Posts Tagged ‘Jeff’s Journal’
Seasons Change and So Is Me
It’s a different season of devotion for me. It seems this is a continuing cycle, but I’m still trying to figure this “season” out… what it is and what it means to me and for me.
Self-awareness plays a big part in this figuring out. I have always been very “Type-A” the way I pursue life. I am goal and task driven. In my past, I’ve been almost fearless, sometimes a bit reckless, in the way I zealously engaged life. I’m a bit more tempered these days, but there are number of hold-over attributes that I tend to wrestle with as I navigate the life Jesus is leading me. One of those attributes is my tendency to lean into performance-based aspects of my devotional practices. Because I am goal and task driven, I like to have metrics to understand my progress. I have been taught that having real goals means they should be attainable and measurable, so I like to consider my devotional practices and spiritual exercises in this light. For the sake of clarity, when I mention spiritual exercises and devotions, I am referring to things like Bible reading, prayer, fasting, solitude, praise, worship, etc.
With my spiritual practices and my propensity to measure them, I am given pause from time to time and wonder what the basis of my measurement truly is… am I measuring my success in the discipline? Or, is the discipline drawing me closer to God, which I believe, is the desired intent. Perhaps an even greater question is, “How do I truly measure my closeness to God?” Is it a feeling or emotion that can be measured? Is my closeness and devotion to God measured by the manifestation of tangible acts? Is my devotion qualified and quantified by my confidence of relationship through faith?
I might mention that my soul “feels” good, but sometimes my measured devotional practices feel a tad abysmal. This feeling is in comparison or measured against some of my previous years “performances” or my numbered achievements in devotional acts (how much Bible I read and how often, how robust “I think” my prayer life is, how many personal retreats I’ve taken… you get the picture). Are these valid assessments? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on a number of factors. What is the intent of the heat? What is the desired outcome? Who is my audience for the disciplines I pursue??? Me? Others? God alone?
“If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant…” (Gal. 1:10)
I was reading from the Letter to the Galatians while some of the aforementioned thoughts were flitting about in my mind. When I sensed the Holy Spirit ministering to me through the words I share from the Apostle Paul (above).
I felt my response rising within me that I should be careful to remember that I am “people” too (if pleasing people…), and I can easily be caught in the trap of pleasing myself or measuring myself against how I feel or measuring me alongside my expectations for me. This can become a form of narcissism and self-worship as I try to please me over pleasing my God. Lesson: Don’t please me – Please God alone.
The other side of this coin is also important for me to remember. While conviction through the internal witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit is real and necessary for my spiritual development, I can be persuaded to use this conviction and guidance in unhealthy ways. In doing this, I can become a slave to self. I want to remain a slave only to Christ. He alone is the fair and just Master and He alone can be trusted with my soul and my developing self.
“No one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law…” (Gal. 2:16)
While conviction to change and become more like Christ is one of the primary ministries of the Holy Spirit, and as a soul in development, I should be ready, surrendered, and obedient to respond rightly to Him, “Being right with God” is found through faith in Christ—and not through the measurements of my spiritual exercises and/or devotional practices. Naturally, tangible fruit (love, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc.) is born from this relationship of rightness. The opposite is not true and has a great potential to be my spiritual undoing when I pursue the path of works-based righteousness. So… I’m changing. God is making like Jesus through the coaching of the Holy Spirit. I should not cling relentlessly to other seasons I have received great enjoyment from during the life of my Christian journey. Instead, I should be more open to trust the work God is doing today and measure my development on how faithful I am to respond to Him in each successive moment. He leads me always and never leaves me alone. God is with me. God is within me. May Christ be glorified in my every moment in my every breath.
It’s Been Awhile
The ether of this world is affecting…
Were it not for the flesh-God, Jesus, I would certainly be lost.
I am thankful that he speaks to me through written words as well as through the pages of my life. God is near, God is here, and God is within me.
I have been absent from my blog for quite some time now. The seasons of life change, moods change, desires change…I could go on, but suffice it to say there has been an unrelenting shift in my psyche and psoule over the past couple years that I have struggled to understand. In fact, I still do not. Understand. There are some things that remain constant in the shifting sands of me, my love for my Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), my longing for His Kingdom Come, my love for my wife and children, and now their children…, my love for learning, my love for God’s Church. These passions and these ever-present foundations of my being are likely the anchors that keep me from coming apart at the seams. Sounds rather dramatic, right? Perhaps it is not dramatic at all, but a reality that reveals the tension I have experienced in my soul this past couple years.
Both are in exile.
The isolation, the alienation,
Create a tension that is real.
I long for my spirit to soar,
My soul eternally set free.
The tensions of my mortality
Contort my being and warp my perspective.
O Incarnate Christ, rescue me by your
Empowering Spirit as I await your return.
As I was writing this soulful expression of my being this morning (above), I was reminded of things I had been previously taught (further affirmation of God’s Spirit in me as this reminder is a promised ministry of the Holy Spirit to “filled” believers). The reminders consisted of the following three ideas:
- God has planted eternity in my soul (Ecc. 3:11 NLT). Because of this eternity in me, I long for eternal union with Him. Consequently, nothing else satisfies me…not even the things that give me the greatest satisfaction on this side of eternity (not life, not wife, not vocation, not anything…). These life-loves can be temporary satisfactions, but the longing of my soul always returns to that which it does not fully experience—Eternal Union with the Godhead. It is good to recognize the source of discontent. It helps me to make sense of my feelings, so I don’t drift into depression and discouragement. This is why spiritual exercises like the Ignatian Examen can be helpful. The examen teaches us to factor in our feelings and emotions as we process the state of our soul as we engage God’s Spirit in us.
- This side of life is tough and might not get easier… I don’t mean for my words to sound nihilistic of fatalistic, but they can be the reality for some people. Still, the reality of a “tough life” doesn’t mean that God is not with us, nor does it mean our hope for our promised Eternal Union with God is lessened by what we experience in our day-to-day living in the here and now. It helps to have an understanding of our circumstances and perspective that keeps us looking forward while faced with opposition that reeks turmoil in all our being. The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth these following words:
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Cor. 4:8-18 NLT)
- While faith and the real Presence of God through His indwelling Spirit are real and sustaining, I want more and this is okay. I was reminded of a passage that really ministered to my soul about a year and a half ago when my mind and spirit were discouraged. Like I said, this has been going on in me for awhile… The words came from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 24:17). I realize there is context that I am not including in this writing, but the relevance of the words were, I believe, a direct ministry from the Holy Spirit to the needs of my soul…both then and even now.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Num. 24:17 NLT)
So I wait.
“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress…” –Thomas Edison
I endeavor with grace provided by the Spirit of God in me to endure the suffering of soul in tension awaiting its Eternal Lover. I am ever grateful for the blessings and gifts God has provided me today. I am deeply and desperately in love with my wife. I am ever blessed with the children God has provided me. I am surrounded by faithful friends who support, affirm, and encourage me always. I have the privilege of expressing my faith and the Word of God in my life’s vocation. On the one side, there is nothing more I could imagine to ask for in this life…and still, it is God himself who has ensured this life will never satisfy me. Tension. It is working through this that helps me to avoid the guilt the enemy of my soul would foist upon me. I am not ungrateful. My discontent is not born of sin. Quite the contrary. My discontent is a product of the Woo and Romance of a God who desires me far more than I’ll ever be able to comprehend during my mortal life. This, yes this, brings a smile of delight to my soul…and I feel it creeping all over my face as I end this entry. I say, “To God be the glory!” Maranatha. Amen.
Return to my Senses
Readings: Psalm 137, 144 ◊ Numbers 24:12-25 ◊ Romans 8:18-25 ◊ Matthew 22:23-40
It’s coming close to a full week that I’ve been back from my month away at the monastery in Pecos, NM. I have already experienced a range of emotions from ecstasy at being home with my family all the way to “emptiness” and “dryness” feeling hollow in my soul… and many points in-between those extremes. Yes, it hasn’t even been a week yet.
I think there is a reason for some of what I’m feeling and sensing. I’ve just come off a pretty incredible month. There were many highs and I was very active intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. All or much of my faculties were laser-focused on the presence and working of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… even the seeming mundane was flooded with the Divine. This is not to say that the same cannot be true here at home in my daily routine; it often is, but for now, and while getting readjusted to my normal routines, I am a little bit spiritually discombobulated.
I also have some unknowns in my immediate future that add to my discombobulation. These unknowns can be a source of confusion for me at times and are difficult to get a solid read. The unknowns can sometimes feel like “silence” and “emptiness” to me. These feelings and senses prompt me to inner questions and soul examinations…sometimes it is likely that I read too much into them. I am an introvert and can be prone to a lot of inner dialogue …and not all of it healthy I’m sure. Just this morning I was feeling a bit down in the swirl of all these thoughts and questions of the soul. I wrote the following in my journal as I was praying and preparing for my morning readings:
“Sometimes the quiet in my soul bothers me…”
Even as I was writing out this thought (above), I remembered a word from Fr Thomas Dubay in his book Seeking Spiritual Direction where he writes; “Healthy and apparent ’emptiness’ is a blessing…” (p.57). Of course, this assumes the “healthy” emptiness is discerned and distinguished from “real emptiness due to selfish clingings which is a cause for alarm.” So, I was awash in thoughts and questions attempting to discern my “emptiness” from the healthy or unhealthy variety. (sigh)
As I was considering these thoughts, I reminded myself to go back and read again some of the writings from St. John of the Cross and his teaching about the dark night of the senses. While I do not consider myself in this place, it might be helpful to read it again for perspective. I do have a sense of God’s nearness. I feel my challenge is something a bit different…something I find difficult to put into words. With these final thoughts, I began my morning readings from the Daily Office Year 2 in the Book of Common Prayer. And this happened.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Numbers 24:17)
Lacking contextual application or not, I had some of the hairs raise on the back of my neck when I read these words. I felt as though this somewhat described what I was feeling in my spirit. Seriously, I walk by faith and not by sight. I know that my emotions are not the dictator or discerner of my spiritual state of well-being. I often ignore how I “feel” and bring doubts into submission to the order of Christ. I get this, but these words rang true and they uncovered a deeper emotion that had remained buried. I want the fullness of Jesus now. Sometimes I get tired of waiting. I know I’m supposed to practice faithfulness to the moment and feeling impatient sends me into guilt convulsions and spiritual embarrassment. I pushed my guilt aside and paged over to my next reading…
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.
We believers groan,
Even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory…
For we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We wait with eager hope. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.” (Romans 8:18-19, 23, 25)
Wow. This was just the reminder that I needed. I’ve read this passage many, many times…even have it memorized, but it struck a chord in me in a very special way today.
It never ceases to amaze or surprise me when God steps into my small little world. No matter how often I confess and profess the things I “know” based on my intellectual knowledge, there are still those things my soul longs for experientially…those things that still exist only in our future eternal. The Apostle writes and reminds us this is a normal longing. The Teacher also reminds us that God Himself has seeded the soul of man with a taste of eternity (Ecc. 3:11), it is only normal then that man would long for it. I think God does not want us satisfied with the echoes and shadows of the eternal future… those things we experience today are mere facsimiles of the eternal realities God has waiting for those who will persevere to the end. And so we groan (Romans 8:23) and we wait… waiting for something we don’t understand and we cannot see. It is no wonder some people go mad. Without the direct and mysterious, intervening Voice of God who does speak to us, we might doubt to our own destruction and death. It is for this reason, I thank God with all my heart for His wonderful and life-giving Word to me today.
My prayer from Psalm 144
Praise the LORD, who is my rock.
He is my loving ally and my fortress, my tower of safety, my Rescuer.
He is my Shield, and I take refuge in him.
Open the heavens, LORD, and come down.
Reach down from heaven and rescue me;
Rescue me from deep waters.
I will sing a new song to you, O God!
Joyful are those whose God is the LORD.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Jeff’s Journal 18JAN2014
Readings: Psalm 20, 21 ◊ Gen. 6:9-22 ◊ Heb. 4:1-13 ◊ John 2:13-22
I have been reading from the Book of Hebrews for the past several days and this morning while reading, the following words caught my attention:
“Today when you hear his voice, don’t’ harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15; Heb. 4:7 NLT)
You will notice that I listed three references for this text. Yes, that’s right; there are three times the writer brings attention to these words. Naturally, having the benefit of context is helpful with our interpretation and understanding of these words. You can find the story behind the story in the Old Testament Scriptures from the Book of Exodus, but today I simply wish to share the short version of what I am “hearing” from this reading.
Everywhere—in every place and in every circumstance—God is. And, he is speaking. He speaks to us, waking us and calling us to rise up from the slumber of separation and death. Too many times, we hear “something” and too often, we are prone to ignore that which we hear. The first stage of rebellion is ignorance and ignorance leads to disbelief and disbelief leads to hardening of the heart. Truthfully, we cannot hide or ignore God. All things are naked and exposed before him.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Heb. 4:13 NLT)
O, Wonder of wonders, O merciful God, who is patient and calls us to “Wake up! O sleeper, and enter my rest.”
Nathanael: “How do you know about me?”
Jesus: “I could see you.” (John 1:48 NLT)
Another thought came to me while reading from the Gospel of John. Jesus’ words as he was overturning tables in the temple follow: “Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace” (John 2:16 NLT).
Once again, I understand that context is important and the circumstances of this incident are different than the thoughts that occurred to me; however, I can’t help but ask the question to myself if we are not guilty of turning many of our churches into marketplaces. It seems to me that if we cater to the consumer mindset or create an environment of consumerism, we have committed the same act that infuriated Jesus as written in John’s gospel. We are turning the Father’s house into a marketplace. There is a lot that could be said about this phenomenon, but for now, I will continue to reflect and pray.
A Week (weak) of Reflections & Examinations—Jeff’s Journal
I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the writings in my journal from the past several days. As we approach this season of Advent, the season of expectant waiting, I notice in my writing the tension of a long period of waiting already. I am not sure if the analogy is an appropriate or “right” one, but it goes something like this. Many of my spiritual days over the past few years have been spent as if I draw in a deep breath, hold it until almost blacking out and then exhale with loud, “wooshing” sigh—feeling tired and almost spent—then deeply drawing in another big breath to hold…starting this exhausting process all over again. I think this sounds something worse than it actually is, but there is a certain “yes” and “not quite” that I experience on the way of my Christian journey that is difficult to explain. I “see and hear” these deep inhales and exhales in my writings…I’ll let them speak for me.
(17NOV12) To whom shall I go, O Lord? You alone have the words of life, and I have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Praise be to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory. Sometimes though, I admit, I get tired…I get tired of praying, I get tired of waiting, I get tired of looking. But I will keep on praying, watching, looking, and waiting because as Peter said to you, “I have nowhere else to go.” Even as you are God in flesh, Jesus, You know all the sufferings and loneliness that a man will face. You were driven into the desert wilderness, You were rejected by your people as well as your closest friends…and you were also given over to the cross to become an innocent—murdered for the sins of humanity—even my sins.
You are God… Teach me to count my days that I might gain a wise heart. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love, so I might rejoice and be glad all my days. (Ps. 90:2, 12, 14)
(18NOV12) “This is but the beginning of birth pangs.” -Jesus (Mark13:8)
(20NOV12) As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing the movements of my mind are all signs of God’s ongoing creation in me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of this presence of God within me and respond with these thoughts… I am the reflection of Your image, O God, as broken and fragile as I am, it is amazing that I still bear the image of the great God who created me. I ask for Your help and Your forgiveness for the many ways I “miss the mark” of Your image and thereby sin against You and Your image. I pray, O Lord, for more of Your presence and more of Your Spirit in my life—a reminder that You are always near—forever with and within me, faithful to complete the good work You have started in me. I pray that I might see all You have planned and foreordained for the people who follow You and proclaim You as their God. Amen.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
(21NOV12) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I will ask God’s help, to be free from my own preoccupations and pretensions; I will ask to be open to God in this time of prayer, to come to love and serve Him more. Help me, O Lord, to be ever more conscious of Your presence. Teach me to recognize Your presence in others. Fill my heart with gratitude for the times Your love has been shown to me through the actions and words of others and help me to be aware of the times it is You who works through me. I believe and trust in God the Father Almighty; I believe and trust in Jesus Christ His Son. I believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. I believe and trust in the Three in One.
I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? (Psalm 101:2)
And this is part of my heart’s cry… I think it is what drives me to the place of mourning my own “unworthiness” of poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3-4). I read the remaining words of the psalmist from Psalm 101 and he asks; “When will I attain the way of blamelessness?” Here follows his list of “ways to walk.” (1) with integrity of heart (2) no evil or wicked thing before his eyes (3) avoid the works of those who are not on-the-way (4) steer clear of perversity and evil (5) no slanderous talk (6) refrain from haughty and arrogant attitudes (7) no quarter given to any lies or deceit (8) seek to eradicate evil and evil doers. I like to tell myself that I am onboard with this list, but every time I take inventory and do a sweep of my heart, I find another pile of this junk. Ugh! Is there no end??? I will study the way that is blameless. When will I attain it?
My eyes fail from watching for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes… My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept. (Especially with me) Psalm 119:123-124, 136
From James (James 3:13-18) come additional words that can be helpful for cleaning crud from my heart. James says; “Show your good life with works done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not be boastful and false to the truth… Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I pray, O God, You to help me act on these areas you bring notice of in me. Help me to yield and be open to all the areas that need refining within me. Do Your work and help me to partner with You in the ways that are blameless and in some way… through the suffering You endured, attain the righteousness You impute to me. I pray Your help. Amen.
(23NOV12) “Hear my prayer, O LORD: let my cry come to You. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call. I do not sleep; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. (Psalm 102:1-2, 7).
Pray always—and do not lose heart—will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? …When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
James (James 5:7-8) continues his wise counsel to me; “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord, The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” I’m learning patience, with fits and starts, stumbles, crumbles, and some successes…I’m learning to wait. Perhaps the tension will always be with me; I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that in the tension and with the wait God is near and within me. It is with this knowledge and affirmation of His word that I will persevere. Where else can I go?
Sharing a couple pages from my journal after reading the selections from the Daily Office Year Two (Book of Common Prayer). I started the book of the Prophet Joel and continue reading from the Gospel of Luke. My reflections follow:
“Cleansing the Temple”
A terrible thing has happened… the people of God have failed to live in right relationship with him. We know this because Joel calls the people to repentance; “Turn back to God…” (see Joel 2:12-14). What I read that is most tragic to me is the curse and devastation is so massive and far-reaching that it completely prevents the people from worshiping God in the way they have previously known and the way worship has been prescribed for centuries. There was a certain protocol for worship; there were certain sacrificial offerings for the remittance of sin requiring grain, oil, wine, and specific animals. Because of the devastation that had befallen the people, this form of worship and sin offering was not an option.
8 Weep like a bride dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband. 9 For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD… 10 The fields are ruined, the land is stripped bare. The grain is destroyed, the grapes have shriveled, and the olive oil is gone. 13 …For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. (Joel 1:8-10, 13)
I am familiar with the Book of Joel, so I know the people are called to repent and turn back to God…and the LORD makes provision to do this despite the people’s inability to follow Temple protocol. The heart-breaking observation here is the realization of how disorienting and disheartening this loss of identity…this stripping away of self must be to the Hebrew people. Not only are their lives disrupted to the point of famine and ruin, but the thing they “know” to do (go to the Temple and offer sacrifices in a show of repentance), they cannot do.
I wonder if this is an example of and call to “die to self?” Is this God helping his people to strip away and remove a false identity? I think it is possible.
The people of God had relied upon their Temple worship as a means of supporting their relationship with God for generations. It seems the relationship that came with sharing the Dwelling Place of God had been taken for granted and was being used as a means to an end. When the people were backed into a corner or they felt “God was angry,” the thing to do was find a priest, offer sacrifices, appease the “angry god,” and move on. It is true that God had been the originator of the rules for Temple worship, but it was the people who had subverted what God had intended for good. In the process of subversion, the people had lost the thing that set them apart from the surrounding nations; they had lost their relationship with God.
I wonder if this might be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
…For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Exclaims a man who is listening to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 14:15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray; “Lord give us this day our daily bread…” It seems to me, that one of God’s greatest delights is the communion of fellowship. The unity and fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is (I think) the greatest example of this perfect unity and communion, but God also reveals His passion for relationship and desire for communion with humanity in number of ways. The Bible teaches us about the joy God derives from walking with man as His friend (think Enoch, Abraham, and Moses as a few examples). We are taught about God “dwelling” in the tents of men (Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness). God enjoying sharing meals (with Abraham, providing manna for the Israelites for 40 years, Jesus’ delight in sharing food and wine…). Clearly, ours is a God of relationship, One who enjoys creating memories, traditions, a living history and shared heritage—feasts, festivals, dancing and singing with His cherished Creation. There really seems nothing that gives God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit greater joy than to “hang out” with His children… and it seems He also likes to provide “fresh bread” for the most of these gatherings.
“Give us this day our daily bread, we pray”
In the reading of Luke 14:15-24, I see a tragic parallel to our contemporary world. I hear a man exclaim how great it is to “eat and fellowship with God.” This doesn’t seem too far removed from conversations and the words of Christians in our world today. We might find ourselves in a Christian gathering or a church potluck and proclaim how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God, eating and sharing our blessings together, but Jesus offers a raw look into what is all-too-often our real world.
Jesus tells the people at his table about a man (God) who has prepared an elaborate banquet—a great feast—for which he has sent out many invitations. When the time draws near for the date of the banquet, many RSVPs are returned with excuses and reasons for people unable to attend; “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.'” (Luke 14:18-20).
This parable is some two-thousand years old, but it seems that not much has changed. When I have the opportunity to spend devoted time with God, how often have sent him my RSVP with words like, “I’d love to go to church or read my Bible, but I have to work; I have chores at home; it’s my only day off; I have family obligations…”?
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
God has provided us with a banquet of fellowship fit for a king and unrivaled by anything imagined in the history of humankind. We have unparalleled access to God through the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and His written Word to us. How can we justify not taking the time or making the time to fellowship with the Creator of All Things?
I think an even greater tragedy is how easy it becomes for us to take for granted this access to God and the “daily bread” He has prepared for us. As the people in the time of Joel took for granted their access to, and relationship with, God, He took that access away from them.
“…For there is no grain or wine to worship in the Temple of God.” Joel 1:13
In Jesus’ parable, so it happens also. If we fail to enter his fellowship… our fellowship, our access to the banquet and Bread of God may result with us being denied entry.
“For none of these I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Luke 14:24
May we never take for granted the gift of daily bread from our Heavenly Father. Blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Amen.
One thing I have asked the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
Lord, just as I once presented the members of my body as slaves to impurity and ever increasing lawlessness, so I now present my members as slaves of righteousness, leading to holiness.
He brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me, because he delighted in me. (Ps. 18:19)
O Lord, I am willing to receive what you give; to lack what you withhold; to relinquish what you take; to suffer what you inflict; to be what you require.
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
May the Father of heaven have care of my soul, His loving arm about my body, through each sleep and slumber of my life. Our help is in the Name of the Lord; the maker of heaven and earth.
It is You who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness. This God—His way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him. (Ps. 18:28, 30)
Calm me, O Lord, as you stilled the storm. Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm. Let all the tumult in me cease. Enfold me, Lord, in your peace. Father bless the servant that I am and the servant that I will be.
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be—world without end. Amen.
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.
All praise to the Most High God, my King, my Savior, my Lord, Jesus the Christ. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
The Daily Office—Ponder Points & Prayers
Psalms 5, 6 ◊ Jonah 1:1-17 ◊ Luke 8:40-56
Exposure or Contact or Touching
I consider the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43) and I think she must have set out with premeditated intent to “get close” and to “touch” Jesus. I note that in reading the account that many people may have made contact with Jesus, but these “pressers” and “bumpers” didn’t “touch” him in a meaningful way such that power was released into their lives. It is so sad that this phenomenon is still active today—many people are exposed to Jesus, encountering him through bumping and pressing into him—still not being intentional and deliberate enough to touch him and have his power released into their lives. What’s the point in that? I’m so thankful that Jesus drew me close enough to Himself that I was able to reach out and touch him with intention… He stopped the hemorrhaging of my life from slipping away to nothingness and filled me with the gift of Himself. Yes, power went out from Him and came into me! Praise God for the indwelling Spirit of the Living God, the Resurrected King, Jesus!
Reading the opening lines from the Book of Jonah:
The LORD gave this message to Jonah; “Get up and go…” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. -Jonah 1:1-4
I say to myself with my head in my hands; “O God, how often have I been Jonah…?”
Lord Jesus, take my mind and think through me, take my hands and bless through me, take my mouth and speak through me, above all, Lord Jesus, take my spirit and pray in me; so that it is you who move and have your being in me. (Book of the Hours) O LORD, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God for I pray to no one but you. Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. LORD, make your way plain for me to follow. (Psalm 5:1-3, 8) I will look to the LORD, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7) Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Sometimes I go through times of reading Scripture and it seems difficult to see a “big picture” perspective of what God may be speaking to me through it. My Scripture reading habits can be rather eclectic (prayer books, devotional books, theological non-fiction books, and more), although I have used the Lectionary (Book of Common Prayer) as my primary guide. I mention this because there are times when several seemingly unrelated texts come together and form a divine thought that may not have occurred to me had it not been for the collective voice of several “unrelated” Scripture passages. It is for this reason that I like to write down the text references in my journal along with the thought that came to my mind while I was reading. At times, I will go back to my journal, read a couple weeks worth of these entries, and begin to see a “story” emerging that I did not notice while the story was being written in real time. Here follow some of these “quick hits” from God’s Word—shaping me—writing new stories on my heart with each foray into Scripture:
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God… (Ps. 42)
I wonder sometimes about how much I “long” for God. I think I long for him with all my heart, but I wonder…when I read about the deer, longing for streams of water, I wonder if my longing is on the same scale. I mean, it seems that an animal is driven by instinct and longs for water only when they really need it. Therefore, at the stage of “longing for streams of water,” the deer must really be in need or so it seems to me. I ask myself; am I truly, desperately in need of God? I believe I am. I think back over the past several years and can say with confidence that my thoughts are consumed with thoughts of God and how I need him, how I want to know more of him, how I want to be in closer relationship, and how I want for nothing more than to worship him in every aspect of my life. I do thirst. I thirst for God, the living God. Each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.
…But I will call upon God, and the LORD will deliver me. In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. Cast your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble. (Ps. 55: 17-18, 24)
I will complain and lament… I am struck with this thought; it is okay to voice my complaints and laments before God. I know this, but I need reminded often. I often have the idea that I should be this super mature and stoic Christian. I’m knowledgeable and seasoned…experienced in my walk with God, so I shouldn’t feel the necessity to complain or lament. Hogwash. When I think that way I know it is spiritual pride getting the creep on me. While I live on this side of eternity, I will be assaulted with seasons of discouragement and disappointment and I should not be ashamed of them. I should bring them to the LORD, where they will be heard. He tells us to cast our burden upon him and he will sustain and renew… Almighty and everlasting God, at evening and at morning and noonday, I humbly beseech you that you would drive from my heart the darkness of sin and make me to come to the true Light, which is Christ; through the same Jesus Christ your Son.
…So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left. Cling tightly to the LORD your God! Be very careful to love the LORD your God… (Joshua 23:1-16)
I know these words from Joshua are intended differently, but a thought occurred to me regarding the phrase “turning either to the right or to the left.” I suppose it is human nature, but most of my life’s experience has been that people, where the Bible is concerned, seem to lean either to the “left” or to the “right.” I wonder what it is about our nature that draws us to either side of God’s instructions. Perhaps it is the idea we have that the Bible is open to interpretation… and maybe it is to some degree. If that is so, how do we interpret? I think there are hermeneutical tools we can use to assist us in our interpretations, but at the end of the day we still have those whose tastes navigate them to the “left” or to the “right.” I wonder what would happen if we took a more centrist approach, following tradition, being careful to follow what has been written in the Book… not deviating from it, turning either to the right or the left. I wonder…
I also wonder about the reasons Joshua felt it necessary to be so emphatic about reminding his people to “Cling tightly to the LORD your God… Be very careful to love the LORD your God.” Having additional revelation and history of God’s people in Scripture for insight, we can see how quickly distractions to the “left or right” pull us from the presence of God. No sooner are we removed from the presence (clinging tightly) of God, does our love for him begin to grow cool, cold, gray, and dark. This thought brings fear to my soul. I have been witness of this very thing happening in my own life. I never want to go back there… I will cling tightly to the LORD my God and be very careful to follow the words written in the Book of Instruction. I think the historical interpretations handed down from the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before me is a helpful guide to knowing what this Book of Instruction says to me. I do not have to reinterpret in lieu of contemporary beliefs and dictates from an individualistic postmodern culture. God’s word still speaks relative and timely wisdom and provides me with trustworthy guidance regardless of the day and age I read it or the cultural influences that surround it.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. (Ps. 14:2)
O Lord, please find me faithful; draw me to yourself by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, …David stayed behind in Jerusalem. …David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” (2 Samuel 11:1-16)
I’ve read this story and heard it preached at least a hundred times. As I reflect upon it yet again, I realize the parallels in my own life. I think how slippery the slope that leads to our undoing. David stayed home from work. Seems innocuous enough, but it set forth a chain of events that led to adultery, deceit, cover up, and murder. He just stayed home from work. Yeah. A slippery slope. Been there. Done that.
David was supposed to be out with his fighting men and chose, for whatever reason, to remain home. He allowed his eyes to be tempted by the beauty of another man’s wife and did not turn his gaze from her. He acted upon the temptation and slept with another man’s wife committing adultery and when he found out his tryst resulted in a pregnancy, he plotted a cover up, but committed a murder instead. All this because David decided to stay home when he should have gone to work. I know this slippery slope all too well. I should resolve to always take the high road…not deviating to the right or to the left…avoiding at all costs the slippery slope and clinging tightly to the LORD my God.
The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope; you give them their food as they need it. When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing. The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. (Ps. 145:14-16, 18 NLT)
O LORD, I pray that you would open your hand to me. I long to have my hunger and thirst truly satisfied. I pray that you would destroy the strongholds of my imagination, that every false notion I have of you would be crushed; I desire that you would find me faithful… that you would draw close to me according to your Word as I call upon you in the spirit of truth.
I’m not positive if there is a concrete theme in all these passages, but I do see clear instruction. I know my heart is hungry for God and I know it takes discipline to keep that hunger pure and that hunger satisfied. At the end of the day, there is only One thing that my heart is truly hungry for (the LORD my God) and there is only One thing that satisfies that hunger (the LORD my God). I’m grateful that God speaks to me. I’m grateful that it is often, and every day. I look forward to when my eyes can look upon Him fully in truth and in all His splendor. Praise Him. Amen.
There seems to be quite a bit of “stirring” coming from my Bible reading these days. Not that this is unexpected or new…more, it is intended as a means of confession and accountability I suppose. I figure the stirring is meant to incite change in my actions and my thinking, so putting it “out there” sort of puts me on the spot…sorta.
I don’t know if, or think, the passages I’ll share are directly or contextually related; well actually, I know they are not, but in a general “big picture” application, I believe they are connected. I’ll share my thoughts as they came from my journal, raw and unedited.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
My Thoughts: What is the “yoke” of Jesus? I wonder if we truly consider what is involved with or counting the cost of coming under the authority of the One who guides the yoke. While there is partnership involved in sharing the yoke, there is always a dominant leader who “rules” the yoke— Sometimes I think we are eager for someone to help us share our load and manage our burden; however we are also quick to abandon the yoke when the course of sharing and partnering carries us onto a path we dislike… or when our progress and relief doesn’t come as quickly or in the form that we would like. I think we like to picture the yoke of Jesus more like the yoke on a team of oxen instead of a Roman cross… so much tamer that way.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God… Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. (James 4:4-10)
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. (1 John 2:15-16)
My Thoughts: Do we give these passages enough serious and honest thought? I think more often than not, we try to think or talk our way around them attempting to convince ourselves they mean something different than what they are intended to mean. I think we like the world and the comforts its systems and governmental order brings. We prefer comfort over sacrifice. We prefer compromise instead of pushing back against the systems that are antithetical to the ways of Jesus. We prefer selective obedience instead of whole-hearted submission to the authority of Christ. We choose the kingdom of men and the world over the Kingdom of God and excuse ourselves through self-deceiving lies intended to make us feel better about our disobedience to the commands of Jesus.
“What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29)
My Thoughts: Too often, I think; we take words like these above and say things like, “Oh, those are demons chatting up Jesus and the meaning of this to me (since I am a Christian) is their recognizing Jesus as Son of God. So, this proves Jesus is God…” and we move on. We think or assume this is the extent of what God has to speak to us about those words. Maybe we are mistaken.
More often than we care to admit, we tend to embrace the attitude of those demoniacs. Perhaps anytime we push back against the leadership of Christ Jesus we also say, “What have you to do with me Son of God?” We feign compliance to the will and way of God until it imposes too much discomfort on us—and then we rebel—either in a tantrum of overt disobedience and rejection of His commands, or passively aggressively we ignore, pretend not to hear, or reinterpret what we “hear” God say in order that we might justify our rebellion. Honestly, when we do this, we are not too far removed from those demoniacs.
O Lord, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.
And, I continue to ponder…reflect…