Monday, August 31, 2015

And in the west, an almost full moon tosses on cloudy seas

Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart. Psalm 111:1

And I heard a few stories yesterday. From people like me. Who are wrestling with the “Yes, but, LORD, really?” question. “This is it, Your plan for my life?”

“Yep,” He says.

“Yep,” He says in love and power and knowingness.

And in response, I kneel down and give thanks. With a whole heart.

And then, (the hard part for me) I stand up and shout and sing, “Hallelujah.” With my whole heart.

I shall always wait in patience, and shall praise you more and more. Psalm 71:14

Prayer is far from being sweet and easy. Being the expression of our greatest love, it does not keep pain away from us. Instead, it makes us suffer more since our love for God is a love for a suffering God and our entering into God’s intimacy is an entering into the intimacy where all of human suffering is embraced in divine compassion. To the degree that our prayer has become the prayer of our heart we will love more and suffer more, we will see more light and more darkness, more grace and more sin, more of God and more of humanity. To the degree that we have descended into our heart and reached out to God from there, solitude can speak to solitude, deep to deep, and heart to heart. It is there where love and pain are found together. Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Jesus prayed, saying I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.’ John 17:26

May I know His love with my whole heart.

And I chose I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever, I will sing over and over as I watched the brilliant morning star fade slowly into the dawning east. And even if I can no longer see its pulsing glory, it is there. 

May I know His love with my whole heart.
He in me and I in Him.  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

From the top of the peak, over the soft rumble of freeway traffic, you can hear a rooster crow.

Now it happened that he was praying alone, and his disciples came to him and he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’
‘But you,’ he said to them, ‘who do you say I am?’ Luke 9:18,20

This is the question I rode up Sentential Peak with this morning. On my Happy Birthday Bicycle. And because it is a pretty sweet bike, I can now pass people. Going uphill. And there are a lot of cyclists out early on Sunday morning. And the other people are out there as well, the man staggering under the bridge, swinging his almost empty bottle. And the guy with the shopping cart sifting through the trash can. And the very tired looking woman sitting on the bus bench. Not that there will be a bus because the teamsters are on strike, but because it is the last bit of shade as we all squint into the rising sun. It is going to be yet another hot day in Tucson.

And of late, this has been my praying-alone question, Who is this Jesus the Christ of God? And the second is like the first, Who does the way I live my life say that He is, since I am indeed a self-proclaimed Christ-follower?

(Side note: It is so very satisfying to squish a buzzing mosquito.)

And I am reading a book that some wise friend gave me, I think for this same birthday. But I forgot whom. I thought it was Cameron, but it isn’t. So thank you, whoever you are.

And the book is a step further than my beloved Practicing the Presence of God. Because the second is like the first, Practicing the Presence of People by Mike Mason. And this is how I love the LORD my God with all of my heart, soul, mind and body, by loving my neighbor as myself.

And like Peter, I falter. A lot. And I try to rephrase the question. Or define my terms like a certain lawyer. But “likewise” is pretty clear.

By worshiping an incarnate God, we learn to humble ourselves before one another. He practices the presence of people by becoming one Himself. So too each one of us must find a way to join the human race, casting off our separateness and throwing in our lot with others. Am I paying the “continual debt of love” (Romans 13:8)? Or do I treat God’s people the civilized equivalent of the caretakers of the vineyard’s killing and beating of God’s representatives: ignoring them, isolating myself, sitting in silent judgment, rationalizing my lovelessness?

“Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, said Jesus, you did not do for me.”

Again and again and again. This is the Law and the Prophets summed up in one question.

Do you love me?

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

And the first chapter closes with this question: Do you love God? Look at the person next to you, and you will know.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

And wispy clouds almost hid the half moon.

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. Psalm 86:4

Jesus taught us, saying: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’ Mark 4:26–29

You water the mountains from your dwelling on high; the earth is fully satisfied by the fruit of your works. You make grass grow for flocks and herds and plants to serve mankind; That they may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts, Oil to make a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen the heart. Psalm 13:16

So last night was the first family dinner in a long time. Momma has been out of town and summer has been busy for all of us. But last night we gathered once again, with crackers and cheese and chips and salsa and then the freshly grilled by Tim chickens-on-a-stick kabobs and peanut sauce and rice and salad and of course the homemade bread followed by sweet cake with peaches and frozen yogurt and Tim found a bottle of port hanging around and googled what it was all about and explained to us about the British war against France and the river Douro in northern Portugal and its microclimate that is optimal of the cultivation of olives, almonds and especially grapes. And Brandon and RJ and Tracy and I rode a bus through the seaport of Porto this summer on our way to visit Fernanda.

And life is hard for each of us. Not refugees lining up to flee into Macedonia before Hungary closes its borders hard or even as hard as was for some old guy driving an even older car rumbling and snorting and burping its way down Broadway this morning. And there was another guy sleeping with his head on a backpack under the bus stop bench. But each of us has lives that are too cluttered with broken water pipes and complicated decisions and aching loved ones and maybe my very first thought of the day is not This is the day that the LORD has made. But last night we dribbled oil and balsamic over the salad with big crunchy croutons, sipped chilled white and watched bemused as Everette wandered around the colored-light lit backyard with a box of crackers looking for scorpions to eat.

And I pulled myself out of the pool this morning under a golden grey dappled sky. Who knows what seed will be sown today? Or what shoots will break forth. And even perhaps some thick sheaves may be hefted in celebration.

So dear LORD God I repent. May I be fully satisfied by the fruits of your works today. Strengthen my heart. Gladden the soul of your servant.

I lift up my eyes unto Thee.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

To step outside is to be reminded of His love and faithfulness.

Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness. Psalm 89:1

Show me your marvelous lovingkindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:7-9 

This is pretty much my go-to filler melody during the quiet. The quiet of driving up and down Broadway. The quiet of flipping turns or heading up the steep curve of Sentential Peak. Hanging in the backyard hammock covered with mosquito repellant. Certainly when I head out to wander through the creosote bushes and prickly pears across Country Club. Over and over, the refrain,
Your Love, Oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness
Stretches to the skies
Your righteousness
Is like the mighty mountain
Your justice flows like the ocean's tide
I will lift my voice
To worship You my King
And I will find my strength
In the shadow of Your wings
I guess it’s my own heart’s version of Tucson Psalms. Well, except for the part about the ocean. But the heavens and the skies and the mighty mountains bring me back to Him again and again. Even in the early morning darkness when His faithfulness cannot be seen.
And the 1000 gifts list plugs onward:
875.        Mosquito repellent
876.        Such a kind note from John D’Andrea
877.        The attitude of how-can-I-serve-you permeating the staff at Imago Dei
878.        How wisely my co-teacher dealt with cruel vandalism amongst the seventh graders.
879.        Watching another teacher work through foot-long science vocabulary with a refugee student.
880.        One of my very most naughty students rushed up with a stack of crumpled but complete   missing homework assignments and gave me a big hug
881.        The after-a-drenching-rain scent of Tucson as we head out for a new day
882.        My sweet, sweet sister so full of patient grace as we walk through this life together
883.        The enthusiastic love of Juan as he searches for the perfect bicycle for me
884.        My pink and yellow flowing shirt that is full of memories from just about every place I’ve travelled
885.        My momma is back home again
886.        My grumpy math student who actually smiled as I pulled out the new textbook I found
887.        My Monday night book club ladies are so encouraging and kind
888.        The sixth grader who wrapped herself around me yesterday and smiled, “Miss, you are my favorite teacher.”
889.        Did I mention mosquito repellent? Somehow that back door is always left open.

But I am also consciously returning to “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” prayer, working it into my heartbeats. Henri Nouwen talks about it:
It is about this prayer that the Russian pilgrim speaks, thereby expressing in his own charming na├»ve style the profound wisdom of the spiritual fathers of his time. In the expression “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,” we find a powerful summary of all prayer. It directs itself to Jesus, the Son of God, who lived, died, and was raised for us; it declares him to be the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah, the one we have been waiting for; it calls him our Lord, the Lord of our whole being: body, mind, spirit, thought, emotions, and actions; and it professes our deepest relationship to him by a confession of our sinfulness and by a humble plea for his forgiveness, mercy, compassion, love, and tenderness.

More than ever we feel like wandering strangers in a fast-changing world. But we do not want to escape this world. Instead we want to be fully part of it without drowning in its stormy waters. We want to be alert and receptive to all that happens around us without being paralyzed by inner fragmentation. We want to travel with open eyes through this valley of tears without losing contact with the One who calls us to a new land. We want to respond with compassion to all those whom we meet on our way and ask for hospitable place to stay while being solidly rooted in the intimate love of our God. The prayer of the heart shows us one possible way. It is indeed like a murmuring stream that continues underneath the many waves of every day and opens the possibility of living in the world without being of it and reaching out to God from the center of our solitude. Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

Because His love first reaches out to the heavens.
And His faithfulness stretches to the skies.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Costly grace will cost you absolutely nothing, but it will demand that you risk absolutely everything.

Love the LORD, all you who worship him; the LORD protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD. Psalm 31:23–24

On August 24, the Church remembers St. Bartholomew, called Nathaniel in the Gospel of John and one of the twelve apostles. Tradition says Bartholomew traveled to India and founded the Church in Armenia, where he was flayed to death and then beheaded for the faith.

Jesus taught the apostles, saying: ‘Among the gentiles it is the kings who lord it over them and those who have authority over them are given the title Benefactor. With you, this must not happen. No; the greatest among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves. For who is the greater: the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table, surely? Yet here I am among you as one who serves! Luke 22:25–28
How can we have amazing grace for all of our own people — but have amazingly quick finger pointing for all who aren’t?
How can we love mercy for our people, and not love mercy for all people made in the image and likeness of God?

When we are against abortion but are for the cutting of welfare, when our political agendas are loud but our daily schedules are pretty quiet about serving people different than us, when we get up on our soapboxes about morality, we look like we’re more about self-preservation than community transformation, we look like we’re more about judgment than Jesus. The life of Jesus would radically suggest: The most conservative in theology, should be the most liberal in loving.

The life of Jesus would radically suggest: Don’t advertise your beautiful faith without advertising your broken-down faults — because those broken-down faults are the exact reason why you need your beautiful faith.

The life of Jesus would radically suggest: This Cheap Grace is costing the Church its voice. –Ann Voskamp, 
So Ann quotes a lot from Bonhoeffer in yesterday’s meditations.
And serving is costly.
And sometimes, well, a lot of times, I fuss and fret at God because the Way is bumpy and uncomfortable and unclear. And Not Fair. That is why He gave us a lamp unto our feet. To see the next step right in front of the last.
But the written Word was not clear enough for us hard-hearted and broken people, so the Word became flesh and dwelt among men. And the Word took off his royal robe, wrapped a towel around His waist and knelt down and washed grimy feet.
And my day is filled with grimy feet and grimy fingers. And trying to teach kids who moved here last year from Rwanda how to conjugate verbs in Spanish or the girl who didn’t sleep last night because her parents were fighting and now she doesn’t want figure out how to solve word problems. And lots and lots of people who don’t do things exactly as they should. Or how I think they should. Who say one thing and do another. Just like me.
And Ann reminds me that The Bible is full of hypocrites — the Bible is full of liars and cheaters and mockers and deceivers, adulterers, peddlers, panhandlers, elitists and hypocritical crooks — and the Bible is full of a costly grace for every single one of them — which gives every single one of the likes of us appalling, relentless hope.
It’s never our unwavering clinging to God in our brokenness, but God’s unwavering carrying of us through our brokenness — that holds all the broken in a healing love.
And Bonhoeffer reminds me of the call of the one who was pierced for our sake: The call of every Christian is to come pick up a Cross and come die.

And it is in this daily death that I will find life. Fresh life springing up out of the earth, green and full of hope. And it pretty much rained all night last night. From when I dozed off in the hammock in the backyard from watching lightning streaks to drizzling all the way through swim practice this morning. And as I flipped back and forth, I thought about all of the weeds that were going to fill the front yard. The front yard that I cleared for five hours just a few Saturdays ago. But yes, there are going to be bright blue and orange and yellow wildflowers mixed in too.

And His rain falls on the just and the unjust. And it is not my job to weed His garden. It is my job to sow seeds.

Take my heart, it is Your own
And fill my hands with seeds to sow.
And Ann talks about His rain as well. His raindrops of mercy. And a costly grace.
…the way it is when a costly grace rains down relief on all our open wounds —-and you can’t help but dance, all the broken and busted tearing up the dark.
I thought about old Nathaniel as well. Who had no idea where that call from under the fig tree would lead him. But Jesus promised that he would see great things, that he would see heaven open wide.
For the joy set before him.
For the joy set before me.

Take my heart, it is Your own.