Consider the Birds

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There have been a few circumstances in my life lately that have left me feeling unsettled and uncertain of what tomorrow would hold. You know the little things like the health of a loved one, finances, aging – little things. So as I was praying early the other morning I was feeling the anxiety of these things when I looked out the window and observed a little bird sitting on the fence post. Jesus seemed to immediately remind me of His teaching to “consider the birds of the air”. So I considered this little guy for a few minutes and this is what I learned.

The thing that caught my attention right away was the fact that he was “nesting” – snuggled down with his legs buried underneath him. Most little birds are bouncing around anxious to find their next little morsel; not this guy. He appeared to be content.

I want to be content.

Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4.11b-13). It’s striking that this passage ends with the oft quoted “I can do all things;” striking because doing all things is apparently found in the person who is “still”. I typically have this image of a “do aller” as someone who says to himself, “I CAN DO THIS. Yeah, yeah… I know it is in Christ who gives me strength…” but there is greater evidence of busyness and “manning up” than truly finding contentment in the work of Christ in himself. I wonder how much more spiritual force we would see manifested if we learned the secret of “nesting” – snuggled down with our legs buried underneath us.

The second thing I “considered” while watching my little winged friend was more typical. Though laying still his head was constantly darting around. Though content, he was aware. He was seeking.

I want to be a seeker.

“I have sought your face with all my heart” the Psalmist said (Psalm 119.58). Instead of bearing my anxiety, I “turn my eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” I know you Lord, I long to know you more; “I believe, help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9.24). Lord, give me ears that are ever tuned to your voice. Let me be content; content but never satisfied.

The last thing I saw/heard from the bird was his never-ending singing. He was calling me to worship.

I want to be a worshipper.

Instead of dwelling in fear and anxiety worship allows me to have a renewed vision of who Jesus is; and when I see Him as He is – “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6) “seated at the right hand of the Father” (Colossians 3) what challenge of the day is worthy to compete with the One to whom I “lift my head” (Psalms 24.7-10)?

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 5.25-33).

QUOTE (Corrie ten Boom) – Feb 28

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Forgiveness may be the most powerful enactment of love in the world.

A DEVOTED LIFE

Corrie ten Boom, "The Hiding Place" Corrie ten Boom, “The Hiding Place” (Photo credit: Corrie ten Boom Museum)

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’  And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’  No, he did not remember me.  ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I…

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Ever filled – Ever Seeking

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5.6).

I love to eat. No really, I LOVE TO EAT. Add that to the fact that I live in the most affluent country in the history of mankind and it is clear that I have no experiential understanding of what it means to be hungry. After missing a meal I may say, “I’m starving!” but I have no clue. In fact I would say I rarely allow myself to feel even the slightest sense of discomfort when it comes to satisfying the tyranny of my stomach. Most of my eating is driven by my underlying search for emotional comfort. There is little intention to satisfy a physiological drive nor my body’s nutritional needs – I just eat. We’ll address my poor eating habits at another time. For now I must admit that hunger (and thirst) is foreign to my experience.

So it is in my spirit.

I have been surrounded by the Word of God and Christian community all my life. But I wonder if in that I have ever had to experience the real sense of spiritual starvation and need. I’ve usually been pacified; never allowing myself to understand the immensity of my need for Jesus – the real food, the real drink (John 6:55). There have been moments of spiritual awakening; there have been times of crisis when I’ve been driven to my knees in humility and known my need to feast on Christ but shortly after the storm subsides I resume the delusion of being satisfied.

It is true of all of us – we seek to relieve the discomfort of our spirit’s restlessness with “fast foods” – TV/computer, sports, food, drugs/alcohol, sex, affirmations from friends, affirmations of our ministries, an uplifting worship service (which usually means we liked the aesthetics or the beat of the songs), doctrinal arrogance and a thousand other counterfeit “fillers”.

Fillers?

Fillers are those things we feed our spirit to numb our pain and trick us into feeling full and nourished – distractions. Yet Jesus loves us too much to allow us to settle for distractions. He speaks into our emptiness and calls us to find satisfaction in His righteousness. The Bible says that through faith we are given full access to this righteousness (Romans 1:16-17) and yet called to yearn for more of it – to allow ourselves to be nourished and filled by it day by day. Thus Christianity is a holy paradox. We have all we need and yet are called to hunger and thirst for more. Jesus has redeemed us, paid the price of our sin and yet is calling us toward a greater fullness.

Yet few of us know what it is to hunger and thirst for the “more”. We’ve become content with what we have; satisfied in yesterday’s feast; settling for the bare minimum – surviving. Jesus calls us to hunger and thirst. Both of these terms have the sense of desiring something so much that there is indeed a type of suffering involved. In reading some of the writings and practices of the “Desert Fathers” of the fourth and fifth centuries we see these followers marked by extreme asceticism – fasting, isolation, silence and the like. Their motives were generated largely from their grave concern over the secularization of the church. While their extremes can be criticized, the intent was closer to what Jesus is calling us to in this beatitude. There was a suffering, a hunger and a thirst for the righteousness of Christ. I’m wondering if we would do well to mimic their radical example. Surely, this is closer to the intent of Jesus than the comfortable starving we settle for.

So what of marriage?

  1. At our best we spend a good deal of time and energy in our marital relationships looking for ways to build and maintain a good partnership. After all we all want a “good marriage”; a relationship where we are tuned to one another; where there is a mutual satisfaction given and received. Yet as John Wooden, the iconic UCLA basketball coach told his players we must, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” The same can be said of human marriage when partners are trying to advance their relationship in their own wisdom and skill. Just because we are active in reading the latest marriage enrichment book and going to all the right conferences and a host of other good deeds, does not mean we are achieving a God infused relationship. If we are trying to better our relationships with our own resources we are feeding on cocoa puffs and thus will never taste the goodness of the “Righteous One” at the core of our union.  

In addition, “our best” is much too hard to sustain and we rarely find ourselves there. Sooner or later the initial intentionality and “gaga” of romantic love fades and more and more of our energy goes into protecting ourselves than into sacrificial love and union. Sometimes we muster up a new burst of human effort and the seas seem to calm a bit. But soon that burst diminishes, sometimes resulting in internal discouragement and external bitterness.

We need an intervention!

What if instead of striving in our own fumes we sought to satisfy the starvation of our marriage through feasting on the righteousness of Jesus? Can we see the greater worth of doing marriage with the food of God; with the nutrition that comes from feeding upon Him (John 6.57)? Will we feed our spirit’s craving for a clearer understanding of righteousness and grace in living relationship (Proverbs 2.1-12a)? Or will we continue to plod along trying to endure a mediocre marriage?

Let me ask this. When was the last time you fasted and prayed for your spouse? Hungered to have her filled with the tenderness of Jesus? Gone to the mountains or the beach just to seek the face of God on behalf of your husband? How about the closet? Ever dedicated a mutual season to abstain from sexual union or other pleasures for the intent purpose of making love to your Creator (1 Corinthians 7.5)? My guess is that most of us have not made time for this kind of dedicated passion. What’s holding us back?

2. In the natural world we never ignore the fact that we are hungry or thirsty unless there is something physically wrong with us – depression, eating disorders, flu, cancer treatments, etc. Can we spiritually have a type of eating disorder where we have an aversion to the food of the Spirit? As the anorexic has a wholly distorted image of her/his body so the sinner (me) has a disconnect between his spirit and his need for nourishment – the “bread of life”; she thinks she looks just fine when she is really spiritually emaciated. When I hunger and thirst after righteousness it is a clear sign that my spirit is functioning properly as it reflects my yearning for God my Creator. Hunger is a sign of health.

3. The call to hunger and thirst for righteousness also reflects the intensity needed not only to find the righteousness of God but to have that righteousness lived out in the day to day intimacies of marriage. Marriage can never be a passive commitment to one another. When I hunger for something I am driven until that hunger is taken care of. It is not a matter of choice. I sense something crucial missing and I cannot be content until that missing thing is found. A good marriage is intentional. When I see that something is lacking in it I must be deliberate in finding fullness.

4. As with all the beatitudes this one comes with a promise – satisfaction. When I am filled with righteousness there is a great sense of gratification within. As I am satisfied in the things of God I need not look elsewhere to find fulfillment. In marriage when the righteousness of God is filling me I am content and do not have to look to other false things – unhealthy relationships, secret addictions and the like. What’s the secret to making your marriage affair proof? Seek the righteousness of Christ with all your heart. Nothing or no one else compares. We are all hungry for something; we will all worship something. Let it be the fullness of Christ.

5. Finally, genuine satisfaction which comes from being filled with fullness of Christ produces genuine change. There are times when we really do want to change a behavior that is impacting our marriage poorly. Yet we seek that change outside of the empowerment of the Spirit. We lack the authentic longing for the things that God delights in – righteousness and so we muddle along with the same old habits that debilitate us and the ones we love. God promises to give us anything that is according to His will (1 John 5:14-15). Right? Is it God’s will that we be filled with the fruit of the Spirit – “righteousness”? Of course. Then we will have them. God will bring fruit to this holy search and there will be change!

Jesus, we are blessed to feel in our spirits a deep longing for all that You are. We join with Mary in acknowledging that You have filled the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53). Let us be,

“Ever filled and ever seeking, what they have they still desire,

Hunger there shall fret them never, nor satiety shall tire, –

Still enjoying whilst aspiring, in their joy they still aspire.”

Peter Damian, 1072.

 

Cool in Spirit

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“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5.5).

“The person who bears and suffers evils with meekness and silence, is the sum of a Christian man.” Charles Wesley

It is no doubt the desire of every caring parent to raise their children to have a solid sense of what it means to be strong and independent; able to “stand on their own two feet”. We ask ourselves, “When the time is right will we have given them wings of their own?”

This is in fact one of the ultimate questions of parenting! Yet here is my fear – my observation. Most of us know very little about what it means to have genuine strength. If this is true, how do we pass on this vital virtue when we are still grappling to find it ourselves? I am so glad Jesus is forever teaching us to take hold of His mind – making His thoughts our thoughts. This little beatitude certainly serves as one of our tutorials.

“Blessed are the meek….” Indicative of our limited understanding of true strength is our limited understanding of the virtue of meekness. It has often been said that our culture understands “meekness as weakness”. Yet, the Bible teaches that it may be the ultimate definition of strength, power and authority. The term used here is praus, which indicates a mildness of disposition or gentleness of spirit, coming to one who has first submitted themselves to the workings of God; accepting His actions as good, and thus responding without defiance and anxiety toward Him. Instead he is one “who has a cool spirit …” (Proverbs 17:27 – NASB).

Meekness has nothing to do with allowing someone to dominate you or being too weak to express your opinion. It is a virtue which in the midst of injustice and wrong-doing refuses to be provoked and reactive. The one owning it has yielded themselves to God’s providence and entrusts Him to work in spite of the presence of evil and offense. It is meekness that enables one to be still and calm in the presence of conflict and disagreement. From this stillness one is able to respond in words and actions that are decisively clear, helpful and healing. Meekness says that it is not up to me to fix another person’s thinking and actions – that’s a God thing. When I understand that God is at work in this situation I am freed from my frenzied attempts to fix and may even discover that I am the one needing change. Meekness encapsulates many of Jesus’ other teachings when He says, “the last will be first … if you want to be king you must first become the servant of all … unless you become as a little child you will not inherit the kingdom of God….” Therefore, …

Be meek and know that I am God…

Jesus was the ultimate example of meekness. He said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle (meek) and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). It was meekness He displayed when He stood before Pilate and the religious elite. It took strength to refrain from blowing up their arguments. It took power to refrain from casting an apocalyptic judgment upon them all. It took an internal authority to submit to His Father’s authority, saying “not My will but Yours be done”.

Furthermore, what is it but meekness that empowers the martyrs of every age to esteem the love and Lordship of Jesus in their lives above a love for their own bodies? What is weak about that? In reading their stories there is often seen and heard a coolness of spirit that reflects the greater realities, the surpassing inheritance they are already witnessing in their souls. It takes a person of deep inner calm, vigor and vision to set aside the temporal for the eternal. There is nothing anemic about that.

Now there is a curious inheritance the meek receive – the earth. What on earth does that mean (pun intended)? There is certainly a case to be made for this to be referencing the end-time kingdom established on the earth but I think there is a more relevant principle for the myriad of believers who will not live in that era…. If I am meek I will have the capacity to enjoy the “real pleasures” of this life, of this earth. When I think of what gives me the most angst in my life it usually has something to do with my futile efforts to control situations in order to make myself “comfortable” and safe. From relationships to finances, leisure to work, prestige to obscurity my old man is ever straining for those things that make my environment optimal. I’m trying to inherit the earth without developing a heart of meekness. As a result I miss out on the fullness this life (earth) has to offer me now – what God intended His creation to know now. I fight for what Jesus says is already mine if I would just be still.

The implications and value of applying meekness to our marital relationships are obvious. The nature of marriage – the joining of two independent forces – infers that there will be many times that we are not in control. Now our old self would exercise our demands, voice our insults or manipulate the situation so that we get our way. But the new way of meekness allows us to entrust ourselves to God and as a result we are free to be patient and kind; neither envious nor boastful, arrogant nor rude. We are not insistent, irritable or resentful. We do not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth – God’s got this. Meekness bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things  because it has taken the believer’s eyes off of himself and has affixed them to the Holy One (1 Corinthians 13.4-7).

What if the next time you are tempted to react to one of your spouse’s nasty habits you first ask God to still your heart and give you ears to hear the counsel that would best relieve the situation? What if the next time you believe your wife is being too bossy you exercise your “cool spirit” and ask her what might be behind her impatience? After all, since God is in control you no longer have to feel threatened by her words or actions! What if the next time your husband is harsh in his reactions to you, you choose to recall that God is on a mission to teach and convict him to be more gentle? What if you both remembered that your identity is found in Jesus and therefore neither one of you have to feel threatened by each other’s old selves ever again?

Love demands that we are open and vulnerable to one another. But what a foolish commitment it is without meekness; without a mutual understanding that God is graciously in control of our union. He is constantly at work in our lives to mold us into the image of His Son. Therefore, He can take every scenario and shape it into something which will more fully reveal Himself in us. Of this we can be sure.

So what are the practical things we can do to nurture meekness in ourselves and in our marriage:

  1. Find your security in Christ alone. Your spouse can not give you what He can (Colossians 2).
  2. Ask the Spirit to reveal those places in you which are self-absorbed. Ask Him to show you where you are greedy with your time and comforts.
  3. Rehearse responding to one another in a gentle manner. If we have been in a relationship for any length of time we are already familiar with each other’s sensitive spots. So practice responding to those with a “cool spirit” (1 Peter 1:13).
  4. Let your mate be angry or have a false view of something you have said or done. Use this as a time to increase understanding not in defense of yourself.
  5. When you feel hurt give that pain over to God – surrender it. 
  6. Ask for it – seek it.

I want to close with a special challenge to “us guys”. Our culture and our testosterone make gentleness a unique obstacle for us. No big surprise there. My call to us is to “man up” when it comes to meekness, gentleness and tenderness with our wives. We so often work toward earthly things – career, house, position, etc. but are missing the true “inheritance of the earth”. Let’s define ourselves by God’s love lived out in our marriages. Let us model for our families a “coolness of spirit” that leads the way into a fuller surrender to the hand of God in all things.

Father, we are so churned up within. We are anxious and preoccupied; scared and yet arrogant; making our plans and ignoring Yours. Let us fall deep into Your loving providence. Let us not just trust You in our theology but with our daily witness. Let that witness shout the whispering confidence You have planted within. May this quiet poise be reflected in the union of marriage. May our bedrooms be the first place we display this holy meekness. Let us not reserve it for the work place or the sanctuary and neglect it at the altar of our home. Keep us still in the midst of uncertainty; composed in the midst of misunderstanding; tranquil in the midst of offense and pain; and when it is time to speak about our lover’s transgression may we who are spiritual restore him/her in a spirit of gentleness (meekness), keeping watch on ourselves, lest we too be tempted. In all things let us bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6.1-2). In the name of the One who is eternally gentle and lowly in heart. Amen