The answer to Jesus’ question

You say:cathedralupper
“Knock and I’ll answer. Seek and find me.”

I can’t rise from my chair to reach the door.
Seeking sounds like work.

You say:
“Come to me when you’re weary and worn out.
You’ll find real rest with me.”

I roll from this lazy-boy into a loveseat with you.
You take my troubles, you calm my fevered thinking.
Is this what an easy yoke is?

You say:
“I’m standing at your door. I’m knocking.
I’m calling your name. Won’t you come?”

I will answer the door, but I’m not sure I can leave the house.
Are you wooing or cajoling me?

You say:
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Watch and pray with me.”

I say:
“Lord, your disciples couldn’t stay awake for a single hour!
What makes you think I can?”

You say:
“Parents on this planet know how to give good gifts to their children.”

I interrupt:
“We’re talking fish and bread here.”

You finish:
“How much more will our Father in Heaven give
the Holy Spirit
to those that ask?”

…How much more…

I will ask, I will seek, I will knock, I will pray.
Come Holy Spirit.

Relationships need reconcilation

This is a post I wrote for Light of Christ Anglican Church in Kenosha, WI as part of a Lenten call to prayer for our church. Click here to read the original.

Today I found myself dwelling on this point on our prayer card:

“Ask [God] to help all our elders follow the example of Christ in wisdom, knowledge, compassion, reconciliation and servant leadership.”

Though we’re praying this for our leadership, reconciliation is something we all need, because what matters most in our lives is our relationships–be they with the Lord or with our human family and friends. There’s our relationship and integration into Christ’s bride, the Church, which can also be fractured. These are key relationships, and reconciliation is the mechanism we need to reconnect when we have turned from them in some way. Reconciliation isn’t just about confession of blatant sins, it is attending to what is strained, stressed, fatigued or broken in our relationships.

Let’s look at this first from a positive angle: Any improvement we make in a close relationship makes an improvement in our other relationships. For example, when John scrapes the frost off my car window on Sunday morning, I come to church feeling loved. When I feel loved, I enter more easily into praise and worship of God. Conversely, if after walking the dog, pulling all my Sunday School materials together and heaving them into the car, I still need to scrape my windows, I may or may not feel anything against John, but I may feel “burdened” by this long winter…and that may translate to how I’m feeling about God. Is this fair to either John or God? No, but if John had not expressed his love for me in scraping my car window, I would have had greater difficultly entering in to worship. (It goes without saying that the reverse is true as well–when I’ve felt “met” by God in prayer or worship, I have more patience, love, compassion, etc. available to John.)

Reconciliation comes in where something we have done or not done strains a relationship. Let’s say that John had not scraped my car window, but rather buried my Sunday School materials under a pile of sound equipment that I had to dig through, making me late. Maybe he did this because he was running late himself and was digging for a specific cable needed that morning and unintentionally buried my materials. It doesn’t matter to me if he had a good reason or not–I am hurt by his actions and must talk to him to clear the air and potentially extend forgiveness to him. After we are reconciled, there is restoration of the trust in the relationship and love can flow unobstructed again.

Our leaders have been working hard to be reconciled and keep short accounts with each other so that God’s love can make its mark between us. Are you doing the same? Are you feeling dissatisfied or distant from someone who should be close to you? Are there any relationships that intrude when you sit down to pray? Do you feel disgruntled with God? These are all signs that something may need mending in your relationships. Pray this prayer and include yourself in it. Look for things you can do that will make love increase between you and others. Where there is a broken relationship, pray and seek God’s healing that love can flow unobstructed again.

Inspired

Last night at my house group we got into a discussion on hope. Hope is a difficult virtue for me to understand. I am naturally wired for faith, I have been coming to a greater understanding of love, but hope is still tricky. I can describe its characteristics–buoyant, bright, anticipating, open, wondering–but its essence eludes me. Perhaps bright and buoyant things can’t be grasped so much as entered into….and I am a world-class grasper and grappler.

I have been wondering lately why it is I find goals de-motivating. Did I fall short so often as a child? Were my goals unreasonable? I spend a great deal of my life plodding, moving from one thing to the next, completing tasks but taking no great joy from them.

Then there is this blog. I haven’t written for some time. I’ve wondering about switching focus with it, wondering if I just have too much to do to make time for it, if it really does anything other than make me feel momentarily better about my life. I want to write, but I get stuck in the day-to-day plodding, burrowing my head so far into my “To Do” list that I never lift it to reorient myself.

Today I discovered WordPress’ ebook on 365 topics for bloggers. That’s a topic a day, by date. I downloaded it and started paging through: “Start your blog with the first sentence of your favorite book,” “write about how you respond in a crisis,” “your house is on fire–what five items do you grab?” The topics aren’t me, but something inside me stirred and prompted: “This is possible.”

What is possible? To write every day for a year? To set a goal and keep it? To think and write outside of the “To Do” list? To feel something kindling within that’s related to an aspect of my life? I’m not sure what is lighting up inside me, but it’s bright and open and anticipating….and hopeful.

Lord, let me find my way to hope in you through whatever channel you provide. Let me see and be inspired by the brightness, the light, the joy, the Presence you saturate this world in. Amen.

Christmas Quiet, Christmas Celebration

"The Adoration of the Shepherds," by Gerard van Honthorst.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds,” by Gerard van Honthorst.

From Luke 2 (NLT):

…And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people….Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

This short passage is marked by two very different responses to the same event, the birth of Christ. The first is the very normal, perhaps even mundane reaction to the birth of a baby to poor parents: to clothe him in comforting cloth and find a bed for him in whatever is handy–an animal’s feeding trough. Mary and Joesph, probably deeply disappointed that they could not have their child at home in Nazareth, adapt and improvise as best they can. Despite the mean circumstances, this child of God lacks for nothing: Jesus has clothing, a bed, food a roof over his head, loving human parents. God has provided every good thing for Jesus.

Contrast this with what the shepherds get to witness–the breaking open of heaven itself! Hundreds, perhaps thousands of angels singing in celebration! There is a party going on in heaven and the shepherds have been invited to participate. They are filled with wonder and awe and it is that practically disbelieving wonder and awe that cause them to act on the “instructions” given to them–to seek out the child wrapped in bands of cloth lying in the manger.

The shepherds bridge the gap between the celebration in heaven (too deafening for a baby’s ears) and the quiet, unfamiliar strangeness of the barn, reconciling both at the manger where God’s Son lay. The celebration quiets but the awe continues as they see that exactly what the angels said is true. As they marvel, they bring the encouragement of God with them–Mary and Joesph are not forgotten, God has not cast out his Son. Everything is as it should be, Jesus, born to be humble, yet still inspiring awe and wonder.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, what is your perspective on the event? Are you weighed down by your circumstances, discouraged, wishing you could do better for your family? Or are you excited, rejoicing in with the angels, brimming with love and good old-fashioned Christmas cheer?

I pray as we enter Christmastide we minister to each other: encouraging the discouraged in their needed quiet, ministering joy to those working hard, or joining in the excited celebration of heaven. May we all meet together around the manager in whatever state we’re in and share in the love God’s Son, Jesus.

Shine

Matthias Grunewald's Resurrection, painted as an altarpiece at a monastic hospital in Isenheim, Alsace.

Matthias Grunewald’s Resurrection, painted as an altarpiece at a monastic hospital in Isenheim, Alsace.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen over you.”
–Isaiah 60:1

At this time of the year when the days are grey, light is short and we cope with the increasing cold, we shrink and settle into ourselves, become more concerned with our own appetites, staying warm, retaining energy. Isaiah’s words burst into our souls like the rays a summer sun. Just reading about God’s light and glory rising lifts my soul from its winter hibernation.

God does’t stop at our reaction to his light. “Lift your eyes round about, and see!” says the Lord. Sons and daughters return to their parents; there is reconciliation and prospering of families. And what’s this? Ships from far off come, foreigners come, and all who come have something to contribute to the riches of God’s kingdom. Above it all the city of Zion, the footstool of God, is made glorious:

“The Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.”

My prayer this Advent is to learn what it means to shine–to arise, to reflect God’s glory, to be compelling as he is compelling because it is he who is being compelling in me. (If that doesn’t make sense you might want to read my last blogpost.)  To allow the brightness of Christ to bring me into his presence, to lift my eyes from my circumstances, to display that reflected glory to those all around me.

Lord, let our days of our mourning pass, let your glory shine so that I may arise and shine also. Come, Emmanuel, God with us. Come, Lord Jesus, let your glory be revealed. Amen.

How would Jesus witness?

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage...

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a church tradition that put a strong emphasis on personal witnessing of Christ. You never knew when the Lord might “call upon you” to “give your personal testimony.” There was not much clarity about what that meant, or how to accomplish it. I will say that our Sunday evening church services were dedicated to singing hymns and “giving testimony,” which seemed to me to be a bunch of people standing up to give a list of things they were apparently grateful for in what seemed to me to be a very dour manner.

As a result of these instructions and modeling, I recognized that my own “personal witness” was not very compelling. If I didn’t find laundry lists of how the Lord had met me very compelling myself, why would some non-Christian? Come to think of it, didn’t everyone get “met” in these ways? To top it off, the sense of “being ready at any time” to give my testimony made me feel as though there could be a heavenly pass/fail pop quiz at any moment and gave me an anxiety when hanging around unbelievers.

This has been slowly changing for me in a couple of ways. The first is that I’m truly grateful to the Lord for what he has done for me. Gratitude expressed in humility begets joy. Suddenly when I talk about “what the Lord has done” it’s neither abstract nor passionless–it’s personal and filled with joy. When that happens, our personal testimony is compelling because it doesn’t just tell you about Jesus–he inhabits our testimony, and that is truly Good News.

The other change is that I’m realizing how compelling Jesus really is! Earlier in the week I was reading the story of Zacchaeus. From what little we know, Zacchaeus had only heard about Jesus, but from what little he’d heard, Zacchaeus had to see him! So this self-important, wealthy, prominent and yes, probably hated tax collector, knew nobody was going to let him to the front of the line to catch a glimpse–so he climbed a tree. Imagine his surprise when Jesus stops, calls him out by name and tells him he is hosting the Son of Man that afternoon! Then, hearing all the snide comments being made, Zacchaeus gives half of his wealth away, and offers restitution to any he has cheated. This response to Jesus is Zacchaeus’ salvation. (Read Luke 19:1-10 for the full story.)

Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about our testimony, even when we’re being challenged by people who are hostile to him (see Luke 21:13-15). What he wants is for us to live our lives seeking after him. Our response to him is our testimony, but it is giving that testimony in a way that is filled with Jesus’ presence that makes it the Good News.

Wherein I encourage myself

candles

candles (Photo credit: rogerglenn)

This is a busy week, spiritually speaking. Tomorrow night is my house group, on Thursday our bishop is visiting and Saturday we’re having a women’s retreat, which I’m doing some teaching for.

And I’m sitting here scrolling through my blog.

I started scrolling originally because I thought there might be some material I here could recycle for my talk on Saturday (I’ll be doing a little teaching on spiritual disciplines) but instead I find myself captivated by what I’ve written. Some of it is good–very good–some of it not so much. But there is a thread of the Spirit there, bright and strong, even when I’m discouraged at the time. There it is, Christ in me and he is marvelous in my eyes.

I’m not typically one of those people who re-reads what they write. Even though I have journalled a great deal as an adult, my journals are snapshots of my struggles. God is at work, yes, but sometimes it’s just me telling myself that as I thrash around, entangled in my own sin or human limitations.

Here I have written about what I have learned–learned deeply–from God. Reading older entries reveals God as he has revealed himself to me in the middle of my own mundane life. Through the mundane he sparkles and dances, leaps from the screen. I am carrying the light of Christ, and this is my lampstand.

This past Sunday Fr. Eirik shared a quote from Michael Ramsey; “There are people who make God near. That’s the marvelous thing that we do to one another.”

I hope that some of what been published here has made God near to you. Glory be to God, who can do infinitely more than we ask or imagine!