Quote

“We become as big or as small as the objects of our love. When the horizon out of which I am living is God, there is room to breathe. When it is less than God, the world becomes suffocating.”

—Iain Matthew, The Impact of God

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Mercy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, just a week or so after my previous post, I find myself needing to revisit my thoughts on mercy. Revisit and revise.

The realization struck me last Sunday in church. The week before had been Easter, and it had been a wonderful celebration. I had left feeling full and fortunate and grateful.

But the very next Sunday, as I gazed around at the remnants of the Easter service—lilies, an empty cross, candles—I became aware that in the space of just one week I had lost my focus on the life-changing, earth-shattering, universe-altering fact of God’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. As I pondered, I wondered how long it had actually taken for me to become re-immersed in my own small world with its tiny worries. One day, maybe? Just a few hours? As I reviewed my week I realized that I had lived mostly as if Easter hadn’t happened.

And it was then that the force of God’s mercy finally struck me.

You see, those beautiful things in my last post—sunrise, color, taste, etc.—those are actually gracious gifts from God. Grace is receiving above and beyond what I truly deserve. And the many comforts and joys of this life are just that.

Mercy, on the other hand, is not receiving the wrath that is due me. And standing there one week after Easter, having carelessly tossed aside the sacrifice of the only Son of God—no, not in the big “I reject salvation” way, but in my many small, moment-by-moment choices and attitudes—I finally caught a fleeting taste of the immense mercy of God.

When I am fickle, He is steady. When I am petty He is forgiving. When I am untrue to Him, He remains faithful.

It’s a wonder He puts up with me day after day, and doesn’t simply obliterate me where I stand, in all my self-centered foolishness and pride. I would certainly deserve it.

And that is the mercy that is new every morning: the fact that I am around to see another dawn. That I am given breath and life to search, grope, screw up, stumble, and draw nearer to Him one more day.

Releasing the Lover

apr14

I had a conversation last month with someone trying to explain his rekindled passion for following Christ. He talked with fervor, “Life just works better when you do it God’s way. He is the answer to my deepest longings and needs. I feel most fulfilled, peaceful, and happy when I am obedient to Him.”

I heard him, but wanted to challenge him to take things a step further. “But as we grow in relationship with God,” I countered, “hopefully we fall more in love with Him, and begin obeying out of love for who He is, and a desire not to cause Him pain, rather than for what we get out of it.”

My friend looked at me blankly. “Yeah,” he responded, “That’s what I said.”

I didn’t press the point, but I left the conversation slightly dissatisfied that I hadn’t helped him see the difference between obedience that flows out of self-gratification, and obedience that is motivated by reverence for God.

I was reminded of our exchange this past week as I talked with a pastor friend and his wife. “Many in my profession,” he explained, “think our job is to impose a set of rules or a certain lifestyle on our congregations. To teach them how to behave according to certain standards. But the way I see it, every Christian is, at the core, a lover of Christ, and my job is to help them grow in this relationship, and release them to love Him.”

Now, I struggled with this a bit, pointing out that I have been a lover of myself since I was born. This goes pretty deep. Even my decision to follow Jesus was out of a sense of self-preservation, because I had heard about hell and didn’t want to go there.

As the conversation continued, however, we talked about how Paul, in his letters, called the Christians “saints” even though they were behaving in very un-saintly ways. It’s that “old self/new self”, “already-accomplished-although-it’s-still-in-process” type of thing. While we must acknowledge, grieve, and repent every time the old self-lover rears its ugly head, it is important to live out our true identity as passionate lovers of Christ.

The more I thought about it, the more the concept captured my imagination. Better yet, it thrilled my heart. How refreshing not to think of Christianity as a set of rules, expectations, and duties. How liberating to move beyond the obedience that expects God to reward us for our good behavior. To stop approaching God for what He does for us, and begin to truly love Him for the breath-taking Being that He is.

I am, at the deepest core of my being, a love-sick seeker of God. What a difference it would make if I woke up every day with this truth firmly entrenched in my mind and my heart. What joy, as I overflowed with the experience of being loved and loving in return. Moving past external performance, I would look for new and spontaneous ways to pour out the fullness of my heart to my Beloved.

The truest thing about you and about me is that we are lovers of God. It’s what we were made for. And once we truly believe this, it changes everything.

May you, may I, be swept up in this passionate relationship, and find the freedom and courage to release the lover inside.

Question: How does it affect you to think of yourself as a lover of God?

You Are My Coffee Shop

Mar18

a modern Psalm—to be read with a good cup of coffee

You are my coffee shop,
A haven of delight in a crazy, noisy world.
You are the soft lights that welcome me,
You are straight, graceful lines and rich, dark wood.
You are the easy chair that embraces me,
You cushion my back and invite me to sink in, to rest.
I inhale deeply, wearily—
Your aroma permeates the air.

selah (take a sip of coffee)

I reach for You, You warm my hands.
My eyes feast on Your lush loveliness.
I lean in closer, longing.
My face flushes with the heat of Your nearness.
I can resist You no longer, I must be one with You,
Have You in me, filling me.
You burst over my senses—
Sweet and bitter, sharp and smooth,
rich and deep and ever so satisfying.
You captivate me completely,
Body, mind, and soul engaged in experiencing You.

selah (take a sip of coffee)

I drink long. I drink deeply.
My thirst increases and I know I’ll never get enough.
Even so, You are too much for me. You overpower me.
Kindly You pour Yourself out in cup-size portions,
or I would be undone.

selah (take a sip of coffee)

Fondly I linger—
Your taste on my lips, Your warmth in my belly.
Your life courses through my veins.
I will carry You with me out into the chaos,
Which I could not face without You.
But rest assured, I will soon return to this sacred ground
To drink of You once again.
For You are my portion and my cup,
My coffee shop in this troubled world.

Moving a Cat

Mar10

Caring for a cat has taught me many things about myself and God and our relationship. Non-cat-lovers might roll their eyes, but it’s true. Here’s the most recent example.

Last week we moved our belongings from Pennsylvania to Indiana. That included my cat, much to her dismay. The trip presented countless strange sights and smells, the roar and rattle of a moving van, and many unexpected jolts and bumps. It also meant 8 hours in a carrier one day, and 4 the next. Now—although I have seen said cat squeeze herself into many less desirable places—the fact that the incarceration in her carrier was for such an extended period of time, and not of her own choosing, left my feline friend less than happy. She yowled loud and long, often biting and scratching and growling for emphasis.

A friend, considering my cat’s point of view, remarked, “Well, I guess as far as she knows, this arrangement is permanent. She doesn’t know there’s an end in sight.”

And, bing! The light bulb went on and another lesson presented itself. So, here is what I would say to my cat if I could, and what I believe God whispers to each of us in times of trouble or distress.

1. I am here, and I still care.
I wanted very much to take my cat out of the carrier, to hold her, pet her, and comfort her. But she had to stay in that little bag for her own protection; it was the safest place for her. My kitty was probably unable to understand my stand-offishness. She could have accused me of being distant and uncaring. But I heard every pathetic mew, and my heart ached at her distress.

2. This pain has a purpose.
I could have tried to prepare the cat for the move; I might have shown her a map of our route. Neither would have done any good. As far as she could understand, this unexpected, unexplainable trauma came from out of the blue and served no rational purpose whatsoever.

3. This too shall pass.
My cat’s plight would not last forever. I knew the exact duration and destination of our trip. But she had no way of knowing that this was only a temporary transition, nor where or when the tortuous trip would end—if ever!

4. I have only your best in mind.
I had seen the place we were moving to, and knew the cat would like it. It has lots of windows and there are no other cats around. There’s even a room just for her! Better yet, it allowed her to stay under my care. This disruption in my cat’s life represented the best I had to offer, despite the discomfort it caused her.

Just as there’s no way my cat could grasp the details of our move, neither can you or I understand the intricacies of God’s master plan, or how our little lives fit into it. If the communication gap is so wide between two created, earth-dwelling beings of flesh and blood, just think how great it must be between us and the Eternal Self-Existing Limitless God of the Universe—try as He might to get through to us.

But the great comfort is this: His best is always truly Good. He never errs in judgment or lapses in His care for us. And someday, when we arrive at our final Home, we are going to be very glad for the journey that brought us there.

Busyness: the Need to Achieve

Oct20

I recently overheard a woman describe how her family had helped her while she recovered from surgery. “They did everything for me, took over all my responsibilities.” Then she continued, “I felt so worthless—I finally had to get up and do something useful.”

Her statements reveal the second lie that I believe keeps us so frantically busy. For most of us our self-worth is tied up in what we accomplish, what we do.

This idea is reinforced in every facet of our society. In the workplace, in school, in sports and hobbies, and even in the home we are encouraged to excel and achieve. The mantra goes something like this: the more you acquire, the more you produce, the more you succeed—the more you are praised, valued, emulated.

One would hope to find something very different within the church system. However, we have actually amplified this compulsion to over-achieve by spiritualizing it. Verses such as “Whatever you do, do it heartily…”, “…make the most of every opportunity”, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” leave us in fear of wasting time, doing anything half-way, or showing weakness. While we reject striving for material gain or personal glory, our faith all too easily can become performance-based.

The danger is that it is tempting to confuse a life full of church-going and Christian activity with a vital, growing relationship with God. Others looking on will certainly make that assumption. And we can deceive ourselves, thinking, “My service pleases God and proves my love for Him.” Secure in our religious busyness, we often settle for shallow, fleeting experiences of God. Usually that’s all we have time for! But as Richard Foster put it in his book Prayer, God “…aches over our distance and preoccupation.…He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence.” (pg. 1)

I think it is very telling that when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) It wasn’t about doing or performing. It was about relationship, about being.

The thing about getting deep and knowing someone on an intimate, heart level is that it takes time. A lot of it. And it doesn’t actually look like much is being accomplished. One author, in his attempt to get to know Jesus more personally, began meditating on passages about Jesus’ life. The problem, as he states it, was, “I wanted to judge it by what I got out of it. When I did, it often seemed to be a dreadfully inefficient spiritual practice. But productivity and efficiency miss the point. What God wants is simply our presence… That is what friends do together—they waste time with each other.” (David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself)

In our fast-paced, results-oriented world, we often have trouble stopping long enough to truly commune with God. To sit still and hear Him. To open our hearts to Him in a vulnerable way and experience His passionate love in return. The inactivity chafes, the quietness is uncomfortable. It is hard to measure progress or find tangible results.

But gradually something does happen. Our sense of significance begins to take root in and grow out of this supernatural relationship; our value comes to be based solely on the fact that we are loved by the God of the universe—unconditionally, dizzyingly, consumingly.

And then, as Myra Perrine writes in her book, What’s Your God Language?, “When we live our lives…knowing the truth that we are already loved as much as we will ever be… then we will not constantly be trying to get it right, striving to do it better, working hard to please God and secure His love… We will be at peace knowing we are fully known, fully wanted, and fully enjoyed.” (pg. 148)

In other words, we will be freed from the lies of performance and achievement. We will find our worth in the arms of God alone. We will learn what it really means to be at rest.