October 28, 2010

Calmed and Quieted

Chewing this week on contentment...inner contentment.  So much of my life has been energized by its opposite.  I find fault with you. I find fault with me.  I'm poised like a watchdog to sniff out error, to bark an alert (or at least to growl) when I find it.  I feel compelled to be different, to be better, to be something I am not... I struggle in the Potter's hand with 'why did you make me like this?' I've too often confused this with being 'spiritual'.   You know, aren't we to be restless pilgrims always seeking 'Higher Ground', gaining new heights every day? 

Growing up in a spiritual climate where a second distinct work of grace was pre-requisite to being really spiritual no doubt contributed to my propensity toward discontent.  It did seem there was more striving than rest, more working to look holy than to exude it from within.  We were a bunch of tee-totallers seeking the land of 'corn and wine'* earnestly.  But in that searching I learned to foster discontent as a valid motivation for growth.  Is it?
I've been challenged to re-think this (again) lately.  I came upon a sage perspective in Authentic Faith**:
“The Christian classics talk about a ‘soul sadness’ or ‘inquietude’ that comes about when we proudly demand a state of character development that we do not yet possess.  Though pursuing holiness seems to be—and, in fact, is—a noble aim, and wanting to experience greater depth in holiness appears to be—and, in fact, is—a godly pursuit, it’s possible that our desire for increased growth may be fueled by pride, ambition, and self-interest—and our attitude as we wait is often the best indicator of what our true motivation is.
Hmm... He continues:
“True holiness is pursued with ‘patience, meekness, humility, and tranquility". [ I am reminded of Jesus' own words in inviting me to come to Him in Matthew 11:28, 'for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.']  Without these qualities in our quest we risk ‘fatiguing’ our souls, "landing us in a season of great distress and spiritual anguish.” (DeSales)
 Yes, I'm all ears at this point...
An overzealous pursuit of character transformation can actually work against us rather than for us.” Our uneasiness and agitation “proceeds from an inordinate desire of being delivered from the evil which we feel, or of  acquiring the good which we desire: and yet there is nothing which tends more to increase evil, and to prevent the enjoyment of good, than an unquiet mind.”(Thomas,44 quoting Francis DeSales' Introduction to the Devout Life,307)

Thomas concludes by saying:
"In general, our pursuit of holiness should be a patient pursuit.  We grow best living in a pool of spiritual serenity.  Instead of a frantic and desperate clutching, we should adopt a patient waiting and a hopeful expectation: ‘Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ (Jude 21)”(Thomas,45)
We're given the example of the farmer who "waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains." (James 5:7)  There's no rushing this process. I think too of St Francis' prayer:
"Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

Serenity will remain illusive if my focus is on things I cannot change.  Changing the things I can will require faith and wisdom to tell the two apart.

But best of all, I'm meditating on these enticing words of David: "But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Ps.131:2) And I am drawn again to this elusive rest that is my birthright. (Heb.4:9) It starts with trust (Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!), trusting God at His Word-- that He is indeed at work in me to make me both willing and able to do his pleasure.  "For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases Him." (Phil.2:13 NLT)

Will I put aside my introspective 'temperature-taking' and rest in His care, His timing, and His methods to bring me to Christlikeness?  Today he beckons: "If you hear His voice do not harden your hearts." (Heb.4:7) 'Strive to enter that rest'...'with confidence draw near to the throne of grace for mercy and grace to help in time of need'...(Heb.4:7,11,16) "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform [it] until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil.1:6)

And my soul answers YES! By faith I will trust my Shepherd to lead me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Ps.23).

And in response He whispers, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (Ex.33:14)
I just love that about God's Word.  Not only do we serve a living God but His Word is living and active. He speaks still.  And I am encouraged again to trust, calmed and quiet beside Him.

Blessings to you as you make your own pilgrimage. Thanks for walking along with me.  May God grant you grace and glory along the way... "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,...equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen! (Heb.13:20,21)


*See the hymn: "Beulah Land" by Edgar Stites
**Authentic Faith is by Gary Thomas, 2002

October 22, 2010

In it FOR HIM...

Thanks to a perceptive friend I have a note to add to last week’s words, a softer note.  She encouraged me to look at the stages of development in a child and compare them to our maturing process as children of God. Each stage is normal and necessary…
***A child is helpless and hungry and desperately in need of loving nurture.
--So we come to God and He pours His love on us and His lavish blessings.  We begin to know we are loved. This knowledge is foundational to healthy growth—absolutely essential.

***Then we are toddlers, curious and playful but also needing instruction, guidance and correction.  
--We begin to know love as more than a good feeling, or a lot of good things.  Love disciplines us for our future wellbeing.  Our behavior has consequences.  We are beginning to grow up.

***As we near adulthood we begin to look for our life purpose and take responsibility for others.  We begin to sacrifice our own desires for the next generation.  And we find that we can know our parents as real people, not just authority figures.  (This comes as a sweet surprise for the parent too!)
–-How much more must God delight to see us growing to maturity and beginning to share His passions. This is what we are made for—to really know Him, even as we are known and from this to derive a life purpose that mirrors His own.

What is that purpose?
Where do we go next in figuring out what it means that we exist FOR GOD?
I bumped into Authentic Faith* this week and I quote:

“The new groundwork that needs to be laid is an authentic faith that is based on a God-centered life.  Rather than the believer being the sun around whom God, the church, and the world revolve in order to create a happy, easy, and prosperous life, God becomes the sun around which the believer revolves, a believer who is willing to suffer—even to be persecuted—and lay down his or her life to build God’s kingdom and to serve God’s church.  This is a radical shift—indeed, the most radical (and freeing) shift known in human experience—and it leads to a deep friendship with God.”(Gary Thomas,11)
There is an implication here that runs counter to our independence-loving culture.  Pursuing God’s Kingdom is all about living for His Church, His bride, of which we are a part, not the whole.  Ouch.  Does this make you as uncomfortable as it does me?  You mean, we can’t fulfill God’s purposes in isolation?!  Some solitary prayer, some Bible reading, some reflecting—maybe some ‘blogging’?

Peter says we’re  
‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession’, all corporate words, Body words.  Chosen for what?  --to corporately ‘declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.’ (IPet.2:9) Clearly, we’re in this thing of being ‘for Him’ together.

Paul alludes to an eternal purpose here far beyond us: "that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places!" And he clearly believed it!  If we follow his lead look at the 'ride' we're in for--definitely not about personal comfort or advantage:
         “We… are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake”(IICor.4:11)
“it is all for your sake…”(IICor.4:15) 
“For the love of Christ controls us…We have concluded this: that one has died for all…that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”(IICor.5:15) 
And if that doesn’t convince me, Paul provides credentials that he is truly God’s servant, which include every sort of endurance from sleepless nights to calamities, poverty, slander, hunger  and ‘having nothing!’ (IICor.6:4ff).  He talks about wanting to share Christ’s sufferings and become like Him in his death (Phil 3:10).  What is that about?!  I have to admit, I have always shied away from that concept.  I don’t like pain. It scares me.  So what is this journey to KNOW God about?

You’ll have to excuse me if this starts to read more like a travel brochure than a journal.  This is mostly uncharted territory for me.  But I feel the draw, the invitation “to join our Lord in living for the glory of the Father instead of for our own reputation, and …to give ourselves over to the salvation and sanctification of Christ’s bride, the church, rather than to be consumed by our own welfare (gulp).  This holy self-forgetfulness is the most genuine mark of true faith, the evidence of God’s merciful grace in our lives.”(Thomas,23)

And for sure it will have to be by His grace.  Self-forgetful?  Definitely not there yet.  Sounds a little like Matthew 16:25: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  I’m constantly intrigued and challenged by this principle.  Being introspective by nature I’m always rummaging around to figure out what makes me tick… looking to ‘find myself’.  Hmmm…  “Death to self” is a related theme I’m confronted with.  Living FOR GOD means dying to ME.  Is that it?

I find here an illuminating quote from C.S. Lewis (Beyond Personality):
The principle runs through all life from top to bottom.  Give up yourself, and you’ll find your real self.  Lose your life and you’ll save it.  Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life.  Keep NOTHING back.  Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay.  But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Wow.  So this is what living for Him is about?!
How do we do this?  This transition from self-centered babes to selfless adults who exist for God’s glory?  Or maybe it’s not about what we do…(?)

I’d love to do some thinking about this with you (since we're on this journey together!) What does living for Him mean to you? What do you see as means to growth and how does the Body around you fit into that?
Drop a comment in the box or send off a snippet of e-mail, whichever you prefer, and thanks for your time--I know this was long.

*I ran across Authentic Faith this week while reviewing church library donations.  I love the way God drops truth into my life via books--His Word, first and foremost, but so often also the voices of assorted teachers in the Body via the books they have written.  It broadens my view of the Church to include all believers worldwide exercising their gifts for the common good.  Don’t miss this aspect of the Body.  Open a worthy book today!  (and expect to hear more from Gary Thomas' book!)

October 20, 2010

He's FOR US (an addendum)

Before I move on to the promised post on what it means to exist FOR GOD,  I have to sort out some observations on what it does and does not mean to say that God is 'for us'.  Drawn from my understanding of Scripture here are my thoughts:

What it does not mean…
    --God has my happiness at the top of His agenda.
    --God will never let me suffer or face deep disappointment or failure.
    --God wants me always healthy, financially secure and relationally satisfied (and He guarantees my children the same!)

What it does mean…
    --God has my best interest in view and arranges every circumstance to work for my good.
    --God is committed to making me like Christ and will see this project through to the finish.
    --God’s love for me will never falter, fade, or fail no matter what circumstances I find myself in.

These are things I know from Scripture, but they still sound very me oriented… I’m reading an author this week who calls this the ‘infatuated’ stage of my relationship with Jesus.  It is largely self-centered and tends to be all about me—my victories over sin, my joy, my growth—in short, all the good things Christianity has done for me.  "I love you for how you make me feel" is classic infatuation.  It’s a beginning but we’re called to more…

The honeymoon is over but the best is yet to come!

To be continued in Friday's post...

October 15, 2010

If God is for me...

“Wanting God to be God is very different from wanting God to help us.”

(Gulp.) I was arrested by that statement. It followed in the wake of a related question that’s been on my mind lately. Namely, Does God exist for me--to bless me, help me, answer all my questions, provide all my needs (and wants and longings and dreams…)—or in fact, do I exist for Him?! Yikes.

Do you ever wonder how much you are affected by living in a narcissistic culture—a culture that encourages you to find yourself, take care of yourself, pursue your dreams, and be happy! Has this message seeped into my life? Am I jarred at how it clashes with Jesus’ words on how to really find life…

--“He who loves his life will lose it. He who loses it for the sake of the Kingdom of God will find it”. That’s pretty counter-cultural.
--“Take no thought what you will eat, drink, wear…” Wait a minute, what about going ‘organic’, drinking vitamin water just case I missed anything or at least buying filtered, and wearing bamboo?
--“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” pretty much puts any self-centered dreams on hold! and
--‘Be happy’ is not a command I recall finding in the Bible. “Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” is more like it…

So what am I saying? I’m wondering if it’s possible to be a frog warming in a frying pan and not know it. Water feels warm, nice, think I’ll just sit here and be cozy… Narcissism is a pretty comfortable state for the ‘old man’ in each of us.

And as for whether God exists for me, well, His word declares He is ‘for us’ doesn’t it?! He didn’t spare even His only Son but gave Him up for us all. How much more freely will He not give us all things?! And He has. We are incredibly blessed in this culture. Even the poorest of us live in comparative wealth. But I think this is precisely where the trouble begins. We begin to mistake material gain for spiritual blessing. Yes, God has blessed me incredibly with a family, a home, even a car and a dog... And every day He ‘loadeth me with benefits’. But have all these material benefits actually duped me into thinking these are God’s primary blessings in my life?! Or that He exists for my benefit? How has this affected my expectations of Him? (What does my ‘wish list’ look like?) Does your family grab the ‘wishbone’ when you gobble a turkey and make a wish before you pull? What do you wish for?

Have I begun to think God is obligated to provide for my comfort? In fact, He wants me happy and that’s why He’s there inviting me to ask for whatever I want. I can begin to be deluded that God is there for me. And my ‘spiritual’ life can begin to be all about me. Even pursuing Christlikeness can be self-gratifying. After all, who doesn’t want perfect peace, joy and fellowship? I will be happier when I am like Jesus, right? And besides, when I’m like Jesus, my kids will see Him and want to be like Him more and that too will make me happy! It’s all about me.

OK, so this is beginning to be a little confusing. Am I thinking too hard here? There’s more to say about the other half of the picture—that I’m here FOR HIM. But first, let me know if you’re following this train of thought at all…
I’ll leave you for this week with another quote from the man who made the opening one.

“God being God offends human pride. If God is running the universe and has first claim on our lives, guess who isn’t running the universe and does not get to have things as they please?”


Eager for your thoughts on the matter,


Quotes from: Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice (Willard & Johnson), p.41,37

October 8, 2010

Wind and Spirit...

Got out for the last sail of the summer season yesterday as a Southeaster was blowing up!  The sun was shining, it's true,  but the wind was doing a pretty good job of clarifying that summer is indeed gone!
So with sails fully reefed,  one hand on the tiller, one set to release the sheets if need be (so as not to capsize!) my skipper was in his glory as we skimmed across the sea. Where was I?  Below deck lending my body as ballast to the high side of the boat, wedged into place so as not to fall from my 'roost'--reflecting on a friend's casual question: "Linda, do you like wind?"

She does. But I wanted to retort at the time, "Have you ever sailed in a Southeaster? ... shielded yourself from a dustdevil?...watched a tornado form listening to the car radio far from home or shelter...or fought a headwind while cycling?!"  No, I don't generally like wind.  I don't like the cold of it or the lonely eerie whine of it in the sails....

But there is another perspective.  The seagulls out my wee windows are wheeling freely in it, gliding just above the water's surface.  They don't seem frazzled at all.

"It's beautiful!" comes the voice of my mate, in awe of the wind's power to carry us effortlessly across the water.  "It's amazing!" he says, peeking down  the hatch to see what shape I'm in.

Just last night a conversation with some ladies came up about wind and tall trees-- to one they are scary and should be cut down. Another loves the sound of the wind in her giant fir trees.

So wedged in my little nook I contemplate what makes the difference.  Why do we love wind or fear it?  I think of the Holy Spirit being likened to wind.
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) [Later I find out the same word is used in the Greek to mean both wind and spirit!]
I think of the Spirit hovering over the face of the waters at Creation.  Here is order being brought to a formless void.  This is no random gust of terrifying force.  Perhaps it is the unpredictable force of wind I do not like, the destructive potential, the sheer power rendering me helpless...

But I am proud of myself today.  I have not always been so calmly contemplative under sail! There was a time when I would scream, "We're tipping!!"  There have been tense, cringing, praying-for-this-to-be-over  sails.  What has made the difference?  I trust my skipper and my boat now.  We have been through windy seas together and both inspire confidence.  And I think of this as I measure the answer to that question: "Do you like wind?" and I have to qualify my answer.  When I am cozied in wool and windbreaker with warm dry feet,  a brisk wind in my face is scintillating--a delicious token of changing seasons.  When I am warm and safe the wind in the trees or even lashing rain at my window only serves to heighten my sense of coziness.

And what of the Spirit / wind analogy? Is there another question I could ask myself?  Do I welcome God's Wind to will and to do His good pleasure in my life? Am I at ease with my Skipper to sail me through stormy seas,  trimming the sails to maximize the power of the Wind.  Am I eager to recognize 'the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that [I] may know Him better... that [I] may know his incomparably great power for us who believe' (Eph.1:17-19)

Where there is wind there is power.  Where the Spirit is at liberty there is power--"We all, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image--for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (IICor.3:18,17)

What will be my response to the promise of incomparable power unleashed in my life.  I read the story of the Gadarene villagers and their demon-possessed pig herd this morning (Mt.8:28-34)  They recognized Jesus had uncanny power, able to free a man from a horde of fierce demons.  And what did they do in the face of such power?  Terrified, they begged him to leave their town.

In the storm at sea the terrified disciples depaired that they were gonna' die and marveled when Jesus rebuked the  wind and waves.  They were censured for their little faith, and could only marvel,  "What sort of man is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?" (Mt.8:27)

And that's the key isn't it? --knowing this God of ours.  I guess we would all do well to pray Paul's prayer in Eph.1:17-19 (above).  Do I perceive what great power He holds on my behalf, what great power resides in my heart through His Spirit? 

What situations can I carry to Him like the two blind men who came crying, "Have mercy on us, Son of David." (Mt.9:27-31) How did Jesus respond?  A question:"Do you believe that I am able to do this?"  And to their, "Yes, Lord." came His response: a touch to open their eyes and a promise: "According to your faith be it done to you."

So, come wind and weather, as surely they will come,  we would do well to remember the Wind in our sails is bent on our good.  Its power is incomparable but we are in Good Hands.  God's got a Hand on the tiller and one on the sheets and  He's taking us to Glory!!


 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.."'--the sons of Korah

"And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us!"
--Martin Luther