Words That Create (More Goodness from Henri Nouwen)

“Words, words, words. Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in newspapers and books. Words whispered, shouted, and sung. Words that move, dance, and change in size and color. Words that say, ‘Taste me, smell me, eat me, drink me, sleep with me,’ but most of all, ‘buy me.’ With so many words around us, we quickly say: ‘Well, they’re just words.’ Thus, words have lost much of their power.

Still, the word has the power to create. When God speaks, God creates. When God says, ‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3), light is. God speaks light. For God, speaking and creating are the same. It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim. What we say is very important. When we say, ‘I love you,’ and say it from the heart, we can give another person new life, new hope, new courage. When we say, ‘I hate you,’ we can destroy another person. Let’s watch our words” (Henri Nouwen).

Choose your words carefully. Speak life and not death. Speak hope and not despair.

Even your lack of words can have tremendous power. Your choosing to ignore someone sends a more powerful message than any words of hate ever could.

So choose words that head and not harm. Choose words that will build up and not tear down.

That’s all I have on this Thursday evening in February.

 

It’s Called Growing Up

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’“(Jeremiah 33:2-3 MSG).

I think I’ve figured out a lot of the process of sanctification and maturity.

It’s when you look back over a time when you felt like you were completely the injured party and justified in all those things you said and did and realizing, “Well, that was stupid. I shouldn’t have done and said that. I should probably never do that again.”

Maturity is realizing that the one who needs growing up most is me. Sanctification means that the log in my own eye needs to come out first before I start nitpicking about all those splinters I see in other peoples’ eyes. It means I’m the one who most needs to change.

You can never control how others will treat you. You can never make people understand how  hurtful those things were that they said or did to you casually without thinking. Some people are just so good at making and having new friends they never learn to treasure the ones they already have.

You will learn that passive-aggressive is not the way of a child of God, nor is boycotting everyone who slights or offends you. You will also learn that what you intended and what they interpreted won’t always be the same thing. You will learn above all that there is no such thing as too broken or too far gone or too lost or too hopeless for the God who raises from the dead.

You can only control you. You can only forgive the brokenness in others as you come to see your own brokenness. You can’t ever go back and unsay and undo those things that cost friendships and sleepless nights. You can move forward and behave differently from now on.

Above all, you can give yourself grace. You’re not who you were then and you’re not yet who you will be. You’re allowed to fail and make mistakes so that you can learn from them and grow and not make them again in the future.

If you listen long enough and are even the slightest bit honest with yourself, you’ll hear God revealing aspects about you that aren’t your best self. He’ll show you your flaws not so that you can beat yourself up, but so that you can become a better you. He will not only show you, but He will change you if you are willing.

That’s called growing up.

 

Intercession

“True intercession involves bringing the person, or the circumstance that seems to be crashing in on you, before God, until you are changed by His attitude toward that person or circumstance. People describe intercession by saying, ‘It is putting yourself in someone else’s place.’ That is not true! Intercession is putting yourself in God’s place; it is having His mind and His perspective” (Oswald Chambers).

I heard someone say recently that intercession is being with God for someone else. I have to give credit where credit is due, so most of what follows is based on what I heard from Mary Lou Redding in a prayer talk she gave recently.

It’s not necessarily me praying what I think that person needs. It’s not even sometimes me praying for that person for what they need.

Sometimes the best kind of intercession is the kind where I am silent before God as I visualize bringing that person into the light of God’s presence and letting God decide how best to meet that person’s need.

I do believe we are to pray specifically for others and their needs and we should always pray for people for what they ask us to pray for. I also think that sometimes the best kinds of prayers for others don’t involve words at all.

It’s not like God will do less than what we ask. Oftentimes, He will do more. If you look at the four friends who brought in their paralyzed friend for physical healing, what they got was not only the physical healing but salvation for their friend as well.

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes the way I pray for family and friends is to visualize a chapel with Jesus standing at the front. I see myself bringing that person to Jesus and I see Jesus enveloping that person in a big bear hug. I envision healing washing over that person I am praying for as Jesus wraps His arms around them.

That said, I think all of us who claim the name of Jesus need to do better at praying for others. Not so much in saying, “I”ll pray for you,” and never following through but actually praying for people and letting them know we are praying for them. I know I need to do better.

Maybe today’s a good day to start.

 

Throwing Rocks

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I’ve been tryin’ to get down
to the Heart of the Matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore” (Don Henley).

Kairos was fantastic as usual tonight. Amy Jo Girardier spoke on forgiveness, which probably is something that doesn’t come easy to any of us. Especially those who carry the scars of wounds and words from those who were supposed to nourish and protect.

For some reason, I thought about the scene from Forrest Gump where Jenny is throwing rocks at her old house. It’s the place where her own father abused her for years, where all her woundedness came from. After she throws the last rock, she collapses on the ground into weeping. Forrest Gump say a line which I think is the best line in the whole movie: “Sometimes there aren’t enough rocks.”

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Unforgiveness is like carrying rocks. You visualize confronting the person or persons who cut you with their words, who betrayed your trust, who let you down, who deserted you in your time of need, who feigned friendship while sticking the knife in your back. You imagine what it would be like to use the rocks to wound them like they wounded you.

It seems like the natural thing to do. You have every right to be angry, to hurt, to want justice– even revenge.

But maybe what God is calling you to do is to take those rocks and build an altar. On that altar, you sacrifice your right to be angry. You give up expecting that the person can fix what they did to you. You let go of hatred and of wishing them harm. Instead you learn to pray for them and even eventually love them.

Then you realize you’re not the only one wounded. The person who hurt you was acting out of his own woundedness. He’s continuing the cycle of violence, of cutting words, of lashing out, because it’s all he knows.

Forgiveness breaks the cycle. Forgiveness opens the door of the prison of hate and anger and bitterness and the person who walks out is you. You are the one set free when you choose to forgive.

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One of my favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis deals with forgiveness and the high cost that comes with it:

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”

Forgiveness is hard, but in my experience, not forgiving and carrying the weight and burden of all that anger, bitterness, and hurt is harder.

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I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

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As you probably already know from reading earlier posts, I have quite the collection of Bibles. I don’t mean on my iPhone or iPad, either (although I do have TWO Bible apps with a plethora of translations between them). I mean actual Bibles.

I have a 1611 facsimile of the King James Bible. I also have at least one of the following: American Standard Version, New American Standard, Revised Standard Bible, New Revised Standard Version, New King James Version, English Standard Version, New International Version, New Living Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Amplified Bible, New English Bible, The Message, and The Voice.

I ran out of breath just typing that.

I have lots of Bibles that look pretty and make me look all spiritual and impressive when I tote them under my arm. Not all of them at once, mind you. I only carry one at the time. Two tops.

But for all that, how much of a Bible do I carry inside me? How well do I know this Bible I profess to love, that I boldly proclaim as inerrant, perfect, God-breathed?

And if people are reading my life like the only Bible they will ever read, what kind of message are they getting? Is it that God only loves good little children? Is it that God loves the same causes I do and is against everything I’m against? Is is that you have to jump through all the right hoops and say all the right magic words to get God’s approval?

Or is it that I (like you and everyone else alive) am a broken person living in a broken world, hopelessly lost and estranged from God? Is it how that very God took on skin like mine and came to live among people like me to show me the way Home? To be the way Home?

I don’t have a neat and tidy ending for this post. I don’t have a funny story to close on. I do have the feeling that with all these Bibles, I should know a lot more about THE Bible than I do.

I also know that God is faithful and patient. He wants me to know Him far more than I do most of the time. And He’s very persistent.

I’m praying for a deep hunger and thirst for God’s Word. I want to crave it, to live it, to breathe it, to cherish it, to make it as much s part of me as my own skin.

“Deep within me I have hidden Your word so that I will never sin against You. . . . Your word is a lamp for my steps; it lights the path before me” (Psalm 119:11,105).

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That Undo Button

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I love the undo button on WordPress. It’s saved me more than once when I accidentally deleted a good portion of a blog I was in the process of writing. Quite frankly, it has saved me from cussin’ at my computer.

I wish I had an undo button for tonight. I had a burger and fries at McCreary’s Irish Pub. I was okay until those last ten or so fries.

Then I went over to Frothy Monkey, where I had an iced mocha. I was good until I started the walk back to my car. Then it hit me.

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I can’t remember ever feeling so full in my entire life. I was nearly praying that I would spontaneously combust. I actually felt nauseous. It was touch and go for a while. Thankfully, no cookies got tossed, no one called for Ralph on the porcelain phone, and nothing was spewed or projectile anything’d.

Right now, I feel like I won’t eat again until next Wednesday.

Do you ever have regrets like that?

Maybe it was a few drinks too many one night. Maybe it was getting carried away in passion and going too far with a date. Maybe it was a marriage that imploded. Or a career that got jettisoned.

It could be a conversation that you wish you could redo, words you wish you could take back, replays of yourself doing incredibly stupid stuff that is on an endless loop in your brain. Maybe you intended friendly conversation that got interpreted as creepy and involved a Starbucks manager warning you not to harass the employees so he wouldn’t have to get the cops involved. Yeah, that last part happened to a good friend of mine. Ahem.

Oh, if I offered you an actual undo button right now, you’d pay just about anything to get your hands on one.

Jesus said that if you confess your sin, He is faithful to forgive you and cleanse you. That means the sin is gone. No trace or reminder of it anywhere. It goes away from you as far as the east is from the west. That’s a long way.

You might still have consequences, but remember this. There is nothing in your life that Jesus can’t take and use it for good, no disastrous mess that He can’t turn into a beautiful masterpiece, and no mistake that He can’t turn into a powerful message of Hope.

I love the word justified. You could say it means just-if-I’d never sinned. God declares you innocent. Not guilty. God looks at you and sees none of those ugly stains and wounds. He sees the perfection of Jesus.

I’m thankful every single day for forgiveness and fresh starts with each new morning. I’m thankful that I don’t have to pay for all my mistakes and bad choices and regrettable behaviors.

I also know this. The next time, I’ll leave a few fries behind. And maybe skip that iced drink.

A Seat at the Table

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“He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, ‘When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.

“‘When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

“Then he turned to the host. ‘The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.'” (Luke 14:7-14).

I’ve observed in a few Nashville churches that the “holier than thou” club has been mostly replace by the “hipper than thou” crew. There are a few telltale signs. 1) Their pastor and/or worship leader(s) wear skinny jeans. 2) The church building doesn’t look anything like a church building. 3) The worship songs are the latest and newest songs that haven’t even hit the radio yet.

To be fair, I’ve had my share of “hipper than thou” moments, as well as “holier than thou.” I’ve caught myself a few times comparing myself with others and detected more than a little pride in my pop culture knowledge and vast and educated musical tastes.

The fact is, anyone could look at me sitting in a seat at Kairos or in a church pew and rightfully ask, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here.”

It’s true. I’ve done stupid things. I’ve said and typed much that I regret. I’ve had such thoughts that I truly hope I never run into a mind reader who can read my past thoughts. That would be tragic and awkward.

The fact is that in the Kingdom of Heaven, no one belongs and everyone belongs.

No one deserves to be there. I certainly don’t. Everyone has sinned and sin brings death to everyone every single time (to paraphrase my pastor Mike Glenn). The only reason anyone gets in is grace.

Because of grace, everyone can get in. The door is open. The invitations are sent. Everyone is welcome and no one who wants to get in will be left out.

In my opinion, there’s no such things as bad or good Christians. There are only sinners saved by grace. I love Thomas Merton’s definition of a saint– not someone who is good, but someone who has seen the goodness of God.

Don’t think you’re so very wise and holy that you get the best seats in the house. You’ll find yourself getting knocked down a few rungs on that old ladder. Remember Jesus, who didn’t consider anything or anyone beneath Him, but lowered himself to the position of a slave and didn’t think that death on a cross was too scandalous or too much of a sacrifice to get you and me into His kingdom.

If you’ve accepted the invitation, Just be thankful you’re in. And if you’re still undecided, remember there’s always room for one more– you.

Back to Loving Being Me

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It really is okay to love yourself. After all, the Bible does say to love your neighbor as yourself and you can’t very well do that if you’re not too fond of you. I think there’s a kind of false modesty that gets passed around where we have the “aw shucks” mentality and downplay any compliments that come our way. I can tell you for certain that kind of thinking doesn’t come from God or the Bible.

God made you. He created you exactly how He wanted you to be and no matter how many scars and breaks and bruises and messes you may have accumulated along the way, He still loves the work of His own hands– you. No matter how you may have been rejected or friend-zoned by girls or guys, God is enraptured and enamored and captivated by you. He is completely and totally crazy in love with you.

I’m loving being me. I can say that I’m not like anybody else out there. That doesn’t make me odd. That might make me eccentric. What that does make me for absolute certain is unique. There is no one in the whole wide world quite like me, and I like that.

I love that I can be socially awkward at times. I love that I can be overly enthusiastic in my friendliness and sometimes be perceived as coming across a little creepy.  That’s okay. Aside from maybe needing to visit Decaf-land from time to time, I’m fine if not every single person likes what I have to offer. Many people were turned off by Jesus.

I love that when God sees me, He sees Jesus. He sees beauty and perfection and wisdom and strength beyond measure. He sees my very best self, the one only hinted at in my best moments of selfless devotion. He sees the finished product of who I will become.

As of this moment, I refuse to take on myself any names other than the ones He has given me. Not from family or friends. Not from co-workers. Not even from me. I don’t have to be defined by words spoken in frustration or anger or resignation. I am no longer the mistakes I’ve made or the chances I’ve missed or the good intentions coming up short.

I am Forgiven. I am Set Free. I am Redeemed. I am A New Creation. I am Blameless.

Of all the names God has given me, my favorite is this: I am His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.

My hope and prayer for you tonight is to let go of all the names you or anyone else has called you out of hate or anger and embrace the name given in love by your Creator and Redeemer and Savior. Listen to Him calling you His Beloved Child. Hear Him singing His delight over you and smiling over you. Let your life be defined by God’s pleasure over you instead of people’s disappointment in you.

I truly hope and pray that you will come to the point where you can truly and honestly say that you love being you.

Translating My Prayers

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I had a friend from Romania who attended Kairos with her new husband of four months. Since he’s not quite as adept at English as she is, she interpreted most of the Kairos service for him. It was a beautiful thing to see.

Then a light bulb went off in my head. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for me when I pray. I don’t mean that God needs an interpreter to understand my Southern dialect of English, but sometimes my prayers don’t even have words. Sometimes all I have are sighs and groans that are too deep for words, raw emotions that I can’t figure out, much less give voice to.

That’s where the Holy Spirit takes over. Even when I’m praying what I think God wants to hear, the Holy Spirit is inside me praying what’s really in my heart and on my mind. Even if that is anger toward God or frustration with how I think he’s guiding me.

Sometimes in prayer, thoughts come unbidden to my mind that I’m afraid to pray. Or at least I’m tempted to spiritualize so that they sound more Christian. Through the Holy Spirit, God sees beyond my Christian-ese and my thees and thous to the real words I can’t (or won’t) pray.

As I’ve said before, I’m so glad God didn’t give me 90% of what I asked for. He may not have caused that certain girl to fall in love with me, but he gave me something much better. He gave me Himself and an overwhelming sense of a more perfect Love that no human could ever give me.

He may not  have given me riches, but He’s helped me to see how richly blessed I am and how much I have to be truly thankful for.

Sometimes, I go to The Book of Common Prayer when I don’t have words of my own. I’ve used The Liturgy of the Hours recently as well. Some of Henri Nouwen’s prayers have felt like they were my own prayers said better than I could ever say them. Sometimes, all I have is “Lord, help” and “Thank you, Lord.” Even my silence before God is a form of prayer for that is often when I can finally hear Him speaking to me.

So if all you fail to get anything else out of all I’ve written, get this. God wants to hear from you. He doesn’t want pretty words or perfect theology or even coherent sentences. He wants you, all of you. Every bit of joy and pain, hurt and triumph, sorrow and happiness. He wants everything that’s on your heart and on your mind.

This comes from one ragamuffin trying to tell all the other ragamuffins out there where to find the best Bread out there. That’s all.

Fathers And All That

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I can imagine Joseph on a break from his carpentry job, hanging around the water cooler that just happens to be on the construction site. Go with me on this.

He’s listening to the other guys brag about their sons:

“My son made the honor roll again. That boy is just plain smart.”

“Yeah? Well, my boy is All-State in both football and basketball. He’ll be getting a free ride to any college he wants.”

“My boy is going into the ROTC and into the Army after he graduates from college. He wants to dedicate his life to defending freedom.”

Then Joseph can’t resist any longer. “My boy is Savior of the World.”

They all roll their eyes. One of them says, “Yeah, yeah. We know. Jesus is soooo great. He can walk on water. He’s the perfect Man, God incarnate, yada, yada, yada. You don’t have to keep reminding us of how great your son is.”

OK. That probably never happened. But I do think Joseph is a good example of a good father.

He’s the one who raised a child he didn’t father. Sure, it was a miraculous event, but still, Jesus was not his biological child. But he was man enough to take responsibility. He did the best thing any good father can do by loving his wife, Mary, day in and day out.

Also, he raised Jesus in the right way. Jesus knew how to work hard with his hands and was taught the importance of integrity and honesty. When the Bible says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, Joseph had a part in that.

Actually, the Bible never records any of Joseph’s actual words. It merely says that when Joseph heard what the angel said, he obeyed. Jesus learned obedience from a human perspective by watching his earthly father. Joseph knew that most of the most important life lessons are caught rather than taught, so he lived out his faith and his integrity and back up what he said by what he did.

Fathers, take a few notes from Joseph. Learn to lead by example and to be the man you want your son to become and your daughter to marry.