Saturday, December 31, 2011

Who Loves God?

Not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of his Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to him on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then he will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” The one who is known by God is the one who loves God.

We all were born loving everything but God, but now that we know God—or rather are known by God—we should not turn back to be enslaved by them all over again! Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know, because now we see and know only a poor reflection, as in a pond; then we will see and know God face to face. Now we know in part; then we will know fully, even as we are fully known.

On that day we will realize that Jesus is in the Father, and we are in Jesus, and he is in us. Whoever has Jesus’ commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Jesus. If we love him we will be loved by the Father, and Jesus himself will love us and reveal himself to us so that we may know Him, even as we are fully known.

Now this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

A compilation of verses from Matthew, John, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and 1 John)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The River of Life

Sometimes life feels like this river.  Things are always moving forwards, whether we want them to or not.  Sometimes everything passes by slowly, we are lulled along, almost feeling like we are moving in circles, only to find that those circles were bringing us closer and closer to the edge of a waterfall, where we quickly and viciously move straight forward, falling and jostling until we hit the bottom in utter bewilderment.  Sometimes we hit waterfall after waterfall, we run into rocks and around logs, running and running wondering when it will end, only to suddenly find ourselves cut off from the rest of the stream, resting in a side pool, not even moving at all.

Rest and rush. Rush and rest. The rhythms of life.  When we rush too much we become wearied and banged up. When we rest too much we become stagnant and stale, and we may even dry up.

Lord grant that we may run in the stream of life that you have provided. That we might be content with both the falls and the pools and live for your glory no matter where we find ourselves.  And let us remember that at the bottom of every waterfall is a pool and at the end of every pool is another waterfall, so that we might always be prepared for the things you bring our way.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Very Own Sanctuary

I read an article today by Gordan MacDonald that talked about sanctuaries.  He speaks of a sanctuary as any place that we can go to in order to commune with God in a deeper way so that we walk away changed.  He talks about sanctuaries he has experienced throughout his life; all of them places that he visited once but they continue to leave an impression in his mind.  The whole point of the article is that we should make everywhere we go throughout the day a sanctuary within which God is able to work.  However, what really struck me in the article was the last few paragraphs where he says:

This morning I read once again (Mark 1) where Jesus, after a busy day, got up early the next morning and went off to "a solitary place where he prayed." I think Jesus would have thought of that place—quiet, beautiful, bereft of crowds—as a sanctuary.
We're not told what Jesus did in that outdoor sanctuary, but it's clear that when the time ended, he was committed to his mission of proclaiming his gospel more than ever.
A sanctuary, no matter what form it takes, is a place where one should experience interior change. Among the changes? A reminder of the beauty and love of God, a fresh realization of one's brokenness, a host of things to be thankful for, a chance to give from the fruits of one's labor, an experience of deep prayer and the sense that God has heard, and a time to hear the reading of Holy Scripture and feel it planting its powerful content in one's soul.
Many of us enter sanctuaries tired or disappointed or angry or fearful or lonely. Others enter with appreciations for loving relationships, life-blessings, and a desire to deepen or grow. But the thing of greatest importance is how do we leave? Redirected, newly focused? Having experienced grace and forgiveness? Appreciative of the people we've been with? Freshly committed to Jesus?
When I lived at my parents house I had a sanctuary, a place I could go alone in order to pray, read my Bible, meditate, and lay out any and all emotions before God.  There was a small Maple tree in our backyard, which I called my prayer tree, that served as my sanctuary.  But since I've moved out and gotten married I've realized on several occasions that I know longer have that place.  And living in town, in a small apartment, makes it even more difficult.  My sanctuary was always a place that I could go to and talk out loud to God; I could yell, I could cry, I could just sit in silence and smile, and no one would know or see.  I realized, several months before leaving, that I would be leaving that behind when I left my parents and would need to find a new place to make my sanctuary, but I haven't done that yet, and some days I really notice.

Where do you go to meet with God?  How do you cope when you are not able to make it to your sanctuary?  How often do you take (make) time to get alone to talk to God, listen to God, and meditate on the Word of God?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Laugh Every Ten Minutes, Cry Every Ten Days

I was reminded last night that I once said, "In order to be emotionally healthy people should laugh every 10 minutes and cry every 10 days."  It's funny, because I don't cry nearly that often anymore (now I'm laughing about crying), and if I were to be asked now I would probably say that it is emotionally UNhealthy to cry that often.   However, as I reflected upon that comment, the season of my life in which I said it, and the surrounding circumstances, what I realized is at the time I was probably right - I DID need to laugh/cry that often.

It seems there are two camps that it is all too easy to fall into
some people have intense pain inside but choose not to look at it or recognize it, thereby laughing all the time and never crying
while others have lots to be joyful and happy about but choose to only look at the difficult and depressing, thereby crying often while rarely laughing.

At the time, when I said we should laugh every 10 minutes and cry every 10 days, I had some deep emotional pain that I was going through.  For 2 months I went through a grieving type process and was working through some intense pain, that at times was unbearable.  However, it seems to me that what kept me emotionally healthy and stable, even in the midst of that, was that I not only looked at my pain but also at the joys of everyday life; the fact that I didn't cry myself to sleep every night but at times chose instead to laugh at the jokes of friends and family and see the joy and blessings around me.  However, equally important was the fact that I did cry; the fact that I didn't cover up my pain with jokes but was rather raw about it when appropriate times arose and shared my deep pain and anguish with those who were close.  I cried every 10 days and laughed every 10 minutes, because that was my proportion of pain/joy at the time.

And that was my conclusion last night, in reflecting upon my statement.  I do not think that every person really needs to laugh or cry that often to be emotionally healthy, but I DO think that every person should laugh AND cry.  We all have painful things in our lives and we all have amazing things in our lives; what is important is that we recognize both, admit both, and share both.

When was the last time you cried?  When was the last time you laughed?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Beginnings and the Winter Solstice

Last night I could not sleep.  Dana and I went to bed around 10:10 (she wasn't feeling well) and I laid and read until 11:30.  I was reading "Prayer" by Yancey, which I currently have a love-hate relationship with (I'll save that for another post) but last night I found what he said to be rather good and convicting.

At 11:30 I turned out my light and rolled over to fall asleep, only to find that I was rather wide awake.  While reading "Prayer", I had decided that I needed to work at waking up earlier and taking time to run (I sit all day...) and pray (after, not during, running).  So I had an alarm set for 6am, and here I was at 11:30pm wide awake and unable to sleep.

Normally if I were to find myself in this type of situation I would get annoyed, roll around, get up and do push-ups/sit-ups to burn off energy, go to the bathroom, etc, but thankfully I had just been reading Yancey's book, so I thought "What a perfect opportunity to pray!".  So there I lay and I prayed about life, church, marriage, which led to reflecting on the past year and thinking ahead into the next year.  One conclusion that I came to is that in this past year I have felt a relational distance between myself and God that has seemed to grow.  It seems to me that I don't love God as much as I used to, I don't talk as passionately about his as I used to, I don't speak to him as often as I used to, I don't read his word with as much wonder and desire, I don't seek as persistently, pray as passionately, or evangelize as urgently.

The other thing I thought about as I laid there and prayed and thought is that it was December 21 (well, by that time it was past midnight and therefore was December 21) which I remembered to be the Winter Solstice (the shortest day/longest night of the year).  I have since found out that the Solstice date changes and this year it is actually 12/22.  However, what I realized was that one year was ending and a new was beginning.  We had seen the light of the sun grow in intensity and longevity through the Winter and Spring and the wane through the Summer and Fall, and last night as I lay awake the earth was reaching that point of starting it all over again.

And so I felt that it was in some way appropriate that I also had felt at times the presence and light of God growing within me, blossoming and burning in intensity, and then at other times waning until that point last night, where I wondered how the spark had become so small.  So now, as we head into the time of year, as the sun begins to shine more brightly, I will begin by praying that the Spirit might also shine more brightly in and through me, and I will take strides to make spaces in my life for God to speak and act and burn within my heart.  By this time it was 1:30am, I had not laid there and prayed for the whole 2 hours, I also got up and ate, went to the bathroom, did sit-ups/push-ups, read my Bible, read other things, and generally been annoyed by the fact that I could not go to sleep, however there were some ripe conclusions left in my mind after 2 free hours of pondering.

And so I started my pretend New Year (I thought it was the New Year.....just turns out I have to wait a day) at 6:45 (bumped the alarm back 45 minutes) with a run and some time in prayer / meditation over Scripture.  I hope that these can become habits that allow me to grow in my knowledge of and love for God so that I can better serve Him and the world around me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Blessing Worth Framing

I found this in Philip Yancey's book titled "Prayer" and really appreciated it. It really speaks for itself, so I don't feel the need to say much more here...but I'm seriously thinking about using this as a benediction some Sunday at the end of one of our services.

On another note, I am currently preparing lessons on prayer for our youth retreat coming up in the end of January, so as I work through thoughts for that I will post them here.
My basic format at this point is:
Lesson 1 - the importance of prayer from James 5:13-20 which tells us that Elijah was a man just like us, but when he prayed it didn't rain for 3 years, and then when he prayed again rain came to the earth.
Lesson 2 - We pray to the Father because....
Lesson 3 - We can pray because Jesus....
Lesson 4 - We can pray because the Spirit....

We'll see where things go from there.