Posts Tagged ‘Kenosis’
[28DEC2011] He Knows How Weak We Are
♦ Gospel -Matthew 2:13-23
Today was a day to remember the first martyrs of the Church, the holy innocents that were killed on the command of Herod who hoped to destroy the Messiah King Jesus. While reading this passage my mind began to wander thinking about the flight of Joseph and Mary to Egypt as they were ordered by the angel of the Lord who appeared to Joseph in a dream. I thought about the early years of Jesus and how he grew up from infant to toddler, toddler to little boy, adolescence, puberty, young manhood… and man.
My first thoughts about Jesus almost always consider his deity. It’s hard for me to naturally think of Jesus in the terms of “average joe.” The Bible gives me reason to believe that Jesus grew up similarly as would any other young man his age and in his culture. Philippians 2:5-9 reads that Jesus specifically “gave up his divine privileges, took the humble position of a slave and was born a human being…appearing in human form.” Isaiah writes: “he (Jesus) grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:2-4).
It’s hard for me to imagine Jesus falling down as he took his first steps. It’s hard for me to imagine that he was scolded and needed discipline by his parents, but I suppose he must have… how else might he have learned not to touch fire or other things like not to stand behind a donkey or put dirty things into his mouth like little kids might do. I like to think Jesus was this perfect specimen of a man, but that’s not how Isaiah portrays him. Isaiah describes him average at best, maybe even a little unpleasant to look upon considering “he was despised and rejected.” I wonder if his brothers and sisters knew of the scandal surrounding his birth; I wonder if they might have held him in contempt. The Gospel according to Mark recounts a scene where Jesus’ brothers and sisters proclaim him “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). It is hard for me to reconcile man-Jesus with God-Jesus. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I can’t imagine Jesus going through puberty, the awkwardness and physiological changes the body goes through during that life transition. I think about the normal weirdness of life that I’ve experienced and just can’t seem to imagine God experiencing these things, but the lessons and teaching about Christ Jesus, the Incarnation, seem to teach us that Jesus did experience the normalcy of growing up as an “average Joe” or average son of Joe as it were.
So, I was still thinking about these things…still wrestling with some way to organize them neatly in my head when I began to pray my way through Psalm 103.
1 Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
15 Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
16 The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.
17 But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children 18 of those who are faithful to his covenant,
of those who obey his commandments!
I’m very familiar with this Psalm and love to worship with words and heart filled with adoration as I linger over each line and verse. I am thankful and forever grateful as the mercies of my LORD are revealed in the promises and truth of this Psalm… I never get tired or bored singing these words and claiming them through faith as my own… But remember; I was still considering “average joe Jesus” when I entered into this Psalm of praise and worship.
The significance of sharing this reminder comes in realizing something new about verses eight through fourteen. All of the sudden as I was reading these, I was thinking about the Eternal characteristics of God and realizing that average joe Jesus was also the King of Eternal Creation, the Alpha and Omega, and although he set aside his divine nature for a season, he still was Sovereign and All-Knowing on both sides of that “dash” into linear time. Here’s what I’m saying… As awesome and glorious it is to read these verses, when I read “For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust…” my eyes got hot and burning as tears welled up in them. I realized the reason he remembers we are dust is not just because he formed us from dust, but because he took on our “dust nature.” The compassion he exudes comes from experiencing the devastating nature of sin wrought upon his children. This is why he is “slow to anger” and why “he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.” Sure He is God and this is part of his nature, but the other “part” is that He is average joe Jesus; he was not the most handsome chap on the block…and might have been the last one picked for sides when the local kids were playing Hebrews & Philistines. He knows we are only dust, because he was dust too. He knows how fragile we are, because he was beaten, bruised, and died too. As incomprehensible and shrouded in mystery as this truth is, my faith and my adoring worship for my God and Savior Jesus soar to new heights with the tiny glimmer of understanding I received today in this reflection. I’ll hold on to it and I’ll savor it…and I’ll let the Holy Spirit take it and cement it to the walls of my heart. Amen.
[02DEC2011] God Has Come-Advent Week 1 Reflections
God Has Come
God has come. How has this changed our reality? For some people, Christians included, their paradigm has not changed much, but historically, physically, and spiritually… God Has Come.
Yesterday, while driving to complete some errands, I was cruising the radio stations and stumbled upon an “oldie” (I hate that term) station. There was a song I recognized from my youth by a group called the Human League, titled Human. As I listened to the song, the lyrics from the chorus began to taunt my spirit and I was suddenly reminded again of how deceptive and conflicting the messages of a world without God are to a people into whose lives God Has Come.
The chorus lyrics of Human go like this; “I’m only hu—man, of flesh and blood I’m made; I’m only hu—man, born to make mistakes…” This is the paradigm so many people live in…Christians included, and it is a lie. Sadly, it is a lie that many people have embraced so whole-heartedly it is the only reality they are willing to know. The Good News is this: God Has Come! So, when I hear the words “I’m only human…” from a song or from someone’s lips, I respond; “Really?” “Only human…?”
The Bible teaches us that mankind is the handwork of God created in His very image (Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:7), the very pinnacle of His creation. It is also written that every man and woman is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Really; I’m (we are) only human?
As I think about the Genesis story, I can only imagine what it must have been like. I imagine our omniscient God looking down at the lifeless dust that was the body of the first man He held in His hands… The thoughts of this soon-to-be most prized Creation betraying Him, but knowing in advance that He would redeem, reconcile, and restore that betrayal with His very life. This knowledge the impetus of this first-man creation; aware that He, GOD, would one day descend to live in the flesh He was now creating… Only Human? This lifeless dust, frail by our imaginations, would one day be the dwelling place of the Immortal Creator of all things… The God of the universe would one day inhabit a frame made of bones created from the dust of the earth that He also had created. The lungs into which He breathed spirit and life into would one day be the lungs that carried life-giving oxygen to His own heart and brain. And, we have the audacity to refer to ourselves as “only human… I’m only flesh and blood.”
Now, I need to say there are some balancing statements I should make, but the truth is this: if we are living in an Only Human, Born to make mistakes reality, we are living in a paradigm that is in active rebellion against all that God has planned, created, and willed.
“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” -Athanasius
It is true that as redeemed and reconciled people we are invited into living union with God. It is also true that this state of union and reconciliation does not free us from the mortal frames that our souls share with the Holy Spirit. We are subject to the same frailties as the God, Jesus, was when he inhabited human flesh; we grieve, we are hungry, we bleed when we are cut, we bruise when we are beaten, and unless Christ returns before…we will also die… just like He did. None of these human frailties changed who Jesus was and I do not believe he was ever heard saying anything resembling “I’m only human…” And, we certainly know He was not born to make “mistakes.” The only part of humanity that is flawed is the nature of Adam; this is the sin nature, and it was the sin nature that Christ Jesus came to cure… for once, for all, and for ever. So, yes, we will suffer while we still wear the clothing of mortal flesh, but we are anything but “only human.”
The moments of life while we yet live that cause us to groan (Romans 8:19) on the temporal side of eternity are the reminders of our longing for the Kingdom to come. When we feel persecuted, oppressed, and down-trodden we can also remember that we are bearers of the glory of God Almighty (John 17:22). While our perfection in total may yet be incomplete, we are confident in the perfection through Christ that we share in the now, while we wait. We strive to live each day as a glorious “sin free” image of the resurrected Christ who dwells in us, but if we miss that mark we have an advocate who knows our struggles and weaknesses that intercedes on our behalf…
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1-6)
Only Human? I don’t think so. If there is any concession to being “only human” perhaps it was the time before Jesus…and even then I have a tough time with the thought; however, even if I grant that concession, that was then and this is now: God Has Come! This is the revelation of the reconciliation through the incarnation and this is the Good News!
It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
I close this reflection with the words to another song our church choir is performing as we respond to this season where we remember the birth of our Savior-King Jesus, the God who came to inhabit the very flesh He created, so we might be reconciled as the immortals He created us to be that we might live in eternal community with Him as He had always planned, purposed, and willed. Alleluia, GOD HAS COME—Emmanuel God with us!
** Link to the song here “God Has Come” so you might listen to it as you read and pray through the words.
God Has Come with O Holy Night (words and music by Paul Marino and Greg Nelson)
There were shepherds on a hillside gazing up at the sky.
From a distance, they heard voices and saw a glorious light…so bright.
Allelulia, God has come.
Emmanuel, God with us.
O holy Child, O blessed One;
Alleluia, God has come.
As we gather, like the shepherds, to worship the King,
How our hearts are filled with promise; with wonder we sing,
And join the chorus in the heavens, singing, “Glory to God…on high.”
Allelulia, God has come.
Emmanuel, God with us.
O holy Child, O blessed One;
A thrill of hope—the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices!
Allelulia, God has come.
Emmanuel, God with us.
O holy Child, O blessed One;
Alleluia, God has come.
[09SEPT2011] Jeff’s Journal
The past few days have been tough ones. I don’t particularly like writing about this kind of stuff, but transparency and authenticity are friends of the Jesus Way. So, the last few days have been hard… they have been hard because my mentor, Jesus, is answering my prayers. What prayers; you ask? The prayers that matter the most…
Over the last year I have been in a rather intensive study of what it means to spend solitary time with the Triune God. I have been learning what things are important. I have been learning what it means to be stripped down to minimum in most every facet of my life; personally, materially, socially, religiously, and a few other areas that may not have named categories. Oh, I’ve got a ways to go to be completely stripped down, I’m sure, but I’ve definitely been on the way. I’ve described some of this “schooling” in other posts with some of it mentioned under titles of “waiting.”
I had hoped that our waiting might be coming to an end. I felt that God was “releasing” us from the wait following my time at the Pecos Monastery… and maybe He has… or maybe He hasn’t. I don’t know anymore. For the past couple months we (Laurie and I) have been exploring potential ministry opportunities; by this I mean full time positions. Up until recently, we had up to four different possibilities that we were either considering or waiting to see if they might consider us. Slowly, one by one, each of them have fallen off the radar. Now, during this time we have been faithfully praying together that God would only direct us to the place He intended and that we would not be distracted by anything that wasn’t of His orchestration. We have prayed diligently that we only want God’s will completely operating in our lives, no matter the cost. We understand and pray that God sees the intent of our heart and no matter what our flesh cries out, we pray “nevertheless, Your will, O God, be done in our family.” This is a very noble but risky and scary prayer, if it is heartfelt. It can be stratospherically costly too, but there is more…
In, or during, my time of waiting and my “stripping of self” I have come to realize or deeply believe that there is nothing more important than learning who Jesus is in a deeply intimate way. Along the way, I have realized the greatest hindrance to this is… well… me, and life in general. I have had some very somber and quiet moments spent in communion with God during the past year. It has been during these times that I have cried out in my purest words; “I only want You! I only want to be who You want me to be! I don’t care about anything else but You! Lord Jesus help me to become like You and do the things You want to do. Lord, whatever it takes, make me the child you destined before I was created.”
Most recently I have had this prayer ever on my lips. A couple weeks ago I read a chapter on Kenosis (emptying of self) from the book Poustinia by Catherine Doherty. The entire chapter was incredible, but a certain illustration stuck with me and I formed a prayer from it. She writes the following:
Emptiness is one aspect of kenosis. It involves the constant struggle with one’s imagination, one’s dreams, plans, desires, needs. A Russian staretz said that one should be like a rag doll which can be picked up by the hand, foot, or head, now thrown in the bushes, now hugged, now thrown in the toy box.
There is so much more she writes about this and it may difficult to comprehend where I’m coming from having only quoted a small piece from this chapter. She goes on to write; however, about this kenotic work in the spiritual pilgrim taking them to a place of holy indifference, free to be used or not to be used by God in whatever way He decides. I have been praying this as my prayer. The revelation God gave to me that literally changed my life was to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). It is where the name of my website originated. This kenotic prayer has been with me in the teaching of Philippians 2:5-7, the great passage describing the kenosis (emptying) of Christ. The idea is not a new one to me, but for some reason the Spirit has renewed the fervor of my prayers for this work in my life. And, this is why the past week has been painfully difficult for me. As the hope for new work, as the visions for fruitful ministry, and as the dreams for a new chapter of life shared alongside my wife and family have crowded in my heart…the space for God and what He wants has been pushed to the corners. It can be and often is that easy and happens so innocuously. It is all couched in honorable and godly intentions, but it isn’t a holy indifference…and it isn’t self-emptying. If it were holy indifference, open only to the use or non-use of God, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with the results of the past couple weeks.
I sincerely believe God is answering our prayers, by removing ministry options from our reach and our path. These “yes” answers to our prayers (yes, meaning God has done precisely as we have pleaded for Him to do) haven’t been met with true rejoicing from me. My words have said, “Thank You, God,” but my heart has been rather indignant and pouty…and quite honestly even bitter. I didn’t want to share the entries from my journal, but I was led to a quote from an ancient teacher, Mechthild of Magdeburg, today that convicted me of my lack of transparency. Mechthild writes the following:
“What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins… I tell you the truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.” -Mechthild of Magdeburg
So, now I’ll share a bit from my journal entries (Sept. 8-9, 2011)—
One begins to wonder how much “self” can a “self” hold. I suppose it is one of the darkest mysteries and curses of Adam’s folly and the fall of man.
“Take up your cross daily” Jesus said. It is no wonder… the “self” is infinitely regenerative without the cross… and even with the blessing of the cross it is only the surrender to “die” daily that keeps us from being overrun by the “self.” It is wanton in its insatiable lust for more of me.
Here I sit, not even five hours into my day and I have already done battle at least a half-dozen times (that I’m aware of) with my “self.” I have battled self-pity, pride, a selfish jealousy for my personal time, gloated over the failure of another, battled impatience, sloth, and criticized the success of another. I make myself sick, and these are only the things I am consciously aware of…and I still have twelve more hours left in the day. “Take up your cross daily,” He said.
I pray fairly regularly about becoming “more like Jesus.” I’m pretty sure I don’t have an accurate idea of what that even means most of the time. More journal writing follows:
I read about Him in the Bible and how He emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-7), and I read how my attitude should be the same as Christ’s. I pray for this attitude and I pray that God would help to train me in the ways of Jesus and when He does, I cry and complain with every drop of “self” that God squeezes from me…reluctant to let go of “self.”
I cry out to God for relief; I think physical pain would be an easier path and can understand why the ascetics chose the path they did to pursue holiness and self-emptying. I think it would be the easier road than this one that seems to tortuously strip the “flesh” off my soul…layer by layer. What an incredible paradox this relationship with self is. I hate to see the grotesque reminder of how far I am from becoming like Christ, but I still love my “self” so much that when pressed, I hate to let it go. …Thank You, Jesus, for the cross, but I never expected that I’d have to wear it for so long.
Even as I read again and write these words for you, I see so much “self love” that it makes my stomach turn. My words are steeped in self-righteous self-pity. Here I pray for God to help me grow into a place of holy indifference and as He begins the work, I sulk and complain as if my life were difficult when it is actually incredibly blessed. I am being tutored personally by the God of all creation. The Spirit of the Most High God has taken residence in my soul and begun the work of transforming my heart! Yet, I complain and lament over the process. Recognizing this helps me to understand the work is far from complete. I am also given a close-up view of the wretch I am, which might help me to be less judgmental of others whom I would like to think that I am better than… but not so much.
I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful that I have practiced spending time alone with God so He can show me these things. No, I don’t like to see the dark places that still inhabit my soul, but I am glad that Jesus believes I am strong enough to deal with them, see them for what they are, and confront them with the strength HE provides for destroying (crucifying) them.
Paul says, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Thus, according to his view, the passion and resurrection of Christ are going on all the time. They are always present and not limited to an historical moment. It was rather an historical moment which introduced the eternal values of the cross and resurrection into the whole of time. We participate in Christ’s divine life through baptism and the other sacraments. As a consequence, we must learn how to express the risen life of Jesus rather than our false selves in our conduct and relationships. To attain this union involves the transformation of our inmost being and all our faculties into the mind of Christ. This is the very fullness of salvation. The chief expression of the mind of Christ is found in the classical text of Philippians… “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…emptied…humbled…obedient…” (Philippians 2:5, 7-8). The Heart of the World -Thomas Keating
I know there is nothing more important than this work of spiritual formation and becoming like Christ. There is nothing more important than to sit at His feet and absorb instruction about the Way, His Way. I know there are people who would disagree with this, but He said “apart from me, you can do nothing.” I think becoming grafted into Christ and growing up into Christ requires more than an intellectual decision. Being with Him reveals the work that is necessary to bearing fruit for Him and His Kingdom. Until we are able to peer into the darkness of our soul and introduce the Light of Christ, we are unable to do real work in His Kingdom. And, so… this is my confession. My desire and prayer is still one thing: to become like Jesus no matter the cost to me… I’m diving back in for more.
Send your Light to guide us, O God, may we follow wherever it leads.
The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded (Psalm 64:6-7). You are the LORD, high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods (Psalm 97:9). I have said to the LORD, “You are my GOD; listen, O LORD, to my supplication” (Psalm 140:6).
We ask you, O LORD, in your compassion to increase your faith in us, because you will not deny the aid of your loving-kindness to those on whom you bestow a steadfast belief in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.