Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Emmanuel’s Pace


Emmanuel’s Pace
In coming to our place

Slowly, slowly
So slow and steady
Not without the help of human hands
Hands that he himself made
to bring him in.
We had to deliver him, before he could deliver us.

It took nine long months to come to the stable
Thus begins the steady and slow growth
The process of the perfect God-man
Infinite in patience and tender power

Triune slowness
Teaching us how to be human
How to wade through time and not lose our souls

So slowly did he come
only a few noticed
the poor, the smelly and the marginalized
All the power brokers
too busy and fast
caught up in themselves
Aren’t able to see or care
It’s still the same today.

A weary world rejoices
Lost in hurry, worry and procrastination
We stop, look and listen
See how God does it.
Master of time, taking his time;
It’s still the same today.

If we can learn to walk his pace
staying before his face
perhaps we shall be born anew
a new human race.


A Prayer:
Emmanuel, as Christmas draws near, the pace around me quickens. Traffic picks up, lines get longer, patience runs thin. More rush, more to do and less time, more longing and less thanks; instead of rushing to keep up, help me have the courage to slow down even more. I need deep anchors in silence and solitude in order to stand against the rushing tide. Help me go deeper instead of faster. For your sake and the good of my own soul, I pray.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Pledge of the Apprentice (Expanded)

Back in January, I posted a shorter version of this pledge (which is actually a prayer). Here is the longer version that has grown as I’ve prayed it. With a few exceptions, this pledge has ushered me into every day of 2014. It has kept me focused and moving in a good direction, and I hope it blesses you, too!


It seems especially relevant to me during this Advent season, to think of apprenticing myself to this Jesus lying in a manger. Learning from him begins with attending to the way he came. Each season of the Christian year gives us meditative access to an aspect of the life and activity of Jesus.


Below the official pledge are a few more affirmations that I work through on a daily basis.


Pledge of the Apprentice


By the grace of God, I apprentice myself to Jesus in order to live eternally now;


to become the kind of person, from the heart, who does what he did and says what he said in his confident, peaceful manner. I commit myself to learning this. He is the One who knows how to live, the Master and Maestro of all of life, the smartest and best person to ever have lived.


In warm response to his love, I intend to be with him, learning to be like him, living my life as he would live it if he were I. Through the Holy Spirit I intend to do the necessary and appropriate things (means of grace) for apprehending and opening to this new kind of life.


I do this for the sake of God and the good of my own soul and the good of those around me;


to work with Him and participate in Him, as he extends the loving rule and reign of His kingdom throughout my life into others’ lives.


I do not do this to earn or merit anything; rather, it is my simple but passionate cooperation in Trinitarian Life, Presence and Power.


Miscellaneous Related Affirmations


I will trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding, wisdom and resources; In all my ways I will acknowledge and submit to him, trusting in him to make my paths straight and life-giving. I will not be wise in my own eyes; forgive my arrogance, Lord!

I will fear the Lord and turn from evil, trusting him to meet every single one of my needs, to bring health to my body and nourishment to my bones (adaptation of Proverbs 3:5-8).


I let go of outcomes, large and small, as well as leaving in his hands everything that concerns me.


I let go of doing things in order to be seen by others; as best I can with Jesus’ help I will do all things with a simple and fond devotion to God.


I surrender to the goodness and love of God, the atmosphere of “Abba” that surrounds, saturates and satisfies me.


I stand with these particular feet in God’s unshakable kingdom, as a disciple in whom Jesus dwells and delights.



Resources:

Proverbs 3:5-8; Psalms 16 and 23; Matthew 5-7; John 13-17; Colossians 1:9-23; 3:1-21; Romans 5:1-4; 12:1-2


Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God


Dallas Willard Articles:

How Does the Disciple Live?

Living a Transformed Life Adequate to Our Calling

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Some Thoughts on Giving Thanks

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Ps 100:4-5 ESV)

The command today to “give thanks” comes to each of us as we are, in this moment, formed into the people we are becoming by processes and choices spread throughout the year. As it came to me this morning, I had to once again admit that I don’t easily and naturally give thanks. As I started to have a conversation with God about it, I followed several streams of thought in my journal that helped me get my head and heart around it and thought it might benefit others as well. The pressure to “give thanks” gave way to an easy and hopeful posture before God of seeking to live in the kind of world with Him where giving of thanks would be easy and natural.

First, I realize that the disposition of my soul, particularly the bent of my will, will determine how I receive/perceive/interpret this holiday. Most of what happens today is not under my direct control, nor am I in direct control of my emotions. What is within my control, my influence, are my thoughts and interpretations. My interpretation involves what I think about (thoughts) and what I seek (will). I can position my body in particular ways, think particular thoughts, seeking to trust God with each moment as it is and not what it “should be.”

Second, the command to “give thanks” feels foreign and mostly external. My internal and external world is not yet prepared and ready for this! I have spent most of my days prior to this one in self-will, seeking above all to get my own way, to get my own needs met regardless of the cost. Thus, I lack capacity to understand and enter into giving of thanks, at least at some level. I am ready and ripe and prepared to seek my own way. I am not yet prepared and ready and ripe to trust, though I am seeking that and on the path that leads to that.

The fact is, giving of thanks is a byproduct of living in abundance, our experience of God’s care for our daily, specific needs. If we identify more with lack and “going without” then the command to give thanks comes as merely an annoying external prod, a corset of expectation attempting to force a shape upon our lives from outside that is unfitting and unnatural.

If, however, we identify more and more with a growing experiential confidence in God’s loving care, then the command to give thanks resonates with a deep internal reality within us. We find that we are ripe for it, ready for it. It is natural and easy, part of Jesus’ “easy yoke” and “light burden” (Matt 11:28-30).

Thus, we should not force ourselves and others to “be thankful” (God have special mercy on us parents, we are especially guilty of this with our kids – “be thankful, or else!!”). We start, instead, with where we are (this is always where we start!), admitting our need to grow in trusting God’s care. This is the indirect route to giving thanks, and it is the only way that is safe, light and easy. We take steps to actually trust him with the actual moments before us (as opposed to those “ideal” moments that flood our minds on holidays like these).

The moments in which we are called to trust God are filled with our actual everyday realities and broken relationships and circumstances. Being present to God in these moments, we can then name what is good in the here and now and give thanks for it, even if it feels pathetically small and insignificant (please, for your sake and the sake of those around you, avoid “heroic” expressions of thanks that are filled with platitudes and niceties but have nothing to do with what is broken in your world or the world around you).

Thank you, Father, that although parts of my body are not working right and I’m experiencing pain, that many parts are working and that for the most part, I can still do what I would like to do.

Thank you, Father, for my job. Sometimes it’s maddeningly annoying, but I thank you that you are there with me.

Thank you, Father, for my family, where I came from. I wish things had been different, but it is what it is. Thank you that nothing is irredeemable.

Practice the presence of God, as old Brother Lawrence called it, trusting God with each moment as it comes and what fills these moments. Stop trying to fix or change the moments that come, rather receive them and give thanks for what you can.

With this in place, we can say what giving of thanks “does for us.” It provides space to celebrate, space large enough even to include our enemies (we find plenty of these at home). It also sanctifies the two “F” words that are usually a part of every Thanksgiving – Family and Feasting. These two things can be and often are profound and ongoing sources of shame and pain. Giving thanks can bring them into the presence of God, place them under his care, his rule and reign, thus redeeming them, re-interpreting them through the lens of his goodness.

Like a turkey must be prepared beforehand if it is to be eaten on Thanksgiving day, so our souls need to be prepared if we want to be ready to be thankful. In our house, we have to thaw a turkey days in advance and soak it in Brine to get it ready for cooking, ready for celebratory use in the Holman house. We are like that; in ourselves we are “radically unsuited for joy” (John Ortberg, Living in Christ’s Presence) so we require training in order to become people who are “suited for joy.” If you tried to cook a rock-solid frozen turkey on the day of Thanksgiving, you might get the outside crispy, but the inside will remain cold and hard. So it is with us when we try real hard to give thanks.

We seek to grow in giving thanks, not by “trying hard” to give thanks, but by becoming the kind of people who live in God’s world where giving of thanks is part of easy deep breathing and loving.

“In the end, when all else has passed away, there will remain only love, the love that overflows your heart, O God, and animates the distant reaches of space and time. I seek fuller immersion in that great river, trusting that the small endings of daily life are true access points through which I can participate ever more fully in the fulfillment of your design for all that is. Amen.” (Reuben Job, A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, p. 383)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Shipwrecked

In the ocean of God’s love

the only safe place to be shipwrecked

and lost at sea;

adrift in mercy

lost in love

buoyed by grace

held by tenderness

enveloped into HOME

Clinging to the debris of my hopes and dreams

so tired of holding on

I let go and go down

surrender and sink

terrifying at first but alas,

finally free and untethered.

I Was With You

[This post was taken from a journal entry on 11/4/14. During a time of silence I was feeling a need and desire to see the goodness of God in story, particularly my past. As I listened, the following was spoken.]

I was with you the day your Dad left; though you couldn’t acknowledge what was happening because it was too painful, I acknowledged you.

I was with you every day you felt alone and rejected in the halls of school, offering you my companionship.

I was with you in every suicidal fantasy and ideation.

I was with you in every moment of agonizing longing, so desperate to be loved, to be special, you would have sold your soul to a girl – any girl – unless I protected you.

I held and protected your heart when you sought to silence and destroy it.

I was with you every time you hid from bullies. When you got to school early to avoid being seen, I saw you.

Every time they found you and called you a “fat loser,” I was there.

I wept with you.

I was with you at every horrifying school dance and football game.

I was there the many times you struggled with schoolwork and turned viciously inward upon yourself in self-hatred.

I was there every time you tried to numb your pain.

I held you, kept you, loved you through it all. You were never alone.

I wept with you and knew your anguish as my own.

I bore your shame and self-hatred with relentless tenderness.

I led you to this very moment of listening before me. Receive my love as your home. Abide with me as I abide with you. Beloved, I will never leave you or forsake you.

“A good shepherd never left his sheep alone. They would have been lost without him. His presence was their assurance.” (David Roper, Psalm 23: The Song of a Passionate Heart, 31).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Even Death He Makes Beautiful

Have you ever noticed

that trees are most beautiful

just before they sleep?


their impending rest

on display in gold and red hues


Massive quantities of leaves

ready to relinquish their grip

prepare for their journey to the ground


dust to dust


there to be transformed into food and fuel;

there is beauty and sadness here.


It’s hard not to look

to stare in wonder at it all;

what tender whispers blow through those leaves,

calling our name?

Inviting us to participate somehow.


Maybe we’re not all that different;

It seems the older we get, the more loss we experience

our grip turns weak and tentative

We’ve fallen too many times.


We all have to take the journey from branch to ground;

can we trust the wind to carry us to where we need to be?

can we trust that leaves will come back?

can we, like the leaves, trust the distance from branch to ground?

can we allow the wind to take us from our familiar grip?

can we abandon ourselves to the process of death and rebirth?


Jesus, Lord of the trees, knows.

He did this himself, entered into it with gusto

“for the joy set before him,” the old writer says

Can we see the joy in dying trees?

Trinitarian Joy.


If death is the ultimate abandonment

the ultimate relinquishment

the apex of letting go


I can’t help but think

that even death He makes beautiful.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Autumn Meditation

“Autumn is making its way across the prairie, and with it God’s silent and unseen artists turn the entire landscape into a magnificent work of art. The colors of the trees, the little touches added by the farmers – green and golden fields, hay bales put in just the right places. Cattle – red, brown, black, white; the little wild turkeys and their ever-watchful mothers just outside my window; indeed, never has there been an artist like God.

Thank you Creator God for the artistic changes of the seasons, for the beauty of your fascinating and ever changing creation! Come dear autumn, bathe our senses with your beauty and lay living nature gently to sleep in the arms of winter. There all may rest to be restored in the blazing beauty of spring!

(Norman Shawchuck, in A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, 2013: p.304)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Review: Commentary on the Psalms (Vol. 2) by Allen Ross

Ross

Allen P. Ross, professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, has a familiar place in my life as I learned Hebrew through his “Introducing Biblical Hebrew” textbook. I have a great deal of respect for his skill and passion for the Hebrew language, so I was eager to review one of his commentaries on the Psalms. Volume 2 covers books 2-3 in the Psalter, which includes Psalms 42-89.


Audience: Hebrew students and scholars, potentially pastors; expository thrust takes aim at equipping preachers with some skill in Hebrew.


Format and layout of how each Psalm is handled:

Introduction:

Text and textual variants (translates and comments on the form of the text)

Composition and Context (basic overview of Psalm with a view to how it relates to other Psalms within the Psalter)

Exegetical Analysis (brief summary and outline of the text)


Commentary in Expository Form (thematic outline and commentary, providing thought for application and experience)


Message and Application (summary of the overall message with a view toward contemporary relevance


Strengths: Ross has undeniable skill in the Hebrew language and bears this out in his outlining and summarizing. Textual issues are handled with care and precision, giving the reader assurance that the original text is being portrayed in a timely and accurate fashion.


Weaknesses: The technical nature of the commentary does not lend itself easily to actual Christian practice of praying the Psalms, which is their purpose. The warmth and vivacity that are at the heart of the Psalms seem (to this reader at least) to be obscured by all the technical jargon. Thus, it’s use seems to be for a fairly limited audience and would need to be supplemented by other commentaries that help round it out.


Also, the volume lacks an introductory section. Volume 1 contains all the introductory material, so unless the reader has access to that volume, Volume 2’s usefulness is quite limited.


Overall, a fine volume, but with limited capability of conveying the power and vitality of the Psalms as they call us to share in their experience of Yahweh.

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