Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dandelion School

I often feel enticed outside in order to behold beauty. One of the things I have learned to seek from these times is what I might learn from what I behold. By observing the processes of river and sky, bird and flower, I can better understand the ways God works and who He is. I approach as an apprentice of Jesus who made it all and holds it all together (John 1:3; Col. 1:17; Heb 1:3). 

Psalm 19:1 NIV
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." 

Psalm 33:5 MSG
"Earth is drenched in Yahweh's affectionate satisfaction" 

One thing I've often overlooked are dandelions. Their name comes from the "lion-like teeth" leaves that make up their green base. They are a weed that take over grassy areas with ease. 

Have you ever actually stopped and looked at one? Can you see how yellow they are? It's like holding a little sun.

After a while they turn white and stick their heads high to be carried by the wind in order to propagate themselves. It's pretty ingenious! They use the natural processes around them (wind) in order to make sure that their death is not final.

It takes anywhere from 2-4 weeks for the yellows to give way to the whites. Their short life span speaks to me of the transitory nature of human life. The Scriptures compare human life in this world to the life span of a flower that is here today and gone tomorrow (Isaiah 40:7-8). We shine for a while but soon our hair turns white and we either propagate or stagnate; we either pass along what we have learned and have become or we are forgotten forever on the earth. 

Go to the Dandelions to see what you can learn from them. They are speaking of realities and of processes that we all share as children of God through trust in Christ.

Matthew 6:28-30 NIV
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wild Streams: An Analogy for the Church

I felt led to take the family down to Spokane Falls last Sunday in order to see what the Falls could teach us about "Church" and the ways God works. The snows have begun to melt and the Spokane river is swollen as it rages through downtown Spokane.


As we listened and reflected, my son Samuel came up with this wise observation:

"Though the waters are wild and uncontrolled, they are contained within boundaries that have been formed over long periods of time."


I thought of how the Trinitarian Life of God is gushing and ever-flowing, transforming disciples of Jesus and overflowing into the world around us. I thought of the variety of traditions that have tapped into this river over long periods of time. I thought of the wonderful life-giving wine in a variety of wineskins and I feel a sense of awe and humility. 

May our unity as God's people be that we drink from this wild stream together and not that we worry so much about the containers. As we gather together, we join a stream of Life that is far older than our particular tradition, stretching beyond time into the Eternal heart of God Himself.
"Today a mighty river of the Spirit is bursting forth from the hearts of women and men, boys and girls. It is a deep river of divine intimacy, a powerful river of holy living, a dancing river of jubilation in the Spirit, and a broad river of unconditional love for all peoples. As Jesus says, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' (John 7:38)" (Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditiosn of Christian Faith, xv.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Body and the Kingdom of God

A dear friend and I were recently discussing a statement I had given him regarding the role of the body in the Kingdom of God:
"I am God's will in the place and time where I currently am in my embodied self, holy and pleasing to him, bearer of the Kingdom of God in my body to those around me."

This statement brings together several key Scriptures regarding the body:

Rom 12:1-2
​ (cf. Rom 6:11-14)

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (ESV)

Hebrews 10:5-7
​ (cf. Ps 40:6-8)​

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.’”
​ (NIV)​

My body is the place where my will is done
​Apart from
 the mind, 
​the body 
is the only realm I have direct control over. It is my 
power pack,
 my only faculty for directly affecting the world around me
​. Through my body, my kingdom relates to all other kingdoms. The body provides a physical boundary/border between persons, which is why physical and sexual abuse are so damaging to the soul - they are profound violations of personal kingdom.

We were created to have bodies surrendered to our 
 under God and his goodness. When we surrender and are "aligned
" then the boundaries between my will/kingdom and God's will/kingdom begin to blur
​, mesh and interpenetrate​
. This is PRESENCE
​, and it takes a lifetime to develop (usually through much suffering!)​
. We bear in our bodies the presence of the Kingdom
​ of God​
 to the extent that they are surrendered to
​- and abiding in- ​
and his will.
​ This is why, in practicing the presence of God, Frank Laubach learned to focus on doing the will of God every minute.​

"Although I have been a minister and a missionary for fifteen years, I have not lived the entire day of every day in minute by minute effort to follow the will of God. Two years ago a profound dissatisfaction led me to begin trying to line up my actions with the will of God about every fifteen minutes or every half hour. Other people to whom I confessed this intention said it was impossible. I judge from what I have heard that few people are really trying even that. But this year I have started out trying to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, “What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?” It is clear that this is exactly what Jesus was doing all day every day." (Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic, p.6; entry for January 20, 1930).

One of my favorite quotes from Dallas Willard's Knowing Christ Today is relevant here:

"With these two preliminaries in place—and when they are in place we will certainly be aware that God is acting in us—we grow in our knowledge of Christ-with-us by, first of all, constant expectation of him in the place where we are, wherever that may be. “The sacrament of the present moment,” as it is sometimes called, is from the human side nothing but the invocation, expectation, and receptivity of God’s presence and activity where we are and in what we are doing at any given time. Then we steadily grow in graceful interactions with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They gradually take up all of our life into their trinitarian life (John 17:21–24)." (p.153)

​Further, the statement above alludes to the fact that the body can only be present to its surroundings; there is no past or future except what our minds introduce. The place and time that is currently occupied by my body (and interacting with my body) are the only conditions that exist in which to seek and find God's Kingdom, the only conditions in which I can taste and see, test, discern and prove.​

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Resolve of Vision

"God, I want to give You every minute of this year. I shall try to keep You in mind every moment of my waking hours. I shall try to let my hand write what You direct. I shall try to let You be the speaker and direct every word. I shall try to let You direct my acts. I shall try to learn Your language as it was taught by Jesus and all others through whom You speak - in beauty and singing birds and cool breezes, in radiant Christlike faces, in sacrifices and in tears. It will cost not only much, but everything that conflicts with this resolve." (Frank Laubach, Frank Laubach's Prayer Diary, 5.)
Two phrases from this luminous quote strike me:

"I want" (1x)
"I shall try" (5x)

Desire, born out of enticing vision, gives birth to intention and means. Commenting on the parables of Jesus, John Ortberg has said that "the mark of a transforming vision is its ability to elicit unforced desire." (See here for one version of this statement) We cannot just read a quote like the one above and "try" like Laubach did. We need to get behind the "try" and seek a vision that would naturally lead to such efforts.

From this statement, what would you say was Laubach's view of God? of himself? of the world?

How does this compare with your view(s)?

Spend some time in silence and solitude this week and allow your heart to mull over these things.

Lord Jesus, heal our vision. We are so narrow and shallow with our eyes. We only see what we want to see; we only see what will help us regain certainty, exert control and indulge comfort. Disrupt our lives so that we might entertain new thoughts, emotions, ideas and images. Let us linger over disappointment, suffering, mystery and beauty to see what they can teach us. Set us on fire with a vision of the nearness and goodness of your Kingdom such that we might live lives pleasing to you, lives that take on the epic qualities of your mind and heart.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Give Me Faith

"Give me faith now to believe that thou canst be all in all to me, according to my need, if only I renounce all proud self-dependence and put my trust in thee.

Forbid it, O Father, that the difficulty of living well should ever tempt me to fall into any kind of heedlessness or despair. May I keep it ever in mind that this human life was once divinely lived and this world once nobly overcome and this body of flesh, that now so sorely tries me, once made it into thy perfect dwelling place."

(John Baillie, Diary of Private Prayer)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My Heart Aches

A Journal entry from October 22, 2015

My heart aches
Lonely, thirsty sadness

On the brink of another 
loss of heart

As another dream 
slowly rips apart

I need a bigger and better story
than the one I currently inhabit.
"You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth,You will bring me up again.You will increase my greatness and comfort me again." (Psalm 71:20-21 ESV)
I am the son who ran
I am the son who stayed

Is this how Moses learned humility?
Is this how Joseph's blessedness got from his coat into his bones?

Lead me to a bush burning
Redeem my life from the pit.

They found in God
a story big enough to live!

Boundary lines beyond
The borders of their sorrow.

God-with-us: The Way, The Companion, The Comfort

The great ones learned to receive
obscurity, loneliness, and insignificance
as teachers and friends

I'd rather be ripped apart by love
than held together by what I can control.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Encounter at the Stable

I woke up this morning, grabbed some coffee and set myself before Psalm 80 as I prepared to enter silence and solitude. The repeated refrain was not lost on my slowly waking consciousness:
Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
    make your face shine on us,
    that we may be saved.
(Ps 80: 3, 7, 19 NIV)
 As I entered silence I was thinking of all that's been lost, broken, corrupted and ruined in my life. I felt the weight of all that still waits to be restored and redeemed. My automatic response to what's wrong and broken in my life has historically manifested itself in a sadness that overwhelms and stifles the soul. This "lethargic sadness" was heavy and covered everything.

Like black snow, lethargic sadness covers the landscape, sapping joy, hindering movement and choking the lungs. It's actually more like ash than snow. I experienced this "for real" when I was 10 years old. In May 1980 nearby Mt. St. Helens exploded and covered our Oregon neighborhood with 3-4 inches of ash. We had to wear masks outside for weeks, and the fire department had to come through to clean the streets with their fire hoses. The ash was so thick at times that mid-day was as black as night.

Two specific losses are close to my awareness. I think of the joy I used to experience as a young Christian in reading and study; now I can read only a few pages at a time without feeling weary, and only the "devotional" type of writing that helps me present myself to God. I also think of the joy and wonder I once felt in seeing snow fall; now my vision is too often clouded with overwhelming fear at having to drive in the stuff, after having repeatedly traumatic work experiences in having to drive in the stuff alone in the dark, without support.

Advent has been working on me, bringing my awareness before the stable and the wonder of a God-baby, and so this is what I brought to the stable this morning. I felt led to engage in an imaginary conversation, allowing my thoughts to fill the stable with symbolic meaning.

I finally stumble into the cave they call a stable, summoned by God-knows-what. All I see is a baby in a manger, with a few unimpressive people hovering over it.
"I have come, Lord. I have brought everything I have - all that's been broken, lost and corrupted. I am laden down with darkness, Lord, and I have 12 camels outside with knees buckling with the rest of the bulk."
"I don't get it, Lord. A baby? How in the world can this be the redemption that I seek? How can this one restore all that's been lost? The locusts have eaten all the grass and all that's left in my life are barren brown hills, cloaked with ash."
I ask those nearby about the name of this child.

"Jesus," they answer, a common name which means "The Lord saves."
"Immanuel," which means "God-with us."
"This one, Lord? This one is to save us? I don't understand, but since I have no where else to take my caravan, I will wait and trust with what little trust I have left."
"I have heard the story of the three strange looking men who brought offerings fit for a King; my offering is much larger and far fouler! I have no other hope though, so I leave my entourage of corruption at your doorstep, little one, and I will wait."
As I wait, unable to really rest, I watch as the child grows and becomes a man with a tender and fierce face. He comes back to the stable and lays a hand on my tired and bent shoulder and says with a tear in his eyes,
"Thank you for your gift - you honor me beyond words!"
To my confusion and dismay, he speaks even more:
"Most people bring me their 'best' but their hearts remain far from me and I can do little for them. You have brought me your deepest heart, and so for you I can -and will- do much!"
"I will redeem what is broken, will restore what's been lost. I will do this by bringing your life - the life that is charred, torn and lost - into my Life. In my Life you will find peace, joy and lightness again. You can become a child again! You shall be whole and holy again, reigning at my side." 
"Continue to bring these offerings to me and we will live them together. I will then be able to immerse them - and increasingly, you - into the Life I share with my Father, who makes all things new!" 
"Look at your story, dear one. You will see that this is the case - much has already been redeemed, healed and restored! Don't lose heart over what remains broken, corrupt and lost. I and my Father will finish our work in you - restoring and redeeming everything - everything! that has been lost."
My response, trained by the wisdom of Mary:

"Yes, Lord, let it be to me as you say, according to your word. I belong to you."

As I left the scene, with tears in my eyes, I turned to my first Advent reading of the day (Isaiah 61:1-4 which beautifully completed the experience:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.