Posts Tagged ‘Meditations’
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?
Before I begin, I need to say the condition of my soul is good…very good. I have my days where the challenges of this side of eternity are heavier than I would like them to be, but for now, it is well with my soul.
Now, I have a recurring thought that comes to me that I’ve been giving more attention. At first, it annoyed me that I would “think” it, but as time has passed and I’ve spent some time actually pondering this thought, it isn’t so annoying after all. Actually, this thought has become something of a friend…this is especially true during challenging times.
Here is the thought: It is tough to love, serve, worship, and obey the invisible God.
Life can be very good and exhilarating and rewarding and… all kinds of positive things, but it can also be hard and unfair and wearying… and all kinds of negative things too. If your hope is in the invisible God, it can be easy to a fault to give Him praise for the good things in life; it doesn’t require much thought or faith to do this. On the contrary, when life “goes wrong” it’s hard to hold on to that same faith when we feel that the God we cannot see is raining fire and rocks upon our heads. These extremes are not the only examples to show the difficulty of relationship with the invisible God; there are, of course, every point in between those extreme illustrations.
I’ve told myself that it wouldn’t matter if God were physically present because examples from the Bible prove that people’s faith failed them even in the manifest presence of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Why would I think that I might be different?
Loving an invisible God is also tough because we have so little to rely upon for affirming our faith and confirming His presence. I often use language saying; “I feel the presence of God” or “I sense His nearness” and other words like that. Truthfully, those words can be as misleading as the emotions that elicit them. Emotions, feelings, attitudes, and behavior can all be manipulated and it is not wise to use them as a measuring stick for the nearness or the reality of God. The very definition of faith from the writer of Hebrews instructs us; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb.11:1). That seems a little bit like trying to hold on to smoke. It sounds good like one of those motivational quotes on the pretty landscape posters, but it’s usually the last thing I want to hear when life is going tough. Sometimes it’s hard to love and trust an invisible God.
I realize that the evidence of creation itself and all it entails points to the existence of God and the Bible tells us we will even be judged by that evidence (Romans 1:18-20), but that doesn’t belie the fact that God doesn’t make it easy for us to trust Him. It’s hard sometimes to trust the invisible God. This is especially true when we are taught that God “brings rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). I realize that it seems rather arrogant of me to think these thoughts out loud like we witness in the account of Job from the Old Testament. Ultimately, we read that God did “appear” (in some way) to respond to Job’s demand that he be heard. In the end, God’s appearance and questioning response to Job sent him (Job) cowering into a corner where he covered his mouth to keep any more words from escaping to the ears of God (Job 40:4).
All this thinking is a bit depressing or can be depressing, but Jesus calls us “better off” since he is not here physically with us (John 16:7). He calls us, who have not seen him, “blessed” (John 20:29). So, what gives? God knows it is tough living for and trusting the invisible, but visible God. We are better off because in His physical absence, He sent to us the Holy Spirit—the very Breath of God—who is one of the persons of the communal and Triune Godhead. It is with this always-with-us and indwelling presence of God that our faith can be made real and whole. Likewise, the evidence of the reality of this indwelling is made true to us when we fellowship and commune with other believers who are “filled” with this Holy Spirit. While my context might be misguided, I think the sentiment is true for us when Jesus said to his follower-disciples, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). I think we see evidence of this sort also in the account of the disciples who were traveling to Emmaus following the death and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 20:24). I think and I believe that the unifying Holy Spirit of God gives us substance and strength to believe in the invisible God. That doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it possible. I also believe this is why we need the community of fellow believers, because I need the faith and the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others to help bolster and renew my own faith. I need the witness of seeing the working of God in other believers’ lives to help fan the embers of my own faith into a roaring fire. It isn’t easy to trust and believe an invisible God. This is why Jesus called those who do not see, but still believe, “blessed.”
Probably one of the greatest blessings is the promise that we will see Him in a way that no one living has (1 John 3:1-3)…and not only will we see Him, but we will be transformed fully into His likeness… the way it has always meant to be.
Pondering at Pecos:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the place of “darkness” and “un-knowing” that, I think, is a place that God leads us into… especially during those seasons where we experience intense grief, pain, suffering, and other inexplicable life events.
It seems the habit of humanity is to try and find reason and understanding during these life occurrences that will help us to reconcile the horrors of pain (whatever that may be) and suffering (of any kind) with what we believe is a “good and loving” God. It is in the equation of this reckoning I believe we find some semblance or possibility of an answer, but let me qualify my response before I begin.
These things I am speaking are far above my ability to comprehend and I know all the details are still shrouded in the mystery and shadows of God’s movements, but I have been overcome with a divine peace as some of these ideas have clarified in my thoughts and reflections. I share my opinion here with humble hope that it may be helpful for others.
No matter how much we know or think we know about God, he is still beyond our ability to fully grasp or understand. Recalling instruction from the Old Testament Scriptures, it was God who commanded that man should make no graven image of him… and, while we may not hammer out sheets of bronze and gold sculptures of him, we do no less when we construct mental images, personifications, and other attributes of our own persuasion that detail who or what we believe God is or should be. Yes, it is true that God attributes certain personifications to himself as he reveals his nature to mankind, but I do not think that our personifications are limited to those shared from God about himself in the Scriptures. We have a shared tendency of adding attributes to his nature that make God into someone or something that is more easily understood and likable. While this may not be “idolatry” in the classical sense, it is very much idolatry in the spiritual sense. We’ve simply exchanged the “graven image” with our personal objectification—we’ve created a god of our own making.
Let me be clear, I do not believe this idol-making is from a sinister heart. I think we are sincere with our desire to seek deeper understanding and knowledge of God—and I believe this is the very reason God invites us deeper, to embark upon a journey into shadows, mystery, and uncertainty.
God alone knows the purity of our heart and he wants to purge us of every wrong and/or impure thought we have of him; Scripture teaches this is true. Therefore, it can, and often may be, during times of extreme grief, pain, and suffering that God drives us into the wilderness of our own soul, so we may be stripped of our false notions of him and find our true identity and absolute reliance upon him. We can remember from Scripture that it was God who drove the young Hebrew nation into the wilderness and it was also God, the Holy Spirit, who drove Jesus into the wilderness following his baptism. Both of these examples served a similar purpose, both were identity defining seasons, both were instances teaching the true nature of God, and both provided opportunity to `practice communion and reliance upon God.
Our wilderness experiences can be terrifying for us and they can also be our undoing. These journeys into the unknown and grievously painful places are the nexus where all that we know about God is tested and pushed to its limit. We enter into our “wilderness” with feet firmly planted on the solid foundation of all we know of Jesus, and we have our wilderness “survival gear” with us too… our Bible compass, canteen of holy water, and theology walking sticks firmly gripped in both hands—confident that we are prepared to battle any devils that would distract and disturb our knowledge of God.
Then, it happens.
(The following is a fictitious and allegorical scenario) The blue skies of our wilderness begin to cloud over when a prayer is not answered in agreement with what we had asked or the prayer was answered, but the outcome is not at all what we expected. Our wilderness trail becomes less smooth and what was flat terrain begins to incline, but we press on. The ground is still firm beneath us we still have all our supplies and theological walking sticks firmly in hand.
Pushing further into our wilderness slightly discouraged, but stoic in our faith nonetheless, we are met with another stunning blow when we witness tragedy strike close to home—perhaps a gruesomely ravenous terminal illness strikes the child of a close friend or we get news that a drunk driver has taken the life our pastor’s pregnant wife—and we wonder where, O where, is God in this moment. How could something so horrific have been allowed by God?
Dizzied and shaken, the skies of our journey grow darker and the direction we travel seems less sure as we begin to question our “compass,” but…the ground is still firm beneath our feet, we still have our supplies, and our theological walking sticks are still firmly in hand.
We are weak now, perhaps feeling as though we cannot take another blow. We tell ourselves that God “will never put anything on us that we cannot take,” and we press on thanking God for protection and somehow glorifying himself through all this suffering.
Then, it happens.
We experience a “Job-like”(Job from the Old Testament Book) atomic bomb getting dropped on our world. All is lost… word comes to us that a canyon fire destroys our home; all material possessions lost. We get word our wayward daughter who has runaway is found OD’d on heroin. An investigation into the drunk driving accident that had taken our pastor’s pregnant wife reveals it was our son who was that driver! If all this unbelievable pain is not enough, tests for our spouse’s migraines reveal inoperable and terminal brain cancer.
Our dark night wilderness is now pitch black, the earth that was once firm beneath our feet is no more, our compass and holy water are gone when they became too burdensome to carry due to the incline and difficulty of our trail. Now, in the black with no firm footing beneath us, we feel our hands being ripped from the firm grip we had on our theological walking sticks! We float in uncertainty, screaming and flailing trying to find an anchor, searching for light, begging at the top of our lungs for answers to all this madness. Terrified in the dark and the quiet, I no longer know what I believe about this god I had thought I knew.
It is here, in this moment, where we have been stripped of our false notions about God, that we are given choice. We can choose to turn and run from this great un-knowing dark or we can stay; we can stop flailing and trust the dark un-knowing. It is here, in this uncertainty where what we don’t know of God is made sure to us. The dark is God…the un-knowing is God. It is in this place where we are surrounded by God, embraced by God, and we know complete loving union with God…if we relax, and if we will trust, and if we will believe that He is good and wants our good. He desires for us to know him in the full…no false notions, no impure additives, and no contrived personal ideas and definitions of good. He desires for us to know him alone…and to love him alone, not our ideas of him.
I don’t think this is the normal path for every spiritual journey. I’ve obviously exaggerated the allegory to stress a point, but I’ve known people in my life who have experienced some of what I’ve shared and I’ve even experienced some measure of these illustrations in my own life. It is our nature to want to make logical sense of things we experience, but that may not be possible in our spiritual journeys. God transcends our logic and is beyond our ability to fully comprehend on this side of eternity. The Bible teaches that God made us for the express reason to share communion with himself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Restoring our fallen nature to the place of eternal union and communion with him can be a complicated and sometimes painfully difficult process, but God will not be deterred in his efforts to bring us to the place of our destiny…no matter the cost. He loves us and wants us to know him, more than we could ever imagine.
A theme that has presented itself to me during the last couple days is how often we hunger for things we really do not need. I am not (or I was not) aware of my yearning for “things;” however, as I reflect on my life and look around at my surroundings… I see how many “things” I surround myself with to provide for my comfort. I wonder how much of it I “need.”
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all I need. (Psalm 23)
I am painfully aware of how the context of my life can cloud my understanding of what I need and how I yearn for things. I have been reading through the Book of Daniel too and notice how uncompromising he was in his adoration and devotion of God. He lived amongst the royalty and was one of the most powerful men in the nation he lived. He had access to privilege, power, and possessions and didn’t let this access become excess. He remained humble and devoted to his God, but he also managed to remain relevant to the people he lived among and also be a blessing to the king he served. This is a balance that I think reflects godliness in the expression of our life and still brings glory to God in our devotion to Him above all other things. I think sometimes I get pushed, pulled, and pressed between the extremes of how to balance that lifestyle and Daniel gives me hope that it can be done as well as providing an example of how to do it (See Daniel 4:1-6:28).
“God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. I may ask nothing less that is fully to your worship, and if I do ask anything less, ever shall I be in want. Only in You I have all.” –Julian of Norwich
The apostles James, Paul and John all write similarly with instruction keeping in mind that our devotion should always be God-centered and not comfort-centered. Regardless of what we might hope for or intend, when we put our comfort as a priority in/for our lives, there is a tendency to shrink back from God and godly living. We are reminded as follows:
“Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
“Dear children, Keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts” (1 John 5:21).
“Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
As I was saying earlier though, from our example of Daniel’s life, I think we are not just to isolate and insulate ourselves from the world, but to enjoy the fruits of it as God’s gifts to us. Jesus said that he came to give us life at its fullest (John 10:10), and I believe this means here and now as well as on the other side of eternity. He (Jesus) taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come here (now) as it is in heaven. This brings with it the implications of full and “wantless” living. Thomas Keating writes to us, what I think is solid instruction; “The abundant life is divine union, which includes the capacity to use all things as stepping stones to GOD rather than as ends in themselves.” I think this sums up what I’m trying to say as I think through it myself. God and His kingdom should always exist as the priority and purpose of our life. In the process, the gifts of God in this life should be expressions and reflections of His kingdom and glory. Excess, greed, overflow, and wanton covetousness have no footing in godly living; therefore, we must always be aware of our susceptibility to be pulled toward those things in our love for comfort… God’s Holy Spirit as our Helper and our Guide.
“Put aside your old self… and let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” (Ephesians 4:22-23)
Let us bless the LORD, from this time forth for evermore. Hallelujah! I cry out to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” I will confess you among the peoples, O LORD; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. For the LORD is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory. Oh what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. The LORD says, “I will guide you among the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” (Psalm 115:18; Psalm 142:5; Psalm 108:3-4; Psalm 84:10; Psalm 32:1, 5, 7-8).
LENT—Day 12: Trusting the Hand that Feeds You [2011MAR21]
“My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth…”
My head and my heart are racing today, still charged from the joy of corporate worship yesterday as well as the “Word” that the Spirit has been speaking to me through my own reading today. Yesterday I wrote about my rejoicing over being in divine relationship with the Triune God, the Ancient and Holy One, who watches over His creation like a Father, and the Son, who is closer to me than the closest friend, and the Spirit, who has taken residence in my soul and leads me in every area of life. Oh. My. Goodness. I can barely contain myself!
“My Lord God… I do not see the road ahead of me… Therefore I will trust You always.” Thomas Merton
Today as I spend time in prayerful meditation… strumming my guitar as I sing psalms and songs of praise, I was moved to praying thanks. My prayers and praise settled into a foundation of worship, so grateful to the God who has lifted me from my brokenness. For a time I was teetering on the cusp of feeling woe and dread. Sometimes when basking in the wonderful glory of our God it is so easy to sink into a place of doubt and feeling unworthy. I wonder if I am even capable of moving forward. I wonder if I’m moving in the direction God wants for me… then, because He LOVES so enormously and lavishly… HE Speaks and reminds me. His Word echoes like thunder in my soul.
“No one is strong in his own strength, but he is safe by the grace and mercy of GOD.” –Cyprian
“Today I have made you strong… I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the LORD, have spoken.” (Jeremiah 1:18-19)
Lifted from my woe by the Spirit of God who guides me in His word, I moved to my next reading from the Apostle Paul’s writings to Rome. I was challenged by the opening verses of Paul as he referred to himself as a slave of Christ Jesus; I wonder if I can honestly refer to myself in the same way. I want to say that I am a slave of Christ Jesus, but I wonder if I have been truly tested…and I wonder if I have been tested, what if I am tested more. Will I pass the test? Do I live as a slave of Christ Jesus? Is he my only Master?
“(I am) a slave of Christ Jesus… The Good News is about Jesus, who has been revealed to us as the Son of God. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit.” (Romans 1:1, 3-4, 11, 13)
As I finish the passage from Romans (Romans 1:1-15), several points LEAP out at me. First, the definitive foundation of everything that is my faith is told to us; “The Good News is about Jesus, who has been revealed to us as the Son of God.” And, my heart is flooded again with the glory of God… tears well-up in my eyes and an ear splitting grin falls across my face. This is the God who provides for me and protects me… this is the Triune God I am in relationship with and it is for this reason that Paul writes with such conviction to his spiritual brothers and sisters in Rome saying, “I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours… I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit.” I get it. Really, I get it.
Now my soul is invigorated and I feel as a man with a mission; my purpose defined. I ask how will I be sustained on this mission. My reading concludes with a passage from the Gospel of John (John 4:27-42) and I receive my answer.
“My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” –Jesus (John 4:34)
- What do I hunger for? (We’re talking about GOD being my nourishment)
- The “Food” that fills
- The “Food” that fuels
- The “Food” that finishes
- A “hunger” that also consumes me.
I end my reading flying high, what a God we serve…how wonderful it is to trust the hand that feeds me. My God feeds me literally in every facet of my life. He feeds my soul, he feeds my body, he feeds my emotional needs, and he feeds my intellectual needs. He is my nourishment and following His will is the heartiest meal I’ve ever known. Praise Him!
I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth. O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom than shall I be afraid? The godly will rejoice in the LORD and find shelter in him. And those who do what is right will praise him. So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy all you whose hearts are pure. Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgave them all. What joy for those you choose to bring near, you are the hope of everyone on the earth. Amen. (Psalm 121:1-2; Psalm 63:1; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 64:10; Psalm 32:11; Psalm 65:3, 4, 5)
LENT: Confession, Meditation, and Repentance [2011MAR09]
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — The Book of Common Prayer
In the blazing light of your love our failings are illuminated; our failure to give, our failure to love, our failure to follow our failure to serve, our failure to be the people, you would have us be. Forgive us and renew us. You know our nature, know our failings. Enfold us in your arms that we might daily know your forgiveness and healing love.
“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. He knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust…” (Psalm 103:8-13) …May I never forget the good things God does.
Tell my people of their sins…
Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ I will tell you why! I respond. It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting whe n you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?
No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes. (Isaiah 58:1-12)
Litany of Penitence
Most holy and merciful God:
We confess to you, to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart, mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, Lord.
We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit. Our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives, Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves, Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work, Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, We confess to you, Lord.
For the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, for all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, for our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, Accept our repentance, Lord.
Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us; favorably hear us, for your mercy is great. Accomplish in us the work of your salvation, that we may show forth your glory in the world. By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord, Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.
Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.
Scripture Meditation: Speaking to Me [24FEB2011]
“Come now, let us reason together,” Says the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
From the most general sense of the word (Logos—Greek), we understand the non-technical meaning of Logos to infer meaning of language, talk, conversation, story. It can also mean reasoned thought, consideration, and proposition. If we assume the Biblical, Judeo-Christian, understanding of Logos, we bring into the mix the belief of the Divine. Specifically, we consider (as illustrated from the first chapter of the Gospel of John) Jesus Christ as the Logos: The Living Word of God. I mention this in the form of this long introduction to say; “I love reasoning together with the LORD, hearing from the Living Word as I read through the written word.”
This morning my prayers began, and continue still, with the following verses from the Psalms:
LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel (and Jeff too), put your hope in the LORD—now and always (Psalm 131).
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and ll that is within me cries out to him.
As I sat down with this prayer in my heart and still on my lips, these following readings were the “conversation” I was having with the Lord:
- “I have heard how you left your father and mother and own land to live here among strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done (Ruth 2:11-12).
- And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18).
- “I will not go home; I will not let myself rest. I will not let my eyes sleep nor close my eyelids in slumber until I find a place to build a house for the LORD, a sanctuary for the Mighty One of Israel” (Psalm 132:3-5).
“Come Now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. [I answer] Yes, my soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to Him. Thank you, Lord Jesus, who is Logos, for speaking and conversing with me. Amen.
Sunday Prayer and Scripture Meds [06FEB2011]
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins and give us, we beseech thee, the liberty of that abundant life which thou has manifested to us in they Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
4 Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. 7 They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the LORD to take care of them. 9 They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor. Psalm 112
O LORD, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen…
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee: let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Reading from Isaiah 58 this morning brings heaviness to my heart. I am particularly moved by the opening cry of the Prophet as he moved by the Spirit of God to “shout aloud” to the people of God…
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.” (Isaiah 58:1-2)
“They seem eager to know my ways…” God says. “They seem eager for God to come near them…” God says. My heart breaks with this commentary because it implies insincerity. It reveals God’s doubt that his people really want to know his ways or want to draw near to him. The burden of my own heart is that the state of the American Church is not too far removed from the house of Jacob addressed by Isaiah. The remainder of the chapter (58) reveals more “cleaned outside of the cup, but dirty inside the cup” issues (Matthew 23:23-28). The prophet goes on to list a series of if/then statements from God detailing the way to right the path for his fallen people. My thoughts: We should take heed. Why?
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. (Isaiah 58:4)
My reading continued into the Gospels with Matthew 5:13-20. With my ears still stinging and ringing from Isaiah’s words and tears still filling my heart over the state of Christ’s Bride today, I hear the following from Jesus:
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… You are a city on a hill… Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that every one will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
As I consider what most people think about Christians in the modern day (arrogant, intolerant, pushy, holier-than-thou, selfish, prideful, etc.), I am troubled because I think we are failing in the areas that God has called us so we might be instruments of glory bringing praise to His Name. I close my meditation this morning with these closing words, again, from Jesus:
But I warn you—unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
“If my soul chooses to see without the Spirit, it becomes a danger to itself.” ~~St. John Chrysostom
Oh LORD, pour out your Spirit upon me that I might see with Your Light and Wisdom that I not be a danger to others or myself, but a guide pointing to Your now and eternal Kingdom. Amen.
Epiphany Meditation: The Word Became Flesh – Pt. 5 [16JAN2011]
Practical Witness – Practical Insight
As I’ve been considering the Word became Flesh for the past several weeks, there have been a number of passages of Scripture “speaking” to me and fueling my meditations. I decided to post a few of these and share some of my “soul food.”
Submit to God’s royal Son…What joy for all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 2:12)
He will be victorious (Psalm 110:7)
Study this book of instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Joshua 1:8)
There is no place where God is not. Where I go, there God is. Now and always He upholds me with His power and keeps me safe in His love. –Anonymous
One morning my selected reading was Psalm 18. It was pretty early and I transposed the numbers in my mind and turned to Psalm 81 instead… Regardless of my state of mind and how “accidental” it seemed, I’m believing it was providence and the Spirit of God who guided me. Here follows the passages that grabbed my attention:
5 I heard an unknown voice say:
6 “I removed the burden from their shoulders;
their hands were set free from the basket.
7 In your distress you called and I rescued you,
I answered you out of a thundercloud;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
What I considered about these words was this; this is our God. He hears our cry as he heard the Israelites in Egypt. He relieves our distress and rescues us from the burden of our sin; he sets our feet on the path to deliverance and the Promised Land… and along the way… He tests us. He purifies us of anything that would betray our faith. He proves our love and allegiance to Him as genuine, or not. The reality is this: if we will be rescued, we will be tested (1 Peter 1:6-7). Will we pass? (2 Corinthians 13:5)
8 Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
if you would only listen to me, Israel!
9 You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not worship any god other than me.
10 I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt.
There is nothing new under the sun, says the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. And, the stubbornness and rebelliousness of people is unchanging as well. As “bullheaded” as the people of ancient Israel were, so are we today. God has given to us a clearly defined way of living, going as far as showing us himself (Jesus) how to live and abide in relationship with the Triune God. We continue to make idols for ourselves in the trappings of our lives or we cut right to the chase and crown ourselves as our own lord our god. This will not do. God Almighty speaks to us now as He did then; “I am the LORD your God, I am your Deliverer.” We would do well to heed His Voice.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it with good things.
How vulnerable we would be going through life with our “mouth” wide open… or looking ridiculous if not vulnerable. God calls us to trust Him and Him alone. He will guide us and He will provide for us. He tells us in another place that a good Father does not give His son a stone in the place of bread… In this word He simply tells us to “open wide” and He will fill us with good things (Matthew 7:9-11 and Luke 11:11-13).
11 “But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
13 “If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways
The great burden of my own heart is that our stubbornness will be our undoing as it was the undoing of Israel. We will continue to refuse our will to God and He will allow us the right of refusal. He will let us choose our own way…a way that ultimately lives in bondage to our sin and ends in death, physical and eternal. Our devices are instruments of destruction… God’s way is the only Way, Truth, and Life (“If my people would only listen to me, only follow my ways…”).
And finally, I haven’t been able to shake this passage from my memory… it has been lingering in my heart and on my tongue for almost a week now.
“When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the temple of the LORD. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the LORD filled the temple.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
I wonder… what would happen if we had an experience like this one mentioned in 1 Kings 8:10-11… God’s Presence, the Glory of the LORD GOD Almighty, filled our sanctuaries across the land? Would we even allow something like this? Would God’s Presence in this capacity be welcome? This would wreck the order of our service programs and Sunday morning Christian entertainment. I wonder…
Here this passage tells us the priests could not even continue their service because of the cloud of God’s glorious presence… I wonder… Oh. My. Glorious. Wonderful. Awesome. Heavenly. Incredible. Marvelous. GOD. Jesus. Creator. Sustainer. He is what everything is about (Colossians 1:15-20). How easy we forget this; assuming we ever knew it in the first place… I mean know it in our hearts and not merely confess it with memorized words from our lips.
Our God is what we are about. God is not about us. When (and if) we ever get this right, there will be revival amongst humanity that will make the angels in heaven jealous.
Epiphany Meditation: The Word Became Flesh – Pt. 4 [14JAN2011]
Christ revealed, but largely unseen…
“Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” –Isaiah 6:9-10
While my meditation into the Word became Flesh has been enlightening and edifying, it has also had an effect on me that has brought on burdensome lamentation. Much of the past week I have experienced deep sadness over the state of “Christ revealed, but largely unseen.” Spending much time in thought over the prophetic promises of the Savior Christ coming to dwell with men is encouraging and hopeful, but to realize it in the full with the Nativity stories narrated to us by the Gospel authors is even more so still. Continuing the journey through the gospels, walking alongside Jesus as we read, we sense the close embrace of our God with us today… the warming of our souls heated with the very Breath of God in the embodiment of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. God is with us. The promises, all true, are our hope for abundant life today and eternal life tomorrow. The kingdom people of God, those who live today, stand on the shoulders of the saints who have walked before us carrying on the missio dei of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration in the now.
Or do we?
And, this is my lament… Why, if Christ has been revealed, do we see so little of him amongst those who profess him so loudly?
My question, and my continuing commentary, is directed toward the majority of professing Christians located primarily in the Western world… I realize there is a small minority of Christians who are revealing Jesus to the world through the lives they live and the lives they aspire to live. On the whole, though, we are failing the mission and commandments of the Lord we claim to be following and representing.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus—(John 13:34-35)
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Jesus—(Matthew 7:15-23)
The statements above come from Jesus describing his true followers and those “not so true…” When I think about what the Bible teaches us, in particular the gospels, about the ways of Jesus and the kingdom among (in) you life, I am hard-pressed to reconcile the way we live with what He teaches. This problem grows exponentially with our acknowledgment of it followed by the calm dismissal of our responsibility to change from the way we do things and move to a more Jesus-designed way living and responding to humanity and creation.
I consider the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7) as the template and outline for kingdom-living followers of Jesus; a high bar to say the least, but the Christ standard nonetheless. I also consider the prayer of Jesus (John 17) indicative of his deepest desire and expectation from and for his followers. Filling in the details of this “template” from Jesus are the teachings, epistles, and letters that complete the Canon of the New Testament. The Church, as I have been exposed to it, fails to live up to the teaching of this book. Why?
1. We treat it as an ideal. My experience has conditioned me to believe that most Christians (those I have met) understand the Bible as a “best case scenario” way of living. They do not really believe anyone can truly live out the teachings of Jesus; consequently, no one makes the effort to do so.
2. We misinterpret and inaccurately redefine God’s grace. Although Scripture argues against sin increasing so that grace may abound, our general propensity is to live contrary to that argument. We go to great lengths with very impassioned pleas that the “Law” was destroyed with the new covenant of grace… things like spiritual disciplines, sacrificial acts of love toward others, and moral, ethical, and social rules are all “works based” acts of that “ugly” word “religion.” We redefine grace to mean we are free to live as we wish under the banner and blessing of Christ’s shed blood; which covers the multitude of our sins, both of omission and commission. In this, we trample the cross of Christ under foot.
3. We make ourselves the center of the salvation message. I do not think all the streams of Christianity are guilty of this one, but my limited experience within the ranks of Protestant Evangelicals leads me to include this reason. Whether it is intentional or subconsciously inadvertent, we have made the majority of the teaching about the user experience. The worship among many (if not most) Protestant Evangelicals is consumer driven. As a result, the “Christian shopper” matches their personal preferences to their “wants” with regard to their perceived spiritual needs. The church perpetuates this errant and heretical teaching by catering to it and designing “worship experiences” for the sake of the “seeker.” We dumb down the teaching of God, we streamline and glitter the “performances” and we outsource our discipleship. Jesus teaches self-denial while his church teaches self-survival.
4. Everyone thinks their way is right and everyone else is not: aka pride. How else can we explain the disparity in our doctrines, the division within our ranks, the refusal to work through disagreements? I refer back to Jesus’ John 17 prayer and his comment, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why, in the name of Jesus, can’t Christians get along?
5. We are idolaters. We chase after and profess faith in our ideals and the god we have imagined Jesus to be. When and where the “Bible Jesus” or God of the Bible does not conform to our imagined god, we dismiss that idea as something false or unattainable. Consider the WWJD questions we ask… why do we need to ask “what would Jesus do?” If we are following the examples of His life and living with His Spirit guiding our own… well. I think the greatest reason we fashion our own god (and call it Jesus), is the fear that comes with following the true Jesus. The fear that we have is the fear of losing ourselves… what it will cost me, what will “that” Jesus ask of me? The answer? He will ask you for anything and everything that will be a stumbling block between you and Him. Somewhere in our core, we know this and avoid having to answer the question by creating our own jesus who never asks us anything that overly complicates our life.
So, you tell me… do you see Jesus being manifest in the full in this world? If yes, please give me the example. If no, why do you think that is?