Archives For reflection

I don’t share the following quote lightly. The next few days are some of the busiest of the year for me. But this encourages me to find and take the time in the midst of serving and participating, to do the one thing I need to do.

“It is tempting to always keep busy; there’s so much to do and there are so many in need.
But the point of all this running around is to support the real work of life.
“You are anxious and worried about many things,” Jesus once told Martha, who was “burdened with much serving.” And then he said, “There is need of only one thing.” Mary, Martha’s sister, instead sat at his feet, and today she washes them with oil.
It’s not easy to know how to direct our energies, but if our busy lives, even lived in service to others, never allow us to stop and be with the ones we love, then our purpose is defeated.
It is Holy Week, a time for contemplation. So take a break from much serving and find the one thing that is most needed.”
Amy Andrews in “A Book of Grace-filled Days”

I have found the daily meditation from the online site Sacred Space very rich for me recently. Today, in conjunction with the passage where Judas betrayed Jesus, it offered these thoughts:

“Holy Week is an invitation to walk
closely with Jesus: we fix our gaze on
him and accompany him in his
suffering; we let him look closely at us and see us as we really are.

We do not have to present a brave face to him, but can tell him about where we have been disappointed, let down – perhaps even betrayed. We avoid getting stuck in our own misfortune by seeing as he sees, by learning from his heart.”

And:
“Conversation requires talking and listening.
As I talk to Jesus may I also learn to be still and listen.
I picture the gentleness in His eyes and the smile full of love as He gazes on me.

I can be totally honest with Jesus as I tell Him of my worries and my cares.

I will open up my heart to Him as I tell Him of my fears and my doubts.

I will ask Him to help me to place myself fully in His care, to abandon myself to Him, knowing that He always wants what is best for me.”

Sacred Space
http://www.sacredspace.ie/

New year, new life

January 24, 2017 — Leave a comment

I’m having a very slow start. I’m just now looking ahead to the new year–the one that is already three weeks old. And in today’s instant world, three weeks is so past tense.
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But here I am, waking up from the comfortable hibernation of a family visit and seven hours of jet lag. Like a groundhog, I am looking at this year’s sun for the first time.
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To shift metaphors, I feel like I have missed that starter’s pistol. Everyone else has bolted out of their running blocks and now they are racing down the track.
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I’m yawning and stretching and wondering where I am, let alone where I am going.
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However life is more like a marathon than a sprint so perhaps all is not lost. Before plunging ahead, I’m taking the time to look back on last year [the one that feels like a decade ago], and look ahead to this year [the one the already feels half-gone].
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Because we live in eternity, it’s never too late to re-evaluate the direction we’re taking or to make adjustments or to shed an old cranky habit and take on a different approach. The promise of something new is always here, always now.
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In that spirit, here is a blessing based on Numbers 6:24-26 for the new life that is growing and that is to come:

The Lord bless you.
May you be blessed with blessing from the good and loving Father
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and keep you;
May you know the everlasting arms that hold you, that you can lean on, that will guide you to paths of righteousness and pull you back from danger
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the Lord make His face shine upon you,
May you stay close to your Father, who has brought His light into the world through Jesus. May this life-giving light that shines in the darkness and penetrates through the gray clouds of this world, illuminate your heart.
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and be gracious unto you;
May you walk in the fullness of grace that He has given to you freely
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the Lord lift up his countenance on you
Yes, may you know and live and walk in the Father’s abundance of blessing, as His chosen child, created, redeemed, sustained and comforted, in this life until the world to come.
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and give you peace.”
May you receive the gift of the Lord’s peace, that is, shalom;
of green pastures and calm waters,
guarded by the great Shepherd of the sheep;
whose love overtakes fear and anxiety, and who names you, “Beloved.”
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Be blessed.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

This is a standard Christmas hymn, but I am usually focused on singing it rather than focusing on the words. As we head into a new year, it’s worth praying this sermon/hymn.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
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O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
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O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
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O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Refrain

In the Bleak Midwinter, sung by King’s College

In the Bleak Midwinter

The last line of this hymn says “give him my heart”–because the singer is so poor he or she has nothing else to give. But the reality of my heart is not always a worthy gift. Sometimes it feels like the bleak midwinter: frosty, hard and stony. Other times, it is poor, devastated, weak and broken.

And yet the truth remains that this is what my heavenly Father wants most from me: my heart. He wants to be with me face to face. He wants me to bring the truth of who I am: my thoughts, my feelings, what I have done, what I hope to do, what I hope not to do. This is who He wants to love. And this the gift of my incarnation: bringing myself to God as He has brought Himself to me.

In the Bleak Midwinter
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
For the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”

Preparing to prepare

November 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

Advent is a time of waiting and preparing. I tend to plunge into it thoughtlessly, in the post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas rush. So I found a reflection on preparing for Advent at Creighton University’s Online Ministries very helpful.

I’d encourage you to read the whole piece. Here’s a taste of it:

There is “a time of emotional complexity that is part of this holiday season – with all of the expectations and challenges of family and relationships:  who we want to be with and who we struggle to be with. So, our hearts are a bit tender, if not completely defended from experiencing anything deeply.”

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“We will re-enter the ancient tradition of a people longing for the coming of a Savior…we have to ask ourselves: “What is it I long for now?”  The answer won’t come easily.  The more we walk around with that question, and let it penetrate through the layers of distraction and self-protection, the more powerfully we will experience Advent.”

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“These are very precious days to come into intimate contact with our own need for salvation.  It is a time to make friends with our tears, our darkness, our hunger and thirst. 
What is missing? 
What eludes my grasp? 
What name can I give to the “restlessness” in my heart? 
What is the emptiness I keep trying to “feed” with food, with fantasy, with excitement, with busyness? 
What is the conflict that is “eating at me”? 
What is the sinful, unloving, self-centered pattern for which I haven’t asked for forgiveness and healing? 
Where do I need a peace that the world cannot give?

Coming to know where I need a Savior is how I can prepare for Advent”

from “Preparing for Advent” Creighton University’s Online Ministries

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Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Isaiah 35:5-7

From time to time when there is tragedy in the world or in our lives, we hear a lot of how what perspective we ‘should’ take on it. The following passage from “How People Grow” by Henry Cloud talks about the different kinds of suffering we can experience in our lives, and the important distinction between destructive suffering and therapeutic suffering. Have you been mugged? Or have you been in surgery?

“Certain suffering tears down aspects of our character that need to be torn down and builds up new aspects that we need in order to live as we were designed to live. So suffering can be good. It can take us to places where one more season of “comfort” cannot.

“But suffering can also be terrible. Some suffering is not a “wound… to heal.” Such suffering inflicts evil on a person’s heart and soul and is totally outside God’s desire. Although God can bring good out of the experience, the experience itself is no good at all.

“I sometimes use this analogy when I speak: “If one of you walked out of this meeting and a guy with a mask walked up to you in the dark parking lot, took out a knife, stabbed you in the stomach, took all your money, and left you in an unconscious state, you would call him a mugger. Someone would call the police, and they would try to find the perpetrator.

” “But if you left this meeting, drove down the street to the local hospital, and a guy with a mask came to you in a brightly lit room, took out a knife, cut your stomach open, took all your money, and left you in an unconscious state, you would call him a doctor and thank him for helping you. One is a mugging, and the other is surgery.”

“Suffering is a lot like that. There is therapeutic suffering, and there is destructive suffering at the hands of evil people. The key is to be able to tell the difference between the two and to apply the right kind of experience to each. Too often in the church those who have been “mugged” have been told that God is trying to teach them a lesson or that what they are going through is a result of their own sin or that it is part of the growth process.”
Henry Cloud in “How People Grow” page 207

Evil destruction

Evil destruction

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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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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This year for the first time in a decade, I had the opportunity to enjoy my native New England’s summer. It was wonderful to see oaks and maples and elms and ash trees in full leaf. Every day I marveled at the magnificent extravaganza of broad, tall, green limbs reaching to the sky.

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During those five weeks, we had only two or three days of rain, yet the trees didn’t shrivel. Their vast network of roots drew in moisture stored deep in the earth. Even when the lawn began to look parched, the woods remained vivid in all their shades of green.

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I experienced another kind of abundance during my time in the states: our whole family was together for the first time in two years. My days were filled with trips to parks and ponds, museums and villages as we reacquainted Sam and Jeff to life in America. I spent hours staying with 20-month-old Nora as she explored the world. I took almost daily runs to the grocery store, and cooked meals for the crowd. I watched Lucy and Clara play soccer with their cousins.

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However, all this feasting on family meant I had little time for reflection and quiet time with God. I hung onto my daily anchor of reading The Divine Hours and sometimes added a prayer from Scotty Smith’s “Everyday Prayers”. It was like taking a few quick sips from a water fountain and then dashing off.

Frankly, grabbing five minutes to straighten my soul before I plunge into the day isn’t enough to sustain me over the long haul. But for a limited period of time, I survived. My soul didn’t wither away; it drew on the roots I had laid down in calmer days when I had time to soak in God’s word without being interrupted.

Some days I was just hanging on like Nora.

Some days I was just hanging on like Nora.

I was gratified how these roots held me and fed me, especially because the regular daily time I spend with God at home usually doesn’t feel spectacular or exciting. It often doesn’t feel particularly nurturing either. But I keep plodding on, reading, praying, and reflecting even when I can’t see any visible signs of growth.

I’ve learned that this patient faithfulness, what Eugene Peterson calls ‘a long obedience’, does make a difference. Even if I’m not aware of any immediate pay-off, the time I spend with God grows roots in my soul that I can draw on during a spiritual drought. It creates a vast network of underground branches that feed and sustain my spiritual life.

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We need these roots not just during our happy vacations, but for the harsher storms we go through. A dear friend of ours spent the last two years battling brain cancer. During the ups and downs of surgeries, physical therapy, setbacks, and treatments, the faith he had nurtured over the years fed him with an amazing peace and an abiding sense of God’s presence.

Whenever Michael spoke to people about his illness, he shared how he felt held in the hands of God’s loving care. He didn’t always have the mental strength to read and reflect but his roots sustained him all the way to the end. A week before he died, his pastor came to visit and asked how he was doing. Michael slowly brought his hands together.

That quiet confidence didn’t spring up over night. Faithfully through the years, Michael sunk his spiritual roots down deep in Jesus–deep enough that this self-described Type-A personality was able to lean back into the arms of his Father during his final challenge.

His life was a witness that by faith and faithfulness, our trust becomes stronger that our loving Father will hold us safe all the days of our life. As we stay by God’s stream and drink deeply every day, we become anchored in His grace.

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That’s why as I settle back into my home routine, I’m not skimping on spending time with God each day. Once again I’ve taken up the long obedience to foster my attachment to the Vine so my roots can be replenished and continue to grow. When storms come or the sun sears down, I want strong roots to keep me from crashing to the ground or turning to a crisp.

How about you? When do you carve out time during your day to sit at the feet of Jesus?

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7

Watch out!

May 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

A few years ago after several houses were broken into and robbed, our neighborhood decided it needed to increase security. A guard house was built at the entrance of our cul de sac. But more importantly, guards were hired to watch out for thieves, one guard for the night and one for the day.

The guard house and the house for the watch dog.

The guard house and the house for the watch dog.

That came to mind as I’ve been reading through the gospel of Mark because I’ve been impressed by how many times Jesus tells the disciplines to watch out:

Watch out that no one deceives you. [Mark 13:5]
Be on your guard. You will be handed over…[Mark 13:9]
You must be on your guard! Be alert!… Watch! [Mark 13:33]

And then in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus urges Peter, Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation. [Mark 14:38]

A high watch tower

A high watch tower

Unfortunately, Peter promptly fell asleep again. Even though Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him three times, Peter didn’t see any danger at the moment. He was confident he wouldn’t, so confident that he insisted emphatically.

The problem with temptation is that it tends to sneak up on us, especially if we’re feeling strong and confident. When things have been going well for a long time, it’s easy to get complacent like Peter. The houses in our neighborhood that were broken into were all locked at the time. People thought they were invulnerable. But the thieves managed to pry bars away from windows and break down doors.

I think the same happens in our spiritual lives. If we’ve been walking with Jesus for a long time, it’s easy to think we have everything under control. We begin to assume we’re immune from temptation. But like a thief, Satan doesn’t give up. He waits until we aren’t watching. We think we’ve mastered pride, fear, anger, and we let down our guard.

Recently I experienced this in my life. I thought a temptation I was prone to was gone for good. Instead I discovered it had gone underground, leaving seeds in the soil of my heart which were waiting for the right conditions to sprout again.

It shouldn’t have caught me by surprise. As long as we live, evil–in whatever form we’re most susceptible to–will tempt us. It’s not if I’ll be tempted, but when. That’s one of the few guarantees we have.

So the time to watch out is not when we can see danger coming. The time to pay attention is before. By listening to God’s word, examining our hearts, and then putting His word into practice, we keep watch on our lives.

I know I need to spend some time reflecting on my signature sins and see where I’ve gotten lax and where I need to post some guards.

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What about you?
Where do you need to be on your guard?
What temptation do you need to watch out for?

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“God bring us back to life.
Fill us with Your presence.
Turn the light of Your face upon us.
Restore Your image within us.
Make us one with You.”
—–Christine Sine

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In Him was life,
and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:4-5

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“The birth of Christ in our souls is for a purpose beyond ourselves:
it is because His manifestation in the world must be through us.
Every Christian is, as it were, part of the dust-laden air
which shall radiate the glowing epiphany of God,
catch and reflect His golden Light.

You are the light of the world –
but only because you are enkindled,
made radiant by the one Light of the world.”
——–Evelyn Underhill

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For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6

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“We ourselves are ‘saved to save’–we are made to give–to let everything go if only we have more to give. The pebble takes in the rays of light that fall on it, but the diamond flashes them out again: every little facet is means, not simply of drinking more in, but of giving more out.”
———–Lilias Trotter

How to light a dark corner

February 26, 2014 — 2 Comments

I’m a natural morning person and one thing I love about getting up early is seeing the long rays of sunlight as they wake the world to another day.

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And one of the luxuries of keeping the Sabbath is being able to stop and enjoy the morning light. In the winter when it’s too cold to go outside, I’ll find the sunniest place in the house and sit there, praying, reading, reflecting.

I'm like a spring flower turning to the sun

I’m like a spring flower turning to the sun

Last month I discovered a new morning spot in our house. Like most Moroccan homes, our dining room is not conveniently placed next to the kitchen. Instead, it’s on the other side of the house to separate the cooks from the guests. And it is also sized for a large extended family.

Half of our dining room filled with our local extended family

Half of our dining room filled with our local extended family

Of course it’s too big for two people, so weeks can go by without me having any need or desire to use the room. Then one Sabbath I happened to be in the back of the house and noticed the morning light streaming into the dining room.

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I pulled up a chair and positioned it to face the bright sun. Then I settled in to enjoy its warm illumination.

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But after a while I sensed there was something not quite right. Then I realized I was facing in the wrong direction. To catch the morning sun I should be pointing east and not west.

the sun rising in the east

the sun rising in the east

Yet there I was facing west. How had the sun turned itself around?

I looked up and saw the answer. A few years ago our neighbors closed their upper terrace with reflective glass. What I was seeing was not the sun (still thankfully rising in the east) but the sun reflecting off a western window, like a mirror.
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A once-dark corner of our house where the sun never shone was now flooded with light.

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As I basked in the sunlight reflecting off the glass, I marveled at the power of the sun and the capacity of the glass to reflect it. I remembered what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image. — 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

The glass doesn’t create the light. It doesn’t even have to make any effort to reflect the sun’s brightness. The sun is the source.
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The only way the glass can prevent the light’s reflection is if it becomes coated with dirt and dust. No wonder Jesus told us not to worry about the plank in our brother’s eye and only to worry about the speck in our own. Tiny specks of dust and dirt crowded together can block the power of the all-powerful light.

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To reflect the light of Jesus into the dark corners of the world around me, I need to let the Holy Spirit into my dark corners first and wash my heart clean.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
… Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
–Psalm 51: 7, 10

Then God’s light will shine boldly through me although I may not always be aware of how far His rays of grace extend.

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Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and His glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Isaiah 60:1-3

What about you? What dark unreached corners in your world does God’s light reflect into? And when was the last time you washed your spiritual windows?

Speaking of questions

February 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

“Questioning God honors Him. It turns our hearts away from ungodly despair toward a passionate desire to comprehend Him.”
Dan Allender

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“We act and live in confidence that someday we will see face to face, that we will live into the answers. For God’s grace embraces our questions as well as our answers and our blindness as well as our vision.”
Jean Blomquist

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“You can find answers to the hard intellectual questions, but God gives us something better than answers. He gives us a rich sense of His presence. He gives us Himself. Answers satisfy the intellect, the presence of the great El-shaddai satisfies the soul.”
Selwen Hughes

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God asks:
Why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power to deliver?

Isaiah 50:2

Ask me a question

January 30, 2014 — 4 Comments

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a study guide for Walk with Me: Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples. The guide has just been released and you can download it here for free [don’t you love that word?].

Each of the nine sections focuses on a chapter from the book, with three sets of questions to choose from. There’s a set for general small group discussion, another set for small groups who want to take a deeper look at the material, and a third set for individuals or couples. [Take a peek at the introduction here.]

As I worked on the questions, I was reminded of all the questions Jesus is asked in the gospels.

Questions, questions

  • “How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked.
  • “Where do you get that living water?” the woman at the well asked.
  • “Who are you?” the Pharisees asked.
  • “How can we know the way?” Thomas asked.
  • “What is truth?” Pilate wanted to know.

Sometimes, a question is used to accuse: “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” the Jews asked Jesus.

Or a question can be a way to find an easy out, like Peter’s question to Jesus: “How many times must I forgive my brother?”

They can carry a complaint like Martha’s, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

I think the best questions are those designed not to find an answer, but to start a dialogue. It’s an asking that doesn’t try to push the other person away. With God, good questions help us come closer to Him, whether they are questions of doubt or mystery or confusion or despair.

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God’s questions for me
And when I ask an honest question, I open myself up to being asked one in return. When the lawyer asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered by asking, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” He didn’t give the dead-end answer. He invited the lawyer into a give and take.

When the chief priests asked Jesus to tell them by what authority He was teaching and healing, He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me, John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?”

Back and forth, back and forth, the dialogue goes. A question is asked. A question answered, sometimes with a question that enlightens us far more than the easy answer we were looking for.

However God chooses to answer our questions–even when He keeps silent–He want us to stay with Him. Our honest questions never drive Him away because He is always waiting for us to take another step closer, even if that means drawing near to Him in our confusion.

Probably every journey of faith starts with a question, a mystery. And sometimes they end with a question too. “Why have You forsaken me?” God was silent and withdrawn from His son, and still Jesus had a question for Him.


What about you?
What question do you want to discuss with God? When will you start the dialogue?
And what question do you think He will ask you in return?

[Edited from the archives]

The year as a house

January 1, 2014 — 1 Comment

from a poem by Jan Richardson:

“The Year as a House: A Blessing

Think of the year
as a house:
door flung wide
in welcome,
threshold swept
and waiting,
a graced spaciousness
opening and offering itself
to you.

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“Let it be blessed
in every room.

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“Let it be hallowed
in every corner.

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Let every nook
be a refuge
and every object
set to holy use…

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“…And may it be
in this house of a year
that the seasons will spin in beauty,

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“and may it be
in these turning days
that time will spiral with joy.

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“And may it be
that its rooms will fill
with ordinary grace

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“and light spill from every window
to welcome the stranger home.”

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A Christmas benediction

December 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

“Bethlehem has opened Eden:
Come, let us see!
We have found joy hidden!
Come, let us take possession of the paradise within the cave.”
Ikos of the Nativity

 

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“May you be filled with the wonder of Mary,

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the obedience of Joseph,

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the joy of the angels,

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the eagerness of the shepherds,

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the determination of the magi,

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and the peace of the Christ child.

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Almighty God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
bless you now and forever.
Amen!”

“Advent should be dark and tense.
The world desperately needs a Savior,
and in Advent we should feel the weight of that longing.”
Mike Cosper

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“Come broken, come whole
Come wounded in your soul
Come anyway that you know
Alleluia

Come doubting, come sure
Come fearful to this door
Come see what love is for
Alleluia

Come running, come walking slow
Come weary on your broken road
Come see Him and shed your heavy load
Alleluia”
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come Darkness, Come Light

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“Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
You did come to make Your dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power,
You did in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show Your light.

Praise to You in earth and heaven
Now and evermore be given,
Christ, who is sun and shield.
Lord, for us Your life You gave,
Those who trust in You, You save,
All Your mercy stands revealed.”
Thomas Aquinas  

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I waited patiently for the Lord,
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

Psalm 40:1-2

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For pity’s sake

December 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

In Walk with Me, as Peter crosses the Swamp of Selfishness, he falls into a sinkhole of self-pity. Instead of trying to get out, he settles into the mud. Perversely, he savours his feelings of woundedness and isolation. Perhaps he sings a song our daughters learned when they were young: “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I’ll go eat worms.”

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Self-pity is such a seductive feeling, an emotion that feeds on itself. The more I nurture my self-pity, the bigger the sinkhole becomes. I begin to feel that no one else has ever suffered like me before. No one has gone through such hard struggles like I have. I actually take pride in my pain.

That is a very dangerous place to be, and that is exactly where Satan would like me to stay. My enemy tells me to nurse my hurt, hold my grudge, care for myself because no one else will. He tells me to shut myself off from people so I can avoid feeling pain, to give up hoping, to stop trusting God, to act for myself. If he got his way, Satan would keep me wallowing and self-absorbed forever.

In contrast, Jesus invites me to come out of the hole and sit with Him at His feet. He wants me to lay down my burdens and tell Him what the trouble is.

So last week when I found myself being swallowed up by a sinkhole of self-pity, I resisted the impulse to stay in the swamp. Instead, as I spent time with Jesus, I began to open up about one area in my life. I told Him how difficult and awful it has been, and how hopeless it feels to me. As I shared the emotional tatters of my life with Him, I discovered that self-pity is hard to sustain when you’re sitting at the feet of Jesus.

It’s not that Jesus gave me an instant fix. Far from it. But instead of sending me away, He told me to come closer. Instead of judging me or lecturing me telling me to buck up, He lamented with me and comforted me.

In the presence of His strong compassion, my weak and whiny self-pity vanished. I stopped demanding that He make things better right away and simply acknowledged with Him that the world is not the way it should be. Jesus sadly nodded His head. More than any of us, He knows how true this is.

This quiet pondering is one of the lessons of Advent. In the rush to Christmas, I want to skip over the suffering and head straight to hope and joy and light.

Yes, all that is coming, but first I need to lament the brokenness of the world.
He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted.

I need to name the darkness.
…to proclaim release from darkness for the prisoners.

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I need to hear once again, “Comfort, comfort My people, speak tenderly to Jerusalem.”

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I need to listen to songs in a minor key, songs tinged with despair and longing.
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

What about you? What are you pondering this Advent?

Deep Sabbath

August 9, 2013 — 8 Comments

A few years ago when Jack was away, I decided take a private Sabbath day. My normal Sundays are usually relaxing enough, but I discovered that’s not the same as spending a whole day alone to rest and enjoy God. A Rich Mullins song came to mind, Alrightokuhhuhamen, which talks about God stepping back after creating the world.

Well the Lord said ‘let there be’ and there was
On the earth below and in the sky above
Well then He knocked off work ’cause it was Friday night
Come Saturday morning everything was just alright
Sure enough
Alright-ok-uhhuh-amen

To take a whole day off we have to have confidence that life is alright, that things are good, that the world is not going to fall apart if we don’t clean the house, answer the phone, respond to a text message, or check Facebook. It’s an affirmation that ultimately the universe does not depend on us.

I found it helpful to follow a set of principles that Jewish artists came up with to encourage people to reclaim the Sabbath**:

1. Avoid technology
2. Connect with loved ones
3. Nurture your health
4. Get outside
5. Avoid commerce
6. Light candles
7. Drink wine
8. Eat bread
9. Find silence
10. Give back

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Avoiding technology meant I didn’t check email or use the internet to read news and blogs. Being off the grid while at home changed the tone of the day. I discovered how it had become a reflexive, thoughtless habit to click the ‘get mail’ button, or to look up a simple fact and emerge from the internet swamp two hours later.

But I wasn’t legalistic about computer use. I used the internet to webcam with family and to talk with Jack via Skype [see #2]. And what is more refreshing than watching the world through a two or three-year old’s eyes?

I exercised [#3] but later than usual, so it felt like I was on vacation. Getting outside [#4] meant reading on the terrace with a view of our beautiful little green garden. It was too hot to light candles [#6]. But I had a glass of cool rosé [#7] and made some special food. I usually don’t enjoy food preparation but since I wasn’t rushed, I was able to have a more sacramental attitude towards the task. It also helped to listen to worship music as I chopped vegetables to roast in the oven [yum!].

another example of a refreshing meal

another example of a refreshing meal

The artists’ Sabbath manifesto didn’t mention any spiritual activities. But I once heard a sermon which pointed out that the Sabbath is not just a time for having fun, but a time for refreshment and renewal by reflecting on God’s love and mercy and grace. So in the afternoon, I spent some leisurely time doing that.

It wasn’t an earthshaking day. It was quiet, peaceful, relaxed. I took a bath. I read. I contemplated. By the time I went to bed, I did feel very refreshed. The next day, I had more mental energy to attack some unpleasant tasks.

However because “remember the Sabbath day and keep it set apart” is one of the Ten Commandments, I can slip into thinking I’m doing God a favor by doing it. It seems like a big sacrifice to give up productive time and sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary did. I can feel I’m wasting valuable time that could be spent doing something else.

Sometimes I view it as an item for me to check off my master list. I turn Sabbath-keeping into a task that I have to work at, instead of seeing it as a gift that God gives to me.

Or I swing the other way and chafe against obeying the command, becoming hypersensitive to anything that smacks of legalism. But over and over I’ve seen that unless I am strict about keeping the Sabbath, it gets pushed aside. As I have gotten to know people from Sabbath-keeping traditions, I’ve come to appreciate the boundaries they put on the day. A little rigidity comes in handy to create walls on this holy day. Certain activities are kept in and other activities shut out.

My Sabbath walls are in need of some repair these days. I need to regain the discipline of disconnecting from technology, connecting with people, and enjoying God’s creation. And then spend some time praising the God who says, “Relax, take a day off. Sleep in the boat while the storm rages. I have everything under control.”

What about you? How do you practice keeping the Sabbath?

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; He rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; He set it apart as a holy day.
Exodus 20:8-11

Links
Sabbath Manifesto

[edited from the archives]