Monday, October 27, 2014

The Desolation of God

MONDAY // PSALM 46:1-11
God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

TUESDAY // THE DESOLATION OF GOD
Desolation is a powerful concept—it is a state of emptiness and destruction, or misery and loneliness.  It is the absence of goodness, or joy, of peace.  Desolation is the point at which we are no more and have no more.  Where all else has failed and we are left wanting.  Like a parched desert crying out for rain, the rumbling of little stomachs, the shivers of cold skin, the pangs of wasted time or the tears of lost journeys, desolation is there to greet us and wrap us in its cold, dark arms.  This is the reality of life—we are orphans to love, anxiously wandering this space, oblivious to the trials and tears of strangers passing in the night.  And like ships in the night, their pain—our pain—goes relatively unnoticed, less we mask in some kind of artificial joy and material fulfillment, or drown it at the bottom of a bottle.  Whatever our pain, desolation offers a vice to save us.  Such is the measure of life.

But that can’t be all—it isn’t all. We look around and we see the sunrise, the trees, the flowers; we see smiles and joy, love and peace and hope.  And surely in light of all the goodness we find, there must be something more, hence the desolation of God.

A more apt understanding of desolation might be the absence of that which is needed to thrive.  Where we traditionally define desolation as emptiness, we neglect that we are never empty.  Where we define it as loneliness, we forget that we are never alone.  Where we define it as misery, we fail to reconcile the peace of Christ.  When God brings desolation to the world, he ends wars, breaks arrows, shatters spears and burns shields.  When God introduces an absence of that which is needed to thrive, he creates a void that he can fill.  Whereas we fill our lives to offset desolation, God introduces desolation.  His world has learned this: where there is desert, life learns to survive with little; where this is fire, life becomes healthier.  Until we have need of him to end our wars and fill us with himself, we have neither room nor attention for Christ.  Life is hard—whether rich or poor, healthy or sick, strong or weak—we all have our own miseries.  Thus we all are need of desolation.


WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
Is your life a collection of ways to offset emptiness?  So often, we seek out entertainment, stuff, bottles or empty promises, in a fleeting effort to fill some void we can feel deep inside.  We can’t always pin the emptiness down, but we know it’s there.  We don’t always understand, but we feel it.  We have no solution for it, so we desperately try to replace it.  We are very effective, as such, at distracting ourselves from the emptiness. 

We need the emptiness, however—we need to have a reason to want.  It is in this emptiness that God is most powerful.  It is in our need for him that we understand him best.  What good is the Peace of God if we don’t feel the emptiness without God?  We are very good at filling ourselves with busyness and tasks and people and places and things to distract us from the pain.  But we’re only distracting ourselves from God. And wasting time.  There is relationship in abundance outside of our desolation, when we accept our emptiness and embrace God’s desolation.  This is certainly not to say we must sell everything we own, or cut off all of our ties with people, or leave our lives behind.  It’s not bad to have good jobs, good relationships, things and stuff and entertainment. These things, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad.  They are, instead, observers of our desolation and the subjects of our anxieties.  It is the intent of heart that matters, and in what we place our hope.  Are we looking to people or places or things to fill us, or are we looking to God and sharing life with those people and places and things?

Can we accept that we are empty by default, and need filling by something?

For what purpose do we exist?

Absent of God, is there any meaning to our lives?

If we aren’t filling out desolation with God, with what are we filling it?

How do our lives exemplify an emptiness filled by God?

How do our dreams reflect the cavern that is our heart?


THURSDAY // REFLECT




FRIDAY // THINK & PRAY
The Christian who is seeking better things and who has to his consternation found himself in a state of complete self-despair need not be discouraged. Despair with self, where it is accompanied by faith, is a good friend, for it destroys one of the heart's most potent enemies and prepares the soul for the ministration of the Comforter. A sense of utter emptiness, of disappointment and darkness can (if we are alert and wise to what is going on) be the shadow in the valley of shadows that leads on to those fruitful fields that lie further in. If we misunderstand it and resist this visitation of God we may miss entirely every benefit a kind heavenly Father has in mind for us. If we cooperate with God He will take away the natural comforts that have served us as mother and nurse for so long and put us where we can receive no help except from the Comforter Himself.

–A.W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest

———

Herein lies the secret, I believe, of the inner life of Jesus. Christ's communion with Abba in the inner sanctuary of His soul transformed His vision of reality, enabling Him to perceive God's love and care behind the complexities of life. Practicing the presence helps us to discern the providence of God at work especially in those dark hours when the signature of Jesus is being traced in our flesh. (You may wish to try it right now. Lower the book, center down, and offer yourself to the indwelling God.)

–Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus

// PRAY
Lord, remove the walls we assemble and display vibrantly within our hearts the emptiness that life offers.  Then fill us with the Peace that is you.

amen.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Meandering

MONDAY // READ
PSALM 96:1-9
Sing God a brand-new song!
       Earth and everyone in it, sing!
       Sing to God—worship God!
Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea,
       Take the news of his glory to the lost,
       News of his wonders to one and all!
For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.
His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap;
Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.
God made the heavens—
Royal splendor radiates from him,
A powerful beauty sets him apart.
Bravo, God, Bravo!
Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!
In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.
Bring gifts and celebrate,
Bow before the beauty of God,
Then to your knees—everyone worship!

1 THESSALONIANS 1:2-6
Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.

You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.

TUESDAY // MEANDERING
Too often we race through life, running here and there, always trying to be somewhere or get something done. We fill our schedules so entirely full that we don’t have time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, where we’ve failed, how we’ve succeeded, or in what ways we have loved. We have agendas, to-do lists, schedules and priorities. This must be done, that isn’t done. We run so long and so far that we not only lose sight of where we’re headed, but also from where we began. Or why we began.

We then don’t know why we’re running. And if we don’t know where we began or why we’re running, how will we ever know when we arrive? What is our purpose as we trudge through life? Why do we wake each morning and go about our day? Are we accomplishing something great and brilliant? It becomes easy for some of us to spend no time on such pursuits, bearing a complete lack of concern for productivity and simply floating by chasing after what makes us happy. Conversely, it can also become easy to become so entrenched in such pursuits we cannot be happy, for we have yet to reach our preconceived ideation of success. The challenge before us is to meander: to wind through life, absorbing everything God created it to be.

We are created by God to love—to love him and love each other. To value one another as we do ourselves. To honor God with our lives. If we try too hard or not enough we’ve missed the point—instead we ought to meander, strolling through this life intentionally—hardly focused on where we’re headed and greatly focused on what we can experience along the way. It is in our meandering we find the beauty God infused into life, and we find reasons to be thankful. It is in the meandering we find ourselves, and our hearts begin to transform and take on the shape of our thankfulness, of our generosity, of our hope and of our love.

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
Where are you headed? Have you stopped lately to consider why you have life—why you exist? What is the goal, what is there to accomplish? By what measure will your success be defined? These questions are paramount to understanding ourselves, and we cannot begin to be gracious, thankful and generous if we do not understand ourselves. Our motivations are birthed deep inside—places often untouched and left in darkness. But it is these motivations that define us. Are we showing the love of Christ—the peace of Christ—with our lives? Our words are meaningless if our lives don’t reflect those utterances. Our hearts have a marvelous way of convicting us, and what we choose to do with the conviction today guides our character development tomorrow. This is how we grow, how we learn. This is how we meander through life: we take what we’ve learned today and use it tomorrow to experience a bit more of life, of beauty, of love, of God.

Take time today, tomorrow, this week, to reflect on yourself. Are you running? Have you quit at life? Or are you meandering through life, exploring to the fullest everything God has? Meandering is a complex and sophisticated talent that takes a great deal of time, patience and constant effort. It is the intentional and forward decision to experience what God has created around us and to be express thankfulness and joy in that. Meandering is a heart-set guided by the Spirit, rooted in empathy, painted in generosity and flavored with peace—it is the willingness to slow our lives and see the world as God constructed it, not as we expect it.

Our challenge this week is to practice meandering—to intentionally and willfully explore ourselves as God created us and our world as God intended: prayerfully and with thanksgiving. Each day is a new opportunity to pray, to fast, to journal, to sing, to sit and think, to stop thinking, to listen, to learn, to express, to explore. Whatever form your meandering takes, be intentional and approach life with great expectancy for thankfulness.

THURSDAY // REFLECT



FRIDAY // THINK
“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.” ― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

“Gratitude bestows reverence.....changing forever how we experience life and the world.” ― John Milton

“Rules for Self Discovery:
1. What we want most;
2. What we think about most;
3. How we use our money;
4. What we do with our leisure time;
5. The company we enjoy;
6. Who and what we admire;
7. What we laugh at.”
A.W. Tozer

“Here are the two best prayers I know: 'Help me, help me, help me' and 'Thank you, thank you, thank you.” ― Anne Lamott

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer


// PRAY
Lord, grant us the strength to stop and consider what you have done. To be grateful for your love. To see and imitate your generosity. To receive your joy. Teach us explore your world and the place you gave us in it, that we might know and love you better. Help us learn to reflect on you in all things, prayerfully and with gratitude for who you are.

amen.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Vices

MONDAY: READ
Philippians 4:1-9
My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.

I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.

And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

TUESDAY: THOUGHTS // Vices
How do we spend our time? Are constructing the world around us into something beautiful and righteous, or are we destroying everything in and around our lives? The obvious answer is construction, as we fail to admit we are destructive. That does not make it any less true that we are destructive forces of nature. But we are also benevolent. We have the power to build or to tear down. Our words can bolster or wound; our minds can create or smother; our actions can embolden or imprison; our hearts can dream or wither.

How do we spend our time? Do we worry and fear? Do we allow stress and chaos and anxiety to penetrate our core, fighting with the peace God so desperately wants us to take hold of? Are we filling our hearts and minds with things beneficial or things injurious?

We often don’t consider the ramifications of our individual actions, but the sum of the parts is always the whole. How we act, react, choose, or relate is the most pressing question of any. It is our interaction with the world around us that exemplifies who we are. God sees through us to our hearts; others do not. Thus, both our hearts and minds must be tuned to those things that are good. Our secret vices are the most damaging, as they eat away at our souls, creating guilt, pain, fear and anxiety. Our public vices become the measure of our judgment from the world around us. We must turn all of our vices over to Christ, to make room for his peace. He’ll deal with our secret problems. It may not be quickly, but if we repeatedly surrender to him, he will chisel away at the hardness built up in our souls. He’ll deal with our public problems. He may not change the opinions of others, but he can and will change our opinions of ourselves. But first we must surrender to him. We must give him our brokenness before he can repair it; this is the construct of free will, of choice. We surrender through prayer—through communication.

WEDNESDAY: CHALLENGE // Refining Peace
How often do we pray God would help us do this or that, or stop doing this or that? And we turn right and do it again. And again. And again. Whether our vices are unhealthy physically, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually, we seem to fall back to them. We deem ourselves failures and eventually, hopefully, we get back up and try again. And we’ll probably do the same thing again. This is the nature of life. Christ has redeemed, but the refining power of the Holy Spirit is rarely instantaneous. It is complex and painful and challenging. But if we focus on the good, the right, the noble, the pure, the healthy—if we focus on who Christ is and what he wants—we move a little bit further toward that peace. And the peace of God is freely given; God wants only our souls. He will address our vices thereafter.

We cannot become pure then come to Christ—there would be nothing left for Christ to redeem, and that is what he does. He redeems. No, we must come to Christ when we are broken, and the more broken the better, because the peace is more noticeable. We’ve not yet had time to become comfortable in our mediocrity.

Be real with Christ. Yell. Scream. Curse. Process. And move on. This is the flow of redemption—purge the brokenness, build the peace and move forward, focusing on those things that are good.

Define yourself. Do you define yourself by your strengths or your weaknesses?

How often do we get hung up on our brokenness?

Will we accept the peace of Christ? How do we do that?

Can we leave ourselves and our mediocrity behind for that peace?

Are you surrendering to Christ and laying down your vices?

THURSDAY: REFLECT



FRIDAY: THINK // Oswald Chambers, Oct 9
I cannot save and sanctify myself; I cannot make atonement for sin; I cannot redeem the world; I cannot right what is wrong, purify what is impure, or make holy what is unholy. That is all the sovereign work of God. Do I have faith in what Jesus Christ has done? He has made the perfect atonement for sin. Am I in the habit of constantly realizing it? The greatest need we have is not to do things, but to believe things. The redemption of Christ is not an experience, it is the great act of God which He has performed through Christ, and I have to build my faith on it. If I construct my faith on my own experience, I produce the most unscriptural kind of life— an isolated life, with my eyes focused solely on my own holiness. Beware of that human holiness that is not based on the atonement of the Lord. It has no value for anything except a life of isolation— it is useless to God and a nuisance to man. Measure every kind of experience you have by our Lord Himself. We cannot do anything pleasing to God unless we deliberately build on the foundation of the atonement by the Cross of Christ.

PRAY //
Father, give us your peace, which surpasses everything else we know. Teach us to focus and meditate on those things that are good, right, pure, holy, healthy. Teach us to focus on you and what you’re doing in the world around us. Help us lay down our vices, our secrets, our brokenness, to take up your grace and mercy. Build us up to gift those to our friends, our neighbors. Pull us from our comfort, our mediocrity, that perhaps in such circumstances we might find our need for your love. Above all us, teach us to pray. Without communication we cannot grow, we cannot move. We must be in relationship with you first, our community second. If we neglect the framework of our world, we can do nothing but fall. Instill in us a desire to join our hearts with yours, that we might vent, rage, quiet, learn and grow. In you we can process life in constructive and healthy ways, finding love and learning to love. In you we learn to live.
Father, give us your peace, which surpasses everything else we know. Teach us to focus and meditate on those things that are good, right, pure, holy, healthy. Teach us to focus on you and what you’re doing in the world around us. Help us lay down our vices, our secrets, our brokenness, to take up your grace and mercy. Build us up to gift those to our friends, our neighbors. Pull us from our comfort, our mediocrity, that perhaps in such circumstances we might find our need for your love. Above all us, teach us to pray. Without communication we cannot grow, we cannot move. We must be in relationship with you first, our community second. If we neglect the framework of our world, we can do nothing but fall. Instill in us a desire to join our hearts with yours, that we might vent, rage, quiet, learn and grow. In you we can process life in constructive and healthy ways, finding love and learning to love. In you we learn to live.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Standard of Christ

Monday // READ
Philippians 3:3-14
For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


Tuesday // THOUGHTS
THE STANDARD OF CHRIST
We can often find many reasons why we are better or stronger or faster or smarter than the people around us. In fact, we may even surround ourselves with people we think are less so that we feel superior. Harsh? Yes. But realistic. We as a people, humans, are notoriously full of pride and self-value.

We are all wandering along the same journey, the same path. We merely move at different. Where one is weak another is strong. Where one is poor another is rich. Not one of us can make this journey alone—none of us are gifted with independence. Instead, Christ calls us to be dependent, relying on him and those around us. We cannot do that if we maintain such confidence in ourselves that we cannot value and find worth in those around us. We ought to be confident in Christ, for without his guidance we are nothing.

Paul wrote that he had everything together—he was pure, he was faultless, he was righteous. He was zealous. And yet he comes to recognize that despite all he thought of himself, he was nothing under the standard of Christ. The practice of Christ to invert life—last first, first last—applied also to Paul. No matter what he had or how “good” he was, it was nothing compared to what he found in his journey with Christ. Why is that?

How can everything Paul worked for—all of his self-value—mean nothing to him? The standard of Christ is unlike that of men. Our measure in the Kingdom is not determined by what we do or say or think, but by who God created us to be. And he created us equal—to be confident in his love, find pride in our brokenness and value in our brothers and sisters around us. Everything we are, we are because of Christ. We may be special or powerful or smart or beautiful by the world’s standard, but in the end those standards are not the standards by which we will measure our lives. Ultimately, we are measured by our generosity—how we gave of ourselves for the good of the kingdom. Whether money, or time, or energy, or grace, or peace, or prayer, or encouragement, generosity is a pervasive and self-replicating phenomenon of this life in Christ. The more we give, the fuller we become. Full of Christ, not self.


Wednesday // CHALLENGE
It is difficult to find this sort of value in people around us sometimes—a value that says, “you are important to me, who you are and as you are.” We are trained to look for cues about our neighbors and build determinations based on those cues. Clothing, grammar, hair, job, home, car, intelligence, success. These vague and/or insignificant factors of someone’s life determine their value in our eyes before we ever know who God created them to be. We as a Church so often refuse to allow people to come unto Christ; we require they become Christian-like rather than letting Christ make them Christ-like. We don’t walk with them on their journey; we walk before them. We don’t lift them up; we show them our expectations of where they ought to be. And all the while we fail to realize that we are just as broken. Perhaps not in the same way, but alike nonetheless.

Our challenge, then, is to learn to value our neighbors for who they are: children of God. Just like us. And just like us, they are learning as they go. We must continuously grow in Christ—when we stop learning we stop moving. We grow in Christ by learning from someone a bit further in the journey than we are. We then also must recognize that someone else is learning from us. It is in this that we embody the generosity of Christ—the love that carries not restrictions.


Is your life reflecting Christ?

Are we giving anyone cause to resent the Gospel?

Are we building our neighbors up or leaving them behind?

Are we walking alongside them?

How do we determine someone’s value?


Thursday // REFLECT



Friday // THINK
Is it not humiliating to be told that we must come to Jesus! Think of the things we will not come to Jesus Christ about. If you want to know how real you are, test yourself by these words – "Come unto Me." In every degree in which you are not real, you will dispute rather than come, you will quibble rather than come, you will go through sorrow rather than come, you will do anything rather than come the last lap of unutterable foolishness – "Just as I am." As long as you have the tiniest bit of spiritual impertinence, it will always reveal itself in the fact that you are expecting God to tell you to do a big thing, and all He is telling you to do is to "come."

Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for his Highest
October 8

// PRAY
Our God, reveal in us the nature of who we are in you. Teach us to see through our own definitions of value, worth, success and beauty; to see what created in us and are working so diligently to pull out of us. Lord, teach us to grow in you, to walk alongside our peers and run this race together. We want to find the value in our neighbors that you do. We are nothing without you, Lord, and we need a steady reminder of that point. Nothing we do of our own has any value in Kingdom work—glory belongs to you, through you, of you. Teach us to honor you and recognize that each and every one of us is equally and wonderfully made. We want to become full of you and free to our neighbors.

amen