Summer is a great time for book lovers. We look forward to having time to relax with a good book at the beach or in the mountains or curled up in a chair at home.

But sometimes our summer plans involve driving [or flying] long distances to get to the beach or the mountains. Or we still have to commute to work. Or we go for long walks after being cooped up all winter.

If you’ll have some listening time this summer, here’s a great recommendation: Paul Miller’s Love Course. As he did with prayer in The Praying Life, Miller unpacks what it means for real people, like you and me, to love like Jesus. How do we enter into the compassion, honesty, oneness, dependence and passion of Jesus?

The outline is simple, but the five-part series is filled with powerful, life-changing truth drawn from the master of love, Jesus.

The course is free to download. You don’t have to listen to the parts in sequence–in fact, I’d suggest you start by choosing one or two lessons that interest you most. But you may soon find yourself downloading the entire course.

There are also excellent manuals you can buy for each part as well which are designed for personal study or a small group.

“O Love of God, descend into my heart;
Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling,
And scatter there Your cheerful beams.

Dwell in the soul that longs to be Your temple;
Water that barren soil overrun with weeds and briars
And lost for lack of cultivating.
Make it fruitful with Your dew.

Come, dear Refreshment of those who languish;
Come, Star and Guide of those who sail amidst tempests.
You are the Haven of the tossed and shipwrecked.

Come now, Glory and Crown of the living,
As well as the Safeguard of the dying.
Come, Sacred Spirit;
Come, and make me fit to receive You.”
Augustine

♦◊♦

“The present state of the world, the whole of life, is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I would reply, “Create silence! Bring people to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. Create silence.”
Soren Kierkegaard

♦◊♦

Early in the morning I’ll seek your face,                                             
“I find my life in the fullness of your joy,
Every stress and anxiety it is gone,
when I enter your rest when I enter your rest.
 
I find my life in you, when I enter your rest,
my peace is complete, when I enter your rest,
oh my faith is refreshed when I enter your rest,
I am surrounded by the power of your love.”
“When I Enter Your Rest” Joann Rosario

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Time to set the table

June 17, 2015 — 1 Comment

He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3

Bushwacking up a steep mountain isn’t easy. As I climb, I need to stop and rest. I need to eat and drink. I’m not a robot; my body is alive and I have to get rest and refreshment.

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My soul isn’t any different. Living in this broken, fallen world is like climbing a high peak. The path is hard, difficult, and painful. Before too long, my soul becomes weary, beaten, discouraged.

And just as my body isn’t designed to go without food or drink or rest, my soul isn’t designed to go without spiritual refreshment. I’m not a robot. My soul is alive. I need to spend time with God to restore my soul. I need to drink His living water. I need to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.

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But as we all know in this fast food age, it’s possible to “eat on the run”, get “take-out” or “a quick bite to eat”, wolf down an energy bar, or drink a meal replacement–all concepts that didn’t exist one hundred years ago. My body really doesn’t care how I get my calories. However I care. I don’t find it enjoyable to “grab and go”.

"Nutrition for sustainable energy"--how appetizing does that sound?

“Nutrition for sustainable energy”–how appetizing does that sound?

A good meal at a nice table with a loving friend–that satisfies me in a way a power bar doesn’t.
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When I take the time to set the table with a tablecloth, napkins, silverware, dishes and maybe candles and fresh flowers, it makes a difference. The very act of setting the table focuses me. It helps create a peaceful and calm atmosphere. It signals that the meal will not just be a quick pit stop to refuel my tank.

The same thing is true when I take the time to stop and focus as I meet with God to restore my soul.

I have calmed and quieted myself, like a little child on its mother’s lap.
Psalm 131:2

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Recently, I’ve started lighting two candles at the beginning of my time with God. I had heard of this suggestion before but I never thought I’d be a candle person [but then I never thought I’d be a prayer walk person either!]. At Seven Fountains I bought two candle holders that had been made by prisoners. I like the reminder that there are two of us meeting together, God and me. And the act of lighting the candles is a signal that it is time to be still. I’m going to stay awhile. I will learn from Jesus and find rest for my soul.

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In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
John 1:4

What about you?
How do you settle yourself down when you turn to meet with God?

“We are invited to make a pilgrimage into the life and heart of God. God’s desire is that we should live in Him. He sends among us the Way to Himself…

“Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life…
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“Jesus matters because of what He brought and what He still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. And sharing our weakness He gives us strength and imparts through His companionship a life that has the quality of eternity. He comes where we are, and He brings us the life we hunger for.”
Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy

“Our ancestors knew that traveling a pilgrim’s path and seeing the world with new eyes awakens our wonder. It’s not so much a journey of finding God, but rediscovering the God who finds us.”
Melissa Lauber

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“Solitude: The choice and practice of being alone, being apart from the press of the usual human connections. One effect of solitude will be that we will be able to love, help, hear and be with people more fully than ever before.”
Dallas Willard

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“The word “retreat” is an ambiguous word in current English. Even businesses have retreats for their staff, but with a different meaning and method. For many, the word “retreat” means conferences, church camps, seminars in the morning and free time in the afternoons and evenings, etc. Even if there is a spiritual context to the “retreat”, people take it for granted that there will be plenty of time for group interaction, friendly conversation, and relaxation.
This is very different from the kind of retreat that Seven Fountains is meant for.  Here, “retreat” means what Jesus said one day to His disciples: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31   This is the atmosphere that we wish to create at Seven Fountains: a place where people can get away from their busy lives, have time and space to be quiet, and be with the Lord restfully, silently, and with devout intimacy.
Consequently, a retreat for us means a time of personal prayer, in an atmosphere of genuine silence, with a single-minded purpose: to seek and find the Lord.
Surely this style of retreat is not the only one! In the Church, and in modern society, there are many types of retreat; many styles; many purposes. We have chosen one definite style that, in the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola, has helped bring people closer to Jesus Christ.”
Seven Fountains

Most of our life happens in the routine of the day-to-day. Whether comforting, boring, easy, or thoughtless, the whole point of a routine is that we know what we will do and what we can expect. This is true for our relationship with God as well. Our regular spiritual practices anchor and sustain us in our daily life.

But God enjoys delight and celebration and making things new too.* There’s a place for special, out-of-the-ordinary times like deep sabbath, a night at the prayer spa and a church retreat.*

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At the beginning of this year I experienced another kind of special time–a private retreat. Typically this would mean going away to a retreat center for a weekend, but instead I did it a little differently. Several mornings while I was staying with family in Thailand, I went by myself to a nearby retreat center.

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I had worshipped at Seven Fountains on previous visits. I had even stayed overnight once after a transcontinental flight [in a very foggy jetlagged state which is not conducive for doing much except sleep]. But this was the first time I went there to be alone with God.

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A spiritual director suggested I might walk through the prayer labyrinth. Although I had heard of it before, I had never come across it in all my wanderings through the grounds. But frankly the idea of praying while following a path has never appealed to me. [‘Labyrinth’ turns out to be a bit of a misnomer because it is not a maze. There is a single path to the center and back.]

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However being out of one’s routine includes the opportunity to try new things. So when I found a booklet about the labyrinth at the welcome center, I decided to give it a try. I asked for directions and discovered the labyrinth was just beyond a sign I had always dutifully obeyed.

"Do not enter without permission"

“Do not enter without permission”

Since I am writing about the experience now, four months later, you probably won’t be surprised when I tell you doing this walk turned out to be one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. The time I spent with God there [which I did at a snail’s pace] was so meaningful that I returned three more times.

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Although I don’t think Jesus ever walked a prayer labyrinth, I think it is significant that the gospels record that he went away by himself to talk with the Father:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

But Jesus often withdrew to wilderness and prayed. Luke 5:16

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Matthew 14:23

Solitude, wilderness, a mountainside–these are not part of my daily routine. But I am so thankful I was able to get away by myself and spend uninterrupted time with my Father. It changed me and months later I am still reaping the benefits.

I don’t know how often it would be good for me to do this. Should I should make it a routine?!? But I manage to go to the dentist once a year for a check-up, and to the doctor for an annual physical. I celebrate my birthday and our wedding anniversary every year too. So I think I can mark one day or one weekend a year to go off alone with God. Or following this year’s approach, I could even make a month of Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons into a retreat time every January. Whatever I decide, I know God will be ready to meet me.

What about you?
How often do you go away on retreat?
Where have you gone to meet alone with God?

**You might enjoy:
God’s amuse bouches
Time to put on dancing shoes
Making things new
The prayer spa
Deep sabbath
Getting away together

And if you ever end up in Chiang Mai, plan a special time at Seven Fountains

Do not despise your place, your gifts or your voice, for you cannot have another and it would not fulfill you if you could.
John Ortberg

♦◊♦

Rabbi Zusya said,
“In the world to come I shall not be asked ‘why were you
not Moses?’
I shall be asked, ‘why were you not Zusya?’”

♦◊♦

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been born in God’s thought, and then made by God is the dearest, grandest, and most precious thing in all thinking.”

This is a prayer of contentment.”
C.S. Lewis

♦◊♦

How has God crafted you to glorify Him and enjoy Him?

Handcrafted beauties

May 13, 2015 — 3 Comments

I’m fortunate to live in a country where ‘handcrafted’ is not a sophisticated decor choice or a charming add-on, but the simple reality of people, not machines, making things.
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Maybe that’s why I like John Ortberg’s view of God’s handiwork:
“Disciples are handcrafted, not mass-produced. No wonder we get frustrated when we think that everyone is supposed to look like the pastor or the author or whoever is teaching us at the moment about spiritual growth. We learn differently, struggle with different sins, and relate to God in different ways.

When Jesus prayed for his disciples, he did not pray, “May they all
have identical devotional practices.” He prayed, “Father, may they be
one with you.” The main measure of your devotion to God is not
your devotional life. It is simply your life.

Trying to grow spiritually without taking who you are into account is like trying to raise children on an assembly line. If you train an 80-pound gymnast and a 300-pound linebacker exactly the same, you will end up with two, useless 190-pound people.”

How has God uniquely crafted you?

Where are you tempted to have an assembly-line approach to your relationship with Him?

“Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise You…The thought of You stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises You, because You made us for Yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.”
Augustine

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“For if we have no real interest in praising Him, it shows that we have never realized who He is. For when one becomes conscious of who God really is, and when one realized that He who is Almighty, and infinitely Holy, has ‘done great things to us,’ the only possible reaction is the cry of half-articulate exultation that bursts from the depths of our being in amazement at the tremendous, inexplicable goodness of God to men.”
Thomas Merton

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I will praise the Lord at all times; my mouth will continually praise Him.
Psalm 34:1

…what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life if gone, a new life burgeons!
II Corinthians 5:17 The Message

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I heard someone point out recently how repetition can be dulling which is why romance with its fresh experiences of love can be so appealing.
Perhaps that’s why God woos us with new mercies, new wine, new life.

And the best way to respond to the refreshment He lavishes on us?

Sing a new song of praise to Him;
play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.

Psalm 33:3

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Sing a new song to the Lord,
      for He has done wonderful deeds.

Psalm 98:1

Yes, that’s right:
I will sing a new song to you, my God;
   on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you.
Psalm 144:9

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I’m grateful for the creative souls who write the new songs for me to sing. One that I’ve been enjoying these past few months is “Great are You Lord” by a folk/acoustic duo, All Sons and Daughters on their eponymous album, All Sons and Daughters [which is filled with wonderful songs]. Take a moment and enjoy the beautiful music video.

I’d also love to learn what new songs you’ve been singing these days. Leave a comment and share with us!

The ultimate promise

April 8, 2015 — 2 Comments

Springtime is such a hopeful, joyful season–
new sprouts come to dead wood

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new colors bloom in tired landscapes
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The spring season in our life is also full of joy–
a new marriage
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and full of hope–
a new class, a new habit
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a new start.

But new isn’t always joyful or hopeful.

Sometimes new is unsettling–
in a new job, a new neighborhood, a new country
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Sometimes new is uncomfortable–
in new shoes
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or with new construction.

Sometimes new is painful–
from a new family configuration because of graduation
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or death.

Throughout scripture, however, when God promises something new, it is always joyful and hopeful:
a new name
a new heart
a new spirit

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a new creation
a new birth
a new life

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a new covenant
a new commandment
a new way

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It’s the newness of growth where there was stagnation,
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the newness of life where there once was death,
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the newness of healing where there once was pain.
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And it’s the ultimate promise,
“I make all things new.” [Revelations 21:5]
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Where is God bringing new growth in your life?

What new compassions has God given to you today? [Lamentations 3:22-23]

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The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

Isaiah 35:1

Speaking of who God is

April 1, 2015 — 4 Comments

“It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
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The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
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The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
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The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
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The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
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The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
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The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
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And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
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MORAL.
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!”
John Godfrey Saxe’s version of the famous Indian legend
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That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. I John 1:1-4

I have been meditating a lot lately on a simple sentence from the book of Psalms: “Be still and know that I am God.” [Psalm 46:10**]

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However, knowing who God is–that’s not so simple. Immediately I encounter two significant challenges. The first is the capacity of my mind, which is limited.

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The second is the ‘size’ and complexity of who God is. It’s like a fly trying to grasp what an elephant is like.

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The analogy of a fly for a human being who is made a little less than God [Psalm 8:5] turns out to be more appropriate than you might think. Because the lowly fly is another of the Creator’s incredible creatures.**

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When it comes to seeing, instead of having a single eye, a fly has three to six thousand visual receptors in a compound eye. Each receptor functions as an individual eye. What the fly perceives is like a mosaic created by all the receptors.**

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The downside of this arrangement is that a fly is short-sighted, unable to focus, and has limited color vision. But still, I think it’s impressive that a 6 millimeter-long creature can see anything at all. Perhaps just as impressive that I can contemplate the One who made me.

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I can accept that I may be slightly more incredible than a house fly, and that I have–let’s say–ten thousand mental receptors. Even then, the image I form of God is going to be partial and incomplete.

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Just like these pictures of an elephant that show the amazing variety of colors, textures, and shapes that make up the whole.

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Hard, soft, smooth, hairy, wrinkly, dusty, wet, gray, pink, ivory, pointed, round, curved, squat, long. These are all aspects of one creature.

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When it comes to who God is, a list of how He is described in the Bible would easily include a couple hundred words**:

King and Father,
Creator and Sustainer,
Shepherd and Rock,
Comforter and Convictor,
Redeemer and Judge,
Rescuer and Intercessor,
Almighty and Counselor.

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Given who God is in all His glory, how can we ever know Him? Thankfully, the multifaceted, complex, ineffable** God stooped down and took on human form in Jesus so we could see and touch and hear Him.

When the time came, He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, He stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. [Phillipians 2:6-8, The Message]

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But that is only one glimpse of who God is.

Because of that obedience, God lifted Him high and honored Him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that He is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. [Phillipians 2:9-11, The Message] Littletons, Seven Fountains crucifix 073

The season of Lent is a good reminder of how amazing God is in all of His fullness. Jesus humbled and Jesus exalted, the suffering servant and the Lord of lords, separated by death and coming again as the triumphant king.

I have a lot to learn.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” I John 3:16

**Links
Be Still by Stephen Curtis Chapman

the lowly fly is another of the Creator’s incredible creatures.**

What the fly perceives is like a mosaic created by all the receptors.**

a list of how God is described in the Bible**

ineffable**: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words

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Recently I have been lamenting [and what an apt word that is] the deep pain and hurt I have caused in someone’s life. The damage rose out of my selfishness which, like ordinary mold, comes in thousands upon thousands of varieties. In its myriad forms, my selfishness generates both sins of commission and sins of omission. On a daily basis, I caused hurt by my unloving actions as much as by my unloving failure to act.

This morning as I lamented, I turned to the day’s entry in “God the Enough”, a little devotional guide by Selwyn Hughes. There was God’s incredible response to my lament:

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21

Hughes goes on to ask:
“Is there enough grace in the heart of God to meet and overcome the difficulties created by evil?”

That is a question I have been wrestling with on a personal level. Is there enough grace to meet the difficulties of *my* evil?

The answer is “Yes, in Christ.” And three weeks into Lent seems a good time to ponder how God brought this grace into our world. Hughes explains it like this:

“Sin is without a doubt the biggest problem God has ever had to deal with. When we read the four gospels we see something of the pain God has gone through in order to defeat sin and its consequences. They spell out in terms that are crystal clear how much anguish sin brought to the heart of the Deity. The theologian Martin Kahler worded it like this: ‘The four Gospels are shaped as passion narratives with long introductions. At the heart of each Gospel is a pool of pain.’

Throughout the centuries, Christians have always evaluated the horror of sin by the suffering needed to atone for it. Cornelius Plantinga, in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, spells out the issue in these poignant words:

‘The ripping and writhing of a body on a cross, the bizarre metaphysical maneuver of using death to defeat death, the urgency of the summons to human beings to ally themselves with the events of Christ and with the Person of those events, and then to make that Person and those events the center of their lives—these tell us the main human trouble is desperately difficult to fix, even for God, and that sin is the longest running of all human emergencies.’”

I was struck by the idea that sin is not just my problem, it is God’s problem too. I think I’ve viewed my sin akin to losing at musical chairs. I tried, I failed, and I had to leave the game.

But God viewed my wrongdoing [and everyone else’s] as a problem for Himself. Not only did I suffer the loss of His fellowship, He suffered the loss of mine because the loss brought on by sin goes both ways.

His love for me is not all about me. It’s about Him. Why else would He want to make things right again? Only Love would be willing to sacrifice in order to rescue the lost beloved.

This brings me back to my lament. I see that God is able to sympathize with my sorrow over sin because He also experienced this. But His “pain of searing loss” was on a different level. His sorrow over the suffering of Jesus was pure, undeserved, gracious. He knew beforehand how exquisitely painful the experience would be, yet He was still willing to endure it. Not only for my sake, but also for His.

I am more than ever in awe of His amazing, holy love for me. For this love generates grace abounding, grace all-sufficient, grace increasing without end. Amen.

Speaking of my Father

February 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
I John 3:1

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“How great is a Father’s love to his children! That which friendship cannot do, and mere benevolence will not attempt, a father’s heart and hand must do for his children. They are his offspring, he must bless them; they are his children, he must show himself strong in their defense. If an earthly father watches over his children with unceasing love and care, how much more does our heavenly Father? Abba, Father!
…There is heaven in the depth of that word–Father! There is all I can ask; all my necessities can demand; all my wishes can desire. I have all in all to all eternity when I can say, ‘Father.'”
Charles Spurgeon

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So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Hebrews 10:19-22 [The Message]

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  “Calling God “Abba” is entering into the same intimate, fearless, trusting, and empowering relationship with God that Jesus had…Calling God “Abba, Father” (see Roman 8:15; Galatians 4:6) is a cry of the heart, a prayer welling up from our innermost being.  It has nothing do with naming God but everything to do with claiming God as the source of who we are.  This claim does not come from any sudden insight or acquired conviction…it is the claim of love.”
Henri Nouwen

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“One Thing Remains”

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love…”

Not just a name

February 6, 2015 — 2 Comments

Recently I have been feeling the weight of my sinfulness and the many ways I go off God’s path, following my petty selfish desires. Even my righteous acts don’t make the grade:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Isaiah 64:4

Thankfully, at the same time I have been aware that Jesus can wash me clean and restore my relationship with Him. With Peter, I’ve been praying, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [John 13:9] I am finding it helpful to follow a personal liturgy for confessionadapted from The Book of Common Prayer, with commentary by David Powlison on each phrase in the prayer.

He begins:
“Even when your thoughts and feelings are chaotic, these words can serve as your guide. They are a channel for honesty. Instead of wallowing in misery and failure, these words help you to plan how you will walk in the direction of honesty, mercy, gratitude, and freedom.”

Today, I didn’t get further than the prayer’s opening greeting:
“Almighty and most merciful Father”

Here are Powlison’s comments on that simple phrase:

“Notice that you are talking with someone who is both all powerful and most merciful. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is the God of comfort and Father of mercies. God becomes your Father, our Father who art in heaven, through Jesus. He loved you in the exact way you most need help and rescue from outside yourself. He died in your place. He laid down his life for you. He is alive. He pursues you. Someday you will see him face to face. He comes to you in person, giving his Holy Spirit, who makes you childlike towards him: “Abba, Father!” You need this Father of life, this living Savior, this life-giving Spirit. Turn to him. Call on him for help.
 
Don’t mistake the true God for other things. For example, what if your human father was weak, absent, fickle or harsh? The reason you know that such things are wrong is that you have a God-implanted sense within you: a true father should be strong, involved, faithful, generous and tender. Your true Father welcomes you. He is glad to see you and willingly listens to you. He will protect you. He will hear you. He is merciful. He is generous-hearted. He will help you. He will give you what you truly need.”

In particular, this echoed in my heart:
“He pursues you… He comes to you in person, giving his Holy Spirit, who makes you childlike towards him: “Abba, Father!” You need this Father of life, this living Savior, this life-giving Spirit.”

God does not wait for me to come to Him. He is pursuing me. He comes to me with life, and welcomes me into His holy of holies. He makes it possible for me to enter into His presence. The work and effort is His.

Because of this, I don’t have to wait until I have cleaned up my act. And I don’t come as a grown-up who has it all together, but as a child, calling out, “Abba–Papa”.

I am not asking forgiveness from some distant, impersonal divine being. I’m approaching my Father who created me in love and with love, to be loved by Him. He is personal, intimate, present with me. He answers back to me, “Yes, I am here for you now. Come. Be washed. Be clean.”

This is my confidence. I can come without any hesitation. ‘Father’ is not just a name. It describes our relationship. It explains why He wants to forgive me. It testifies how His love never runs out on me.

“In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love.”
[One Thing Remains]

Because of this, perhaps the biggest wonder is not that the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-holy God lavishes His love on me, but that it takes me so long to come to Him.

I want to learn to stay closer, to return faster, to delight more in His love. And this is just what my Father wants for me too.

He waits. He beckons. He invites. He whispers, “Come.”

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I find I can easily read a passage of scripture and gloss over its import for my life. I read about other people, at other points in history and I can forget that this is also God’s word to me. Recently, I found myself doing that as I read Psalm 35.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
   Your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
   Your justice like the great deep.
   You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God!
   People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
They feast on the abundance of Your house;
   You give them drink from Your river of delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
   in Your light we see light.

Psalm 36:5-9

So I want back and spent some time translating the meaning into my own life:

 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
Your love includes me in its reach. I live under it, in it.

   Your faithfulness [reaches] to the skies.
Your faithfulness extends to my life, from its beginning to end, and to the people in my life, including my family.

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
Your righteousness is always there for me, tall and immovable, unaffected by the stormy assaults of evil.
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   Your justice like the great deep.
Your concern for victims of abusive power is not shallow. It’s deep like the ocean–a deep well that never dries up as You work to make things fair and right again.

   You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
You preserve me.

How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God!
Your love for me never fails. You are never impatient, irritated, distracted with me. You are never dismissive, critical, accusing of me. You are always seeking my best.

 People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
When I need shelter from the difficulties of life or from enemies that seek to harm me, I can take refuge in You, drawing close to Your side and remaining under Your protection.
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They feast on the abundance of Your house;
When I come into Your home, the place of Your presence and Your family, You invite me to feast at Your table, from Your never-ending supply of food for my soul.

   You give them drink from Your river of delights.

You meet my thirst, not with mere water but with a clear bubbling drink of refreshment that fills me with joy.

For with You is the fountain of life;
My life is drawn from the never-ending life that pours from You,

   in Your light we see light.
Because of You, I am.
I am able to see You only because You gave me the eyes of my heart.

Amen.

We talk about having a quiet time with God. Why not have a dance time too?

♦◊♦

“How can we not sing and make music to You in our hearts?
How can we possibly remain silent and still, in response to who You are and everything You’ve done for us, Jesus?
Forgive us when we, like the elder brother, remain smugly on the outside of the house of redemption—off the dance floor of Your reconciling love (Luke 15:25).
Cause us to hear the Father speaking to us right now: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).
Indeed, Lord, forgive us for confusing reverence with rigor mortis.
Forgive us for giving You ardor-less order when we worship You.
Forgive us for living more by our temperament tests, Myers-Briggs profiles, and personality types than by the lyric, music, and dance of the gospel.
Free us from giving You a measured response to a measureless gospel.” Scotty Smith

♦◊♦

We will dance, we will dance for Your glory
We will dance, we will dance for Your glory
We will dance for Your glory, Lord
We will lift up a shout to adore You
Every sound that we make, it is for You
We will dance for Your glory, Lord

For salvation’s in this place
You’re the name by which we’re saved, Jesus, Jesus
Let Your name be lifted high
As our thankful hearts now cry, “Jesus, Jesus”

Lift up your heads, you ancient gates
Be lifted up, you ancient doors
The King is coming in, the King is coming in
We lift up a shout to shake the skies
Lift up a cry, “Be glorified!”
The King is coming in, the King is coming in

We’re the people of God with a song to sing
And we’re bringing our lives as an offering
We will dance for Your glory, Lord
And Your cross is the hope that we hold up high
As we tell the whole world of Your love and life
We will dance for Your glory, Lord ”
Matt Redman

♦◊♦

“The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God;
the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit;
the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit;
and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship,
pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives.”
John Piper

♦◊♦

Dance, dance, everybody dance
Everybody sing for joy is in this place now

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
To save a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see

Dance, dance, everybody dance
Everybody sing for joy is in this place now

Your joy is in this place now”
Tim Hughes

One of the highlights of last year was dancing at my niece’s wedding. Under a big tent by the sea, guests of all ages–kids and parents and grandparents and even great-grandparents–joined in. As the DJ played song after song, we shimmied, boogied, shuffled, hopped, and twirled to the music.

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Dancing is the perfect way to celebrate a joyful occasion like a wedding because when we’re filled with joy we can’t sit still. It starts to bubble up inside and then gushes out, like a child so excited they start running around the house. No wonder the Hebrew word for joy ‘gil’ can be literally translated as spinning around in joy. There’s an exuberance to deep joy that can’t be contained.

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That’s what happened with King David as he brought the ark of the Lord back to Jerusalem. He was so overcome with joy that he was leaping and dancing before the Lord.

Later Saul’s daughter criticized him because he had acted undignified in front of everyone. But David told her he wasn’t dancing to the crowd, he was dancing before the Lord. “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undefined than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” [2 Samuel 6:21-22] He wasn’t worried if he didn’t look respectable. It was more important to him to express the joy he felt inside to the Lord.

By nature and upbringing, I’m more like Saul’s daughter than David. My cultural heritage is a mixture of German and New England. My early church background included Lutheran, Congregational and Presbyterian churches where worship falls on the reverent and restrained side.

To dance or even move my feet during worship was completely foreign to me. [There’s a reason Presbyterians are sometimes referred to, tongue in cheek, as “God’s frozen chosen”.] Then I attended services where people were more exuberant as they praised God. I saw worship could include raising arms in the air, clapping, dancing in the aisles, and shouting.

In fact, the Psalms encourage us to dance when we praise God:

Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet,
   praise Him with the harp and lyre,
praise Him with timbrel and dancing,
   praise Him with the strings and pipe,
praise Him with the clash of cymbals,
   praise Him with resounding cymbals.

Psalm 150:3-5

We’ve just finished the Christmas season, the grand celebration of the Word becoming flesh and living among us. It’s an annual reminder that the life of faith is not just lived on a spiritual level. We’re physical beings too. Our spirits are housed in our bodies, and our arms and legs can be instruments of praise.

It’s also a season of great joy.
We read, “I bring you good news of great joy.”
We sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
A savior is born! Now we can walk in the light! Gloria in excelsis deo!

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I think of the song about the little drummer boy who played his drum for the infant Jesus. Perhaps my gift can be to dance before the Lord. Yes, I may look undignified. I may feel silly and embarrassed. But if I can forget about being respectable, I can give the honor and praise that is due Him by using my entire being; my hands, my feet, my voice, my arms, my legs. What better way to celebrate the Word becoming flesh?

You turned my wailing into dancing;
    You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing Your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise You forever.

Psalm 30:11-12

How do you express your joy?
What songs would you suggest for praising God with dance?

Protected by the Rock

January 10, 2015 — 1 Comment

A week spent in a region of mountain walls and towering stones has given me a fresh look at what it means that the Lord is my rock.

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The tiny village where I stayed was built between two rocks. Whether I looked to the left or to the right, I was never out of sight of a large rock wall facing me. The rocks rose up and stood guard over me. Solid, immovable, they gave protection from the elements. I felt secure, nestled in their shadow. At sunrise, I would go outside, and the rocks were there, having kept watch all night.

I traveled down into the valley, and walked in the fields. But when I returned, the rocks were always waiting for me.

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It was a visible reminder of how God never disappears from my life, of how His strength and protection is always there for me. I am secure in Him.

Entrepierres 063But the LORD has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.

Psalm 94:22

Along the river, a citadel fortress reminded me of how I can rest safe in the Lord.
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I love You, LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.

Psalm 18:1,2

The tiny church of the tiny village stands witness to God’s faithfulness and love.
2015 1 10 france entrepierres sisteron lurs 2015-01-03 010Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Psalm 95:1

Walking along the road, the rock never left my side.
Entrepierres 087Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.

Isaiah 25:3-4

Looking down at the citadel which has stood firm for centuries of wind and war, I thought of Jesus’ wisdom about building our house on a rock.
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Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them
will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house,
but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

Matthew 7:24-25

As I enter into another year, this is my prayer:
From the ends of the earth I call to You,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Psalm 61:2
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