Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on 2011

As the year draws to a close, it is natural for us to begin reflecting on the year that has past, as well as the new year that is just around the corner. This morning I began writing in my journal about the previous year, wondering as I wrote what God’s perspective on my year would be. As I prayed and read the Scriptures, I think I felt some direction.

As I reflect on 2011, I am reminded of the deep pain that has been part of my story this year. I also reflect with shame how much rebellion and entitlement ransacked my heart (and those around me), compounding the pain of this season. I imagined that God might shake his head in disappointment and shame over my “performance” this past year, wanting to distance himself from me in 2012 and move on to more productive disciples. By grace, I knew this to be wrong, so I sought a fresh image of God’s heart.

I quickly found myself in Nehemiah 9, one of my favorite passages in the Old Testament, describing a covenant renewal ceremony for the exiled and disenfranchised people of God. As they reflect on their past, they make several statements and requests:

  • God has been faithful, but I have not; I have acted wickedly (9:33ff)
  • Yet he has not forsaken me (and will not) because of his grace and compassion (9:31)
  • Lord, remember my sufferings and heal me (9:32)

All of the mess of 2011 is caught up “in Christ” (Eph. 1): all my failures, backslidings, rebellions, as well as the few momentary spurts of obedience. 2011 feels like a great year of sadness, a “year of the old self, of giving in to compulsions to escape from pain, or resentment, entitlement and slothful despair.

The Lord began unpacking more of his perspective on my year by reminding me of the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15). I have wandered, and in many ways, I am still wandering, but the Father waits, hopes, embraces, kisses and restores. Always.

I repent of my addiction to illusions in 2011 and stumble toward Christ in 2012. My soul found a home in these prayers for the upcoming year:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps 51:10, 12 ESV).

Lord, grant me a broken and contrite heart in 2012 (Ps 51:17).

Teach me to number my days, that I might gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12)

“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and  for as many years as we have seen evil” (Ps 90:14-15)

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps 51:15).

Let me know the reckless love of Christ in every dimension of my life (Eph 3:14-19)

These songs ministered deeply to me as I ruminated on these things:

“The Prodigal” by Sovereign Grace

“I Have a Shelter” by Sovereign Grace

“How He Loves” by Passion Worship

I feel the gentleness and wide mercy of a Father on me, a scraggly disciple who has spent far too much time away from home. With as much grace as God gives, I return home, hoping that I linger for longer seasons at home in 2012.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where Peace is Hidden

A wonderful Advent reflection from Henri Nouwen -

Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn't cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights and rule with great power; the one who says, "Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness" (see Matt. 5:3-11); the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; the one who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on him who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak, and who is rejected with the rejected. He is the source of all peace.

Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden. (Adam's Story: The Peace That Is Not Of This World, Henri J.M. Nouwen. ©The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. First published in Weavings, March- April 1988).

Here Nouwen reminds us of our Prince who came (and comes) to us in weakness, vulnerability and need. If we want to live into this “way of Jesus,” we must find him not in our places of wisdom, strength and control; rather, we must seek him in the dirty stinky stable of our own weakness, vulnerability and need. Let’s be honest about where we are spiritually, emotionally and physically (we are bankrupt!); don’t try to hide your weakness from others this Advent season, especially not from our Prince of Peace who delights to dwell in that weakness. For if we hide from our weakness, we shall, like Adam, find ourselves in the dangerous position of hiding from God.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Advent Monologue

I’ve been thinking about Walter Wangerin’s “An Advent Monologue,” which is found in his Ragman: and Other Cries of Faith. I found it on a website, and so decided to repost it here for my own meditation. See my comments below.

I love a child
    But she is afraid of me.
I want to help this child so terribly in need of help. For she is hungry; her cheeks  sunken to the bone; but she knows little of food, less of nutrition. I know both these things. She is cold and she is dirty; she lives at the end of a tattered hallway, three flights up in a tenement whose landlord long ago forgot the human bodies huddled in that place. But I know how to build a fire; and I know how to wash a face.
    She is retarded, if the truth be told, thick in her tongue, slow in her mind, yet aware of her infirmity and embarrassed by it. But here am I, well travelled throughout the universe, and wise and willing to share my wisdom.
    She is lonely all the day long. She sits in a chair with her back to the door, her knees tucked tight against her breasts, her arms around these, her head down. And I can see how her hair hangs to her ankles; but I cannot see her face. She's hiding. If I could but see her face and kiss it, why I could draw loneliness out of her.
    She sings a sort of song to pass the time, a childish melody, though she is a woman in her body by its shape, a swelling at her belly. She sings, "Puss, puss." I know the truth that she is singing of no cat at all, but of her face, sadly calling it ugly. And I know the truth, that she is right. But I am mightily persuasive myself, and could make it lovely by my loved alone.
    I love a child.
    But she is afraid of me.

    Then how can I come to her? to feed and heal her by my love?
    Knock on the door? Enter the common way.
    No. She holds her breath at a gentle tap, pretending that she is not home; she feels unworthy of polite society. And loud, imperious bangings would only send her into shivering tears, for police and bill collectors have troubled her in the past.
    And should I break down the door? Or should I show my face at the window? Oh, what terrors I'd cause then. These have happened before . She has suffered the rapings of kindless men, and therefore hangs her head, and therefore sings, "Puss."
    I am none of these to be sure. But if I came the way that they have come, she would not know me any different. She would not receive my love, but might likely die of a broken heart.
    I've called from the hall. I've sung her name through cracks in the plaster. But I have a bright trumpet of a voice, and she covers her ears and weeps. She thinks that each word is an accusation.
    I could, of course, ignore the doors and walls and windows, simply appearing before her as I am. I have that capability. But she hasn't the strength to see it and would die. She is, you see, her own deepest hiding place, and fear and death are the truest doors against me.
    Then what is left? How can I come to my beloved? Where's the entrance that will not frighten or kill her? By what door, can love arrive after all, truly to nurture her, to take the loneliness away, to make her beautiful, as lovely as my moon at night, my sun come morning.

    I know what I will do.
    I'll make the woman herself my door -- and by her body enter in her life.
    Ah, I like that. I like that. However could she be afraid of her own flesh, of something lowly beneath her ribs?
    I'll be the baby waking in her womb. Hush: she'll have the time this way to know my coming first before I come. Hush: time to get ready, to touch her tummy, touching the promise alone, as it were. When she hangs her head, she shall be looking at me, thinking of me, loving me while I gather in the deepest place of her being. It is an excellent plan! Hush.
    And then, when I come, my voice shall be so dear to her. It shall call the tenderness out of her soul and loveliness into her face. And when I take milk at her breast, she'll sigh and sing another song, a sweet Magnificat, for she shall feel important then, and worthy, seeing that another life depends on hers. My need shall make her rich!
    Then what of her loneliness? Gone. Gone in the bond between us, though I shall not have said a word yet. And for my sake she shall wash her face, for she shall have reason then.
    And the sins that she suffered, the hurts at the hands of men, shall be transfigured by my being: I make good come out of evil; I am the good come out of evil.
    I am her Lord, who loves this woman.
    And for a while I'll let her mother me. But then I'll grow. And I will take my trumpet voice again, which once would have killed her. And I'll take her, too, into my arms. And out of that little room, that filthy tenement, I'll bear my mother, my child, alive forever.
    I love a child.
    But she will not fear me for long, now.
    Look! Look, it is almost happening. I am doing a new thing -- and don't you perceive it? I am coming among you a baby.
    And my name shall be Emmanuel.

Now listen to this retelling by Andy Gullahorn, “I Will Find a Way.”

What this story speaks to me is not only the truth that Jesus came for us, but the way he came (helpless babe) says more than we typically give credit for. The way Jesus came speaks to our need as much (or more) as the fact that Jesus came speaks to it. By faith, sitting beside the feeding trough in awe, looking at this crying drooling baby who is the Maker of the universe, on a rescue mission behind enemy lines, come to romance me into his kingdom – what can I say? My only response is love. Emmanuel wins another heart.