.

In his last days on earth before his arrest, Jesus said that he was going to prepare a home for us so that we could be with him forever. In the meantime, he promised us that he would be with us through the Holy Spirit. Using the most basic of metaphors, Jesus assured us of his oneness with us. We are his dwelling place and he is our dwelling place. We can deny this (Peter), but Jesus will come back to us (Peter) and restore us and remind us what we are.

So, I remind you today, brothers and sisters, that You Are the Glory of God.

Light and Dark

February 2, 2015

The past few days have been full of images: paintings, stories and conversations about light and darkness. In the final scene of the TV series True Detective that I watched on Saturday there was a lengthy discussion of light and dark that summarized themes that had been referenced throughout the 8-episode story. Also, in a Sunday morning class discussion on the idea of painful self-probing and the attributes of God, there was a vivid contrast. Then, during the sermon teaching on grace there was a reference to the Vacquez painting of the crucifixion of Jesus, which was the dark day in human history.

In our visual culture where most of us are learning through pictures and images, the contrast of dark and light always gives us an undeniable truth concerning the world in which we live.

Rust Kohle, one of the two central characters in True Detective, said that he had been thinking about what this investigation had been about. That it had been part of a bigger story. What he called, “The oldest story.” When asked what that was, he replied, “The story of light versus darkness.”

In the final scene of season one of the HBO series True Detective, there is a lengthy conversation [NSFW-language] in the parking lot of a hospital in Louisiana between detectives Rust Kohle and Marty Hart. Kohle in a wheelchair has been convalescing after surviving a horrific stabbing by the serial killer they had spent 15 years trying to find. As they gaze up at a cloudless night sky, Rust says that while healing in bed he had been musing as to what their investigation was really about. He said that the investigation had drawn them into a bigger story – a story about light versus dark.

In the simplest of terms, this is the story of all of our lives. Are we moving toward the light? Or, are we moving toward darkness? There is a trajectory to our lives, perhaps like the stars in the dark Louisiana sky. The darkness seems massive and the stars are tiny in comparison. Are we letting the light creep in or are we being overcome by the darkness?

In the painting by the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, there is darkness all around, too. The light in the painting is reserved for and focused in Jesus who is overcoming the darkness with the light of a ransom-paying sacrifice. He is rescuing all of humanity from the darkness.

The Crucifixion of Christ by Diego Velazquez
The Crucifixion of Christ by Diego Velazquez

In the same way the final words of True Detective reveal a truth, Rust said, “If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

We make choices from time to time that move us closer to the light or deeper into the darkness. Clarity and purity are experienced as we move into the light and confusion and contamination as we shift toward the darkness.

So, in humility and ascent, we surrender our hearts to the Light of creation. For we hope that as we move toward the light we will experience transformation. We become new creations shedding the layers of darkness and becoming, as it were, our greatest selves: all that for which we were created and the journey for which we were equipped through the magic of substitutionary grace given to us by the death (dark) and resurrection (light) of Jesus.

 

 

Excluding or Including

I’ve been reading, from time to time, a diary that Henri Nouwen kept while he spent several months living in a monastery in upstate New York. The book is titled “The Genesee Diary” and it is not unlike other journals and diaries that Henri published or that were published after his passing on to glory. Like many of us, our deepest questions are sometimes answered in the most common of readings and experiences. It seems that the Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts and minds when we are not expecting it. That is, if we have trained our hearts to listen or are open to hearing.

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So, this was on an ordinary Tuesday that the Spirit spoke to Henri as he had been reflecting on the writings of the desert fathers from the 4th Century and, no doubt, examining his temporary life in a monastic order. His insight or “revelation received” gave me an answer to a larger practical, yet theological question this morning. Perhaps it will provide some guidance to you as well.

“In the writings of the desert fathers there is much emphasis on renunciation and detachment. we have to renounce the world, detach ourselves from our possessions, family, friends, own will, and any form of self-content so that all our thoughts and feelings may become free for the Lord. I find this very hard to realize. I keep thinking about distracting things and wonder if I ever will be “empty for God.” Yesterday and today the idea occurred to me that instead of excluding I could include all my thoughts, ideas, plans, projects, worries, and concerns and make them into prayer. Instead of directing my attention only to God, I might direct my attention to all my attachments and lead them into the all-embracing arms of God. When this idea grew in me, I experienced a new freedom and felt a great open space where I could invite all those I love and pray that God touch them with his love.”

Praying for you today that God would touch you with his love.