A New Beginning…

Well, it looks like it’s been a year and a half since I last posted. This is unacceptable. I recently paid $18 to renew this site for another year. Thinking I’d like to get my money’s worth, it is my goal to put up at least 18 posts this year. $1 per post seems reasonable.

They will not all be long entries (although I have one of those brewing right now)—some might be quotes from whatever book I’m reading, or just a photo. But there will be 18 this year. And this one doesn’t count.

So, you have that to look forward to.

See you again soon!

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diamonds

beads of water
glisten on grass
in morning sun
some might call it dew.

but lying here,
stretched out flat
among the drops,
I see they are diamonds

lovingly scattered
by King-Father
for Princess-Daughter
and I am reminded

that in this upside-down
Kingdom of ours,
you must lower yourself
to remember you’re royalty.

Breath

A lot of devotionals today give advice on how to fit God into our busy lives. With such hectic schedules it truly is a challenge to “make time” for spiritual things. We try to systematize discipleship and devotion into something efficient and streamlined so as to get the maximum return for our time.

But the more I think about it, I am growing convinced that we have it backwards. God’s processes are not instant or quick. In fact, sometimes they seem quite inefficient. Instead, His molding and shaping is a life-long process, and His hand works in slow, steady ways that would be easy to overlook if we are moving too quickly.

The fact is that while the human pace of life has increased drastically in the past 100 years or so, God remains unchanged.

And I wonder if we’ve missed the boat by trying to cram God into our busy lives, instead of adjusting our lives to accommodate the ways of God.

I am reminded of the story of Elijah up on Mount Horeb, waiting for the Lord to appear. (1 Kings 19:11–13) First a tornado came by, then an earthquake, then a fire. But God was not in any of those things. Instead, a “gentle whisper” (NIV) or a “gentle blowing” (NASB) indicated the arrival of the Lord of the Universe. The Hebrew word actually denotes silence or stillness.

Similarly, the Hebrew word for Spirit also indicates breath or wind. This makes Jesus’ comparison of the Spirit to the wind in John 3 a delightful play on words and food for deeper thought.

Although God sometimes moves in dramatic, earth-shattering ways, His Spirit is more likely to come to us as a whisper, a breath, a gentle wind. If we are constantly running, making our own “wind” as it were, we are likely to miss the gentle moving of our God in our lives and in this world.

Throughout the centuries people have followed Christ at great personal cost, as discipleship demanded that they often lived out of step with the rest of society. Could it be that in this generation, the sacrifice we are being asked to make is to slow down and still ourselves? Are we willing to radically alter our lives in order to become more aware of the gentle, quiet Breath of God?

the Good News

I cringed inwardly. “Even if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died just for you.” Why did this sit so poorly with me? The speaker was only reiterating things I have heard all my life. In the week that followed, Easter “media” echoed his message again and again. Facebook posts, blogs, worship songs. “Jesus died for me!”

Yet somehow this familiar refrain left me terribly uncomfortable. An inner voice kept crying, “This is all wrong. Jesus’ death was not primarily about ME. I am not the center of this story!”

My Sunday school training quickly kicked in, “No, of course not. It’s about Jesus.” But somehow even that answer didn’t satisfy.

Then it occurred to me that Jesus wasn’t even then center of His Own story.

A recent conversation with a friend echoed in my mind. “You know,” she said, “We have so personalized and individualized the gospel today. But it wasn’t always the case. The message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples was that the Kingdom of God was coming. That was the good news.”

In describing His mission, Jesus often said that He must proclaim the Kingdom of God. Many of His parables began, “The kingdom of Heaven is like…”, and much of His teaching introduced a new way of living, a new way of thinking, that was out of step with the norms of his society—guidelines for citizens of a new Kingdom.

Jesus did not live to glorify Himself. He didn’t come to earth so that we could see the Father. Nor did He die so that I could be forgiven, have a personal relationship with Him, or live eternally.

He came, quite frankly, to turn the universe on its head; to bring about a new world order; to defeat evil once and for all and establish a Kingdom full of righteousness and peace.

In the process did He receive glory? Absolutely. Did those who saw him catch a glimpse of the Father? Of course. Did He provide a way for us to be cleansed of sin, live in loving relationship with Him, and never die? Thank God—yes, yes, and yes. But these are all small brush strokes in a bigger picture.

In His 33 years on earth, Jesus lived for something greater than His own personal story. In return, He invites each of us to live for something bigger than ourselves. The fact that we are given a part in the divine Story—invited to be citizens of this eternal Kingdom—should fill us with awe and wonder. It should make us feel small and humble and throw us to our knees in all-out worship.

Instead, we make Jesus’ time on earth about ourselves. This is understandable, in one sense, since His death is my only hope of life. But to distill the the mystery and magnificence of Jesus’ sacrifice down to simply what it means for me personally is to cheapen it, to miss the bigger picture, and to live small. Quite frankly, it is not Kingdom behavior.

As I walk away from Easter this year I am challenged to lift my eyes to something bigger than myself. I want this world to fade and become insubstantial, as I catch glimpses of the new Reality that Jesus brought about. I am hungry to learn more and more what it looks like to live each day as a citizen of this Kingdom.

Dance

Who heeds the poor organ grinder? None but myself and little Annie, whose feet begin to move in unison with the lively tune, as if she were loth that music should be wasted without a dance. But where would Annie find a partner? Some have the gout in their toes, or the rheumatism in their joints; some are stiff with age; some feeble with disease; some are so lean that their bones would rattle, and others of such ponderous size that their agility would crack the flag-stones; but many, many have leaden feet, because their hearts are far heavier than lead. It is a sad thought that I have chanced upon.
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, Little Annie’s Ramble

In the past year or so Jesus has been teaching me to dance. He has been asking me to live more lightly and freely. To find joy and delight in Him as I experience His presence in the small, every-day things. To give Him the burdens and troubles that weigh me down.

And for the most part, I am catching on. I am by nature an optimistic, positive person, so some of it comes easily. Releasing control and refusing to worry have been harder steps to master, but I’m getting better with practice. It has been a beautiful thing, learning the freedom of dancing in the moment with my Lord and Lover.

But a few nights ago, various things had piled up in my mind and my soul. I went to bed with heavy sighs and a few tears. I woke up in the morning, hoping the dawn would dispel the clouds that had hovered over me the night before. But they were still there, gray and dismal.

I heard a familiar Voice whisper in my ear, “Come, dance with Me.”

I sighed. “I can’t today. My heart is so heavy. There is no bounce in my step. I can’t bring myself to trip along merrily with You today.”

He looked at me with understanding. “That’s OK,” He said. “Just put your head here.” He patted His chest, right about where the heart is.

Gladly I buried my face into the warmth of His shoulder and felt His arms encircle me. I returned the embrace and rested against Him. He rocked me gently back and forth, and before I knew it we were moving. It was slow and rather sad, but it was unmistakably a dance.

And so I begin to see that His love is the music to which everything on earth moves. His melodies permeate every moment, and are suitable to every occasion. To dance with Him doesn’t merely mean to gambol giddily, always happy and carefree. It means, instead, to cling to His love in every situation, mindful of the beauty of His song, whether merry or melancholy. To heed and respond—loth that music should be wasted without a dance.

Of Nothing

(With many apologies after a long break, I’m back and hope to be more regular in my posting this year!)

I first came face-to-face with my nothingness in Cambodia. I went there full of hope and good intentions, sure that we were going to improve lives and change the world. What followed were years of disappointment, failure, and hard knocks. Unfortunately those tough times did relatively little to shake my confidence in myself as Something. I still had a lot to offer. The problem was everybody else—including God. They just weren’t cooperating with all my good efforts!

What finally did me in was a cat. One very small kitten. Too small, in fact. The vet gave me formula, warning she’d need to be fed every two hours, adding with a shake of the head not to get my hopes up. But my spirit shook an invisible fist at him, and at any other nay-sayer; but most of all I shook my fist at God. “YOU have let me down,” I railed. “I’ll take it from here. I’ll show You.”

After three days of ’round the clock feedings, the tiny thing finally died. Exhausted and crushed, I sobbed to my husband, “I couldn’t even make the world better for one little cat!”

His answer was simple, and revolutionary. “It isn’t your world.”

This was the first step in my journey toward realizing that I am not God. Somehow I had gotten the idea that if I just tried hard, thought hard, behaved right, prayed right, I could control outcomes and guarantee results.

That was about five years ago. I have been slow to learn. But over time God has been chipping away at my in-born impulse to take His place.

Will my worry make a relative’s surgery go any better or worse? No. Will lying awake at night playing out endless scenarios unravel a knotty situation? No. Will rehearsing imaginary conversations in my head make someone change or fix a relationship? No.

Why? Because I am nothing. I am powerless. I am not in control. That person, relationship, problem, situation, is not mine to carry.

The good news is that in counter-point to my nothing there is an Everything. There is God. He is in control. All these things belong to Him. He carries each burden. He holds all things together. He sustains all things by His powerful word. Him. Not me.

I don’t know that handing these things over to God changes the outcomes. It isn’t a magic bullet or a guarantee that all will be as I wish. But I do know that it changes me. I admit my nothingness. I kneel in submission to His sovereignty. I wait for His guidance. I learn what it means to trust.

I begin to live out Jesus’ invitation “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Whatever weighs you down as you enter this new year, I hope you join me in laying it down. It isn’t yours, or mine, to carry. This requires some crushing, some dying. But in the end, I truly have nothing (myself) to lose, and Everything to gain.

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matt. 11:28–30, MSG