Wednesday, February 29, 2012

God, Our True Repose

On Friday I saw the first daffodil in bloom. I always look forward to those signs of spring. It is good to know that God is working in the world and causing things to grow—including me. The daffodil and today’s scripture passage reminded me of a selection from the writings of the great mystic Julian of Norwich:

And God showed me a little thing, in the palm of my hand, round like a ball, no bigger than a hazelnut. I gazed at it, puzzling at what it might be. And God said to me, “It is all of creation.” I am amazed that it could last and did not suddenly disintegrate and all into nothingness, for it was so tiny. And again, God spoke to me, “It lasts, both now and forever, because I cherish it.” And I understood that everything has its being owing to God’s care and love. We need to realize the insignificance of creation and see it for the emptiness it is before we can embrace the uncreated God in love. We will find no rest for our heart or spirit as long as we seek it in insignificant things which cannot satisfy us, rather than in God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and beneficent. He is our true repose. And he desires to be known and is pleased that we should rest in him. For nothing less than him can satisfy us. We cannot rest until we are detached from all that is created. When we have done so for love of God who is all, only then are we able to enjoy spiritual rest.

In Matthew 6:30-34 we read, "If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.
Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (The Message).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Forward I Go

A friend forwarded a poem to me last week by Greg Ferguson from his blog. It speaks beautifully to the confidence in God who “is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” and the good shepherd who gives me everything I need.

Forward I Go
I can choose to dwell
Under the influence of the Heavenlies
Breathing trust
Drinking in simplicity
Living hope and passing hope along
Buoyant with light and life
I can remain earthbound
Doubled over
Heavy with the spirit of fear
Crumpled by its weight–
It is time for that to cease,
To stop cold.
Time for gravity to loosen its hold.
The healing of which I speak
Comes not by clenched effort
But a fluid shift in spirit.
It is a lift under the wings
That emerges from
The deliberate
Savoring of peace
And releasing myself
Into Your watchfulness
Your willingness
Your diligence.
David the king
Did not blink
When he faced down
The lion
The bear
And the philistine
The enemies who would dash him against the rocks.
He faced them down with a steady eye
And an elemental trust in the unseen Shepherd.
He saw You ahead of him
Buffering him amid the foes and threats-
Cushioning him
Honoring him
Provisioning him.
Why can I not
Slip into that same universe of faith?
Trusting with clear eyes and open hands
That you will surround and reinforce my shaky soul
As I take the deep breaths
And step forward into unusual worlds ahead
Forward I go
With this prayer running through my bloodstream:
Surely goodness and mercy
Will follow me
All the days of my life
And I will dwell
In the house
Of the Lord

Greg Ferguson is Co-Producer/Experience Designer for The Global Leadership Summit. Visit his blog, 10,000 pages.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Shall Not Want

A few months ago I was spending considerable time meditating on Psalm 23—a wonderful picture of the kind of person I want to be and the kind of life I want to experience as I trust in the loving, faithful shepherd who provides for me. The phrase I have thought about most is “I shall not want.” Another way to say the same thing is “I have everything I need.” If I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and if I believe I belong to him and that he will care for me, then I have everything I need. That is not to say that I have everything I want or that everything that happens to me is good. But because of God, who he is, and my relationship with him, I have everything I need.

I have to be honest. I don’t live that belief all of the time. I’m a glass-half-empty person. While, I am growing in grace, I confess that I am often more aware of what I lack than what I have. I haven’t truly believed nor lived as though “I have everything I need.” Psalm 23 is such a familiar psalm in some ways, but I encourage you to think about it, meditate on it line by line. Perhaps read it in a different translation for a fresh perspective. It is the picture of a sheep at rest because of the relationship to the shepherd. And it is meant to provide a picture of the kind of life we can experience in relationship to our shepherd, our heavenly Father—the maker of heaven and earth.

I too can lie down (rather than standing to eat) and rest or stroll quietly beside streams of water (rather than guzzling to fill myself up). To say that “I have everything I need” means I turn my focus off of myself and turn it to God—who he is, who I am in relationship to him, and what he has done and continues to do for me. He is the one who “restores my soul.”

I like this psalm too because it is not na├»ve: there is evil and there are enemies in this life. But rather than “fearing evil,” I can choose to trust the one who is “with me.” Again, this doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen, but we can entrust ourselves to the God who made us, cares for us, and will ultimately bring about his redemptive purposes in our lives and in the world. The verse “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” demonstrates that even in the midst of turbulent circumstances, the focus is on God and what God is doing in and through and for us.

This is a psalm of deep confidence in God and his love and care. That confidence is summarized with the words “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” God’s presence is real. His presence, power, and peace can be experienced right here, right now—whatever we are going through.

God is inviting me to quit focusing on all that needs fixing and to recognize the abundance of grace and goodness in my life right here and now. It is definitely a process, but I am learning, growing in grace, and gaining more confidence in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who loves and cares for me. During this Lenten season, I am seeking to keep a gratitude journal as I notice and record evidence of God’s love and care. I want to cultivate a deeper confidence in God so that I will truly believe “I have everything I need.” What evidence do you see in your life for the love and care of God for you? How much do you believe that you have “everything you need”? Each day this week, take time to thank God for five blessings of the day and share that gratitude with someone you love.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Living What We Believe

We live in an interesting time in history. There are more scientific and technological advances than we can keep up with. We have more modern conveniences to free us for more leisure, but we are busier and more stressed than ever. There is more to know, more to do, more to have but seemingly less time to enjoy life as we envision it. 

In his book The Sabbath Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel writes, “Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space…Yet to have more does not mean to be more…time is the heart of existence… And there is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, become our sole concern.”

I have personally experienced and witnessed in others life going wrong. How do we get away from the constant anxiety of more to do than we have time to do, the exhaustion that results from our endless busyness, and the lack of joy that results from trying to manage all the details of our lives and maintain some sense of control? I think God had a brilliant idea that too many of us are ignoring.

In Genesis 1 we read that in six days, “the heaven and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing. So on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had made.”  Don Postema writes in his book Catch Your Breath, “God took a break, like an artist stepping back from her easel and admiring her painting. God took a breather, like a weary factory laborer stepping out for some fresh air, and we are invited to do the same.”

During this Lenten season I invite you to set apart one day a week to stop your work and make time for rest and worship.  Live what you believe by trusting God and his ability to care for you and the world without your help.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Faith Is...

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Hebrews 11 is an amazing chapter in scripture as it recounts those who lived by faith in God. These heroes of faith were far from perfect, and their lives were often painful and difficult. But they lived by faith in God—his purposes and promises. They believed there is a spiritual realm that is more real than anything we can see or touch. They were not satisfied with the mere temporal realities.

I recently read the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. He writes: “You can in no manner be satisfied with temporal goods, for you were not created to find your rest in them. If you alone might have all the goods that were ever created, you would not therefore be happy and blessed. Your blessedness and your full happiness stand only in God, who has made all things from nothing. The felicity that is praised by foolish lovers of the world is not true felicity, but only such as good Christian men and women hope to have in the joy of heaven, and as some spiritual persons, clean and pure in heart, sometimes taste here in this present life—those whose conversation is in heaven. All worldly solace, and all man’s comfort, is in vain and short, but that comfort is blessed and certain which is perceived by truth inwardly in the heart.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Not Ashamed

Who are your heroes? One of my heroes is the Apostle Paul. When I read about his life, conversion, and ministry in The Book of Acts, I am amazed by the transformation God brought about in this man. He looked so good on the outside—from a good family, well educated, and very religious. But by his own admission, he was a person who put his confidence in what he knew, what he did, and the religious system he adhered to. Yet, he gave all that up when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, struck him blind, and called him to be his apostle (see Acts 9). In his state of physical blindness, God opened his eyes to his spiritual blindness and his utter helplessness to save himself or change himself. Paul had an encounter with the living God, and his life was never the same.

As I read his letters, I am struck by his dependence on grace—God accomplishing for him what he could not accomplish for himself. And he never stops talking about the gospel. Can you believe it? He really believed it was good news. That’s why in Romans 1:16-17 he states emphatically, “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” Paul lived by faith in the God who loved him. When God chose him, he never looked back and he shared the good news with everyone who would listen.

Paul is a hero and a wonderful example, but I confess that I am keenly aware that I am not Paul. I suspect that most of you feel the same. However, God loves us and he has chosen us too. So I am asking myself how my life reflects confidence and faith in God and the good news of Jesus. I’m examining my life to see whether it reflects whether I am confident in or ashamed of the gospel. I’m thinking of ways that I can cultivate a deeper trust in God and willingly take risks to share what I believe with others. I encourage you to do the same. 

Whom could you begin to pray for this Lenten season, asking God to open a door of opportunity to share the good news of Christ with them?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On the Meaning of Life

John writes his gospel “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).  It is an amazing idea that believing leads to life. But it’s not just any life. It’s an eternal life. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). I used to think that eternal life was the life that started when you died and went to heaven. I think this is a common misunderstanding. Eternal life is not merely a quantitative life; it is a qualitative life that begins when we believe in Jesus—when we trust who he is, what he has done, and what he continues to do for us. It is a life that is not just for the hereafter but for the here and now.  

Does your life reflect that you are living the life Jesus came to give here and now, or the fact that you are waiting for the life hereafter? 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Great Paradox

Today is Ash Wednesday. Today I will receive the imposition of ashes on my forehead and hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” As the journey of Lent begins, I am aware of a deep desire to believe more than I do, to trust Jesus more than I do, to love Jesus more than I do. There is only one way to get there. There are things that need to die in me that the life of Christ might live more fully. It is a strange paradox, but very true.

Lord, High and Holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deep well,
and the deeper the wells the bright thy starts shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

--from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It’s All About Grace

This week our church is beginning a sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed called iBelieve. I grew up going to church, and every week we would either say this creed or another creed. They were a big part of my church experience and faith formation. I liked the creeds, and I believed them--at least at some level. But in retrospect, I would have to say I probably gave intellectual assent to the fact they were true; I don’t know how much I really believed.  

While knowing information about God is important, it’s not the same as knowing him. For a long time I thought Christianity was knowing things about God and doing things that would please him—like going to church, reading the Bible, and living a good life. Don’t get me wrong: those are good things, but knowing and doing those things is not what makes a person a follower of Christ. And people can do those things and not know Christ. I can say this from personal experience.

In my own journey of following Christ I have come to understand that to believe is to have an interactive relationship with God through Jesus. Jesus is the key to life as it was meant to be lived. That’s why Jesus uses a vine to help us understand how we are to enter into and  live this life. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

A branch that is cut off from the vine will wither; a branch connected to the vine will thrive. Jesus came to give us life. This life is a gift of grace. Dallas Willard says that grace is God accomplishing for us what we cannot accomplish on our own. We cannot enter into the life of God apart from grace, and we cannot progress in the life of God apart from grace.

This blog is titled “Growing in Grace” because that is the journey I am on. I want to rely more and more on the grace of Christ and participate in the life he is already living. Too often I get caught up in thinking it is all up to me. I know I am not alone. While I don’t deny there are things to do, God has already done all that is necessary. Jesus came to bring us an abundant life-- a life of love, joy, and peace. This life already exists because of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. I want to grow in that grace, and I want to help others grow in grace as well.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is an incredible snapshot of the kind of life Jesus has already given to those who believe. It is a life of wonder and beauty and mystery.  There is nothing we can do to earn it or deserve it. It’s all about grace. Be honest and ask yourself: “What does the way I live my life say about what I really believe? Do I believe it’s all up to me, or do I really believe in God and rely on his grace?