Posts Tagged ‘Shaping Me’
It’s that time of year again! It is the yearly round-up of my favorite reads from 2012. My goal was to read seventy-five books for the year and I ended with seventy-seven. A very special thanks to the many publishing companies (InterVarsity Press, Paraclete Press, Zondervan, Baker Academic, Brazos Press, Bethany Publishing, Tyndale, Baylor Press, and others), publicists, and book review groups (SpeakEasy, Amazon Vine, CrossFocused Review, and more) who have provided me with books for my reading enjoyment. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
The books I’ve listed as my favorites this year are listed below in no particular order. I cannot say any one of them rose markedly above the rest… each of them touched my heart and challenged my thinking in unique and impacting ways. There were several books in the list, which were part of a bigger theme taking place in my life, the idea and pursuit of Christian Intentional Community continues to be an intense passion of mine. Additionally, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and ongoing spiritual transformation are also passionate subjects that continue to capture my attention and heart.
Each of the books listed (again, in no particular order) have accompanying links embedded that will take you to the actual review of the book. If you have specific questions you would like to ask or points you might like to discuss about any of the books, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I’m looking forward to this next year of reading…I’ve set aside a number of books to pick up some of the studies and interests that were sparked from last year and look forward to sharing my thoughts with you about them as well. Now, here’s the list!
- The Cost of Community by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, C.J.
- Leaving Egypt by Chuck Degroat
- Kneeling with Giants by Gary Neal Hansen
- The Jesus Life by Stephen Smith
- Fresh Air by Jack Levison
- Giver of Life by Fr. John Oliver
- Spiritual Formation by Dian Leclerc & Mark Maddix
- Living into Focus by Arthur Boers
- The Intentional Community Handbook by David Janzen
- The Awakening of Hope by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Prayer books are a favorite of mine. Several years ago, I was introduced to written prayers and fixed hour prayers. Since that introduction, I’ve collected and used various prayer books that have been instrumental in teaching me more about prayer and help me to learn more about the continuous practice of prayer. I have listed several of the prayer books I used during the past year as honorable mention favorites. Also, I’ve included Stephen Macchia’s book, Crafting a Rule of Life, as another honorable mention favorite. Stephen’s teaching about creating and living a personal rule of life has been a spiritual discipline I’ve practiced since 2009 when I learned about it for the first time at the Renovare International Conference in San Antonio, TX. I recommend the book and the discipline both.
- Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a monthly Top-10 list on the blog, so I thought I might post a special double list today to commemorate the first day of September. I’m posting a list for Top Ten “most viewed” posts from this past month of August and a Top Ten list of the most viewed posts for the summer (June, July, and Aug).
You viewers/readers are awesome and I always appreciate the interaction you provide me with these posts. Thank You!
AUGUST TOP-TEN VIEWED POSTS
- Book Reviews
- Spiritual Direction
- Only God Can Tame a Soul
- Imaginative Prayer
- A Ram in the Bush
- Purifying Love
- Union With God
- Pen & Prose
- A Personal Rule of Life
SUMMER TOP-TEN (June, July, & Aug.)
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.
Obedience vs. Compliance: A Revisitation
I was reading the other day from the Psalms (Psalm 106:1-48 NLT) retracing the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. As I paused to reflect on this great narrative I was struck by the idea of how uncanny the similarity of our own contemporary society is to the lives of these ancient desert nomads. Hear these words as the Psalmist rings out the praises of God, reflecting a “first encounter” and “surface response” to the greatness of God.
“Praise the LORD! Who can ever praise Him enough? There is joy for those who always do what is right…” His people believed His promises. Then they sang His praise. Yet how quickly they forgot what He had done… In the wilderness their desires ran wild, testing God’s patience… So, He gave them what they asked for, but He sent a plague along with it. (Psalm 106:1-3, 12-15 NLT)
I am caught up in how similar this account mirrors our own experiences: We have an encounter with God, We are awed and proclaim His praises, We grow indifferent and even bored, We pursue our own lusts…
I don’t mean to say this is the experience of every Christian, but history as well as contemporary western society indicates that it is the experience of many Christians, at the very least there is usually some iteration of the pattern. I think this doesn’t have to be the norm; in fact, several hundred years following the Exodus of Israel the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth telling them the Exodus was to be viewed as an example and reminder not to fall into the same trap of mumbly, grumbly obedience. His words follow:
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age (1 Cor. 10:1-11 NLT).
I was talking with a friend recently and something along the lines of this subject matter came up; paraphrasing one of his comments, he said, “Bad and difficult things happen in this life and I don’t know what God’s plan is for them. I have to obey, but I don’t have to like it.” I’m not sure I entirely agree with those sentiments and I’m fairly sure the Bible doesn’t affirm them either. Here is my reasoning.
First, let me qualify my response by saying I agree there are difficult and sometimes grievous seasons of life. There are burdensome missions that each of us is called to engage in for the Kingdom of God. Consider some of the burdens carried by the examples from Scripture; the life of Joseph, Jacob’s son, was not easy, or consider Ezekiel who lost his wife so she might be used as an object lesson for Israel. Jeremiah had no easy road and was instructed to walk it alone for the most part…and there are other examples not the least of which is Jesus who willingly and obediently humbled and emptied himself, setting aside his divine rights to come to earth in the form of a man and in the role of a servant (Philippians 2:5-7). While in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus gives us an incredible model of obedience in the face of one of the greatest tests in the course of humanity… (Matthew 26:39-42).
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39)
The example and words of Jesus reveal to us what an attitude of obedience looks like opposed to an attitude that results in reluctant obedience or “mumbly, grumbly compliance.” First, Jesus acknowledges his trust and surrender to the primary plan of the Father God with his words, “If it is possible…” Here Jesus concedes this path is not the one he would have chosen and seeks another “if possible…” There is no grumbling. There is no begging. Jesus completes his prayer completely surrendered and obedient to the will of the Father; “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
When we push back at God with insolent attitudes toward Him it reveals the true heart. Again, I do not want to confuse grief, sorrow, pain, and anger toward life situations with “grumbling complaints” against God. The boy David was anointed as the next King of Israel and taken into the House of Saul. He loved the King and obeyed all that he was instructed. Saul’s jealousy and rage resulted in David’s exile to the wilderness where he was hunted with orders to be killed. This was the most brutal and unfair of situations, but God had a plan. David cried out to God; he lamented his loneliness, he vented his anger, he wept bitterly over the injustice of his situation, but in the end he turned his heart and his soul to the face of God and surrendered his will to the LORD God Almighty… putting his full trust in the Sovereign God over all creation.
I think it is okay to cry out to God. I think it is okay to be angry, to lament, and to grieve over some situations. As we pray and share our hearts openly with God, our process should look similar to David as revealed in his prayers in the Psalms. In many or most of these raw and heartfelt prayers even the imprecatory psalms, David surrenders with trusting obedience to the will and plan of God and in several cases he ends his prayer with rousing exclamations of praise (consider Psalm 80:4-18 and 86:1-17 as a couple examples).
The point here and difference between grievous lamentation and “mumbly-grumbly” insolence is all attitude of heart. This isn’t always easy to see on the “outside” of a man (or woman). What looks like perfect obedience can often be bitter compliance; “I’ll do it, but I don’t have to like it” attitude. Sometimes the lamenting complainer has the true heart of obedience…
A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.” (Matthew 21:28-31).
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
I think many of us will think we are “good to go” because we obey the perceived Laws of God: we go to church, we tithe, we volunteer for ministry “stuff,” we do this good thing or that good thing, etc., etc., fill-in-the-blank… But, truthfully our hearts are not in the right place and we inwardly are resentful or bitter about how we feel when we comply with God’s precepts, perceived or otherwise. I think again to the desert travelers as they made their way from Egypt to Canaan who obediently went into the desert and made their way to the Promised Land… kicking, complaining, and second-guessing God every.step.of.the.way.
“For everyone who has first renounced this world and then returns to his former pursuits and his erstwhile desires proclaims that in deed and intention he is the same as they were, and he says, ‘It was well with me in Egypt.’” -John Cassian; Conference 3.7.6-7
The Exodus example shows us the heart of the people who complied and did not trust God. They would say they were obedient… I can hear it now; “We’re here aren’t we? We left Egypt and we’re going to the Promised Land… what else do you want? When do we get something else to eat? We hate this manna stuff. And, we’re tired of water out here in this desert… can’t we have some wine or pomegranate juice? Oh? Now you want us to go into this land with Giants? Have you seen the size of those people? Sure, we trust God, but hey trust only goes so far… those guys in Canaan are huge… and we’re not so sure God has seen them.”
Incessant complaining and complying because we have to—not because we want to is a dangerous place to be. If we don’t recognize this place or attempt to justify our attitudes, we are in terminally dangerous territory. Either we trust God and obey Him… or we complain and comply, because we think we are actually more knowledgeable than He is. One path leads to life and the other leads to dry, barren, death… the same as our ancestors who were strewn across the desert (1 Cor. 10:5).
I will pray the Holy Spirit of God will continually convict me of the days I choose bitter compliance over trusting obedience. I want to be a cheerful, obedient, and trusting son.
“Indeed, obedience must be given with genuine good will, because God loves a cheerful giver. If obedience is given with a bad will and with murmuring not only in words but even in bitterness of heart, then even though the command may be externally fulfilled it will not be accepted by God, for he can see the resistance in the heart of a murmurer. One who behaves in such a way not only fails to receive the reward of grace but actually incurs the punishment deserved by murmurers. Only repentance and reparation can save such a one from this punishment.”
Benedict of Nursia—
More posts on obedience vs. compliance:
“Come away with me to a quiet place…” (Mark 6:31)
I wonder why it can be so hard for us to be alone with God…I mean really…alone; the kind of alone where it is only you and God with no other distractions and where you can’t easily “run away.” This type of “alone” I am speaking of can be exhilarating and it can be equally terrifying.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to be “alone” with God and the various accounts of men and women being alone with God that I remember off the top of my head from the Bible. I think that I am not alone when I think that the general disposition of humans is they find it difficult to be alone with God. This is pretty sad, but if I am to be honest, I still have times when I find it difficult to be alone with God.
Now, before I venture any further into this thought I need to clarify in case I’m not clear. “Alone time” by my definition is not “quiet time,” or “morning prayers,” and not daily “ambient” walking with God. Alone time, for me, is differentiated by solitude and silence…uncomfortable silence where there are no distractions, no ambient noises or places for our minds/thoughts to go other than to God and to listen only for His Voice and His Instruction. We keep our words to ourselves and we listen and we watch as our hearts are dredged down deep, then we get a comprehensive explanation and commentary from the Ancient of Days about what was dredged up from those hidden dark places in our heart and soul. This is the alone with God I’m speaking of. Does this kind of “alone with God” make you uncomfortable? At times, it does me.
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13 NRSV)
I don’t know that my discomfort is fear, although it might be fearful to be alone with God for some people. I think my discomfort is born from a different place. It seems for me that I have a felt need to make myself ready for God; as if God is not already with me and doesn’t see or recognize my spiritual disheveledness. Really, it almost sounds laughable except for it being true. It’s not that He isn’t already near, but I’m not ready for Him to “invade” my space. I want to make sure my “house” is clean before being alone with God. The image that comes to mind is similar to what we do when we have guests coming to visit our home. I look all around the room and notice each and every fleck of dust, I notice the junk mail laying all around… I see clutter in corners, dirty dishes, and wish I had vacuumed the carpet a day or two ago. My spiritual house isn’t much different from this scene. As I think about it, I think this type of attitude might be common among Christians, but I also think it probably isn’t a healthy attitude. I believe this sort of thinking reveals a misunderstanding of the character of God and the nature of a redeemed and forgiven relationship. So, why do I still do this? What do I think I am presenting to God, if I am “running around” trying to do a spit polish of my soul before meeting with Him? It is as absurd as I am making it sound. If I do this, I think all I am presenting to God is another false identity of who I wish for God to see…no different than the false front I might put on for someone I want to impress with my “best self.” What a mess we are; what a mess I am.
“Have I been with you all this time and yet you still don’t know who I am?” -Jesus (John 14:9)
I think I recognize the sacred and holy mystery that surrounds God and I realize that I am so lacking…and I want to make “my space” appropriately welcoming for my great and loving and forgiving God. The sad reality is that my thinking is a deception of huge proportion. I am the one most damaged by my thinking because I am left in a posture that is blocking the entry of God in my life (that is my inner-most places). I want these inner-most place to be sacred and worthy of the Presence of God, but the truth is He is the One who makes this inner-most place sacred and holy. I block or postpone meeting with the Healer of my inner-most place, deluded in my thinking that I can make it presentable and worthy of Him. If only I would welcome Him as I am, secure with my insecurities before Him, the room of my inner-most heart would become the sanctified home of the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. So, why do I wait? I think I should take my cue from the words of King David to his son, Solomon.
My son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and willing mind. For the LORD sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously… Be strong and do the work. (1 Chronicles 28:9-10 NLT).
This passage is instruction to Solomon about building the Temple of God. My interpretation for the context of my life considers New Covenant instruction that we, the people of God, redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, are the Temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:21). I consider this passage very apropos. The LORD knows every heart, every plan, and every thought. I don’t need to “put off meeting with Him” for any reason…least of all for the reason to ensure my “house is clean.” My responsibility is to remain in an attitude of seeking Him in order that I might learn to know Him intimately. There is nothing more serious than this task and building this temple in partnership with the Lord Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.
My desire is to overcome the “wrong thinking” that would push aside the work of God in my life and choose instead to embrace each and every quiet and alone encounter with the Risen Lord.
Therefore, whatever you do, do it for the love of Christ, and let the intention or end of all your actions look to Him. Do nothing for the sake of human praises but everything for the love of God and the desire for eternal life. -Caesarius of Arles
Praise to the LORD, the Almighty! You, and You alone, are LORD, our good above all others. Open our lives wide, to taste and see that You are good. Deliver me, O LORD, by your hand from those whose portion in life is this world (Psalm 17:14). Even so come, Lord Jesus! Grant me, O LORD, to trust in You with my whole heart. Preserve me with Your mighty power and teach me those things that help me to become more like You. I long to be like the olive tree, thriving in the house of the LORD Almighty. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love. I will, praise You forever, O God, for what You have done. I will trust in Your good name in the presence of Your faithful people (Psalm 53:8-9). This I pray in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m really experiencing a “settled” feeling within my soul in the past couple days. Perhaps you’ve noticed the writings of the blog during the last few days…weeks, but the Spirit of God has been leading me to this place of “green meadows, still waters, and renewed strength” (Psalm 23). I feel “liberated” as Catherine Doherty writes about in her wonderful spiritual classic Poustinia.
“I have been liberated by God; it’s as if I were traveling through the cosmos of the Lord all by myself. I see how everything that comes across my path has a reason in God’s plan for being there. The gift of discernment has become like a sixth sense. Life used to be heavy and difficult. Now it is light and natural.”
I’m so grateful for the close relationship I have with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. I’m so thankful for this liberating experience. I also like the way that Doherty illustrates this liberation and relationship with the Trinity. She says, “When you enter the poustinia (a prayer pilgrimage founded on silence, solitude, and contemplation) you enter the orbit of God. You hold on to his hand.” My life, at this juncture, may not be that of a poustinik in the classical terms, but I feel very much as though I have embraced the spirit of poustinia.
I love the faithfulness of God to his promises. I love how God loves us. I love that he so wants to be in wholly restored relationship with his people (of which we are). It’s amazing to me the fullness of joy we are capable of experiencing when we turn ourselves completely to God. When we seek him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, the fabric of our temporal reality tears down the middle, just like the temple curtain did in the Holy of Holies when Christ died upon the cross. When our temporal reality is shattered, we are able to peer into the dimension of the spiritual… we are able to experience in our soul, the substance of our faith… we cohabitate and partner with the Holy Spirit of God and become one with the Trinity. A-Maze-Ing.
I was reading this morning and was reaffirmed (yet again) by the promises of God to his people in these following words:
If you listen to what I tell you and follow my ways and do whatever I consider to be right, and if you obey my decrees and commands…then I will always be with you (1 Kings 11:38).
“I will always be with you” Yes! I love this. The thing that I love so much about this is that it isn’t just words. I’m not just pointing to a book or to a scroll; this promise is being experienced first-hand and in-person in my life. No doubt the journey gets difficult and lonely at times; the vision gets blurry and the path is dimly lit during some seasons…but God is here—with me—always. Not once has God abandoned me or left me wanting. Not once has he forsaken me or led me in a direction that was not for my good. “I will always be with you.” The caveat, if there is one, is that God expects for us to listen, follow, and obey Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The liberation and freedom that comes with this level of trust and obedience to His Ways is totally incomprehensible to the human mind. Only with the mind infused with the Spirit of God can we realize the freedom, joy, and peace that surpasses all understanding. “I will always be with you.”
Lest there be any confusion, Richard Foster does a great service to us with his explanation of the role of God’s work in this process. Our role is to partner in submission, surrender, and obedience. We cannot will ourselves to be transformed, renewed, or reborn; it is completely the work of God in our surrendered selves. Foster writes the following:
As we consider the transformation of the human heart, we need to keep two central realities clearly in mind. To begin with, we simply cannot program our own heart. We cannot program anyone else’s heart. There is a whole theology that stands behind these statements. I will not go into extreme detail here; I will just state it in this flatfooted manner: You are not in charge of the transformation of your heart. Neither am I. This is God’s domain, and you and I are utterly dependent on God to accomplish the work of heart transformation. Those certainly are good things to do. But the truth is we do not make transformation happen. God does.
Second, the human heart itself is part of our problem. We are, each and every one of us, a tangled mass of motives: hope and fear, faith and doubt, simplicity and duplicity, honest and falsity, openness and guile. God knows our heart in ways we can never know. Supernatural abilities are needed to untangle the mess. God is the only one who can separate the true from the false. Only God can purify the motives of the heart. -Sanctuary of the Soul by Richard Foster
The LORD cares for the lives of the godly and in the days of famine they shall have enough. Our steps are directed by the LORD. He strengthens those in whose way he delights. If they stumble, they shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds them by the hand (Psalm 37:19, 23-24). Here am I, Lord, I’ve come to do your will. Here am I, Lord, in your presence I am still. O God, I thank you for the gift of yourself and your promise to me; “I will always be with you.” Amen.
[27AUG2011] Jeff’s Journal
My thoughts have been following a similar thread for the past several days…maybe weeks. I keep thinking about the journey with Jesus and developing relationship with Creator God. It seems the sum of all life is about the restoration, development, and maturation of this relationship. Paradoxically, it also seems that “life” or the pursuit of it is the thing that most often gets in the way of the God and man relationship building. What a quandary.
I keep having the men and women written about in the Bible return to my memory and I think; who, in the Bible, had an easy faith journey? I really can’t think of anyone…although, most that stayed on the path of God were blessed to be in the company of and relationship with God and Jesus. All the journeys I can remember were difficult, even to the point of pushing people to the brink of quitting, but those who persevered experienced their joy being made complete.
I’ve got some more thinking to do, but I keep coming back to the pressing and testing that God puts his people through to refine their faith…and to purge and expunge the false self. I wrote a couple days ago about the Shipwreck of Paul on his way to Rome, but that is just one of many, many examples of this testing and purifying of faith that God puts us through. I’m not complaining, but this is something about our faith journey that we really need to come to terms with. So often the message of faith is misrepresented to the people it is told to…and when the going gets heated and rough, people bail out because it isn’t the trip they signed on for. I think (I know) this is why Jesus said to count the cost. The cost is high…and their ain’t no free rides on the Jesus Train. The final stop is more glorious than can be imagined by the minds of men, but the ride there will cost you your very life.
I’ve got more stewing and brewing about this, but it’ll have to wait until later…
Some passages contributing to my “Jesus Journey Brain Stew” follow:
“Lord, we are the clay, and you are the Potter; and all of us are the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)
“I AM WHO I AM… This is my eternal Name, my Name to remember for all generations.” (Exodus 3:14-15)
“Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away.” (Mark 14:50)
I am greatly encouraged by my time in the Psalms today and this evening—
First, a prayer from me, collected from the Psalms:
Let us bless the LORD, from this time forth for evermore. Hallelujah. (Psalm 115:18) I cry out to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the liking.” (Psalm 142:5) For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds (Psalm 108:3-4) For the LORD GOD is both sun and shield, He will give grace and glory… (Psalm 84:10)
And…Second, a prayer from the Psalms for me
In times of trouble, may the LORD answer your cry. May the name of the GOD of Jacob keep you safe from all harm. May he send you help from his sanctuary and strengthen you from Jerusalem. May he remember all your gifts and look favorably on your offerings. May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May the LORD answer all your prayers. (Psalm 20:1-5)
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any of my thoughts…
I’ve been processing stuff internally for the past month; my soul has been tired…burdened. Subsequently, my thoughts have remained in the “neuron” or neural state as opposed to making it to electrons or paper for that matter (Translation: my writing has been sparse). Here is a compilation of passages and a devotional thought that continues to captivate my heart and my thoughts (here).
Today I spent some time in solitude to meditate over some of these passages; I also shared a lament with a group of brothers from various “colors of the cloth.” I think to some degree, I was unable to fairly communicate my burden (one of my frequent and many weaknesses). After sharing my burdened heart, we adjourned for a period of silence and meditation where my thoughts were drawn to questions regarding the “big picture.” What follows are some of my raw journal notes:
I often feel misunderstood, but I suppose that’s OK…in the big picture anyway. What does that mean: “Big Picture”? Really, What IS the big picture?
I think the big picture is Jesus Christ.
I think the ultimate expression of His glory is the Church, His Bride.
So…is it? Is the Church an expression of His glory? Are we sufficiently reflecting the glory of God to the world where we are considered instruments of redemption and restoration?
What can I do? I can say “yes;” yes to Jesus and His work through Holy Spirit in my life. I can be faithful to my call to be His servant to all people.
Thought: What exactly does Paul suggest in the Second Letter to Corinthians when he states “Anyone in Christ is a new creation”? He says we don’t’ regard people from a worldly view (what is that?). He instructs the believers telling them theirs is the ministry of reconciliation. He defines that to mean God is making His plea through transformed men for those still separated to be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21) -Are we really doing this? Are we doing this as a church; redeeming creation and mankind…restoring that which is broken? Are we doing what God created and redeemed us to do through Christ? Is my conscience clear to say, “I have done all I could do as an instrument of grace and reconciliation for my God and my King..”?
1. I love you Jesus; more than me
2. Whatever you want Jesus; “Yes”
3. Holy Spirit refill & reenergize me for Your service and Your glory
Closing out the day…thought I’d share where my head has been for the day. This is day 4 of “Living the Jesus Creed.” The reading began as follows:
The Jesus Creed does not appear out of thin air. The commands to love God and to love others derive from the love of God that is, the love of the Father and the Son and the Spirit for one another, and the love of God for us. The origin of the Jesus Creed is found in God.
Where my thoughts have been: The command to “love God” and to “love people” is the heart of the Jesus Creed. The ability for this to happen comes only from God. Let me rephrase that; the ability to love with “God-love” can only come from God. I believe it is impossible to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength without the direct assistance from God. Naturally, the extension of loving people… can only occur and be sustained if/when we love God. The pivot point for this to happen (or this state of being) is two-fold; (1) is “you must be born again” (2) a renewed-transformed heart which becomes the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Once this event takes place, loving God becomes not only possible, but probable because God loves…and having the Spirit of God within our heart empowers and fuels our love. The Spirit glorifies the Son…the Son reflects the glory of the Father…as receptacles and vessels housing God’s Spirit, we do the same (or should). The love of God for His creation extends through His vessels; this is reflected in our ability to “love our neighbor.” The same love that God has… “…for God so loved the world” is manifest through us as we “so love the world” becoming servants even unto death for those who do not yet know Him. The origin of the Jesus Creed now becoming fueled, sustained, and reproduced through my life as a living vessel.
My “extended” Jesus Creed prayer for this day has been -
You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Make haste to help me. The Lord make His face to Shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. O You who beholds all things, we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed; blot out our transgressions, be merciful to us sinners and grant that our names may be found written in the book of life, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
Tommorow is a new day to delight in the Lord; even so, come Lord Jesus.
I’ve flip-flopped several times about whether to post the latest experiment of my faith journey. I finally decided that I would post a portion of my journal since I have made it a practice of sharing how God continues to shape me as I endeavor to follow Jesus and be transformed into His likeness. This may become an ongoing post revisiting my experiences as I try to understand some of the practices and disciplines of my (our) faith. As you will read in the accompanying excerpt, there are a number of spiritual development practices that I struggle with…most specifically for this particular season of my life, the disciplines I feel God pressing me to examine, understand, and appropriate are: (in no particular order) Sabbath, Fasting, and Prayer (praying without ceasing). I sincerely hope that my confession and journal excerpt is not taken out of context or misunderstood; if there are questions or comments that would be better served with additional explanation and/or conversation, please feel free to comment or send me an email. My journal notes follow: Read the rest of this entry »