Generosity Begets Generosity

The center of a Christian’s life is a cosmic act of extravagant and infinite generosity. God is willing to spend everything to have us, to love us, and to embrace us.

In Jesus, the transcendent Creator takes on the appearance and likeness of the creature.  He doesn’t come into this world as an emperor, King, President or CEO, but as a fetus.  He was born in a stable to a blue-collar Jewish worker.

The second person of the Godhead who knew what it was like to be everywhere at the same time now knows the binding confines of skin. He has to use doors!  Ride animals. Eat and sleep. The God of the Universe now has to say, “OK, Mom.  Yes, sir, Dad.”  Think of the humiliation Jesus must have felt when he traveled among mere men who did not bow or cry out in adoration and worship.  The creator is now rubbing shoulders with men he had created.  Men who would growl, “Get out of my way Jew-boy!  Who do you think you are?”

20160919_093643-1Why did Jesus go through that? So that God could give us everything. So that God could give us Himself. God spends everything in order to give us everything.

I remember my first paying job. I was five years old. My father had turned over a plot of ground behind our house with a spade and I wanted to help. Of course the shovel was too much for me to handle so he gave me the job of breaking up the dirt clods left behind and preparing the ground for rows.

I was, again, too small and uncoordinated to handle a garden rake so he had the idea of taking a remnant of a role of hog wire that was about 12 inches in diameter and running a hog-wire-rollrope through the core of that tube of wire and making a loop with the rope. Then he put me in the traces of that loop of rope tied to that roll of wire and told me to walk up and down the turned ground until the dirt clods were all knocked down and smooth.

I imagined I was Samson working for the uncircumcised Philistines after he had been turned in by Delilah and blinded. After I finished the job my parents paid me fifty cents—in nickels. Ten nickels!!! I was thrilled. That money went a long way in 1963. Think of all the double bubble gum that would buy!

Then my parents thought it would be a good idea to teach me about tithing. Said that I had the privilege to give one of those nickels the coming Sunday in the offering plate when it was passed.

I don’t remember thinking that “having the privilege” to give was such a great thing. That would be like saying, “Joe, you get the privilege of eating cooked carrots tonight at dinner.” Or, “Son, you have the privilege of getting your baby teeth pulled tomorrow so that your adult teeth can come in smooth and straight.”

Why did I feel that way? Because I hadn’t yet been properly overwhelmed by God’s generosity on a hill called Calvary.

One of the telltale signs of a deep work of grace in a person’s life found in Scriptures is that the person becomes a generous person with whatever material things they possess.

Look deeply at the cross until you fall so deeply in love with Jesus that bubbling up from your soul comes affection, love, and generosity. That is how your soul is formed. Shaped into the character of God.

And remember, we are never more Godlike than when we give.

For God so loved the world that He gave…

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The Power of Words

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Psalms 119:105

I recently had a dream that my wife lost her voice for a day.  She couldn’t speak.  All she could do was nod.  Imagine a spouse who cannot say a word.  Whatever I said, she could not contradict.  Whatever issue came up, I was guaranteed to have the last word.  All she could do was smile and nod.

When I woke up I thought, wouldn’t it be unbearable if she were to forever lose her voice.  I know her voice better than any other.  To never hear it again, to never hear her laugh, or talk, or give encouragement, or express love, or disagree, or argue and then make up again, would be unthinkable.

For one day, it would be enjoyable, but for a lifetime…  Where there’s love, where there’s relationship, there are words. I love words.

I can be transported to another planet when I read Peralandra or I can find myself in a dusty border town in Texas called Lonesome Dove.  I can laugh at the outrageous characters dreamed up by Flannery O’Connor or feel a tear track its way down my cheek at the last scene of The Grapes of Wrath.  In so many ways words are my world.

But no words—written or spoken by great authors—compare with the Word of God to bring lasting change to a culture, guidance to a government or gentle encouragement to a frightened heart.

There is nothing on this earth that can shape your soul like the Word of God. There is nothing that can give you comfort and hope like this love letter from Jesus.

A few years ago, my wife and I visited an elderly saint in our Church who had broken her hip and was in the hospital.  We stood in the doorway to her room when her daughter saw us and waived us in.

After washing our hands, we walked in and when she saw me, she raised her knobby hands, with tubes taped to them, and beckoned me to come close.   I held her hand and I asked how she was feeling and assured her of her churches love and prayer support.

Her chest moved up and down and a deep guttural rasp escaped with every exhale.  It was as if she were pushing a piano off her chest with every breath. Every exhale was loud and labored. There was a wild look of concern in her eyes.  What you might expect from someone who was uncertain about their next breath.

lamp_wordHer daughter asked if I had a Bible. I felt my face flush and said that I didn’t have my tool box with me.  She said that Providence Hospital couldn’t find one and that her mother wanted to have the twenty third Psalm read to her.  I said, “Well, I think I might be able to recite most of it.” (Secretly hoping that I remember all of Psalm 23, but will probably mess this up)

I put my right hand on her forehead and held her hand in my left hand and began to recite, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

She closed her eyes and her breathing grew quiet and serene.  I continued, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.   He restoreth my soul…”

Her breathing was as gentle as a baby’s.  I looked at her daughter and tears were streaming down her face

 “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Give us this day our daily bread…and Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; for Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen”

My face burned because I knew I had mashed Scripture together that didn’t belong. I was hoping that since it sounded like the King James Version that she wouldn’t notice and that God would forgive me messing up His book.  Then she opened her eyes and looked at me.

“Did that sound familiar?” I asked.

With misty eyes she slowly nodded her head. I tried to wrap up the visit so we wouldn’t tire her out.

She squeezed my hand tightly and said, “Pastor, I have confessed all my sins to Jesus and I am ready to go.”

I smiled and said, “It’s not time for that yet.”

“Well, stay or go—either way, it’s fine” she said.

Her words fell like notes from a lover’s ballad into my heart and reminded me of the Apostle Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Where there’s love, where there’s relationship, there are words.

Does God have words? Does God have a voice? Does God speak?

You tell me.

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How Do You Spell Relief?

When I kept silent, my bones grew old. ~ King David

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Homes novels, was quite a prankster.  One day he played a prank on five of the most prominent men in his home town in England.  He sent an anonymous note to each man, which simply said, “All is found out.  Flee at once.”  Within twenty-four hours all five men had left the country.

We all live with a certain level of guilt. Left to sit in our soul, sin will cause us much inner turmoil and heart ache. Unresolved guilt will leak out in our lives in a myriad of ways; from sarcasm to outright anger. It will contribute to the disintegration intimacy in relationships. Unresolved guilt will estrange us from the God who created us.

Guilt will wreck your life leaving us in need of restoration.

When we harbor sin it causes a soul-sickness that only finds it’s relief when we confess our sins to one another and to God. I promise you, from personal experience, you will never regret the relief you will feel when you release that sin to God.

Run the Rockies Half Marathon

Run the Rockies Half Marathon

Earlier this summer I ran/walked a half marathon from Copper Mountain to Breckenridge. I have long since stopped trying to compete with anyone in races like that. My goal this day was to finish.  I knew I would be last because I intended to walk the 13.1 miles. As it turns out at the starting line in Copper I got caught up in the excitement of the race and began to run. I ran 7 miles and then started walking. I would pass every aid station and tell them that I was the last guy. They would get on their radio and say Bib #817 just past we are shutting down the station.

At the end there was a giant inflatable blue arch that said “FINISH” but there was no one there to cheer for me for finishing. There were about 15 people who had “Event Staff” on the back of their shirts and when they saw me began to cheer. But I knew they were cheering that they could go home now and not for my accomplishment.

As I crossed the finish line they gave me a drink of something and a slice of pizza. I was grateful for something cold to drink and something to eat.  I called Lynette, who was shopping at the outlet mall, and she came to pick me up. I asked her to drive home because I wasn’t feeling well.

As we swerved and sloshed our way over the mountain pass I started feeling worse and worse. My stomach began to rebel against the cold drink and pizza. When we passed through Leadville I told Nette, “If I say ‘pull over’ you better not hesitate. You better pull over no matter what.”

Ok, she said.

Five minutes later I said, “Pull over!”

“But there is no…”

“Pull over!”

She did.

I barely opened the door when I lost the pizza on the side of Lynette’s car and the side of the road in the most violent way.

As I cleaned myself up and laid back down in the passenger seat, I marveled at how much better I felt.  I had fought and fought to hold down that pizza and when I finally let it go. I felt like a brand new man.

Lynette pulled back on to the road, disgusted.

And then I told her how much better I felt and how it was like hiding sin in our lives and feeling the guilt and shame of unconfessed sin roiling in our souls, making us heart-sick. But then when we acknowledge our sins and release them in confession, sometimes with great force on the road to repentance, we feel so much better and wonder why we kept them inside for so long.

Do you want to know what Lynette said?

“Don’t ever do that in my car again just so you can have story for your sermons.”

Listen to the way Eugene Peterson translates old King David’s poem from Psalm 32:3-5

When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.

The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.

Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”

Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.

One of the basics of how I was taught to pray as a young Christian was the element of confessing of sin.  We used the acrostic ACTS that stood for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. To this day when I pray I usually practice some form of those elements.

In our church we have a time in our service where we give space for individual and corporate confession. I’ve actually had some ask why we do it every week. It reminds me of a story a friend of mine told about a time in his service. In his service when they read the scriptures together at the end of that reading the he recites a line from the prophet Isaiah:

The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

One Sunday a grumpy middle school girl came up to him in a huff and said, “Pastor Paul, why is that every week after you read the Bible you always say, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever”?

The pastor leaned over, smiled and said, “That’s why.”

There is an aspect of spiritual muscle memory that happens when we do this important discipline regularly. In the same way a basketball player shoots a hundred free throws in practice, the way a pianist practices scales; we want to practice being honest with God and drinking deeply of His forgiveness.

I need to practice this discipline of confession and receiving His forgiveness so often that itconfession comes as natural to me as a good habit. Until it gets to the place of instinct in my life. Until being honest with God about my mess and as confident about His forgiveness is a reflex.

When I regularly practice the discipline of confession I position myself for a holy restoration. The God who created me is gently waiting for me to own up to what and who I am so that He can clean me up.

And when that happens—my heart is filled with joy. It happens every time.

And all of heaven rejoices when a restoration happens on earth.

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The Call to Worship

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands…
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
Psalm 115:4,8

Corporate worship is designed to embed your story in the larger story of redemption, so you’ll always place your hope in the grace of Jesus. ~ Paul David Tripp

In writer/director Christopher Nolan’s 2000 haunting movie Memento, the feature character is a man named Leonard. This is a tragic character in the classic Greek sense of that word.

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is a man who is struggling to put his life back together after the brutal murder of his wife. But Leonard’s problems are different from those of most people in his situation; he was beaten severely by the same man who killed his wife. The most significant manifestation of Leonard’s injuries is that his short-term memory has been destroyed; he is incapable of retaining any new information, and must resort to copious note-taking and Polaroid photographs in order to keep track of what happens to him over the course of a day (he’s even tattooed himself with a few crucial bits of information he can’t get along without).

Leonard is a tragic character because he can’t remember his story.

In many ways Leonard is a picture of many of us and the times in which we live. We are a people that don’t have a clear picture of our story.

Scientist have validated what various cultures have known for years: In order for each of us to make sense of our lives we all live with some sort of meta narrative, some form of story of the world that shapes how we live and our choices in day-to-day life.

This is what a story answers for us. And we can’t live without a sense of our story. But often, like the character Leonard, we try to stitch together moments, snapshots and ideas to try to have a narrative that helps to make some sense of our lives.

Our faith is a story of what the living Creator of all of reality has done to form, love, rule and rescue us and the entire cosmos in the person of Jesus Christ.

worshipAnd when I drive up the dirt driveway that leads to our church, walk into the building and sing songs and pray prayers, I am telling this story. When we participate in worship week-by-week we are celebrating, enacting and telling the story of rescue, redemption, and restoration by our Creator God of the cosmos. By doing these acts and elements we are sinking the story deeply into our lives and creating soul-memories.

And what I learn from the ancient poems of the Bible is that we all worship—something or someone. For atheism is not the opposite of worship, idolatry is.

The late author David Foster Wallace was asked to deliver a commencement at Kenyon college in May of 2005. By no means is he a believer. But he shares some powerful insights into the concept of worship in that address.

Here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

Worship is our default setting. And we always become like what we worship. So, when we worship something other than the Living God ultimately it will only degrade and dehumanize us.

A simple diagnostic to asses who or what I am worshipping is to try to imagine what would cause me to come completely undone if I lost it. Everyone loses loved ones and things in life—we all do. And it hurts. But what is it in my life that if it is threatened with loss causes me to panic? What do I turn to for comfort when it feels like my life is falling apart? What are the things in my life that if I didn’t have them would make me feel like I weren’t a person anymore?

The ancient book that we love suggests that we give our heart-allegiance to the One who created us.

God created everything that is. He made God’s dimension of reality and ours. The living, free, sovereign God is the One who stitched together the tectonic plates that lie at the floor of the oceans. He is the one who thought up the majestic elk, the gentle dove and the weird duckbill platypus. He is the One who hand-placed the over billion stars in our galaxy and the billion or more galaxies in our universe. And He is the God who has shaped every atom, neutron, quark and string at the sub-atomic level. And He is the God who knows every freckly age spot and hair follicle of your body and mine.

God is our creator. That’s why we worship Him.

We not only worship Him because He is our creator, we worship Him because he is our rescuer.

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.

God rescues us even when we are good as gone. We worship a God who has rolled up His divine sleeves, gotten his hands dirty rescuing a sin and death-ravaged creation. God “mixes it up” with real people in real places to save us from ourselves. Even in all of our mess and brokenness He shields us, protects us and helps us.  He marks us with His love and blesses us.

And what we have in the Bible is an epic story of God doing exactly that with people like you and I down through the ages until He finally helps, rescues, and blesses us once and for all in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

I love the story of when a missionary described the God of the universe as found in Jesus to a Chinese woman for the first time. As she heard the missionary describe Jesus her eyes filled with tears and then she said, “I always knew there ought to be a God like that somewhere, I just didn’t know His name.”

And so, dear reader, immerse yourself in the story of Jesus week-by-week and find healing for your broken soul.

Now that you know His name, perhaps you will find yours.

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Slow Healing

 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.  (Genesis 1:30)

I took them up in my arms;
    but they did not know that I healed them. ~ God (Hosea 11:3)

We had bruised hips, blistered feet and various scrapes and cuts; battle wounds with the mountain. Our destination is a remote alpine lake. It is a talisman for me, a place of reverence. Some of the glory bestowed upon the lake is due to its rugged beauty and some is because it is the headwater for many myths that have shaped my life.

To say it is elemental and formative to my life as a human being on this earth would be accurate. At age thirteen on my first trip to the lake, I moved from being a boy into the awareness of what it meant to be a man. Over the next many decades, I took many friends and family into this sacred place.

cRESTONEThe lake is cupped in an alpine cirque as if treasured by the right hand of God. Surrounded by thousand foot cliffs that crumble into talus and scree right into the cobalt blue water; and at other places the slope is gentle enough for shallow top soil to find purchase. The dark loam, however thin, is rich enough to grow lush mountain grass, skunk cabbage, cinquefoil, and giant dandelions. Colorado blue spruce lace one end of the lake like giant fingers holding the water in place.

Our group believed in “leaving no trace” while in the wilderness. I was struck at how little had changed in the two decade since we had tried to clean up the careless mess of others. The lake shore was pock-marked with dark charcoal fire-rings. Rusty tin cans, plastic and other trash littered old campsites and even hung in the trees. So, we decided to leave one clearly visible and accessible campsite with a fire-ring and clean up the others.

Carefully we cut the sod and laid it to one side. Digging down beneath the top soil to the gravel base, we then buried charred pieces of wood and any organic items we could find.

Wounds

Wounds

The bottles, cans, and plastics we packed out. We replaced the sod and watered the area making many trips to the lake with our single liter bottles. We offered a prayer of dedication asking our Creator-God to bless the efforts to right the environmental wrongs of others.

We wanted to honor the Creator we felt so close to in this remote wilderness. But we also did it because we wanted the place to look better for our own enjoyment. Maybe we even wanted to teach a lesson of what it means to honor the land to others who would come to the lake.

So why was it so easy for me to find the restored area two decades after our efforts at environmental restoration? Did we do it wrong? I think no. What struck me as I stood at that place beside the lake was this: in spite of our best efforts, some eco systems are extraordinarily fragile and healing takes a long time.

Sadly, I could still see the outline of the trench. The sod stood like clumps of green braille on brown ground. Honestly, the area where we buried the refuse looked more like a grave than a place of restoration. I said a prayer, shook my head, and walked away.

It has occurred to me that our souls are much like the fragile eco system above tree line: remote, strikingly beautiful, and fragile to the carelessness of man. Whether that harm is self-inflicted, neglect, or from others; we scar easily. Restoration takes a long time.

What then? Do we fail to cooperate with God in restoring His world? Do we quit because it takes longer than we want? Do we busy ourselves with some task or project that has a more immediate ROI? No. We must not be so shallow.  Time is tender and tough above tree line. Tender in that it only takes one moment to do generational damage to the land. Tough because it is stubbornly relentless in its process of restoration. It is the same with the restoration of a soul. I must remember that God doesn’t get in a hurry about anything.

Scanning the souls in my relational landscape, I see a charred fire-ring of betrayal here, a pock-marked heart there, and I can’t help myself. I pick up the shards of broken souls, the crumpled cans of discarded dreams, and the burnt wood of moral failures and start the process of cooperating with our God to restore his world, one life at a time. It may take a long time for these marred soul to blend in to the lush land of the Kingdom of Heaven, but what else can I do? Some things are even more precious than water cupped in the hand of God.

You. 

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The Pearl

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.  ~Jesus 

What is the Summum bonum of life; the value above all values? Jesus called it “the Kingdom of Heaven”. What exactly is that?  I believe it is the integration of God’s rule into all reality.  It is living in such a way as to bring the eternal values to bear on the earthly and it is the ability to recognize Kingdom enterprise when it appears.

However, when I put a higher value on non-kingdom merchandise and activities—-spiritual dissonance occurs.  In fact, the elevation of anything exclusive to God’s rule is idolatry.

pearl-great-priceHave you ever made a large purchase and then as you drove it away or drove away from the mortgage company where you signed the countless documents, you begin to get an uneasy feeling?  We call this buyer’s remorse.  I fear I have paid too much for something but now it is too late.  Without exception, I will wind up paying too much when I put ultimate trust in that which is not of God, but in one of God’s creations.

How do we discern our way into recognition of what is and what is not of eternal worth?

Bernard of Clairvaux in On Loving God developed a continuum of successive stages toward real fulfillment.

  • The love of self for self’s sake

    We all begin our journey here. The world revolves around me. We are aware of our needs and nothing else. This is narcissism or egocentric living.  It is how we all started out as infants.

As a teenage boy I lived only for my needs.  I lived a life of extravagant hedonism.  I did what I wanted, when I wanted and with whom I wanted.  I had no care of the damage I was doing those around me.  My life was all about me. (Over the years I have lapsed into that phase more often than I care to count.)

While it is natural and the beginning point of our spiritual journey—-it must be left behind for it will lead to a destructive life.

C. S. Lewis spoke once of being awakened in the middle of the night during his bachelor days and not being able to go back to sleep. It was totally dark and utterly still in his bedroom at Magdalen College. There was no way to perceive anything there outside himself. It was as if he were alone in a vacuous black hole. Suddenly he sat bolt upright in bed, for it dawned on him that such isolation was the logical end of a self-centered life.

“What if,” he found himself asking, “we get in eternity exactly what we’ve lived for in time?” This means if we’ve truly loved others and beauty and ideas and causes beyond ourselves, we shall continue to participate in that realm of richness. But if we’ve lived only for ourselves—if every thought and concern have revolved around the self and the self alone—could it be that all we shall get will be ourselves and nothing else?

Such a condition would amount to total isolation, which is similar to that worst of all punishments, short of capital punishment—namely, solitary confinement. Such a fate cuts across the very heart of what we human beings are and need. To be utterly and totally alone makes even the images of a burning Hell seem mild in comparison.

We’ve no choice about beginning our lives in such self-centeredness, but we do have a choice as to whether or not we remain there.

  • The love of God for Self’s sake.

At this stage there is a growing awareness of realities outside of ourselves. There are other entities, yet the focus is still very much on ourselves.  We love God for all that God can do for us.

The other day I listened to my first sermon from 30 years ago.  I was shocked at what I was saying.  Not only was the delivery halting and stammering, but the perspective was certainly Joe-centered.  I loved God, but for what God was doing for me.  I told stories of only having enough money to wash my clothes in the machines while I was in college and not having enough to dry them.  I would hang the wet clothes all over my dorm room.  I was getting weary of this process, so I prayed and asked God to provide some money to dry my clothes.  I went to the laundry room and checked the empty washing machines and dryers and found enough loose change to dry my clothes.  I said in my sermon that that proved that God was interested in an insignificant college student.

While that is theologically true, it also shows us that I love God for what God was doing for me.  I was loving God for self’s sake.  That is better than loving self for self’s sake, but only that.

What happens when you love God for self’s sake and God doesn’t come through for you like you asked.  What if he doesn’t give you enough money to dry your clothes?  What if he doesn’t heal your brother and he dies anyway?  What if he doesn’t grant your financial wishes and you have to file for bankruptcy?

I will tell you what our temptation is when God doesn’t come through for us like we think He ought: we tend to cut off communication with God.  We pout and pull back from engaging relationship with Him.  While this stage is better than the first stage, it is still manipulative and will ultimately never satisfy all the needs of our heart.

  • The love of God for God’s sake.

This is a love for not what He can do for us, but loving Him for His own intrinsic value.
There are reasons to worship God that have nothing to do with our needs, but only with the wonder of who God is.  God didn’t have to be the way God is, that beautiful wonder of a Being that is too marvelous for human eyes to behold.  But he is more wonderful than words can express and we love to be in his presence.

I remember when my oldest son Cole was about 4 or 5 years old and I was trying to do some writing in my office at home, he came into the room and just stood beside me.  I asked him what he wanted and he said, “Nothing Daddy.  I just want to be with you.”  He could have asked for the world at that point and I would have found a way to get it for him.  It is one of those joy-filled moments that I will forever cherish.

I long to be the kind of man who goes to the presence of the Father and says, “I simply want to be with You and glory in what You are, not in what You can give me.”

If I had been putting this continuum together, I’d have made this the ultimate level. If I could learn to love God for the sake of who God is—wouldn’t that be the pinnacle?  But this wise old saint thought different.

  • The love of self for God’s sake.

I was shocked when I first read that, but as I thought about it, I realized the wisdom.  Who is the most difficult person on the world for you to love?  For me—–it is me.  One of my deepest issues with God goes back to the very first thing He did for me—-create me.

For some reason, the body I have, the mind I have, the broken family system into which I was born—-none of these are easy for me to celebrate.  There is much about my very being that I simply don’t like.

One time during those hellish junior high years my Dad asked me about how I felt about myself.  I wasn’t self-aware enough to be able to answer.  I was silent.  He asked, “Are you self-conscious about the size of your ears?  I know I was when I was your age.”  I thought, “No.  I didn’t realize I had big ears.  Now I am concerned about them.”  But I do remember that I didn’t regard the way I was created as good.

So—-I think Bernard was right when he said that the highest stage of development is when we learn to love self for God’s sake.

When God created all things in Genesis, how did He describe it? “Good, good, very, very, good.” The question is this: Am I a created being? If the answer is yes—-then how does God view me?  “Good, very good.” He has placed a high value on me.

Each one of us, as we were created, is the pearl of great price, believing fulfillment lies in affirming that what God did in creation was good, and letting that become our joy surely as the pearl merchant found joy in what he found.

I am a favored son of the God of the universe.  He loves me as if I were the only person ever created.  He thinks of me as good—-very good.

Part of what Jesus means when he describes the “kingdom of Heaven” is that He longs for the day that I will be able to discern the value what He deems valuable.

The day that happens is the day The Kingdom comes to earth bit by bit and moment by moment.

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Embrace Your Thorn

 …A thorn in the flesh was given to me… And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:7,9

Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to othersThe real question is not “What can we offer each other?” but “Who can we be for each other. ~Henri Nouwen

Many of us spend most of our time denying what most of us know about all of us — we are all broken people. We live in a culture where folks are quite expert at impression management. We do our best to control how others see us.  We dare not let anyone see our true selves.  So we project a hologram image of what we want folks to see and believe about us.  Chief among our projections is strength and competence. But God is not as interested in using our strengths as He is our weakness.  People may not be able to relate to our strengths, but they can relate to our weaknesses.

God specializes in working through the least of us. That has always been God’s way.  When God wanted to start a nation, he didn’t use a young man.  He used 99-year-old Abraham.

When He wanted to deliver His people out of slavery, He didn’t use a strong man.  He used a babe in a basket.

When He wanted those people to conquer Canaan, He didn’t use a George Patton.  He used a very insecure Joshua.

When He wanted to defeat a giant named Goliath, He didn’t use a Hulk Hogan as His champion.  He used a teenage shepherd boy named David.

When He wanted to prepare the way for the coming Savior of the world, He didn’t use a theologian from a seminary.  He used an orphaned preacher named John.

When he wanted to bring His Son into the world, He used a little teenage girl and a feed trough.

When He wanted to choose His leadership team for His ministry, He used semi-literate peasants.

And when He wanted to launch His church, He used a rag-tag group of quitters with no budget and no building.

It’s in human weakness that God shows how strong He is!

thorns-1Own your thorns. The reality is there are no people without thorns, there are just some thorny people in denial. But everybody has thorns.  We need the courage to get real about our thorns – no hiding, no pretending.

People who know you well will not be shocked. They will not say, “You have a thorn? I had no idea, I’m shocked and appalled.”  They’re more likely to say, “I know you have a thorn. I know about thorns in you you don’t even know you have yet. And I love you anyway. And I’ve got some thorns too.”

Embrace your thorns, your brokenness, and then give that broken-self away to others in love.

We have been graced so that we can grace others.  Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving.  We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a hand-shake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life.

I am learning that the best I can offer my brothers and sisters is not wise counsel, but rather my open heart and my full attention to the pain throbbing in their souls.  That is another way of describing grace.

But what if I’m not addressing my own wounds appropriately?

Part of what it means to be emotionally intelligent is to be self-aware. Being self-aware is not just knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Those are important, but that is not all “self-aware” means. It means that I am fully aware of how I affect those around me; that I am cognizant of how my moods, emotions, and even my wounds are impacting the souls around me.

I have wondered if people carrying oozing soul-wounds are blind to the fact that they are living out of that wound in ways harmful to others. When you are in deep pain, the slightest touch is excruciating. Therefore, hearing the truth about your life and your performance are often taken very personally and then reacted to in either a fight or a flight strategy.

Unaddressed soul-wounds distort our perception of reality: “People are out to get me. People don’t care. People are dangerous. People can’t be trusted. People are_________! People will heal me.  People will love me.” Thus, people are here for me and my wound.

The truth is much harm falls from the lips of wounded Christians into the souls of others because they lack the perspective and discernment that comes with a steady dose of three things:

  1. Truth: I have a thorn.
  2. Grace: I am radically accepted by God and He is ever-present with me.
  3. Time: God rarely gets in a hurry about anything.  If He did the cross would have happened in Genesis 4.

Heavy doses of each element will bring about soul-healing. Too much of a single part of that triumvirate will cause a false positive of soul-wellness. Not everyone trying to help others is well enough in their own right to be of any lasting assistance.

It’s one thing to be a wounded healer and another thing to be a wounded warrior. Serving others from our woundedness is radically different that serving others for our woundedness.  The first serves out of embracing their wound and loving others tenderly, the latter helps others in order to assuage the undressed wound still festering in their own soul.  One brings healing and life, the other spreads thorns and germs.

God, help me to love others so that, even though I am weak, You can squeeze the balm of Gilead out through the cracks in my soul to bring healing to the hurting. Amen.

 

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