Thursday, July 31, 2014

A July Memorial: Faithfulnesses Piled High

July 2014 has special significance for me. It marks 25 years walking with Jesus and 20 years of marriage with my beautiful bride, Cheri. These two relationships are the most important in my life, and their existence and continued growth continue to humble and befuddle me with mystery, holiness and grace.

As I look back, I’ve been passed by many believers far more gifted and on fire than I was, only to encounter their shipwrecked hulls several years later. Many marriages too, tanked and beyond repair, lie on the rocky outcrops of human self-will.

I don’t point this out to pat myself or my marriage on the back, quite the contrary – I have no idea why it’s been like that. When a friend heard it was our 20th anniversary this month, he asked, “20 years, eh? I guess you have everything figured out by now!” I answered, “No, but we’ve learned that we are free from having all our questions answered.”

The faithfulness of Jesus persists (Lamentations 3:22-24). This is the only reason why I’m still a disciple of Jesus happily married to Cheri. So, to give praise where it is due, I’ll simply quote my favorite Matt Redman song and fade into the background. Thank you, Jesus.

"Never Once"

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Relational Manifesto

[This came out of a time of wrestling with God this morning that brought me significant peace and freedom as I agonized over a close relationship; consider it a document “in process” – like me]

I stand, safe and secure, in the vast abundance of God’s Kingdom as a disciple of Jesus.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need (Ps 23:1 NLT)

I am created for relationship by a relational God.

The core of all reality is Trinitarian intimacy and joy. All reality is therefore relational reality.

Jesus is the Master of all relationships, and is uniquely qualified to teach me all that I need to know to live eternally now, in the midst of temporal circumstances and relationships.

I am free from having to have my own way in relationships and circumstances.

I no longer “need” to be understood or accepted by other people. I have more than enough love, acceptance and forgiveness with God in his Kingdom.

I have relational needs that God intends to be met by other people (and I participate in meeting others’ needs). But, I am not in control of how or when those needs are met. I trust God to meet my relational needs, even what I need from others. I do not dictate my needs to others; rather I ask.

I can ask others (simply, honestly) for what I need, avoiding the common tactics of condemnation and manipulation of feelings.

In the asking of others, I seek to do so in such a way to give them the genuine dignity and freedom to respond as they wish, leaving the outcome to God.

I am free from keeping score of wrongs.

I am free from the tactics of attack and withdrawal.

I am free to love others for who they are, where they are, without regard to how they respond to me.

HUGE CAVEAT - Experience of brokenness and deep pain throughout this process!!

There will be times of deep and profound anguish as these things are worked out in the daily grind of real relationships – their give and take, wounding and healing.

Have patience with yourself, above all treat yourself (and others, when you can) with extreme tenderness. “Love others the way you love yourself,” the Master said.

God is holding you and the entire process. Realize that our “relational template” or the ways we relate and attach to God and others is severely disabled, corrupted and even dead in places. Deep healing and resurrection will be available in God, taking much time and tears.

This is what community is for.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Call of the Sun

Low-lying clouds freighted with rain move fast across the sky

Burdened with darkness

they move in the direction of the rising sun


Blessed, the sunlight begins to catch them and kiss them

pink, orange and gold added to their darkness


The dome under heaven is vast

ample room for all kinds of clouds

The sun calls them home, drawing them west


The sun never feels fear by the presence of these dark clouds

Instead it laughs and puts bows in their hair

It calls them to itself

makes shapes out of them for kid-minded folks to see,

ships and giraffes and dogs and great sky-lizards


As they journey toward the light,

the ripened darkness is shed abroad over the land

poured out as an offering of tears

giving life to all God’s creation

making glad the city of God


Friday, June 06, 2014

My Limits Are Fixed

My limits are fixed

By the care of another;

Though placed in love

The boundaries for life and living

There are gaps in the walls, holes in the fence

where arrows and cannon balls crashed through

Violated

Wounded

Skeptical

Grasping

Boundaries now feel to me like a cage

Like a child going without

Being kept from everything good

I fight and I kick

Weary

Lost

Lacking

Bloodied fists, I crumble in shame and fear


The one who lavishes

Meets me in my lack

Kisses my forehead and wipes away the blood

He bids me follow Him

He shows me around

Teaches me to walk

Surprised by space within the limits

Slowly, I find that the boundaries are not a cage at all

No longer so small

Safety restored

I can breathe

Safe and sound

All that I need and more


Boundaries laid down

Limits lovingly set;

The sweet context of my life

The sweaty texture of grace in skin

Learning to be free when I don’t think I have enough

He’s got me, He told me

He’s got me, He told me


Double barreled burdens crush

Figuring out what is supposed to be

Working to bring it about;

Impotence exposed

Illusions shattered

Sadness ripened

Sufficiency drunk

Beauty lavished

Goodness tasted

Love lived

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Shepherdess (A Mother’s Day Poem)

For my wife, Cheri, on Mother’s Day 2014

A wise shepherdess

            Who tenderly mends

                        What is broken

            Who reinforces

                        What is weak

She leads her flock to green pastures,

            Beside quiet waters;

She partners with God in restoring souls.

 

She leads by living

            Heals by loving

            Defends through teaching

Fierce is she!

            Against all oppressors of her flock!

She stands faithfully,

            Wisely

            Strongly

            Lovingly

Between her flock and all harm.

 

Though she thinks her tasks mundane,

And of little consequence;

She rules and reigns with God, her Shepherd

She is his royal daughter

            Cared for personally by him,

            Part of his flock.

                        Princess Shepherdess!

Though she walks in obscurity,

            She is never outside the light of his smile

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Narnian Training

[my last blog for the month of April for the Society for Christian Psychology]

I’ve been visiting Narnia frequently in recent weeks. Every few years I find myself drawn back into that world of talking beasts, epic battles and, of course, The Great Lion, Aslan. Each time I go through the stories I seem to find new inspiration and insight in my walk with Jesus. Attention paid to Aslan’s words and activities seems to help me see Jesus afresh, free from religious jargon and traditional Churchianity.

In fact, my last round through the series (December 2010), I wrote a blog entitled “Loving Aslan More Than Jesus.” I want to expand a bit on that idea, particularly how imaginatively spending time in Narnia can help many lost and broken souls (like myself!) find hope in reconnecting with the saving work of God through Jesus. Our western culture is riddled with corrupted ideas and practices surrounding the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and anything that helps us read the Gospels afresh is to be welcomed. Narnia does this for me.

There are two writings from C.S. Lewis that guide my thinking in this area. The first comes from a letter he wrote to Philinda Krieg and the second an excerpt from Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

9 year old Lawrence Krieg confessed to his mother, Philinda, that he loved Aslan the lion more than Jesus. Lawrence feared that this feeling made him an idolater. Philinda wrote to C.S. Lewis somewhere between 1955 and 1958, asking for his advice. Within 10 days they had their reply,

“Tell Laurence from me, with my love,” Lewis wrote in a detailed letter, “ … [He] can't really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that's what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. … I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) … .”

Based on Lewis’ words and my own experience, I can say with some confidence that learning how Aslan works and speaks can help me understand and relate to how Jesus works and speaks. For me personally, the draw of Aslan has always been that he is free of religious rubble and the spiritual caricatures of Jesus that seem to litter my mind and feelings. Many good novels can do this for us, but the character of Aslan especially.

The second passage from Lewis comes from the end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan reveals that Edmund and Lucy won’t be returning to Narnia.

“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan. “Are-are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of The Dawn Treader, HarperCollins Publishers, 1980: 269-70).

Time spent in Narnia with Aslan helps us know him here in our world, under a different name: Jesus. These stories are not just for kids but for all grown-ups who recognize their need to become children again (Matt 18:3-5). Few places teach us to become children again like the green grasses of Narnian hillsides. Every time Aslan roars or breathes on a statue to set it free we have fresh access to the heart and actions of God incarnate that opened blind eyes and overturned merchant tables. The utterly unique combination of kindness and strength that we find in Jesus is on display every time Aslan is on the move. We can become his disciples in Narnia and in our world. Pressing in to know Aslan can become pressing in to know Jesus Christ as we unite childlike faith and imagination. If we think ourselves beyond such training, too mature for Narnia, perhaps we are too mature for Jesus as well.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Growing Down

[a blog I wrote for the Society for Christian Psychology]

Psalm 131 is a Psalm of Ascents, one of the songs (Ps 120-134) that Israel sang and prayed on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for festal celebrations. Psalm 131 prepares the worshiper through childlike simplification and trust in Yahweh. It can do the same for us today.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.
(Ps 131:1-3 NIV)

Dale and Juanita Ryan from the National Association for Christian Recovery have written a very moving meditation based on this Psalm in their book, Rooted in God’s Love: Meditations on Biblical Texts. I will share this meditation and then offer some comments throughout.

A weaned child in the psalmist's culture is a child who can walk and talk. It is a child who for many months has been nourished day and night at it's mother's breast. Every time the pain of hunger came, the child enjoyed the powerful combination of having its stomach filled with warm milk while being held in a close, intimate embrace. Messages of love and valuing flowed into the child's spirit while the life-sustaining milk flowed into its body.

Love and nourishment are the soil in which security grows. A weaned child still needs to eat. But, it is not frantic about its next meal. It has learned that it's needs are important, that they will be noticed and that they can be met. Because of the love and nourishment it has received, a weaned child has grown secure.

How often our pathologies and insanities are driven by an insatiable thirst for love and nourishment! We grasp, bite, kick, envy, lust and grab all because we feel deficient, deprived and alone. We can be like starving refugees rushing a UN Aid truck in a crazed stampede!

The authors continue,

Recovery is like being loved and nourished until we can be weaned. We don't grow out of having needs - our goal is not mere self reliance. Rather our goal is to experience love and nourishment. As we do so, we gradually become less frantic about our next meal. We grow. We heal. Eventually a new kind of security grows in us - not the security of toxic self-reliance, but the security that comes from nurture. We become less frantic, less fragile. Our souls become stilled and quieted.

Have you experienced this progression in your soul? The Lord Jesus wants to move us from a frantic grasping to a quiet receiving posture, from the grasping of the orphan to the simple request offered by the beloved child. If we were honest, many of us would likely say that we are not where we would like to be in this regard. But this experience (or lack of experience) does not mean that such realities in God are not possible; perhaps we are not in a place to receive them yet. There is a certain amount of breaking and humbling that must occur for orphans to loosen their grip on the ideals of control.

There are many obstacles in the spiritual life, many corrupt beliefs and practices that are complexly interwoven with our cherished systems of survival. We are not really sure we want God or his promises! We’re not sure he can be trusted with our care and nourishment. It takes many gradual, tiny steps of trusting and testing God and his goodness within the context of safe communities of Jesus. Eventually, we can be weaned. But even then we shall never “grow up” and graduate to greater matters of control. Blissfully, we grow down into the ever younger and simplified new self that asks for what it needs from God, serenely trusting that our Father shall always give us what we need.

Dale and Juanita Ryan close the meditation with a beautiful prayer to help us get started:

Nourish me, Lord. 
Nourish me with your love.
Calm the frantic feelings within me.
Grow a sense of security within me.
I want to be able to sit quietly.
Like a weaned child.
Nourished.
Secure in your love.
Amen.