Life in the Desert, [Grace]

download (2)Lord I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better I’d have come running with a bucket.”

 -Nancy Spiegelberg

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55:1-2, ESV

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Despair and despondency will often drive us to extremes, we are compelled to find some kind of help– and we’ll take it wherever.  But as human beings we seldom exercise any kind of discernment.  Rarely do we ever consider to whom, or at what we are looking to. We often just want relief from the pain.

It really seems we are drawing from poisoned wells, but we unable to discern what we will receive.  We come with our tin cup, and will stand in line to accept a meager couple of swallows.  Experience has taught us not to get our hopes up too high.  After all, the next well will probably be dry.

In contrast, the Spirit of God is a cool, and lush oasis.  There is an abundance of fresh water for all who find him.  Everything is green, and it is a bit overwhelming to us who have struggled so long, with so little.  It seems like we’ve been transported to another world.

But this is what God’s grace and love is like.  We’ve searched and scavenged for so long.  We have become jaded and cynical by our meager success.  Disillusioned by all that life has offered us, we can barely look up to this next possibility.  It just seems to be to good to be true, and we don’t want to be taken in again. But know this:

  1. Grace is a wonder.
  2. God Himself is the only One who can satisfy you.

His very character is life-giving and refreshing.  He constantly gushes up fresh, sweet water.  It is there for us, and he assumes that we will draw on it.  Some of us take a lot of it, but some who are hesitant to stretch out their battered tin cups. They receive what they think they just might deserve (or somehow get away with.)

The wonder of it is that God considers himself to be the exclusive source of “water that refreshes.”  There are some who will ‘point and shout.’  Some claim, “exclusiveness!”  They consider all those who come to the real fount, to be manipulated into coming. But that is seldom the case.

God and His grace is unchanged.  There are no tickets to punch, and we can’t generate enough of any kind of righteousness that lets us draw from the well.  But the well is a gift– not a reward.  It is free, and never a reward for good behavior.  We all must come to the water, crippled and thirsty, or we will never come at all.

Dear one, rest in this place of refreshment.  Drink your fill.  Grace is extravagant, and you can fill your belly.  Throw away that battered cup, and get a pail. His presence is all our heart is looking for.

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I’m Deeply Loved, [and Forgiven]

cloudy-heart

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

― Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

This quote rings resoundly within this heart of mine. It echoes and sings with a confidence that is not logical or reasonable by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m learning that I need to consciously aware of his solid and steadfast love that he has for me. I sometimes forget, and when I finally remember I shake my head, and look around in kind of a stunned silence. He loves me!

But I’m not the only one who is deeply loved. There are millions of others who are walking in this outrageous love. None are worthy; all have sinned. Those who are following are those who have renounced their feeble efforts at self-righteousness. It simply doesn’t work. (But sometimes it takes a while to work this out.)

I ask myself, “What if I got what I deserve?” And when I follow this ‘line-of-thought’ too far, I get a gnawing sense of doom– sort of a panicky fear. To get what I really deserve would be the most terrible thing I could ever know. For “I am the chief of sinners.” I believe my past sin would ‘drown’ most people, I suppose. I try to avoid this ‘religious anxiety’ as best I can. You can’t be ‘good enough’, but you can be ‘bad enough.’

“But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

Romans 5:8

My mental health can be fairly disruptive to my spiritual health. And I suppose at times I can be quite ‘trying’ to those closest to me. It can be frustrating (I’ve used up all my ‘get out of jail free’ cards.) But now my meds are working, and I have discovered that his grace is more than enough to hold me tight.

Jesus accepts me, receives me, loves me even if others can’t or won’t. I may be ‘defective’ to some, outcast by others, but I am never, ever alone. Jesus loves me– not for what I can do or how I function. He loves me unconditionally.

“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him”

1 John 3:1

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Devotions, [Eugene Peterson, Interview]

eugene-petersonInterview with Eugene Peterson

Why Can’t I Hear God? By Nancy Lovell

The musical group U2’s Bono quotes Eugene Peterson from the stage. Readers of the best selling Bible, ‘The Message,’ find themselves holding onto lines from his ‘fog-slicing’ Bible paraphrase, and many other works. For several years now, TheHighCalling.org has provided a daily prayer and reflection by Eugene Peterson. Recently, we asked the man himself: What are devotions and why do they matter in our daily work?

Why do so few people who believe in God bother to know Him?

The most obvious answer is that we’re in a hurry and not used to listening. We’re trained to use our minds to get information and complete assignments; but the God revealed to us in Jesus and our Scriptures is infinitely personal and relational. Unless we take the time to be quiet, in a listening way, in the presence of God, we never get to know him.

The same question is why so few married couples really know their spouses. People get divorced after 20 years of marriage, and the rejected spouse says, “I never knew this was coming. I thought everything was fine.” But there was not much listening in those 20 years. Devotions are the discipline of being quiet and listening for what we don’t hear in the streets, in the media, in the workplace.

What about people who sincerely set apart time, read the Bible, stay still, and hear nothing? They ask themselves whether God’s voice is anything more than their own thoughts.

We’re not good at this. We’ve had no practice doing it. No wonder we only hear our own thoughts. This is why the church is so insistent that we do this whether anything happens or not. Supported by 2000 years of history, we know that God does commune with us in our listening. But because we’re so unused to this way of communion, we don’t hear it. So it takes time.

How would you direct someone trying to start?

I would say: Get your Bible and find a place. If you can’t do this daily (some people can’t because of their life circumstances; mothers with young children are obvious instances), try for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week, or four. Don’t make demands on yourself too high. Don’t ask questions about, “How long is this going to take?” Believe that something does happen in that silence—usually through Scripture, but not always—in prayerful, attentive listening, knowing that you’re in the presence of God.

I ask for a commitment of six months; so don’t come back in three weeks and say nothing’s happened. I’ve never had anyone who’s done this at least six months who came back to me and said, “I did it and nothing happened; I’m going on to something else.” Not many who give this a fair test ever say that nothing happens. Also, when I’ve asked people to do this as their pastor, I also ask them to worship regularly. This is a place where the whole community is gathered and listening and being in the presence of God.

Is that how you started?

I was lucky. In the family I grew up in, I started when I was about 14 …mostly with the Psalms, but all the Scriptures become part of it.

In your writing and speaking, you must have seen moments when a person realizes, “Yes, I want more and I want God.” What turns on the light for people?

Often the motivation is that people are tired of the way they’re living. They think there’s got to be more than just the motions they’re going through and the work they’re doing. There’s a craving and hunger that they identify with God. There’s enough pain or boredom or something to motivate them to do something that the culture’s not telling them to do. I got a letter recently from a friend of 40 years. She had been a parishioner of mine for a long time. Then she was ill, and divorced; and she quit, just gave up. She quit reading the Bible, quit going to church. Six months ago she wrote me a lovely letter that she was sitting with a group of friends and, in her words, “a rooster crowed”—it all came back and she was a Christian again and aware of the presence of God. Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? ‘A rooster crowed.’

Who knows what went into that statement of hers? Twenty years of unhappiness, pain, suffering, disillusionment …but still there was the need.She would have said during that time she didn’t believe in God. But the rooster crowed. That’s why we use the term the Holy Spirit to explain times like this. Given that it’s hard to discipline ourselves to silence, listening—and to daily time in quiet—tell us about your devotions on this website. I wrote those in the early morning for 20 years, maybe 25 years. And what I was trying to do was be present to the Scripture, listen to God, and to write as honestly as I could. I wasn’t thinking about anybody else but me.

It’s really hard to be honest as a writer. You get these wonderful ideas, and you love to manipulate words and see if you can make it sound good. It’s hard to be honest, especially working for God. That was the thing I was most aware of. “Eugene: Don’t say anything that is not relational, immediate, honest; stay present to the text and be honest before God.” I believed if I could be honest, I could draw some other people to honesty, too.

To read the rest of this interview, you will need to follow this link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/workplace/articles/interviews/eugenepeterson.html

 

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The Difference the Holy Spirit Makes

Chesterton-disciple

I like this quote. The early Church was all of these things: Fearless, happy, and very much in trouble. Luke wrote of the nascent exploits of this group of people in the Book of Acts, and while some believers will debate different aspects of theology, none can diminish the reality. These were human beings irrevocably touched by the Holy Spirit.

Some have even suggested that the title of the book be changed to “the Acts of the Holy Spirit.” (Instead of “Acts of the Apostles”).

When the fire of the Holy Spirit meets the dry tinder of the heart, it explodes into a conflagration that can’t be contained. It boils over and touches everyone around it. The disciples became fearless. Their boldness could not be diminished or diluted. They were so courageous (and contagious) that they preached to both kings and beggars.

They were “happy.” Once they had surrendered their personal ‘agendas’ they became immune to the negative issues of life. They soared with the eagles of contentment and joy. They no longer lived in the ‘mud’ of human life. They were ‘Teflon’ to that which can be so sticky. Happiness is the deep evidence of a personal contact with God’s own spirit.

But they ‘were in constant trouble.’ There may never been a people so maligned and persecuted. The apostle Paul faced daily obstacles. As the de facto leader of the church, he absorbed a lot of hatred and wrath that was focused on the early Church. Everywhere he went this darkness would descend, and each time God met him.

I suppose that we might ask ourselves, is this our experience? Am I fearless, and happy? Am I in ‘constant trouble” for the sake of the Gospel? (Do the police have my ‘mug shot?’)

Honest reflection is in order I think. We should really determine if we have the very same spirit that the early Church possessed. Whether or not, we should amend our relationship with the Spirit of God, and seek to be more tractable to His work. We start by believing the truth about our hearts and lives. The Truth is stronger than the lies.

This post was not intended to condemn. If you have read that into these words, I ask forgiveness. But reading this over, I will retract nothing. But I still ask that you ‘spiritually check’ each thought. Is it biblical, and does it glorify the Lord Jesus?

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33, NLT

 

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Quote for this Good Day

“I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.”

–Mother Teresa

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Feeding the Dogs, [Choosing Holiness]

A toy I grew up with, they were magnetized pushing against each other.

There is a story of a Native American elder who once described his own inner struggles to understand the Bible and Christianity.

Inside of me there are two dogs. One is black, and the other is white. The black dog is mean and tries to talk me into making the wrong choices. The white dog is good and encourages me to make the right choices. The black dog fights the white dog all day.” When asked by the friend which dog wins, the elder reflected for a moment and replied;

“The one I feed the most.”

White Dog: As a believing Christian, there is a part of us that is Christ-spirited, compassionate, trusting, open, abundant and focused on helping others. We pray and are being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Black Dog: The other part is our flesh. We can be proud, evil, self-centered, greedy, manipulative, sullen, promiscuous, drunken, and only wants to he served by others.

“An analogy is made between the good white dog, our new nature in Christ, and the bad black dog, our old fallen nature. While we cannot eliminate the old nature, we can choose to feed the white dog.”

(From “The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in our Life,” by Billy Graham 1978.)
 

howlingwolf3-300x281The main key for us to remember is that these two parts are in constant struggle.

Two Scriptures to help: One– “If you use your lives to do the wrong things your sinful selves want, you will die spiritually. But if you use the Spirit’s help to stop doing the wrong things you do with your body, you will have true life.”   Rom. 8:13, NCV

Two– “Our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please.”   Gal. 5:17

In thinking this through this analogy might help.  I’m inclined to think that holiness is not so much like an “on and off” switch.  But I think it’s more like a “dimmer” switch is turned to brighten or darken a room.  I actually think there are times when we should make a deliberate decision for God.  And yet other times we just need to turn up the dimmer from 30% to 80%. Maybe all the way?

I’m just thinking out loud here.

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The Real Treasures, [Weaknesses]

treasure

As Christians often our theology tells us that mental illness, depression, and bipolar disorder have no place in the believer’s life.  So we hide, sneaking into our sessions with our therapists, and change the subject to minimize our exposure to direct questions. We have had to hide our issues really well. 

But I would submit to you that it is we who are closest to the Kingdom of God. It is far easier for us to approach the Father, in our brokenness, humility, and general lostness. We have needs; a sound mind, a healthy body and we know it. We have no illusions of wellness, nothing can convince us that we are well. We are not.

We are broken and only our loving creator can mend us.

You might say that the Church needs us. An Archbishop was given an ultimatum by the Huns who surrounded his cathedral. “You have 24 hours to bring your wealth to these steps”, the war-leader demanded. The next morning the Archbishop came out leading the poor, the blind, the lame, and the lunatics. “Where is your treasure? Why have you brought out these… people?” The Archbishop simply and quietly replied, “These are the treasures of the Church, these who are weak are our valuables. They make us rich.”

We often can value giftedness more than weakness.

I am afraid the the Western Church no longer sees its “treasures” like it should. In our pride and self-centeredness we have operated our churches like successful businesses. We value giftedness more than weakness. We definitely have no room for the desperately weak. I suppose it’s time for the Church to begin to act like Jesus.

Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church should be a verb.  Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.

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