Are You Listening To Him?

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Gospel reading: Matt. 17:1-9

Christ is the culmination of all things.
The Old Testament finds culmination in him.
History finds culmination in him,

The life of every human being culminates in him.
To be a Christian is to realize that culmination now,
and dwell there in this life.

On the mount of The Transfiguration, Peter wanted to set up dwelling places for Jesus, Elijah and Moses.
But the voice from the cloud said “listen to my beloved.”

To listen is to dwell.

O Lord, let your words construct a dwelling where I find rest for my soul this day.

Have you ever been perfect? Will you be?

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What does it mean to be perfect? Is it even possible? My friend, Mike explained it to me this way, “Think of a number scale from 1 to 10,” he said, “most of us would say that to be perfect in any endeavor is to always be a 10; to be any less number is to be slightly imperfect.”

I know, for myself, as I look back over my art; the drawings, paintings and prints I have done over the years, there were a couple 8’s a few 7’s and lots of other much less numbers, but I cannot say there has ever been a 10. Does this mean I’m imperfect as an artist? Will I ever be a 10?

Mike went on to say, “What if we looked at it from a biblical perspective? Perfection then looks like this: showing up. Biblical perfection then, is to show up everyday and not quit, and over time you will see yourself becoming more and more who you were created to be.”

Jesus says that we should “be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) What does he mean by this? How is my heavenly Father perfect? Earlier in the passage Jesus is telling his followers to not only greet their friends and people who are like them, but also to show love to their enemies and those who are less desirable. Jesus knows we are all works in progress. Every one of us. Our heavenly Father always shows up to us. He always shows up to give love and grace to every one of us.

To be perfect like my heavenly Father, then, is to always show up.

To be perfect in exercising is not so much about the results; a perfect body, really? Show up to exercise every day (or at least every other day).

To be perfect in art, I must show up to my easel, my sketchbook every day.
To be a perfect writer, I must show up to my notebook or keyboard every day.

I really don’t like for people to look at my art while it’s still in progress. The beginning of the work is often full of energy and excitement, so I don’t mind people seeing that. I am often pretty stoked about it so even the start of it looks pretty good to me. But there’s a place where the work becomes tedious and I start to lose momentum, it can sometimes look pretty ugly. It can become like an enemy to me; something less desirable. I may even want to give up on it at this point. That part of the work I often want to hide, I don’t want people to see it, it is far from where I envisioned it to be.

I counsel myself during this stage, “Don’t judge an unfinished work.” There will come a day when the piece will be finished and put on display for all to see. That is when the work is judged or evaluated, this is the time when the work is open to interpretation or critique… or purchase. Perfection for me in this is to show up to my art every day; to not give up on it.

We are all works of art, God is the creator and he has a vision for us in mind. He is fashioning us into the image of his son (Rom. 8:29). But we are incomplete; we are works in progress. And God shows up to us every day.

This world we live in is like the easel or the drawing table or the pottery wheel or whatever metaphor you want to use. God, the master artist is working on us to bring us into completion. We will one day be put on display for all and this world will see the completed image of Christ; the one that God shows in every day.

Are You A People-pleaser Too?

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What do I hunger for?
Yesterday’s Gospel reading was from Matt. 4:1-11, The Temptation in the Wilderness; the part where the tempter said, “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread…” and Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone…”

In response to that, I wrote this prayer.

Lord help me to know my real hunger. Help me to be honest about it. Surely, somewhere along the line I have made a vow that said something like this, “I will do everything I can to make people happy with me; I will not upset anyone; I will always defer to them.” Somewhere in all of that I lost myself. I don’t really know my true desires. I am always deferring to others. I know that sounds like I am selfless, but it is really the most selfish thing I can do. My deference to others is some kind of self protective thing in me. It hurts too much to let my true feelings be known. It’s hard to let them be known because, first, after all these years of people pleasing, I’m not really sure what they are. And, second, it is scary to let them be known; what if people get mad at me or don’t like me after they know my feelings and desires?

Lord, I want to live by every word that comes from your mouth. The temptation to turn stones into bread in my case, relates to things I could make happen for myself. I have constructed my “people-pleasing” self to the point where I don’t even know what I want or what I am really hungry for. Lord, during this Lenten season please show me what I really hunger for. As I hunger for snacks, help me to look inside to my true hunger. Of course, my deepest hunger is for you but it seems I have been satisfying that hunger by trying to make others happy with me.

Brutal honesty is the way forward, help me to be brutally honest with myself and with others and with you.

Have You Arrived?

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You’ve been here waiting all along
My heart has arrived;
Brought where it belongs.

To my true self, this path I’ve trod;
It begins and ends in the heart of God.

As my soul lands in this sacred space,
I see you’ve come to prepare this place.

The table is set where we will break bread.
The wine is poured for after we’ve been fed.

The chairs are arranged, we sit face to face;
Your every word I wait to embrace.

Your smile so bright sends shadows racing out,
Fear all gone, you’ve removed all doubt.

We sit in silence your eyes light my soul,
No words spoken, just your gift to make me whole.

Do You Really Know Me? 

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Do you know me? The people who know my personality; the way I think and behave, know how to take my words. If I say something that sounds difficult, or “off” to them, they will consider my heart; my personality. They will filter the words I say through their relationship with me.

This is how I go about my understanding of God. Having a relationship with him enables me to better understand his words. The God I have come to know is patient and kind; loving, full of grace and mercy. God is love. And his love for me causes him to work in my life to transform me into the image of Christ. So when I encounter difficult words from Scripture I read them through the filter of my relationship with God and through my understanding of his deep love for me. 

The context for my interpretation of scripture comes from my relationship with God through the Holy Spirit who leads me into all truth (John 16:13). The Bible is not God, it is one way he chooses to express himself to me. The other way God has shown himself is through the narrative of the Gospel. The Bible is not the Gospel, it contains the Gospel. The Gospel is this: Jesus came and lived and died on the cross; he was buried and on the third rose from the dead (1st Cor. 15:1-8). He then ascended to heaven and sent his Spirit (Acts 2) as a gift. The Holy Spirit is truly the life of God in me. It is through the Spirit that I gain the mind of Christ. 

God is a person who loves me and desires an intimate relationship with me, he is not some formula written in ink on paper. 

Have You Felt God’s Wrath? 

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I have finally come to this conclusion: I choose love, mercy and grace.
It has taken me a great deal of time and a great deal of painful wrestling in my own heart, but the primary message I will preach and teach is God’s love.

Knowing I am loved assures me a better today and gives me hope for an eternal tomorrow. I no longer think the message of judgment is very helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I believe everyone of us will stand before God one day, but for now, I will focus on the last words of Christ:
“Father forgive them…”
“go make disciples… I am with you always.”
“teach them everything I commanded..”

Think about it; what did Christ command? The primary commandment Christ gave was to love others, even my enemies, as I love myself. And where do I get this love for myself if not from the love of God?

By the way, God’s grace is not simply (as the limited evangelical definition states) “unmerited favor”, it is his enabling power. Since I have received his love and his mercy, I am enabled to become all that he has created me to be! If not for his mercy and grace, I would not be a Christian in the first place.

It is not his judgment; not his wrath that causes me to want to know him.

Christ tells me to “love your neighbors as yourself.” Why would I want to show love to my neighbors by giving them the message; “you must change your ways or your going to hell”? That message does not work for me. And I would hazard a guess that it does not work for you either.

God’s love desired me into existence. That desire still continues today. I admit, I don’t know know for sure what the judgment looks like, but I do know what God’s love looks like! The cross gives us the perfect picture of God’s love. And it could be that his judgment is wrapped up in the same image.

It has taken me a while to reach this conclusion, but I choose grace, mercy, love; this is my message!

Here is a way to remember this:
Gods love desires me into existence
God’s mercy calls me out of sin
God’s grace transforms me into Christ-likeness so that he may see himself in me and I may come to see true self in Him.

Have You Felt Like A Child?

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“Every child is an artist, the problem is to remain an artist when you get older.” Picasso

Dear Lord,
Help me hold onto the wonder of a child.
Trust; not perfectionism
Dependent, not self reliant
Creative, not rigid
Joyful, playful, not suspicious

Vulnerable without being fearful.

“Let the children come unto me, for of such is the Kingdom of God.” Jesus

Imagine yourself a child, meeting Jesus for the first time. See him picking you up, holding you on his lap. Look into his eyes; what do you see there?

Have You Felt Like Something Was Missing?

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“Jesus looked at him, loved him and said, ‘you are lacking one thing, go and sell all that you have… then come follow me.” (Mk. 19:17-27)

The lack Jesus spoke of was not a lack at all, it was abundance. This young man had too much; he could not fit into the Kingdom.

There are not two types of Christian those who are “saved” and those who follow Jesus. I cannot say, I am saved but I really don’t follow the way of Jesus. This is where the problem of our day lies; there are lots of people in our churches who claim to be saved but very few who follow the way of Jesus.
This fellow who came to Jesus just wanted to be “saved” from his limited life. He wanted to add one more accessory to his life and mistakenly thought this might help him feel better about himself.

I have a tendency to be like this young man, I often want to know the simple formula to gain a better life. Jesus does not call me to a formula, he calls me to follow. Jesus does not call me to gain more stuff to add to my life, he calls me to lose myself for his sake and for the Gospel.

The way of Jesus in this life is the way of subtraction. I gain true life by losing my life!

oh may I follow the way of Jesus.

Morning Truth

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“My words are spirit and they are truth,” Jesus

The moist morning nudges me awake and surrounds me
with remnants of last night’s clouds.

Contingent upon listening, the clouds cast words to the dirt-

they taste dark for some reason; a sermon said over the dead body of someone I love-

and infiltrate the cavities of my soul,
press against walls that burst and form
something like what I imagine to be spirit and truth.

Have you felt accepted? 

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There was forgiveness of sins in the Old Testament. It wasn’t as if Jesus came to die on the cross so that God could forgive sins. He could do that anyway.

It wasn’t as if Jesus died on the cross in order to make it convenient; so that people would no longer need to sacrifice animals; so that people would no longer have to go to the extremes of finding a specific animal to match a specific sin.

Animal sacrifice was a foreshadow of what was to come. The animal sacrifice was a sign of the depth of sin. Something dies when I sin; something in the universe gets broken and bleeds when I sin.

Jesus died on the cross to show the depth of God’s love. Period.

I no longer need to ask myself does God love me? And to what degree?
I can look at the cross and see:
He does. To the death.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Gal. 6:14

Because of the cross of Christ I may now identify with Christ. I am no longer bound to live for the world and its ways. The world and the way the world operates no longer has effect on me. I no longer feel the need to be accepted and loved by the world, as long as I identify with the love of God as displayed in Christ and the fact that I am accepted in the beloved!

Through the cross, I am free from the world, I am free to Christ.

I feel accepted!