Sunday, October 16, 2016

Watching Boats

I wanted to share this meditation practice from Richard Rohr because it is very similar to a guided imagery practice I've found very healing to my soul. If I've got many things bouncing and buzzing in my mind in the morning I will try to place each thought and feeling into some kind of floating object. As it floats by I feel a letting go take place inside. Often I actively roll them down the hill into the water.

Take 10, 15 or 20 min (as much as you can stand!) of silence and solitude and try it, aware of the risen Jesus with you. 

Here is Rohr's version: 

Practice: Boats on a River
Most people have never actually met themselves. At every moment, all our lives long, we identify with our thoughts, our self-image, or our feelings. We have to find a way to get behind this view of ourselves to discover the face we had before we were born. We must discover who we are in God, who we’ve always been—long before we did anything right or anything wrong. This is the first goal of contemplation.

Imagine you are sitting on the bank of a river. Boats and ships—thoughts, feelings, and sensations—are sailing past. While the stream flows by your inner eye, name each of these vessels. For example, one of the boats could be called “my anxiety about tomorrow.” Or along comes the ship “objections to my husband” or the boat “I don’t do that well.” Every judgment that you pass is one of those boats. Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let them move on down the river.

This can be a difficult exercise because you’re used to jumping aboard the boats—your thoughts—immediately. As soon as you own a boat and identify with it, it picks up energy. This is a practice in un-possessing, detaching, letting go. With every idea, with every image that comes into your head, say, “No, I’m not that; I don’t need that; that’s not me.”

Sometimes, a boat turns around and heads back upstream to demand your attention again. Habitual thoughts are hard to not be hooked by. Sometimes you feel the need to torpedo your boats. But don’t attack them. Don’t hate them or condemn them. This is also an exercise in nonviolence. The point is to recognize your thoughts, which are not you, and to say, “That’s not necessary; I don’t need that.” But do it very amiably. If you learn to handle your own soul tenderly and lovingly, you’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom out into the world.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 94-95.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

This is My Story, This is My Song . . .

During times of transition, it is helpful to rehearse what we value and what we've learned along the way. This "rehearsing the story" is a biblical way of presenting ourselves before God and anchoring our hearts and minds in a broader Story that goes beyond our brief life on this planet.
As I started to write out my story, I was prayerfully aware of several things:
  1. We cannot bear the weight of our stories; there is too much glory, mystery and sorrow for any one person to bear on their own. This is one reason why community is so important. Only an interweb of supportive relationships centered around the presence and activity of God can support our stories.
  2. Only Jesus can ultimately bear our stories. Only his shoulders are broad enough to bear their weight. Only between the paws of Aslan is there enough space to hold every part of our stories.
  3. The process of picking and choosing what parts to tell, as well as assigning value and interpretive meaning to events, people and words are all tools in the storyteller craft. The process itself is revealing. I found myself more thankful and sorrowful through the telling.
Seeking to live a story worth telling,

I was raised in a small Oregon town (Forest Grove) to nominally church going parents. Though we semi-regularly attended the local United Church of Christ, I never heard the gospel -  it was usually just a mix of teaching on positive thinking. It wasn’t until I was in a very deep crisis in my late teens that I heard and responded to the gospel of Jesus.
My childhood had been fairly lonely and damaging, but I didn’t know it at the time; I just thought there was something very wrong with me! My Dad left us when I was 9 and refused to pay child support, so we were pretty poor and my Mom had to work several jobs. Consequently, she was rarely home. I was left to fend for myself in the house, often without much food, along with an older brother. Shame and self-hatred became early companions that nearly killed me. They were nurtured through constant issues with eating for comfort and weight issues from when I was very young. I gradually became convinced over many years that suicide was the best way out for me, the only way to escape emotional pain. Drugs, alcohol and dark, angry, metal music only made things worse. My emotional struggles made it difficult to find friends, which only reinforced by story of abandonment and shame. Most of my friends during high school were “party” friends who could help me numb the pain but offer little else.
After one of my drinking buddies committed suicide in 1989 (I was 19), I felt closer than ever to taking my own life. Thankfully, this is the time when Jesus invaded my story! At the time, the only real Christian I knew had been periodically teaching me to play drums. He never pushed Jesus on me, but was available one night to answer questions I had. On a July night in 1989 he asked me if I wanted to receive Jesus, and with a sliver of faith I said, “Why not? I’ve tried everything else.”
Jesus took that weak step and gave me new life! I felt something different inside almost immediately. I began attending my friend’s church (Foursquare denomination) and got involved in helping lead the youth group. I was baptized in water about a month later. Though I was never a reader, I found an insatiable thirst for the New Testament, and read it through several times in the next few months. That first year was a dream; Jesus felt so close and so good! I thought for sure my inner anguish was gone, taken care of, paid for. Little did I know that there was much in me that was still deeply broken and in need of healing.
To my dismay, I developed a degenerative disc disease in my back in the next year that forced me to quit my warehouse job and consider other options. With my love of Scripture and a growing sense of calling to leadership, I began to entertain the idea of Bible College. I attended LIFE Bible College in Burnaby, British Columbia from 1990-1994, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Theology (this school has since been renamed and moved - it is now Pacific Life Bible College in Surrey, BC).
During my time at LIFE, my struggles with depression, shame and self-hatred came roaring back and I experienced a great deal of disillusionment because of it. It became clear that I was still messed up inside even though Jesus was “Lord of my life.” To make matters worse, neither I nor the Christians around me had categories to help someone like me. Brokenness was not really in their vocabulary, except for addicts in 12-step groups. I was told to “just pray more” and “trust God,” which only provoked greater shame because I felt unable to.
Through a few compassionate professors during my time at Bible College, I developed a deep appreciation for Theology, Church History and Hermeneutics. The Reformed faith of a few of my professors was appealing because God’s Sovereignty seemed to give me breathing room for my troubled heart. Though I loved the hunger for God that ran through the Foursquare/Pentecostal faith, I was frequently troubled by the lack of empathy for people like me who struggled and who didn’t quite fit the “victorious” Christian model of living. I was also distressed with how much abusive manipulative tactics were used to get good Christian people to do things. Many pastors I knew led by manipulation in the name of Jesus, so I quickly became disillusioned with church. Things seemed to brighten as my graduation drew near and I began to think hopefully about my future with the person I had fallen in love with several years earlier.
I met my wife (Cheri) during this time at the church we attended together.  Cheri and I dated for several years and got married in 1994. Over the next 6 years we lived mostly in southern British Columbia, having one son (Samuel) in October of 1998.
During these years I had remained involved, off and on, with the Bible College in an adjunct teaching capacity. I greatly enjoyed research and teaching, and I began to sense a call to return to school to develop these gifts. I attended Associated Canadian Theological Schools (ACTS) from 1999-2001, graduating with a Masters degree in Theological Studies. In my reading, writing and teaching I continued to develop a thirst to resolve an issue that seemed to come up repeatedly - how to wed the mind and heart in an integrated way, or how to unite a heart of devotion with an academic mind. With J.I. Packer’s guidance (Regent College), I wrote my Master’s thesis on Jonathan Edwards’ spirituality, thinking that in him I had found my solution to the tension.
As part of my duties in the Masters program, I served as a teaching assistant. This gave me a taste of teaching in a graduate level setting. I enjoyed this even more than the College level. I knew I would need a Ph.D. if I wanted to teach graduate level, so I began looking at Ph.D. programs. The church in the lower mainland BC (as I experienced it) was becoming more and more “liberal” and I found myself having to defend basic Bible teachings in the classroom and in small groups. I was tired of having to ‘defend the Bible,' so I was looking for a school that shared my values. I settled on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY because of it’s conservative resurgence and it’s reasonable tuition. We moved to Louisville in June 2001. I began working on prerequisites for entering the Ph.D. program from 2001-2002 and was on the verge of applying to the program when “the floor” fell out from under me.
A dark night of the soul descended upon me in 2002-2003, though I had no idea what was going on at the time. Over a few months I lost most of my ability to study, read and write; my concentration was shot, and I felt weary, confused and distant from God. This made completing my classwork very difficult and the idea of beginning a Ph.D. program impossible. I had felt sure that God had called me to Louisville but began to doubt whether or not I had ever heard anything from God. I dropped out of school (what I thought was a temporary break) and found some desk work that I could do. My wife and I sought community where we could “be broken” in, and I turned to authors who seemed to have categories to help the suffering Christian: Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, John Eldredge, Eugene Peterson and Larry Crabb. I could no longer read Scripture in traditional translations; it only seemed to reinforce the distance I felt between me and God. I turned to Peterson’s The Message for the next several years and it saved my faith! It provided language and symbolic space for my questions, anger and raging confusion.
As I just kept walking through each day trying to make sense of God and my story, I began to realize that the Lord was remaking me from the ground up. I began opening to new ideas and practices related to the Christian life. I learned about the true/false self from Thomas Merton and Judith Hougen; I learned and began practicing listening and inner healing prayer from Rusty Rustenbach, Sandra Wilson and Leanne Payne; I discovered my heart through John Eldredge; I found freedom to be broken in Henri Nouwen, David Benner, Brennan Manning and Larry Crabb. I learned how to do silence and solitude from Ruth Haley Barton’s writings and the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY.
Though I was also receiving regular counseling, I still had great difficulty relating to God and especially Jesus, and I could not make much sense of the gifts and calling that seemed irrevocable in my life.
We had two more children during these years - daughters Anna Beth (2002) and Elise (2004). Though I couldn’t make sense of my story, my family provided me loving space to just simply be. They also provided me the desperately needed relational connections that helped me survive the darkness. I couldn’t trust much in the world, but I could trust that at home there was a wife and children that loved me. At home I found solace, a place of love, acceptance and forgiveness in a world that didn’t make sense.
I found some outlet in leading small groups over the years and the occasional opportunity to preach; but I mostly found my sense of purpose in walking with people one on one. I developed a few close friendships, and a small handful of broken people (many who were either leaders or recovering leaders) sought me ought to help find some hope. My greatest joy became helping people consider new thoughts, ideas and images about God and his goodness and helping them work out the implications in their lives.
A turning point occurred in 2012-2013, revolving around how I related to and through my body. In July 2012 I had experienced another in a long line of food binges followed by shame. I was tired of it. My wife and I resolved that we had to try and change things up. We decided to begin by recording our eating without trying to change much, at least initially. We had tried multiple times to make radical changes, but always lacked the vision to sustain it.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that although I did have some healthy eating patterns, there were a few specific habits that were always overturning my efforts to lose weight. Several times a week I would typically deal with work/life stress by stopping by a convenience store on my way home from work and picking up a handful of candy bars. When we started recording our eating ( I tried cutting out these binges because i didn’t want to record them!
Though there were many hunger pains early on, I was surprised how easy it was for me to push through them and stay on track. This time felt different. As I found new ways of dealing with being hungry, I was still tempted frequently to turn to sweets when life felt sour. I was able to let these go for the most part, and when i did fail, I tried to re-interpret it along the lines of a long process of lifestyle change, saying to myself that this little incident didn’t need to ruin that. I was also learning daily times of silence and solitude and practicing God’s presence. The breakthrough seemed to come when i began to take God with me into these episodes of bingeing. I would try my best to talk with God about what I was doing, how I felt about it, how I wanted him to help me change. I knew he was there and that he loved me, right at the point of my shame, and this brought some deep healing to those places. As I practiced this, these temptations began to lose their power and frequency.
When i started, I needed to lose about 90 lbs to get my “ideal” weight. I was dropping weight pretty fast, averaging 3-4lbs a week. Within about 6-7 months I was approaching my goal weight. I had never experienced this kind of progress before; I felt “help” with and in me that felt different. Though I didn’t understand fully what was going on, I cooperated with it where I could and a vision began to form in which healthy eating not only made sense but was couched in goodness. It felt like a “reset” button had been pushed in my body.
Around the time of reaching my goal weight (February 2013) I saw someone post on Facebook that some Dallas Willard lectures were going to be streaming for free as they were delivered (Knowing Christ Conference). I thought I would listen to them as I worked, and though I missed a few of them was able to catch most of the messages.
I had read some Dallas Willard before, but never heard him lecture that I can recall. I was captivated! As he talked about life in the Kingdom of God I knew that I was hearing about what I was experiencing. Connections were aflame in my mind, and all the big words in my theology were finally finding cohesion - grace, gospel, discipleship, Kingdom, eternal life, etc. In my bodily experiences of weight loss, I was cooperating with God in ways I’d never known before, but my experience was as if I had backed into it without knowing it. I listened to those lectures 20-30 times each in the next several months, and I seemed to get something new each time. I had never “devoured” a teacher or teaching like this, but I felt “ripe” to hear it and jump into it.
That experience launched me into an exploratory adventure into the Kingdom of God that continues to this day. I have sought to apprentice myself to Jesus every day and learn how to live as he would, at his pace and in his spirit. I rarely seem to do it, though; it’s usually as an indirect result of something else going on, some crisis in my life or in the life of someone I love, that I step into this stream of eternal life. I want to grow in consistent vision and intention. I have committed myself for a long time to opening myself to God’s life in every way I can, whenever I can, trusting that Jesus will meet me and work in ways that I can’t. Everything seems to hinge on vision and intention; when these are in alignment, means becomes powerfully significant.
I still feel a great deal of emotional pain at times, and sometimes feel just as weak, powerless and despairing as I used to; but these are slowly decreasing in power and frequency as healing goodness permeates my soul day by day. I have been blogging for years about my journey, which has been therapeutic for me and for many other broken people. My heart breaks for hurting people who fall through the cracks in their experience of church and of Jesus! This desire to write was united with a leading by the Spirit to write something for the Journal for Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, a journal I have been following and supporting since it’s inception. I am humbled and happy to say my article will appear in the Fall 2016 issue on Lament. It is an attempt to address a serious gap I see in the spiritual formation movement - a lack of awareness of weakness and psychological pathology as well as attention to inner healing as a consequence of Kingdom living. I have come to believe that spiritual disciplines are much more organic than we think, arising out of a soul’s particular need to engage with God in particular way in a particular time. Some people cannot do disciplines until they receive significant healing first; but most spiritual formation talk doesn’t address this (at least, in my limited experience of it).
The latest iteration of Kingdom work in my life has been to take the rubble of my calling, giftedness and desire and to rework it along with the entire category of “pastor.” I began imagining with Jesus what it would look like for a church to be the church - in the Kingdom, free of outcomes and making people do things. I also re-imagined the role of pastor in similar ways, and soon discovered that this is what I felt made for.
Since June 2015 I have been actively pursuing a pastoral vocation, with no “success” as of yet. Conversations with my mentor in Louisville (Rich Plass, co-author of Relational Soul from IVP) and many other leading circumstances led me to conclude that geography and place deeply mattered to me. I needed to be closer to mountains and to our families in the NW, so we chose to move to Spokane, WA in July 2016. I hope and pray a pastoral vocation will unfold in the Lord’s timing here. If not, I know my story will not be in vain. If I do not have the opportunity to be a Kingdom shepherd here and now in this life, I believe that nevertheless I am undergoing training for the next life, the real life, the life of reigning with Jesus in his way. With that as my vision, I am desiring and pursuing God and this calling, but am content if he decides that it’s best for me to remain doing desk work on this side of the veil.

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!