Monday, November 17, 2014

Love in Brilliance

MONDAY // READ
Matthew 25:14-30
“It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

“After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

“The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

“The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

“The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

“‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

TUESDAY // Love in Brilliance
We navigate life through a series of cautious or risky decisions. Everything we do is a gamble, every action a balance of risk and reward. Will a healthy lifestyle give us longer and better lives? Will a college degree help you obtain a higher-paying job? Are we making the most of our lives? This is an amazing question to be asked and reflected upon regularly—am I getting the most out of life, and am I giving the most into life? Life certainly consists of the give and take of risk, but life is about more than risk. We should not be about the end goal, but the stewardship of life itself in pressing on toward that goal.

There is a certain degree of caution we must carry into this life, and that degree is dependent upon the situation we find ourselves in. Should we go here, or spend that, or try this—these questions have very different meanings and answers for each person. There is no one-size-fits-all to life. Stewardship is not measured in dollars or successes, but is measured according to our abilities and our effort. Stewardship is not unlike this: it’s not about how much or how far or how long, rather it is built upon the effort spent to make the journey great. It is not, however, something that can be measured, as it is a matter of the heart. We should no more charge into life haphazardly than we should fearfully. Life, itself, is a balance of risk and reward. It takes conscious, intentional thought and willingness to be successful, to thrive. But we must not forget that thriving, as an output of stewardship, cannot be measured in how much or how far or how long. Many such paupers thrive while princes decay. There is but one “how” to measure the stewardship of life, and it is the only “how” God is interested in: how brilliantly have we loved?

We are redeemed not to fear life, or fear God, or fear this adventure. We are redeemed to make something more of ourselves, our lives, our experiences, our dreams. Our hearts are captured and captivated that we might become magnetic, that we might grow beyond ourselves. God has not commanded us to pursue success; neither has he commanded us to fear failure. Instead, God has commanded us to make the most of what he has given us, each according to our abilities. And should we do so, he entrusts us with more. We must not mistake this to be simply a lesson in wealth, however—God is not interested in our wealth, rather in the stewardship of our lives and our love. The only question that matters, the only way to measure stewardship by God’s design—how brilliantly have we loved?

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
How do we define thriving? Is there a simple definition, or is it something unique and independent—something special to us? We cannot define thriving for another… we often cannot adequately define it for ourselves. What we determine to be our needs, our desires, our foundation, will be different for each person we meet. We are all unique, with individual needs, perspectives, goals and benchmarks. We define our lives uniquely, and we are uniquely Christ’s children. There is not one person that can define what thriving means for us, nor can we define what thriving means for another. We can presume and suppose, but we do not possess the empathy to truly understand contentment and thriving from another’s perspective.
                   
With this in mind, why do we so often project onto others our own ideas of how they should be living? How they should be thriving? We do this, veiling our eyes to the reality of our neighbors and painting them with our own presumptions of who they are. We are intended, designed, to steward our lives and our relationships. We are meant not to play life safe, nor reckless, but to draw the most from it and love as brilliantly as we can.

Do we allow others to thrive in their own way?

Do we pity or judge others based on our perceptions of their lives?

What right have we to presume we know another person’s story?

Do we fear life—are we so terrified of what could be or how uncomfortable something might be that we don’t even allow it the opportunity to flourish?

What are we doing to steward our lives and our relationships?

THURSDAY // REFLECT




FRIDAY // THINK
One of our severest lessons comes from the stubborn refusal to see that we must not interfere in other people’s lives. It takes a long time to realize the danger of being an amateur providence, that is, interfering with God’s order for others. You see a certain person suffering, and you say – He shall not suffer, and I will see that he does not. You put your hand straight in front of God’s permissive will to prevent it, and God says – "What is that to thee?" If there is stagnation spiritually, never allow it to go on, but get into God’s presence and find out the reason for it. Possibly you will find it is because you have been interfering in the life of another; proposing things you had no right to propose; advising when you had no right to advise. When you do have to give advice to another, God will advise through you with the direct understanding of His Spirit; your part is to be so rightly related to God that His discernment comes through you all the time for the blessing of another soul. –Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Nov 15

PRAY

Lord, teach us to find value in everything you create, in everything you give us. We want to better see our neighbors for who they are—as you created them to be. Help us understand their lives are their own, between they and you. Help us understand we are commanded to steward the lives and relationships you have given us. Guide our steps, Lord, that we would not take life recklessly, nor fearfully. amen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Raw Transparency

MONDAY // READ
Psalm 70:1-8
Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.
May those who want to take my life
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
    be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”
But as for me, I am poor and needy;
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay.

Amos 5:18-24
Woe to you who long
    for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
    That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
    only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
    and rested his hand on the wall
    only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
    pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

TUESDAY // RAW TRANSPARENCY
If we have but one offering for God—one true, real, honest sentiment—if we have but one raw articulation for our Creator, it is our openness. To try to hide from God, to lie to God, to manipulate the facts or justify our actions or avoid the truth: these are foolish endeavors. We cannot escape the piercing gaze of Christ; we can only consume it. Our hearts determine the taste of the Lord’s word in our mouths—our righteousness not defined by anything we have said or done but by the grace we have been given. To accept we are broken—poor and needy—is to gift God the greatest artifact of our being we have to give: honesty. Words will always fail and actions are impure, but the open and honest attachments of our heart speak a truth more loudly than can we can speak otherwise.


Christ does not need a clean slate from us or a receipt for penance paid, he only wants to become our slate and the price by which we are redeemed. He is not waiting for us to figure things out and become “good enough,” as there is no “good enough” in the Kingdom of God. Likewise, there is no whole. Not of our own doing, at least.


Our places of greatest weakness become our sacrifices in the Kingdom of God—it is the surrender of our efforts to right our own paths that invites Christ to begin lacing his way through our hearts and minds. We live in a perpetual state of brokenness, regardless of the veils social constructs have spread across our eyes. We are all broken, and above all else we must seek peace, justice, openness. It is the transparency of our hearts that allows God’s work to be done in us, and the transparency of our lives that allows our neighbors to see it.


WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
What are we holding on to—what obstructions and veils grip our hearts and hold tight the notion we can make it on our own? We can’t tackle this world on our own—life is not built for loners. We are created, formed, designed, crafted, built, sculpted and pressed for relationship. In those relationships, with both God and others, we are wholly responsible for honesty. If we are not open with God, we rob ourselves of opportunities to be used by God. All of our work, all of words, all of our offerings and gifts and ideas—these are meaningless if we are not honest with God and willing to be led.

What are some reasons we become closed off, distant or separate from God?

Do we try to hide things from God? Why do we feel we can or should hide anything from God?

What does it mean to be transparent with God?


How can we better maintain open and active communication with God? With our neighbors?


Are we ashamed to admit we are broken? To have someone see us for what we are?


Are we ashamed for God to see us for what and who we are?


THURSDAY // REFLECT





FRIDAY // THINK
If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so that you will never be surprised at what you come across. Oh, I can’t deal with that person. Why not? God gave you ample opportunity to soak before Him on that line, and you barged off because it seemed stupid to spend time in that way.


Are we partakers of Christ’s sufferings? Are we prepared for God to stamp our personal ambitions right out? Are we prepared for God to destroy by transfiguration our individual determinations? It will not mean that we know exactly why God is taking us that way, that would make us spiritual prigs. We never realize at the time what God is putting us through; we go through it more or less misunderstandingly; then we come to a luminous place, and say— “Why, God has girded me, though I did not know it!”
–Oswald Chambers



PRAY
Lord, teach us to become more visible and transparent for you, for your will and your plans for our lives. We want to explore the world you have set before us, hand in hand, learning of your good as we go. Help us better understand your heart and those things we desire in us. Continue to remind us that while we are yet broken, we are loved.
amen


Monday, November 3, 2014

Steeling the Goodness of God

MONDAY // READ
Psalm 34:1-14
I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
    for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, my children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
    and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.

TUESDAY // STEELING THE GOODNESS OF GOD
It is hard to grasp the goodness of God in the midst of our own chaos. For some of us, life is nothing but a chaotic mess, a disaster, a failed attempt at something good. Or so we think. Realistically, our scope of vision is so miniscule we really can’t know whether life is chaos or whether we’re flowing pretty evenly. Our judgment is skewed by our feelings, which are determined by our personalities. It is our perspective of life that decides whether it is good or bad, peaceful or chaotic, successful or failed. And that perspective changes as often as the wind. We are far from steadfast creatures—we are chaff, tossed around like ragdolls on the wings life, which we can neither fully see nor truly understand.

Where our consistency is garnered is the love of Christ and a willful desire to make the most of life. We all have choices to make, and even in choosing Christ, we cannot expect an “easy” or “clean” life. Instead, we ought to expect it to become more difficult, as we’re suddenly combating the value structures of our cultures. There is much work to be done upon choosing the Kingdom of God. We don’t work our way into heaven or earn Christ’s love; rather, we work to grow and learn. In doing so, we steel ourselves a bit more with each passing day. It is this construction of Christ within us that creates a firm foundation, such that when life is ready to start tossing ragdolls, we at least come back down in the same general vicinity, if only within our own souls. Less chaff to gather; fewer pieces to pick up.

The goodness of God is not found in what we do or do not receive, or in how we do or do not feel. No, the goodness of God is a marathon of sorts, glimpsed here and there in the changing landscape that becomes our hearts. It is the rock we learn to rest on, the strategies we learn to cope with chaos, the love we learn to accept when everything starts to fade away. The goodness of God is not reserved, but freely given, and is steadily chiseling away at our perceptions of life when we open our souls to it.

WEDNESDAY // CHALLENGE
Consider your past week. Was it good or bad? What are your criteria for making such a conclusion? We often answer that question based on what happened or didn’t happen; based on what we said or didn’t say; what we did or didn’t do. We make that decision based on how we perceived the events of our week, rather than on how we responded to those perceptions. Sure, we may have difficult weeks or months or years, but that difficulty is measured only in our experiences and only in ways we can understand.

So, considering your past week…

What were some things that were difficult?

What was good?

What are you THANKFUL for?

How can we look at those difficult things differently? How can you change your perspective a bit?

WHAT CAN WE LEARN from those experiences? How can that learning make this next week a little easier?

Did you spot the GOODNESS OF GOD, even in those difficult times?



THURSDAY // REFLECT




FRIDAY // THINK
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi


“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean


“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” – Swami Sivananda


The first thing God does with us is to get us based on rugged Reality until we do not care what becomes of us individually as long as He gets His way for the purpose of His Redemption. Why shouldn’t we go through heartbreaks? Through those doorways God is opening up ways of fellowship with His Son. Most of us fall and collapse at the first grip of pain; we sit down on the threshold of God’s purpose and die away of self-pity, and all so called Christian sympathy will aid us to our death bed. But God will not. He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son, and says— “Enter into fellowship with Me; arise and shine.” If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart.
– Oswald Chambers



& PRAY
Lord, teach us to see this life as you do—as you created it. Teach us to understand there is a bigger picture and to find you in our pursuit of that. Father, our desire is to find rest in you; we want to entertain your goodness each and every day. Be our steadfast anchor in the midst of chaos.
amen

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.