Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday's Inspirational Story - Song of the Bird

The underlining theme of this week’s blogs is the power of transformation – becoming all that God has created us to become. Here is a story that illustrates the point that we become what we think we are and miss out on the great possibilities that God has so wonderfully created for us to embrace.
Song of the Bird by Anthony DeMello
A man found an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eagle hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.
All his life, the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet in the air.
Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.
The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked.

"That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbor. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth -- we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Keeping it simple (Luke 9:3-4a)

SCRIPTURE: Luke 9:3-4a (TM) – larger reading Luke 9:1-6
He said, "Don't load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment.

Philip Yancey in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, shares this story: Blessed are the merciful. I learned the truth of this Beatitude from Henri Nouwen, a priest who used to teach at Harvard University. At the height of his career, Nouwen moved from Harvard to a community called Daybreak, near Tornonto, in order to take on the demanding chores required by his friendship with a man named Adam. Nouwen now ministers not to the intellectuals but to a young man who is considered by many a useless person who should have been aborted.

Nouwen describes his friend: “Adam is a 25-year-old man who cannot speak, cannot dress or undress himself, cannot walk alone, cannot eat without much help. He does not cry or laugh. Only occasionally does he make eye contact. His back is distorted. His arm and leg movements are twisted. He suffers from severe epilepsy and, despite heavy medication, sees few days without grand-mal seizures. Sometimes, as he grows suddenly rigid, he utters a howling groan. On a few occasions I’ve seen one big tear roll down his cheek.

“It takes me about an hour and a half to wake Adam up, give him his medication, carry him to his bath, wash him, shave him, clean his teeth, dress him, walk him to the kitchen, give him his breakfast, put him in his wheelchair and bring him to the place where he spends most of his day with therapeutic exercises.” 
On a visit to Nouwen in Toronto, I watched him perform that routine with Adam, and I must admit I had a fleeting as to whether this was the best use of his time. I have heard Henri Nouwen speak, and have read many of his books. He has much to offer. Could not someone else take over the menial task of caring for Adam? When I cautiously broached the subject with Nouwen himself, he informed me that I had completely misinterpreted what was going on. “I am not giving up anything,” he insisted. “It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.”

Then Nouwen began listing for me all the benefits he has gained. The hours spent with Adam, he said, have given him an inner peace so fulfilling that it makes most of his other, more high-minded tasks seem boring and superficial by contrast. Early on, as he sat beside that helpless child-man, he realized how marked with rivalry and competition, how obsessive, was his drive for success in academia and Christian ministry. Adam taught him that “what makes us human is not our mind but our heart, not our ability to think but our ability to love.” From Adam’s simple nature, he had glimpsed the “emptiness that desert monks achieved only after much searching and discipline.

All during the rest of our interview, Henri Nouwen circled back to my question, as if he could not believe I could ask such a thing. He kept thinking of other ways he had benefited from his relationship with Adam. Truly, he was enjoying a new kind of spiritual peace, acquired not within the stately quadrangles of Harvard, but by the bedside of incontinent Adam. I left Daybreak convicted of my own spiritual poverty, I who so carefully arrange my writer’s life to make it efficient and single-focused. The merciful are indeed blessed, I learned, for they will be shown mercy.

In his instructions to the disciples Jesus boiled down their real challenge… “to keep it simple” as paraphrased in The Message. His point is well taken: “you are the equipment”. Somehow, over time, we the church have lost sight of that truth.

Our ministry and life has become extremely complicated. Henri Nouwen discovered a truth that escapes the best of us. How many of us would have walked about away from Harvard to take on the humble role of servant? How many of us would relinquish the opportunities of speaking engagements, staying at the finest hotels and eating at 5-star restaurants to be the caregiver of a total invalid? How many of us would pass up on the notoriety of a successful writing career to be a nursemaid to a man-child?

My guess… not one of us… no, not one. But, could it be that the fame, the fortune, the notoriety, the books, the speaking engagements was simply loading down Dr. Nouwen with unnecessary “equipment”? By moving to Daybreak and taking up the responsibilities of caring for Adam was his way of keeping it simple?

In considering Jesus’ instructions to his disciples we just might to think differently about the idea of “equipment” and “keeping it simple”. How much of what we are presently doing is just going through the motions? How much of the “trappings” of our church and really unnecessary “equipment”?

How can we make our witness more effective? What needs to change to find the peace, spiritual peace, that Dr. Nouwen discovered by taking on the role of a servant? I know that I am not up to the task, but the Christ in me is if I would but give him the freedom to move in that direction.


Make me a captive Lord and then I shall be free.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The deafening silence of God speaking (2 Corinthians 3:18)

SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TM) – larger reading 2 Corinthians 3:4-18
All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

David Roher’s story: The motor home has allowed us to put all the conveniences of home on wheels. A camper no longer needs to contend with sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking over a fire, or hauling water from a stream. Now he can park a fully equipped home on a cement slab in the midst of a few pine trees and hook up to a water line, a sewer line and electricity. One motor home I saw recently had a satellite dish attached on top. No more bother with dirt, no more smoke from the fire, no more drudgery of walking to the stream. Now it is possible to go camping and never have to go outside. We buy a motor home with the hope of seeing new places, of getting out into the world. Yet we deck it out with the same furnishings as in our living room. Thus nothing really changes. We may drive to a new place, set ourselves in new surrounding, but the newness goes unnoticed, for we've only carried along our old setting… The adventure of new life in Christ begins when the comfortable patterns of the old life are left behind.
We want change while keeping everything the same. We study the Bible to gain information not transformation. We really want our life to be God centered while keeping everything exactly as it is. We say one thing, but act totally different. As one person said recently concerning counseling: “I don’t need counseling there is nothing wrong with me!” while the person’s life is coming apart… it is somebodies else’s fault, problem, etc.

This prompted a thought: When we pray who does all the talking? St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century mystic, shared that God’s first language is silence. Most of our prayer time is too noisy. It is filled with layers upon layers upon layers of words as in us telling God what we want him to hear or do or… Do we ever simply get quiet and wait, in silence, for God to speak? Probably not. We are too busy and our “God agenda” is too full.

Real transformation happens, in my opinion, when we the “clay” allow the potter to shape us. The clay doesn’t dictate to the potter how it should be shaped. It is simply silent as the potter’s hands go to work. Transformation takes place when we are silent enough to hear the silence of God speaking to our hearts.

Centering Prayer is such a discipline. Getting quite. Moving out of our minds all concerns. Being in God’s presence and allowing him to touch our spirit. Then the shaping (transformation) begins to take place… not until. Centering Prayer is the embracing of a spiritual reality that nothing stands between God and us. No agendas. No wish lists. No desires. No longings. No words. Just the presence of God’s reality.

I think that if we could have walked with Jesus up into the mountains we would have been surprised by the peaceful silence of the relationship Jesus had with the Heavenly Father. Oh, there are times when words should and need to be used, like Jesus’ time in the Garden, but most of the time silence is the wiser choice.

When God has to fight through the barrier of words, which can act as a filter straining out God’s purpose and intentions for us, we can become spiritually confused. The end result is that we say, “I’ve prayed about this” and end up doing what we want to do all along. Transformational Centering Prayer, when practiced regularly, clears the air of the layers of words so that the silence of God is heard clearly and we are wonderfully transformed into his person.


May your silence oh God be so deafening that we hear nothing other than your desires.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A purpose driven life - Phases 1, 2 and 3!

Sunday’s sermon stayed with me… actually it troubled my spirit throughout the night, which happens when there is some unfinished business with the subject matter. So I finally succumbed to the troubled sleep at 3:10 AM this morning and wrote today’s blog. I feel that God has something important for us to hear and to learn... at least it was a lesson for me to hear. This message began two weeks ago and simply built until I put words to the page.

In the church we talk a lot about the Divine Purpose that God has for each of us. We have been creatively designed with a unique roadmap for our journey through life. Rick Warren wrote a popular book on this very subject. Actually he wrote two books, one for us and one for the church. It is a spiritually wise person who discovers that the life they are living is not their own, but is one of God’s creative design.

I’ve been thinking more about this idea lately as I try to discern God’s purpose for me at a much deeper level. It includes John Wesley’s question to his classing meetings: “How is it with your soul?” Yesterday’s blog addressed that question and its larger ramifications for me(us). Let me label what has been revealed to me through various sources. I will have to call it a “Martinism” since I fully am aware that I cannot support it with chapter and verse from scripture. Maybe a better biblical scholar than me can research Holy Writ and come up with some biblical support for my thinking.

Here is where I have arrived. Phase 1 of the Divine Purpose is what Rick Warren and others have written about. It is the subject matter of our sermons, Bible teachings and Sunday school discussions. Phase 2 is where it becomes a “Martinism” in that when we are born God has specifically designated particular individuals in our future that he place there for us to touch in a special way. They are not revealed to us as we travel through life. It is for us to discover who they might be. Therefore, our challenge is to be sensitive to the people around us and in the name of all that is Holy… touch their lives in a significant way.

Phase 3 (this is were is gets a little weird) is that God has given to each of us at least one miracle to pass on. We do not choose who it is for God has already made that choice... before you jump to the false conclusion it is not about giving birth to a child. Maybe the old Presbyterians would have called it predestination, but I am not nor have I ever been a person of that persuasion although it came close to me as one very large Presbyterian church in Indiana had invited me to preach one week. I thought it was a spiritual renewal week (that’s what they called it), but upon reflection it was a well disguised interview to see if they wanted to call me to be their new senior pastor. Anyway I digress…

This miracle (and some of us might have more than one to share) is a life-giving miracle. It will make a huge difference in their life. It is far more than just merely touching their life with the truth of Christ and/or helping them to enter into a personal relationship with Christ. It is much, much more than that.

The Bible speaks of the ruach of God... the breath of God, but it is more powerful than the mere breathing in and breathing out. This particular breath has power, it is a force, it is an experience, it is creative, it is the life giving and life taking force of the Breath of God. And so the miracle that has been given to us to pass on is this ruach of God. We are meant to breath the life of God into a particular individual’s spirit and soul… just one individual. 
As I worked my way through this thought process (meditation can be a dangerous process if we will just follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit – we will never know where we will end up until God declares: “We’ve arrived! Now do something with what you have discovered!”) I’ve come to this conclusion that since God doesn’t reveal who are the people we are to touch (Phase 2) or the one person to whom we are to pass on our miracle (Phase 3) we should be extremely sensitive to everyone around us. We never know who it is that we are to help God to transform into a new being.

We never know if the person standing in front or behind us at Walmart is the one or the person taking our order at Olive Garden or the convenience store clerk or the dirty smelly panhandler or the drunk sleeping it off on the park bench. We might never know who it is, we just better be darn sure that we treat everyone as if they are the one. Won’t it be tragic to miss the very person that is to receive our miracle, our God designed miracle!?!

So here’s to a deeper, much deeper purposeful life. Happy living!

Monday, February 24, 2014

How is it with your soul? (Psalm 66)

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 66:1-3 (TM) – larger reading Psalm 66
All together now - applause for God! Sing songs to the tune of his glory, set glory to the rhythms of his praise. Say of God, "We've never seen anything like him!" When your enemies see you in action, they slink off like scolded dogs.

Anthony of Sourozh tells this story: A young monk goes to his spiritual father and asks how he should respond to praise and criticism. “Go to the graveyard,” said his spiritual father, “and abuse the dead.” He did so and when he came back his father asked him what the dead had done. “Nothing,” said the young monk, “they remained silent.” “Go back and praise them,” said the elder. And when his disciple had reported that the cemetery stayed as silent as before, he said, “Do the same as the dead; human judgment no longer affects them for they stand always in the sight of God.”

John Wesley asked his class meetings: “How is it with your soul?” It is a question that I have struggled with these many years. Some scholars have suggested that Wesley wouldn’t have asked such a vague question. The more I struggle the more I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t that vague. How does anyone respond to that question, “How is it with your soul?”

What is your standing before God? How deep is the relationship? What does God think of you? Is every cell in your body praising God? Do you desire Him more than you desire breath itself? Are you going out of your way to serve the cause of Christ? Are you ready to give a full accounting of your faithfulness? Are you more of a fan of the Kingdom than a follower of the King? Do your enemies shrink from you because of the powerful presence of the Almighty? Do you spend more time at leisure or thinking about retirement than you do about serving Christ? Do you leave a wake of grace and mercy as you go through life? Do others desire to come to know Christ because they know you?

How is it with your soul?

Not such a simple question nor should our answers be. This life we live is not some kind of cosmic spiritual game… it is for real. Wesley knew that and challenged his followers to grow in the faith that have been given to them by the Holy Father… after all we do “stand always in the sight of God.” He knows how it is our souls, but do we?

Stir with us a desire to be more than we are. Create in us a longing that will not rest until we have reached the depth of relationship that You have so long desired so that we can sing with all the saints:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,

it is well, it is well with my soul.