Fire in the Bones

When babies are baptized, they are often startled by the cool water and cry out. Much like us, we feel uncomfortable when God’s mercy falls in strange ways. On Pentecost the Spirit fell and all were stunned. When Christ promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them, they could only speculate what that might look like. John the Baptist had warned them that he (John) baptized with water but that one would come (Jesus) who would baptize with fire. Fire! Fire in the bones, in the heart, in the soul. 

uniteboston.org

However, I doubt that many were expecting winds, literal tongues of fire on their heads, and foreign tongues to be part of the scenario. I’m fairly certain they were astonished—not that Christ fulfilled the promise but that it happened in that particular way. They knew it was happening—all the way to their bones aflame with reality. They felt it. Spirit roared through them, empowering, enabling, and granting new courage. Any cowardice Peter might have showed when he denied Christ was GONE, burned up in the furnace of God’s grace, power, and love! 

So, there it was—new power to walk fearlessly obedient to God. This was no ordinary, limp, or legalistic faith anymore; it was a surge of holy glory, and these disciples—all 120 of them—were empowered for their new walk of life and love in Christ.  I often forget this as I try to live a supernatural life naturally. Jesus would say, “Please stop it. It is impossible to be like me apart from ME!”

So, walking with Christ is filled with surprises from birth to immortality. 

Water baptism surprises little ones. Walking aware of God’s Spirit in us, and that we are in Christ and children of God is astonishing–surprising, if you will. All of God’s grace is amazement—all the way to life everlasting. It is fire in our bones. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Invitations

Less than a month ago I was focused on finishing school. One of our assignments was to think about the future and how we will implement our spiritual direction plans. I did that, but I also felt an urge to work on beautifying my garden and straightening the chaos in my closets—things that have not been tended since the fall of 2019 when I began school. 

Flowers in Banff, Canada

I especially want to work on landscaping, but in the South that’s a job for early morning. Early morning conflicts with the patterns I’ve developed—rising, grabbing coffee, and going to my quiet space to spend time with God and to write. I am afraid to drop my habit or change daily patterns. I’m afraid I’ll fall off the edge into “project absorption.” Still, the garden is drawing me, but I am resisting the change. As I processed this inner conflict with my spiritual director, I began to see some things. 

First, the garden feels like an invitation from God. Any invitation from God is filled with promise—it’s like a father who comes in and says, put on some comfortable clothes, I’m going to take you someplace special, and it’s a surprise. God loves me too much to let me create distance between us. If anything, he is drawing me to himself. I’ve learned to discern the movements of my heart well enough to know when I’m missing significant connection with God; the Holy Spirit will help me. 

Second, as I shared, I imagined two strong arms opened, shoulder-length apart, keeping me in the middle of that loose embrace. His rod and staff, they comfort me. There is safety with God and his invitations. I don’t need to be fearful, but I can be wary of my own sin. I realize how legalistic I can become with my practices, and he is inviting me to just be with him—in my garden, as I clean my closets, as I play with grandchildren or go on a date with my husband. That is Christian liberty.

The third thing I saw was that the narrow way is often too narrow and of my doing. I have created how-tos, oughts and shoulds that bind me. To be sure, on the outside, before you’ve entered into a walk with Christ, the entrance is narrower than the broad super highway of the world’s ideas and systems, and inside, there are always measured choices that are different from the world, the flesh, and Evil. But, when you are on the inside of the “narrow way,” experiencing companionship with God, learning from him with joy, and becoming aware of your impossible position as a child of God, the Way becomes wide. It’s filled with flower-strewn rolling hills, mountains, shimmering lakes and curving rivers. On the inside there is beauty, even when Providence doesn’t seem to befriend you. You are always being led, held, and enclosed by a good and beautiful God. And within that way, God is constantly inviting us up and into deeper and wider knowledge and joy. The narrow way isn’t narrow at all. 

My director said something that is 100% true of me as well, “Because of what I have experienced and learned, I will never go back to what I knew before.” Yes! Yes, and yes! I want no other way but him and to experience him in my everyday life. And he has put that grace in me, and will keep me, and he will not let me get lost—wherever I may be.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Burning Bushes

So Moses said, “I must turn aside and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burning up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am…” and God also said, “remove your shoes for the place you stand is on holy ground.” Exodus 3:3-4,5

If Moses had not stopped to look, and stayed to listen, and then obeyed, what would he have missed? What difference did his turning aside make to the world? To history?

He would have missed the privilege of emancipating Israel, the release of God’s people through miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies, the presence of God on the mountain when he gave the Ten Commandments, numerous military victories, and the daily presence of God in the tent of meeting. Because he stopped, looked, listened AND ultimately (after some arguments) obeyed the voice of God, God took this failure of a man (murderer hiding on the backside of the desert) and led him on an unplanned adventure that impacted eternity for good. 

Most mornings I turn aside to watch the bush burn, to take off my shoes, to listen to God’s word for the day, and to let it mold me. I pause and still my heart so I can hear. I silence the multitude of voices that clamor to be recognized. He said. She said. They said. I come before infinite holiness because I’m invited there. I come as one betrothed and fully known, yet loved. I come to that place to receive gifts of grace to live the day fully in love with him and to be a conduit of his love for the world around me. I can’t maintain that vision of hope apart from him. I need him like deserts needs rain or a distant trip needs a map. 

His invitation is always open, but if I say yes to burning bushes, he takes me on a journey, and it is a dangerous one. He takes me out of captivity, but it is also out of the safety provided by the world and the pleasures of its leeks and garlic. It’s unknown territory full of enemies, BUT, there will be daily manna, a cloud by day and a fire by night, and water from a rock that follows me. There will be fire and love and beauty, glory and wonder, excruciating love and deep mercy. 

When God invites us to turn aside to look at the bush, it’s an invitation to become who we are meant to be. He takes us from dryness and summons us to “wonder,” to take off our shoes in awe, to worship and pray in the presence of the Living God. 

It’s an invitation to be re-shaped into our intended glory—the image of God in Christ—and to participate in a much larger story where we are best friends of the Hero and traveling with him on an adventure together. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

He Comes!

John declares during his ministry that, “One is coming after me the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Jesus comes to him, and John has to baptize him. I can’t imagine the honor and humility involved in that action. What is God up to? Coming to people in that way? In such an approachable form?

The Angel Appearing to Zacharias by William Blake

Then, I go back 30 years to the year surrounding John’s and Jesus’s birth, and I am a witness to stranger things. Zacharias is asked to trust that Elizabeth is going to bear a child, and he will be the one who comes to the Jewish people in the spirit of Elijah to make strait the way of the Lord. Zacharias couldn’t muster up the faith at that moment, but by John’s birth, we can tell he has arrived as he prophesies. “For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” He comes to us. 

Then there are Elizabeth and Mary—the first two believers. 

The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth Carl Heinrich Bloch

When Mary is told that she was the chosen vessel for the birth of Messiah, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” God comes to Mary.

When Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she responds, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord would come to me?”

Would come to me.” Even before Jesus was born he was “coming” to people. First he comes to Mary who willingly, though without understanding, welcomed the holy seed and the word of the Lord through the angelic messenger. Then he comes to Elizabeth and Zacharias as an unborn child. Then Joseph receives the revelation as the Lord comes to him in the form of an angel in a dream. And by faith he receives. 

Oh! The privilege of being so honored! 

But what am I saying? He comes to us over and over again. He comes in the first light of dawn on a frost-covered morning, or in the wide expanse of starlit evening sky. He comes in the kindness of a friend—and their grief. He comes in the fingers of a baby, or a poem or song. He comes in his word and by his Spirit. He comes and he speaks his nearness because he wants us to know him so that we can walk in the light of his truth. He comes because he loves us and we need his wisdom and love, and then, we welcome his truth or doubt it. 

I’ve often had the audacity to think that I would respond like Mary or Elizabeth rather than Zacharias. But few of us respond so quickly to Jesus coming to us. “Can this be?“ we ask. “Is this really true?” we question. “Can one whose shoelaces I am not worthy to untie actually come to me?” 

Yes! He can! Yes! He does. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Defy the Darkness; Embrace the Light

I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. I love the songs, the sights, the smells, and the gatherings of friends and family. All those things make it feel like—well—like Christmas. It’s somewhat addictive. However, I hate the self-imposed, perfectionist demands in my pursuit of the perfect Christmas. There is little room in this high decibel scene for Jesus—and that’s outrageous since there is Christ in Christmas.

But more importantly, how do I celebrate this year when everything is different? I’m used to the trappings. But trappings have changed. I decorated less inside because Christmas will be outside. We will cook and serve outside, have a bonfire, and make s’mores. We will play pickle ball instead of Catch Phrase. We will distance, no one wants to.

But I want more. The trappings are never really enough. I want more of Christ. More peace on earth goodwill toward men. 

If you’re waiting for an answer, I don’t have one—except to be still and think on Christ. 

Thinking on the impossibility of the miracle of incarnation always leaves me breathless, humble and joyful. When I see the incomprehensible God becoming more comprehensible by entering humanity through the womb of a virgin, I am moved to worship and love. Eternal Glory wrapped himself in skin and invaded our broken world so he could do glorious things on our behalf and through us, as we love the world as he did. He is the best and most glorious pursuit we could ever have. He outstrips ornaments, trappings, traditions, fancy meals and other pursuits by eternity’s mile. 

So, my $.02 worth of advice is, as much as is possible, spend time in silence with the Lord. Meditate on the mercy of grace found in Christ. Bend your knees and worship, just a little longer. Give thanks a tiny bit more. Rest. Laugh, as you are able. Rest. Defy the darkness with your joy, for the Light has come into the world! Shake your fist at anger, disease, despair, fear, contempt, or the idols of Christmas Past. And even though it doesn’t seem possible (in the midst of all the sorrow and strife) in the end, all will be well. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Whole Earth Groans

One day during my time of meditation and prayer, I experienced God in a deeply joyful and excruciatingly sorrowful way. 

It began with a deep awareness of my union with God by faith in what God says in his word. This was joyful, playful, and exhilarating. Then, it was as if God invited me to peer over the edge of heaven to see the earth. In my mind and heart I saw scene after scene of pain and suffering. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes and an ache to my soul. 

Perhaps memorizing Romans 8 put this groaning into my heart. After this charged experience, I painted this. It is bad art, but deep heart. (See Rom. 8:20-23, 26.)

The Father and the Spirit hover with love over all that’s going on, while Jesus intercedes and holds the earth in his hand. I sit in Christ’s lap, lean against him, and look with sadness; my hands cover my eyes as I weep. It was for this Christ suffered and died. I suffer with him as I pray, longing for redemption. He waits for his Church to join with him in loving one another and the world. We begin by loving what’s at hand. Our church, our neighbor. Who is our neighbor—in Jesus’ parable it was the Samaritan. Who is our Samaritan? Usually, it’s the person who is different from us.  By this display of love for one another, the bleeding world, and the earth on which humanity lives, the world will know we are his disciples. 

To those who question the wisdom of unfettered love and humility, look at Christ.

Yes, there is sin and unbelief. But when has my heart ever changed by the judgment of another? Yes, there are power struggles on earth, but Jesus came as one humble and kind, with pity and mercy—eager to heal, with outstretched arms. He has not yet forced any knee to bow before him. We get to choose. ONE DAY, when we see him face-to-face, we will bow. He will not make us, but we will see and we will know, and we will bow.

All the darkness will NEVER put out the Light of the TRUE KINGDOM OF GOD. Shine. Shine. Shine. Love! Love! Love! Overcome the darkness, but not with evil, Christ says. This is my prayer. 

Scripture

: “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now, and not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons…in the same way the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words”  Romans 8:20-23; 26 NASB

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clueless

Today my meditation was at the cross, Luke 23:34. “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father, forgive them.
They don’t know what they do.

How many times have I done things, responded out of deep aches or wounds or operated from false paradigms and was clueless as to the impact my actions were having on others? And much of that impact was just earthly impact. The eternal consequence of choosing evil, siding with darkness, (even if I didn’t know it was evil) anchors me to something I don’t want to be anchored to,  and it influences unseen things.

I want to be held in place by Christ and give him all my allegiance. He keeps me moored in the storm and gives me truth that can hold me in place when things are confusing or frightening or simply annoying.

The weight of sin will drag me down into the depths of the darkness—even if I don’t know it is doing it. Daily I must choose to follow truth and live in obedience, as best I know it in his word and by his Spirit.  And that truth is WAY more than salvation—it’s a strong pulsing Spirit-life of love and hope where I choose to do things in Christ: love, kindness, forgiveness, hope, and even laughter (the right, delightful kind—not the mean-spirited mocking kind). If I am not following Christ, whom am I following?

More often than not, I am clueless about my junk. I often pray from Psalm 19:13,  “Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins and do not let them rule over me.”

Everyone justifies himself because everyone believes he’s right. If I’m not looking at Jesus with deep, unqualified humility, while seeking to imitate him and trusting in his power to transform my inner man: its longing and loathing, then I’ll never know for certain to whom I’m anchored. And even if I am seeking—my strong need to be right, may keep me from truth.

All true inner evaluation must begin with the idea that I might be wrong—that maybe over time and because of the flesh, and human and other spiritual influence, I might have built my paradigm on a wrong foundation and am operating from that. If I’m not willing to ask Christ, “What am I doing that I don’t know I am doing?” then I might continue to side with evil without even knowing it.

I’m trying to figure it all out, to learn to hear the voice of Christ in his word and his actions, but I’m certain (because of a history of changed opinions) that I’m doing and believing something wrong all the time.

Thankfully, Jesus has prayed that prayer, “Father forgive them. They have no idea what they are doing. They are clueless.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Hold You Me

When my son was little, he would come to me, hold up his tiny arms and say, “Hold you me.” Many things precipitated his appeal: longing for reassurance, wanting to feel a sense of safety or comfort, or simply desiring to be cuddled and enjoyed. Sometimes it was so he could peer into the pot I was stirring on the stove. He wanted something I could offer—myself. When I look back, I wish I had done more of that with all my children, for most of us need to be held by someone bigger than us. It assures us that we are safe.

As an adult, I am often smitten with a desire to be held by God—especially during difficulties. I hold up my arms and cry out in child-like faith, “Hold you me!” And while I’m being held, I look out and say, “Hold you him, and her, and them. Hold your forever family and teach us your loving ways, your forgiving heart, and your righteous paths. Hold you us, until we see what you see and feel what you feel, and walk in the divine love you offer to the world. Hold the world in its sorrows, “Hold you them,” we say, on behalf of the world.  

God has really big arms and a wide lap. He gives us the wonderful picture of fatherhood and children to impress upon us the truth of our condition. We are small; he is big. We are weak; he is strong. Jesus even says that unless we come to him like little children, we can’t enter the kingdom of God. Whoever, takes the lowly position of a child, he says, is the greatest in the kingdom. 

So, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hold You me. 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. Mat 18:1-5 NIV

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Communion in Pandemic- Stunningly Beautiful

Image 8-9-20 at 11.31 AMThe man sat far left of me in our sparsely populated sanctuary. The elders passed communion — in a safe, combined peel and partake cup where the wafer and juice were tucked between two layers of thin plastic. I watched as he struggled to open the elements; then he wrestled with his mask to partake of the bread and wine.

There was something profoundly holy in that moment.

This man, who sat alone, socially distanced from others, had come to church with his mask on, sang and worshiped with his mask on, listened to the message with his mask on, and had now come to the table—as it was—and fought to let that holy communion, that bread and wine find its way to his mouth—all the while, trusting in Jesus to do with those common elements—whatever HE alone can do.

There were many thoughts that swirled in my head.

Image 8-9-20 at 11.34 AMFirst: It is stunningly holy that in the middle of pandemic, men and women, children and the elderly, gathered together 6-feet apart, wearing masks and shields to worship their Lord. It isn’t easy wearing those masks, yet there we were—obeying the Lord to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together—so deep is our longing for community within the Church.

Second: It is strikingly holy that this man was willing to struggle to partake of the bread and wine. It is awkward and feels odd to peel away the communion elements. Yet there we all were—feeling uncomfortable—but more desperate for Jesus and community than perhaps we’ve been in years. We are all longing for communion—the communion of the saints and the presence of Christ. We were there together seeking the balm of the Holy Spirit uniting us as one holy Church.

Third: It is soberingly holy that in order to take the elements, we had to remove our masks—spiritually speaking. We tugged at our sin, our sorrow, our suffering and sought to lay it all bare before the one who heals. And there, with open face—we ate. We dined on Christ, on hope, on faith, on trust, grieving and letting go of our common practices, and unmet dreams, and we chose to embrace what is—not what we hoped would be.

Finally, the Church is gloriously holy. It is set apart for Christ. It is meant for worship and encouragement, for building up, not tearing down. It is intended for service and love. Things are not what we wish, but one can still experience the communion of the saints as we sit together in the sacrifice of awkward worship and communion, pray for one another, and ask ourselves, how can I serve Christ and his beloved Church during this pandemic.

It is stunningly beautiful to do so.

 

(Our church has sought to provide the best of all safety practices, even putting in a new circulation system to care for the flock. We wear masks, socially distance, and are ushered in with great care. It’s not what it was, but it is what it is, and may the Lord help us through it all as we are faithful to him and to one another in love. Let’s find ways to serve the body, even as we socially distance.)

Please, if you feel unsafe to gather–don’t. This is simply the joy I felt to be with others–even though it felt awkward. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN, GIVEN

Henri Nouwen had four words that meant much to his life and ministry. The words are: TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN, GIVEN. I like them and think I’ll steal them for myself. I hope you will take time to actually think about these words–for they are about YOU, too.

These four words are spoken in communion. They symbolize the gift of Christ for us and how he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, then gave it to his disciples.

TAKEN: We have been taken into the heart of God and received by him because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Jesus took the bread, he also takes us. As he does, we are welcomed as children of God. Children! Of God!! Forgiven. Accepted. Received. This brings unspeakable joy.

Image 7-31-20 at 8.20 AM

BLESSED: Jesus blessed the bread. He lifted it, prayed over it and blessed it. He has
blessed us, as well, given us indescribable spiritual wealth in Christ. He has provided everything that is needed to live a life in him. He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” You are seated with Christ and in him. He is at your right hand and your left. He is your constant companion for life. Then there is the word of God and the promise of resurrection! We are gloriously blessed, and the blessings are eternal.

BROKEN: Jesus broke the bread to give it to his disciples. He himself was broken to be given away. We also experience brokenness. We see our sin and are broken by it. We experience suffering, like Christ, and we are broken by it. We understand the futility of life, its pain and its grief as we encounter disease, poverty of spirit and wealth, or health, injustice and pure evil. But being broken while understanding that we are first taken and blessed, makes the fourth thing possible.

GIVEN: When we understand that we have been taken by grace, blessed by grace, and broken for the sake of mercy, we are then given to the Church and the world. Our sorrows enable us to understand, give mercy, aid, comfort, and to pray more effectively for others. We have true compassion because we, too, have suffered. The ability to be given must follow the first three.

All suffering can become food for the world. But knowing we are taken by grace, blessed abundantly and broken for a purpose will help us see it all redeemed as we are given, also by grace, to the world.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment