Saturday, January 31, 2015

Transfigured from dragonish thinking.

And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 3:39

And yesterday was full. But different. The same, but different.

And check, check, check through the list and driving up and down Speedway. Shaun to Desert. Job interview. Conference. Prayer gathering. Funeral. Fry’s. Cooking dinner for eight. Bread. Stew. Pick veggies from the garden. Write a card. Housewarming. Dinner. Push the dishwasher button on.

The same, but different.

And Todd again and again spoke what is true.

If you have a problem with a person, you are the one with the problem. Remember Jesus with his arms outspread: Father forgive them for they know not what they do. He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. You cannot allow hurt to bind you. There is no justification at all for the ungrateful servant.

Wisdom is “proved right” by her actions. All the accusations and rationales and human reasoning. But wisdom from above is generous kindness forgiveness.

Wonder if people weren’t your problem anymore?

Go to the secret place. When no one is looking, is being strengthened in your inner man. Patience isn’t grown except through trials. And patience is the first thing love is: Love is patient, love is kind.

I am being transformed into the very image of whom He created in the beginning. Instead of walking by me, He now walks within me. Love of God brings repentance. Love always hopes for the best.

Imagine living without offense.

Selfish: I can’t believe you did that to me. Selfless: you don’t know who you are.

He did not create me to need love, He created me to love unconditionally. Pounding out what is true, why I was created. What is the point of it all.

 He created me to be like Jesus. He created me to thirst and hunger for righteousness. He created me to have a pure heart so I can see Him. Not to be hurt by other people. A new heart to know Him. Knowledge of Him is not the Scriptures I have memorized, but the Scriptures I have walked out.

If God is my defense, no one can stand against me. Christ in me is the hope of glory. I am not supposed to be heartsick, but hope filled. Poor in Spirit, that is where is the kingdom of God. Bearing fruit according to our convictions.

You do not want to rebel against intimacy. You were created for intimacy with the Living God. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, and remaining teachable. Show me who You created me to be.

This is where my soul longs to be. He has calmed the storm that raged within me.

Do not be conformed to this world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind so you can prove the will of God. And Todd was excited to discover that Paul's word for "transformed" is the exact same word as "transfigured," as in "Jesus' face shone like the sun. "

May I be transfigured like Jesus, that I may shine the light of the world. I need to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Love those who can’t love you back, give to those who can’t give back.

Walking it out. End your day with a thankful heart and start your day with a thankful heart. Do not grow weary in doing good. Walking it out. God is at work.

But peace within. The cracks have been healed. Now for the quiet place. To fill up the clay jar so that it may overflow to a waiting and thirsty world.

And Lewis of course reminds me of what is likely to be true, because It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that 'from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.' To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.

The cure has begun.


The BE attitudes

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

O LORD, you have dealt graciously with your servant, according to Your word. Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good and You bring forth good; instruct me in Your statutes. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is dearer to me than thousands in gold and silver. Psalm 119:65–72

And the Voice tells me, All this pain is for you to grow into a deeper relationship with Me.

And from the very beginning, this journey that began in the dust of Mexicali, the pain was addressed. You know this pain that you are in? It’s not your fault. And I think of when the disciples asked Jesus what was the point of the man’s blindness? Was it his fault or his parents? Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

May it be so, LORD God Almighty.

Todd White. Todd White is a guy with big fat dreds and a story. But the thing about Todd is walking it out. Living it out in actions so that we might hear His words of truth.

And you kind of wonder if this is what it was like when people flocked to the River Jordan to hear John the Baptist. This rapid fire stream of consciousness of humble and gentle truth of what it looks like to be absolutely full of the Spirit. An overflowing spring.

God wants everyone made whole.

The BE attitudes. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. I do not need to be affirmed by anything beyond my identity in God. I need to diffuse the knowledge of the fragrance of God. I need God when and where no one is looking, in quiet where the Holy Spirit reveals and says who I am.

May I rest in this place of poor in Spirit, of a place of humility, a full-time follower of Christ. Trials produces perseverance. When trials come, we are not supposed to complain. We have to know who we are, even in the midst of trial: I am a child of the King. I have to walk it out so they can see and believe. By my fruit. The love of God is where our roots sink. Our love for another does not depend on them.

Set your mind on things above, and not of the earth. Relook at the situation. Your mind being transformed and renewed to see His plan from the beginning. We have to be completely overwhelmed by His plan. I don’t live for Jesus; it is Christ in me, who I am. You have put on the new man, Christ is all and in all. Forgiving one another, even as Christ has forgiven you; this you MUST do.

If I think like a man, I will always fall short. I have to start and finish each day with His love. Rest doesn’t come from sleep or vacation or retreat.

All ye who are weary, come unto Me.

Your joy comes from your salvation. The God of peace wants to sanctify me completely, mind, body, soul, spirit. Living in freedom of guilt or condemnation brings rest. It is finished.

I need to be free from me. No one can take away from me if I know who I am. You get to God through His work; it is about being, not doing. Not striving. What if you believed that you have been forgiven. Never revisiting it again.

That I will stand in the place that You called me to be; that I will be the child You called me to be. Let the simplicity of the cross hit my heart; rip out fear. Cut out whatever comes before You. Rip out the need to be seen by people. Replace it with the reality of Your love. Make us people poor in Spirit. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, give me the mind of Christ. May I be strengthened in my inner man, according to His good pleasure.

Jesus we thank You. Holy Spirit reveal what needs to be yanked out, and give us the grace to walk it out. Have Your way that I might look like You. My heart cries out, my flesh cries out. I hunger for You.

Let me walk as a child of God. In Jesus’ name.

A powerful dragon crying its eyes out under the moon in a deserted valley is a sight and a sound hardly to be imagined.

To You I lift up my eyes, to You enthroned in the heavens. As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So my eyes look to the LORD our God, until he shows me His mercy. Psalm 123:1–3

Jesus said: “Whatever you ask in my name I will do, so that the Father may be glorified by the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:13–14

So this morning I got another email from Matteo declaring the huge healing in his father. Not just healing from the terrible car accident, but his heart and soul are healing as well. He is a new man, just as we asked, in His name.

And two days ago I got a message from the guy who found us on el Camino, as the road wended high, to tell us that he too had been healed when I knelt on the pavement and prayed in the name of Jesus. And he walked part of the Camino himself, and wrote: “ha sido algo inolvidable por las experiencias vividas.”

And today is my fasting day, as I bring loved ones before the throne of grace, before the all-powerful loving One. And I am going to a Power and Love conference today to hear Todd White talk about sharing God’s love. And I don’t think today’s verses are some grand coincidence. But a promise to unfold even today.

So it is one of those moments, where I am about to stand on the edge of the pool, strip off my parka and plunge into the icy water for refreshment of the soul.

Nay, not refreshment.


Made new. 

And once again, I turn to Lewis and Narnia. And Eustace in his knobbly dragon hide in the presence of Aslan the King.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone.”


May it be so.

Then she approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And the King said to her, “What is it, my child? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.”

Heal my broken heart.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thy will be done.

When I tried to understand these things, it was too hard for me; Until I entered the sanctuary of God. Psalm 73:17

So yesterday was pretty rough so I headed down to the big pink and brown monastery down the road, the one with the “Perpetual Adoration” sign out front, with a big “Welcome” underneath.

And I knelt there in the back row. And considered His great love, His lifted-up-to-bring-all-men-to-Him love. And the little head-nodding nun in the front joined me in perpetual adoration of the One who said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” as He was being spat upon.

And I tried to join in with all of the nuns as they sang midday vespers, but mostly I just read and reread the prayer for peace. And truth. And goodness. And mercy.

And as oddly powerful as the rather small and humble Christ figure is up front, underneath the soaring arches, nothing speaks to my aching soul as much as the statue in back of Mary holding the very dead body of Jesus. How her heart was pierced in two, rent just as the temple curtain. What does it all mean? What of all the trumpeted promises? Of heavenly hosts and ancient prophets waiting in the temple shadows? All her plans and dreams lay still and broken in her lap.

And I wonder what questions pound beneath her steady gaze of love. The one who bowed before the LORD’s messenger and said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” is she distraught, “How can this be?”

And yet. She waits. Not with her blankets drawn up over her head, hopeless, but she rises before the early sun and does what needs to be done.

And after the long cold night, blackest and coldest just before dawn, she finds the empty tomb.

Thus, dear Lord who gazes down with tender love, let me once again declare, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

a long provoking snow day read from my New Hamshire brilliant brother whose thoughts pierce the muddled darkness

            Step into my high school English classroom for a moment. Perhaps this will bring the sweet nostalgia--or, more probably, the unpalatable sour--of your own high school English class experience. According to my curriculum, the pedagogical task at hand is to read and teach William Cullen Bryant’s early nineteenth-century romantic poem Thanatopsis--or, translated from the Greek, A View of Death. Here’s the start:
  TO HIM who in the love of Nature holds

Communion with her visible forms, she speaks

A various language; for his gayer hours

She has a voice of gladness, and a smile

And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild

And healing sympathy, that steals away

Their sharpness, ere he is aware.

            Take the text of that poem and read it to a typical crowd of 16- and 17-year olds, and I think you’ll get a very limited response. It is a text that I would never assign as homework--at least for a regular class--because most will not continue reading after a few lines, some will Spark Note it, but most will completely ignore it because of its relative irrelevance to their daily ebb and flow. It’s a typical response to early-American romantic poetry. Standard didactic methodology would be to assign it, do the questions at the end of the text, perhaps lecture to students about something bewilderingly significant only to the echelon of English-teacher types (and maybe a few of their brown-nosing students) then move on to the next literary excursion.
            Whoever wrote my classroom text, dubiously entitled Adventures in American Literature, suggests that my students embark on their “adventurous” consideration of this poem by--and I quote --“Find[ing] three lines of Thanatopsis in which there is a variation of the basic rhythm, and point out the variation. Is it dependent upon stress or caesura?”
            What do you think? What do you think your average sixteen-year old will do with that question? Adventures in American Literature: Doesn’t that sound like a good time? I don’t know if the text writer who the publishers, Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich found to write their textbook has ever spent any time at the short end of twenty-glazed-look classroom experience, but all I think of when I see that content question juxtaposed to the textbook title is the word misnomer. I think my students would have my back on this one. There’s nothing Adventurous about poetic meter in Thanatopsis.
            You see, most things in education are about the how or what rather than the why, which is why I think there is such a turn-off to what I would call “regular English instruction.” It’s about the right answer on the blank rather than Why is this a significant question to ask? It comes from the mentality that curriculum content is the answer to the human experience. It’s all about the information rather than the mostly-messy journey through life. That’s why I think that as a teacher, I am called to pursue some “irregular English instruction.” So, after wandering through a nearby graveyard for a half-hour with my students, allowing them to ruminate about their own inevitable mortalities and another fifteen-minute walk amid a streamed woods, my students are much more introspective regarding what it is that nature might have to say about death and dying, and how life might be lived differently because of that revelation. Maybe they’re a couple steps closer about why a careful writer might put some reflective pause in his poem--why such pause might be “… dependent upon stress or caesura.” Otherwise, the words of William Cullen Bryant are dead on the page. The teacher is the one responsible to breathing a little life into them. I’m the one who “gets it,” the literary representative, if you will, of any truthful power that might be in those words penned over two hundred years ago.
            I happen to be involved with a group of guys who cut and split cordwood to give it away to local, low-income families. Once, one of my wood-ministry partners introduced me to a couple of hardened loggers who had agreed to help us out with a day’s work in the woods. Before the cacophony of chainsaws, wood splitters and other he-man apparatuses could really get going, one of the woodsmen casually encountered, “So, what do you do, Tom?”
            “Uh, well I’m a high school English teacher.” There was a palpable pause, as if we both smelled the passed gas, but neither would admit to it.
            More awkward silence.
            “Well, I gotta check the third chain tooth on my Husqvarna before we get going--it’s been given some problems. Good to meet you, Tom.” He made a bee-line toward his truck, relieved that he just missed a conversation about the difference between poetic stress and poetic caesura.
            Such a reaction is because of what the general populace thinks that we as “language arts” folks are all about. And, of course, such impressions are mostly wrong. I don’t know about you, but you can count me out. I’ll take a day killing trees in the woods, over poetic meter any day of my life.
            I get the same feeling when I meet anyone who finds out that I am “religious,” a Christian, and that I pursue a relationship with God. Frankly, those who have come to know me as a prankster, a philosopher, a redneck--almost anywhere outside the walls of First Baptist Church of New London, New Hampshire--they are surprised to find that I teach an adult Sunday school class. It doesn’t fit in their mindset that someone who is into “church and all that stuff” actually has a mind who asks more questions than there are answers, who lives in a way that they might say is dangerous and spirited. It’s similar to finding an English teacher who relishes working the smart end of a manual maul the woods, fighting his way through some stubborn yellow birch.
            Just like these woodlot warriors expected my conversation to never get beyond poetic caesura, and probably imagined my pickup cab to be filled with volumes of Shakespearean sonnets, most folks can’t imagine anything relevant about God beyond a robed minister and a row of pews at a wedding or funeral in a steepled building. I think it’s because a lot of our past religious doggedness has become religious dogma. That, and because the text we feed from is as dead as a Dickens doornail. The corpus has become a corpse.
            It’s five in the morning where I am right now, and I have just plowed through a chapter of Isaiah (about how Sargon, King of Assyria, sent a supreme commander to Ashdod) a chapter of Zechariah (how a cry will go up from the Fish Gate and a wailing from the New Quarter regarding the upcoming  plunder of Jerusalem), and a chapter of Timothy (covering church regulations regarding the financial keep of widowed congregants). I use the word plowed in the same way that I sense many of the juniors put their heads to task as they face the prospect of poetic caesura. Just like in my English text, our treatment of the Word has become all methodology rather than application; it’s all about the how or what rather than the why, which is why I think there is such an equal turn-off to what I would call “regular biblical instruction.” It comes from the same type of mentality that strict curriculum content is the answer to the human experience. Have problems with life? Well, a little Bible reading is what you need. Here’s a Gideon’s and call me in the morning.
            Similar to my role as an English teacher bringing life to early American romantics to today’s skeptical teen, I too am a minister of the Living Word, to mediate the divinely abstract into the mundanely practical. I think that my role as a teacher in the classroom really isn’t manifest until I breathe some oxygen into Bryant’s words--ironically in a nearby graveyard--by my own living and personal application. Well, I guess that I’m ready to say that the same is true of my role as a priest, handling the Word of God. Somehow it is connected to the mystical relationship--a cooperative relationship. God needs me--or maybe He needs The-Spirit-Who-Lives-In-Me--to bring life to the words that He has spoken, but which lie dormant on the page. Maybe that’s a better image--not dead words, but much more like an Ezekielian valley of dry bones. The words that God spoke into being are only made alive when they are borne and born by me, birthed into air-giving life.
            There’s probably a paragraph or two of thoughts about that idea that may belong in another essay on spiritual sexuality or something. Maybe that’s why I’m the Bride of Christ, because--still rich in the marriage metaphor--I am the bearer of life that is resident in me if I ever manage an intimate encounter with my God rather than a lot of religious foreplay.
            More importantly, I claim to be a son of the Most High. I wonder what I have to say about being around Him that has any bit of life to it. Thou shalt or shalt not? And what does that mean, anyway? “Living Word?” When someone cracks a bible and begins to read out of it, tripping over Semitic names and places, I tend to become skeptical--kinda like my students when I ask them to turn to a page in an Adventures in American Literature textbook. Unless I have anything to say or show by my twenty-first century living, well, maybe the textual words should stay where they are: dormant in a book. That way at least I’m not messing around with stuff that I really don’t understand. Unless I have something about God’s Word that I have borne and bred, maybe I shouldn’t say anything at all. That’s how religious elitists can begin emphasizing what should not be emphasized, thereby skewing the purpose of the words in the first place. I imagine that Bryant was more interested in relationship between the life before him relative to his inevitable death rather than whether his audience recognized his poetic stress or caesura. My classroom Adventures text has become the religious dogma of my work day--something some lifeless editors had to dream up because they themselves have never wandered from their celotex office cubicles to wonder about Life’s Big Questions in a wooded glade.
            So, let me say this in more simple terms: There is nothing living about God’s Holy Word until I, myself, begin to interpret what that Word might mean to folks by the way I am alive in Sunapee, New Hampshire. Let me say it again a different way: God needs my help in breathing life into His Word, in a similar way that Adam received life from Logos. In the same way that the Spirit came upon Mary. In the same way that Ezekiel commanded life into bones. He needs me to make it alive. The resuscitation of the text is dependent on my Spirit-breathed interpolation to make it alive--that’s interpolation by the spirit, an extrapolation by my mind heart and hands.
            I can’t really believe that as Paul wrote down a letter to some friends, he was mindful that what he wrote would, thousands of years later, be considered sacred Scripture, inerrant and God-breathed. It’s only alive because of what he did with it and what  I do with it. I, myself, am the life-giving air. The text itself has no power. It is the power of God that renders salvation to the hearer--and where is the power here? In the words on the page, or in me, busily scribbling away at my life?
            I teach an adult Sunday school class, and just the other week, a retired pastor-student in the class commented on the cover-peeling, binding-broken, page-worn appearance of my Bible. If he could look inside, he would have seen pen-littered comments--statements of epiphanal amazement, acrid skepticism, and sophomoric complaining. Now, part of the truth is that anything that I have owned more than ten years bears the scars of rather sloppy care. (My bible has spent the night out in the rain, for example.) But most of my Bible’s raggedness is that the book makes the short-list on things that I spend time a lot of time with.
            When I hand out novels for my students to read, all my students know that they are allowed to write in the books--encouraged to write in the books as they read: underlined key phrases, exclamations, complaints--anything that shows they have read, mulled, and internalized. I want them to feel free to show how words written in the nineteenth century might have some relevance to their lives here in the twenty-first.
            It’s the same with my Bible. The littered marginal writings are what really draw my attention as I flip through its pages. The thing that I most appreciate about my Bible is that it has extra-wide margins which show years of the pulmonary resuscitation that I have been pumping into what I would call dry, dusty bones of others’ thoughts and experiences. There’s nothing magic about these words other than their antiquity, no more than there is anything life-changing about the nineteenth-century Thanatopsis, except perhaps the collective remembrances of a whole lot of people who have read it. I have to bring the pulse to the letters on the page. The printer’s typeset is dormant and that follows an infinite regression all the way back to the author’s original stylus; it is my handwrit that pulses with awakedness.
            The former is static; the latter, dynamic. One is past-perfect; the other, progressive. It’s a matter of text versus context.
You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”

            There is a permanence, a Godheadedness, about scripture that is only brought to life with my life-giving breath--with my life-giving breath. It’s a marriage of His permanence with my evanescence (and in a way that I haven’t fully pondered, this mystical union enacts my own eternalness). There have to be both, lest an ephemeral vapor escapes one hand, or a stony deadweight crushes the other.
            Does this mean that the harsh, cautionary letter that my seminary-ensconsed friend, Tony, will write in response to this essay, or the introspective meandering response that I will receive from my brother, Scott, are holy texts? Absolutely--and they are both perform their eternal work in the manner that they shape me. Both writings will be alive with the God-breath of the Spirit, but only because Scott and Tony have breathed them by their lives.
            I have been prompted to speak the very Logos spoken in the beginning--or more correctly speaking now in the beginning, lasting far beyond my own view of death, my own Thanatopsis, resonate with the Voice of Kairos who has shown me how to talk and write, but more importantly, how to live these words--even these words, now--if someone today, tomorrow, or years hence, will pick them up and consider them, live them, and bring them back to life.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Am I holding my sheaf of prayers in a clenched fist?

Lord who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am.
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan,
If I were a wealthy man? – Tevye

O LORD . . . answer us when we call. Psalm 20:9

And mostly in this morning’s passages the Psalmist was asking for the utter destruction of his enemies.
Each evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
 They wander about for food
    and growl if they do not get their fill.
  But I will sing of Your strength;
    I will sing aloud of Your steadfast love in the morning.
 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
    for You, O God, are my fortress,
    the God who shows me steadfast love. Psalm 59

And I read a bunch of stuff about the “imprecatory” psalms, calling down violent justice upon one’s enemies (and yes, I am still crabby at David for his last breath slicing and dicing), and there are lots of opinions, but once again I will land with Lewis when he said, “[T]he ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that . . . is hateful to God.”

Because whoever put together today’s lectionary reminded us that Jesus wants us to leave vengeance in the hands of a just God: Jesus said: “But I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To anyone who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek as well; to anyone who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from someone who takes it.”

Jesus who totally gets What is What.

So that is today’s question. Am I listening? Do I believe? Is my God just? Is He trustworthy? Can I indeed cast all my cares upon Him? Will I choose to sing of His steadfast love?

And sometimes, well, pretty much all of the time my prayers are cries for mercy, for me and my beloved ones and for the unknowns, the unknowns who fill the headlines with their chopped-off heads or are shot at by police as they chant “bread, freedom and social justice.”

Yep the howling dogs return each evening, ripping at my rest.

Just yesterday morning Cameron and I were admiring a young babe absolutely and completely at rest on his mother’s breast. He basically melted into the comfort of her love and provision. 

So today let me likewise release. Snuggle in deeply, listening to the heartbeat of love. May I sing aloud His praises as I cry out for healing, for provision, for intervention.

For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

We are like a puff of wind.

Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful He is in his doing toward all people. Psalm 66:4

Show me Your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior toward those who take refuge at Your right hand from those who rise up against them. Keep each as the apple of Your eye; hide each under the shadow of Your wings. Psalm 17:7–8

So the click of the NPR early morning voice was a story about the Christians who are being pushed out of Iraq by ISIS.

In an unfinished building in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, displaced Christian children sing a little song about returning to their village. "We're going back," they sing, "to our houses, our land, our church."

And I paid attention because this was our Christmas present from my mom this year, buying blankets and food and pots and pans for these refugees. But the story was about a Dominican monk who has been smuggling out ancient manuscripts: Last summer, when ISIS was inching closer, Michaeel took action. He prepared everything and put the collection in a big truck at 5 a.m.
"We passed three checkpoints without any problem, and I think the Virgin Mary had a hand to protect us," he says.
And what touched my heart was thinking about four hundred years of faithfulness. And leaving a library of 10,000 books behind. And all of the hearts and souls that touched those books through the centuries. And monasteries and churches have been looted and used as prisons or torture chambers by the extremists.

And my heart is tender this morning, in the dark quiet of Sunday morning, as I wander through my prayers with friends and family against whom life has risen up. One whose beloved brother is dead of cancer and the corresponding family upheavals. Another walking with her sister through a shadowed valley of chemo treatments and unspoken indignities. The flu muck is pounding its way through the entire extended VoelkelSchaberCoverdaleTurner family. And one by one, I work my thoughts down the fixed prayers, a pause and a glance inward as I plea for tangible lovingkindness to wrap its warm arms around each in my heart. The list is long, and in the background I hear the rumbling of the trucks in Erbil.

And my Sunday morning prayers conclude with my favorite, well, one of my favorite Dawn Treader quotes, because maybe each of us is Lucy:
But no one except Lucy knew that as (the seagull) circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan's, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.

 Bow Your heavens, O LORD, and come down.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

The true geography of bliss.

Thus says YAHWEH: At the time of my favor I have answered you, on the day of salvation I have helped you. I have formed you and have appointed you to say to prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ Along the roadway they will graze, and any bare height will be their pasture. They will never hunger or thirst, scorching wind and sun will never plague them; for he who pities them will lead them, will guide them to springs of water. I shall turn all my mountains into a road and my highways will be raised aloft. Shout for joy, you heavens, earth exult! Mountains, break into joyful cries! For YAHWEH has consoled his people, is taking pity on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:8–11, 13

Love God and do whatever. –St Augustine

Well, my 1 Kings reading started the morning off a little rough. As many times as I reread it, I could not shake out of my head that David and Solomon were taking things into their own hands, and that all of their slicing and dicing made no sense to my twenty-first century way of thinking.

And Rob Bell helped a little bit. The Bible is like Van Gogh’s painting of sunflowers, rather than a Wikipedia entry about sunflowers.  It will not tell you what to believe in order to make God happy.  It is more likely to show you what faith does than define what it is.  The Bible is a work of art, a collection of stories, histories, poems, flawed characters and beautiful songs.

And John Crowder describes a beautiful song that weaves its way not only throughout Scriptures but throughout church history as well, particularly in time of renewal and revival. And so I am reading The Ecstasy of Loving God because my heart’s desire is for renewal and revival.

Because undoubtedly I have been one of those striving little souls trying to make a dead work out of loving God. Yes I have perhaps even been one of those grumpy old preachers who said, “Love is not a feeling” and to do good things even when you don’t feel like it.

But last night as I led our community outreach group through I John again and again, it is clear that Augustine had it right. Our only job is to abide in the love of God. Nothing else matters.

The love of God should electrify us, push us to hunger, and stir a fiery passion in our bones that cannot be quenched. Consistent lack of emotion in our spiritual walk can often be defined in one simple work: complacency.

Those who worship a dull god of stoicism–though they call him by a Christian name–are really worshipping an idol. A mere shadow of the truth. It is one thing to worship the Son of God by name, but it is another thing to know His nature, worshipping Him both in Spirit and in truth.

Jesus quoted Isaiah when He said, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” He does not want my time, my money, my Sunday mornings if it does not come as an overflow of experiencing bliss. Our lives are rooted in enjoying God and delighting ourselves in Him. –Crowder

So Nicole was a lean lovely fourteen-year-old who was getting lots of attention from those sorts of companies that are looking for The Next Look. And perhaps her lower lip was just a mite too full, but L.A. Models and Ford Models of New York City were willing to risk it. So the offer came in for a trial year, complete with chaperoned housing, tickets to Broadway and Madison Square Garden, and $100,000 which would certainly pay for a college education should she decide this was not the life for her. And the actual day-to-day of painting faces and painting faces and then waiting and waiting, and then rushing and rushing in front of the camera was pretty dull, especially for such a driven soul as she. Nevertheless alluring.

But Nicole’s Grandpa Voelkel had been filling her heart and mind with other thoughts, asking her to memorize the Westminster Catechism. And so when the photographer guy from Los Angeles gave her one more plea and asked what do you want to do with your life, she knew exactly the answer: the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And the nice man had nothing to say, but he packed up his lights, his camera and his action and walked out the door.

And now perhaps Nicole is not sure of the next step exactly. But she has little signs that say, “Abide,” taped all over her room. And her life looks like the Augustine “Love God and do whatever,” even though of course sometimes she is curious.

I too am curious. But like Jacob I do not want to take one step further until I see God. And Adrianna my discussion partner last night reminded me once again, marveling, that we see God in each face we meet during each day. His image bearers. And he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Love God and do whatever. –St Augustine

That My joy might remain in you. –Jesus