Friday, May 15, 2015

Sacred Longing


Today I witnessed beauty that reminded me of a sacred longing.  It was beauty that I wanted not just to gaze upon but ingest, absorb, and somehow become a part of.  It stirred desire in me that often lies dormant or at least rests below the surface of conscious desire.  To be aware of and feel this longing all the time would require a bigger heart; one capable of greater suffering and deeper, more selfless love.  So for me, I welcome and cherish these occasional blessed moments.

I walked outside this morning to start the car to take my son to school.  The ground was still wet and the wind was blowing away thunder clouds after an early morning storm.  Clouds in the west were dark and heavy, but the rest of the sky was lightly clouded.  In the east, the morning sun was casting light on the yard along with shadows as it hadn’t completely broken through the clouds.  It was perfect conditions for a rainbow.  But for a few brief seconds as I waited for my son, I noticed raindrops falling.  They were so light and small I hadn’t even noticed them as I walked to the car.  But now the morning sun, peering through the clouds, shining its joyful morning beams, illumined the raindrops and transformed them into tiny, sparkling diamonds falling silently to the ground. 

It was a transcendent moment.  An eternal moment.  A moment that left me speechless and beckoned me to look beyond what my eyes can see.  It was a breathtaking moment that reminded me that there is more.  There is Perfect Beauty.  Beauty that will not stir a longing but rather will satisfy all longings and produce unending joy. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Watch for Weeds

I have several flower pots on my back patio that I peruse every morning.  It is a life-infusing start to my day.  I enjoy seeing the blooms emerge into colorful flowers and watching how various types of flowers differ from and complement each other.  I trim back the old flowers that have withered and faded and water the plants every other day.  In doing this, I become very familiar with my flowers.  I feel sad when one struggles and even a bit of personal responsibility if a plant dies.  When my flowers are healthy and vibrant, I feel a sense of pleasure and well-being. 

In one pot, I have some pansies that have survived winter, and that is quite a feat here in Oklahoma!  I put them in the shed last winter, so they weren’t whipped around by the frigid, north wind, but they still endured sparse sunlight and very cold temperatures.  They were happy when I brought them back outside in the spring.  I could almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief.  Needless to say, I am very familiar and somewhat protective of these pansies.  They are not particularly robust this year and have not grown to fill the whole pot, but they are still blooming.  

There are so many illustrations of spiritual things in nature.  I consider it a gift to see those parallels, because it helps me better understand the spiritual truths.  One morning, two weeks ago, during a routine watering, I was startled by what I saw.  Stretched in all directions flat across the surface of the soil, in my pansy pot, was a weed.  Why were you startled, you ask?  I was startled, because it caught me off-guard.  This weed covered the full surface of the dirt.  It wasn’t small.  And given the size of the weed, it had been there for several days, yet I had not noticed.  It lay there quietly growing, insidiously disguising itself among the green leaves of the pansy.  Left unnoticed, it would eventually have choked out the delicate life of the flowers. 

Are you seeing the spiritual parallel?  Our lives are represented by the pansy.  Like a flower we are made to grow and blossom.  We may struggle at times, but we are designed to thrive and radiate beauty and glorify God.  And weeds will come.  It’s not a question of if they will come, but when. Weeds are hearty.  They have the ability to grow and reproduce rapidly.  They are capable of blending in with the plants among which they grow.  And not only blending but intertwining with.  When I plucked the weed from my pansy pot, I had to do it carefully.  The weed was the same color as the leaves of the pansy.  As I searched for the base of the weed, I had to gently pull away the stems of the flower.  Had I not, I would have pulled part of the flower up with the weed.

Like a flower that is threatened by the life-choking weed, we too are threatened by sin.  And like the weed, sin is insidious; often encroaching on us without our noticing; subtly stifling our growth and beauty.  Sin unattended, grows, increases in strength and chokes the life and beauty out of us.  We may be alarmed, just like when I saw the weed in the flower pot, to see that sin has crept in to our lives and entangled us.  But alarm is a good thing.  It leads to action.  We must uproot the sin…and get back to the business of growing. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Me? or Us? Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed how as Christians, we are interconnected with each other to make up the church, the body of Christ.  There is a oneness that we share, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like it or not, that is bestowed by God.  This oneness shifts the focus from "me-ness" to "otherness" as I look not only to my interests but the interests of others, Philippians 2:4.  Our American culture tends to resist otherness and emphasize me-ness.  Our culture is not focused on "the good of the whole" as much as on "what's in it for me?"  So as a church in America, we have largely conformed to our culture's mindset and let it influence how we "do" body life in the church.  In addition to our culture's push for individuality and independence, we each are dealing daily with our own flesh (sarx in Greek) which is also opposed to otherness and instead wants to do what feels good for me. 

If we are to grow in this oneness which God has formed in us through his Spirit, we need to be deliberate.  God often bestows on us blessings, that if we do not appropriate or take possession of for ourselves, we can still live as though they were never given.  We don't enjoy the benefits of those blessings.  For example, if someone grants me a check for $1000, and I put the check in my desk drawer but don't cash it, I still have the check, but I have not appropriated the benefits of the check.  The fact that I put it in my desk instead of cashing it, does not nullify the fact that the person gave it to me.  I can even boast that I was given a check for $1000, but unless I cash it, the check does not have any impact on my life. 

We tend to live the same way as the body of Christ.  We have been given a new family, a place to belong, an identity in Christ, a purpose, a source of strength and encouragement, but if we don't access those things, we will continue to live independently.  And we, the church, suffer as a result. 

I would like to propose that the more we are connected with Jesus in our personal lives, the more we will desire to be connected with his Body.  If we don't desire to be with our spiritual family maybe it is because we think, "I'm good, just me and Jesus."  If this is our mindset, however, we are deceived because we are not truly connected to Jesus, the head, unless we are connected to his body, the church.  We can imagine how unnatural and deformed a physical body would be if it had a head with only a foot attached, but we too often think we are okay with this in a spiritual sense.  If we are truly, in a healthy way, connected to Jesus, we will also be connected with his body.  A person is made up of a head and a body.  We don't separate them.  To do so, would be to kill them.  To separate in our minds or behavior, Jesus from his Body, we suffer and inflict pain on ourselves and others.  We may even suffer our own spiritual death if we remain disconnected too long. 

Two quick thoughts, but not comprehensive, about how we should view the body of Christ:  First, we read in I Corinthians 12:26 "If one member suffers, all suffer together..."  This verse states that because we are a body and interconnected by Christ's Spirit, we all suffer if one suffers.  We have experienced this when someone loses a family member or endures a chronic illness.  Ideally, we support, encourage and stay tuned in with that person or family as they endure their suffering.  Another way to apply this verse in lieu of us being part of a body, is that even if we ignore or "turn a deaf ear" to someone's pain, we still will experience suffering.  How so?  Our independent, self-centered natures tend to pick and choose whom we deem worthy of our time and energy.  What if there is a sister in the Lord who always seems needy?  Or what if someone's feelings were hurt because of something you unknowingly did and once you found out about it, you released yourself from any responsibility to resolve it because "she needs to be tougher" and besides, you don't do "drama?" 

If I overlook signs of cancer in my body because I am too busy to take note, that doesn't mean the cancer isn't there.  It doesn't mean the cancer will not continue to grow and wreak havoc in me.  If my doctor tells me I have an infection on my arm but I refuse to care for it, thinking it will get better without medicine or attention, then it will most likely fester to the point that my whole body will suffer with fever and pain.  Similarly, in the body of Christ, if we do not recognize our responsibility to one another and take it seriously, we will eventually suffer as a result of our neglect of others' suffering.  Ignorance is not bliss in the body of Christ.  Intolerance with the weaknesses of others in the church does not reflect our oneness with his body nor does it glorify him. 

Secondly, Jesus, our Savior and our King, humbled himself and washed his disciples' feet.  It was a customary practice at that time that was usually done by a servant.  But in doing this, Jesus showed that even though he was the Creator and King, he was not above washing our feet.  In John 13:14, he says that we ought to also wash one another's feet.  That doesn't mean that we should set up feet washing in the foyer of our church buildings.  It means that we humble ourselves every day and seek to meet the needs of our fellow Christians.  We serve when it means getting dirty physically or pushing us out of our relational comfort zones.  We serve when our time is abundant and when it is lacking.  We serve even when we know someone has bad feelings toward us. 

"Church" is not a club where we attend regularly, pay our dues, and receive a few perks.  It's not an obligation we have every Sunday morning that we fulfill, leaving without any thought the rest of the week about our spiritual family.  We may attend a time of worship and preaching with a group of people every week, but that is not the summation of life in the body of Christ.  In fact, some churches are fairly "comatose" when it comes to growing into the likeness of Jesus, loving and caring for each other, and living in the Spirit.  If this is the case, a spiritual health evaluation may be in order, which may require serious repentance by members and leaders alike. 

Me? or Us?  Until we embrace the oneness into which God has fashioned us, we will miss out on benefits and blessings for spiritual growth, individually and collectively.  We will miss opportunities to love like Jesus.  We will fail to be the body of Christ that reflects his love and grace to our neighbors.  We will not be a united front that offers Light to a dying world.  We may stall out at just being a well-intentioned religious group that has no more impact on our community than the nearest gym or the local food bank.  Let's go ahead and cash that "check" and enjoy the abundance of God's blessings available to us. 

I think the answer is Christ. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Me? or Us? Part 1

I am struck more and more at the focus in the Scriptures on the church as a whole in comparison to us as individuals.  Somehow I missed it for most of my life.  No doubt, we are addressed as individuals and are called, each one, to follow Christ.  We obviously can’t just be swept along and saved because of someone else’s faith.  We are each called to have faith; each called to obey.  Yet “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…for the body does not consist of one member but of many.”  Even in the Old Testament, which in so many ways was a shadow of what was to come, God deals with the children of Israel as a whole.  There are individuals in the OT through whom God speaks to the people, but the Jews, as a nation, were his “inheritance,” his “heritage.”  Not one individual, but the nation. 

When we are baptized into his body, we lose our old identity.  We gain a new one.  We are no longer lost, but found.  We are no longer individual sinners “digging our own wells” and worshiping created things.  We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” living for and serving God.  All three of those words:  race, priesthood, nation, describe a group or a body of people.  If I am saved, then I am a priest, yes.  But I am a priest within a priesthood.  I am supernaturally linked to each and every believer in Jesus Christ.  Whether I realize it or not, whether I act like it or not, whether I like it or not, I am no longer a maverick.  I am an integral part of Christ’s eternal church.  I am not on a secret, reconnaissance mission just between me and God.  I don’t have special orders from him and I am not his favored soldier. 

We have many and bountiful blessings because we are Americans.  But one disadvantage we may experience as Americans is the rugged individualism that has been hammered into our culture and our brains.  This mindset, sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle, encompasses thoughts like, “I will do it all by myself,” “I keep my cards close to my chest,” “If she wants help, she can ask,” “Her sin (or spiritual sickness) does not affect me.” 

We have lived a life of independent self-will but upon receiving salvation and growing in sanctification, we are to live out our oneness.  That should be the focus and the direction of our lives.  But if we aren’t aware these truths, or if we deny them, we will not have the right focus, and not only will the church suffer, we will suffer.  My new identity now stems from oneness with God through Christ having received his Spirit to dwell in me.  BUT there is more.  This new identity also includes me losing myself, denying myself, and no longer living independently, smug in my relationship with God, but interdependently with the body of Christ. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Judge not...

I saw the movie, Son of God, the other night.  It was good.  I really enjoyed it and was inspired by it.  Of course there were some inconsistencies with the gospel account (which movie portraying Jesus has not had inconsistencies?), but the message was on track: Jesus came to seek and save the lost, gave his life as the perfect lamb to be sacrificed for us, and rose from the dead.  It kind of troubles me that some are adamantly opposed to seeing the movie.  These are not atheists I am talking about or those resistant to the Christian faith.  They are Christ followers.  Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion or conviction, but let’s make sure our convictions line up across the board.  This is a movie about Jesus.  It isn’t heretical or blasphemous.  If you know your Bible, you will see that some dialogue and events are not word-for-word accurate.  If you don’t you’re your Bible, the movie just may inspire you to go and read it more.  If you refuse to see it because of inconsistencies with the Bible, may I challenge you to ask yourself these questions:  What inconsistencies with the Bible are in my life?  And what am I doing about them?  Am I willing to watch movies or t. v. shows that are full of immorality; bad language, lots of skin, adultery, senseless violence, deceit, etc?  Am I more tolerant of bad character and worldly morality than I am of some poetic license in a movie about Jesus?  Am I more vocal and outwardly critical of the movie, Son of God, than I am about other ungodly movies that I have not only watched but endorsed?  As Christians, this cannot be.  We are hypocrites if we condemn this movie and condone movies that not only are void of Christian influence but are blatantly immoral.  As Christians, we need to have a unified front for things that are godly and against those that are immoral.  If we chide the Christian movie that may not have awesome special effects or Oscar-worthy acting, then we are critical and judgmental.  If we choose not to see it, that is no one’s choice but ours, but let’s don’t berate it unless we also plan to hold the same standard of scrutiny over other movies, television shows…and our lives.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Feed Me!

This body of flesh does NOT want to die!  We are so "attached" to it.  And it puts up a hell of a fight when we deny it.  This body wants to feel good.  It wants to be powerful.  It wants to be right.  It wants to be first.  It wants to be dressed nicely, fed delicious food, stimulated by touch and excited by sights and sounds.  This flesh is sensory driven!  We want to feel good, and we want our senses to feel satisfied...if not indulged.  
What drives your actions?  Why do you find yourself perusing the pantry two hours after eating dinner?  Is it your tummy that’s empty...or your heart?  Why do you reach for the radio or your ipod in the car?  Does 20 minutes of solitude make you restless?  If so, what’s behind the restlessness?  Could it be unsettling thoughts that are normally quieted by outside noise?  Why do I respond impatiently to people?  I have a “right” to feel respected and heard, don’t I?  Why when we find ourselves with an hour of free time do we flip on the t.v. or laptop rather than enjoy conversation with family or read a good book?  Could it be that we default to a more passive behavior that requires less engagement of our minds or hearts? 

The body cries, “Feed me!”  “Comfort me!”  “Entertain me!”  But it is a fiendish cry.  One with a hellish origin.  A cry which originates from an insatiable appetite.  And only results in cries for more, and more often.  We cannot say, “One last time and that’s all.”  Our flesh will not be satisfied with “one more.” 
Yet in denying our flesh, we are not to numb our senses.  God gives us good things to enjoy.  We are not expected to live in a monastery and deprive ourselves of all good things, which is asceticism.  Even harsh treatment of the body is limited toward stopping indulgence.  In fact, we can swing toward strict discipline and depriving ourselves and still be overly focused on the body.

Then what do we do?!
Do not despair!  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  He will deliver us.  Our focus is not on our bodies; our wants, our drives, our rights, our sin, our failures.  Our focus is on Jesus.  We lift our eyes off of us and fix our gaze on him.  With eyes on Jesus, we endure the death of our flesh.  We nail it to the cross.  Daily…sometimes hourly.  When sin comes knocking, we don’t answer. 

We have agreed to give all to him.  We seek every day to please him and to let him hold our hand.  We bring our hearts to him empty, seeking to be filled by him.  Open wide your mouth.  Taste and see that the Lord is good. 

The desires of our flesh are denied, not to make us miserable but in order that the Spirit of love and life can take control.  We defer to Jesus since he knows what is best for us.  Our fleshly feeding frenzies will be abandoned to  rich, spiritual food that satisfies.  Our self-improvement, self-actualization, self-gratification, self-focus and self-abasement will give way to the gentle but firm hand of the Potter.  He has been there, and he knows what we are going through.  Only his nail-scarred hands can make us into his likeness.


Monday, August 30, 2010

A Lesson from a Flower

There's a little yellow flower that I observed this morning in my backyard. It's about the size of a quarter and looks kind of like a daisy, but all yellow. Well, to be honest, it's a weed that sports the little bloom. But that yellow flower was praising God this morning and encouraging me to do the same. The sun had just come up over the horizon and was shining brightly on the waking earth. I was sitting on the patio drinking my coffee and journaling a prayer. I looked out on the yard and saw a lone flower standing tall; well, about five inches tall, with its pretty yellow face angled toward the sun. It was a breathtaking and precious sight which will remain with me. I thought about how this flower stood, so peaceful and bright, as it gazed silently toward the morning sun. It spoke to me about how all of creation was made to praise and honor the Creator. There is so much praise that goes on around us in nature that we miss. We must be still and quiet so we can hear...and see it. I couldn't take my eyes off that little scene. I wanted to be like that flower, standing in silence with reverence and humility, opening up to the warmth of the sun and reflecting it's beauty; a little burst of sunshine itself. That flower reminded me to be still and let the Son shine upon me every morning and fill me with His warmth so that I can reflect His beauty.