A Lenten Prayer by Brennan Manning

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I just found this and it reminded me why Brennan Manning is one of my favorite writers of faith.

“In my first-ever experience of being loved for nothing I had done or could do, I moved back and forth between mild ecstasy, silent wonder, and hushed trembling. The aura might be best described as ‘bright darkness.’ The moment lingered on in a timeless now, until without warning I felt a hand grip my heart. It was abrupt and startling.

The awareness of being loved was no longer tender and comforting. The love of Christ, the crucified Son of God, took on the wild fury of a sudden spring storm. Like a dam bursting, a spasm of convulsive crying erupted from the depths of my soul. Jesus died on the cross for me.

Dear Abba,

Ten thousand things are already vying for my attention. Wait, actually make that ten thousand and one. Some of them are shallow — like what shoes I will wear today — but some of them are legitimate: lunch with a friend, a doctor’s appointment, responding to a letter. Still, they are all earthly things. So startle me, I pray. Burst into the compound of my senses and steal me away from the urgent tyrannies already seeking to keep my eyes fixed on things below. You died for me. For me. That is the one thing; nothing else compares.”

Two thoughts: 1) I must find out where  I can get this book and 2) I hope Easter Sunday doesn’t arrive to find me comfortable or complacent, taking God’s love for me for granted. I want it to shake me to my very core and radically disrupt my life. I want to be stirred out of comfortable ruts and compelled into a deeper, wilder, more passionate love for Jesus who didn’t not negotiate percentages on the cross, but gave absolutely 100% of Himself for me.

The Holy Spirit

Francis Chan has a remarkable book called Forgotten God, one of the best books I’ve read about the Holy Spirit.

To say the Holy Spirit is a touchy topic is putting it mildly. People in general tend to go to one of two extremes. Either folks go to hyperemotionalism and experience devoid of doctrine or they practically deny His existence and never speak of Him.

And I did say “Him” and not “It.” The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force a la “May the force be with you” from Star Wars fame. He is just as much of a person as either God the Father or God the Son. He can be grieved, full of joy, and can remind us of the truths Jesus taught us.

I heard a really good reminder. The Holy Spirit isn’t mystical as much as He is practical. Everything He does isn’t so much to get us to feel as much as it is to do and to be. More specifically, to conform our character to Christ’s and build up the Kingdom of God.

True worship, as well as all other aspects of faith, involve spirit and truth, the heart and the mind, emotion and intellect. It’s folly to devote yourself to one exclusively to the detriment of the other.

There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Too much Word and not enough Spirit you puff up. Too much Spirit and not enough Word you blow up. With the Word and the Spirit together, you grow up.”

I agree with that in terms of finding a balance between emotion and intellect. I would argue however that the Spirit is not in opposition to the Word. The Holy Spirit of God will always illuminate and confirm the Word of God. He will never go against that Word, but bring clarity and interpretation and application.

As with most spiritual matters, I don’t claim to have expertise or command of the subject. There is so much I don’t know and don’t understand, so much I never will this side of heaven. But that shouldn’t ever stop me from seeking and growing and learning.

And I recommend that Francis Chan book if you get the chance to read it some time.

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve? Maybe

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So far, my mailbox isn’t exactly stuffed with invitations to parties and soirees for the end of the year. My phone isn’t blowing up with texts or messages or calls– or anything for that matter.

To borrow off the old TV western, “Have Chips and GPS. Will Travel.”

Likely, this will be a subdued year’s end. I’m not one for crazy shenanigans anyway. I prefer a few friends to a crowd any day. And I’d much rather be inside on a cold night like this anyway.

I’m currently accepting offers for New Year’s Eve 2014. Apparently, that beats waiting until the last minute like this year.

Here’s something to think about as you ring in 2014: “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Now is the best day to be alive, to be thankful for being alive, and to live.

Don’t wait until 2014. Start now.

That’s all.

Oh, and happy new year!

A Non-Advent Prayer That I Love

I know this prayer has very little to do with Christmas or Advent or even cold weather, but I just LOVE it.

“Dear Lord, you are the first of the just. You lived the righteous life. It is because of you that your heavenly Father keeps this world in existence and shows his mercy to us sinners.

Who am I, Lord, to expect your love, protection, and mercy?

Who am I to deserve a place in your heart, in your house, in your kingdom?

Who am I, Lord, to hope in your forgiveness, your friendship, your embrace?

And still this is what I am waiting for, expecting, even counting on!

Not because of my own merits, but solely because of your immense mercy. You lived for us the life that is pleasing to God. O Lord, you are the just one, the blessed one, the beloved one, the righteous one, the gracious one.

I pray that your Father, the Father of all people, the One who created me and sustains me day in and day out, may recognize in me your marks and receive me because of you. Help me to follow you, to unite my life with yours and to become a mirror of your love. Amen.”

-Henri J.M. Nouwen
A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee

Music I Heard: For All The Ones I’ve Lost

While this year for me is a happy time, it’s also brings a bit of sadness with it. The memories of those I’ve loved and lost come more alive at this time of year than at any other time. I’ve been thinking about a particular poem by Conrad Aiken that makes me think of family members whom I wish I could talk to but never will again this side of heaven:

“Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, beloved,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart that you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always, –
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.”

The good news is that there is the other side of heaven where I WILL see all these people again. And Jesus will be there to wipe away every tear from my (and everyone else’s) eyes.

 

Pre-WordPress Writings Part 3

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From January 15, 2011:

“I may not be anyone’s first choice, and that’s OK. I may be the substitute for the person they really want to be with or hang out with, but that’s OK. When Jesus chose me, it wasn’t because the person He REALLY wanted wasn’t available. He wanted ME. The same way He wants YOU, not as a substitute for someone else He can’t get, but FOR YOU. I am just one note in the symphony of God to the world. I may not be a very high priority on anyone’s list and I am really really fine with that. I will always be in God’s heart and on His mind. That’s enough for me. I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody that can save anybody!”

From January 9, 2011:

“God, I’m giving up. I’m letting go. I’m letting a dream I’ve had in my heart die. It feels like a part of my heart is dying, too, but I know You are the one holding the pieces of my heart together right now.

I felt so certain and sure that it was Your plan and Your will, but now I can only surrender the bits and pieces of what’s left of hope to you.

So, here I am at 12:01. I’m done trying. I can’t do anything else but throw myself on your mercy and plead your grace. Take my dead dreams and if it be Your will, You can make them live again. But if not, You will be my new Dream-giver and give me new dreams to dream.

I will praise You in the silence this moment. You are still good. If I never got one more good thing or any desire of mine fulfilled ever again, You would still have been better to me than I deserved.

I am Yours. That is all that matters. Do with me what You want. Here in this moment, I am laying down and dying at Your feet.”

From February 3, 2011:

“I don’t know if this will speak to you, but maybe it will speak to someone you know and you can pass it along to them. I pray God captures your hearts and minds with these words:

1-3 A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek

I want to drink God,

deep draughts of God.

I’m thirsty for God-alive.

I wonder, “Will I ever make it—

arrive and drink in God’s presence?”

I’m on a diet of tears—

tears for breakfast, tears for supper.

All day long

people knock at my door,

Pestering,

“Where is this God of yours?”

4 These are the things I go over and over,

emptying out the pockets of my life.

I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,

right out in front,

Leading them all,

eager to arrive and worship,

Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—

celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!

5 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?

Why are you crying the blues?

Fix my eyes on God—

soon I’ll be praising again.

He puts a smile on my face.

He’s my God.”

From July 10. 2010:

“I have learned a few thing in my time that I want to pass on:

1) Never try to figure out anything, especially people, when you are tired. I personally tend to drift toward the negative when I am exhausted and am not really good at being balanced or fair to others when I am worn out.

2) When you are inclined to judge someone’s actions, remember that there is at least one factor that you don’t know about that person that if you knew, would cast a totally different light on their actions. Also, remember that in the same circumstances you might do the same or worse. Which leads to the next point.

3) If you err, err on the side of grace. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Of course, use common sense and don’t be a doormat, but think of what you would be apart from the grace of God and then you realize that you have no place to give up on or despair of anyone (I totally stole that one from Oswald Chambers!)

4) Remind yourself that in life and the big picture, it never was, is not and will never be about you. It always was, is and always will be about God and His redemptive plan for the world. His will for you is always in context of His plan for the world.

5) Never go by first impressions, regardless of what the world tells you. Some of the best people I know who have impacted me were the ones whose first impression was unfavorable. I think you sometimes have to step out of what is comfortable and familiar if you want to find God’s secret blessings and surprises.

6) What is important in life, what I want you to remember, is not me or how well I write or how clever I am. You can forget all about me and if you remember that God loves you, that God is in love with you, and that God can take the worthless and transform it into somethng priceless, then I am OK with that. As one person said, I’m just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody that can save anybody. That’s all I am, regardless of what my ego tells me.

What are some lessons you have learned? Share them with me, because I am always learning and God always has something to show me. Plus, we only grow and mature in the faith in community. You can never discover God’s will for your life by yourself, but only with other believers as you share yourself and your gifts to serve one another in love.

That’s all for now. More later.”

Joy in the Midst of Sadness

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I celebrated with the rest of the family as my niece turned 2. Finally, I can stop counting in months. I was seriously running out of fingers and toes to count on.

I loved seeing the pure unadulterated joy on her face when she saw her presents and the complete love and trust she has for her mommy and daddy and two big brothers. It did my heart good.

But I also remembered Adrian Peterson’s 2-year old son who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. My heart hurts and I have questions I can’t answer.

Who does that to a 2-year old? For what possible reason?

I know we live in a broken world filled with broken people. Creation groans for deliverance and for everything to be made right. Too many defenseless and helpless children suffer, too many people go to bed hungry, too many marriages fall apart, and too many die way too young.

Then I remember how this story ends. I cheated and read the last page. It’s about God wiping away every tear from our eyes. It’s about a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth where lambs lie safely next to lions, where others is no need for sun, moon, or stars because God is there.

I love what the guest pastor said. God didn’t want an only child, so He chose us to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus and become heirs with Jesus to all the promises of God.

I love this version of Romans 8:29-30: “God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.”

That’s what keeps me going in the midst of so much suffering and sadness. That’s why I can find joy in everything. Because ultimately Love does win.

Hello, My Name Is . . . More of What Jesus Wants to Say to Every Woman

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I felt like I had to revisit this because there’s so much more that I felt needs to be said. So much I feel like Jesus wants to communicate to women, both single and married. So here goes:

“My Precious Daughter,

Why are you so concerned about the future? Do you think by worrying you can hasten its arrival or change one iota of your destiny?

If you are single, be single. Regardless of whether I’ve called you to be single for life or not, I have called you to be single today. Embrace this stage as a gift and especially embrace all the lessons and wisdom that you can only gain from this part of your life.

If you are married, remember I am your identity now. Not your husband, not your children, not your job. All these things belong to Me.

Your marriage is not yours. It’s Mine. So is your husband. I expect you to give him back to me better than when I first gave him to you– more like Me.

Your children do not belong to you. They are Mine and I have entrusted them to your care for such a short time. They will form their opinions of Me much more by watching your daily actions and habits and lifestyle than by listening to your words. Live what you profess to believe.

Make time to find rest in Me. Notice I did not say to take time. In your hectic schedule, you will never have time for Me unless you make time for Me. And you will always make time for what really matters to to you.

Remember, whenever you hear the voices reminding you of your past, your shortcomings, your faults, and your mistakes, speak My name aloud. Do not dwell on such things, but rebuke them in My name.

Your feelings will lie to you. Your woman’s intuition will lie to you. Your mind and heart will deceive you. I will always tell you the truth, for I am the Truth. Trust me.

Let My love for you captivate and enthrall your heart tonight. Repeat the phrase, “Abba Father, I belong to you” over and over until the thought becomes as ingrained as breathing.

I love you just as you are right now but I will not let you stay that way. I am far from finished from the masterpiece I am making out of you.

That Old One-Note Symphony of Grace

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I’ll be honest. I sat here staring at my laptop trying to come up with something else. I even scanned the headlines on msn.com in a vain attempt to find some noteworthy news to comment on. Nothing exciting happened today, so I guess I’ll fall back on a familiar topic. Grace.

Grace never gets old for me. It may get old for you reading about me writing about it yet again, but it truly never gets old for me.

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If I lived to be 1,000 years old, I think I’d still be amazed by grace. You’d still catch me dumbfounded, mouth wide open in awe of grace working in my life.

Grace is why I’m not still mired in my own sins and phobias, trapped by my own sense of worthlessness, doomed to stay inside a prison of my own making.

Grace is the smile of God over me and the Everlasting Arms underneath me that keep me going on the good days and gets me through on the bad days.

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Grace sees past the awkward conversations, the good intentions once again executed poorly, the regrets of words not spoken, and all the failures to the perfect end result.

Grace sees the best in me and allows me to see the best in the other and helps bring it out of both of us.

Grace revives dashed hopes, broken dreams, crushed spirits, ruined relationships, and forsaken lives.

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Grace is me not getting what I deserve and getting what I do not deserve– life more abundant and full and satisfying than anything else out there.

Grace means I woke up today with a thousand blessings waiting to be seen through a heart filled with thanksgiving and gratitude and joy.

Grace is my family and my friends loving me, rooting for me, calling out the God-colors in me, and helping me remember the song in my heart when I’ve forgotten the words.

Grace is the setting sun, the autumn breeze, the laughter of children, the old couple still holding hands, the leaves changing colors, and the applause of heaven over one  wayward sinner who comes home.

And grace is mine, all mine.

 

All Those Celebrity Crushes

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It seemed so harmless. You know. The game where you name your celebrity crushes? How can there be any harm in it?

But I started thinking more about it today. Probably more than I should have. After all, one of my spiritual gifts is over-thinking things.

I think the problem is this. When we get involved in those crushes, we are buying into the world’s definition of beauty. And it is a very superficial, surface kind that only goes as deep as the glossy 8X10 paper it’s printed on.

Dr. Michael Easley, one of my favorite teachers, always says, “Don’t let the world teach you theology.” I say, “Don’t let the world define beauty for you.”

Beauty is more than body shapes and skin tones. For me, beauty isn’t what’s on the outside transforming the inward, but what’s on the inside coming out on the outside. In other words, a woman whose heart is at rest and who is comfortable in who she is as a woman will show a kind of beauty that make-up and cosmetics can’t touch. A man who is confident in how God made him and who knows who he is in Christ will have a kind of handsomeness that is more than chiseled abs and sculpted arms.

Beauty is who you are more than what you look like. Beauty is character– joy you can’t contain spilling out of every pore and coming out as kind of a glow. You know it when you see it. And like I’ve said before, you have to look with a different set of eyes to see it. You have to be able to look at others the way God looks at you.

Another thing. Celebrity crushes feed into distorted and unrealistic expectations and standards. Girls don’t want a nice guy. They want a nice guy who looks like Ryan Gosling. Guys want a sweet girl who looks like Kate Upton.

The problem is that no one looks like that. Not even those celebrities. There is always photoshopping and touching up that goes into the image. Not to say that physical attractiveness isn’t important, but hopefully what you find attractive in a person will be kindness and grace as much as looks.

So I’m currently deleting all my celebrity photos. Most of all, I’m going to start praying that God transforms my character into one that will attract the woman He has for me. I’m praying you won’t get so caught up in looking for the perfect man or woman that you miss that imperfect person who could make you perfectly happy. I’m praying you will let God choose, for God always gives the very best to those who leave the choice with Him (thanks to Elisabeth Elliot for that one).

I think I’m looking for a face to call home.