Thursday, November 29, 2007

Advent

Crossroads Christian Church is ReThinking Christmas.

I had the honor of being involved in the writing of the Advent devotional to supplement and accompany this message series. I decided that I would post the readings here also. I will post each week's late on Saturday night. If you would like to hear the messages that prompted these writings, please go to www.xroadschurch.org. You can download the pod cast. The first message is this weekend.


Adventus. Latin for arrival, coming. Advent is traditionally a time when the church has celebrated the birth of Jesus. This season begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas day and ends on Christmas Eve.

In the beginning during medieval times, Advent was similar to Lent. It was a time of fasting and penance, but through the years the season became associated with joy and anticipation.


As with all traditions and religious seasons, Advent has endured some secularization. Crossroads longs to give you tools to ReThink Advent and Christmas. ReThinking Christmas is not a feeling, but a choice and an attitude. We want to be reminded of Advent’s intention and purpose: to point with joy to Jesus and his arrival.


Many traditions have been tied to Advent and Christmas. They are intricately woven together, and the weaving is as complicated in origin and purpose as a Celtic knot. Colored candles, numbered ornaments, daily calendars have been used to count the days until Christmas with eagerness and anticipation. Often what was meant to point us toward Jesus, toward the arrival of God’s Son, is now merely a way to count the days of shopping and the accumulation and receiving of gifts.


Advent is a season to celebrate and commemorate Jesus’ first arrival. And it also points our eyes toward and prepares us for his return—his second coming. Christ-followers anticipate and expect his second coming. We have been assured He will arrive again.


Heavenly Father, in this hectic season let us be still enough to hear the holy hush. Let our vision be cleared in order that we can see past the ornamentation of the holiday. Enable us to contemplate your purpose and your plan for your people. Let us absorb the reality that you became flesh and lived among us. You did this so that we might know who and what you are. You wanted us to know. You still want us to know. May this devotional be an aid and a tool that will lead us to worship more, spend less, give more, and love all. And may you use it to encourage us to expect, prepare, examine, and hope in your son, Jesus.


Amen and amen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Morning Prayer

Heavenly Father,

I sit here in the morning dawn and I realize how hungry I am to be in your presence.
No words. No requests. No petitions.
I just want to abide in you for a time until the day starts in full force.

You are worthy.

YOU are worthy. And you fill my hunger with a sustenance that I can find in no other. My heart-soul aches to be near you, to hear your instructions, to hear your admonitions—even your discipline would be welcomed.

To articulate the swelling in my heart at this moment is not possible. My throat is closing and my eyes have misted. Were I to speak, my voice would tremble. Oh, that I might lift my hands to you. Might I lift them in adoration and abandon. Oh, that my inhibitions and restraints would be removed.

You are so much more than I ever dreamed you would be. When I was young and came to a faith in you I had no understanding—no ability to comprehend that as I grew and matured I would experience even more of you. I have attempted to fathom your depths and I cannot find the floor of this vast ocean that I have named You.

In my failings, in my shortcomings, in my inability to be faithful you never change. Never. You wait for me. You wait for my hunger to grow. You wait for my thirst to increase. And you are my bread and water.

Oh, that I might crawl up in your lap and huddle against the expanse of your great bosom. I would hide my face in the crease of your arm and relish your strength. And your warmth would seep into my cold body—I have been there before. I long to be there now.

Oh! God! My words are gone. Hear my wordless praise.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dark Door


At this juncture of my life, doors seem to be visual teaching aids. For years my email address has been myancientdoor. Recently the message at our church was about choices, and the catch phrase was “Big doors swing on small hinges”. Then I had a conversation with a friend, and we were talking about being real, about the gift of being ourselves. This friend commented that becoming yourself is like going through a “dark door”. (When God wants my attention he puts post-its everywhere.)

Dark Door

The dark door of who we are
seems forbidding, cryptic, and enigmatic.
Across the top of the door sill, words are
etched in the ancient woodwork:

Enter here, see
Enter here, know
Enter here, be revealed

We have been told if we enter through this dark door
We will face who we truly are—
without the masks,
without the false selves,
without the walls of self-preservation.

We are indignant.
We are insulted by the implication that we might be
wearing a mask and presenting false selves.
But beneath this thin veneer we are afraid.
Very, very afraid.
Our own reality does not allow or enable us
to comprehend the ramifications of entry.
In all our worldly, short-sighted wisdom,
we believe we know what or who we will see.

Often we avoid the door.
Frightened of what we will see,
scared of what we will know,
and terrified of what will be revealed.

If we choose to enter—
through the dark door of who we think we are,
Who others think we are—we take a risk.
We gamble because others’ perceptions of us might change.
Even greater is that our own perception and understanding
of who we are will be changed.
And this is what really torments us.
It is daunting to look in the mirror and not know who we are seeing.
It is humbling to recognize that our wisdom is foolishness.

But the choice is always ours.
We are not herded down long corridors
and pushed through the door.
We are not put in a room with this door as the only exit.
Transparency is not demanded.

We are presented with the choice of opening or leaving the door closed.
But the circuitous path of our lives always brings us back.
Repeatedly.
Regularly.

This is the rub and reality of this faith we agreed to enter and now profess.
This relational faith that we have been covenanted into is about transformation.
It is about being changed.
And faith is believing that the change is beneficial and of value before we see and experience it.

God beckons us to our dark door.
He invites us to turn the knob and push it open.
We must be warned that
the heat of the portal can be intense—searing.
the light from the door can be brilliant—blinding.
the knob--cold
the stairs—steep.
the threshold—high.

What we can’t see and what we sometimes do not understand
Is that He is on the other side.
He is waiting for us to make the choice:
To be revealed not as we see ourselves,
And to be unveiled not as others perceive us,
But to be known as He knows us.
Darkness is as light to him.

On the other side of the dark door
He is waiting with a cloak of grace
To envelop us…to clothe us.

And all that we are and all that we are not
will be swallowed up in love and grace.

Please enter here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Law and Grace

Romans 8:1-4

I love to read. I can’t be without a book. If I am without reading material, I will read the side panels of cereal boxes, the back of toilet paper packages, and the fine print on an antibiotic tube. There is a bookcase in every room of my house—even the hallway. Obsessive? Most likely.

I work at a library, and I often get asked what I am reading. I am a serious and eclectic reader. I enjoy reading scripture commentaries and history books. I love to study the origins of words. Not so good for reading recommendations to our patrons. And there have been times I have been embarrassed about this. So, I have been reading a lot of fodder lately. Mindless reading to wind down before bed, or in the small spaces of time before the next event or appointment. I do this in explosive spurts and sporadic bouts.

The result is always the same. I regret wasting the time. Then I feel guilty. I have that terrible, heavy feeling of being a poor steward of my time and energy. When this pattern occurs I always feel depleted rather than replete. This kind of reading extends the belly of my mind, and I am full for the moment. Later I am far hungrier than I was before.

Being aware of this pattern, I made stipulations on my reading habits. I told myself that I would need to get two or three chores done before I could read a chapter or two. I told myself that there were certain kinds of books I shouldn’t read—books that increased my discontent or fed a restless spirit. I made a law concerning my reading habits, and I even talked to a dear friend about it.

I just went through one of my sporadic fits of reading and the law didn’t hold.

Why not?

I started thinking about this. The books and the reading are not the real issues.

I had a rule, a law, in place to remind me. But I didn’t adhere to my own law—one that I knew was beneficial. I stepped right over the boundary.

My law was powerless.

Law never produces the desire or the eagerness to do right. Law is simply a measure of whether you are meeting a standard or not. The law points out whether we hit or miss the mark—its bedfellow is condemnation. The law only measures outward behavior, not inward motivation and intention. It does not grow or produce longing and yearning, because it is not life-giving. Some people live “by the law”, but they are not imparted life through it.

Then what is the purpose of law? To set a standard that produces consequences for disobedience? Is that the only reason we have law? To curb our wayward behaviors? To put parameters around our conduct? Law cannot reconstruct our mental DNA. Demands and expectations of the law can only temporarily curb our actions. Law cannot change our minds.

Then is there anything, anything, which can?

Yes!

Grace.

What in the world do law and grace have in common? Some people live as if grace is the polar opposite of the law. Grace and law are not opposites. They are not diametrically positioned, and they do not negate one another. Grace and law work together.

My law did not change my behavior. It temporarily curbed my actions.
Temporarily. I set a standard…and I missed the mark.
This is the purpose of the law.

Law must be in place to understand and experience grace.

Law is the backdrop for grace. Law is the austere, black velvet that showcases the resplendent diamond of grace.

Many people see the law as being the hard taskmaster—unrelenting, unforgiving and unbending. There is a kernel of truth in this perception. We also tend to see grace as soft and gentle. Meek and mild. Always forgiving. Always excusing. Always flexible. This is a distorted view of grace.

Grace does not accommodate or encourage sin. Grace is not weak. Grace has a tensile strength that will hold much longer than the hard grip of the law. And it will hold. It fills the gap that the law reveals.

Grace transforms.

I read this morning. And I don’t regret one minute of the time spent turning the pages. It wasn’t fodder. (This is a book I will recommend) It was a book about the journey of a very visible woman just a few years older than me. She missed the mark of the law. She felt (and was by the religious community) condemned. But she has experienced and been transformed by God’s tensile grace.

Grace creates desire and eagerness to want to do what is good, pure, lovely, noble, and praiseworthy.

Grace changes our spiritual DNA.

I have something in common with the author of the book I am reading—we both have a huge diamond ring, and neither one of us deserved it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pierced Numbness

There are times in the hectic routine of our daily lives that we stop feeling deeply. We are very concerned and consumed with survival and staying intact and keeping up and ahead with our to-do lists.

As we move from one task to another, as we move from one event to the next, as we move from one conversation to another we often move as if by rote. And as we are doing one thing we are mentally doing another task in our heads. Recognize the pattern?

There are mornings when I wake up and I immediately begin to plan my day to see what I can keep and what I can remove. I wake to face my yesterday’s procrastinations and today’s unexpected dilemmas. And my mind moves through the course of the next twelve hours--looking at the clock and mentally tabulating how long before my first appointment and my last. I am trying to see just how all the puzzle pieces will possibly fit between. Often they don’t.

Sometimes, just sometimes, something happens and there is an intervention in all of this juggling. A brief moment of something so good and so unexpected…and I am reminded that I can feel deeply. I am quickened. The numbness is pierced. The moment is brief and fleeting. But it is very real.

This moment happened this morning. I listened to an incredible someone play the piano. Just two songs intertwined, but for those few minutes I was transported. Gone was the rote reaction to the day.

I cried this morning. Which of course is nothing new. Anyone who knows me knows that I cry often. This is my nature. I am an emotionally driven person. But, I know my cryings. And this one came from someplace deep in my soul.

Because of these brief moments my day will be different. I will do more than survive.

I thank God for the piano player.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Verb of God

O Body of Christ!
Expanded and diverse.
Vast and manifold.
Let us all be together in one place again.
One Mind.
One Body.
Gathered in anticipation of a new Pentecost.

Come, O Holy Spirit!
Suddenly.
Be violent in your appearance,
so that we will not miss you—
for we are an inattentive people.
Arrive and sound like the rushing wind.
Whorl through our midst—
Wend through our collective consciences.

Reawake us.

Come, Counselor.
We have been sitting in your house waiting.
We are a fractured and quarreling people.
Afraid, confused,
apathetic, perplexed,
misguided, numb.
We are unsure of who we are,
and where we are going.

Remind us.

Come, Advocate.
Speak on our behalf,
then infuse us with the fire of Him.
Lick us with the flames of your Presence.
Let your tongues of heat separate
And rest on each of us.
Let us be like Moses’ bush.

Fill us.

Come, Spirit of Truth.
Whisper to us His words.
Take from what is His
And make it known to us.
Do this so that we might speak
the native languages of our brothers and sisters—
Languages lost and garbled in the chaos.
Languages silenced in the din of pain and suffering.

Teach us.

O Precious Gift!
Let those who encounter us say
we have had too much wine.
Let us be drunk
even in the morning.
Enable us to declare the wonders of God.
So that many might ask,
“What does this mean?”

Immerse us.

O Body of Christ,
Gather in anticipation.
And ask Him to be present.
Please invite Him to come.

O Verb of God!
Come.

Amen and amen.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Depths and Heights

Last week I taught an adult writing workshop at our public library. I brought eight objects and arranged them on the table. The ladies' assignment was to choose which object represented them at this point in their life and then explain why. Their work was incredible and insightful. I chose the ship.

I am sailing in “waters of unknown depth”**. I cannot see land; there is no shore in the distance—only the great expanse of sea. My sails are high and billowed because the wind is catching them and filling their hidden pockets and propelling me forward.

The wind blows where it will.

I am not yet adept with my navigational devices. My skills are limited. The constellations and their positions often confuse me. I often get the quadrant and the sextant and their purposes mixed up. I just keep my compass in my hand and simply attempt to keep sailing true north.

The size of my crew has diminished. They stayed in ports or got on other ships of their own choosing. I remained on my ship determined to continue to sail through the dark, deep water.

The deck is wet from the cold, briny sea. Slick and dangerous. And I don’t have sea legs yet. I stagger from one end of the ship to the other like a drunken woman. I grab the ropes and holdings as my feet slide beneath me. But I make it to the bow, and stand for awhile—resting. I look longingly up at the crow’s nest.

I want to climb there. I want to stand in that wooden basket and look far out into the horizon.

I want my sea legs to grow strong, and I want the liquid in my cochlea to balance. Then I want to grab those thick ropes and climb even as the ship sways and tilts. I want to have a monkey grip on the holding lines. I want to feel the wind whip my hair and billow out my clothes as if I were the sails.

I don’t care if these are waters of unknown depth. I don’t care if I can’t see the shore.

I am sailing.

And the needle on my compass is pointing north.




**”A Life that Enfaiths
New & Selected Essays
By Denise Levetov

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Inadequate (Part 3)

I started backwards with these posts. Part 2 should have been Part 1, and Part 1 should have been Part 3.

The older I get the more simple I want life to be. But life situations often undermine this dream. My own wiring often botches this desire.

If you noticed in Inadequate Part 2, I explained the reasons we often experience inadequacy. The first thought said that “I am inadequate”. The next three stated that “I felt inadequate.” This was not a random choice of words.

There are facts of inadequacy that we might try to refute, but they remain facts. And then there are those “feelings” of inadequacy. And a wise person, I know, has counseled that if we change our beliefs we can change our behavior. The following statements are observations and patterns of thought and beliefs I want to change. Changing how you think is hard, but changing how you believe is a difficult task.

I have struggled with inadequacy because of my own limitations
My faith and watching the person of Jesus in the gospels has enabled me to come to terms with my hard-wired inadequacies. There are just some things I cannot do. I can rest in the fact that the things I cannot do helps define me, but they are not who I am. I have been able to (for the most part) let go of this one.

I have felt inadequate because I allowed others to make me feel that way.
I have the market on allowing myself and others to make me feel inadequate. I forget that the scriptures I trust tell me not to make the comparisons. These thoughts need to be taken captive as soon as they tip toe across my mind. These thought and belief patterns are wily and sly. They sneak in the door

Recently I had to have our computer completely cleaned. Wiped clean. Spyware and viruses had infected the system so thoroughly that a complete cleansing of the registry was in order. This is how I see our feelings of inadequacy. Even now that the system is clean our computer whiz encouraged us to do scans at least twice a month to keep the system clean. How could I not see the similarities? I am attempting to capture my negative thoughts and feelings and hem and quarantine them as soon as possible. Regularly I will have to take them out and examine them in light of who I know Jesus has asked and called me to be. I will need to take them out and look at them in light of who Jesus is. Then they need to be eradicated.

I have felt inadequate when I realized I was living in someone’s shadow.
I have lived in a great many shadows. Some were and are admirable. I have enjoyed their cool shade and protection. Walking in these shadows has allowed me to go places and into arenas I would have never attempted on my own. But there are other shadows that have smothered me. Most were not intentionally doing this. Most were unaware I was even walking there. But some have so overshadowed me that I have forgotten what I looked like. I was no longer able to discern my shadow from the other. I do believe it is fine to walk a while in another’s shadow. The problem comes when we remain there. We cannot remain there. The only shadow I need to abide in is Jesus’. Sounds sappy. (I do not care. Sap is the life blood of a tree. Let the sap run! Another post.) Let me abide in his shadow. Stay there. Only his.

I have felt inadequate because I have accepted and adhered to someone else’s standard or definition.
So often I will toss out my own definitions and standards in exchange for others'. Surely they know more than I? Surely they have found a better way, a better plan, a better method. What did I allow to happen that caused me to think this way? I am not sure. But I have decided that my definitions and standards should be rooted and established in my relationship with God…not the arbitrary ones of others. Easier said than done, but I am trying. Only God’s definitions and standards remain the same. Others change according to moo, circumstance, preference, and interpretation.

How will I deal with my feelings of inadequacy now that I have assessed and analyzed my thought patterns?

I will pray.

“Jesus, my wine is gone. I will do whatever you ask.

Help me in the places of inadequacy that I cannot control. Help me to see my limitations. Remind me of the futility of making comparisons and strengthen me to resist the temptation to indulge in them. Show me how to walk and abide in your shadow. Enable me to discern, accept and respond to only your definitions and standards.

Thank you that you care when the wine is gone. Thank you that you are concerned for us when we are in the middle of our spiritual faux pas. Thank you that you do not leave us to deal with our inadequacy alone.

Amen and amen.”