Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Humility

"Whoever is truly humbled - will not be easily angry, nor harsh or critical of others. He will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing that if there is a difference - it is grace alone which has made it! He knows that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart. And under all trials and afflictions - he will look to the hand of the Lord, and lay his mouth in the dust, acknowledging that he suffers much less than his iniquities have deserved."
--John Newton, Letters of John Newton ("Indwelling Sin and the Believer")

Friday, December 24, 2010

Immanuel, the Warrior-With-Us

Just a short post for Christmas Eve, friends.

As I was meditating on Isaiah 7, the passage that Matthew quotes regarding "Immanuel," I was struck by the context of the promise and what it says to me today.

This has been my most anxious and fearful Christmas in a long, long time (maybe ever). The truth that God is with us, with me, has been a tender reminder of why Jesus came and how I can rely on him to stay with me while I fall apart, quietly and surely redeeming. The truth becomes even more powerful when I see in the context of Isaiah 7, that the "sign" of Immanuel is given by God to King Ahaz who is overwhelmed by anxiety and fear, a sign that God is present with him, faithful to all his promises.

Throughout the Scriptures God's presence "with" his people has meant several things:
1) God is present to fight for his people
2) God is present to forgive and bless his people

The fact that God was with Ahaz, and is with us in Christ, is a reminder that not only dwells with us powerful, forgiving support, but also that God fights for us.

Some texts:
When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12 NIV)

On that day
they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:16-17 NIV)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Baby Names

Recently in Formation Group we had an excellent discussion revolving around Matthew 1:18-25.

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (NIV, emphasis mine)

The two prominent names for the Messiah in this passage are Jesus (savior from sin) and Immanuel (God with us). These two names are obviously closely related, pointing to different aspects of the mission and message of the incarnate Son. They point to, for example, the fact that this baby Jesus was born to die for sin (hence the name, Jesus). Sin demands payment, and only God could pay our debt (the futile repetition of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the failure of the offices of prophet-priest-king are more than sufficient to bear this out).

One of the beautiful truths that Immanuel brings out is that the point of Jesus dying for our sins is so that we could live with God forever. This is a point I've brought out before, that the main point of the gospel is life-with-God. Too many "gospel-centered" theologies forget this, making the gospel an end in itself, almost to the level of an idol. The incarnation itself is also a powerful reminder of this - God came to dwell with us! Hear these passages anew:

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14 NIV).

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”(Revelation 21:3-4 NIV)

Let's allow these two names of the Messiah (Jesus, Immanuel) room to play in our imaginations this Christmas. This baby, this weak and vulnerable God who made the universe and holds it all together came to die for our sins so we can be with him forever. How can we withhold our hearts and minds from him? How can we fail to trust such a tender warrior? He has given us everything he has, all the riches of heaven and earth; let us not be hesitant to give him everything of our daily lives, whether it be painful, joyful or mundane.

"Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace? Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by him. And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, ‘If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine is his.’” – Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian

Friday, December 17, 2010

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

My Advent readings have involved reading this hymn everyday this week. It was written in 1744 by Charles Wesley.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

This nicely summarizes my hopes and desires for the season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Way of Christmas and The Way of Jesus (2)

I'm continuing to reflect on the way in which Jesus came/comes providing a way for us to live.

Two more thoughts:

1) Jesus came as an infant, the most vulnerable expression of our humanity (Philippians 2). One thing this means is an embracing of childlikeness that is at the center of the Kingdom of God.

"Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:4 ESV)

"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mark 10:15 ESV)

One of the ways Jesus taught us to become like children was to become one himself. It teaches us to watch and learn how children live in a world of wonder, humility and unabashed dependence (not overlooking the sinful corruption of these things in all children and adults).

Chesterton reminds us,
"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." (Orthodoxy, ch. 4)

2) The second thing about "this way" of Jesus is a celebration of process - By stepping into human life as a baby, Jesus entered into (and redeemed) the fullness of human experience, the processes involved in becoming a child, toddler, adolescent and adult. There are no "fast tracks" or instant magical solutions with this God-man. He entered into the waiting, participation, joys and frustrations involved in processes like puberty, learning a language, learning to walk, learning a trade, etc. This give us great hope that Jesus understands and enters into all our daily processes that are involved in our humanity, many of which are mundane and "insignificant."

The "Christmas way" of Jesus teaches us to receive him afresh as a child, with wonder, delight and ruthless trust. It also calls us to His presence in the daily processes that are wrapped up in each of us "being human" throughout the year, not just at Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meditations From the Stable

As I linger over the stable and in my imagination see the infant Jesus as God's inbreak into my world, I came across this in my ESV Study Bible in the article on the doctrine of Christ:

Four statements must be understood and affirmed in order to attain a complete biblical picture of the person of Jesus Christ:

  1. Jesus Christ is fully and completely divine.
  2. Jesus Christ is fully and completely human.
  3. The divine and human natures of Christ are distinct.
  4. The divine and human natures of Christ are completely united in one person.
These truths are largely hammered out in the Nicene (A.D. 325) and Chalcedonian (A.D. 451) creeds. It is interesting to imagine looking at the infant Jesus with these great truths before me. These statements are all true about this little one. Once again, I am plunged into mystery. The glory of this God is displayed in his conjunction of attributes and actions: humility wed with majesty; Love wed with holiness; Human wed with Divine.

As I reflect on this Christ, I long for him to be birthed in me anew. That he would grow and take shape in all my thoughts and actions, which are so ruined with corruption. To have this Jesus make his home in me until my most natural way of "being human" is at once a reflection of true humanity empowered by divinity.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Way of Christmas and The Way of Jesus

In a stellar essay entitled, "The Shipwrecked at the Stable" in his book Lion and Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, Brennan Manning clarifies our focus for the Christmas season:

"God entered our world not with the crushing impact of unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability, and need. On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to Him.
. . . The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel. The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can say exactly where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and His chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds. But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God." (175-6)

The way in which Jesus came presents to us a way for us to live. As disciples, we need to pay attention not only to what Jesus said and what Jesus did but the way in which he came. If Jesus comes to us in brokenness and need, how can we come to him any other way than in brokenness and need? Are you shipwrecked at the stable? Do you kneel in wonder? Or do you rush by, gripping your packages and trusted propositions?

The infant Jesus calls us to a life of brokenness and need, away from power brokers into the obscurity of an unknown cave. This is what it means to be human, and God had to show it to us.

Loving Aslan More Than Jesus

The last time I read through the Narnia series (about a year ago) I remember thinking (with some measure of guilt) that I liked the character of Aslan more than I like Jesus. He seems more wild, dangerous, tender and free than the Jesus I am familiar with.

One concerned mother of a small child who said that he loved Aslan more than Jesus wrote to C.S. Lewis and asked his advice. The child's name was Laurence, and here is Lewis' response:

Laurence 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. (Letters to Children, p. 52-53)

What I love about Aslan is what I love about Jesus. It's just that my view of Jesus is so messed up by my own sin, woundedness and religious baggage that the real Jesus in the Scriptures is obscured.

The figure of Aslan is able to sneak into my heart through the "back door" of the imagination more easily. In loving Aslan, I love Jesus.

(thanks to blogger Tyler Kenney for posting this quote.)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

There's More to the Story

Fellow brothers in the Reformed tradition often give a warning at this time of year: in celebrating the incarnation of Jesus, don't lose sight of his work on the cross. It is often put this way: "Jesus came (or was born) to die for sinners - never forget that." Now, I really couldn't agree more with this statement. It is because of sinners that a little baby showed up in Bethlehem. The messy business of redeeming sinners began in a messy stable. But I fear it could put us out of focus.

I would like to add to this truth a "counterbalancing" warning to not overshadow and marginalize the incarnation by running too quickly to the Cross. My gut tells me that some would rather pass over the baby at Bethlehem for the glories of the cross. It's easier to preach and easier to explain through propositional arguments. Generally, one would rather stand meditating on the sight of the cross than meditating on God as a baby in a feed trough.

But there is something about God coming to us as a vulnerable, needy baby that reformed people especially need to think on. The God of glory needs us to change his diapers. He is as inviting and approachable as any baby we encounter. What do we do with that?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Being Formed by Thanksgiving

These are our discussion notes from our Formation Group last night. It is helpful to me to reflect on as we head towards the holiday next week.

What is one of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions?

“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” (Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son)
(Nouwen sees that the way home for the elder son is a path of trust and gratitude vs. resentment and entitlement.)

“To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.” (Nouwen, Bread for the Journey)

Think about the limits of your life, the unique context in which you are called to live and move. Are you thankful for these limits? Or, do you feel resentment?

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim 4:4-5 ESV)

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18 ESV)

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7 ESV)

would you describe yourself as a thankful person? If so, why? If not, why not?
can you receive others’ gratitude?
how does giving thanks form us? how does resentment form us?
what habits do you have that promote a thankful heart?
what habits do you have that undermine a thankful heart?

For further reflection, a New Testament Theology of Thanksgiving:
The Gospels introduce and the Epistles develop the concept that gratitude for God's deliverance in Christ characterizes the believer. When a sinful woman interrupted a dinner party to anoint Jesus with precious perfume, Jesus told his shocked host that her action sprang from gratitude for forgiveness (Luke 7:40-47). When Jesus healed ten lepers as they walked to the temple, he marveled aloud that only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank him (Luke 7:11-19). Paul agrees that believers should be thankful for every individual provision, and that gratitude for God's saving grace envelops the entire Christian life. Those whom God has brought from death to life should offer their bodies to him as instruments of righteousness (Rom 6:13). In view of God's mercies, knowing they were bought at a price, they should offer their bodies to God as living sacrifices in general and honor him with purity in particular (Rom 12:1 ; 1 Cor 6:20). Those who have received an unshakeable kingdom from God should be thankful, worship God, and faithfully endure the hardships of persecution (Heb 12:28 and context).
A general attitude of thanksgiving in both the trials and blessings of life distinguishes the Christian. Paul enjoins his churches to give thanks for all things, in all circumstances (Eph 5:20 ; 1 Thess 5:18), even in suffering (Rom 5:3-5 ; James 1:1-4), and to do everything in the name of Jesus out of a spirit of gratitude (Col 3:17). On the other hand, thanklessness marks godless and wicked men who suppress the truth about God (Rom 1:18-21).
Believers retain joy and peace especially when, "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving [they] present their requests to God" (Php 4:6-7). Thanksgiving is a central component of prayer for Paul. He prays that his churches will be thankful (Col 1:12), and gives thanks in turn for answered prayer, especially for the extension of the gospel and the strength of his churches (2 Cor 4:15). Paul begins most of his letters (Galatians, 1 Timothy, and Titus being the exceptions) with expressions of thanksgiving to God for the church or individual to which he writes. The thanksgiving usually leads to a prayer, and the two together ordinarily introduce some of Paul's themes for the letter. For example, Paul thanks God for the faith of the Romans (1:8), for his grace given to the Corinthians so that they lack no spiritual gift ( 1 Cor 1:4-7 ), and for the Philippians' partnership in the gospel (1:3-5 ; see also 1 Thess 1:2-3 ; 2 Thess 1:3-4). from article by Daniel Doriani in Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Thankfulness, Thanksgiving'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology"1997.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holiday Formation in Christ

Advent is nearly here (first Sunday is 11/28/10). I've been thinking a lot about how the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas) can be used by God to further our transformation in Christ. I directed our Spiritual Formation Group to look at this meditation last week:

So much gets provoked in us during the holidays - pain & anger from our family of origin, sorrow over loss, anxiety over finances & schedules, etc. - when we are overwhelmed it is too late; we need to prepare for these moments beforehand through gaining a compelling vision from God we can draw upon through grace.

What provokes you?

In holidays past (Thanksgiving/Christmas) what ideas, images or emotions typically form and shape you? (negatively - anxiety, fear, need for control, positively - the reasons why Jesus came, etc.)

What kind of person do you want to be during this holiday season? In other words, how can we be intentional about what shapes us? Ask God about this and listen.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Economy of God

I found this quote strongly encouraging today.

From the Letters of John Newton (Banner of Truth, 1869/2007), page 364:

I believe the liveliest grace and the most solid comfort are known among the Lord’s poor and undistinguished people. Every outward advantage has a tendency to nourish the pride of the human heart, and requires a proportional knowledge of the deceitful self and the evil of sin to counterbalance them. It is no less difficult to have great abilities than great riches without trusting in them. …

If I were qualified to search out the best Christian in the kingdom, I should not expect to find him either in a professor’s chair or in a pulpit. I should give the palm [prize] to that person who had the lowest thoughts of himself, and the most admiring and cordial thoughts of the Savior. And perhaps this person may be some bedridden old man or woman, or a pauper in a parish workhouse. But our regard to the Lord is not to be measured by our sensible feelings, by what we can say or write, but rather by the simplicity of our dependence, and the uniform tenor of our obedience to his will.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)

I remind myself of these truths this morning after the second night of intense spiritual attack which robbed us of sleep.

I am convinced more than ever that the quickest swipe against the throat of the enemy is the gospel grace identity of Beloved.

He is tempting me to fear and to clothe myself once again in the orphan. He is tempting me to doubt the identity gifts God gave me on retreat this past weekend. Instead, by grace I will step into these gifts with more fervor and fan them into flame until the enemy and his devices are consumed.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"I Must Trust God Even Though I Don't Understand Him"

I am always on the lookout for those rare Christians who suffer well. I pull up alongside them in their grief and their questioning and I learn much about my self, my own sufferings and my enigmatic God. Authors like Nicholas Wolterstorff and Gerald Sittser have been incredibly helpful to me.

Add to these heroes of mine Dr. Frank James III. In his article entitled, "In the Shadow of Mount Hood: Meeting God in the Mystery of Grief," he describes in profound, honest ways his wrestling with faith and grief in the presence of God as he lost his brother to Mt. Hood in Oregon. Read it in its entirety. Here's one of my favorite sections:

One question haunts me: Where was God when Kelly was freezing to death on Mount Hood? For me, it is not whether I should ask such a question, but how I ask it. One can ask the question in a fit of rage, shaking one's fist at God. Many of us, if we are candid, have done that. But once the primal anger settles to a low boil, we can—and, I would submit, should—ask the question.

I am not suggesting that mere mortals can stand in judgment of God or call him to account. God does not report to me. But an honest question posed from a broken heart is to my mind a good and righteous thing.

To ask this hard question is an act of faith. It presupposes a genuine relationship in which the creature actually engages the Creator. If God is my Father, can't I humbly ask why he did not come to Kelly's rescue? For me, to not ask this question would be a failure to take God seriously.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

God's "wasteful scatteration of grace"

a sermon by Bill Smelvoe (preached in chapel at Regent College, Vancouver). Thanks to Roger Olson for the original post.

This is a beautiful portrayal of the grace of God in Jesus. Our father is reckless with grace! Unless we feel scandalized by how free his grace is, it's not the gospel we're in touch with.

The sermon:

I grew up on a mission base in the Philippines. It was a beautiful spot, fruit trees everywhere, a lovely spring fed swimming hole, and lots of other kids to play with. But my relationship with God was not always so idyllic. I grew up conflicted about God and Christianity, a bit like the southern humorist from Lubbock, Texas, who said the following about his youth.

He wrote: I learned two things growing up in Texas. 1: God loves you, and you’re going to burn in hell forever. 2. Sex is the dirtiest and most dangerous thing you can possibly do, so save it for someone you love.

To which I could add any number of important lessons, like, long prayer before meals is vain repetition, unless you’re eating out at a restaurant, in which case prayer must continue until the waitress and surrounding patrons have taken notice. Then extended prayer is not vain repetition, but witnessing. Or, another lesson, the word “rapture” actually refers to your most disturbing nightmare. A friend of mine attended Moody Bible Institute. One morning he decided to play a trick on one of his prophecy-obsessed roommates. Several of them got up early, went into the bathroom, turned on all the showers, scattered their clothes all about, left a razor running in the sink, and then hid to watch the poor fellow’s reaction. I’ll let you imagine it. Suffice to say that in my youth, the word “rapture” was most often an invitation to sheer terror, not exactly what Paul had in mind I don’t believe.

My father, who, with my mother, spent 30 years in the jungle translating the Bible into the language of the Mansaka people, was, in many respects, a wonderful Christian man. To read his letters today is to witness the interior life of a man who desperately hungered for a deep relationship with God. But that same intensity that burned so hot for God, also could erupt at any moment into, what was for us as children, a terrifying anger. There were three boys in our family. I still remember the day my older brother, Eric, finally outgrew his fear of my father. We had all been sent to my parents’ bedroom, the usual place where punishment was meted out, which, it occurs to me now, may have been just the sort of association a fundamentalist parent hoped to establish in his child’s mind. At any rate, my younger brother and I watched in horror as my older brother refused to join us in the bedroom. Eric shoved my father, my father stomped on Eric’s foot, and then Eric turned and fled out the door. He disappeared into the light, and as my father turned his gaze on Paul and me, I thought that Eric had been raptured, and I had been left behind to face the full fury of God’s righteous anger.

For it was of course God’s anger that we were dealing with. Children raised in religious homes are notorious for transferring their relationship with their human father to their heavenly father, and I was no exception. When the minister preached that Christians should fear God, I knew exactly what he meant. It was the one sermon I most easily obeyed. God terrified me, and the thought of his omniscient eye following my every move left me certain that I would one day hear “Depart from me you evil servant into everlasting darkness.” I invited Jesus into my heart virtually every night of my young life. I offered my life to him to take over and consecrate for his purposes, but, for reasons of his own, he never seemed to accept my offer, and the next day I returned to my incorrigible ways. This decidedly ambivalent relationship with God continued into young adulthood, when, after returning to the United States for college, I drifted for a time from the approved path. I can remember walking back to my apartment after a night out with my friends. I would walk on the inside of the sidewalk, and, when I heard a car approaching, I often stepped out of the sidewalk back into the shadows, because I was certain God, in his desire to call me back to himself, might send a stray car careening onto the sidewalk to render me paralyzed, so that I would then have plenty of time to ponder the depths of his love and might return to the fold.

It should come as no surprise then when I tell you that my discovery as an adult that the gospel is actually good news was the most revolutionary moment in my life. The grace of God, the marvelous grace and love of God … I heard it, I mouthed it, but I never believed it, felt it, tasted it, reveled in it, rested in it.

A preacher came one day to my Bible school. He spent an entire weekend talking about the grace of God. He had grown up as I had. He knew what I, and many of my fellow students, really felt when we spoke of God and Jesus. He began with an illustration. Imagine, he said, that the door opens at the front of the room and Jesus walks in. You know it’s Jesus because of the hair and beard. He scans the room and says, “I need a ride to Whistler [where the Olympics was just held], going to check out some of my Father’s best work, and I’d like for you to give me a ride. Just me and you in the car, alone, together, for two hours.” I imagined Jesus’ gaze and finger falling on me. The preacher asked, What is your immediate gut reaction to Jesus’ request? He knew, of course, what my reaction was. A request by Jesus to spend time alone with me could only mean one thing. The jig was up. He was angry, really angry. It was time to have my sins and faults enumerated. Only if I was very, very lucky would I make it all the way to the end of our journey without judgment being pronounced.

I could not imagine a God who might actually have one good thought about me. But by the end of that transformational weekend, I was beginning to imagine what that might be like.

Since that time I have made a practice of reading the Gospels. I often try to read them as if for the first time, as if I had no prior theological lens through which to view them. When I manage to do so, I am always stunned by Jesus, especially by how casually, how easily, he dispenses grace. Jesus moves among the sinners and riff raff of his day, and genuinely seems to like them, even love them. He calls them to follow a better way, but he never demands change BEFORE giving himself unreservedly to them. Where the practice of the church is often repentance first, then grace, Jesus’ method is almost always grace first, then we’ll see where we need to go from there.

I was reading in some missionary archives a few years ago a discussion between board members about whether or not to give away tracts and Gospels or to charge for them. One board member wrote that while he didn’t want the Gospels to be too expensive, he was also opposed to “wasteful scatteration.”

What I have learned from the Gospels is that Jesus is not opposed to the wasteful scatteration of gospel grace. He dispenses grace as if he had plenty of it to give away, as if he actually enjoyed loving and forgiving people. He is profligate with grace. When I read the Gospels without the coloring of my upbringing, I can’t help but feel that Jesus is the kind of person I would actually like to spend time with, and who just might enjoy spending time with me.

I’ve been struck recently by the story of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic man. Luke tells us in chapter five of his Gospel that Jesus was teaching in a house, and the crowd made it impossible for anyone else to get in. Verse 18: Then some men came carrying a paralytic on a couch and tried to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but as they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles, couch and all, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said, Man, your sins are forgiven you.

As you know, the story continues that the religious leaders begin to complain about this, and so Jesus asks which is harder to do, to forgive sins or to heal. And then to demonstrate his authority, he heals the man, who gets up and walks home. But notice that Jesus forgives the man his sins before the man ever asks for such a gift. As far as we know, he had no interest in or desire for such forgiveness. He had more pressing concerns. He wanted to walk.

Oh, but Jesus knew the man’s faith incorporated the spiritual. Oh, but Jesus forgave the man’s sins to set up the subsequent argument with the Pharisees. Baloney! He forgave the man’s sins because he knew the man needed it, and he liked doing it. There are stories like this all through the Gospels. I have yet to find a story where Jesus demands life change BEFORE he makes his grace available. Grace always comes first. It has always been hard for me to believe, but I am finally utterly convinced that we serve a God who can’t wait to dispense grace, who is much more eager to forgive than he is to judge.

Catherine of Sienna had a vision of God in which he said to her, I have more grace for you than you have sins to commit.

I grew up in a church that was afraid of such talk, nervous about grace in ways that Jesus never was. My father feared God’s profligate grace. To speak too much of grace led to license which led to sin. I can’t understand today how a vision of such goodness must inevitably lead to evil. But even if someone once touched by such grace does turn away, the gospel indicates that God continues to pursue such a one in order to extend still more grace. Seven times? asked the disciples. How about 70 times seven? Replied Jesus. I have more grace for you than you have sins to commit.

I understand of course that this is not the last word to be said about such things, that great minds have worked for centuries to unpack the intricacies of the meaning of Christ’s death, what is the interplay between grace and law and holiness, even the meaning of final judgment, of death, and of hell. But I am convinced that whatever theological systems we construct, that wherever we wind up after pursuing these questions, that we must begin here. We must begin with a God who embraces the wasteful scatteration of his grace. We must remember that his first, middle, and last impulse toward us is grace, that, as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, God’s every thought toward us is a thought of good, and not of evil, designed to give us a future filled with hope.

He has more grace for us than we have sins to commit. That’s good news. That’s the gospel.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Writers Share Their Lives

Judith Hougen, one of my favorite authors, teaches "Christianity and Writing" at the college level. She's very good at putting together writing and transformation. She is inspiring me to write for others, as well as for my own transformation.

This is what she says about sharing our lives through writing:

I think, as writers, our stories, our life, are all we really have to offer. When our stories are a service to others, we offer them as “a genuine participation,” as an honest, loving involvement with the other and not merely to seek applause or sympathy. If we have responsibly worked through our experiences with our communities, our stories can become, as Henri Nouwen says, a way to “give gratuitous love.” When we love gratuitously, we love without needing or expecting any particular response. We offer our stories in freedom—free because we don’t need anything from those who receive them.

There's a rightness to this way of living and writing--serving with that which is most core to us--our lives, our stories. As my student is discovering, learning to offer our stories in freedom through words can be costly, but in the end, maybe that's where we find the syntax of transformation. Maybe that's the writer's way to make room for the glory.

More HERE.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When Anger Flares

This weekend I begrudgingly took Daisy (the beleaguered Beagle) along with me for my morning walk. My morning walks are often times I set aside for reflection and prayer, and Daisy's wandering nose often provokes frustration for me. As I felt anger rise in my heart toward her, I began to wonder if my anger was symbolic. I began to wonder if I was really angry about something else, and I was just taking it out on the dog (which is easy to do).

I began to reflect on the fact that Daisy is not the dog we would have chosen. I would trade her in a second for a golden retriever (not proud of this fact here, folks). I am annoyed and angry that the limits on our life dictate that we have to have a dog that is a Beagle or smaller. So, that means either a rat dog or an annoying dog. We opted for the annoying, neurotic dog, because I can't stand small dogs that bark all the time.

My anger is really towards God, and the fact that the financial consequences of following his will have left us poor enough to never (?) own a house where we could pick our own dog(s). I began to feel sorrow for the way I perceived and treated Daisy and began to instantly choose gentleness in my approach with her. She can't help her nose! I would be heartbroken to lose her!

Being gentle with Daisy felt like surrender to my Father, who in turn expects me to be gentle toward myself and my own annoying weaknesses and sins.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Without your wound, where would your power be?

Found another good blog recently called, Broken Believers. One of his classic posts is on the story of the "Angel that Troubled the Waters," an adaptation on the pool at Bethesda story in John 5:1-4. Brennan Manning also quotes from this story in Abba's Child, an excellent book.

The story describes a physician coming to the pool at Bethesda seeking to be the first to enter the pool after an angel stirs the water. When the angel comes and stirs the water and the physician tries to get in, the Angel blocks his way. The following conversation then occurs:

Angel: “Draw back, physician, this moment is not for you.”

Physician: “Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.

Angel: “Healing is not for you.”

Physician: “Surely, surely, the angels are wise. Surely, O Prince, you are not deceived by my apparent wholeness. Your eyes can see the nets in which my wings are caught; the sin into which all my endeavors sink half-performed cannot be concealed from you.”

Angel: “I know.”


Physician: “Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw in my heart. Must I drag my shame, Prince and Singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?”

Angel: “Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.” (italics mine)

Later, the person who enters the pool first and was healed rejoices in his good fortune then turns to the physician before leaving and said:

“But come with me first, an hour only, to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I — I do not understand him, and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour . . . my daughter, since her child has died, sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.”

This story is powerful to me, not only because our experience of sadness and suffering can be useful in the hands of God as we empathize with other sufferers, but also because when our suffering is embraced in the presence of God it is suffused with resurrection power. Suffering precedes glory - that is the biblical way. When we embrace suffering (instead of trying to anesthetize it, hide from it or deny it) we can walk into the darkness of other people's sufferings with a power of light that even we may not be able to see. We carry a weight with us, the weight of God which can only be manifested in the darkness. This weight can cause others to seek God merely by being near those who suffer well.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

quick update

I've been struggling a lot since the weekend with depression and lethargy (hallmarks of the orphan). I'm trying to unpack what's underneath, made a little headway this morning. I feel overwhelmed with the thought of leading group this Thursday, but I'm trying to trust the Father with it, that it will work out (perhaps more about that later). I'm also trying to pay attention to what might be shar-able from my story these past weeks.

The big issue I'm struggling with is (as always with the orphan) - can I trust the Father to take care of me and my family? I've been working frantically the past couple weeks trying to "get things done" and "make a memorable vacation" (we were in St. Louis last week) that I've gotten into a deep trend of fending for myself. I'm trying to make a trust-shift, but it's difficult. I feel spent. I feel like crying. I can't carry this damn load anymore. I don't know if the lethargy is from being weary of carrying my world or from being depressed that I'm failing so badly (maybe both).

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Self-Forgiveness VS. Real Forgiveness

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Life Together

‘In confession there occurs a breakthrough to assurance. Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, and an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as are we, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God – whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from the real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word. Who can give us the assurance that we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins? God gives us this assurance through one another.’ (113)

As I think about this, I am convinced that my own "innumerable relapses and . . . the feebleness of [my] Christian obedience" are largely due to this phenomenon. It is not until I am broken and desperate enough to push beyond self-forgiveness to receive the forgiving word of God through Christ. At that moment I experience freedom and the grace-power to turn away from it and to turn toward Jesus. Before that time though, I am often underestimating my specific sins and their effects by going through the motions of repentance words and motions. Better to repent less and mean it, than repent often in shallow ways.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Working Through Anxiety

I get anxious. Often. Especially where finances are concerned. Which means, in our economy, I get anxious even more.

The last few days have seen my anxiety levels rising sharply as it has become clear to Cheri and I that we need to make a major investment in a "sleep system" for the sake of our backs. Unexpected needs like this always expose how much I rely on my bank account for security. If there is "sufficient margin" there, I can convince myself that we'll be OK, safe from the turmoil around us. As it inevitably dwindles, so does my hope and confidence!

God has provided for us to make this investment, but it cuts deeply into our "margins." After making the "sleep system" purchase, I was still struggling with a boatload of anxiety this morning. I realized quickly that I was leaning on what money we had to bring us comfort and security. No wonder I often feel anxious, when I'm leaning on such temporary and trivial things!

Reaching into my toolbox I pulled out some helpful steps that I learned at Men at the Cross.

1) Feel your fears fully - instead of running from the fears or trying to numb them with escapist entertainment or food, I let myself feel my fear. What am I really afraid of? Like peeling layers off an onion, I try to get at my core fears. I find today (as usual), that I am terrified of feeling abandoned. My greatest fear, in this case, is to be uncared for, left out in the cold with no one to help. I am on my own. I was abandoned in several ways as a child, so many of these wounds and fears get triggered here. I confessed my fears to God. Father, I'm terrified of being abandoned; that you will not come through for us; that I will be on my own with no one to help.

2) Go to the Core Desires - after feeling fully my fears, I ask myself, What is it that I really want? No longer self-deluded by running from fears, I know immediately that what I want is to be held, to feel cared for, to be loved and have a sense of feeling secure and safe. Obviously no amount of money can give me these things. I bring them to the Father and confess, Father, you alone can provide these things. In your love, please give me the love, acceptance and security I need. Please forgive me for trusting in money for security. I see it now for the foolishness that it is.

I slowly feel anxiety recede and peace return. I will undoubtedly have to go through this process several times today. It will continue to be a battle, but I have hope that God will see me through to Himself. He is good.

Though the fig tree does not bud
       and there are no grapes on the vines,
       though the olive crop fails
       and the fields produce no food,
       though there are no sheep in the pen
       and no cattle in the stalls,

 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
       I will be joyful in God my Savior.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV)

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sanctification Gap

I've been thinking a lot lately about what has been called the "Sanctification Gap." Simply put, this is the gap between our knowledge and our practice as Christians. A large gap here is often the biggest signs of hypocrisy in our lives, and is often a cause of falling away from Christ. Richard Lovelace seems to have coined the term, but many have referred to it since.

So, what do you do when you look into the Scriptures and see the vision of the kingdom of God on display in Jesus and his church and compare it with your daily experience? For example, when we read a text on love (e.g., 1 Cor. 13), and we realize how poorly we love, what do we do to close that gap? Many of us, I believe, convince ourselves of one of two things: 1) We'll just try harder! Surely we're not that bad - at least we're better at it than _____ (fill in the blank); or, 2) I need more knowledge, or I need to better rehearse the knowledge that I know! As good and biblical as it is, often "preaching the gospel to yourself" masks the moralism of this option. In other words, we can easily convince ourselves that we're closing the gap simply by rehearsing the gospel. That is a good starting place, but unless our "rehearsal" goes a lot deeper than believing certain truths, the gap remains, now with a religious veneer.

I think Dallas Willard is on to something as to how to address this gap. He says that we need three elements:

Willard calls this VIM for short, and he goes into it in detail in his book Renovation of the Heart. It is also available in one of his articles here. Recognizing the need for grace throughout, we begin with nurturing the vision that Jesus brought, the vision of the Kingdom of God. Then, we have to actually intend to become a kingdom person, an apprentice of Jesus. Finally, we implement means toward becoming that kind of person (here is where the spiritual disciplines fit in). Here are some summary quotes from the article linked above:

On Vision:
As a genuine disciple or apprentice of Jesus, I am caught up in his vision of the goodness and greatness of God and of life in His kingdom. On that basis I am with Jesus, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. To live in the kingdom means, we recall, to live within the range of God's effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another good way of putting this is to say that as a disciple I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, of course; but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner and from the source from which he did all that he did.

On Intention:
A clear vision of God and of the place he has made for us in him enables us to form a strong and clear intention to live in that vision.

On Means:
That is, they [spiritual disciplines] are activities which open our lives to the action of God in our heart, mind, body and soul, to progressively remake our whole personality. Another name for them—more ancient, and also more in use recently—is "spiritual disciplines," or "disciplines for the spiritual life." They train us for leading the life which God intended for us: one which has the power and character to fulfill our calling. They are methods by which we obey the command to "put off" the old person and to "put on" the new person who is in the likeness of Christ. (Col. 3:9-10; Eph. 4:22-24) They are "exercises unto godliness." (I Tim. 4:7-8) Through them we become capable of doing, with God, all the wonderful things commanded in the Bible, which we know are impossible in our own strength and wisdom. In general, a "discipline" is any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Small Beginnings

Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in Zerubbabel’s way; it will become a level plain before him! And when Zerubbabel sets the final stone of the Temple in place, the people will shout: ‘May God bless it! May God bless it!'”

Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Zerubbabel is the one who laid the foundation of this Temple, and he will complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has sent me. Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”
(Zech. 4:6-10 NLT)

God delights in small beginnings. So often I miss these beginnings because I am so focused on whether or not completion will come to pass, and whether or not obstacles will be conquered. But our God is a God who works through process, and He delights to see the work begin. Sometimes as American Consumerist Christians we tend to think that God is only pleased in finished products that have a glossy sheen and marketable functions. That would be like only rejoicing over our children once they become successful in a lucrative career. No, we rejoice over them in the womb, the day they are born and every day after that. We rejoice in every unique stage along the way. We take pleasure in the process of their becoming persons.

Take time today to, as Frederick Buechner liked to say, "listen to your life" - look for the small beginnings of the work of the Spirit of God, and rejoice over them. God is far more patient with your "progress" than you are.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Integrity of Christian Marriage

Just found this (March, 2004) article by Albert Mohler on "The Seduction of Pornography and the Integrity of Christian Marriage" to be very helpful and concise. My experience as a husband resonates with what he says. It was instrumental today in helping me fight temptation. This quote was especially powerful for me:

Consider the fact that a woman has every right to expect that her husband will earn access to the marriage bed. As the Apostle Paul states, the husband and wife no longer own their own bodies, but each now belongs to the other. At the same time, Paul instructed men to love their wives even as Christ has loved the church. Even as wives are commanded to submit to the authority of their husbands, the husband is called to a far higher standard of Christ-like love and devotion toward the wife.

Therefore, when I say that a husband must regularly “earn” privileged access to the marital bed, I mean that a husband owes his wife the confidence, affection, and emotional support that would lead her to freely give herself to her husband in the act of


Rebuilding the Soul

Continuing my slow, deliberate and prayerful journey through VanVonderen's book Soul Repair.

As the authors discuss how God rebuilds the soul (p 135ff), two core disciplines come to the surface: surrendering and listening to God.

Surrender means letting go of our attempts to control, manipulate and create life and love for ourselves. It also means trusting God to provide these things that I need. I struggle deeply with this. My "orphan" self believes deeply that there is no one there for me, that I am on my own to find life for myself. This self is literally unable to receive grace. It is my default mode of relating to God and the world.

One of the ways we can recognize our need for surrender is every instance in which we feel anxious, angry or resentful. Whenever we are experiencing these emotions, it is likely that we are attempting (with futility) to control our world. It can be helpful here to make a list of the people and/or situations provoking these feelings and surrender the list to God (maybe in a specific place, like a "surrender box").

Listening to God through Prayer, Meditation and Scripture helps us to get in touch with God's Yes in us an for us in Christ. Scripture provides us with the "raw material" that we listen to and meditate upon. We practice reading in a listening posture, allowing space and time for God to respond (another very helpful resource here is Sandra Wilson's Into Abba's Arms). The authors wisely remind us that we bring all of our idolatries and dysfunctions to the reading of the text of Scripture. We need to be aware of these things so that we can attempt to surrender them before we read, so that we don't read the Scriptures through filters of damaged and unhealthy spiritualities. The Scriptures can breathe grace into our souls, but we miss the grace if we aren't aware of and actively surrendering our filters. We often twist the Scriptures without being aware of it, according to our addictions to performance or indulgence.

In prayer we pour out our hearts to God in expression of deep need. Pouring out our hearts to God opens the eyes and ears of our hearts to hear God's loving voice. This allows us to be in a receptive listening posture when reading Scripture.

Psalm 62:8,
Trust in him at all times, O people;
       pour out your hearts to him,
       for God is our refuge. (NIV)

Psalm 46:10,
"Be still, and know that I am God." (NIV)

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Moving from "Maybe" to "Yes"

In my last post I described the "Maybe" Phase from the book Soul Repair. I want to briefly write about the process involved in moving from Maybe to saying Yes to God.

Two key ideas in this transition:

1) God's Yes - Realizing that throughout the No-Maybe-Yes process God has always been saying "Yes" to us and for us in Jesus. This sense often comes from realizing over the long painful path that God has not left our side, but indeed has stayed faithful to us when all else has fallen away. His constant loving presence provides a foundation of reassurance upon which to build trust again. Every time I feel anxious and abandoned, I am being called once again to "test the waters," to respond to God's Yes. To the extent that we believe the lie that God is against us - in effect, saying "no" to us - then we will revert back to the Maybe and possibly the No stage again.

2) The essential role of safe community - Walking through the desert, often abandoned by those who are unwilling to traverse it with us, we sometimes bump into fellow travelers who share our thirst and are headed in the same direction. These kindred spirits are in themselves deep pools of refreshing water, people who give us permission to be whoever and wherever we are without condemnation. This is also crucial for trust to develop, for our wounded souls need grace and rest to recover. When God seems absent and silent, the presence of another person calms our fears and reminds us of what is true and real. They become a channel of God's grace to us (what Job's friends should have been like!).

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Monday, July 26, 2010

The "Maybe" Phase

Every once in a while I read something surprising that describes my journey with Christ with jaw-dropping clarity. I see things in a new light that breathes into my soul fresh hope and vision for the dark road beneath my feet. Today it came from the book "Soul Repair" by Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan and Juanita Ryan, a profound work describing the process by which God rebuilds the soul.

The authors take some time in the first half of the book discussing various "Distorted" spiritualities, spiritualities that have at the center of their practice wrong views of God. Abusive, Anorexic, Addictive, and Codependent spiritualities are described with great detail. I found myself resonating with each of these destructive spiritualities, which are mostly driven by shame and fear.

The second half of the book discusses the re-building process under the heading "Tools for Reconstruction." I have just been working through the first chapter of this section entitled, "Beginning to Rebuild." Some highlights: All relationships (including our relationship with God) flow on several continuums: between face-to-face intimacy and cautious distance, and between shame and loving respect. The healthiest relationships are those with intimate respect, the most unhealthy are those with both shame and distance.

The route from shame/distance to intimate respect is not quick and easy. It involves what the authors lay out as a 3 step movement that generally holds true to this journey (they never imply that it is an easy and clear cut progression; rather we often inhabit all 3 movements at different times and in different ways). The three movements are:


"No" involves saying no to our false gods at the center of our distorted spiritualities. We say no to the gods we have fashioned in our own images (or in the image of others), because we have come to the end of ourselves in their wake. We become tired of serving these false gods and decide, often in desperation, to turn our backs on them.

Saying no is not easy, for it can result in gut-wrenching emptiness and confusion. Our foundations are rocked to the core, and we are, quite literally, broken. There is also great shame here, when we realize that saying "no" doesn't immediately result in the whole-hearted "yes" that we long for. Others often add to this shame, questioning our commitment to spiritual things. We often wander for a while, wondering if we've ever really heard God speak or seen His true face; we question everything. I would say I've been in this phase for the greater part of the last 8-9 years.

The next step is what I mostly want to write about here, the "Maybe" phase of this rebuilding process. This is where we have said "no" in significant ways to false gods, our own self-hatred and shame, and begun to desire to trust God again, the true God. Over time, we find that the true God revealed in Jesus is gracious and patient with us in this process. He is not angry with us for "wasting time," but eagerly desires our fellowship. He doesn't force himself on us (what false gods do), but waits for us to calm down from the frenzy of living a false life.

We are not yet able to say an unequivocal "yes" to God; we are only able to say "maybe." We are testing the waters out, to see if this God is any different from the abusive gods that we have known in the past. We are just like the man who said, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mk 9:24 NIV). There is also shame here, in this place of maybe. We mistakenly feel like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:14ff who were neither cold nor not, disgusting to God. In reality, our brokenness is an offering of worship to Him (Ps 51:17) and is making space for His Spirit.

Two components of the Maybe stage are what the authors call Hypervigilance and Dissociation. I would add that these are two sides of the same coin of self-protection.

Hypervigilance is the side of self-protection that is active and aggressive. It is the state of always being on alert, surveying the horizon for any possible threats and where perceived, attacking with full force. This is very tiring! We are never really able to rest or relax. For me, this results in frequent anxiety, a feeling of impending doom that is just over the horizon.

Dissociation is the bunker side of self-protection, where we retreat and our hearts turn numb and cold. We stop taking risks and "play it safe." We only wade in "safe" relationships, and we avoid seeking new ones for fear that we will be hurt again.

In this place of maybe there is great hope, because God meets with me there. He is not impatient with my "wasted time" between No and Yes, but eagerly desires my heart wherever it is found. I am beginning to grow in excitement again as I consider this soul renovation project that he began (not me!). I can see myself cycle back and forth between No-Maybe-Yes more and more frequently in the last 6 months. Tendrils of hope, faith and trust are beginning to emerge, gently but unavoidably leaning me toward more open-hearted trust in God.

As I allow myself permission to dwell in this maybe place, despising the shame, I find myself more open to saying Yes to God. He has proven Himself to me time and time again, that he is not out to "use" me and then throw me away, but he longs for my heart to be one with His. I need to be more at home in this "Maybe" phase, not just so I can get to "Yes," but so that I can be at home with God.

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Hidden Waters of Life

We were in Central Oregon recently visiting my family. Besides catching up on relationships, we were surrounded by what I call "epic geography," geography that exudes mystery, wonder and awe. Geography that comes along my soul and quietly but powerfully expands it, making more room for its Creator.

My parents live in Sisters, Oregon, which is part of the Deschutes National Forest, a high desert region filled with Ponderosa Pine that are hundreds of years old. One of the paradoxes of this desert wilderness is that water is plentiful. It seems that there are large aquifers (probably made by large lava tubes) filled with water that are readily available for irrigation and home use. Here is a map of Oregon Aquifers:

One of these underground springs comes up continually onto the surface forming the beautiful Metolius River:

As I reflected on this beautiful country with seemingly endless underground water, I couldn't help but see parallels to my spiritual journey with Christ. The surface shows signs of life, but life that has to fight to survive; plants must send roots down deep to draw from these large wells of water. Places where it gushes up to the surface teem with life and beauty.

My life with God in the last 7-8 years has been largely dry, lonely, dark and confusing. I have had to sink my roots deep into the life of God to survive (Eph 3). What life there is on the surface is of a most hearty kind, having grown through the harshness of high mountain winters and desert summers. Even though there really is an end to the underground water supply of Central Oregon, the living waters of God, flowing under the surface of my life are in reality endless. It is the kind of water Jesus spoke of, which flows from God into the life of humans submitted to him and "rooted" in Him. May we drink deeply today and forever. I do not rely on the performance of life at the surface for my comfort and encouragement. I rely on the never-ending waters of God.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

The Prodigal

My heart is taken with this song from Sovereign Grace Music. The animation is amazing as well.

The Father holds out his hands; he is our true home.

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Carry On Baggage

We fly out tomorrow morning for our family vacation to Sisters, Oregon to visit with my family. I've been thinking about what I want/need to take in terms of books, journal, Bible, clothes, etc. But I'm also reflecting on what burdens I'm carrying with me, what my extra "baggage" is that needs to be left behind for me to enjoy and be present with my family as my true self. I was thinking of these verses (ESV):

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I wonder what the airlines would charge if they could charge us for emotional "carry-on baggage"? They might recoup all the last year's losses in about a week!

I am intending to leave behind the following burdens in the hands of my Abba:
- a need to be accepted and admired by my family
- a need to control the details of a big trip
- shame and fear that "who I am" is not enough
- the stick I use to beat myself up in self-hatred
- the orphan false-self that believes that I am forever alone and abandoned, on my own to make life work

By the grace of God, I will lay these things down on the security checkpoint at the foot of the cross.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Enormous Leisure of God

A friend passed this along to me today. It's today's (July 6th) reading from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest.


"And the parched ground shall become a pool." Isaiah 35:7

We always have visions, before a thing is made real. When we realize that although the vision is real, it is not real in us, then is the time that Satan comes in with his temptations, and we are apt to say it is no use to go on. Instead of the vision becoming real, there has come the valley of humiliation.

"Life is not as idle ore,
But iron dug from central gloom,
And batter'd by the shocks of doom
To shape and use."

God gives us the vision, then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision, and it is in the valley that so many of us faint and give way. Every vision will be made real if we will have patience. Think of the enormous leisure of God! He is never in a hurry. We are always in such a frantic hurry. In the light of the glory of the vision we go forth to do things, but the vision is not real in us yet; and God has to take us into the valley, and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the place where He can trust us with the veritable reality. Ever since we had the vision God has been at work, getting us into the shape of the ideal, and over and over again we escape from His hand and try to batter ourselves into our own shape.

The vision is not a castle in the air, but a vision of what God wants you to be. Let Him put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision. Don't lose heart in the process. If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging much is because I've been in that "valley of humiliation," battered and, for the most part, discouraged and overwhelmed. I haven't felt like I've had much to say in the form of encouragement, but that in itself is evidence of my false self. Apparently, I will only blog when I feel like I can present a "glittering image," a somewhat polished self that will gain acceptance. I will allow a certain level of brokenness, but only so much that I can still maintain a sense of hope and courage. When I've lost all hope and am barely hanging on, I doubt anyone will want to hear from me, I doubt anyone will love me. In the past few days, God has been whispering a consistent drumbeat of love to my soul that lets me know once again it's okay to be out of control, to not have things figured out, to be in a place of obscurity.

My 40th birthday was a month ago (June 6) and surrounding that time was much "vision": vision that God initiated and I responded to and invested in, along with other beloved brothers and sisters. Maybe I'll write about it sometime, but I don't have the time right now. It's enough to acknowledge that the vision was real and is not disconnected from the valley of sorrow I quickly plunged into afterward. Though it felt like profound failure on my part to "sustain the vision," it is simply the reality in which I exist with God during this season. He will fulfill the vision he gives (Phil 1:6). In His compassion I trust, not my consistency or success.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You Are Your Secrets

Thanks for Ray Ortlund for posting this:

O. Hobart Mowrer, the psychologist, set himself to understand more deeply our hollowed-out emotional lives.  He noted that, commonly, when we perform a good deed, we advertise it, display it, draw attention to it, at least hint at it, hoping to collect on the emotional credit of it then and there.  But when we do something cheap, evil or stupid, we hide it, deny it, minimize it.  But the emotional discredit from that stays with us and even accumulates with each further hypocrisy.  This is how we make ourselves chronically bankrupt in conscience and heart.  Our lives are required of us, and we are found wanting.  No felt “net worth.”  Lost confidence, pizzazz.  Our positive energies are depleted by fugitive concealing and pretending.

Then Mowrer wondered, what if we reversed our strategy?  What if we spent our lives admitting our weaknesses, owning up to our failures, naming our idiot-moments, confessing our follies, errors and debts, while also hiding away from everyone’s view our smart ideas, heroic sacrifices, kind deeds, charities and virtues?  What if, instead of throwing back at the other guy his worst failure while trotting out our best moment, we put up our worst against his best?  What would happen then?  Our hearts might start filling up.

He entitled his essay “You are your secrets.”  It is in his book The New Group Therapy (New York, 1964), pages 65-71.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. . . . Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 4).

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Rivers of Grace Flowing Back to the Fountain-Head

As the ocean…is the source of all rivers and fountains, so is our Lord Jesus Christ the Well-Spring of all virtue and knowledge.

For who but the “King of Glory” can be the “Lord of Virtues”? And, according to the Canticle of Anna, the same Lord is “the God of knowledge”.

Purity of body, industry of the heart, rectitude of will – all flow from this Divine Fountain.

Yet not such graces only. Every intellectual endowment, every gift of eloquence, every pleasing disposition, must also be ascribed to the same Source.

Thence is derived every word of wisdom and all knowledge, from Him, namely, “in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden”.

What, I ask, are chaste thoughts, just judgments, holy desires, but so many rivulets from the Divine Spring?

Now, if the currents of natural water are ceaselessly pouring themselves back again into the sea through secret and subterranean channels, in order to return once more to us with unwearied service, for the satisfaction of our sight and supply of our necessities;

Why should not the spiritual streams, also, revert to their Source without interruption or diminution, so that they may revisit and irrigate anew the plains of our souls?

Therefore, let the rivers of grace flow back to the Fountain-Head, that they may again descend upon us.

Let the heavenly tide re-seek its Origin that the earth may be watered with a more generous inundation.

Do you ask how this is to be done? The Apostle tells you when he says, “In all things be giving thanks”.

Whatever wisdom, whatever virtue you believe yourselves to possess, attribute it all to Christ, Who is the Wisdom and the Knowledge of God.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Sermons on the Song of Songs, 13.

Thanks to the Enlarging the Heart Blog.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

After Despair's Storm

Sometimes to express the heart the propositional genres fall too flat and narrow. In those times poetry is the language of the heart unveiled.

After Despair’s storm,
Quiet emptiness, a purged countryside.
Then, slowly, surely, forming and filling,
Heaven’s kiss.

Love awakened
Intimacy renewed
Purpose realized
Glory unveiled
Wounds healed
Brokenness made whole
God revealed face to face.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Anduril: Flame of the West

A Symbol of Broken and Reforged Strength

(A Reflection on the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)

The sword of Elendil, father of Isiuldur was originally called Narsil. It was broken into shards by Sauron, the great enemy of Middle Earth. Yet, even still broken, it was able to cut the ring from the evil one’s finger and send him into bodiless exile. Though this was a great victory, it was tarnished by the subsequent fall of Isiuldur into darkness through his lust for the power that the ring possessed. The ring conquered Isiuldur’s heart through his own lust for power.

Many thousands of years later, Aragorn son of Arathorn was Isiuldur’s last remaining descendant, lone heir to the throne of Gondor. Though he possessed great power as a Ranger (named Strider) in fighting evil and defending the weak, his fear of repeating his father’s failures (Isiuldur) kept him from assuming power over Gondor. Though he was a powerful warrior, he was also a broken man, choosing exile over the trappings of power. It was not until Middle Earth’s need was dire that he answered the call to assume kingship. Instrumental to his decision was the reforging of the shards of Narsil into a new sword by Elrond, renamed Anduril. The inscription on the blade reads:

I am Anduril who was Narsil, the sword of Elendil;

Let the thralls of Mordor flee me.

The sword is symbolic of Strider becoming Aragorn, the Ranger becoming the King - the journey of a broken warrior into reforged strength-and it is my journey too.

More from:

Anduril was the sword of Aragorn. It was forged from the shards of Elendil's sword, Narsil. Narsil was made in the First Age by Telchar, the most renowned of the Dwarf-smiths of Nogrod in the Blue Mountains. The blade shone with the light of the Sun and the Moon. Nothing is known about the sword's original owner or its early history. Narsil became the sword of Elendil, who escaped the downfall of Numenor and founded the Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor in Middle-earth. Elendil wielded Narsil during the War of the Last Alliance, and the sword filled Sauron's forces with fear.

At the end of the war in 3441 of the Second Age, Sauron emerged from Barad-dur and fought with Elendil and Gil-galad. The two leaders of the Alliance were slain and Sauron was cast down. As Elendil fell, the blade of Narsil was broken into two pieces about a foot from the hilt and its light was extinguished. Elendil's son Isildur took up the hilt and with the shard of Narsil's blade he cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand, and Sauron's spirit fled from his body and went into hiding for many years.

Isildur kept the Ring and the shards of Narsil. Near the Gladden Fields in the year 2 of the Third Age, Isildur and his men were attacked by Orcs. Isildur entrusted the shards of Narsil to his esquire Ohtar and told him to save it at all costs. Ohtar and a companion fled, while Isildur and all but one other of his men were slain.

In the year 3, Ohtar brought the shards of Narsil to Isildur's only surviving son Valandil in Rivendell and they became a cherished heirloom of the heirs of Isildur. Elrond foretold that the sword would not be reforged until the One Ring was found and Sauron returned. When the North-kingdom ended and the Dunedain became a wandering people, the shards of Narsil were kept at Rivendell along with the other heirlooms of the House of Isildur.

Aragorn received the shards of Narsil at the age of 20 in 2951. At that time, Elrond told Aragorn of his heritage as the heir of Isildur. Aragorn bore the shards of Narsil in a sheath as he travelled throughout Middle-earth.

Aragorn revealed Narsil to Frodo Baggins when they met at the Prancing Pony on September 29, 3018. Frodo had received a letter from Gandalf that included a poem written by Bilbo Baggins mentioning the broken sword.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

The Fellowship of the Ring: "Strider," p. 182

At the Council of Elrond on October 25, Aragorn again brought out the shards of Narsil after Boromir of Gondor told of the dream that had brought him to Rivendell: "Seek for the Sword that was broken: In Imladris it dwells..." (FotR, p. 259) Aragorn believed that the dream was a summons for him to bring the sword of Elendil back to Minas Tirith.

The sword was reforged by the Elvish smiths and it shone with the light of the Sun and the Moon once more. The blade was engraved with a rayed Sun and a crescent Moon with seven stars between them and many runes were written around them. Aragorn named the sword Anduril, the Flame of the West.

Anduril was the only weapon that Aragorn bore when he set out with the Fellowship of the Ring on December 25. In Moria on January 15, 3019, he used the blade to cleave the helmet of an Orc-chieftain who attacked Frodo with a spear.

When the Fellowship left Lothlorien on February 16, Galadriel gave Aragorn a sheath made especially for Anduril. The sword's name and lineage were written on it in Elven runes formed out of many gems and it was overlaid with flowers and leaves wrought of silver and gold. The sheath had the special property of protecting the blade that was drawn from it from being stained or broken in battle.

In Rohan on February 30, Aragorn revealed Anduril and his identity as Isildur's heir to Eomer, who was awed and cast down his eyes. Eomer agreed to help Aragorn, and he hoped that they would soon draw swords together.

When Aragorn arrived at Meduseld, he was reluctant to leave Anduril at the door of King Theoden's hall but at last he agreed to do so.

At the Battle of Helm's Deep on the night of March 3-4, Aragorn drew Anduril and Eomer unsheathed his sword Guthwine and they fought side by side. The Men of Rohan were inspired to see the sword that had been broken wielded in battle and their enemies were dismayed.

Aragorn looked into the palantir of Orthanc on March 6 and he showed Sauron that the sword that had cut the Ring from his hand had been forged anew, causing the Dark Lord to have doubt. Aragorn brought the sword of Elendil to Minas Tirith on March 15, arriving in the Corsairs' ships during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. He led his reinforcements onto the battlefield and Anduril gleamed like fire kindled anew and it proved as deadly as Narsil of old.

After the Captains of the West decided to march to the Black Gate of Mordor to give Frodo time to complete his quest, Aragorn said that Anduril would not be sheathed until the last battle was fought. He wielded Anduril against the forces of Sauron in the Battle of the Morannon until the Ring was destroyed and the realm of Sauron was ended.

Names & Etymology:
Narsil is composed of nar meaning "fire" and thil meaning "white light." These same elements are found in Anar - the Sun - and Isil (Quenya) or Ithil (Sindarin) - the Moon. Narsil was said to shine with the light of the Sun and the Moon.

Andúril means "Flame of the West." It is derived from andúnë meaning "sunset, west" and ril meaning "brilliance."

Also called the Blade that was Broken, the Sword that was Broken, the Sword of Elendil, and the Flame of the West.

The Fellowship of the Ring: "Strider," p. 182-84; "The Council of Elrond," p. 256-62; "The Ring Goes South," p. 289-90, 292; "A Journey in the Dark," p. 312; "The Bridge of Khazad-dum," p. 338-39; "Farewell to Lorien," p. 384, 391
The Two Towers: "The Riders of Rohan," p. 36, 40, 42; "The White Rider," p. 98; "The King of the Golden Hall," p. 114-15; "Helm's Deep," p. 139-43
The Return of the King: "The Passing of the Grey Company," p. 53-54; "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," p. 123; "The Last Debate," p. 158
Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings: "The North-kingdom and the Dunedain," p. 323; "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen," p. 338
The Silmarillion: "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," p. 294-96, 303; "Appendix - Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names," entries for andúnë, nar, ril, and sil
Unfinished Tales: "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields," p. 272-73, 275
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: Letter #347