Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Silence of God

Words are overrated, especially during Holy Week.

As we prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider that the Word of God was silenced and the Author of Life killed, all for love of you.

Take some time this week to get alone and quiet. Reflect on the silence of God this weekend. Otherwise the words coming from the silence of the empty tomb ("he is risen!") will be merely pretty words.

It's enough to drive a man crazy; it'll break a man's faith
It's enough to make him wonder if he's ever been sane
When he's bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven's only answer is the silence of God

It'll shake a man's timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they've got
When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
'Cause we all get lost sometimes...

There's a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He's kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He's weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.

Andrew Peterson, "The Silence of God" from the album Love and Thunder (2003)

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Minding The Heart: A Book Review

Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation

by Robert L. Saucy

Kregel Publications, 2013


One of the weaknesses of the current resurgence of the movement toward Christian spiritual formation is the lack of biblical moorings to ground and guide the enterprise. Too often the project is dominated by feelings or experience for experience sake, and God’s Word is only one among many voices of apparently equal authority. Many have noticed this need and are seeking to address it, unpacking the vast resources of the Bible for spiritual formation in Christ. Dr. Robert Saucy of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University is one of those persons seeking to address this need.

Dr. Saucy rightly centers his focus on the heart, the inner person in need of change. There is no behavior modification here, but a radical exploration of what inner capacities are changed by God as he forms us. Our primary access to the heart is through the mind, so he develops several wonderful chapters on Bible meditation.

The author repeatedly stresses that actions flow from thoughts & feelings, and if we want to change our actions, we must go with God to the areas of thinking and feeling. The two primary agents in transformation are God and ourselves, as we respond to him in faith and obedience.

There are many strengths in the book that deserve mention. First, the author successfully uses sidebars throughout the book as a “for further study” for the reader. Instead of footnotes, which can be distracting at times, the sidebars provide a nice visual invitation into taking things a few steps further. As I read I learned to appreciate these little sections a great deal.

Second, Saucy thoroughly grounds the formation of the person in Christ in a biblical psychology of mind and heart. Psychological categories can be informed by other sources of research, but for the Christian it is essential that the primary source of information be the Scriptures.

Third, Saucy bases the “abundant life” (Jn 10:10) that Christ gives on the grounds of forgiveness of sins in context with the rest of the speaking and acting of God. Christ purchased our salvation on the cross, but the cross also provides access to the transforming presence of God Himself. Too often the spiritual life is equated with forgiveness of sins, leaving this dimension largely undeveloped. Saucy’s work in this area is very helpful in addressing this.

Fourth, the biggest strength of Saucy’s book is his development of how God’s grace works with our effort in the process of spiritual transformation (see esp. pages 118-19; 261). Both elements are absolutely necessary if genuine transformation is to occur. We must act, but we never act alone, for God works with us.

The only weakness of the book is relatively minor. Too often spiritual formation “talk” doesn’t do justice to the brokenness that obstructs the project in the various realms of the human soul, those areas of psychological damage that we all carry into our relationship with God. Many people simply cannot do disciplines yet, their minds are too cluttered with rubble from the past to effectively engage with God. The human element that we bring to the grace of God to cooperate for transformation can be mitigated and muted to a great degree. In these situations, we need healing prayer and ministry from others in order to be brought to a place where we can actively participate with God’s grace in Christ. I felt the chapter on community was especially lacking in this regard. Saucy seemed completely oblivious to the fact that many people have been deeply wounded by their interactions with “church,” rather than helped and equipped. The book would have been even better if this had been acknowledged and developed in the context of his overall project.

Thanks for Kregel Academic for a review copy in exchange of an unbiased review.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Prayer for March 22, 2014

I trust in You, Lord.

My broken and weary heart, with it’s pathetic capacities, leans on You.

I will be glad and rejoice in Your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles and are moved with compassion for me; more than a Father who is moved with compassion on his son, you are always near and always desiring to help.

You care, God! You care about what happens to me, even more than I do!

You care about the anguish of my soul, so I am trusting in You with all my heart.

You are the God whom I seek. You are my God, I have nothing good apart from You!

My future is in Your hands, every moment and circumstance. You know, Father, how hard this is for me to believe! Almost every time I think of the future, I am overwhelmed with fear. Please continue to train my heart in Your ways, so I can rely on your solid faithfulness more than air and gravity! Your sufficiency is more real than these.

In Your hands, I confess that my future will be filled with your goodness, for you have stored up vast quantities of goodness for those who fear you and trust in You with all their hearts. You lavish everything good, sweet and tender on those who find their shelter in You!

You hide me in the sanctuary of your constant presence, safe and sound. Here there is no past to haunt me, no future to worry about; just your present Presence holding and keeping me. Please let me stay here, all my life!

-based on Ps 31:6-7, 14-15, 19-20

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Can You Hear The Invitation?

The snow is melting here in Louisville, finally.

Queen Jadis has been defeated and Aslan is shaking his mane, causing ripples of life to spread throughout the land! Birds are singing and green things are growing again. The power and providence of God is new everywhere.

As you walk through it all, what is the invitation that you hear from God?

Get up, my dear friend,
    fair and beautiful lover—come to me!

Look around you: Winter is over;
    the winter rains are over, gone!

Spring flowers are in blossom all over.
    The whole world’s a choir—and singing!

Spring warblers are filling the forest
    with sweet arpeggios.

Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,
    and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms.

Oh, get up, dear friend,
    my fair and beautiful lover—come to me!

Come, my shy and modest dove—
    leave your seclusion, come out in the open.

Let me see your face,
    let me hear your voice.

For your voice is soothing
    and your face is ravishing. (Song of Solomon 2:10-14 MSG)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Willard on Silence and Solitude

This passage from Dallas Willard’s book Knowing Christ Today has been a frequent companion as I try to practice these disciplines, thought I’d pass it on.

Peace,

Scott

Among the practices that we learn to engage in to enable effectual focus upon Christ is a combination of solitude and silence. You have only to look at the lives of those most successful in living with Christ to see that this is so. To go into solitude means to be alone and do nothing for lengthy periods of time. That is necessary to break the grip of a God-alienated world over us at the level of our constant habits and preoccupations. Silence means to eliminate noise, including the noise of our own mouth. It further frees us to move into the life that is eternal. We need to combine solitude and silence on some occasions to gain their full effects. They must be practiced intensely and extensively. These are root-reaching practices that slowly bring us to an understanding of who and what we really are—often producing occasions of profound repentance—and that allow God to reoccupy the places in our lives where only he belongs. They require lengthy times and extreme intensity to do their work, though at the beginning we must ease into them in a gentle and non-heroic manner. Once established in our mind, soul, body, and social involvements, they go with us wherever we are and need to be renewed only periodically by special times of practice. Irritability and anger, loneliness and busyness, are signs that they need renewal. (Pp. 156-7)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hope Surges

Rounding the corner I see

a newborn sunrise romancing me

stirring something deep within

making me want to weep;

 

The long dark is nearly over,

winter’s reign is ending

death winding down

At the command of the Lord of Seasons;

 

Something new is coming, something good

My heart awakens with thirst

Life pushes up

pushes through death

I breathe deep

hope surges

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cheerful Insecurity

In one of his letters to a “Sister Penelope” (December 30, 1950), C.S. Lewis writes about the difficulties involved in putting his ailing ‘Mother’ in a Nursing Home (not his actual Mother, but a friend’s Mother, Mrs. Moore).

Our state is thus: my ‘mother’ has had to retire permanently into a Nursing Home. She is in no pain but her mind has almost completely gone. What traces of it remain seem gentler and more placid than I have known it for years. Her appetite is, oddly, enormous. I visit her, normally, every day, and am divided between a (rational?) feeling that this process of gradual withdrawal is merciful and even beautiful, and a quite different feeling (it comes out in my dreams) of horror.

One of the biggest difficulties surrounding this time in Lewis’ life was worry over the financial cost of the services provided for his Mother. He then makes a very interesting distinction between worry and what he calls “cheerful insecurity” that I find fascinating, since I have always struggled so much with worry myself.

There is no denying—and I don’t know why I should deny to you—that our domestic life is both more physically comfortable and more psychologically harmonious for her absence. The expense is of course very severe and I have worries about that. But it would be very dangerous to have no worries—or rather no occasions of worry. I have been feeling that very much lately: that cheerful insecurity is what Our Lord asks of us. Thus one comes, late and surprised, to the simplest and earliest Christian lessons! (The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963).

Lewis doesn’t unpack the distinction beyond what is described here (perhaps he does elsewhere, I don’t know), but from what he says I can gather that it is good for us and our souls to face occasional worries because they remind us of our need. Like “pain receptors” that tell our bodies “something is wrong!” worries tell our souls, “You need help!” Cheerful insecurity keeps us on our toes, keeps us childlike, in dependence on our Father. For that reason, they are cheerful.

I think the apostle Paul would say he has learned to live in cheerful insecurity, for his insecurities and weaknesses provided endless opportunities to know God and his Kingdom grace which empowers us to do what we cannot.

To keep me grounded and stop me from becoming too high and mighty due to the extraordinary character of these revelations, I was given a thorn in the flesh—a nagging nuisance of Satan, a messenger to plague me! I begged the Lord three times to liberate me from its anguish; and finally He said to me, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” So ask me about my thorn, inquire about my weaknesses, and I will gladly go on and on—I would rather stake my claim in these and have the power of the Anointed One at home within me.  I am at peace and even take pleasure in any weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and afflictions for the sake of the Anointed because when I am at my weakest, He makes me strong. (2 Cor 12:7-10, The Voice)

Jesus lived in the world seeing it as God-drenched and God-bathed. He learned from this that he would always be safe from harm. Nothing could separate him from his Father. May the Master Jesus teach me the same lesson as I bring my worries to him and try with all my might to cast my burdens on his shoulders (it’s very difficult sometimes, let’s be honest!)