Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rapids

The rapids of life have come upon us.

Or rather we have come upon them.  We were floating peacefully down the stream but then we heard a noise.  It started as a low hiss, and then the commotion got louder.  We see spray on the horizon; we feel the rumble and a roar of rapids.


What was a wide river has now become narrow.

What was a calm river has become wild.  There is no way out but through.

What does the scripture say about this?  Is there any wisdom in the Bible for such a time as this?  James the brother of Jesus and the bishop of the church in Jerusalem says:

"Count it all joy my brothers and sisters when you meet trials of various kinds"

Wait a second!   I thought we were supposed to call upon God to get us out of here!  But James encourages us to welcome the trials, to exult in them, and to count them as joyful blessings.


A kayaker seeks out the trials.
A kayaker looks at the rocks and the waves as joys! 

These threatening features on the river demand all our effort.  We don't focus on a rock and wring our hands in fear; we look past the rock to the place we want to go and with all our balance and skill and strength get on with the business of getting around it. 

How do you approach the trials of life?  As joys like rapids to be run?

There is a great difference between the woman who kayaks with confidence and the one who paddles with fear.  Fear drains the energy; fear makes our movements tentative; fear saps our strength.  When we proceed in fear, the waves push us where they want to.  Paralyzed, we find ourselves pinned against the rocks.  We are flipped upside down and trapped without a breath.

But if we are confident in the Lord, if we believe that he has made the river and us to go down it, if we trust that this rapid is God-ordained, then we will do well to rejoice.  Confidence in God is faith.  "All of this is in his hands; there is nothing here that will hurt me"

St Paul, a man who was called to run many rapids, wrote this:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice...The Lord is at hand; do not 
be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanks-
giving 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.


I am learning to be thankful for the rapids.

I am learning to be peaceful in the midst of trials.

Jesus has run this rocky way before me. 

God and Heavenly Father:  thank you for allowing me to go through trials and difficulty; you are teaching me to rely upon you and you are conforming me to the image of your Son Jesus who suffered for me.  Grant me grace to glorify you by faith in my trial and give me power to praise you in the midst of the rapids; through your Son Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Monday, February 10, 2014

Three Loaves














I wear one face, unlike the four angels
--the burning ones--which fly, with eagles wings,
like lightning wherever you the Lord nod.
I have no oxen's strength, nor lion's heart,
no feathers to sail my earthen vessel
along the gale; so three loaves are enough.
I welcome you my God, my guest, Holy
Spirit, come and dine with me.  My empty
house was dark, silent, with only whispers
and wind-sigh; but you bring light, the joyous,
and take the head of table's place and break
the bread of welcome and sign of presence.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gianna's Story



What happens when you are rejected?  Not for something you have done, and thus might change, but just for being, just for existing?  Gianna knew that pain.  The rasping scrape of metal against stone, the sound of the wind through the trees, and the bang of a screen door slamming:  any of these might take her back to that time of being utterly alone, unwanted, and abandoned.  But nothing scared her like fire.  When a fire was lit in a hearth or campsite, she would cower in fear and wail.

She began to ask her adoptive mother questions:

            Why do I walk funny? 

            Why do I fall down a lot?

Gradually she asked the questions that unlocked the secret of her past.  The story that unfolded had the power to stop her from joy forever.

Gianna was, like many babies in their mother’s wombs, unwanted. --Did the father know?  Yes. 
--Was he there for the mother? No. 

Her mother was a teenager with an unwanted pregnancy; Gianna was aborted.  But when the burning saline solution did not kill her and she was delivered alive, a nurse took her to the hospital where, miraculously, she survived.

Her adoptive mother worked with her, prayed over her, and loved her.  When she heard the doctors say, “She will never sit up, never walk, and never talk…” she politely refused to believe them.  “God knows the future of this child—she is a survivor; doctors tried to kill her before and now they are prescribing a limited future—but only our Heavenly Father knows what this child can become.”


God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”  And he went on to say that Jeremiah was made for a reason.  God made Jeremiah to tell the truth to Israel. 

We read that in Jesus

all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16).

This means that all of us were created by God through Jesus for a purpose. 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)

God created Gianna in order that she would do good works. Despite the Dalits, or untouchables, of India, the people who live on trash heaps in Mexico, and the 700,000 babies aborted in America every year, there are no throw-away people.  That we exist at all is not a morally neutral fact.  Being alive is a good thing and it is pointed toward the good because we were made to do good.  He is the source of our existence.

All of us have a God-appointed reason for living.  Gianna was plucked like a brand from the fire to remind us of this.  The proper response to existence is to go to the one through whom all things were made.  I find out who I am after I know whose I am. 

God’s word to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” might be answered with a reply from David in the Psalms, “behold I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our existence should arouse respectful fear of the one in whose image we are made.  It should inspire wonder and worship of the creator who is able to make such profound beauty.   


Gianna Jessen is a singer and a song-writer.  She publicly advocates to stop the silent holocaust of abortion.  She bears witness to the fact that God is our creator and that what he creates is good.  

You are not a throw-away person.  You are made in God's image and have a unique role to play in the great story that is unfolding all around you.  

Heavenly Father, you made me through your Son Jesus that I might do good works.  You have plans for me that I don't know about and that others can't see.  Help me walk into the purpose and reason you created me.  When I am downcast and feel as if it would be better for me not to have been born, help me look to you for affirmation.    When I am lost and lack direction, help me discover your purpose for me.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  You are a wonderful God. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hidden in Christ

My family and I began at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and descended rapidly along switchbacks until we hit a ridge protruding out to "Skeleton Point."  Though it was fairly cool outside, it was hot dusty work to reach that ominous place.  The name conjured up the image of dried bones of a hapless person or deer fallen, eaten by carrion, and left as a testament of the harshness of the land.  The white rocks themselves looked like the spine of the earth as the elements disinterred it.  

It was hard to believe that wind and rain could wreak such ruin--a canyon ten miles across, one mile deep, and 265 miles long.  Wind, rain, and flood in the hand of an Almighty God over eons and eons cut through the hidden places of the earth as if through butter.

One feels very exposed as one hikes through the desert.  The lack of water, the absence of shelter, the merciless sun, and the long vistas in every direction make one feel small and vulnerable.  An eagle's eye might see you coming from 25 miles away.  

What does God see when he looks at me?  Can he see everything about me?  Does he look at all my actions?  Can he see what I do in secret?  Does he know my motivation for everything? 

We say a prayer for purity every week that goes like this, "Almighty God unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts..."  There is in reality nowhere to hide from God's sight.  King David acknowledges God's ability to discover his heart in Psalm 32.  In a moment of great transparency, he admits to God:

...When I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 


This shepherd in the desert turned King of Israel knew about heat and exposure.  He also knew that God wants us to be honest about our failings and deal with him about them.
 



I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity...
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

It's not our place to hide our sins from God.  It is not possible, of course; it is also not how forgiveness works.   We are forgiven only as He forgives us.  Honesty and humility about our sins is necessary. 

Halfway down the trail, just past "Skeleton Point," we found a hueco, or hollow, in the rock big enough for my whole family to hide inside in case of bad weather.  The kids climbed up into it and saw that at its top there was another even more hidden cave. 



Wind, rain, hail, flood, and searing sun could not touch us in there.  Maybe David found similar places for himself and his flock at times of bad weather.  We know he hid in caves as he was hunted by Saul and his armies.  He often calls God his "rock" or "crag"--a place of security and safety. 

If we can't hide from God, maybe God can hide us from the consequences of our sin.  David started the psalm like this:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.

How are sins covered?  If I can't hide them and if God sees them, what will cover them? 
God covers us with himself.  David goes on to say,

You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;


I learned to pray from my mother when I was five years old as a tornado roared down our street towards us.  We huddled in the basement darkness with my three year old brother and said the "Our Father."  And our Father protected us.  The tornado turned and went off in another direction. 



It wasn't the basement--it was being hidden in God that saved us.  How can we be hidden in God?  We pray like David who said

let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me


Great rivers of water carved out the canyons of the west.  Floods as of Noah's time split the rocks and scoured the dirt away. --no other explanation exists except, as the insurance adjusters say, "an act of God" did it.  How will I be saved from the flood of his righteous judgment?  

I hide in Jesus.  

Almighty Lord and Father, there is nothing hidden from you.  I stand uncovered before you.  My faults are as apparent to you as a solitary stone in the desert.  You see my sins; wash me and cleanse me from them.  Let me hide in Jesus.  Let his righteousness so cover me that on the day of judgment I will be safe.  This I pray in Jesus' name.  Amen.

Friday, May 24, 2013

learning to speak


Anger, frustration, darkness—these characterized the daily existence of a little girl in Alabama.  Because she had an intelligent mind, she had the capacity for normal life, but the normal windows into her mind, her sight and hearing, were shut.  She would become enraged when she didn’t get what she wanted, and even as a six year old, she was getting no closer to sharing what that was.  When through the gift of a persistent teacher Helen Keller was given a language—even a rough sign language drawn on her hands—she said she moved from being almost brute beast into much fuller humanity.  Ideas that were impossible to think and emotions that were impossible to feel were now real and present to her.  Where before she could not relate to people now she could interact, understand, and love . 

It would be correct to say that in some very real way language creates us.  Without it, we would have no complex thought; we could not interact.  Without it, we would have no personality to speak of.

The language of humanity is prayer.  It forms and shapes our character.  As God communicates to us, he educates us in the fullest sense of the word, drawing us out of ourselves and into a relationship with him and others.  Prayer teaches me to love him; it teaches me who I am.  




When God speaks into a heart, it awakens with light the way a crystal outcrop hidden in a cave sparkles in front of a flame.  There is some faculty in a person ready to receive, to hold for an instant, and to reflect back the truth and light of God.  The giving and receiving of that light is called prayer.  Prayer is a true giving and receiving between a human and God.  As mathematics is the language of science, prayer is the language of interaction between creature and creator.  As a mother and father speak to a newborn, God gives words to us and waits for us to understand them.  And we do.  And then we speak back to him.  At first we do this in halting syntax and lisps.  Later, we develop an easy conversational style.  Correction, expression, direction and affection are communicated to us.  We question and thank and resist or comply with prayer.  It is the gateway to becoming who we were made to be.

In Harold Bloom’s “Shakespeare:  The Invention of the Human,” Bloom stakes out a very modern understanding of what it means to be a person.  Bloom writes of Shakespeare’s characters that “they develop because they reconceive themselves…this comes about because they overhear themselves talking…self-overhearing is their royal road to individuation.”

We become human, not by some self-conscious dialogue with ourselves—as if the key to maturity were introspection—but by our conversation with God.   The name of this conversation is prayer. 

Overhearing oneself speak, introspection, and everlasting dialogue with self when there is no outer corrective or partner higher than ourselves with which to speak is rather the path to the hell of solipsism.   

Prayer can be funny; it can be touching; it can be stern and demanding; but it is always asking me to look past myself into a greater reality than that which exists in my own mind. 

The Hebrew scripture begins with this:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.



Listen to the rhythm:

Darkness

then word

then light

The Gospel of John begins in similar fashion

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Creation and enlightenment comes through the language of God.  Echoes of creation through still reverberate in the development of every human being. 



Lord, teach me to pray.  It is in conversation with you that I am given a language to understand the world, myself, and you.   Lord, give me the words and concepts and feelings that are necessary to become a person made in your image.  I cannot love unless you write the language of love in my heart.  I cannot be compassionate, merciful, forgiving, holy, or courageous like you are unless you teach me.  Form these gifts in me and form me in your likeness.  Give me ears to hear you, a mouth to speak to you, and a mind that sees you.  Let your word, like light, come into my heart and transfigure it.   

Monday, December 24, 2012

Healing the Center

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Two screens played before him.  On one side he saw himself being treated for the physical symptoms of AIDS.  On the other he saw the Lord who was surrounded by light. He knew that God was giving him a choice between healing of just his body verses a healing that was also spiritual.

He had met Christ as a young man but after the pain of our broken world caught him, he began to live a self-destructive lifestyle.  He had every symptom of AIDS and was dying in the hospital waiting for the final test to confirm what he knew.

“I want to heal your whole person, not just your body.  Choose.”  These are the words that Mario heard as he saw the vision in the hospital room.

As he chose the total healing, the first screen faded away; he was embraced by God and filled with his love. 

God’s healing and love reach us at the root.  He re-orders our identity and integrates our existence on the basis of his life in us.  Jesus said, “you must be born again.”  When our soul is healed as we are embraced by the love of God, we become a new creation.  The old self dies.  The new self, which is really Jesus in us, grows and lives.  While not guaranteeing perfect actions, this new power in us has practical consequences for our behavior.

The word of God is strong in insisting that to be a Christian is to undergo a change in behavior.  Paul writes to remind the church in Corinth that they need to remember who they are.
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.   (I Cor 6:9-10)

If a Christian has Jesus at the center of his new identity, then good practical results follow just as surely as a good tree bears good fruit.  If we are caught up in patterns of sin, then we are not able to see and inherit the Kingdom. 

Paul goes on to say,
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(I Cor 6:11)

The language here is of identity:  you were x—but now you are no longer.  When God grabs us and pulls us up into his life he gives us a new center.  Habits and hurts  which drove us to act in sinful and broken ways no longer dominate;  patterns of thought which made us believe that we were beyond redemption do not prevail.  Best of all, we are touched in the deepest part of ourselves by the living word Jesus who writes a new story in our hearts.  He makes us right with God.  He gives us a new identity as a saint.

Mario might have said, “I am a homosexual,” and counted himself outside the saving embrace of the Lord.  It would have been easy in a way to adopt our culture’s stance that one’s sexual preference is one’s identity.   This modern cultural “truth” has become a non-negotiable truth in some quarters.  But its not true, and Mario understood that.

Like every sin, sexual sin has the potential to consume one’s life, to demand more and more energy and to place itself at the center of our thoughts and actions.  Modern philosopher and sexual activist Michel Foucault spoke of our modern embrace of sex as the means by which we sell our souls, like Faust did, to the devil.  Our temptation and sin is now to, “to exchange life in its entirety for sex itself, for the truth and the sovereignty of sex. Sex is worth dying for.”   

Can you hear the tone of worship in his words?  Sex for Foucault and for many in the modern world is the truth and is sovereign.   But this is false.  Only God is sovereign.  Only God is the truth.  Only he is worth dying for.  Mario was healed and went on to write a book that has helped heal others of the greatest confusion we have as sinful people:  that of loving other things--even good things--more than we love God. 

Consider Paul’s words to those who had formerly given themselves over to the lusts of their bodies.  Hear how he contrasts a holy union with God against a sinful union outside of marriage.
But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.  

Paul goes on to say that not even this body we have is our own, but that it is a place where God’s Holy Spirit dwells:
do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  (ICor 6:17-20)

I am not what I do.  I am not what I like.  I don’t own myself and so have no right to exchange my life for some small part of it.  In fact, it was God the Son who exchanged himself for me—this is the divine pact and covenant.   He gave me new life.  He gave me a new identity. 

Mario understood this. He chose a healing that went to the root.  He chose life.


Lord God and Heavenly Father, give me the assurance that it is neither past nor present sin which define me; grant me the knowledge that I am a new creation in your Son; awaken hope in me; fill me with your Spirit; and bless me with the truth that my identity comes from you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen

For more of Mario's story, see this website http://www.zacchaeus.ca/mario.html.  For more on how God has used and is using Mario's healing to bless others, see his ministry website  http://www.redeemedlives.org/ 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Anger at the Root



It all came rushing back

the anger against them
the anger against God
images of lost family members
resentments boiling up after years of peace

He had to stop preaching to these criminals; he had to go pray.

If anyone had a right to be angry, he did.  He had lost over 100 family members in the genocide.  And here he was preaching to the perpetrators--maybe even the ones who had killed his brothers and nieces and cousins.  Anger welled up in him as the words of God touched their hearts and they were moved to repent.  Like the prophet Jonah who was called to preach to his enemies that they might repent and that God might have mercy, Robert was not happy to be sharing God's word at that moment.  He left the prison in the middle of his sermon.  He walked out, climbed a neighboring hill and talked to God as he looked down on the fences and walls and guards and criminals.



Why should they receive mercy?!?
They took no pity on my family!
Why are you extending your grace to them Lord? 
And why do I have to be your instrument?

If our identity changes as Christians, then that change reaches into our affections, rights and responsibilities.  It has been noted that the Sermon on the Mount, as it broadens and deepens God's commands against adultery and murder to include both lust and anger, paints a picture of a man or woman so thoroughly changed that he or she naturally does what is impossible. 

Jesus reminds his hearers of the commandments and then expands them:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
and 
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.







How can I come to a place where I keep God's commands from the depths of my stony heart?  

How is it that the rocky ground, that place where God's word doesn't seem able to penetrate, is finally yielded up and given over to new life?  

The rocks are there!  My heart pushes back in protest:  "Jesus' words don't apply to me--after all, when I am angry I am most often justifiably angry." 

But then I wonder how often God the Father might have been justified in anger towards me?  I wonder how many hundreds of times I have lied, even after hearing his command not to?  Or lusted...Or dishonored my parents...Or coveted, stole, committed murder in my thoughts or broken the two great commandments
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul
and 
Love your neighbor as yourself
If he were to judge me with the strictness with which I pretend to judge others, I would be dead.  So justification of my anger will not let me off the hook.

My heart rebels again:  "even if Jesus' words do apply to me, they seems rather unrealistic.  I am not in control of my emotions.  It seems idealistic to believe that anger or lust could be controlled doesn't it?"

But Jesus is not addressing emotions; rather he addresses motions of the heart--small seed-like choices the heart makes which bear fruit of one kind or another later on.   When I sin in anger, it is the fruit of resentment that has taken hold of my heart.  "I was owed respect but not given it; I will demand it now," my heart thinks.  

I wonder what the proportion of disrespect (them to me vs me to God) is?  I probably disrespect God about a thousand times more than one other person disrespects or sins against me because while I am with another only for a short time, God is always with me.  And the honor due him as creator is even greater than the honor due to a human--even though that human is made in the image of God.  When I look at it this way, I see how remarkable it is that God is merciful to me.  
Jesus caps this teaching off with the goal--that we would become like our Father in heaven.  
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  He makes his sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.

He sends rain; he makes the sun shine.  He also plants his word deep in our hearts to transform us from the dusty dead soil we are to the new creation he makes us to be.  



Robert went back into the prison knowing the great forgiveness which he was receiving from the Lord was a living force inside of him.  He finished his sermon.  People did repent and receive the mercy of God. 


Father, forgive me for the rights I so stubbornly cling to:  the right to resent; the right to be sarcastic; the right to hold a grudge; the right to demand what is owed me in anger.  You don't resent me...nor do you hold grudges but you demonstrate your love in giving me your son.  So change my heart that I might live like him who loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him.