Wednesday, October 31, 2007
'Just Add Water And Shake' But Can The Bubbles Last?
We proclaim him... so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God... attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ... be filled with the Spirit.
Others... produce a crop... even a hundred times what was sown.
(Colossians 1:28; Matthew 5:48; Philippians 3:12; Ephesians 3:19, 4:13 and 5:18; Mark 4:20 -- all NIV)
We live in 'a day of the issue' -- smoking, feminism, uranium mining. Good issues: but we can easily be side-tracked from the one quoted in these scriptures. George Bernard Shaw once said, 'A fanatic is one who having forgotten his objectives redoubles his efforts.'
Is Christian maturity forgotten as we are full of overwork rather than overflow7 Our Christian booksellers have all the answers but our Christian counsellors report tragedies in our family and church life, many of which stem from shallow Christian experience. Perhaps we need the 'issue' Paul talked about when he said, 'This one thing I do'(Philippians 3:23).
Every age has its unique conditions which militate against the Christian's reaching his or her full potential. Today, we have an instant society, a paper war, endless demands for seminars and workshops, but rarely do we hear the compulsive call of the Master, 'Be therefore perfect!' So many of us become spiritual dilettantes, avoiding the absoluteness of Christ's demands.
Where then do we start?. 'There is nothing unnatural in an increase of temptations, conflicts and pressures as the Christian goes on with God' (J.l. Packer).
E.M. Bounds says, 'We need an insatiable yearning for the fullness of God.'
A.W. Tozer writes, 'The great god entertainment has taken hold of the minds of the retarded saints of our day and life is intolerable without some form of entertainment.'
Os Guinness believes that 'we have a "copy cat" syndrome so that we do not have to think or evaluate seriously. It is all done for us.'
Let us 'gird up the loins of our minds' (1 Peter 1:13, KJV) or in today's idiom 'grasp the nettle'. It is a false dichotomy to separate our devotional life from Christian maturity, but the former must develop into the latter, rather than the former being our daily 'dosage' to meet the current day's 'aches and pains'.
'I wish you wouldn't squeeze so,' said the Doormouse, who was sitting next to her. 'I can hardly breathe.'
'I can't help it,' said Alice very meekly: 'I'm growing.' 'You've no right to grow here,' said the Doormouse.
'Don't talk nonsense,' said Alice more boldly: 'you know you're growing too.'
'Yes, but I grow at a reasonable pace,' said the Doormouse: 'not in that ridiculous fashion.'
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
A rosebud is perfect in its season, with its delicate folds overlapping each other, but when you observe it a little later, another perfection has appeared; a full bloom with a captivating fragrance has replaced the bud.
There is no such thing as a once-for-all fullness; it is a continuous appropriation of a continuous supply from Jesus Christ himself... as I trust him he fills me, so long as I trust him he fills me. The moment I begin to believe that moment I begin to receive.
Chas. Inwood, source unknown
The world belongs to the disciplined.
Although evangelical Christians pay lip service to the principle of the 'quiet time' it seems to be less important in practice in the lives of many than it has been in past years.
Rev. Francis Foulkes, 'In touch with God: The Devotional Life of the Messenger'. An occasional paper.
Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
Prayer is vital -- our prayers are the measure of our Christianity. To fail in prayer is to fail in everything else.
Professor E.M. Blaiklock, 'Our Lord's Teaching on Prayer'
Above all, George Fox excelled in prayer... the most awful, living reverent frame I ever felt and beheld I must say, was his when in prayer.
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mary had a little lamb
It should have become a sheep
It joined a local Bible church
And died of lack of sleep.
Gary Inrig, Life in His Body
If thou could'st empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited
Then would he find thee on the ocean shelf
And say 'This is not dead'
And fill thee with himself instead.
But thou art so replete with vanity
And hast such rude activity
That when he comes, he says
'This is enough unto itself
Better to let it be
It is too small, and full;
There is no room for me.'
Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new...
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
Not merely in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.
And from your eyes he beckons me
And from your heart his love is shed
Till I lose sight of you and see
The Christ instead!
Father, I thank you for the joy of every new beginning; 'In the beginning God' and so you gave me a life which was absolutely new when I came into the world, and then a new life in Christ when I was born from above.
Father, help me to grow in grace as I have grown in my human life. Let me see the hindrances clearly. Keep me from rationalizing what may grieve you. Give me grace to allow prejudices, narrowness, bigotry, the spirit of the Pharisee, to drop out of my life and enable me to reach out for all the fullness of God. As one of your saints prayed, 'Make me as holy as it is possible for a saved sinner to be.'
May the God of peace who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good, for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13, NIV).
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages now and forever more. Amen (Jude 24, NIV).
Rowland Croucher, ed., Still Waters, Deep Waters, (Albatross/Lion), chapter 10.
Monday, October 29, 2007
'Come now, let us talk this over,' says Yahweh.
'Yahweh,' he said, 'I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' Then he lay down and went to sleep... But the angel of Yahweh came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, or the journey will be too long for you.' So he got up and ate and drank, and strengthened by that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God... And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a voice came to him, which said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'
I thank you, Yahweh, with all my heart, because you have heard what I said... The day I called for help, you heard me and you increased my strength.
But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place.
In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.
But he said in answer, 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.'
Then he took them with him and withdrew to a town called Bethsaida where they could be by themselves.
So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him.
Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, 'What do you want?' They answered, 'Rabbi,' -- which means Teacher -- 'where do you live?' 'Come and see,' he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day.
(Isaiah 1:18; 1 Kings 19:4, 7-8 and 12-13; Psalm 138:1 and 3; Matthew 6:6; Mark 1:35; Luke 8:21, 9:10, 11:9-10; John 1:38-39 -- all JB)
One of the greatest problems facing Christians today -- and perhaps particularly Christian clergy -- is that we are so busy doing God's work that we forget about him.
He's left us a lot of work: preaching his word and visiting the needy and comforting the oppressed, changing evil structures and fighting injustice, stressing that good is alive in our world and evil needn't be the victor.
The trouble is that work can turn into busyness, and God's work can very subtly become mine.
We need to be reminded forcefully day by day that it is his work, that he has asked us to be his partners in his ongoing work of redemption.
There's an old Latin tag -- nemo dat quod non habet -- you can't give what you haven't got. What we are called to give -who we are called to give -- is God himself: his compassion, love, mercy, listening. If I don't know him 1 can't give him.
I can know him through his creation, through study, through reading scripture, through interaction with others. These are good, but there is one way that is essential. We have traditionally called it prayer.
It seems self-evident. But if we are ruthlessly honest with ourselves we know that busyness can force prayer out. The prayer with the congregation may remain, but the prayer which is my Lord and I alone together can be forced further and further to the limits of my life, and one day just quietly disappear. When it does, there's an emptiness.
We need that time with him each day. We need to talk over our life with him. We need to tell him of our desires and disappointments, our doubts and our strivings. We need to be quiet, to listen, to wait. We need to be with him in our sinfulness and forgiveness. We need to let him know who we are and how we are, to let him be our strength in our weakness.
We need to let him be God to us in the way we need it, a different way each different day. We need to let him be the God he wants to be through us.
Call it talking it through, conversation with God, just being with him as I am. Call it waiting, listening. Call it, as Karl Rahner does, an encounter with silence, the silence of the God who waits on me. Call it prayer, daily. Call it life. Jesus does.
We need no wings to go in search of him, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us.
St Teresa of Avila
It is not for his gifts that I continue in my prayers, but because he is true life.
Gregory of Narek, source unknown
The question of how or when to pray is not the most important one. The crucial question is whether you should pray always and whether your prayer is necessary. Here the stakes are all or nothing! If someone says that it's good to turn to God in prayer for a spare moment, or if he grants that a person with a problem does well to take refuge in prayer, he has as much as admitted that praying is on the margin of his life and that it doesn't really matter. Whenever you feel that a little praying can't do any harm, you will find that it can't do much good either. Prayer has meaning only if it is necessary and indispensable. Prayer is prayer only when we say that without it a man could not live.
Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands
Prayer is nothing more than a conversation with God, who loves me.
St Teresa of Avila
Prayer is the sum of our relationship with God. We are what we pray. The degree of our faith is the degree of our prayer. Our ability to love is our ability to pray.
Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert
I know, my God, that my prayer need not be enthusiastic and ecstatic to succeed in placing me so much in your power and at your disposal that nothing is held back from you. Prayer can be real prayer, even when it is not filled with bliss and jubilation or the shining brilliance of a carefree surrender of self. Prayer can be like a slow interior bleeding, in which grief and sorrow make the heart's-blood of the inner man trickle away silently into his own unfathomed depths.
Karl Rahner, Encounters with Silence
The implication would seem to be that silence is a kind of death to communication because it disrupts social intercourse. (But) when the Son of God became man he gave to silence and solitude a new meaning and a perennial value. Christ's loneliness in Nazareth and on the mountainside is meaningful as an aspect of his communion with his Father and with all men through him. Since Christ's action is our instruction, no matter how demanding on our time and energy the needs of our neighbour may be, if we are to follow him we must discover a time for silence. There are many ways in which Christ can express his love in and through men; but there must be a listening to him if that life is to be Christlike. Christian listening is an aspect of Christian knowing; it is not the titillation of curious ears; it is a waiting on the Lord and a laying open of the heart to his commands.
Nicholas Madden, source unknown
Well, let's now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a crossword puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. And we know that we are not alone in this. The fact that prayers are constantly set as penances tells its own tale. The odd thing is that this reluctance to pray is not confined to periods of dryness. When yesterday's prayers were full of comfort and exaltation, today's will still be felt as, in some degree, a burden. Now the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is it should have to be numbered among duties at all. For we believe that we were created 'to glorify God and enjoy him forever.'
C.S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm
In the lonely place Jesus finds the courage to follow God's will and not his own; to speak God's words and not his own; to do God's work and not his own. He reminds us constantly: 'I can do nothing by myself... my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me' (John 5:30), and again, 'The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work' (John 14:10). It is in the lonely place where Jesus enters into intimacy with the Father that his ministry is born. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life.
Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude
I'm very busy, Lord. There is so much to do for you, so many meetings, so many sermons to get ready, so many people to see. There's a service to prepare for next Sunday, it's important and...
Just a minute -- no, not you Lord, me. The service for next Sunday, the sermon: the preachers are concerned with you, they're to make your word present in the hearts and lives of others. So, I guess, are the meetings and the visiting. And what am I doing? I'm planning them -- I'm organising them -- I'm wondering about their effect.
I'm doing all this, Lord. I've just realised that that dreaded personal pronoun keeps cropping up. Isn't it your work, Lord? Shouldn't the 'I' merge into 'We'?
Am I giving it enough chance to, Lord? When did you and I last meet, just you and I? When did I last make time just to be with you, to sit quietly with you, even to tell you about my day and how I felt and what fears I had? When did I last make an appointment with you?
I don't think I want to remember, Lord -- I feel guilty about it. Make me remember.
Give me the gift of making time each day for you. Remind me that it is you who are the soul of my activity. Jolt me into a continual realisation that you must be with me if what I do is to be truly your work, not mine.
Give me the courage to set me and my interests aside each day, and just be before you, with you, open to you.
Let me be silent with you, my waiting God.
Go, and know the Lord goes with you. Let him lead you each day into the quiet place of your heart, where he will speak to you. Know that he blesses and watches over you -- that he listens to you in gentle understanding -- that he is with you always, wherever you are and however you may feel. Amen.
Chapter 7 in Rowland Croucher, ed., Still Waters Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion)
Sunday, October 28, 2007
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your ass may have rest, and the son of your bondmaid, and the alien, may be refreshed ... in ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest.
Take heed for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day. You turn your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your business on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of Yahweh honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or pursuing your own callings, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in Yahweh, and will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.
'The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.'
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in their own mind.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you... with regard a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall...
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.'
(Genesis 2:2-3, NIV; Exodus 23:12, RSV; Exodus 34:21, RSV; Jeremiah 17:21ff, RSV; Isaiah 58:13-14, RSV; Mark 2:27-28, NIV; Matthew 11:28-30, NIV; Romans 14:5-6, NIV; Colossians 2:16-17, NIV; Hebrews 4:9-11, NIV; Revelation 14:13, NIV)
The Sabbath is, in a sense, a peep-hole into eternity, a glimpse of the good times God has in store for us.
It's a day to let our hair down in honour of God -- a day of sheer surprise. As Andreasen says, 'it's like a bouquet of flowers when there is no anniversary, birthday or Mother's Day.'
It's a day of daring non-doing, when we put a distance between ourselves and our deeds, a day to let the washing wait and leave the phone off the hook. A day of gracious living, a day when we remind ourselves that we rest not on our own laurels but on Christ's, because Jesus is our Sabbath: our relationship with him is our rest.
Some Christians may give practical expression to this one day a week: usually Sunday. Others think it's Saturday. Pastors usually have Monday. Some have parts of every day. Whatever we do, Paul says in Romans 14:5-10 and Colossians 2:16-17 that we're free to do so as long as we remind ourselves of our relationship with Christ.
The Old Testament stresses the role of remembering God's deeds so that like a rower we move forward towards the future by facing backwards and getting our bearings. Times to remember function like a traffic island in the rush of time.
A sabbatical style of life is also a standing protest against the tyranny of things. It can come so far but no further. Five or six days we turn time into things. On the seventh there is a reservation for relationships. Then the rich don't get richer and the poor, poorer. Everyone is theoretically equal in time. The Professor and the student, the boss and the worker can share the same beach or park bench. The Sabbath keeps us in step with [he slow coaches, the old, the handicapped, the children. We can all meet on the level of the lowest common denominator. This is very much in line with the Sabbath's concern for the sojourner, and even the animals and the earth.
The Sabbath -- our rest in Christ -- is both an historical hangover from paradise and a preview of heaven. It is an oasis in the desert of our days, an oasis for time with God, others and ourselves.
The work which has been laid upon man is not his goal. His goal is the eternal rest which has been suggested in the rest of the seventh day.
Claus Westermann, Creation
It is remarkable that the Sabbath, in the Old Testament, is not understood as the day on which some special service of worship is held. We hear nothing of any special religious practices from which the special importance of the Sabbath day might be derived. No, the Sabbath day is the day of rest; for rest it has been appointed and for nothing else... We moderns may well find strange the idea that God can be honoured simply by doing no work. But our ancestors regarded work not as something holy in itself, but rather as something that can set up a wall of separation between even God and humans. We sometimes feel that the duty to work has unchallenged sovereignty over humans; but this rest that is imposed upon us from without denies the exclusive claim that work would sometimes make... But the Sabbath could also be described as the normal day... 'Upon the whole course of the world's history rests like a benediction God's repose of the seventh day of creation, which knows no evening,' says one modern writer. But if we no longer pay attention to this rest, our life falls victim to all manner of slavery.
Gerhard von Rad, Moses
Our first working day will begin only after God's day of rest, with its contemplation of the fullness of creation. Early Christianity showed theological wisdom in decreeing that the first day of the week was to be the day of rest instead of the seventh. For liberated humans who are the receivers of God's gifts, the week does not end with the day of rest; it begins with it. The working days can then take on rather more of the character of play -- even the character of protest against the principle of judging performance by results and against the demand for those results. What can we do more in our work than to see to it that whatever the Creator has prepared for us is rightly harvested and rightly used -- is not spoiled, but is protected from being ruined by our misuse? Without the focus on the work that God has already completed, we cannot find a right relationship either to our own work or to rest.
Was it not precisely this that early Christianity grasped when it associated the day of rest with the resurrection of Jesus Christ? No power, not even the power of death, can conquer our liberator any longer. Because of Jesus' work of redemption, no pressure to produce results is now to torment us, no transgressions are to rise up to accuse us, not even the imperfections and incompletions of a past week.
Hans Walter Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament
Listen to Spurgeon: 'Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body... If we do not rest, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we.' Jesus said: 'Come apart and rest awhile.' (If you don't rest awhile, you'll soon come apart!).
Arch Hart, Grid Magazine
The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space... It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation.
The Sabbath is an example of the world to come.
Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath
I heard the voice of Jesus say: Come unto Me and rest; Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast!
I came to Jesus as I was, Weary, and worn, and sad; I found in Him a resting-place, And He has made me glad.
Horatius Bonar, The Voice of Jesus
0 Sabbath rest by Galilee! 0 calm of hills above, where Jesus knelt to share with thee the silence of eternity, interpreted by love.
John Greenleaf Whittier
My spirit 1ongeth for thee Within my troubled breast; Although I be unworthy Of so divine a Guest. Of so divine a Guest, Unworthy though I be; Yet has my heart no rest, Unless it come from thee. Unless it come from thee, In vain I look around; In all that I can see, No rest is to be found. No rest is to be found, But in thy blessed love; O, let my wish be crowned, And send it from above.
John Byrom, My Spirit Longeth for Thee
The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush; he makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals, he provides me with images of stillness, which restore my serenity.
He leads me in the way of efficiency, through calmness of mind; and his guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish eachay I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in balance. He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of activity, by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquillity; my cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours and I shall walk in the pace of my Lord, and dwell in his house for ever.
Toki Miyashina, Psalm 23 For Busy People
In this era of conflicts and mountainous problems, we know what it is to labour and be heavy laden. You have called us to go out into all the world and immerse all nations in the gospel of divine love. We have tried, Lord, and have become tattered and tired, despondent, even a bit cynical. We, the heavy-laden, come to you, Lord, needing your rest. As the native hen nests in the clumps of tussocks at the edge of quiet waters; so give us a nesting place in the quiet places of your kingdom, that our hope may be renewed as your mothering Spirit broods over us, protecting us through every dark night of the soul, until morning comes again and we are renewed -- as if born again -to learn from you the holy way that leads to life for all humanity.
Bruce Prewer, Australian Prayers
Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple quiet rest. Do I ask too much too soon? I should not worry about that. You will let me know. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.
Henri Nouwen, in Lion Book of Famous Prayers
Carpenter and easy yoke-maker, we confess that we are restless, chafing under yokes of our making... we admit that like Pharisees we add burdens to the backs of others, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly... sometimes we carry chips on our shoulders that rub against your yoke and rub other people up the wrong way... Lord forgive us, help us to be and become more like you, release us from feeling we always have to do, and grant us the grace to rest in our relationship with you.
Unhurried God, help us to take time to remember you as we remember the Sabbath day, help us to remember what Eden was like, and grant us a preview of what Paradise will be. On our days off, on our days of rest, in all our days, grant us a glimmer of your glorious New World. Amen.
Now, may the Father who works and rests (and invites us to join him in his work and in his rest), the Son who cried, 'It is finished' and the Spirit who completes his work in us maintain a right rhythm of work and rest in us this day and evermore. Amen.
Rowland Croucher ed., Still Waters Deep Waters (Albratross/Lion), chapter 6
Friday, October 26, 2007
One of those days Jesus went out into the hills to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there, and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. (Luke 6:12-19, NIV)
Australian Christians often follow a lifestyle symbolised by the pattern of white settlement in their country. In the centre are the arid, desert regions where it is difficult to see signs of life. On the perimeter are the fertile plains. Most live busily on the fertile plains, occasionally longing to find desert time and space to be alone with God, but secretly afraid that this desert would not provide nourishment.
We are invited to find our own desert space within the marketplace of daily living. The rhythm of life demonstrated by Jesus helps us to understand the importance of this lifestyle.
The passage from Luke 6 has much to say to us: Jesus' activity and his prayers were complementary to one another. Neither was allotted to whatever time was left over. He knew that the source of his power and wisdom came from communion with his Father.
Our complex lifestyles can be transformed if we understand the basic simplicity of Christian living, which is to be and to do. God calls us to our true vocation, which is to be his children, and to express that vocation by doing his will.
We are invited to live both in the desert (being) and the marketplace (doing). Our response to that invitation will involve some conscious decisions about our use of time. Often we self-consciously leave prayer for 'left-over time', fearing we shall appear over-pious if we withdraw during what are traditionally 'active' daytime hours.
Our desert is found in moments when we give undivided attention to God. Then we receive spiritual nourishment, forgiveness, healing and grace, growth in wisdom and a call to serve.
Circumstances and moods change: sometimes the daily desert is a consolation and at others it is a painful and lonely place. Yet as we persist in spending time there, so we sense changes in our lives and eventually we become more deeply dependent upon the grace of God. The desert begins to provide our daily bread, and the marketplace becomes our opportunity to express the life of Christ, which now abides within us.
Early in December 1984 twelve people met in France to begin an on-going search for a spirituality for our times. This was initiated by the World Council of Churches. Amongst the issues the group discussed was the relationship between 'moments of withdrawal and moments of engagement'. Participants concluded that the church was called to a costly spirituality that was Christ-centred and which enabled people to live more effectively in the world.
This demanded constant conversion and on-going formation and discipleship. It was rooted in a life of prayer and in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. It would lead to suffering. In it Christians who were encouraged and challenged by a community nourished by word and sacrament would discover that 'this life is one of joy and hope in the risen Lord'.
Our century thirsts for the authenticity of simplicity, the spirit of prayer and the life of obedience.
Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity
The time of business does not differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and chatter of my kitchen while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
[Poustinia is]... a place where we can raise the arms of prayer and penance towards God in expiation, intercession and reparation for our own sins and the sins of our brothers. The desert is the place where we gather courage, where we pronounce words of truth remembering that God is truth. The desert is the place where we purify ourselves and prepare ourselves to act as if touched by the burning coal that was placed by the angel on the lips of the prophet.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia
Make yourself a little 'poustinia' in your house, in your garden, in your attic. Do not dissociate the concept of desert from the places where men and women lead their lives. Try both in your thoughts and in your lives to put this glorious phrase into practice: 'the desert in the heart of the city'.
Carlo Carretto, The Desert in the City
When you are able to create a lonely place in the middle of your actions and concerns, your successes and failures slowly can lose some of their power over you. For then your love for this world can merge with a compassionate understanding of its illusions. Then your serious engagement can merge with an unmasking smile. Then your concern for others can be motivated more by their needs than your own. In short: then you can care. Let us therefore live our lives to the fullest, but let us not forget once in a while to get up long before dawn to leave the house and go to a lonely place.
Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude
It is as much our duty to live in the beauty of the presence of God on some mount of transfiguration until we become white with Christ, as it is for us to go down to men where they grope and grovel and groan, and lift them to new life.
Frank Laubach, Open Windows, Swinging Doors
'Action' is no longer a matter of resigning ourselves to works that seem alien to our life in God: for the Lord himself places us exactly where he wants us to be and he himself works in us. 'Contemplation' is no longer merely the brief and satisfying interlude of reward in which our works are relieved by recollection and peace. Action and contemplation now grow together into one life and one unity. They become two aspects of the same thing. Action is charity looking outward to other men, and contemplation is charity drawn inward to its divine source. Action is the stream and contemplation is the spring. The spring remains more important than the stream, for the only thing that really matters is for love to spring inexhaustibly from the infinite abyss of Christ and of God.
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
God himself is present, let us now adore him as with awe we come before him.
God is in our midst, now in our hearts keep silence, worshipping in deepest reverence. Him we know, him we name... come and let us make him our renewed surrender.
0 majestic Being,
I would praise you duly and my service render to you in the selfsame spirit as the holy angels, ever standing in your presence. Grant me now so to strive evermore to please you dearest God, in all things.
Australian Hymn Book, No.47 Words, Gerhard Tersteegen
Lord, in the stillness of these sacred moments before you, help me to remember that you are present to me in love. Grant me the inner serenity which allows me to lose myself in contemplation of you. I am a person created to reflect your glory: with all my frailties and failures you still love me, and desire to keep company with me. Most wonderful Lord, my heart leaps with joy when I recall this truth! (Pause)
Forgive me, for those occasions when I have kept busy to satisfy myself or to escape from loneliness. Forgive me, for being tempted to think that you only require me to be in the marketplace, and for allowing the desert to be pushed aside.
Lord, l long to discover my desert and my marketplace. Help me to order my days with a divine rhythm.
Before you I recall the marketplace of my life. You have placed me there to offer Christ to others. Humbly I wait before you now, looking for your wisdom, your gifts. You are the well-spring in my desert. l seek you. l worship you. (Pause)
Teach me, Lord, to be your person and to do your will, that both desert and marketplace may be sacred ground. Amen.
Go now, in the peace and strength of God, ready to impart to others what you have first received from him: and may the presence and power of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, go with you. Amen.
[From Rowland Croucher, ed., Still Waters Deep Waters, Albatross/Lion. 1987/1998, chapter two].
Thursday, October 25, 2007
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner. '
And he said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'
Rejoice in the Lord always.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
(Luke 7:36-39; Luke 7:50; Philippians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Romans 15:7 -- all RSV)
'A woman of the city... a sinner' did not have a home in suburbia. Her life was rough; she did not always have a lock on her door. Her body was her asset, and sex paid better than a kitchen. She was admired in a fashion, as a body with a price. Sometimes she was used and not paid and that was a double blow to her diminished sense of self-worth.
She tried not to think of her past -- the aches and the cold and the acquaintances who never quite became friends. There was no point in thinking of the future for days never went as planned.
Jesus was different. He did not size her up. He did not expect her to perform. He did not condemn her. He accepted her as she was.
She gave herself totally to him; not a giving as she gave to the men who paid her. She wept. No barriers. A release of feeling, of anger, of frustration, of joy poured over his feet. And she wiped his feet with her hair, not pausing to consider -- for to expose your hair like that then would be like removing your bra and using that as a towel now. She made full use of her body, but in such a different way.
Where did she get that expensive flask of ointment? Best not to ask. A whole flask. No token action, but all she had. As always, she traded past end future for the present.
Her confession was total. Not in words, for in her experience words were empty. But in action, with her whole life -- tears, hair, ointment.
But doesn't forgiveness depend on repentance?, And what did she say that showed faith?. The depth of her turning was that she staked everything on his acceptance; for even her city reputation now would be tarnished. Her fragmented self at last was touched in a way that began a healing, and she could go in peace.
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual.
Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations
In a non-threatening atmosphere where there is warmth and acceptance and someone to receive what/we have to give, creativity begins to flow.
Elizabeth O'Connor, Eighth Day of Creation
You touched me and I burned for your peace.
It is not the love of the woman that brings her forgiveness, but it is the forgiveness she has received that creates her love. By her love she shows that much has been forgiven her, while the lack of love of the Pharisee shows that little has been forgiven him.
Paul Tillich, The New Being
Simon the Pharisee
Simon was an educated man with a home and a sound position in the established order. He was interested in Jesus -- only professionally, of course. Really a favour to have such an itinerant teacher home for lunch.
Could have interviewed him at the office, but sometimes the home atmosphere can put these types at ease. Amazing how a feed and a few glasses can loosen the tongue. Don't overdo it though; no washing the feet or kiss of peace as a real guest might expect. Show my hospitality and my broadmindedness and pick up ideas he might have.
Then this prostitute came in. I was embarrassed, but Jesus did not mind at all. He just let her go on and on. I thought, 'You're a lecher or a fool. No prophet would let her get close and allow her to carry on like that.' he tried to carry it off with an aphorism or two, but now I had his measure.
In the traditional Christian view, the Pharisees have become representatives of everything evil, but in their time they were the pious and morally zealous ones. Their conflict with Jesus was not simply a conflict between right and wrong; it was, above all, the conflict between an old and sacred tradition and a new reality which was breaking into it and depriving it of ultimate significance.
Paul Tillich, The New Being
The burden he [Jesus] wants to take from us is the burden of religion. It is the yoke of the law, imposed on the people of his time by the religious teachers...
Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations
We withdrew after the rector of the day declared it sinful to guess the number of beans in a jar at the annual church fete.
Patrick White, describing why he left a church in Flaws in the Glass
Jesus accepted Simon's invitation. He noticed the social snubs and observed how Simon did not want to meet him in a personal fashion but sized him up -- role 'A' assessing exhibit 'B'. He knew well enough how the woman felt on that score.
As she reached towards him in a desperate, awkward, overdone, extravagant and total bid for recognition as a person, he allowed her -- and freed her -- to do so.
The Pharisee was offended, bottled up. So Jesus dealt with him gently and verbally. Simon had too much to lose to respond from within and so he replied cautiously. Concerned primarily about a theological point, Simon and his colleagues missed completely one of the warmest and deepest turnings to God.
What may appear as indifference to religion in our culture may, in fact, represent a concern to get at a more basic Christianity.
Veronica Brady, A Crucible of Prophets
Jesus did not seem to be the person they had told me about. He was more ironic for one thing; ruder for another. He appeared to have a major preoccupation; he did not like people who thought they knew what life and love was all about, but he liked the ones who had made a mess of things, who had given up the struggle and just did the best they could. Goodness was not what he went for. Brokenness was.
Laura's impression on reading the Gospels, in Monica Furlong's novel, Cousins
The church should be celebrating and giving so much that it draws people to him [Jesus]. I think the church should be an example and not a judgment seat.
Noel Paul Stookey, interviewed in On Being
No matter what danger enthusiasm may have brought to the church, the final defeat of enthusiasm has always signalised the sleeping church, even the busiest one... There is no Christian freedom without a dose of enthusiasm; and today/,,, after long abstention, that dose ought to be generous rather than meagre, even if the result should be slight intoxication.
Ernst Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom
The community which is filled with different energies of Christ's liberating power is therefore not an exclusive community of the saved, but the initial and inclusive materialisation of the world freed by the risen Christ.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit
Father, I see in Jesus someone different. Centred in you. He drew out all the woman was wanting to give and he gently probed Simon’s brittle veneer. A centre in you; that is your gift. I sense it sometimes, at least in part. You give good gifts and I should like more of that one, a gift that somehow enables others also to share in the gift.
Lord Jesus, I am under pressure to be sound and orderly and a company person. I get strokes for that. And its safe, secure. But something inside me shrivels. You never operated that way, and your people never have thrived that way. I push away the turmoil; help me to accept it. I try to plan; help me to accept the people and events that tumble in, and to know the wholeness that is your peace.
You are here with me, Spirit of the living God. You encourage me to live in the freedom that is the logo of your presence. There are no 'proper' ways to celebrate your freedom. Your freedom area is large and inviting, so 1'11 celebrate in the ways you open to me.
'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid,' said Jesus (John 14:27, RSV).
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 224-228
Monday, October 22, 2007
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.
One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and striving toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.
To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it... to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants... instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
(Jeremiah 717:7-8; Colossians 2:6-7; 2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 6:1; Philippians 3:13b-15a; Ephesians 4:7,12-13 -- all NIV)
Many of us have a yearning to know something of our historical roots. We all, no doubt, know some individuals who have painstakingly researched their family history. Many of those adopted -- and their natural parents -- are eagerly taking advantage of recent legislation allowing greater access to adoption records. And in many parts of the world there is a burgeoning pride in racial heritage, exemplified by such slogans as 'black is beautiful'. One's roots are important to one's identity.
But more important than our biological and social roots are our spiritual roots. As Christians, we are exhorted to be like trees planted by streams of water, with roots that dig deeply enough to make us strong and stable, and that draw enough regular nourishment to sustain our life and fruitfulness whatever threats our environment brings. However, because we are human beings, not trees, we have a choice as to where we want to be planted, how deeply we will allow our roots to grow, and how liberally we will drink from the water source. If we so choose, we can be planted in an arid area, or near foul water; we can be content with a shallow root system; and we can try to make do with a spasmodic sip of water. Hardly a recipe for a maturing spiritual life!
Further, spiritual roots are nurtured by both historical and contemporary elements, by 'theory' and 'experience'. It is stimulating for us to develop the ability to ponder the nature of God, and his working in history from creation to consummation: but that has minimal value unless we also let our roots go down deeply into the spiritual life that only comes from him. We are enriched by widening our understanding of the atonement as an historical and theological event: but that cannot nourish our souls unless it motivates us to drink freely of the water of life offered to us by Christ in his atonement. There is a place for discussion about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the significance of his work: but that can never be a substitute for allowing him to grow his fruit in our lives, and equip us with the gifts he wishes us to use in the building up of the Body into maturity.
So we face a paradox: growing up is growing down! Whether we identify more readily with the 'riverside tree' or the 'downtown tree' of Ken Medema's 'Tree Song' -- the one with its visibly lush surroundings, the other with its hidden water source -- we can experientially affirm:
I've got roots growing down to the water, I've got leaves growing up to the sunshine, And the fruit that I bear is a sign of the life in me. I am shade from the hot summer sundown, I am nest for the birds of the heaven. I'm becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be, a strong young tree.
Many Christians never grow up. They remain beginners in the faith. The time and effort required to secure the treasures of the spiritual life call for too much effort; the moral and social demands of loyalty to Christ are more than they are prepared to pay; so they remain children in the faith.
E. Ernest Thomas
To some people maturity seems to mean questioning everything and being agnostic on all things. Surely, however, the mark of maturity is to arrive at firm convictions instead of remaining forever in an attitude of adolescent questioning and scepticism. There is a distinction to be drawn between openmindedness (the willingness to examine basic convictions) and empty-mindedness (the principle of throwing everything overboard and then trying to make a fresh start). The [Christian] need not be afraid to submit his deepest convictions to scrutiny, for the truth can stand scrutiny. Nor will he let himself be swept off his feet by superior argument, so that he continually vacillates like a broken weather-vane. Rather he will hold fast to the Word of God, and from this position he will have a proper stance to exercise his critical and self-critical faculties.
1. Howard Marshall, from an article 'Towards Maturity'
If prayer were just an intelligent exercise of our mind, we would soon become stranded in fruitless and trivial inner debates with God. If, on the other hand, prayer would involve only our heart, we might soon think that good prayers consist in good feelings. But the prayer of the heart in the most profound sense unites mind and heart in the intimacy of the divine love... It is indeed like a murmuring stream that continues underneath the many waves of every day and opens the possibility of living in the world without being of it and of reaching out to our God from the centre of our solitude.
Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.
John MacNaughton, source unknown
The growth and final maturity of the individual Christian contributes to the growth and final maturity of the church, the society of which he is a member. Conversely, this growth and maturity can only be fully attained in the unity of faith and knowledge which typifies the corporate experience of the church. The Christian individual and the Christian society are, therefore, through their mutual organisation about Christ, interdependent.
W.E. Andersen, The Christian Concept of Maturity
Ethical development, as well as intellectual and emotional development, is a necessary condition of maturity... Since ethics always asserts that one kind of conduct is better than another, an ultimate basis for comparison is implied. Therefore, ethical choices are basically theological, since they imply loyalty to God or to some principle that stands in the place of God as an ultimate referent... The intellectual and emotional components of maturity can be developed by effort, such as self-discipline, devotion to learning, and the cultivation of habit. But theological questions demand commitment.
Orville S. Walters, in an article 'Maturity: When.'?'
Temptation is a factor in the psychological and spiritual growth process everyone must go through if we are to become mature individuals, capable of living a full and meaningful life. The function of temptation is always to trigger a choice and provoke a definite stand or action.
Bob Mumford, The Purpose of Temptation
The one who is mature is not he who has achieved all his goals, but who has his goals clearly in mind, and who is, in addition, pursuing them with vigour.
W.E. Andersen, The Christian Concept of Maturity
Real maturity comes when we say to ourselves and to others: 'We know in part and prophesy in part... our seeing now is as through a glass darkly.' This means while I don't now know everything, I do know something, and on the basis of what I do know I can act constructively in the present toward the future... If we will respond in this way, that will be the best proof I know that we have 'put away childish things' and are functioning as mature human beings.
John Claypool, in a sermon 'Absurdity, Causality and Mystery'
Where did the idea ever come from that we should reach total maturity quickly or without lots of falling down and getting up?. If we abandon the expectation that our growth should be another way, then we can live into where we are and use it as an occasion 'to press on to the mark' as St Paul said, rather than giving up in discouragement... Being a slow learner does not disqualify one. It may be death to pride, but not to hope. Listen, the issue is not how long it takes us to be fully graced, but trust in him who, having begun a good work, will see it through to completion.
John Claypool, from a sermon 'Slow Learners and Hope'
The Lord is often in less of a hurry than we are... It was fourteen years from the time of Paul's conversion to the time of his departure with Barnabas from Antioch. Those largely 'hidden' years were not wasted. God was preparing his instrument: tempering and hardening him, hammering him into shape, teaching him. Paul was learning about discipleship.
Michael Griffiths, Give Up Your Small Ambitions
Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people. The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the .depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm. They urge us to be the answer to a hollow world... Our world is hungry for genuinely changed people. Leo Tolstoy observed, 'Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.' Let us be among those who believe that the inner transformation of our lives is a goal worthy of our best effort.
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
Our Father, we confess that too often we've put down our roots in the wrong places; we've been more concerned with our human heritage and resources than we have been to experience the riches of our inheritance in Christ; we've not really grown up, because we've not really grown down. Father forgive us.
Lord Jesus, we want to have more than an intellectual understanding of our faith: we want to know you; we want to grow up to be mature in you, to be nourished by the water of life you offer us; we want to be made willing to accept the commitment and discipline of being your disciples.
Lord, inspire us by your example of growth in obedience, so that our goal will be to grow up into you, our Head.
Holy Spirit, we don't want to remain infants, grieving you by our immaturity; we don't want to have such shallow roots that we are unable to produce the fruit you wish to see in our lives; we don't want to ignore the challenges of receiving and using the gifts you allocate to us so we can fulfil our proper functions as part of the Body of Christ.
Spirit, thank you for your power which enables us to grow down, in order that we may grow up.
Our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we accept your forgiveness, your inspiration and your empowering with grateful hearts. Amen.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge: that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV).
>From Rowland Croucher ed., Still Waters Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion) chapter 9
Friday, October 19, 2007
You have learnt how it was said 'Eye for eye and tooth for tooth'. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole. And with his stripes we are healed.
You have learnt how it was said 'you must love your neighbour and hate your enemy'. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
For Christ suffered for you and left you a personal example, and wants you to follow in his steps. He was guilty of no sin, nor of the slightest prevarication. Yet when he was insulted he offered no insult in return. When he suffered he made no threats of revenge.
Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.
(Matthew 5:38-40, JB; Isaiah 53:4-5, RSV; Matthew 5:43-44, JB; Peter 2:21-23, Phillips; Luke 23:34, NEB)
Should we permit the behaviour of others towards us to change our standards, ideals and behaviour?
In fact, the behaviour of others towards us does evoke changes within us. If we respond to our highest ideals and insights, we try to act patiently, tolerantly and lovingly. But when we receive in return nothing but misunderstanding, indifference, accusations of insincerity, and hostility, then we begin to change. We lose patience, we become defensive. Like Peter, we think it's a big deal to forgive up to seven times. But seventy times seven? No way.
The change in us is the consequence of our allowing the attitudes and actions of another to gain power over us.
We may even rationalise. We argue that it is in their interests that we do not allow them to get away with it.
We may also argue that whilst Jesus' teaching is ideal, we've got to be practical and realistic.
Jesus' prayer, 'Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing,' exemplifies his characteristic reaction to hostility and violence throughout his life. He dared to stake his whole being on the veracity and ultimate power of love. He refused at any point to allow the abuse and attacks of others to change one whit his attitudes or reaction towards them.
Never once did he change his nature -- which was to save those who reviled him -- to accommodate or adjust himself to others.
The cross is foolish not only to the unbelieving world. In his personal life the Christian also has a struggle with the foolishness of the cross -- the symbol of the uncompromising and unconditional love demonstrated by Jesus and demanded of his disciple.
Yet it is the way the Master went. And a cross-less Christianity is a distortion and a travesty.
An old man in India sat down in the shade of an ancient banyan tree whose roots disappeared far away in a swamp. Presently he discerned a commotion where the roots entered the water. Concentrating his attention, he saw that a scorpion had become helplessly entangled in the roots. Pulling himself to his feet, he made his way carefully along the tops of the roots to the place where the scorpion was trapped. He reached down to extricate it. But each time he touched the scorpion, it lashed his hand with its tail, stinging him painfully. Finally his hand was so swollen he could no longer close his fingers, so he withdrew to the shade of the tree to wait for the swelling to go down. As he arrived at the trunk, he saw a young man standing above him on the road laughing at him. 'You're a fool,' said the young man, 'wasting your time trying to help a scorpion that can only do you harm.' The old man replied, 'Simply because it is in the nature of the scorpion to sting, should I change my nature, which is to save?'
William Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love
Love will conquer hate.
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done, or putting a false label on an evil act. It means rather that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst which creates the atmosphere necessary for a new beginning. Agape is sheer unqualified, creative and redemptive goodwill for all people. Love alone is capable of transforming with redemptive power.
I have lived with the conviction that unearned suffering is redemptive. There are some who still find the cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness. But I am more convinced than ever that it is the power of God to social and individual salvation.
Martin Luther King, Strength to Love
The meek only inherit abuse!
The spirit of self-denial and the spirit of service coming together produce a new being: the most formidable being on earth -- the Terrible Meek! They are terrible in that they demand nothing, and hence cannot be bought or tempted, and that there are no lengths they are not prepared to go for others. Christ in the presence of Pilate is a picture of the terrible meek. He could not be bullied -- he could not be changed. Nothing could make him love less. He wanted nothing, except to give his life for the very people who were crucifying him. The future of the world will be in the hands of those who serve the world, suffer for the world, and so save the world.
E. Stanley Jones, The Christ of the Mount
Lord, in my head, and deep in my heart, I know that the way of Jesus is unquestionably right. The purity of his love leaves me wondering. But, Lord, you also know, better than I understand it, the struggle I have inside. The sheer practicalities of daily human interaction all tell me it won't work. I want to save myself. But then, didn't Jesus? The difference between us is that his final choices -- not to save himself -- were always the right ones. Mine almost never are. My natural impulse, Lord, is to defend myself, to protect myself, to refuse to become vulnerable to the hostility of others.
The cross is so much heavier than I thought. In the first flush of discipleship, and the glow of my young faith, I picked it up readily. But now? I've discovered that the cross is not a comfortable symbol. It impinges on almost every decision I have to make -- even the small ones. I Want to choose against the path of pain, involvement, personal cost. I can easily love my friends -- and forgive them when necessary. But my enemies? Those who hurt me? Every day I let the attitudes of others determine my reactions.
Lord, I see all this. And I know that your way, not mine, is right. Please help me, however stumblingly, to pick up the cross -- in little things and big -- until, by your grace, I become a little more like Jesus. Please help me. Amen.
O Holy Spirit, who so deeply disturbs our peace, continue, we pray, your probings and promptings and goad us until we go your way, to our own greater blessing and deeper peace. In Jesus Christ our Lord.
George Appleton, Journey for a Soul
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ make us gracious.
The love of God our Father make us loving
And the fellowship and power of the Holy Spirit fill and empower us
Until we show, in our lives, more of the spirit and the marks of Jesus Christ.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 238-241
Thursday, October 11, 2007
God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and mountains fail into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence.
I am the Lord: why don't you fear me? Why don't you tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary of the sea, a permanent boundary that it cannot cross. The sea may toss, but it cannot go beyond it; the waves may roar, but they cannot break through.
Come and see what God has done, his wonderful acts among us. He changed the sea into dry land; our ancestors crossed the river on foot. There we rejoiced because of what he did. Who is a God like you, who pardons sin... You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
There will be strange things happening to the sun, the moon, and the stars. On earth whole countries will be in despair, afraid of the roar of the sea and the raging tides... Then the Son of Man will appear... When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth... and there was no longer any sea.
(Psalm 46:1-3, GNB; Jeremiah 5:22, GNB; Psalm 66:5-6, GNB; Micah 7:18-19, NIV; Luke 21:25-28, GNB; Revelation 21:1, NIV)
Every day we are made promises. Advertisers promise us cheap peace, translating our wants into needs. A trouble-free existence is ours, for a price. Sometimes preachers, too, promise serenity without strife, tranquillity without turmoil, resurrection without Gethsemane or Calvary. Whilst we must not let anyone crucify us who cannot resurrect us, Jesus said there is no life except through death. As one mystic put it, the Spirit of God and our own spirits strive together in a storm of love. In this 'strife of love' each spirit is deeply wounded by love. Gethsemane is not a detour. The primal sin of Adam and Eve was to try to get knowledge without working for it, to 'arrive' without the pain of the journey, to attain 'instant godliness'.
God is a sea, says Ruysbroeck. The sea, for the ancient Hebrews, was a turbulent place where danger lurked. (So the Jews did not make good sailors; they left that to the Phoenicians.) Deliverance from the Red Sea was a recurring theme for wonder-full recollection. Apocalyptic writers pictured great beasts coming out of the sea. In heaven there will be 'no more sea'. But the 'second death' is symbolised by a 'lake of fire' (Revelation 19:20, 20:14).
So the sea of love, where we meet God, is sometimes a fearful place. Love is always enhanced by courage and hard work. The objects of temporal love eventually die, so the more we love, the more risks we take. The opposite of love is inertia, doing nothing.
As we begin this journey, sometimes through uncharted, unfamiliar seas, let this text encourage us: 'When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you... for I am the Lord your God, who saves you' (Isaiah 43:2-3).
Here begins the sea that ends not till the world's end.
Where we stand,
Could we know the next high sea-mark set beyond
these waves that gleam,
We should know what never man hath known, nor eye of
man hath scanned...
Ah, but here man's heart leaps, yearning towards the gloom
with venturous glee,
From the shore that hath no shore beyond it, set in all
A.C. Swinburne, 'On the Verge', from A Midsummer Vacation
The enlightened man shall go out and observe God in his glory with all saints. And he shall behold the rich and generous outflowing of God, with glory, and with himself, and with inconceivable delights towards all the saints, according to the longing of all spirits; and how these flow back, with themselves, and with all that they have received and can achieve, towards that same rich oneness from which all bliss comes forth.
This flowing forth of God always demands a flowing back; for God is a Sea that ebbs and flows, pouring without ceasing into all his beloved according to the need and the merits of each, and ebbing back again with all those who have been thus endowed both in heaven and on earth, with all that they have and all that they can.
Ruysbroeck, quoted in David Walker, God is a Sea
The ebbing and flowing of the tide is a continuing phenomenon. Each day the tide comes in and draws out. It is the same with the divine tide. The Father has not simply poured his graces into our hearts on an isolated occasion in the past; he continues to do so in the life situation of each person. The divine love floods the universe. Each situation is a graced situation, a sacrament in which the divine is present, open to us, reaching out in love. This ever-present divine love draws us to itself within each situation. The love of the lover draws the beloved to a love of which he alone is not capable.
There are two attitudes with which we can confront this overwhelming truth. We can be like the beach over which the tide flows and ebbs. It is open and unresisting; it receives and it gives; it lets its mood be determined by the tide. On the other hand we could be like the rocks on which the same tide runs but which are hard and stand fast, resisting -- even fighting -- the tide and refusing to be affected by it. We must imitate the openness and unresisting character of the beach, for it is only then that the divine power within the Father's approach is able to draw us to him... So long as the beach awaits patiently the inflowing of the tide and yields generously to its ebbing, the pattern of nature is fulfilled. In the same way, it is only when the person patiently and humbly opens himself to the divine approach and lets himself be drawn out in response by the divine power within it that the divine plan achieves its fulfilment.
David Walker, God is a Sea
Don't let yourself be torn between yesterday and tomorrow.
Live always and only God's today.
Dom Helder Camara, A Thousand Reasons for Living
Acknowledging mystery, then, does not prevent authentic 'asking and seeking and knocking', but it does not stop there. It also encourages one to take the best light one has and do what one can to bring glory and not resentment out of any given situations. We do not have to understand perfectly why the waves flood over us to make certain creative responses to them. There is much that can be done with what we do know now that need not wait fuller explanation.
John Claypool, adapted from a sermon 'Absurdity, Causality and Mystery'
God is good... he who gives us our lives not only rules over us but loves us, likes us, is for us and not against us. Out of this realisation comes the ability to receive the events of life with gratitude, not resentment, and to regard them as expressions of mysterious love rather than as acts of hostility. It is amazing the difference a stance of gratitude can make in the way we cope with difficulty. If we begin to look on the things that happen to us as good gifts of a Father, then even the problems take on a different shape. Instead of seeing them as hopeless obstacles to our happiness, we come to see them as the challenges that give life its meaning and excitement. What would our existence be like, really, if no effort were ever called for or no challenges ever posed?. Such a levelled-off existence would be intolerably boring. G.K. Chesterton was right in saying that a positive challenge is a difficulty rightly understood. Problems cease to be overwhelming when we see them as something to be received in gratitude.
John Claypool, The Light Within You
Just as it is the nature of the tide to flow in and to draw out again, so it is the nature of the Father not only to reach out in love but also to draw all things to himself. The Father is the fountain and source of all life. He shares that life with his Son and his Spirit in a communion in which what comes forth returns to him. It is this same life which the Father extends through the Son and the Spirit to mankind in a communion in which what comes forth from him is meant to return to him. The Father presents himself as love, openness, self-offering, invitation, sharing, in a way to which every person has the capacity to respond and to find in him his ultimate goal.
David Walker, God is a Sea
Accept surprises that upset your plans, shatter your dreams, give a completely different turn to your day and -- who knows7 -to your life.
It is not chance.
Leave the Father free himself to weave the pattern of your days.
Dom Helder Camara, A Thousand Reasons for Living
Lord, I am prone sometimes to imagine that the tides of my life are buffeting me without purpose, tossing me to and fro without meaning, battering me painfully against the hard rocks cruelly.
Sometimes the storms really are fierce, the skies are grey, and you seem to be absent. It's just not true that 'my life is all sunshine in the sweetness of the Lord'.
Lord, remind me that you have never promised to deliver from struggle and agony and conflict. In the world we shall have trouble. Your own experience of life among us was a parable of struggle in hope.
But in that struggle you overcame the world. Just as a stone becomes beautifully smooth only in constant friction, so in the mystery of your purposes for us, you create a thing of beauty only in our chastenings. Conflict is the price to be paid for spiritual creativity and growth. That which resists us perfects us.
So Lord, when the waves are huge, and I feel so helpless, let me not move against them in rage, or go under them in helplessness, but flow with them in faith and hope.
'You have given so much to us, give us one thing more, a grateful heart; for Christ's sake. Amen'(George Herbert).
May you experience the peace of God in your trouble, hope when you are tempted to despair, joy through your pain, faith and courage when the heavens seem silent, and the sure knowledge that the Lord has been through it all too. He understands, he cares, and he loves you, very much.
Lord, may we live by faith, walk in hope, and be renewed in love until the whole world reflects your glory, and you are all in all.
Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.
Rowland Croucher, from Still Waters Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion) chapter 18.