Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hallowed Over Every Part of Us

For a brief time this morning I engaged in what some call "breath prayer." It simply involves taking a basic phrase with a few syllables and riding it like a wave, in and out as I breathe. It is quite calming and helps internalize what I'm praying.
"Father" (breathing slowly in)
"Hallowed be Your name" (breathing slowly out)
 As I prayed this for a while, I felt the strain of my story weighing on me - all the painful memories and experiences, times and seasons of desolation, abandonment, self-hatred and despair. I asked silently, "is it even possible that something good can be wrought out of so much pain and chaos?" I felt the absurdity of the question.

Then I returned to my phrase, and re-imagined that standing over my chaotic, messy and often painful life was this phrase and the reality it represented: 

Hallowed be Your Name.

Could it be that the practice(s) of fixing my eyes and heart on God and treasuring his goodness, somehow unites and heals my story? Is it possible to regularly focus on Jesus as the One above, beyond and Lord over all my stories, and that this is the means by which God harvests good?
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 NIV)
So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. (Col. 3:1-2 MSG)
What if the "good" God brings out of my life is the person I become? Further, what if the person I become has everything to do with whether or not God's Name, His person, character, goodness and glory - is hallowed over my life through my heart and mind? What if the practice of hallowing (treasuring, adoring) God's name can become my fixed point of reference to a different, far better, world - the world of God?
God made my life complete
    when I placed all the pieces before him.
 (Psalm 18:20 MSG)
The chaos I feel in my story is often, if not always, tied to me trying to get my own way in the world "without hope and without God" (Eph. 2:12). This is the way I've learned to run my kingdom, how I've learned to "get by" in life. From childhood, I learned ways and habits of trying to get my own way and avoid risk and further trauma. Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn't. But it is very important to realize (and most Christians miss this) that there is a very significant part of me still dead set against the rule of God. I don't want to hallow God's name, I want to hallow my own name. I am committed to worrying about my own reputation, managing my "image" in the minds of others, arranging outcomes and processes for my own ends. This is my kingdom, and it's not going very well.

By positioning my eyes, heart, mind and body toward treasuring God's name - over a lifetime through various practices - I can anchor the various parts of myself in God's Kingdom, where I am forever safe, loved and known. This is the good news that Jesus came to preach!
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
As usual, Henri says it better than I ever could.
How can we not lose our souls when everything and everybody pulls us in the most different directions? How can we "keep it together" when we are constantly torn apart? 
Jesus says: "Not a hair of your head will be lost. Your perseverance will win you your lives" (Luke 21:18-19). We can only survive our world when we trust that God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves. We can only keep it together when we believe that God holds us together. We can only win our lives when we remain faithful to the truth that every little part of us, yes, every hair, is completely safe in the divine embrace of our Lord. To say it differently: When we keep living a spiritual life, we have nothing to be afraid of. (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fathering for the Fatherless

This selection from John Eldredge's book Fathered by God profoundly spoke to me this week, as I've been challenged in new ways to trust that God is a good Father. I haven't been writing or reading much since we moved to Spokane, WA on July 15 due to busyness in moving in and finding work. I hope to get back into some kind of reading/writing rhythm!

You are the son of a kind, strong, and engaged Father, a Father wise enough to guide you in the Way, generous enough to provide for your journey, offering to walk with you every step. 
This is perhaps the hardest thing for us to believe—really believe, down deep in our hearts, so that it changes us forever, changes the way we approach each day. 
I believe this is the core issue of our shared dilemma. We just don't believe it. Our core assumptions about the world boil down to this: We are on our own to make life work. We are not watched over. We are not cared for. When we are hit with a problem, we have to figure it out ourselves, or just take the hit. If anything good is going to come our way, we're the ones who are going to have to arrange for it. Many of us have called upon God as Father, but, frankly, he doesn't seem to have heard. We're not sure why. Maybe we didn't do it right. Maybe he's about more important matters. Whatever the reason, our experience of this world has framed our approach to life. We believe we are fatherless. 
Whatever life has taught us, and though we may not have put it into these exact words, we feel that we are alone. Simply look at the way men live. If I were to give an honest assessment of my life for the past thirty years, I'd have to confess the bulk of it as Striving and Indulging. Pushing myself hard to excel, taking on the battles that come to me with determination but also with a fear-based drivenness, believing deep down inside that there is no one I can trust to come through for me. Striving. And then, arranging for little pleasures along the way to help ease the pain of the drivenness and loneliness. Dinners out, adventure gear. Indulging. A fatherless way to live.

Beauty Treatments

During a recent time of unemployment, where I was cast afresh upon God and his care in radical ways (though I was unemployed I was never uncared for), Jesus is healing our praying imaginations from a long dark night in Louisville, KY (15 yrs).

"Without real communication from God, our view of the world is very impersonal, however glorious we may find creation. But there is all the difference in the world between believing that this is our Father's world...and having confidence based in experience that the Father's face is turned toward us and shining on us, whether in the dark of night or the brightness of the day, and that he speaks to us individually,"

Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 242

"God's love is manifest in the landscape as in a face."
John Muir, Meditations of John Muir, 17.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Some Disciple Thoughts on Lack and Abundance

[After a rough day of job searching and frustrating job interviews, I am on the verge of losing heart and need to recover my vision of God and his goodness. May others find hope here too.]

Lack and deprivation are always part of the honest person’s experience of life in this world, regardless of religious beliefs or faith commitments. We are all broken by lack and need. We have all experienced “not having what it takes” for life in this world, and it hurts. Sometimes the hurt can feel unbearable, threatening to crush our very souls. Caught up in this category would be things like piercing loneliness, physical disability, paralysis, financial loss, grief, physical and emotional abuse, hunger, injustice, etc. They are an inevitable part of living life in a world that is radically affected by the sin of our first parents in the garden.

These deprivations tell a story all their own, using voices loud and convincing, demanding to be heard. If we don’t have a larger story in which to hear and do justice to their presence in our lives, they will easily dominate us and define us, determining the range of our effective choices, relational opportunities and our “emotional normal.”  The only story large enough to hold all these experiences of lack and deprivation is the Kingdom story coming from God through Jesus.

The kingdoms of this world, of men and women "without hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12), are all driven by various forms of lack and deprivation and the strategies to ameliorate them. These kingdoms are driven by belief assumptions about reality and what is good:
"I must act on my own, lest I miss out on what is good."
"What I want, what I desire, is what is good, what is best."
"Getting my own way is my highest pursuit, for therein lies my safety, security, and well-being."
For those who entrust their lives to Jesus as disciples, however, the abundance of the Kingdom of God envelops and transforms all lack, deprivation and need into connecting points to the grace of God. Instead of separating us from God they bind us to him as branches to the vine, as sheep to the Good Shepherd. Lack can be transformed through trust and surrender into experienced intimacy with Jesus.

Enveloped by God's Kingdom care all around us, we see the difference between
what we need
what we want
what is good

We are now free, under God, to choose what is good. Our lack no longer drives us; we are no longer at the mercy of desperate hunger and thirst. From Jesus, we learn rest even in the presence of need; we learn gratitude even when we don't get what we want; we learn joy even when we don't get our own way.

The well-being of Jesus' disciple is rooted in the good world of God, with roots deeply intertwined in gushing fountains of endless life.
“It is confidence in the invariably overriding intention of God for our good, with respect to all the evil and suffering that may befall us on life’s journey, that secures us in peace and joy. We must be sure of that intention if we are to be free and able, like Joseph, to simply do what we know to be right.” (Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy, 338)

Having lack and deprivation in my life doesn’t mean I need to be defined by it; being defined by lack and deprivation is a choice, a settled intention, to live in a particular world, a world devoid of God, where I am left to my own meager resources to fend for myself and make a life for myself (Jer 17:5-9; Prov 3:5-8).

I can choose, even in the severest experience of lack, need, or deprivation to live according to the reality of God’s Kingdom all around me through trust in Jesus. This also requires settled intention (Hab 3:17-19; Lam 3:19ff).

Through trust in Jesus (not just something he did or said) I am rooted and grounded in the boundless abundance of love, power and light of Father-Son-Spirit (Eph 3:14-21).

  • I am never alone (Deut 31:8; Heb 13:5-6; Isa 43:1-4)
  • I can call on God and his resources, the simple way a child presumes on his loving parents (Matt 6:5-13; Phil 4:4-7; 12-13)
  • No lack or deprivation (real or perceived) can separate me from the abundance of God and His Kingdom. His rule will never be shaken and never end (Ps 23:1; Rom 8:35-39; 2 Cor 8-9)
  • The sufficiency of God and his Trinitarian fullness of life, love and power is the only place to experience safety and security in this life (Ps 63:1-5).
  • Because of who God is and the way he rules the world, this world is a perfectly safe place for me to be, right here, right now.

"It is being included in the eternal life of God that heals all wounds and allows us to stop demanding satisfaction. What really matters, of a personal nature, once it is clear that you are included? You have been chosen. God chooses you. This is the message of the kingdom.” (Willard, ibid., 340)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Call to Amazement

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-4 NIV)
As I read and reflected on this passage recently, it struck me that the amazement of the apostle is lost on those of us who have low views of God.

Let me explain.

What is the reason, the source of the apostle's amazement in v.1? Why is he captivated to be a child of God? Why is that such a big deal? In our day, being a "child of God" is commonplace language, like being "born again" or "evangelical." It has lost much of it's original wonder, I think.

John's amazement is due to his experiential confidence gained through an ongoing interactive relationship with Jesus. Through interaction with Jesus, John learned how uniquely beautiful and wonderful the Father is! We see this at the very beginning of his letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3 NIV, emphasis mine)
John then summarizes Jesus' gospel message in v. 5, "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." I used to believe that this was primarily referring to God's unapproachable holiness, and perhaps it means that. But that poses a huge problem when we look at Jesus, who John was referring to, who was so utterly approachable, especially to sinners!

What, then, was the gospel that Jesus preached?

Jesus preached a gospel of God's good Kingdom, immediately available to all who enter into a relationship with him through trust. Those who enter this Kingdom would find that God is better than anything they could have ever hoped for.

What John means, then, is that the message that John and the other early friends of Jesus heard was that God is utterly, unchangeably, good. Dallas Willard, in writing about a "curriculum of Christlikeness," comments that,
The first objective is to bring apprentices to the point where they dearly love and constantly delight in that “heavenly Father” made real to earth in Jesus and are quite certain that there is no “catch,” no limit, to the goodness of his intentions or to his power to carry them out. . . . When the mind is filled with this great and beautiful God, the “nat-ural” response, once all “inward” hindrances are removed, will be to do “everything I have told you to do.” (Divine Conspiracy, 321).
This is a school I long to be enrolled in.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

For Those Who Lose Heart

Don’t get distracted or impressed, beloved,
by the ways the world works –
ways of manipulative power
perfectly timed technique
measured in dollar signs and predictable results.

You will quickly feel small and insignificant in such a world
for it was not made for the likes of you;
shoved aside by bullies
and chewed up in the gears
of the glory-making machines.

Worse, you will quickly lose sight of me
and with me goes your courage
for I always reside with your deep heart.

When you’re slammed up against an immovable mountain,
when caught between a rock and a hard place,
the issue for you, dear one, is not if you have what it takes,
if you have the 
and relational connections 
to make things happen;

The issue is never whether or not you can;
the issue, always, is – is this something I want done?
Do you know me well enough to answer that, beloved?

Every task of mine is an invitation to partner with me,
to know and be known
and I promise to take the lion’s share.

Yoke yourself with me and you will know rest
courage will once again fill your chest;
Walk with me and you will know peace,
where it’s safe to be least.

Peace can only come in when you are unafraid of outcomes;
when the need to control circumstances has died,
when the existence of the mountain no longer makes you afraid
or filled your mind with frenzied strategies,
Peace, My Peace.

I love you, right where you are, afraid and overwhelmed!
My love is the reality upholding all others, 
the atmosphere that makes you safe.
You can never create safety and security 
by arranging circumstances in your favor,
that project is ever changing and never ending.

Let not your heart be troubled; have confidence in me.
Let my peace guard your inner life.
Then my joy will flood your outer life.

Now pick up your gear, for we will make use of what you have brought.
Come, follow me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Recovering Identity

After a weekend of being haunted by fits of sadness and anger, I entered Monday with little sense of identity or purpose. My heart was saying, “I’m not sure who I am anymore, and I’m not sure it matters.” Obviously this was a toxic mixture of sadness, confusion and a little anger.
As I got ready for work that day, I felt very “off.” I was easily irritated and overwhelmed. I was just trying to get out the door, and if I could manage that, I would try to put the pieces together later when I had time and space to do it. In the process of hurrying out the door, I forgot my wallet at home, which is something I’ve never done before. Realizing it as soon as I pulled in to work, I scrambled for a few seconds trying to figure out what to do. Frustrated and ashamed, I texted my wife to see if she could bring it to me sometime during the day before I had to drive again. I felt awful interrupting her day with this. Her homeschooling and housekeeping are more than full time jobs!
My delightfully gracious wife, Cheri, brought me my wallet a little later, without a hint of annoyance or frustration with me (which is what I expected, since I felt a great deal of annoyance with myself). Instead, she empathized with my frustration and validated me. As she left I felt very thankful that she loved me that much – to bring it to me without any hint of shame or annoyance, but simply because she loves me. At that moment my question had been answered, my ID returned – I am one who is loved and cared for.
My situation was symbolic of the inner realities I was experiencing. I left home without much sense of identity, and if a police officer would have happened to have stopped me, I would not have been able to legally prove who I was. I was “driven” by confusion and pain, no longer sure of who I was. An act of incredible God-like kindness woke me up and restored my sense of self, my sense of identity. Cheri didn’t just bring my wallet which happened to contain my I.D. - she brought me a much greater gift: she brought me radical grace which provided me the space to receive who I was again, in a humble receptive posture before the Lord Jesus.
In the Kingdom of God as a disciple of Jesus, I am one who is, and always will be, loved and cared for. This is something I continue to learn as each situation of my life filters through the loving and brilliant hands of my Jesus my Master.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

To Birds Gone Bye

[Last week I said goodbye to the hundreds of thousands of Robins and other birds that had migrated to the small forest behind our complex. For three months their sheer numbers and artistry in the sky have entranced me. Then all of a sudden, they were gone. I knew it was coming, but dreaded it. I had to mourn the loss of this unique display of beauty, one that we’ve never seen before. Every morning about thirty minutes before sunrise they would take off in massive rivers piercing the dawning sky, a process that would take ten minutes because of their sheer numbers. Every sunset they would return, flooding the trees with their song and stories. As soon as the sun was set, they had all nested in the trees further back, still making noise but no longer seen.

It’s amazing how I can hear the unique individual bird calls now that were drowned out by the Robins. I am learning to see God not just in the massive flocks but once again in the single bird; not just in the big and impressive but in the simple, quiet presence of one or two things. Every day this week the Lord has sent Rabbits to accompany me on my walks, a scampering reminder of the tenderness caring for our world.

Anyway, I decided to write a goodbye poem to the birds. Until next time, compadres.]

The sky seems
so empty
so quiet

I’ve grown
to the sounds
to the sights
of thousands upon thousands
overflowing artistry
weaving skillfully
slicing through
God’s atmosphere


But this is the migratory way,
the turning of the seasons
from emptiness to fullness
and back again
and again
and again.