Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just Love

This may sound weird, but lately I've been frustrated with how much time I spend in my own head. When I was beginning to pray this morning I found myself telling God that I just wish I could hear Him say that He loved me...just as I am...and that I don't need to keep being anxious about what I am doing that I shouldn't or not doing that I should. I mean I really overanalyze everything. Even this soon as I knelt down, I felt bad that a part of me wanted to hurry up and get this over with so I could get started on all the things I have to do today. Why can't I be excited and anticipate this time with just me and God? So often I feel like I am only paying lip service to this relationship that I say I value so highly. I talk about my love for God, but then so often I fall short not because I failed, but because I didn't try. And to be honest...all this thinking and analyzing is draining...and breeds a sense of hopelessness.

But thankfully, God hears me...even if I don't hear Him. And so no sooner do I form these thoughts this morning, when a new one comes to the forefront of my mind. Just love. It was a bit more than that, but the bottom line was that simple. Just love. I can get out of my head...if I just love. The call of Jesus is simple...until we complicate it. In each moment, as I begin each task, or each interaction, or each activity....I just need to ask myself how do I go forward with love. How do I do X or Y with love? How do I share love with this person or these people? And then...whatever answer I come up with...I do. Maybe it won't be right...or maybe it won't work out as I expect. But if my goal is to just love, how wrong can I be? God will take care of steering me and convicting me. I don't need to try and take over His job...or the Holy Spirit's. All I have to do is

And I can do that. Because God already does love me. Just as I am...multitude of faults and all. He loves me. I am His child...His creation. And while He wants me to pay be cognizant of what I say and do...and how that affects others...He also wants me to stay focus at least as much on the stuff going on outside of myself...on the people around me. God doesn't want me spending so much time looking inward...He wants me to focus on Him...and the Him in others. That's why Peter began to sink (when he walked on water); because He took his eyes off Christ and began to focus (and worry) about himself (Matthew 14:28-33). And that's exactly why Jesus made the connection between what we do for others...and what we do for Him (Matthew 25:31-40). That is how we love recognizing that He loves all of us. And so just as we are thankful when someone helps someone we love...especially when someone is kind or loving towards our child...God counts our kindnesses toward one another as if we were doing those things for Him.

And so it really is pretty simple I guess. I just need to not over think it. I need to stop expecting perfection (especially with the mountain of evidence to the contrary). I need to trust that God is greater than any misteps or mistakes I make....and that He will guide me. He will direct me. All I have to do....what it all boils down to...the simple plan I need for my life in order to get out of my own head just love.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Intimacy: How Low Can You Go

I don't want to overstate this and say that I have the secret to a great marriage...or a great relationship...but I think God has given me a glimpse of at least one of the "secrets." In fact, I'm not sure it is even a secret...because God demonstrated it in front of the whole of creation.

Let's start at the beginning. God created us. He created us to know Him. He created us out of and for the purpose of Love. And Love is about relationship. So God created us so that we could have a loving relationship with Him (as well as with eachother). And so God took the first step toward that relationship. He drew near. He, the Creator of all that existed, the omnipotent God who needs nothing, reached out to us. At first He revealed Himself to us (after the Fall) as a voice, a force, an apparition. He was invisible and seemingly distant (though closer than He had ever been before). But simply by reaching out and revealing Himself, and speaking to us, He was closer. And because of that, our relationship with Him grew...because He opened the door for us to communicate with interact. He drew closer.

And over time God continued to reveal Himself, both to large groups and to individuals. But all along He knew this was only the first step. And eventually, He took the next one. This Creator God, this Infinite Person so desired a relationshp with us that He became one of us. He came down from Heaven and took a place next to us. He was born as we were, He grew up as we did, He walked among us, touched us, healed us. He sweated, and felt pain, and went to the bathroom. This Limitless, Unfathomable God became one of His creatures and experienced all that we experienced. He drew closer.

But even that wasn't the end. There was still another step. God desired to be still closer to know us more closely...more initmately (which is to say He desired us to know Him ore closely and more intimately). And so God once again stepped closer. Our Awesome, Boundless, Inexhaustable God made Himself into a piece of bread and a cup of wine and allowed us to literally take Him inside of us. He made Himself food for us. The Everlasting God of Creation allowed His creature to eat Him. He went from being in front of us, to being inside of us. That is intimacy.

But incredible, and amazing, and awe-some as that is, how does that help us? We obviously can't follow that same path in our marriage or other relationships. Or can we?

I think we can. And I think the key is right there. At every every moment...God humbled Himself. He lowered Himself for our sake. He so desired to be close to be intimate...that He continually put aside His Greatness, His Glory. Instead of demanding that we come to Him or that we praise Him, He lifted us up by lowering Himself. He made Himself second for our sake. And I think that is one of the secrets to marriage...or any relationship.

We get closer, but humbling ourselves. When we put the other person first, when we care more about their needs and wants than our own, and when we are willing to put aside even those things that may be justifiably ours ("me time", forgiveness, relaxation, the moral high ground, frustration, pain and hurt, etc.), it is then that we are able to get closer to the other person. It is then that we find intimacy.

I don't say this suggesting that this is easy...and certainly not to suggest this is what I do in my relationships...definitely not consistently...but I think this is a path. If we will deny ourselves for the sake of others, if we will say we are sorry even when it wasn't our fault, if we overlook and forgive in silence the hurt the other person caused us, and if we choose to do the thing or go to the place or watch the show that makes the other person happy even when it would not have been our choice...THEN we find the door to intimacy is open. THEN we find barriers removed, distance bridged, and past hurts healed. Yes, it may not be a secret, but I think Our Father has shown us that great marriages...and great relationships...require that we humble ourselves. Just like Him, we need to lower ourselves for the sake of lifting our spouse/friend. And just like Him, there shouldn't be a limit as to how low we will go (in terms of humility) for those we are called to Love.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Less...of me

So much about holiness seems to be about humility. It's a constant theme in Scripture. The last shall be first. The least of you will be the greatest. You must lose your life to save it. And then we read in the Gospel:
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)

It's just so difficult for me let go of my plans, my goals, and even my needs... for the sake of someone else. Too often I feel like what I "have" to do is more important. Sometimes I even go so far as to suggest what I want to do is holier...more spiritually valuable...than what they are doing...which of course is an attempt to make me feel even more justified it putting myself first.

But I guess that is why we aren't called just to deny our "self"...but to kill our "self." And not just kill our self....but crucify it.

I have to die to all these little thrusts of self. I have to deliberately, and even stubbornly, deny what I want for the sake of what someone else wants...and still more for the sake of what someone else needs. I need to humble myself and eat at the restaurant my wife wants, even (and maybe especially) when I wanted to go somewhere else...because love puts others first...and so her wants should come before mine. I need to emphasize my colleague's contribution to the project that everyone is praising even though I may think I did (and may actually have done) more of the work...because love puts others' needs first...and my colleague needs to feel encouraged and supported. I need to agree to a meeting at 7:00pm rather than 6:00pm because that is the best time for someone else on the committee to meet, even though I didn't want to be out that late...because love is about less of my wants and more about others.

All of these seemingly insignificant things...or maybe not-so-insignificant things...where I could easily justify "sticking to my guns" or "following my gut" or "getting my way for a change"...these are opportunities to deny step back from the limelight, to value someone else above me, and to let them have the better seat at the table.
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. "But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher '; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:7-11)

I think there is an important piece of this parable that we often miss. You see, not only does Jesus explain that we should seat ourselves at the lower spot and humble ourselves and make ourselves the least among the guests, but He also explains why. Because when we humble ourselves and take the lower seat, then the Host will come and set things right. He will move us to a higher seat. To me what this says is that I don't need to worry about my "need" being met or about never getting what I want or about missing an opportunity. Because God is in control. He will do the exalting...the supporting...the need meeting. And so whatever opportunity I may think I am passing up, whatever need I think I am sacrificing...God can accomplish...and accomplish better than I could. We must remember, all things are possible. So when we miss that opportunity or give up somethng we wanted, we need to remember that it is God who meets are needs and orders our days. And nothing can disrupt His will. Not a boss, or a spouse, or a pastor, or anyone. So the seemingly logical protest of my flesh ("sure self-discipline is good every now and then, but it isn't always in this instance") can be seen for what it is...another attempt at trying to sit at the head of the table.

The call of Love is simple: Less of me...and More of Him. Which really means: Less of me...and more of others.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From Stymied to Yes Man

You gotta love Jesus putting the smackdown on someone...espcially the arrogant and judegmental. Now I have to admit that arrogance is a real pet peeves of mine. When I see someone looking down on others or being snide and/or condescending because of some presumed just insenses me and this cry for justice wells up inside of me. I want nothing more than to set things see the arrgoant humbled. Which is probably why I love this story about Jesus and the chief priests (Matthew 21:23-27). The challenge, of course, is that I am not as quick to recognize those moments when I am the one being arrogant.

So Jesus enters the temple, and immediately the chief priests approach him (as if they've been waiting for him). The come at him in their characteristic "high and mighty" tone and demand that Jesus explain Himself. Now there is little doubt we are witnessing a supernatural patience when we see Jesus simply suggest a deal. If they answer His question, He will answer theirs. So Jesus asks (without waiting to see if they agree to the deal), "Was John's baptism of heavenly origin or human origin?" Of course Jesus knew He had them...even before He asked, because He knew them better than they knew themselves. And after much discussion, sure enough the chief priests were stymied...stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Now I don't know if you are like me, but I derive no small pleasure from seeing the chief priests humbled by Jesus. But as always, I think Jesus' intent was bigger...and we see it in the answer given by the chief priests...or rather the lack of an answer.

It seems to me the real failure on the part of the chief priests is that they missed Jesus' question altogether. Here Jesus, God's only Son, was encouraging them to consider with Him the profound, supernatural, awesome work of God...and rather than accept the invitation and really think about John's Baptism and what it means...they spent all of their time debating which was the most socially acceptable answer....which was the most beneficial answer politically. They couldn't push beyond the mundane concerns of this world. They were so addicted to power and prestige that all that mattered was which answer gave them more of both...or at least didn't cost them any of either. The truth of the answer was seemingly unimportant. And so, because they couldn't figure out how they could benefit from either response, they offered none. "We don't know."

How often does Christ give us opportunities to consider the profound works of God...or even better, how often does He give us the opportunity to cooperate with Him in His works...and instead of seizing the opportunity, we get caught up in how our participation will look to others...or in what it will cost us (leisure time, sleep, money, etc.)? How often do we have an invitation from God to be still and listen to him (as Mary did) and instead we put off or try to delay that opportunity because we have other, more pressing things we have to busy ourself with (as Martha did)? How often does the Holy Spirit lead us directly to an opportunity to touch someone's life with God's Love and instead we hesitate because we don't know them or we don't know what to say or it feels "weird"?

I am afraid to admit it...but I am not sure I am that different from the chief priests sometimes. Opportunities come...both those I recognize and those I am too busy to recognize...and I find myself stymied. I think about too many things other than the simple call at hand. God wants to engage me. The Creator of this universe wants to have a conversation with me. The King of kings wants me to help Him. He wants me to work with serve with Him. And what do I do? I think about all the problems...all the worries...all the social consequences...all things that my responding could "cost" me. And in the end...I miss it....the opportunity slips by.

Forgive me, Father, for being no better than your enemies. Forgive me for the opportunities I miss worrying about what they will cost me...or what others will think of me if I act on your prompting. But more than just forgive me...please transform me.

Dear Holy Mother, please teach me your obedience. We have no greater human example than your immediate fiat to God's request. Please show me how to say "yes" to whatever God asks of me in my life. Help me to accept and embrace whatever opportunities He brings my way. Please pray that in the same breath that I say "yes," I can also let go of the worries and anxieties of not accomplishing my plans for that moment....of doing something that may be initially uncomfortable to me...and of giving more or something different than I thought I could give. I want to be someone God can use. I want to be someone God can rely on. I want to be ready to love whenever the opportunity presents itself. In short, I don't want to be arrogant...and selfish. I want to be God's "yes man"...each and every moment.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

All In

We spend a lot of time focused on our thoughts, our intentions, our prayers. All of this internal stuff. And of course that is good. Jesus Himself directed us away from the purely outward understanding of spirituality, religion, and sin that dominated the thinking for some much of human history...including those in Jesus' day. He challenged us to expand our understanding of what it means to love God...and our fellow human beings with statements like, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultury'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew5:26-28)." The point is that maybe it is easy to not actually commit adultury or actually kill someone, but that if we entertain the idea in our heart...and in our mind...then we are still guilty. We saw that with the hypocracy of the Pharisees. So I get that.

BUT, I wonder if the pendulum hasn't swung too far the other way. I appreciate the Truth that Jesus gave as He chastised the Pharisees for being outwardly spiritual, but not inwardly. He talked about how they focused on the outward appearance and not on the motives and desires in their heart.
"Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated ? 18 "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. Matthew 15:17-19.
So I get it. The heart and sould does reveal the person. It is the core of who we are. But while He directed us to pay attention to what is going on inside...He didn't say it is the only thing we should pay attention to.

So here is my thing. As I am moving through Lent, I am finding myself wanting to live more fully for I'm sure many of us are. I truly want my life to be more about Him than it is about me. I want to literally live out the idea that "I am third." And this isn't new. This has been a desire for a long time. And so I have to be honest with myself and recognize that I am obviously not moving in that direction...or at least not as fast as I would like to be...or should be. I mean yes, I pray a least if you count all the conversations in my head where I talk to God. And on one hand some (and for a while I) would consider that a positive. Certainly that is me pursuing God in my life. But I still feel unsettled. I feel like there is more...much more for me that I am missing out on. And so as I prayed this morning I feel like God directed me to take a look at what is on the outside. What outside of the outer parts of my life...the physical parts...reflect that desire? Is my physical self pursuing God as much as my inward spiritual self? What around my physical life...testifies to my desire for Him?

So I took stock. There is going to Church. And most of the books I read are spiritual in nature...saints and religious authors. And I talk to my daughter about God and Jesus as things pop up. But that seems sort of rudimentary to me. As good as it may doesn't feel like enough to match the desire that is inside. Do I read at least some scripture every day? No. Do I specifically, intentionally, consciously do any acts for God each day? No. Do I have a regular commitment to do something for my church...say monthly or weekly? No. And on it went. So in the end, when I looked at the bulk of my daily activities...I realized that so few are deliberately infused with God. And then I realized the consequence. I have unintentionally set my spiritual life against my physical life. They are not in unison...not both being fed...not both being aimed at the same thing. And so I have had to conclude that for all the inner stuff I may life...the physical, worldly part of my life is a bit empty when it comes to God. Put another way, I realized that it would be hard for someone outside and objective to look at my life and see this deep desire and pursuit of God. And so I've realized, I think some things have to change.

I am out of balance. I have spent too much time on the inward and/or not enough time on the outward. I need to make sure that I am putting my money where my mouth is, as they say. Or at least where my heart is. I need to serve God not just with my desire...with my heart and mind...but with my outward self as well.

How much am I doing to help the Church? How much am I doing to share God's love with others? How much am I doing to draw closer to Him so that I can do more for him in this world? I have had to make myself realize that simply wanting to do it isn't enough. Talking about it with others, isn't enough. I need to actualy do do do several things. I need my body...and my physical world to support and encourage and reflect what is going on in my inner world. I need my outside to be consistent with my inside. I need my desire for God to permeate all of me...all that I am...inside and out. And please be clear (I say both to myself and those reading) that this isn't about doing things...physical, outward that others can see my faith...or so that I can prove or convince people how religious I am or how close to God I am (or am not). Jeuss clearly condemned that (Matthew 23:13-36. No...this is about getting my whole being in sync. It is about me living my faith spiritually AND physically. It's about my whole life being aimed at knowing and sharing Christ's love. It's about me finally deciding to go all in.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Being a God way

Christ told us that unless we become like little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). On one hand I think I get it. We are to trust Him the way children (at least little children) trust their parents (or caregivers). I mean how different would our lives be if we simply believed everything God said...which as any parent can attest, is how children are. If you tell a child you will catch them, they jump blindly and gleefully into your arms. If you assure a child that there are no monsters in the closet, they will (eventually) go to sleep. In short, if you tell a child something...anything, they believe it. They trust. It doesn't matter how crazy it sounds or even how much evidence there may be to the con tray. They have faith in the person telling them. And the surest sign that they have this faith...this the fact that they act on what you tell them. In other words, whatever you tell a child impacts their lives. If you tell them that Santa Claus comes down the chimney every Christmas Eve...they believe it...and talk about it...and sit and wait as long as they can every Christmas Eve to try and catch a glimpse of him...and that story you told them becomes the only possible explanation for how all the presents got under their tree. In the same way, if you tell them they are going to the amusement park on Saturday, they will spend the week thinking about it...talking about it...making plans with the same certainty as the sun rising. They have no doubt that it will happen. So little children believe...and trust.

Oh if only we trusted God like that.

"...for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move ; and nothing will be impossible to you."Matthew 17:20
"And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen."Matthew 21:21

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Already Free

As we sit at the beginning of Lent, looking at 40 days of spiritual clean-up, it is easy to be overwhelmed. When we pause and consider where we are in our relationship with God, the distance we have to travel to get from here to where God wants us to be might as well be lightyears. At least that is how it often feels to me. I recall previous Lents...previous periods where I was determined make changes, to be more of the person God is calling me to be. But then here I am, still feeling like I am so far away from where I want to be.

Of course, as God so often does when we get to that place where we realize we (by ourselves) simply can't do something, He stepped in. Now I might have preferred if He had just changed me. But sadly I'm still not yet doing all the things He is calling me to do in my life, nor have I jettisoned all the bad habits and sinful tendencies I've accumulated over the years. But what He did do...was free me. Actually, He showed me that I am already free.

You see, if you are like me, you often fall into the trap of thinking that change is hard. You see your mistakes standing in your way...the consequences of choices you made in moments of weakness. You only too quickly become aware of your personality traits, your habits and patterns, and your failures. And then, even if you convince yourself you can work around all that, you are confronted by all the expectations of you...those by your spouse, your parents, your kids, your friends, your co-workers...even yourself. Change doesn't only impact you, it impacts those around you. It challenges the routine and the norm, and people like knowing who you are. They take comfort in that.

And so we have all these things to contend with. All these things limiting us. Or at least we think we do. The truth is, as God's children, we are a new creation. The old man/woman has passed away. We have been reborn. And like somuch of life, that isn't a one time thing. It is a continual thing. Each day, every day we are new. There is nothing to bog us down or hold us back. The past is the past. We can choose to be whoever we want to be today. We can choose to be that person who God is calling us to. Sure, yesterday you were the procrastinator who never got around to praying, but you are that guy/girl who found a quiet place during lunch to just sit and talk to God for 15 minutes. Yesterday, you were the no time for chit-chat manager who was all business and never spent time getting to know your staff, but today you are the guy/girl who moved seized the chance to cancel an unnecessary meeting and instead walk around and spend a few minutes to talking to all the people on your team. Yesterday, you were the exhausted parent who couldn't wait to get all the kids fed, bathed, and into bed as quickly as possible, but today you are the dad/mom who decided the last 15 minutes of your kids' day would be spent doing something together, even if it meant going to bed a little bit later.

You see, there literally is nothing holding you back...except you. God has freed you. We are not bound by sin, by old habits, by tendencies, by anything. We just need to choose to be THAT person...the person God has been calling us to be. All it takes is making a decision. And while changes may still affect others, the good news is that God won't let us handle that alone. He is working in their lives too. And who knows, once those around you see that you are free to be better...they may just realize they are too.

So as we stand here looking into Lent, preparing to walk with our God for 40 days and 40 nights of reflection, and prayer, and spiritual cleaning...let's remember that we do so as free creations. There is nothing stopping us from just being the person we want to be. God's already done all the hard work...we just need see that we're free.

This all reminds me of an old song from The Newsboys:

Like a criminal guilty on all counts
Rattling his cage with every ounce
Of resolve he never had
I was convicted

Then I took the pardon and the walls came down
But I must like it here 'cause I keep hanging around
For a better suit and an escort and a winning lottery ticket

First we waited for miracles
Then we needed a sign
Now we're here to confess
We've wasted the time.

But that was yesterday. Today is a new day! So what are you waiting for?!