Saturday, February 28, 2015

Not even a great strong wind rending the mountains.

Call to Worship The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
 Confession God of compassion, in Jesus Christ you did not disdain the company of sinners but welcomed them with love. Look upon us in mercy, we pray. Forgive the wrongs we cannot undo; free us from a past we cannot change; heal what we can no longer fix. Grace our lives with your love and turn the tears of our past into the joys of new life with you. Amen.
 Contemplation In everyday language, repentance means to “change your mind,” to reconsider how we are living our lives in light of our new identity and purpose in Christ. We are prone to wander, to pursue life on our terms, to locate our sense of worth and joy and peace outside of God. So the call to repentance is a standing invitation to give up our idolatrous pursuits, and turn to the one true God who restores us to the life for which we were made.
So after the Coverdale Madera Canyon camping trip, when the fam sat around a hugest blazing fire and ate the yummiest food and told How I Almost Died stories, I stayed behind and hung around alone and fairly silent and tried to think profound thoughts and listen well to His Voice. I sat in a grassy meadow by a little creek and thought about My Shepherd. I climbed a high rocky point to gaze across the undulating hills at a hazy sunset. I sat quietly, Be Still. Breathe in, breathe out. I lay under a brilliant smear of stars with just my nose sticking out of the sleeping bag and stared. I hiked up and up and almost to Mt. Wrightson through a very blustery but light bespeckled morning, watching the trail carefully in order not to rip out a floppy ankle. I read a pretty crumpled version of The Message, dozing in the sun like a happy lizard. And pretty much when He has said it all, that is what I heard, the happy lizard moment: Don’t Worry; be happy.
And He looks upon me with mercy. He will forgive me the words and deeds that cannot be undone; free me from a past I cannot change; heal what I can no longer fix. And sitting down and reading an entire book in one fell swoop clarifies the big picture. And the Big Picture, according to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John and Paul and Peter and James and whoever wrote Hebrews had to say about this life of ours for which we were made in His grace, Fear not. Be anxious for nothing. Nothing.
Rather give thanks. Rejoice. Be blessed.
Don’t worry; be happy. 
Zach would be proud.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I have called you my friends.

Call to Worship Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! 

Corporate confession Instead of trusting in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have tried to change through our own efforts. We have tried to change our hearts through sheer willpower. Forgive us for trying to heal ourselves. Forgive us for neglecting your grace. Forgive us and heal us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. 

Contemplation “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:22-24

Confession As a father disciplines his children, “the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every child whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). The point of discipline is correction and restoration. It is an invitation to fellowship. 

Prayer: Restore unto me the joy of salvation, and renew a right spirit within me. 

And this fellowship. Walking and Talking with Him. My friend Seth Barnes has a Listening Prayer devotional which can be transformational. I should know.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Jesus only.

And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. Mark 9:8
Most merciful God whose Son, Jesus Christ, was tempted in every way, yet was without sin, we confess before You our own sinfulness; we have hungered after that which does not satisfy; we have compromised with evil; we have doubted Your power to protect us. Forgive our lack of faith; have mercy on our weakness. Restore in us such trust and love that we may walk in Your ways and delight in doing Your will. Amen.
Our aim during Lent is something like a wilderness experience. We want to shake up our lives significantly enough that when we reach for our usual comforts and grasp a fistful of air, we are forced to cling to Christ – His body, His blood. We want to see just how upside down our world really is as our “important things” prove to be perishable goods, as the light shines on our “righteousness” and exposes the layers of “self” beneath the surface, and as our “busy” lives are shown to simply lack wisdom.
The desire is a new lease on life, a view into the vast world of God, a deep breath and long look above the tree line of self-absorption. So in Lent we focus on getting away from the life of flesh and into the life of the Spirit, denying our ways and embracing God’s.

Merciful God, we come to You today realizing that we are not how You want us to be. Help us let go of our past, that we may turn toward You and live again the life of faith. Help us call out our fear and hatred, our anger and self-pity. Lift the burden they place on our shoulders. Help us set aside our guilt and enter a season of healing. As we pray and fast today, help us become simple people, that we may see You plainly. Let us draw near to You now. Amen. -Journey to the Cross: Readings & Devotions for Lent 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tear your hearts and not your clothes.

The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them. Psalm 145:14-19

The point of the wilderness, for Jesus, was to experience the real presence of God with him, and power of God at work in him. The Lenten practice of denying usual comforts is a means of deepening our sense of union with Jesus, and reorienting our life around the things of God. We give up that which distracts and entangles because we want to experience some real joy and freedom in Christ. Lent is not about what we do for Christ. It is about plumbing the depths of what he has done for us.  -Journey to the Cross: Readings & Devotions for Lent 

So this morning, after I dropped Jin Cheng and Chuyi off at school, I rode my pretty beat-up old bicycle straight up Sentential Peak. Without stopping. Which isn’t that big of a deal; lots of people do it every day. But I am darn sure I couldn’t do it a week ago. And three weeks ago, I confess I quit half way up. And last summer, just after I rode across Spain with Nicole for eight days up and down and up and down mountains, I still dismounted and walked for a bit of it. So the big deal with me is that change and growth happens, even if we don’t particularly notice it. Suddenly it is there.

And sometimes after I read psalms declaring that the LORD satisfies all of the desires of all living things, it is hard to not internally roll my eyes and mutter, “Yeah, right.” But wrapped up in these declarations is the idea of seasons, seasons that are part of the very heartbeat of life, so that man may understand. And the thing about due season is that it includes the blistering heat of summer, and dry crinkled dead leaves of autumn and the piled up heaps of snow and frigid wind chill of winter, and then there is spring.

And in spring, those tiny sparks of bright green growth peek their little faces through the thick mud and pause. Pause big time. And every day I can squint at their tininess and man, things feel exactly the same, the same old same old. But all of a sudden, a stem burst up, with two curled leaves and then they unfurl and a pink bud is unveiled, and so it goes.

In due season. And today I rode all the way out and up and down and back again, only pausing once to blow my nose at the Congress and Grande red light. And a pop into Ben’s Bells for a sticker to remind me in one more modality of the Lord’s kindness in all His works.

And His kindness leads to repentance. And yesterday at the Ash Wednesday service, as I and the other parishioners read aloud from a handout, confessing our corporate sins, I was guilty of each and every one of them. I couldn’t wiggle out of even one. We are a broken people. And the LORD raises up all who are bowed down.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Teach us, Lord, to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

“As the Arabs say, "The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.” Anthony de Mello

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Amen.  Psalm 51:21-23

As you begin this journey of Lent, you must start with rending your heart—tearing it from self-absorption and binding yourself (mind and devotion) to Jesus. Regardless of your current state or your proneness to wander, you must “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). After all, Lent is not about your faithfulness, but rather about the faithfulness of Jesus on your behalf. He is the faithful One! -Journey to the Cross: Readings & Devotions for Lent 
Tearing my heart from self-absorption. This is the rending that needs to take place. It is those who are self-seeking who are promised wrath and fury. Yet His kindness leads to repentance.

And I think about that “prone to wander” phrase and man, I have a little gamboling lamb heart, hither and thither, rather than the calm steady cud-chewing I long for.
So I am very grateful for those chorus-writers; like the piercing version of Keith Green singing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” so that the plea can follow me throughout the day, weaving itself in and out of my thoughts. And I am very grateful for the reminder: Lent is not about your faithfulness, but rather about the faithfulness of Jesus on your behalf. He is the faithful One!
And God has been whispering to me these months about what tearing my heart from self-absorption might look like, and yesterday I gave it away to a little sixth grade boy with waist-long dreads standing in the hallway named Xavier. He declared that we were going to have a great time in science class.
And I toured the classroom yesterday, looking through the empty cupboards and weighing the stacks of ripped up notebooks leaning up against a few empty beaker stands on the back counter. And smiling and waving at Ahmed El Abdalla and Maryan Abdullahi and Bringas Borboa and Aliyah Carrillo as they sit at their scratched black lab tables and do yet another President’s Day Word Search.  And my mind hummed with the equally haphazardly stacked up heaps of middle school science lesson plans filed in my little laptop, starting with Mr. Bowen’s first day task of drawing a scientist. I am so good to go. 
Sort of. Although there is nothing in me that thinks that this will be easy, as I watched the assistant principal calm down another long-term sub anxiously pacing the hallways, ”I just had to walk out of the class before I smacked someone.”
And every afternoon Nicole who is teaching on the other side of the playground, comes home dog-eared tired, full of breakthrough moments with Saul and Cristiana and Kahlil, but also full of those unhappy moments where deeply wounded children lash out. And she makes the dozens of phone calls home. And visits the bedraggled trailer parks and group homes and tiny little apartments draped in beautiful hand-embroidered fabrics just like a desert tent. And she spins out new plans and clever ploys and colorful posters to tell each child that he is beloved. Because it is not about her, the cupbearer. And late last night she posted this truth that she proclaims every day: It’s not my job to change you, but to love you.
 So I feel called by His voice to enter another stage of sabbatical, taking a rest from Me, Myself, and I, and by serving up cups of water to the least of these, I will see His face. And feel His pleasure. And abound in His joy.
And I won’t even pretend to be able to memorize all 150 names. But I am writing up my prayer lists this afternoon with Jenny at Beyond Bread after the Ash Wednesday mass.

The Gospel, by Heather Voelkel Schaber

I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I Cor 9:23

Every valley shall be raised up and every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level and the rugged places plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed and ALL mankind together will see it.
Is 40:4-5

This last six months or so I hit a sort of crisis. I’ve been feeling very unsure of my role or place or belonging in the church, which lead me to feel very unsure of my role or place or belonging in The Church. It’s been months of bobbing along somewhat aimlessly, letting the tide take me to this church for one Sunday or that church for another Sunday or maybe on Sunday there was no church in sight so it would just be a Sunday of floating alone.

The last few weeks the word gospel has surfaced in quite a few settings. I’ve been loosely fingering the word in my brain, wondering what it actually means. What is the good news for me? What is the good news for people who know Christ? What is the good news for people who don’t know Christ? How do I experience or live out the good news? What does it mean to proclaim good news?

Fast fact: the word “gospel,” as so frequently used by Paul, is actually an incredibly common greek word that intonated political good news. For example, if the king had a baby, he would send out a gospel to the whole kingdom letting them know of the birth. Or if the king won a battle, he would send out a gospel to the people letting them know that the war was over.

So Jesus actually co-opted this word- people understood the gospel as a broad proclamation that impacted everyone in a positive way. Moreover, Jesus actually was NOT the first prophet to use this word. The prophet Isaiah was famous for his gospel in Isaiah 40, which is that the Jewish people were free to go home- God would clear every obstacle in their way for them. The mountains in their lives that needed bulldozing- He would remove them. The valleys of hopelessness and despair that seemed too deep to escape- He would raise them up.

The gospel as described by both Isaiah and Jesus, it seems, is that God will remove ALL obstacles to bring people close to himself. The gospel is a little bit that Jesus died, but I think even more, it’s that he LIVES. He lives in the now to bring healing, to bring reconciliation, to bring hope.

It’s interesting- forgiveness has nothing to do with the person who did wrong and has everything to do with the person who was wronged. The person who was wronged can forgive without the the receiver even knowing that they were forgiven. Forgiveness has everything to do with the heart of the forgiver and nothing, really, to do with the one who did injury.

Reconciliation, however, is a two-way deal. Both parties have to meet in the middle. The one who did injury has to repent- has to turn around and walk towards the party they hurt. The one who was injured has to turn and face the one who hurt them- has to reach out to the one that brought injury.

When Jesus died, he brought forgiveness. It has nothing, really, to do with us. We are forgiven because he DECIDED to forgive. Reconciliation, however, is two-ways. That’s why Jesus rose again and came BACK to earth after death. For us to actually experience reconciliation and healing, we have to turn and meet Jesus in the middle. We turn and reach out to Him, and He turns and reaches out to us. In that place of us reaching and of Jesus reaching, that’s where LIFE happens. That’s where we experience purpose and fulfillment. That’s where our cups overflow with blessing.

I think that’s good news for me. It’s good news that my being forgiven has nothing to do with me. I’m forgiven even when I reject Christ in my life. It’s done. It was His decision to forgive me and what or who I am isn’t even in the cards. It’s good news, too, that He wants more for me than just forgiveness. He is willing to do ANYTHING to meet me where I’m at. He’ll even demolish mountains so that the path to meeting Him is clear- so that the path to healing and reconciliation and hope, is clear.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Choosing to see with ayin tovah, a good eye.

Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my meditation. Psalm 5:1

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 54:6

John Parsons talks about the words of our heart, divarim, and the need to realize that they define the course of our life. Proverbs 4:24 says “more than all else, guard your heart, because from it are the bounds of your life.” Our thoughts and words are ultimately prayers we are constantly offering…How I think, which is prayer, determines the “bounds” or course, of my life. As Yeshua said, “According to your faith it shall be done unto you.”

Yeshua spoke of “good and evil treasure of the heart” that produces actions. The focus is not so much on externals, but rather on the underlying condition of the human heart. My inward motive determines my thinking, which in turn affects the way I act and use words. I must be on guard to keep away for lashon hara (evil speech) by focusing on what is worthy, lovely, and of good report.

And maybe I could get discouraged, because sometimes it doesn’t seem like I ever climb up higher and higher, but I just go round in round in circles. I mean, I wrote Remember Lot’s Wife over two years ago, and it is still the plea of my heart.

But I am reading Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, and he explains that it is the hungering and thirsting after righteousness, the walking-alongside-relationship that is bless-ed, not the actually achievement of act and deed.

And I am obviously doing the stay-in-bed-and-get-well thing this fine cloudy Sunday morning. And listening to The Way of the Warrior by Grahame Cooke as he talks about entering into this place of ascension, above our normal circumstances, of abiding in this fearlessness of our approach to God, embracing His innate goodness, and joyfully trading on the immense favour that He has for us, getting lost in His beauty and grace.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share, as we tarry there
None other has ever known.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 54:6