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 The world and the way the world operates no longer has effect on me.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!

Have You Ever Been Joyful? 

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I desire happiness. I want a happy ending for my life. 

The gospel reading for this morning was about the beheading of John the Baptist. John the Baptist didn’t get to have a happy ending. There are a lot of stories in the Bible where there was no happy ending.

Moses didn’t get to enter the promised land.
Sampson was blinded and went down with a building.
Many of Christ’s disciples were martyred.

I am not promised a happy ending in this life, but I am promised that God will always be faithful to be with me, no matter what. He only asks me to respond with faithfulness, to remain faithful to him.

I find happiness in the grace of God now, not in a distant desire for happiness in some future plan I may have for my life. My joy must come from serving him in this moment, experiencing his grace, in this moment; being grateful for the gifts of friends and family; of another day to experience his presence…

in this moment.
I look for him to be present now.

I breathe in, the Lord is with me. I breathe out, his faithfulness endures forever.

The eyes of gratitude see God in all things. If I live in moment by moment gratitude, I am able to live in the presence of God. I see him revealing himself all around me, in family and friends; in circumstances good and bad; in nature and in grace. The more I have this mindset of gratitude, the more I experience the “joy of the Lord” moment by moment; the more I come to realize realize that the “joy of the Lord is my strength.”

Have You Endured the Dark Night of the Soul? 

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“And suddenly, says Malachi, the Lord whom you seek will come to the temple… he is like a refiners fire.” Mal. 3:2
The Dark Night of the Soul is like a season of deconstruction; a time where one discovers the true nature of God. It is a period of cleansing and refining. It’s not cleansing in the way one might think; it’s not a matter of getting rid of old sinful habits; this may happen to as a consequence but the real work is the work of acknowledging that our definition of God is often merely a reflection of our understanding of the nearest authority figure; often legalistic and harsh, or too soft and careless. We really don’t know God as God until we’ve endured the dark night and have cast away all our old definitions of who we thought God was.
If you are willing to endure to the end and not settle too quickly on your own or someone else’s definition of God… you see many have begun the journey into this darkness and brought them selves out too quickly. They became uncomfortable with what they were discovering about God and that about themselves, and grabbed onto the nearest most comforting thing.

It takes a long time. I’ve been going through it for many years. I have, at times settled for an immediate answer, and I was ok for a while but soon I found myself plunged back into the depths of my soul, into the sanctuary of God, behind the dark curtain. I keep asking God to take me deeper into him. And every time I go down into the darkness of the sanctuary, I come back with less.

Yeah, you read that right; less.

You see, the spiritual life is not about acquiring more, but about losing more. John the Baptist said it best, “I must decrease that he may increase.” And later, Jesus reminds us all, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel shall save it.”

God desires you and I to know him; really know him. This world and our family and our church and social media… can give us all kinds of definitions, but to really know God we must allow ourselves to be taken down into the depths of the Dark Night of the Soul. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with God. Let the Holy Spirit do his work to lead you and guide you “into all truth.”

Have You Ever Been Holy? 

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“Without holiness no one will see God.” Heb. 12:14

What is the image of holiness to you?
Reading this verse used to produce the image of strict religious behavior. I used to see this verse as an “if/than” statement: “if you don’t act in the prescribed way, than you’ll go to hell when you die and you won’t get to see God. I used to think that seeing the Lord was contingent upon my acting holy; that if I did not behave in a holy way I would not see God after I die.

Now, I have a fuller view of this passage. Holiness enables me and those around me to see god NOW. Holiness is not some add on thing I must do or perform. Holiness comes by subtraction not addition. It is the subtraction of things that keep me from seeing God in my daily life that makes me pure in heart. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “the pure in heart will see God.”

God is always at work; God’s word, always spoken. The presence of God is always as near as my next breath. The problem is awareness, the problem is the wall of distraction that stands between myself and the Lord.

When my soul finally gets quiet, when I am able to clear out the cluttered space, I can see God.

My search for more pleasure, acceptance by others, material things, only fills the space in my soul and leaves no room for the realization of God’s very near presence.

Holiness is clearness and clearness, for me, has come from spiritual practices; centering prayer, silence, solitude, Lectio Divina; these are the things that have helped bring awareness of the presence that is always already present present in my life.

When I live in the awareness of God’s presence I become a vessel whereby others can see God. I, by virtue of opening space in my own soul, also open the space around me in such a way that my life reveals to those around me, the very real and very present God.

This is the holiness that invites me and others to see God.

Have You Ever Been Unbelieving?

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Lectionary reading for today:
Hebrews 12:1-4
Mark 5:21-43

The cloud of witness are those who endured in faith; those who did not get what they hoped for in their life, but saw it from afar; They’re the ones who are watching us today; we have what they were expecting, that is The Christ with us; in us: Help me not to take the for granted, Lord.

Faith sees what others don’t. Faith knows and believes the unbelievable! The woman with the issue of blood had faith and received, in that moment, the thing she desired. She said to herself, “if I could just touch his clothes…” Jesus felt her touch his clothes in the midst of the crowd of people touching his clothes all round. Her touch affected him in away all the other touches and rubs did not. I often ask Jesus to touch me; but His desire is that I touch Him in the way this woman did.

“Your faith has made you well go in peace, “ he told her.

If I could just touch his clothes…

How did she touch him?
She was desperate.
She tried everything and nothing worked. She knew Jesus had the power to heal her. She believed that if she could just sneak in and touch Jesus’s clothes she would be healed.

Jesus did not mind awkward situations. He never worried what others thought.
“Who touched me?” he asked.
“You’re kidding, right?”
Jesus looked around, “no, no… someone touched me in faith.” Then he must have caught her eyes, “Ah, there you are! Come here.” I can see him speak to her in his gentle way, “go in peace.”

Not only did she touch his clothes.
She touched his heart. I can see him smile to himself, blessed because of her belief.

What about those who have faith and don’t get healed? I ask the Lord.
“That does not concern you, Gary.” he responds. “only trust in me.”

Trust.
I must hold my faith in tension with the unanswered questions in my life. Sr. Myra, my spiritual director, says I must hold the unanswered questions gently in my heart before the Lord. She calls this Pondering Prayer. She tells me that it is like Mary, Jesus’s mother, who upon hearing and seeing difficult things regarding her son, was able to “ponder these things in her heart.” She allowed the unanswered questions, the unknowable things to be held in divine tension in her heart.

All my unanswered questions are kind of like the issue of blood that came from the woman; all her searching led to the doctors who couldn’t help. This is like our post-modern deconstruction. Since the questions can’t be answered, I begin to tear apart every other attempt to answer them; I am afraid I often find myself in a place of unbelief in my heart.

This unbelief is like those who laughed at Jesus when he said that Jairus’s daughter was only sleeping, not dead. Jesus sent them all away. Their unbelief would be no good to him.

I have to admit, I’ve never seen an honest to goodness miracle like the ones listed here in the Gospel reading. But I have to believe they are possible. I do not want to discount them with my reasoning; with my post-modern deconstruction mindset. I need to consider the great cloud of witness who are surrounding me; cheering me on, helping me to run this race with endurance.

Yes, may we all consider them; the ones who did not get what they looked for in their lifetime; may we set our hearts to “see” with the eyes of faith the big picture.

May I be faithful to continue to ponder these things in my heart.

This is my prayer.

Have You Ever Been Through A Storm? 

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“Jesus said, ‘Let’s cross over to the other side… A storm arose… Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion…
‘Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mk. 4:35-41)

Jesus was accused of not caring because he was able to be at peace so much so that he slept while the others freaked out.

What is your response when the storm rages all around you? Are you like the anxious disciples or the peaceful Christ?
I submit to you that it is God’s will that we all would respond like Jesus.
“Wait a minute,” you may protest, “I am not Christ. How could I respond like him?”

In my imagination I look at Jesus.
When I see him there, it reminds me of a song: “He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, and covers me there with his hand…” Jesus was able to see his life held in God’s hand. The stern of that boat was, for Jesus, like the cleft of the rock. He felt safe there.

Do you have Christ? If so, your life is so intertwined with his as to be indistinguishable from one another.

Stop. Reread that last sentence; meditate on it for a moment.

God is working in you through the Holy Spirit in order to make you just like Christ. You have within you the potential to be just like Christ, yes, to be Christ in this world!

Now, say this out loud, “My life is hid with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3)

Really, say it out loud… now, how does that feel?

Now, look again at that boat, tossed to and fro on the stormy sea, filling with water, threatening to capsize…
That boat is God. Yes, there in that boat is a picture of God. And Christ, sleeping peacefully in the stern, that’s you. Your life is “hid with Christ in God!”

Remember what Jesus said, “Let us cross over to the other side…”

You will go through storms in life; some will be bad. But remember, God is taking you through; over to the other side.

On your journey over to the other side, remember this; you are in God and your life, your very life is hidden in the stern, peacefully resting, held in Christ. Close your eyes and see yourself there as you pray.

Have You Fallen In Love?

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It’s like the universe drops a seed into two people’s hearts.
There is an initial sprout that is so
Fresh and new and there is an excitement to the newness.
This is the universe’s way of kick starting relationships.
The young sprout must be tended to with the water of love and the sunshine of respect and even the darkness of suffering.
If it is left alone, weeds will come up and begin to choke the life out.

 Each must work hard to continue to pull the weeds by the root.
Often the seeds for these weeds were planted long before the couple met.
Pulling weeds is hard work and each may grow tired.

If not tended to the plant of love begins to wither and die.
In order to make up for this loss, each may turn toward other places:
Work, the children, hobbies, pornography, illicit affairs…
the plant of love can endure a lot… it may continue for years but one day, after it has had enough the original plant begins to scream out in pain for attention
If no attention is given it will eventually die.

Attend to the plant often; water it with kindness, pull up the weeds of distraction and hurt and unkind words. Fertilize it with time spent together. 

Have You Been Disillusioned?

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I applied for the job. I prayed. I submitted a resume. I had all the qualifications. I sensed the Lord saying that I would get it. The phone call asking me to come for an on site interview only confirmed what I knew in my heart. I had faith and believed that God had called me to that job. After the interview I felt the same confirmation in my heart; I heard the Holy Spirit say to me that I would be working there soon. I went home and waited. And waited. For two months I waited. Finally, I got a letter telling me that I was no longer a candidate for the position.

Have you ever been disillusioned? Have you ever experienced something in your life that caused you to question your faith? Maybe you’ve asked the following questions: is God really there? Does God really hear me? Does God still work in our day? Where are you, God? God, do you love me?

John the Baptist had questions. He was sitting in Harrod’s prison, asking himself some of the same questions. He even sent one of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you really the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?” John who had proclaimed “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” now sits in a dark prison cell…

disillusioned.

Jesus responded, “go tell John, the blind are receiving their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Luke 7:22-23)

Note that Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry John, I’m going to come and get you out of this.” He simply reminded John that He was doing what he said he would do.

Disillusionment is a good thing. It reminds us of times when our faith is in something other than in God. Often what we call faith is really just misplaced expectations. Let disillusionment do its work in your heart.

What do you do in response to disillusionment?

Wrestling With God

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Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:45-46)

The incarnation proves God’s desire to be with you.

Let that sink in. God wants to be with you!

He does not want you to be in slavery to anything because it keeps him from dwelling with you. The Lord brought you (wants to bring you) out of Egypt
(read: slavery, addiction) in order to dwell with you.

Do you ever read scriptures, like the one above, and think, “This seems nice, but that is for Israel”?

Where do you think Israel got the name Israel?

It’s from the story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (God). In Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles all night with an angel. Toward the end of the wrestling match, the angel changes Jacobs name to Israel, “because you have struggled with God…” (vs. 28).

Do you ever struggle with God? Do you ever wrestle in the night with thoughts of “why, God?” or “how, God?” Do you ever read the scriptures or hear a sermon and begin to wrestle in your mind with the words that are written or spoken? Or, how about this; do you ever watch the news and begin to wrestle with the way things are and wonder, where is God in all this? I know I do.

When we do this, we are Israel.

Think about it. Have you ever wrestled with someone? I mean, physically engaged with another human being in a wrestling match? I remember wrestling with my kids when they were younger. I was never out to hurt them, I only wanted to engage with them; and they with me. Wrestling is an intimate act; it is a way to dwell together.

The worse thing we can do is stop engaging; stop wrestling. God is in the wrestling. He is there engaging with us. Like Jacob, we must not let go until God blesses us.

What is the blessing? To know Him. It is his nature to reveal himself to those he created. We get to know him when we wrestle with him; engage with him. Don’t stop engaging with the doubt; the fear; the questions. Don’t let go too easily.

Don’t just settle.

I have settled for a season. I just stopped wrestling and settled. Here’s what happened: I became cynical. Cynicism is a symptom that we stopped engaging with God.

Jesus chose the disciples, according to Mark 3:14, that “they might be with him…”

Do you believe that?

He wants to be with you, not only to wrestle, but to walk with you; to share his life with you, that you might in turn share his life with others.