Friday, December 16, 2016

Waiting For Something.. To Happen pt. 2

This is pt. 2 of 2.  For part 1, go here.

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The final words in my previous post are promises that God will bring the change His people need and most desire.  Those exact words from God, through the prophet Isaiah, would have created a sense of longing and yearning for the day when what’s promised would become real.  Focusing on the promise of the good that is coming is the source of great joy!  You’ve probably experienced joy in anticipating..


 + the delivery date for something you ordered online
+ the approach of a significant milestone you’ve worked hard to achieve
+ saving up for something you wanted to buy
+ hearing your unborn baby’s heartbeat for the first time
+ pulling into the driveway of your grandparent’s home as a child
+ waiting an eternity for Christmas morning to arrive

Those last two points held lots of joy for me. I remember the excitement and anticipation growing by the mile as we would travel the hour north to visit my grandmother. She was affectionately known as Grandma Mac, or just Mac to some. She was a strong, red-headed, independent woman who I not only called grandma, but I called her my friend. I looked up to her so much. She was always kind and gentle with me (although tough as nails!).. even when she was pulling my baby teeth out with needle nose pliers, or by a string on the back porch door. Most of the time we'd visit, I was welcomed into her home with the smell of cinnamon pin wheels or an apple pie, handmade from apples in her own orchard. There aren't many better things in life than grandmas and apple pies!

My memories of Christmas are equally significant. I was buzzing with excitement Christmas eve day as we drove to Grandma Mac's house to gather with our extended family. We'd spend the afternoon chatting, eating a meal together and then heading to Grandma's Methodist church where she had been a member for 65 years, serving as the treasurer. The service sitting with family in those hard, cold pewas an experience.  We heard the Christmas Story of Jesus' arrival on earth, sang carols, lit candles and greeted townsfolk.  Beautiful.  Quiet.  Comforting. 

Once we arrived back at Grandma's house the grandchildren would pass out gifts to everyone and each would take a turn opening a gift as others looked on. Before bed, Santa and Rudolph's snacks would go by the fireplace with a note. Her house was colder than I was used to at home, but once I was in bed, Grandma would pile on quilts and blankets til I was weighed down under a cold heap of fabric. Then she'd grab both of my shoulders and bounce me in the bed as she said good night. All was well with the world. And, of course, there were more presents under the tree in the morning!

Here is Mac's home from the air. Lots of memories were made here, for many, many years.















In the Gospel reading today we see both John the Baptist’s anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promised Messiah, and the fulfillment itself in Jesus’ life.

“John the Baptist was in prison, but he heard about what the Christ was doing. So John sent some of his followers to Jesus. They asked him, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?”

Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind can see, the crippled can walk, and people with skin diseases are healed. The deaf can hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor. Those who do not stumble in their faith because of me are blessed.”
- Matthew 11:2-6, NCV

We know God is faithful because He’s followed through on His promises in the past.  So, we can have confidence that He’ll do the same for us now and in the days ahead.  That’s all good, but even though we may have joy anticipating the good that our God will bring, how do we handle the distance between now and then?  It’s hard enough waiting on it’s own, but our culture has primed us to find no satisfaction in the waiting.  We want the fruit from the tree before the tree has even been planted.

This comes into view in our relentless pursuit of possessions.  In ages past, if there was something expensive we wanted to buy, we would have had to work and save for a long time before we could finally acquire it.  Since much of our economy has centered around the use of credit, we buy what we want first, then we’re meant to work to pay it off afterward.  The problem?  Once we’ve purchased the object of our desire on credit, the motivation for paying it off flips on it’s head.  The anticipation that once led us to work hard and save has given way to the weight and fear of being chased to pay off what we bought.  Joy looked ahead, now frustration looks behind.  When we don't preserve certain experiences for just the right time, we miss out on joy in the waiting.

Today, the last word belongs to James.  James’ advice for how to live in the waiting room creates the best environment to birth a healthy Joy.

“Brothers and sisters, be patient until the Lord comes again.  See how farmers wait for their precious crops to grow. They wait patiently for fall and spring rains.  You, too, must be patient.  Don’t give up hope. The Lord will soon be here.  Brothers and sisters, stop complaining about each other, or you will be condemned.  Realize that the judge is standing at the door.
Brothers and sisters, follow the example of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  They were patient when they suffered unjustly.  We consider those who endure to be blessed.  You have heard about Job’s endurance.  You saw that the Lord ended Job’s suffering because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
- James 5:7-11, GW

Joy grows larger as we learn to wait patiently on Our Father’s perfect timing.  Like Hope and Peace, Joy is a gift from God.  We cannot will ourselves to have it, or generate it on our own.  The right environment must be created for it to come and rest in our souls.  Like putting out a bird feeder with just the right kind of seed.  Then you wait and watch, as it begins to grow!

"Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD."
- Psalm 27: 14,

Prayer~
Father God, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, to draw us home to You.  Thank you for beginning the renewal of all things through Him, and continuing it by your Spirit in and through Your people.  Please help us to enter Advent with an appropriate sense of awe at who You are, and the expectation that You'll continue to show up for Your people as you did supremely in Jesus so many years ago.  May JOY take hold in our hearts!  We love You, Dad!


I'll end by sharing a song by Northern Irish artist, Foy Vance, that cause Joy to rise up in me.  Enjoy!

'Closed Hand Full of Friends' by Foy Vance

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Waiting For Something.. To Happen pt. 1

Ever heard of Advent?  We’re now in the third week of Advent within the Church Calendar.  Advent, in essence, is translated as ‘coming’.  It’s a direct reference to waiting.. waiting for something to happen.  In this case, Advent is a season of waiting on God.  We’re waiting for God’s promises - promises He made aeons ago- to come to fruition, to be fulfilled.  We wait just like those who waited millennia ago for the Savior to appear.  At Advent, we’re waiting with those who looked forward to Jesus’ birth so long ago, waiting for the One whom our hearts have longed for since we entered His world.  Advent is an annual celebration that’s a retelling of God’s great Story, a story of His love for His people, and His faithfulness to respond to our world’s great need for Him.

This season leading up to Christmas is a reminder to pray, work and wait.  Implicit within Advent is an invitation to wait on the LORD's answer to His people's cry for help.  But it's not just any kind of waiting.. certainly not waiting infused with frustration and anger, but a waiting that is hope-filled and expectant because God hears our prayers and acts to set things right.  Here's a video showing a woman from England waiting for a bus with style- and not with our an exuberant quality to it that's infectious to all (which is many by now) who have seen her!


One of the traditions of the Advent season is the lighting of the advent wreath.  The wreath is ringed by four candles which circles a solitary candle in the middle.  Each candle represents a theme of the season of Advent.  Three of the ringing candles are usually purple, one is pink.  We celebrate Hope, Peace, Joy and Love each week leading up to Christmas.

That first candle, is the candle of Hope.  The Bible has a lot to say about Hope.

“Let us hold firmly to the hope that we have confessed, because we can trust God to do what he promised.”      - Hebrews 10:23, NCV

How do we “hold firmly to.. hope?”  We put it into practice.  We practice Hope by living our lives according to the Hope we have in Christ.. the hope of being loved unconditionally, forgiven without limit, transformed into the one He created us to become.


That second candle, is the candle of Peace.  The Bible speaks often about Peace.

“Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks. And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”        - Philippians4:6-7, NCV

How do we know Peace?  Peace comes by nurturing a intimacy, a closeness, with your Father.  It settles in your soul as you learn to open your heart to Him and practice listening to His heart.  You welcome peace into your soul by bursting into exuberant thanks because you know Him, He knows you, and you know He’ll always come through for you.

The third candle, is the candle of Joy.  O' what a gift Joy is!  In today’s reading we catch a glimpse, a solid, tangible taste of what is always on the horizon for the people of God.

“the people the Lord has freed will return there.
They will enter Jerusalem with joy,
and their happiness will last forever.
Their gladness and joy will fill them completely,
and sorrow and sadness will go far away.”
- Isaiah 35:10, NCV

A Scottish musician I used to know, named Sammy Horner, would have said, "I'll have a pint of whatever they're having!" when he noticed someone else enjoying life.  I want some Joy!  So how do you and I experience this Joy that will fill us completely?  Now hear me- to get in on this Joy we must embrace both Hope and Peace together.  Hope without Peace is a cream filled donut with no cream.  It’s hollow and un satisfying.  Peace without Hope is a as good as using your brights in a winter whiteout, on a road trip without a map.  It’s only going to get you so far.  Joy is ours by welcoming ‘God with us’ which gives us Peace, AND ‘God for us’ which gives us Hope.

Today we lit the Joy candle, the pink one.  When Christmas arrives, we light the center white candle which reminds us of Jesus, the Light that shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.. it’s that pink candle, the candle of Joy that we’re celebrating today.  Why Joy?  Joy is ours because we wait in anticipation for our Father God to keep His promises.. just as He did long ago.  Just as He always does.

You might be thinking, ‘How can we have Joy in a world like ours?’  Hey, I understand.  It’s easy to come to that conclusion when we see so much evil - so much pain and suffering - out there.  Maybe we could just shut it off.  Shut off the tv, the computer, the phone so we don’t have to face it.  That might help - for a bit.  But what about the dark parts of our own soul?  Sooner or later we will face ourselves and the answer will be the same.  We need Jesus to heal the broken places, the fearful spaces, we need Him to dispel the darkness that only obeys the Light.  So we wait, in Hope and Peace because of His presence and power to effect change.  But what about Joy?  Joy is ours not because of what we see now, but because of what we see then.. in a time soon coming.

Earlier this morning we heard Isaiah describing that Day when the LORD would fulfill His promise to send a Savior to His people:



“Everyone will see the glory of the Lord and the splendor of our God.
Make the weak hands strong and the weak knees steady.
Say to people who are frightened,“Be strong. Don’t be afraid.
Look, your God will come, and he will punish your enemies.
He will make them pay for the wrongs they did, but he will save you.”
Then the blind people will see again, and the deaf will hear.
Crippled people will jump like deer, and those who can’t talk now will shout with joy. Water will flow in the desert, and streams will flow in the dry land.  The burning desert will have pools of water, and the dry ground will have springs.  Where wild dogs once lived,
grass and water plants will grow.”
- Isaiah 35:2-7, NCV

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Visit again for Part Two to be released later this week.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Waiting.. For More


This is Belle.  She's an old sheep dog who enjoys life on the Middle Tennessee farm where she's lived with her owners for many, many years.  They love her and take very good care of her.  Needless to say, Belle is a very happy dog.  It makes me laugh watching her head bob up and down as she bounces with excitement while I talk to her.

When her owners leave home, Belle sits patiently waiting for them to return, employing her hearing and vision to their fullest capacity as she scans the horizon.  She waits. Waiting for the faintest promise of their return.. a disturbed flock of birds escaping to the sky, the low rumble of gravel on the driveway, the distant hum of the car engine.  She remains committed, contented in her posture of waiting, as she keeps the people she loves most at the forefront of her heart and mind.

Recently, Belle's owners left on an extended trip.  While they were gone she guarded her territory well, barking warnings at unknown shapes moving in the distant fields, and at the donkeys she knows so well in the field.  Each day her owners were away she sat for hours, transfixed, watching the driveway by which she knew they'd return to her.

My guess is that you've experienced moments, even seasons, of waiting.  Waiting is always bitter-sweet.  The bitterness we've known emerges from the distance between us and the people, the object we long for, or the hoped for opportunity.  This bitterness is like the shadow cast by a solar eclipse- it can seem to overshadow everything, taking our attention captive, but if it lasts too long it can do harm to our souls.  On the other hand, there is a sweetness in longing too.  The sweetness we know in longing grows from the joy in the hope of longing fulfilled.. that moment when we are no longer gazing at a far off reality, but experiencing it, or him/her, face-to-face.

There is a word, a German word, which expresses well what we may experience in periods of waiting,.  I wanted to make sure I shared the fitting translation of this special word, so I asked my best German 'Freund' in Berlin, Carl, to confirm it.  This wonderful and mysterious word is 'sehnsucht'.  And as I had hoped, it is best translated as 'longing', or even better.. 'yearning'.  I don't know about you, but the times I feel a longing or yearning most intensely are the times I have no words to express what I'm feeling.  For someone like myself who loves words, there are few times I am wordless, but these are those times.

While you and I may have no trouble identifying temporal objects/subjects that we yearn for, there are yearnings and longings deeper still, within each one of us, that betray our vaporous, short-sighted affections.  These ancient yearnings are truer to our original, unbent selves.  Even the world around us knows this depth of yearning, this longing for a reality lost but coming into view again.. "We know that all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time."  (Romans 8:22, GW)  All creation desires for us what we have lost sight of for ourselves and each other.  We have forgotten who we truly are.. forgotten the reason for which we came into the world.  "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.." (Romans 8:19, RSV)  We've forgotten ourselves because we've forgotten Our Father.

As you awaken to your thirst, your hunger, for the love of the Father, all will be made clearer as you reach out to Him.  He has and is already reaching out to you.  To regain the living relationship once lost to us, ask Him for forgiveness (restoration of relationship always follows forgiveness) and set your heart to follow the One who made the Father's heart known to us - His Son, Jesus Christ.  Don't stress, you don't have to present yourself in your 'business best' attire, He'll welcome you as you are!  You'll never be alone because His Spirit and His love will fill your soul, ushering you into a reality you never knew you desired or needed.  That's just the beginning.  As you continue to walk and work with Jesus in renewing all things, there will be times you have no words.  But when they fail, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."  (Romans 8:26, ESV).  That same groaning, bubbles up from within you, pointing to a future that has yet to come into existence, but without a doubt, will.

Eminent author and theologian, C.S. Lewis, spoke to the inklings within our human soul that harken back to our heart's true home.  He wrote,


"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

(Mere Christianity)  

Just like Belle, at various times in the course of your everyday life you'll find yourself working and waiting, scanning the distance for a sign, any sign, that there's something more.  Your yearnings and longings may find expression through Spirit-inspired groaning (feelings without words) that bring into focus a future God is ushering in, just over the horizon.  If you sit still long enough and listen, you may begin to hear it rumbling toward you, just at the end of the driveway.




Saturday, October 22, 2016

You Are What You Love pt. 3
















(this title is borrowed from Dr. James K. A. Smith's most recent book 'You Are What You Love')

If you haven't read pt. 1 or pt. 2, scroll down on the blog and you'll find them.

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Some time ago our lead pastor, Brad Mathias, shared three things with our faith community at Four Winds Anglican Church that Our Father is inviting us to practice individually and together.  He said that the LORD was impressing upon him to become more faithful in Prayer, Tithing and Rest (Sabbath) and that we, as a church, are being called to practice these same three disciplines.

Don’t hear this wrong.. we tend to get things backward and upside down.  Revelation is always an Invitation to respond in some way.  It's often an invitation to greater intimacy with Our Father.

God keeps things simple.  He has shown His heart for us in Jesus.  Whenever you’re in doubt of who Our Father is or what He thinks of, feels about, or desires for you - look to Jesus.  Listen to Jesus. Follow Jesus.  As we look to Jesus, we will begin to love Jesus all the more.  As we begin to love Jesus more and more, we'll begin to resemble Him and naturally represent Him, in this world.

Luke 10:25-37, ESV
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a ySamaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii3 and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

God is shaping us to love Him with ALL our heart, soul, mind and strength.  He does this as we make time to meet with Him in quiet, as we gather together to be reminded of the story He’s writing with our lives and as we obey Him - putting into practice those things He’s revealed to us.  

I think we need to hear from Professor James K. A. Smith again on Worship, Work and Vocation.  Hear what he has to say..



If you desire to have a heart shaped and filled by the love of the Father, I invite you to speak to Him now, with me..


O Lord, who has mercy upon all, take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me the fire of Your Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore You,
a heart to delight in You,
to follow and to enjoy You,
for Christ's sake.

(Ambrose of Milan, c 339-97 A.D.)

AMEN (may it be so!)


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End Pt. 3 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

You Are What You Love pt. 2

My sincere apologies for the extended hiatus.. I've been battling with whether I should prioritize writing here and I've decided I will.

If you haven't yet read pt. 1 of this series, you'll find it by scrolling down or by going here.

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(this title is borrowed from Dr. James K. A. Smith's most recent book 'You Are What You Love')


After laying out the guidelines for relationship for a few chapters, in Deuteronomy 30:6 this promise falls upon our ears,

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

Our Father initiates renewed relationship with us by inviting us Home and promising to do for us what we could never do ourselves.. to change our hearts - what we love most.  The chapter continues with provisions, outlining how this relations will work.

“8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
- Deut. 30:8-10, ESV

Here then is our first and biggest challenge: we are not able to love with ALL our heart and with ALL our soul ALL the time.  Some of us might wonder if we can at all.  YHWH requires undivided loyalty.  He calls us to return to Him with our whole selves - holding nothing back.  These verses echo the clarion call from Deuteronomy 6:5:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The Hebrew words used here to interpret ‘heart’ and ‘soul’ together emphasize we’re created to love Our Father with our whole being- everything that is in us.  The Hebrew word used here for ‘might’ connotes we’re created to love Our Father passionately.  We might hear these words and take them as a command to generate a love we know that is due Our Father because He is, in fact, God - but that we continually find as an elusive target.  The commentator in the Bible I was reading shared this helpful insight: “[this] is not a demand to manufacture false emotion, but to cultivate a disposition [of the heart].” (Faithlife Bible Commentary, Deut. 6:5).

If you don’t know of him already, I’d like to introduce you to Dr. James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He’s Canadian and very cool.  His insights on the human soul, and how we become the people Our Father has created and called us to become are invaluable.  Please listen to him share about ‘The Heart of Worship’ below:

Prof. James K. A. Smith: The Heart of Worship (#4)


What Dr. Smith is clearly stating here is that when we gather together every week, immersed in the story of God’s limitless love for us, we are being transformed by ‘re-inhabiting that Story - that reality.’

Falling in Love
I met my wife when we were both 16.  The night we met I was with another girl.  Even so, that night I decided to get her number and attempt to get to know her.  I'm ashamed to say that after my future wife and I met, I didn't remember what she looked like.  The following weeks we talked over the phone and I became more enamored and intrigued, with this sweet spirited, joyful, tender-hearted girl on the other end of my 10 foot corded telephone.  We eventually met face-to-face again on a group date.  We all watched 'It' by Stephen King.  'It' wasn't really a good movie to watch on a first date.. or really ever.  But we began to become acquainted and enjoyed simply sharing the same space.

In fact, that night while a bunch of us laid on the floor, watching the movie, I got up to grab some food from the kitchen.  My spot was the only accessible void next to my future wife.  A friend of hers was on her other side.  I returned from grazing on some snacks from the kitchen island to find that another guy had snuck in my place, leaving only a 4 inch gap between him and my 'date'.  I wasn't backing down.  I eyed up the situation from behind and ever so boldly slid into the gap between she and him, like a train splitting a herd of cattle to either side on the tracks, I was headed somewhere -with her- and it didn't include that guy.  Success.

As the weeks turned into months, our interest in one another grew.  We didn't have to coax it.  It was natural.  Organic.  From the fertile soil of time together, mutual attentiveness, shared experiences and honest conversation, something developed that was full-hearted, sincere and full of youthful exuberance.  Some call it infatuation.  It most certainly was.  But it had the potential to become so much more.. and I'm grateful to say that it has.  It's taken 24 years, and a lot of commitment, conviction and courage to grow the love we have for one another today.  At times, our love for one another has flourished vigorously, and at other times it's been thread bare.  We still love one another, and today we have so much more than what we had in those early days.  Our love has grown so far beyond infatuation.  We're learning to empty ourselves for the sake of one another.


That process of moving from infatuation (pure excitement and strong interest) to genuine love (self-sacrifice and acceptance) reminds me of a wonderful quote..

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. 
Now put foundations under them." 
- Henry David Thoreau


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End Pt. 2.  Pt. 3 will be posted next week.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

You Are What You Love pt. 1

(this title is borrowed from Dr. James K. A. Smith's most recent book 'You Are What You Love')


When I was young I had two great loves.. my Mom and music.  I spent many of my pre-teen and teenage years immersed in music.  My boombox (you young guys can Google that one), and my later enhanced sound system were playing tunes almost non-stop.  When we left the house I had my Walkman (again, you Millennials can Google that later) with me.. and yes, my ears were surgically attached to my headphones.

While I remember hearing my mom listen to Boston, Chicago, Journey and the like, the genre that first captured my imagination was hip hop and rap.  While I can’t now condone the lifestyle much of these artists promoted, I enjoyed the fat beats of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (Will Smith), The Fat Boys and the legendary RUN DMC with classic collaborations like Walk This Way.  My love of the music these artists produced influenced not only my worldview, but the clothes I wore.  I donned the multi-colored (usually neon) high top sneakers, the vibrant graphic T’s, and yes, even parachute pants (those of you under 35 might not want to waste your time Googling that one).  Later when I entered the alt rock and grunge scene I donned 6 inch bleached hair spikes and earrings.

It’s often said, ‘You are what you eat.’, but it’s equally true that ‘You are what you love’.  One band formerly known as Earth Suit - now MUTEMATH - enshrined this reality beautifully in their song Osmosis Land.  The song begins:

Every night and every single day
The sun will rise, the moon it will fade
And in our web idols were spun
Caught up in oblivion 

So we come with the song, come with the sword
Come with the image of the Son
Come with the song, come with the sword
What we behold we become

‘What we behold we become’.  Oh, how true.  What we become immersed in - what our eyes and heart become fixated upon - is what has the greatest influence over who we become.  The Scriptures aptly encourage us to, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV).  Who we are and who we become flows from our center - our hearts.  It’s no wonder that the LORD is always after our hearts.. He desires our love and affection.  That’s why this faith-walk has always been about relationship.  Intimacy and trust are the track this relationship train run on.

Right from the start Our Father made it clear that what He desired with us was relationship.  Adam and Eve were invited to trust their Father’s provision and protection by enjoying everything in the Garden.. but this one tree.  It wasn’t for them, but they fixated on it instead of everything else and eventually broke trust with their Father, and therefore they broke relationship with Him.  Within the Bible, Father God has clearly issued the invitation to renewed relationship, getting to heart of the matter by addressing the issue of our hearts.  You see, outside of a trusting, whole-hearted embrace of Our Father, our hearts grow cold and calloused, entombed in a concrete-hard mix of pain, suspicion, scars and self-interest.

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End Pt. 1.  Pt. 2 will be available in the coming week.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

A Heart in High Gear



What do you do when your heart is in retreat?

When you've been sidetracked, misinterpreted, hurt (either intentionally or unintentionally), lied to or believed lies from the enemy of your soul... 

What can you do when you know you're retreating to avoid furher pain, disappointment or fear? 

This isn't you.  You never were one to cave in and run, but somehow you now find yourself employing protectionary measures, erectinng walls, to ensure self-preservation.

You know somewhere deep inside that you were made to live from a full, unhindered heart.  You weren't made to cower or back down in fear.. you were born to take that hIil, brave the darkness and accomplish the dream! What do you do when you know you're not where you should be, and you have a direction for where you want to be?

First, you stop.  Just stop.  Stop running, stop retreating.  Stop living in the shadows, stop making excuses.  Let the pain of the moment / circumstances / situation wash over you.  Own all that's happened (ing).   Be clear about where you're at.. right now.  Don't worry, you're not alone.  

Jesus said to those He loves and calls friends, "It's me. Don't be afraid." and ".. I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  His nearness really does dispel darkness, His presence frees from fear.  What else would you expect from the Light that shines in the darkness and the Prince of Peace?  Have you invited Him to come near?

Second, get honest.  Real honest.. about where, and more importantly 'who', you've been lately.  You get honest with yourself.  You get honest with God the Father and you get honest with those closest to you.  Say what needs to be said (with humility and generosity), BUT don't forget to listen and listen well.  You're about to enter new territory and you'll need all the help you can get.

Third, choose your traveling companions wisely.  Find people you like to be around who call the best out of you.  Find those who have qualities you admire and watch them closely.. watch how they live out of their strengths and how they relate to their weaknesses.  Regularly ask them to speak openly and honestly with you about the stuff that matters, then offer the same for them.  If they take you up on both invitations they truly are a friend for all seasons.

Fourth, chart your course.  You're going somewhere, right?  You don't need a plan if you're headed nowhere.  So if you have a dream / desire / calling.. get to it.  Consider the cost both in material resources, relational treasures and what it will exact from you personally to live into this dream.  Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you and lead you, one day at a time. Once you've determined the cost, figure in a lot more.  It's going to hurt some to follow the call on your life.  But it's OK.  What you lose you didn't need anyway.  What you gain is priceless.

Be ready.  When Daddy-God descides to move, He can move quickly and mightily!

Now you're living from a heart in high gear and the best is yet to come!


"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."
- Ephesians 3:20-21, the Bible, NIV





Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish Eyes Don't Tell Lies - What We Can Learn from St. Patrick


video


"Although I am imperfect in many things, I nevertheless wish that my brethren and kinsmen should know what sort of a person I am, so that they may understand my heart's desire."
- St.Patrick, 'Confession', 5th Century AD


So much is made of St. Patrick’s Day around the World.  So much splendor, celebration and . . hype.  It’s usually a brilliant day - exuding a real sense of communal spirit with many items of memorabilia stating, ‘Irish for a Day’ or ‘Irish-wannabe’.  Having lived in Ireland for 11 years, I’m sure many people around the world who care anything about the day would be utterly discouraged and shocked to realize that St. Patrick’s Day isn’t celebrated anywhere nearly as enthusiastically there as in the US.  Yep, it’s true!  Only in recent years has Ireland begun to celebrate the famous Saint Day with similar gusto to America.  From where I sit, America does have the edge on the St. Patrick’s Day market.  The last place I lived in America before rooting in Irish soil, goes as far as to dye the river green through the middle of the city (Chicago).  If that were done in Ireland it would be seen as being ‘corny’ or kitsch.  That said, the tiny island on the edge of Europe that, in many ways, I consider ‘home’ has begun to ‘big up’ festive celebrations, (purportedly) in honor of their patron saint.

St. Patrick is possibly one of the best known extra-biblical saints within the Christian community and second only to good 'ol St. Nick (Santa Claus) in the general public’s knowledge.  Although the day is supposedly held in honor of him, I suspect it’s become just another reason to party, and a general excuse for revelry for most.  That is to be somewhat expected outside of the Church, but sadly Christians (by and large) have also forgotten why we celebrate the mythic man known as Patrick.  We’d do well in our contemporary cultural climate to reflect on why this one man is remembered so fondly and has managed to remain in the imagination of people around the world.  If you’d like to Dive deep into St. Patrick’s life you can read his autobiography which is one of Europe’s oldest surviving manuscripts from the 5th century A.D.  His ‘Confession’ is very valuable historically in that it is an introspective account of one man’s thought processes, highlighting many unique cultural characteristics of that period.  It’s even more valuable to Christians today because it gives insight into an early Christian’s faith journey and his relationship to the Trinitarian God of Christian experience.  There is a second surviving document that Patrick wrote referred to as the ‘Letter to Coroticus’ in which he chastises a ruler in what is now England for abducting and killing some Irish people he led to Christ.  Both are worth a read!

If we were to return to celebrating the original intent of the day in question, it would lead us to a very different motivation (and practice of) for our festivities.  In essence, what we’re celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day is the coming of Christ to the Irish.  Patrick is identified as the one who first shared the message of Jesus Christ with the Irish, but most scholars believe this not to be true.  It is more commonly agreed that a previous ‘bishop’ was sent to the Irish who was known as Palladius.  Something occurred which led to Palladius’ disappearance from the historic record just a year after his arrival.  This may be linked to the reason Patrick arrived just a short time after.  A lesser known tidbit of legend is that St. Kieran, originally from Clear Island off the coast of West Cork, purportedly preceded both of the aforementioned gentlemen and introduced Christianity to this ever-green island  from his monastery near Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains (where my office was!).  Regardless of the actual historical record, just like the head on a pint of Guinness, St. Patrick has risen to the top as the man who permeated Irish culture and saturated Irish imagination.  The Irish in turn have shared this same admiration for Patrick with the rest of the world - wherever they have made their home.

We can learn a lot from what Patrick left to posterity in his writings, was well as what has been transmitted through generations - spoken and unspoken.  Not enough can be said for following crazy, inspired, God-sized dreams.  Patrick was originally brought to Ireland as a sixteen year old slave boy from what is now Northern England, and he spent six years tending sheep for a Irish pagan landowner before escaping.  Years later, Patrick had a dream in which an angel read him letters from the people of Ireland who begged him to return and share Christ with them.  Knowing this was a prompting from God, he returned to the island of his captivity and served God by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ there til his last breath.  

Pain and hardship are seed beds for steely character and personal discipline.  During those six years of loneliness in the fields and on mountainsides tending sheep, one can imagine Patrick felt constant pangs of loss and intense yearnings to be reunited with his people and his family.  He himself states in the ‘Confession’ that he prayed hundreds of times a day while alone in the wild places where He came to know the God that is ‘I AM’.  To truly connect (reach) with someone, you must give up some of your own preferences for theirs.  There is a necessary process of inculturation that takes place when one enters a culture not their own.  I’m not referring to a cheap, cultural patronization which occurs by simply acting like the foreigners in the new place you call home.  It’s a love for those you live among that leads you to walk with them and to take on their patterns of living life.  Patrick in those early years learned Irish customs, language and folklore.  He learned how people ‘worked’ in Ireland and, in fact, became somewhat Irish himself, no doubt.  God took that process of assimilation and returned it to the Irish as a gift.  Because of this Patrick was able to effectively communicate who Jesus is in ways the Irish could receive.

Another reality learned from Patrick’s life is that boldness and graciousness go hand-in-hand.  From my readings of Patrick and the legends that accompany him, I get a sense of a boldness (not in the Irish use of the word today) that accompanied his direct and clear message . . a message seasoned with gentleness, while being gracious and appreciative of his hosts.  In this way, immoveable and immediately likable, Patrick won the hearts of the Irish - with a warm heart and a firm hand.  Patrick shows us that releasing responsibility and empowering others is key to continuity.  Wherever Patrick travelled around the island of Ireland (I followed many of the same paths he walked), he is known for having brought companions along with him to help establish new communities of faith in the places he visited.  The vibe he exuded in his relationships must have been joyful and extremely freeing.  After coming to know Christ, people who came into contact with Patrick must have seen an intense belief in what God was doing and what they could be a part of with the Spirit’s help. History reveals that many communities of faith sprang up within a few centuries after Patrick’s death, which led to Ireland entering ‘center stage’ as a place of learning, light and the love of God.  Thus it become known as ‘The Land of Saints and Scholars’.

It’s long been true that vision and passion are catalysts which help birth new eras into being.  These two qualities alone are the means by which hearts are moved and minds are swayed.  I can imagine that because of the Holy Spirit’s work in the fabled saint, Patrick was likely very compelling, not necessarily due to smooth speech, but because of his unflinching belief in God’s ability.  Through a life being lived with authenticity among the pagan Irish people, many came to entrust themselves to this Jesus whom Patrick shared in word and deed.  Finally, humility is fundamental for a life of unimaginable richness.  As you read Patrick’s ‘Confession’, it soon becomes clear that in many ways this man, whom many hold in the highest regard, was very much like you and I.  He did, however, regard himself as one with nothing to show for his existence except what God had done for him.  Some may argue that his protestations were false acts of humility, but an honest heart will resonate with Patrick’s own words that point to the beauty, truth, goodness, light and love which can be known in intimate relationship with Daddy-God.  If pride is the seed of human rebellion (sin) against God, then humility (knowing who we are and are not) is part of its cure.

How will our world be brought closer to God’s design by you living in passionate pursuit of the One who is passionately pursuing you?  Don’t miss this unfolding dream.  Live into it and invite the Father to write His story with your life.  What wonders will He accomplish in and through you?


"By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise."
-Romans 5:1-2, The Message



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Respond

Will these revelations redefine how you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year? 

Have you come any closer to understanding the man with whom much of the world is acquainted but does not know? 

In Patrick’s own words do you see the events that led him to Ireland, the people that kept him in Ireland, and the God that fertilized that island with his obedient life? 

Whose life will God fertilize as you recklessly abandon yourself to Him?

++++++++++





Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Desire Which No Experience.. Can Satisfy
















For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to the Arts . . .

My early life consisted of drawing characters I had seen in Walt Disney films, comic books and movies.  I didn't create my own characters very often but reproduced well known characters, usually much larger than their source.  I derived a great sense of life, pleasure and joy in doing this.  It took an incredible amount of focus and discipline to be still long enough to churn out these drawings- two things that are still a challenge for me to enact as often as I'd like.  Still, the payoff outweighed the challenge and although these drawings came into existence for no other reason than to provide creative expression at the time I drew them, it was enough.  I've only recently unearthed these drawings for my children to see . . (the top three were drawn when I was 13, the other around 14/15).
















Around the same time I found music . . or music found me.  It was a form of art that gave an even stronger voice to my own feelings and thoughts as a pre-teen / teen.  My earliest memory of watching a music video was as a young boy around the age of 9 or 10.  I vividly remember Dire Straits' boxy animated video for their song 'Money for Nothing' being shown on MTV and I was transfixed.




My first real interest in music began in the rap and hip hop arena with artists like RUN DMC (my fav at the time), DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith) and The Fat Boys.  I'd love to give a special mention to the song 'Walk This Way' which was a collaborative effort between Aerosmith and RUN DMC.  I trace some of my strongest musical tastes to its early fusion of rap and rock.  A classic, albeit lyrically deficient.  ;-)

All of these (and other) artistic expressions captured my heart in my formative years, compelling me to express more, and explore further, this human experience of journeying down life's path.  More than that, these works of art (mine or others) act as mile markers on that journey, helping me recall other related memories, feelings and sometimes even smells, that constituted my world as a young boy.  Many of those experiences were painful and many were pleasant, but the memories which these works of art carry bring back those distant experiences like a familiar landscape emerging from thick fog.

Art, and specifically the beauty it conveys, reaches us at a depth of our souls that is incomprehensible.  That beauty (whether visual, physical, intellectual, etc.) often bypasses our mental  blockades ('watchful dragons' as C.S. Lewis said) and goes straight for the heart.  Once our heart is warmed, we are won.  Since my earlier years there have been countless other works of art of various media which have captured my heart, my mind, and my imagination.  I have been challenged by them, inspired by them, moved by them and even, in some cases, changed by them.

Now more than ever, as I approach 40, my desire to create and curate beauty, truth and goodness through art grows by the day.  I'm making steps (actions) that both facilitate creativity and the creation of works which, I hope, will one day cause another searching soul to be found by the Author of Life itself.

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born.  Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing?  The longing for home?  For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” 


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Respond

What works of Art have inspired you - caused you to see life differently than before you became aware of it?
 
If you're called to be a 'Creative', what does your first step toward your next creative work look like?

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[ read previous posts ]



Thursday, February 05, 2015

Not by (my own) Might



Not by (my own) Might

The beginning of 2015 has come with a lot of #clarity.  When God speaks, He know show to get our attention.  When God wanted to speak with Moses, He did so through a burning bush that did not burn up [Ardens Sed Virens] - most shepherds would see a bush on fire at some point, just not one that burned indefinitely.  With me, when I 'hear' a similar message from multiple sources (Bible, friend, book, movie, song, etc.) it's usually my Father trying to communicate something He doesn't want me to miss.

The beginning of this year has been a case in point.  Right before the New Year arrived God began to remind me to 'Be Still'.  This invitation often references verse ten from chapter forty six in the book of Psalms:

- ESV

This invitation from God is something I've been familiar with for longer than I can remember, but the practice of being still is like trying to slow a train by blowing on it in the opposite direction it's traveling.  Not going to happen.  Just because something is extremely hard does not mean it isn't worth doing . . in fact, I believe the the hardest things in life are usually the most worth doing.  Slowing down and even stopping is so critical and key to fulfilling our divine purpose on this planet.  Here's why . . 

We were made with limitations.  While most of humanity might act like it's unwanted and isn't true, it's actually a blessing.  We're often ruled by the 'tyranny of the urgent', which can send our personal Messianic complex into overdrive.  But when we're faced with our own limitations (God-imposed boundaries), we're forced to remember that He is God, and we are not.  It's called 'The Wall' and we all hit it at one point or another.  The past five years have felt like I've been living at the base of that wall.

When we first arrived back in America after an eleven year adventure in Europe, the first word I believed the Father spoke to me was 'Rest.'  I took it in my stride, thinking 'Yes, of course' I'll rest.'  But having returned to America with no job, no home and a wife and three kids to feed, I wrongly put a lot of confidence in my ability to 'make life work'.  I figured I'd get in front of somebody and get a job.  Then, I'd move my family into the right home for us, and eventually I'd get the non-profit we left Ireland to build off the ground and solvent.  - News Flash - it's been five years and I'm still hoping to see many of those desires come to fruition.  However, many unplanned, amazing blessings have emerged which we're grateful for.

God replied to my "I'll make life work." with "No you won't . . but I'll make it work for you."  You see, rest is not relegated to a state of complete inactivity, although there are appropriate times to be inactive.  It's possible to be sitting completely still and NOT be at rest.  Rest is more about a posture of the heart - it's the way we think about and live life because of the Father's words and actions.  We can't rest if we think our life - and it's worth - sits on our shoulders, carrying the weight of having to make something of ourselves.  That's not rest.  Rest (as a Christian) is all about remembering that we have a magnificent Heavenly Father who is always working with our best interests at heart.  He is Love incarnate, and Love works for the good of another.  Since He loves us without limit, we don't have to toil and drive ourselves to madness and soul numbness.  All we need is to sit, be still and listen.  That's the genesis of dreams that'll change the world- even as we're being changed!  He'll give us all we need in those quite moments.

So, back to the beginning of the year . . on a road trip our lead pastor, Brad Mathias, mentioned that the LORD spoke to him about Zechariah 4:6, revealing that a lot of the visions and dreams He seeded the hearts of people in our faith community would begin to come to fruition in 2015 as we allow Him to do it in/for/with us.  Zechariah 4:6 states,


- God's Word version

It became clear that the LORD was planning on doing something significant in 2015, and [at least] in our heads and hearts He wants us to stay out of the way so He can do it.  No trying to figure it all out ourselves, no manipulating circumstances event toward ends we believe are good, no self-important parades.  Then the invitation to 'Be Still' has been surfacing again and again as others at Four Winds Anglican Mission have shared - just recently affirmed through our Bishop Sandy Greene although he has been largely unaware of the Father's movements in our body.  The Message version of the Bible paints a vivid picture with these words:


- Psalm 46:10, MSG

If we practice this invitation to stillness, our focus will shift from our own efforts to make life work, and onto His loving kindness and His effortless care of us - the kids that He passionately loves.  We'll be reminded with vivid clarity that the universe does not revolve around us, nor do we 'make things happen' in our own ability.  Our lives and times are in His hands.  We observe the Sabbath to rest, remember and play in His presence and care.  We unplug from all of our devices and work, so we can piece back together (remember) that core truth that Our Father loves us, has proved it in the person of Jesus Christ, and takes care of all of our needs.

So, I'm listening . . and practicing #silence and #stillness more often.  As I do I grow in amazement, wonder and awe as I watch my Father and all that He's about in this great wild, wonderful world of His.  All confusion about how to hear His voice and receive clarity on life's purpose, will be neutralized as we're "lost in His wonderful embrace".  Then when we see Him move, we respond by moving too.  

What He's building, He's building to last.  
You have a part to play that begins with doing nothing but being still and silent with Him.


++++++++++

Respond

What are you seeking clarity from God about?
     - Are you slowing down enough to hear His voice?

Can you begin to give up being the master of your own ship in favor of our good Father proving to you that He can make your life better than you've imagined??
     - Begin by being still and silent, asking Him to speak.  Then quickly move onto being
       'intentionally unproductive' as you 'waste' time with God-of the-Angel-Armies on a Sabbath
       (rest). 

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Write This Down (4of4)



Write This Down
These inspired words from the Scriptures have often been an encouragement to me in welcoming whatever future God our Father has planned out.  It's certainly possible to trust Him completely (progressively) with yourself when you know His heart is good toward you and He is always working with your best interests in mind.

Ephesians 3  (MSG)

The God of Glory


Friends, I've jumped into fear before and so have many of you. Honestly, it can hurt and God’s invitation does not come with the assurance of a pleasant journey, but we're guaranteed to have our Father at our side the whole way. When we choose to act in belief and trust we become living poetry. The kind of poetry that invites a desperate world to pause and take a deeper look. I see another cliff coming into view just ahead and I don't want hesitation or fear to keep me from making another courageous leap. What about you? Who knows if The Lord will use these jumps of ours to do something great in His wild, wonderful world? Maybe someone else will find freedom for themselves, then pass it on to another in need of it?

The final installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy The Hobbit was recently released,
bringing to a close a truly epic storyline.  I’m reminded of a brief conversation between
Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey as they discussed the unfolding adventure ahead
of them:

Gandalf:   “You’re going to have a tale or two to tell when you come back.”
Bilbo:       “Can you promise that I will come back?”
Gandalf:   “No. And if you do . . you’ll not be the same.”


So . . are you ready? 3 - 2 - 1 . . JUMP!


++++++++++

Respond

Has He been inviting you to take part in an adventure that you’ve hesitated stepping
into?
     - It might be in an area that you fear (even success) and that you are passionate about.

What does your 'First Step' look like?

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