Wise Words

“Jesus, the favorite Child of God, is persecuted. He who is poor, gentle, mourning; he who hungers and thirsts for uprightness; is merciful, pure of heart and a peacemaker is not welcome in this world. The Blessed One of God is a threat to the established order and a source of constant irritation to those who consider themselves the rulers of this world. Without his accusing anyone he is considered an accuser, without his condemning anyone he makes people feel guilty and ashamed, without his judging anyone those who see him feel judged. In their eyes, he cannot be tolerated and needs to be destroyed, because letting him be seems like a confession of guilt.

When we want to become like Jesus, we cannot expect always to be liked and admired. We have to be prepared to be rejected” (Henri Nouwen).

I seem to remember that Jesus said something like woe to you when all people speak well of you. If you’re doing the right thing the right way, you’re going to rub some people the wrong way, regardless.

It’s better to stand alone in your convictions and remain true to what you believe than to compromise away your beliefs for the sake of conformity and tolerance.

 

Taking the Next Step

“Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, ‘How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?’ There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away” (Henri Nouwen).

There are times when the best you can do is focus on the day at hand. You think, “If I can just make it through the next 24 hours.”

Then sometimes, 24 hours is too much. You feel overwhelmed by life. At that point, your focus becomes more narrow. “Can I make it through the next hour? The next minute?”

I’m as guilty as anyone of always looking ahead– to the evening, to Friday, to the next holiday. That’s all well and good until it takes away from living fully in the present and being fully engaged with the people around you.

To live in the moment isn’t always easy, especially when that moment turns out to be stressful and unpleasant. Still, even in those times you can still find hidden nuggets of joy.

Giving thanks and living gratefully is still the best way to live in the present as completely as possible. It’s still the best antidote to the cynicism and entitlement that seems to dominate much of the culture.

Keep keeping your eyes on Jesus and His kingdom and the rest will fall into place.

 

 

Choosing Fruitfulness

“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness” (Henri Nouwen).

I’m not anti-success. I love it when I try something new or take on a difficult task and succeed at it. Success is a great feeling.

But it should not be the final aim of the believer. Fruitfulness should.

To be fruitful is to pass along a legacy of faith first handed down to you.

To be fruitful is simply to abide in Jesus and let His work take root and grow in you, to let His words sink deep into the soil of your heart, and to let His love germinate inside you until it encompasses your whole being.

Let us choose success, but let us choose foremost to be fruitful.

 

Advent Prayers for Monday Eve

Lately, I have difficulty keeping everything straight in mind. I guess that makes me a cotton-headed ninny muggins. Like, is this the first or second week of Advent? Or have I posted what I’m about to post already?

As to the first question, my church lit the first Advent candle today. I supposed it really doesn’t matter if you get the order exactly right as long as you are able to prepare your heart to receive the coming Christ-child and center your mind on what Christmas is truly about– God breaking into this world to redeem His people from their sins.

As to the second, who cares? This Advent prayer is worth a repeat, if that’s what it really is. It’s still a beautiful prayer that echoes the feelings and thoughts of many who will read it.

“O Lord, how hard it is to accept your way. You come to me as a small, powerless child born away from home. You live for me as a stranger in your own land. You die for me as a criminal outside the walls of the city, rejected by your own people, misunderstood by your friends, and feeling abandoned by your God.

As I prepare to celebrate your birth, I am trying to feel loved, accepted, and at home in this world, and I am trying to overcome the feelings of alienation and separation which continue to assail me. But I wonder now if my deep sense of homelessness does not bring me closer to you than my occasional feelings of belonging. Where do I truly celebrate your birth: in a cozy home or in an unfamiliar house, among welcoming friends or among unknown strangers, with feelings of well-being or with feelings of loneliness?

I do not have to run away from those experiences that are closest to yours. Just as you do not belong to this world, so I do not belong to this world. Every time I feel this way I have an occasion to be grateful and to embrace you better and taste more fully your joy and peace.
Come, Lord Jesus, and be with me where I feel poorest. I trust that this is the place where you will find your manger and bring your light. Come, Lord Jesus, come.Amen” (Henri Nouwen).

Poverty and Kindness

“The poor are the center of the Church. But who are the poor? At first we might think of people who are not like us: people who live in slums, people who go to soup kitchens, people who sleep on the streets, people in prisons, mental hospitals, and nursing homes. But the poor can be very close. They can be in our own families, churches or workplaces. Even closer, the poor can be ourselves, who feel unloved, rejected, ignored, or abused.

It is precisely when we see and experience poverty – whether far away, close by, or in our own hearts – that we need to become the Church; that is, hold hands as brothers and sisters, confess our own brokenness and need, forgive one another, heal one another’s wounds, and gather around the table of Jesus for the breaking of the bread. Thus, as the poor we recognise Jesus, who became poor for us” (Henri Nouwen).

I can only think to add one thing– be kind to everyone you meet, for every single person is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Every single person has one past event, one scar, one wound, one story that if you knew it, would completely and radically change the way you looked at them.

Be kind to everyone, even those who think and vote differently than you. Every single person has reasons for what they do and why they do it.  Just because someone has a different viewpoint than you doesn’t make them automatically wrong or evil. In fact, it’s good to take in different perspectives, so as to help you avoid myopic narrow-mindedness and pharisaical judgmentalism.

Be kind, but not a doormat. Be kind, but be assertive. Be kind, but don’t ever sell out your convictions or beliefs. Be kind, but be wise and discerning.

Above all, be kind because you might be the one who need it the most.

 

 

 

Listening to the Right Voice

“[T]he real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing– that demands real effort” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World).

Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult for most of us to be still and silent for long. Perhaps the enemy knows that once we start listening to the voice of our Abba, and believing what He says about us, we will no longer be swayed by any temptation from the other side.

Sure, we have lots of voices telling us we’re no good, that we’re failures who are past all hope. We have other voices telling us that we’re as good as how well we perform and jump through hoops and wear the right labels and drive the right cars and so on and so forth.

Still, the voice that trumps all those other voices says that you are already enough because Abba made you. You are not your mistakes or your shortcomings or your weaknesses. You are your Abba’s beloved, and He is very fond of you.

“At issue here is the question: ‘To whom do I belong? God or to the world?’ Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. It takes very little to raise me up or thrust me down. Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves. All the time and energy I spend in keeping some kind of balance and preventing myself from being tipped over and drowning shows that my life is mostly a struggle for survival: not a holy struggle, but an anxious struggle resulting from the mistaken idea that it is the world that defines me.

As long as I keep running about asking: ‘Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with ‘ifs.’ The world says: ‘Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much.’ There are endless ‘ifs’ hidden in the world’s love. These ‘ifs’ enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain ‘hooked’ to the world-trying, failing,and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart” (Henri J.M. Nouwen).

Open-Ended Hope: A Guest Blog Post by Henri Nouwen

“We lived in a world where people don’t know much about hope. We know about wishes. The whole Christmas period is full of wishes. I wish this, or I want that. It’s very concrete: I want a toy or a car or a new job. These are all very specific requests. But hope is precisely to say, ‘I don’t know how God is going to fulfil His promises, but I know that He will, and therefore I can live in the presence with the knowledge that He is with me.’ I can then know and trust that the deepest desires of my being will be fulfilled. This way keeps the future very open.

Hope has nothing to do with optimism. Many people think that hope is optimism, looking at the positive side of life. But Jesus doesn’t speak like that at all. When Jesus talks about the future or the end of the world, He describes wars, people in anguish, nation rising against nation, and earthquakes. There’s no place where Jesus says, ‘One day it will all be wonderful.’ He talks about enormous agony, but He says, ‘You, you (my beloved ones) pray unceasingly that you will keep your heart focused on Me. Stand with your head erect in the presence of the Son of Man. Don’t get distracted by it all. Remain focused.’ Don’t think that things will clean up, and finally there won’t be any more pain. Jesus is saying that the world is dark, and will remain dark.

     If you live with hope, you can live very much in the present because you can nurture the footprints of God in your heart and life. You already have a sense of what is to come. And the whole of the spiritual life is saying that God is right with us, right now, so that we can wait for His coming, and this waiting is a waiting in hope. But because we wait with hope we know that what we are waiting for is already here. We have to nurture that. Here and now matters because God is a God of the present. And God is God of the present because He is God of Eternity.

     Hope is to open yourself up to let God do His work in you in ways that transcend your imagination. As Jesus said, ‘When you are young you put your own belt on and went where you wanted to go. But when you grow spiritually old, then your stretch out your hands and let others and God lead you where you rather wouldn’t go.’ That’s hope, to let yourself be led to new places” (Henri Nouwen).

Keep hoping, not because everything will work out exactly like you want it to, but because God is working it all out for His ultimate glory and your good.

What It Means to Care

“To care means first of all to empty our own cup and to allow the other to come close to us. It means to take away the many barriers which prevent us from entering into communion with the other. When we dare to care, then we discover that nothing human is foreign to us, but that all the hatred and love, cruelty and compassion, fear and joy can be found in our own hearts. When we dare to care, we have to confess that when others kill, I could have killed too. When others torture, I could have done the same. When others heal, I could have healed too. And when others give life, I could have done the same. Then we experience that we can be present to the soldier who kills, to the guard who pesters, to the young man who plays as if life has no end, and to the old man who stopped playing out of fear for death.

By the honest recognition and confession of our human sameness, we can participate in the care of God who came, not to the powerful but powerless, not to be different but the same, not to take our pain away but to share it. Through this participation we can open our hearts to each other and form a new community” (Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life).

Perhaps if we had this spirit of caring, we would not be so quick to celebrate at another’s downfall or to assign evil motives to another’s actions. We would not be so smug and self-righteous when judging those we deem our enemies.

Jesus told us to love our enemies precisely because we are no different than them in that we have the same sin nature dwelling in each of us and are just as capable of any heinous act apart from the saving grace of God.

Once again, show grace instead of judgment and love instead of hate. The caring way is always the best way to go.

Staying True to the Truth

“Jesus, the favorite Child of God, is persecuted. He who is poor, gentle, mourning; he who hungers and thirsts for uprightness; is merciful, pure of heart and a peacemaker is not welcome in this world. The Blessed One of God is a threat to the established order and a source of constant irritation to those who consider themselves the rulers of this world. Without his accusing anyone he is considered an accuser, without his condemning anyone he makes people feel guilty and ashamed, without his judging anyone those who see him feel judged. In their eyes, he cannot be tolerated and needs to be destroyed, because letting him be seems like a confession of guilt.

When we want to become like Jesus, we cannot expect always to be liked and admired. We have to be prepared to be rejected” (Henri Nouwen).

That’s it. Jesus said that if they hated Him, they would hate us. He also said woe to those of whom everyone speaks well. That’s not a good sign.

I’ve seen a trend lately where American believers want to fit in and be accepted, even at the expense of compromising away their convictions and doctrines.

What you end up with is a sort of “Be nice to each other” kind of theology that is of no use to anyone. We will have lost the very message that set us apart and got people’s attention.

I still love what Mike Glenn said about the world not hating us because we’re too different but because we’re not different enough. That’s where the Israelites screwed up by being too much like the nations around them and not nearly enough like the set apart people God called them to be.

Above being liked and being relevant, the priority of believers is still to remain faithful to Jesus and His gospel, no matter what.

 

Sadness and Joy

“Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness . . . But this intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life).

It seems like lately there is so much sadness. So many people I know are grieving over loved ones who have passed away. So many are heartsick over those they love who have received bad news from the doctor in the form of a cancer diagnosis. So many who see those close to them slipping away from Alzheimer’s or some other kind of dementia.

The sadness can feel overwhelming at times.

But there’s joy, too.

It can be hard to find, like trying to catch a glimpse of the sun on a cloudy, rainy day, but it’s there.

Joy is knowing that God can take the worst imaginable circumstances and transform them into the best possible outcome. He can truly work all things together for good, including grief and loss.

Jesus endured willingly all the shame and sorrow of the cross for the joy set before Him. So you and I can endure the seemingly unendurable because we know that in the end, death and sadness and loss and pain will not have the last word.

Joy will. Love will. God will.