Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Preparing for Advent

The season of Advent is nearly upon us, beginning this Sunday (Dec 2) and ending with the season of Christmas (Dec 25). Advent simply means “arrival” or “coming” and it refers to the first coming of Jesus into our world.

As I began to think about Advent and what it means, several images have lingered before my mind. Let me put them before you and then offer a few thoughts.

What do these images provoke in you? To me, they communicate warmth and kind of a “utopian perfection” revolving around Christmas. The first is from Martha Stewart and the second from Thomas Kinkade, two of the leading purveyors of this view of Christmas. I think it’s safe to say they reflect something of what we want for ourselves and for our loved ones during the holiday.

What about these images?

The first shows the arrest of Martha Stewart in 2004 for charges having to do with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and insider trading. The second is a news headline about Thomas Kinkade’s cause of death, a drug overdose. These realities don’t seem to fit with the utopian ideals by Stewart or Kinkade. What went wrong?

What do I intend by putting these four images before you? Which of these pictures is closest to reality? More specifically, Christmas reality?

Too much of our Christmas preparations have to do with trying to construct a utopian ideal of some sort – but does our preparation have much to do with reality, with life lived in a broken world? Which place are we seeking to celebrate Christmas? The Inn or the stable?

Eugene Peterson reminds us,

“One of the seductions that bedevils Christian formation is the construction of utopias, ideal places where we can live totally and without inhibition or interference the good and blessed and righteous life. The imagining and then attempted construction of such utopias is an old habit of our kind. Sometimes we attempt it politically in communities, sometimes socially in communes, sometimes religiously in churches. It never comes to anything but grief. Utopia is, literally, ‘no-place.’ But we can live our lives only in actual place, not in an imagined or fantasized or artificially fashioned place.” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 73).

I will write more on this later, but I would argue that we need to fight against utopian images of Christmas and move in to the dirty smelly stable where Jesus will actually come. This is where reality is. The paintings hanging on the walls of the stable are those of the latter set above, not the former.

“We are the identical stuff with the place in which we have been put. God formed us from dust, from dirt - the same stuff that we walk on every day, the same stuff on which we build our houses, the same stuff in which we plant our gardens, the same stuff over we which construct our roads and on which we drive our cars.” (Peterson, ibid., 76)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Grief and Gratitude

As Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself wavering between two worlds: Grief and Gratitude. I am thankful for so many things – my wife and kids, my job, our home, Jesus and all that he has done for me, our family and friends, etc. I want to continue to grow in gratitude for these things and so much more! But I am also aware of grief. All the many disappointments I have experienced, crushed dreams, broken promises, betrayals, abandonments, sin and deceit, seem to be closer to the surface, clamoring for attention.

For many of us, Thanksgiving (and the Holidays in general) stir up painful memories and identity issues having to do with our families. Most of us visit with family during this time (busiest travel day of the year is today!), which involves renewing relationships but also fresh provocations of areas of pain. We get so easily “categorized” by our family back into our primordial roles, and we relate from that place, so easily forgetting who we really are.

I often spent Thanksgiving with my Dad, so I am especially aware of the pain in my relationship with him, which still feels fresh even though he has passed away. I feel a double abandonment when I think of him; the first when he left us when I was 9 years old, and the second when he died a few years ago without resolving much in our relationship.

To ignore either of these realities will mean I become less than human. This Thanksgiving, I grieve and I give thanks. How else can you live in this world and retain honesty?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Hear Voices

[sorry for the choppy nature of this post; it retains some of the character of "book notes." I tried to smooth into more of a coherent piece, but I fear it retained some of it's choppiness!]

After recently re-reading several chapters in Christian Spirituality: Five Views I began imagining a conversation in which each of these views (Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan, Contemplative and Pentecostal) was given a voice, perhaps sitting around a table drinking coffee together (or beer, depending on your view!). Some voices have better biblical support, some views get human experience better, some views understand limits better than others, etc.

A few paradigm questions that I asked while reading:

can we see these views developmentally, meaning, that we need different ones at different times/seasons?

can they be in dialogue with each other within our souls, or must we “pick one”?

I came to see these views more as different streams of truth and grace to learn from, rather than choices that a “consumer” might make. Some are clearly more biblical than others, so I don’t want to diminish that, but that is not all there is to say about a view.

Alongside a conversation, (and at the risk of oversimplification) I thought of a metaphor of building a house in which each of these views plays a part. It helped me understand and integrate this book into my mind and heart.

The foundation is mostly laid with the Lutheran View. It is solidly built on the person and work of Christ, apart from me and my performance. Unconditional acceptance and justification forms the foundation of my life.

The Reformed view forms the other part of the foundation, as well as the surrounding frame. It is more firmly based on Christ and Scripture, and expands and creates most of the house structure (supports, walls, etc.). The biblical doctrine of union with Christ is at the heart of this view.

But with the first two views, the house is still cold and lonely (good night, how can they both miss that love is the fulfillment of the Law??). More is needed!

I see the remaining views filling the house with relational depth and warmth:

The Wesleyan view fills it with zealous love for God and others, bringing warmth and passion. Outside the structure though it loses much of its winsome power.

The Contemplative view deepens the love and warmth that the Wesleyans bring, touching the deepest parts of our being with the love of God. We experience union and communion flowing from a relationship with Jesus.

The Pentecostal view brings us clarity and focus, reminding us that the love, power and life that fills the house is none other than the Spirit of God.

Though the strengths and weaknesses of each of these views is debatable, I have concluded that I need all these voices for a healthy robust spirituality!

Still Alive and Kicking

I’ve been absent for a while, partly due to a busy schedule, but more to do with my “writers well” drying up a bit. I can’t write “on command,” but when inspiration hits.

The past few weeks have been pretty dark for me, as I discover deeper and more subtle forms of self-hatred ruling my inner world. I hope to write on some of that eventually, but for now I just wanted to say I’m still here and wanting to write, but haven’t found the hope/inspiration/strength to do it yet! I may throw up some things I wrote in the past month or two but haven’t posted yet.

Peace, and I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Daily Prayer

After facing some new forms of attack from the evil one, I’ve returned this week to using a daily prayer that John Eldredge has published at the end of most (if not all) of his books. I’ve never encountered anything like it that does such a good job of getting me immersed in the gospel and staying and fighting there. It’s great for receiving who God is and who I am in Him.

I post it here in the hopes that others might benefit from it too. You can also download a .pdf version or a Word version.

My dear Lord Jesus I come to you now to be restored in you, to be renewed in you, to receive your love and your life, and all the grace and mercy I so desperately need this day. I honor you as my Sovereign, and I surrender every aspect of my life totally and completely to you. I give you my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind, and will. I cover myself with your blood—my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind and will. I ask your Holy Spirit to restore me in you, renew me in you, and to lead me in this time of prayer. In all that I now pray, I stand in total agreement with your Spirit, and with my intercessors and allies, by your Spirit alone.

[Now, if you are a husband, you’ll want to include your wife in this time of prayer. If you are a parent, you’ll want to include your children. If this doesn’t apply to you, jump to the paragraph after this one.]

In all that I now pray, I include (my wife and/or children, by name). Acting as their head, I bring them under your authority and covering, as I come under your authority and covering. I cover (wife and/or children, by name) with your blood – their spirit, soul and body, their heart, mind and will. I ask your Spirit to restore them in you, renew them in you, and apply to them all that I now pray on their behalf, acting as their head.

Dear God, holy and victorious Trinity, you alone are worthy of all my worship, my heart’s devotion, all my praise, all my trust and all the glory of my life. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I give myself over to you in my heart’s search for life. You alone are Life, and you have become my life. I renounce all other gods, all idols, and I give you the place in my heart and in my life that you truly deserve. I confess here and now that this is all about you, God, and not about me. You are the Hero of this story, and I belong to you. Forgive me for my every sin. Search me and know me and reveal to me where you are working in my life, and grant to me the grace of your healing and deliverance, and a deep and true repentance.

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me and choosing me before you made the world. You are my true Father—my Creator, my Redeemer, my Sustainer, and the true end of all things, including my life. I love you, I trust you, I worship you. I give myself over to you to be one with you in all things, as Jesus is one with you. Thank you for proving your love by sending Jesus. I receive him and all his life and all his work, which you ordained for me. Thank you for including me in Christ, for forgiving me my sins, for granting me his righteousness, for making me complete in him. Thank you for making me alive with Christ, raising me with him, seating me with him at your right hand, establishing me in his authority, and anointing me with your Holy Spirit, your love and your favor. I receive it all with thanks and give it total claim to my life—my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind and will. I bring the life and the work of Jesus over (wife and/or children, by name) and over my home, my household, my vehicles, finances, all my kingdom and domain.

Jesus, thank you for coming to ransom me with your own life. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I give myself over to you, to be one with you in all things. And I receive all the work and all of the triumph of your cross, death, blood and sacrifice for me, through which I am atoned for, I am ransomed and transferred to your kingdom, my sin nature is removed, my heart is circumcised unto God, and every claim made against me is disarmed this day. I now take my place in your cross and death, through which I have died with you to sin, to my flesh, to the world, and to the evil one. I take up the cross and crucify my flesh with all its pride, arrogance, unbelief, and idolatry (and anything else you are currently struggling with). I put off the old man. I ask you to apply to me the fullness of your cross, death, blood and sacrifice. I receive it with thanks and give it total claim to my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will.

Jesus, I also sincerely receive you as my life, my holiness and strength, and I receive all the work and triumph of your resurrection, through which you have conquered sin and death and judgment. Death has no mastery over you, nor does any foul thing. And I have been raised with you to a new life, to live your life – dead to sin and alive to God. I now take my place in your resurrection and in your life, through which I am saved by your life. I reign in life through your life. I receive your life – your humility, love and forgiveness, your integrity in all things, your wisdom, discernment and cunning, your strength, your joy, your union with the Father. Apply to me the fullness of your resurrection. I receive it with thanks and give it total claim to my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will.

Jesus, I also sincerely receive you as my authority, rule, and dominion, my everlasting victory against Satan and his kingdom, and my ability to bring your Kingdom at all times and in every way. I receive all the work and triumph of your ascension, through which you have judged Satan and cast him down, you have disarmed his kingdom. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you, Jesus. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you, and you are worthy to receive all glory and honor, power and dominion, now and forevermore. And I have been given fullness in you, in your authority. I now take my place in your ascension, and in your throne, through which I have been raised with you to the right hand of the Father and established in your authority. I now bring the kingdom of God, and the authority, rule and dominion of Jesus Christ over my life today, over my home, my household, my vehicles and finances, over all my kingdom and domain.

I now bring the authority, rule and dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fullness of the work of Christ, against Satan, against his kingdom, against every foul and unclean spirit come against me. (At this point you might want to name the spirits that you know have been attacking you). I bring the full work of Jesus Christ against every foul power and black art, against every human being and their warfare. I bind it all from me in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and in his Name.

Holy Spirit, thank you for coming. I love you, I worship you, I trust you. I sincerely receive you and all the work and victory in Pentecost, through which you have come, you have clothed me with power from on high, sealed me in Christ. You have become my union with the Father and the Son, become the Spirit of truth in me, the life of God in me, my Counselor, Comforter, Strength, and Guide. I honor you as my Sovereign, and I yield every dimension of my spirit, soul and body, my heart, mind and will to you and you alone, to be filled with you, to walk in step with you in all things. Fill me afresh. Restore my union with the Father and the Son. Lead me in all truth, anoint me for all of my life and walk and calling, and lead me deeper into Jesus today. I receive you with thanks, and I give you total claim to my life.

Heavenly Father, thank you for granting to me every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. I claim the riches in Christ Jesus over my life today, my home, my kingdom and domain. I bring the blood of Christ over my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind and will. I put on the full armor of God – the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel, helmet of salvation. I take up the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit, and I choose to wield these weapons at all times in the power of God. I choose to pray at all times in the Spirit.

Thank you for your angels. I summon them in the authority of Jesus Christ and command them to destroy the kingdom of darkness throughout my kingdom and domain, destroy all that is raised against me, and to establish your Kingdom throughout my kingdom and domain. I ask you to send forth your Spirit to raise up prayer and intercession for me this day. I now call forth the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout my home, my family, my kingdom and my domain, in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, with all glory and honor and thanks to him.

Safe and Holy

An excerpt from Beautiful Outlaw, by John Eldredge:

This is why we accept the false reverence—it’s like having a relationship with someone out of state. It doesn’t intrude into your life like a spouse or a good friend does. There is safety in the distance. We secure ourselves against a fuller experience of Jesus’ presence because he is so unnerving. There is no faking it in the presence of Jesus; there is no way we can cling to our idols and agendas. We sense this intuitively, and so we keep our distance without really looking like we’re keeping our distance. By using false reverence. “The Good Lord” probably isn’t going to show up at your New Year’s Eve party.

So, when it comes to experiencing more of Jesus in your life, much depends on what we are open to experiencing—what we have been told we can experience, and, what we are comfortable with. Are you willing to let Jesus be himself with you? (p. 202)

This reminds me how often Brennan Manning calls us to know Jesus on his terms. The beautiful thing about the gospel is not that we CAN’T “fake it” in the presence of Jesus; the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to anymore. He is at one and the same time, the safest and the most holy person we will ever experience. We don’t usually equate “safe” with “holy” though! To find safety we often have to go to places and relationships of low expectations like bars and movie theaters. What would it look like to know & experience the most holy, risen Jesus Christ as our safe place of refuge?? Revolution.