Henri Nouwen on Thanksgiving

The following quote by Henri Nouwen was included in the latest Wheaton Academy faculty/staff bulletin, and I just had to pass along the blessing. For a beautiful article on Henri Nouwen, read “The Holy Inefficiency of Henri Nouwen,” written by Philip Yancey shortly after Nouwen’s death in 1996.

dried flowers“Thanksgiving comes from above. It is the gift that we cannot fabricate for ourselves. It is to be received. It is freely offered and asks to be freely received. That is where the choice is! We can choose to let the stranger continue his journey and so remain a stranger. But we can also invite him into our inner lives, let him touch every part of our being and then transform our resentments into gratitude. We don’t have to do this. In fact, most people don’t. But as often as we make that choice, everything, even the most trivial things, become(s) new. Our little lives become great—part of the mysterious work of God’s salvation. Once that happens, nothing is accidental, casual, or futile any more. Even the most insignificant event speaks the language of faith, hope, and above all, love. That’s the Eucharistic life, the life in which everything becomes a way of saying “Thank you” to him who joined us on the road.”

May our “little lives” become great with God’s overwhelming love–and may it begin in us this very day.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Jen

Odds and Ends

This is a purposely random post. It includes further thoughts on a recent post; one quote; and one Scripture passage (in three versions) that I found beautiful.

Last weekend, as I was walking just after our first snowfall, I saw this bud lying on the ground. I brought it home, set it in the snow on our patio, and shot a picture. I changed my header picture to this shot because it certainly describes this strange transition of weather we are in. Down to 12 degrees one night, and then five days later it's back up to 50!

Last weekend, as I was walking just after our first snowfall, I saw this bud lying on the ground. I brought it home, set it in the snow on our patio, and shot a picture. I changed my header picture to this shot because it certainly describes this strange transition of weather we are in. Down to 12 degrees one night, and then five days later it’s back up to 50!

1. A couple days after posting the Meanderings on Being piece, I heard a radio interview with James Bryan Smith about his book The Good and Beautiful God. He shared this wonderful illustration from his book: A 19th century Russian Orthodox priest named John of Kronstadt was terribly bothered by the alcoholics he saw passed out in the gutters on his way to the church where he served. Unlike the other priests, he could not simply walk by them. Compelled by love, John would lift up the “hungover, foul-smelling people from the gutter, cradle them in his arms, and say to them, ‘This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.'” When I heard that amazing story, my mind jumped to my thoughts about the “God-blank” I wrote about in the Meanderings piece. Hmmm. “You were meant to house the fullness of God.” Oh, I like that.

2. If you live in the U.S. and used Google today, you saw the funky artwork at the top with a quote in it from Corita Kent. Here’s the quote:

“To understand is to stand under

which is to look up

which is a good way to understand.”

I like that, too. When I read the Google blurb on Kent (1918-1986), I learned she was a nun, a teacher, and an artist known for contrasting the idea of consumerism with spiritual concepts drawn from her religious background. I found one article on her in which a friend described her as “a Boston lady who understands friendship and ‘who quietly waits for the gentle inner voice to whisper’ where it will take her next.” An artist whose friend described her first in terms of FRIENDSHIP–and then referred to her as a thoughtful artist: that’s a good model!

3. Here are the verses: Psalms 16:5-7. I’m pasting it in here in the Amplified version (of course), but the reference link will take you to a Bible Gateway page with the ESV, Amp, and New Living translation side by side. (I love that tool!). This verse, too, informs my “meanderings on being.”

The Lord is my chosen and assigned portion, my cup; You hold and maintain my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good heritage.

I will bless the Lord, Who has given me counsel; yes, my heart instructs me in the night seasons.

Thanks for reading.

Jen

A prayer for Sex Slaves, written by Scott Sauls

Last night I went to a video screening sponsored by the West Chicagoland Anti-Trafficking Coalition (WCATC). The video was Call + Response, a combination documentary/musical benefit shedding light on the issue of modern-day slavery. I’ve put more information about the film near the bottom of the post, but what I really want to share is the prayer, written by Scott Sauls, that WCATC co-founder Terri Kraus prayed at the close of the event. Please join me in this prayer today.

Lord Jesus, no one knows suffering, oppression, and abuse like you do. As we come together on such a weighty subject as human slavery and trafficking, we pause to remember that you were sold for money by a scoundrel, so that other scoundrels could have their way with you. You were made a slave…pierced, crushed, and punished, even though you had done no wrong. You had your innocence violated as you were led to a dark back alley. You were stripped naked and abused—pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. You sympathize with human suffering. And in time, you are committed to end it…to renew the world until there is no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain. In the meantime, Father, you give solidarity to victims, and support to those who protect and defend them. We do not know what we would do if you were not a defender of the weak, a lover of justice, and full of grace and compassion toward those who hurt.

It is because you love justice and are full of compassion that certain things anger you, Father, just like they anger us. You get angry when vulnerable people, created in your image, are threatened, exploited, degraded, and used. The victims in whose honor and for whose protection and rescue we gather today, are most certainly among these people.

We are grieved and sickened by the way that shame, fear, manipulation, exploitation, injustice and abuse destroy the lives and crush the spirits of slaves around the world and also slaves in our own state, towns, and neighborhoods. We are comforted to know that you are sickened too—and that you, Lord, hold the power and the will to change things. You are the King of heaven’s armies. And so, Father, we ask, please…

Put an end to this wicked and ridiculous industry. Bring justice. Crush evil under your feet.

Save those who are trafficked and exploited. Give them a chance to be physically, spiritually, relationally, and emotionally whole.

Protect all children, youth and adults who are the targets of abusers and human traffickers. Oh God, guard their lives and hold their hearts.

For the traffickers, for those who facilitate slavery, and for those who buy their illicit services…would you frustrate their efforts. Bring them down and take them out. Bring them to justice. Change their hearts so they will forsake their ways, we pray.

And for those like ourselves who have the power to help, because it is often through ordinary people that you choose to bring about extraordinary change—faith communities, potential donors of money and wisdom and time—please stir our consciences, enflame our hearts, call us to action. Show us what it means to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Show us what it means to respond compassionately and decisively on behalf of those who need help and rescue. Show us what it means to freely give love away, just as we have ourselves freely received love from Jesus, the One who was exploited and handled and sold to his oppressors for thirty pieces of silver so that we could be saved from everything that’s wrong with us, and also from everything that’s wrong with the world—Jesus, by whose stripes we are healed. It is in his powerful name that we pray. Amen.

I did some research today and found several other prayer guides and devotionals specifically related to justice issues. The links are below:

She is Priceless Devotional

Salvation Army Prayer Guide (really, really good!)

The A21 Campaign prayer guide (also has some action steps and a great list of verses)

72 Daily Prayer Points

 

NOTES ON THE CALL + RESPONSE FILM (PLUS LINKS):

The film featured activists such as Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission, David Batstone of Not for Sale, Dr. Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves; public figures such as Madeleine Albright, Dr. Cornel West, and Ambassador John Miller; author Nicholas Kristof (Half the Sky); celebrity activists such as Julia Ormond, Ashley Judd, and Daryl Hanna; and musicians Cold War Kids, Switchfoot, Moby, Talib Kweli, Natasha Bedingfield (among many others).

The film is now eight years old, but it is still very relevant. The number of slaves at its making–27 million slaves–is no less today, and the call for an abolitionist movement is needed. There is plenty of commentary on this documentary, so I don’t necessarily want to comment on it, other than to say that if you get the chance to view it, you should.

There were, of course, parts of the video that horrified me yet again with facts I already knew but often try to forget. Reading that children as young as seven are used as sex slaves is far different than seeing a video of a little girl tell about what she has to do on a daily basis.

The activists and celebrities in the film were passionate and articulate. Here are a few quotes that jumped out at me:

Ambassador John Miller spoke about the fact that the abolitionists in England were fighting against a slave trade that was not only legal but was considered moral by many of the ruling class. He then said: “We need a 21st century abolitionist movement” with the same courage and outrage.

Ashley Judd, on moving on from indignation–which she said almost all of us feel when we hear about this terrible issue: “Every person has the spiritual responsibility of cultivating that indignation till it creates action.”

Ashley Judd, speaking about the labor slavery that is often used to produce our clothes, our technology, etc.: “I don’t want to wear someone’s despair.”

 

 

Longing for the Presence

Elisabeth Elliot wrote that a clam glorifies God better than we do because the clam is doing what it was created to do, and we are not. I thought of that quote when I saw this picture I took of a dragonfly, basking in the sunlight--just as we were meant to rejoice in the presence of God.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote that a clam glorifies God better than we do because the clam is doing what it was created to do, and we are not. I thought of that quote when I saw this picture I took of a dragonfly, basking in the sunlight–just as we were meant to rejoice in the presence of God.

“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

Moses said that. It’s recorded in Exodus 33, just after the Israelites rebelled against God by worshipping the golden calf. Despite this flagrant sin, God extends mercy. He tells them He will still send them to the “land flowing with milk and honey” with angels clearing the way ahead of them, “But I will not go with you,” He says, “because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

Moses has been experiencing the presence of God, though, in some incredible ways. God’s presence was a visible cloud by day and a fire by night. Moses went into the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke with him there “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Moses has gotten a taste of God in His reality, and he doesn’t want to give it up.

So he pushes back against God’s pronouncement. He says, ““You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

Moses refused to live without the presence of God in his everyday life.

That sentence has stuck in my mind for months, and I’ve wondered what it would be like to walk through my days in the presence of God.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I was reading the Amplified version of Hebrews, and I got to the section where the writer expounds on Christ’s qualifications to be our High Priest, our go-between, the one who offers the worthy sacrifice as well as being the sacrifice Himself. Christ’s petition as High Priest was heard, it says in Heb. 5:7, “because of His reverence toward God.” Then the Amplified adds this explanatory phrase: “in that He shrank from the horrors of separation from the bright presence of the Father.”

I immediately thought of Moses’ protest.

Moses experienced just a taste of God’s presence, and he couldn’t live without it. In fact, it made him want more. Further on in Exodus 33, he begs to see God’s glory, and God reminds him that while he is in his earthly, death-bound body, he can’t see all of it.

But God covers him with His hand and passes behind him and still, despite the “protection,” Moses’ face shines so much the Israelites are afraid of him.

Christ, as God Himself, and as a human in complete fellowship with God the Father, had experienced far more than Moses. He knew the fullness of God’s bright presence, and “life” without it was a “horror.” No independence (like that offered to Christ by Satan during His temptation) was worth that horror.

Yet we live with this horror every day. We chose this horror in the garden, when humanity turned away from the presence of God and sought independence from His presence. We’ve been doing the same ever since, and the longing for and joy we were meant to experience in God’s presence has been turned to fear and hiding and even loathing. You might say we were given what we asked for.

Yet, through Christ, the perfect High Priest who longed to stay in God’s presence continually—and did, we have the opportunity, like Moses, to long for God’s presence again, to even boldly ask for it! F. B. Meyer, in his book Moses, the Servant of God, wrote, “The apostle Paul expressly refers to this incident when he says that we all may, with unveiled faces, behold the glory of the Lord, and be transformed (II Cor. 3:13-18). That blessed vision, which of old was given only to the great leader of Israel, is now within reach of each individual believer. The Gospel has no fences to keep the crowd off the mount of vision; the lowliest and most unworthy of its children may pass upward where the shining glory is to be seen. ‘We all… are changed.’”

Through Christ we can long for God again. We can understand that our deepest desperation is not a need for independence or personal significance but is in actuality a desire for the living Presence of God.

And through Christ we have the opportunity to enter that Presence.

Let’s take it.

When praying stretches long

Just for fun--When PJ cracked this nut open, he found a heart!

Just for fun–When PJ cracked this nut open, he found a heart!

If you are praying, like I am, for a loved one to turn to Christ’s open arms, and that praying has stretched now for years, even decades, don’t give up hope. Remember that our God does not save because we turn to Him. Rather He saves because He longs to draw human hearts to Himself, to their right place of belonging in Him. He is not reluctant to save, and His love for our dear ones is far greater than our own.

I have been encouraged by Psalm 107 in this, and I would like to share it. Psalm 107 is a message for the redeemed: it includes the well-known phrase “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Less well-known are the words that follows that phrase: “whom He has delivered from the hand of the adversary.”

As the rest of the psalm then describes, God is very creative and masterful in His methods of delivery, no matter who or what the adversary is. Verses 3-5 depict people wandering without a home. Rather than providing them with a home, God allows them to suffer, longing for shelter, until “…they cried out to the Lord in their trouble.” In Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on this psalm, he wrote, “Not till they were in extremities did they pray…(but) supplications which are forced out of us by stern necessity are none the less acceptable with God.” Is your loved one trying one thing after another to find satisfaction, and each thing fails? This disappointment may very well be the means of causing them to cry out to God for help, though, at first, they may cry out against Him.

Verses 10-12 speak of people in direct rebellion against God. They “spurned the counsel of the Most High.” God again used difficulties to bring them to a place of helplessness, but in that place they, too, cried out!

Verses 17 and 18 speak of those who are sick because of sin, but I also see in these verses a description of depression. These people take no joy in anything; they want to die. Yet in verse 19, they, too cry out.

Verses 23 and 24 describe those who are very much the opposite. They are busy with work and making money. They have experienced positive results, and they don’t see these as gifts from God but as effects of their own efforts. It takes a storm in their lives to reveal to them that their own wisdom and capabilities cannot save them. They, too, cry out.

And God, in each situation, draws near and delivers.

My own grandfather, a self-made man with a lot of rebellion in him, resisted God his entire life, despite the prayers of my grandmother and mother. But on his deathbed, this man, who had always insisted he would choose his own destiny, was confronted with eternity, and he cried out.

I am grateful for the story of the thief on the cross next to Christ. His cry, just before death—much like my grandfather’s—was answered, and we have that answer written down in Scripture. “This day you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus told him, and this gives me certainty my grandfather received the same answer. What a gift!

We may be praying for a rebel, a wanderer, one struggling with mental or emotional issues, or a very successful person.

God is willing and able to draw each one.

Keep praying that they will cry out. (Galatians 6:9)

And be assured that God will answer.

Like we’re loved

*Scroll to the bottom of this post for the audio version.

We puppy-sat Nora, a 14-week-old English Bulldog, last week, and my children, as well as many of the neighborhood kids, were enamored with her.

PJ, Nora, and Chai playing tug of war

PJ, Nora, and Chai playing tug of war

But soon they discovered the not-so-pleasant side of caring for a pup. “She’s like a baby in her judgment but with a lot more mobility,” I reminded them when she chomped a plant in the garden, peed on the living room rug, or left tooth pricks in a Barbie doll’s arm.

“It’s a good thing she’s cute, huh?” I asked them. “Children and puppies. They require a lot of work, but at least they’re adorable.”

Chai was the only one who was happy to see Nora go back to her owners. Of course, the rest of us didn't have a puppy clawing at our face all week either.

Chai was the only one who was happy to see Nora go back to her owners. Of course, the rest of us didn’t have a puppy clawing at our face all week either.

They glared at her squashed face a moment more and then relented.

“Yeah.”

I find I still have that mentality with God.

He loves me because there is something inherently endearing about me.

I would never say it aloud, but the belief is there sometimes.

But the older I get, the more I understand how untrue it is—of myself or anyone, no matter how honorable or upright we seem.

In Lamentations, Jeremiah speaks of “compassionate” women of Jerusalem cooking and eating their own children (4:10). Before the starvation brought about by the siege of Babylon, these same women would have been appalled at the thought, but distress revealed a darkness in their hearts that had been there all along.

It is hard for me, too, to imagine myself capable of the horrific acts I read about in news articles. But I am. Put me in the right (or wrong) circumstances, strip me of comforts and necessities, replace my upbringing with an abusive situation…

“But for the grace of God,” my father used to say.

This truth is actually not discouraging (despite how it makes us feel). Reminders of our incapacity for good help us see that the love of God is certain—no matter what we do or don’t do.

This past season my husband’s soccer team made a poster for their locker room, and they put it right above the doorway they walk through on their way to the field. It read, big and bold, “Play like you’re loved.”

Perfect love casts out fear.

The fear we all have of God (it’s a good and necessary place to start in our relationship with Him) is based on the right belief that we can never measure up. God answered this fear with a love that fully accepts our inability to deserve it. His love has no conditions for us. We cannot earn it, and He has never expected us to.

Yet we still “play to be loved,” and we are always disappointed to find that all our efforts effect no true change in us. We do all kinds of good works and find that the bitterness or envy or self-loathing in our hearts is still there!

How paradoxical that only when we give up the striving to change ourselves can we be changed—by a love that is not dependent on our changing!

In the early pages of The Practice of the Presence of God, written about and by Brother Lawrence, a lay monk in the 17th century, his interviewer shared this about him. “When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: ‘I can do nothing better without You. Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make.’ After that he did not feel guilty about the sin.” … “Brother Lawrence was aware of his sins and was not at all surprised by them. ‘That is my nature,’ he would say, ‘the only thing I know how to do.’ He simply confessed his sins to God, without pleading with Him or making excuses. After this, he was able to peacefully resume his regular activity of love and adoration. If Brother Lawrence didn’t sin, he thanked God for it, because only God’s grace could keep him from sinning.”

It is biblical to sorrow over our sin, but when we beat ourselves up over it, it is a reverse kind of pride. We get down on ourselves because we believe we are capable of better.

But we’re not, and it is far more profitable to confess and move on into God’s unconditional love. Confession is simply admitting to God, “I am sinful, and You are not. I acknowledge that great difference and Your perfection, and I am grateful You did something about it.”

He did do something about our inability! He did something incredible! And the result of that amazing sacrifice is that He is in us! We are in Him!

The “Play like you’re loved” poster came from the team’s season verse, John 17:23, in which Christ says, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

This day, let’s play, live, work, and be like we are loved!

The Tiger Within

*Scroll to the bottom to hear me read this post.

This picture has no relation to today's post, but I'm reminding myself--as it was only 12 degrees when I woke up this morning--that the time of beautiful green crickets clinging to open screen doors will come!

This picture has no relation to today’s post, but I’m reminding myself–as it was only 12 degrees when I woke up this morning–that the time of screen doors and beautiful green crickets clinging to them will come!

I sat on his bed to kiss him goodnight and saw it the moment his head turned toward me.

His lips were pinched, his eyes hard.

“What’s the matter, Bud?” I asked.

His voice had an edge as he reminded me that the birthday party we’d talked about a month ago has not yet happened. “You said we might do it this weekend,” he accused.

Never mind that he has just spent more than twenty-four hours with a best friend.

Never mind that we’d never done more to plan the party than simply talk about it.

Never mind that I’d told him several days ago that the party would not happen this weekend—we simply had too much going on.

He was so focused on self that gratitude and perspective—logic, too—had fled.

I could completely identify.

“You’re miserable, aren’t you?” I asked him.

The flat look stayed a second more but then slipped. He nodded.

We prayed together, and I reminded him of all the “never mind’s.” We talked about all the good he’d experienced this weekend, and the things we could be thankful for in that very moment.

Suddenly his small chest rose and fell with a great breath, and he smiled at me.

I smiled back. “It feels good to let it go, doesn’t it?”

I told him then I have the same, awful struggle, and sometimes I imagine SELF (or rather the focus on self) to be like a coiled kitten deep in my gut. When it slumbers, it seems harmless, so I pet it a little, and it raises its head. I continue to stroke it, and it rises higher, higher. Still all seems well, but then it stands on hind legs and hooks its needle-sharp claws into my heart.

And I am overcome.

“Why don’t they see what I’m doing?”

“It wouldn’t hurt them to be just a little grateful!”

“Well, I did that for her. Shouldn’t she do something in return?”

“All I do is clean up (cook/work/drive/do) for everyone else.”

“Don’t they notice all I’m doing?”

“When is someone going to do something nice for ME? When is it MY turn?”

“How is this going to affect me?”

The thoughts bombard, and I can’t stop them. I am miserable in my self-focus, but I’m also powerless to do anything about it. I try to pull the claws from my heart, but as soon as I get one free, another is entangled, and they keep sinking deeper and deeper! I realize what I thought was a harmless kitten is in actuality a tiger, fierce and strong, with not a hint of give in its eyes.

“That’s why we had to pray,” I told my son. “We can’t fight the tiger in our own power. We have to come to Jesus and tell Him we need Him. I have to keep re-learning this very lesson.”

Recently I discovered this song by Audrey Assad (©2013) about this very thing. I’ve been praying it lately. I hope you find it helpful as well.

 

“I Shall Not Want”

From the love of my own comfort;

From the fear of having nothing;

From a life of worldly passions:

Deliver me, oh God.

 

From the need to be understood;

From the need to be accepted;

From the fear of being lonely;

Deliver me, oh God.

Deliver me, oh God.

 

And I shall not want; I shall not want

When I taste your goodness I shall not want.

When I taste your goodness I shall not want.

 

From the fear of serving others;

From the fear of death or trial;

From the fear of humility:

Deliver me, oh God.

Deliver me, oh God.

NOTE: The title link above leads to a video of Assad playing and singing this song.

 

In honor of my son on St. Patrick’s Day

Patrick and Maddie chasing down a ball during a fierce game of soccer at my sister's house last fall.

Patrick and Maddie chasing down a ball during a fierce game of soccer at my sister’s house last fall.

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Chicagoland–but that’s not why Patrick, our son, was named that. He was tiny, nameless, and very sick when he was rescued by Mercy Childcare in the spring of 2007 (the link takes you to the webpage, but on the page is a link to Mercy’s Facebook page, which is updated often with great pics). In a phone conversation between the dear people at Mercy and Sarah, one of their staunchest supporters here in west Chicagoland, Sarah’s daughter suggested they name him “Patrick” after of one of her friends at school.

Wilfred Rugumba, the vibrant young director of Mercy Childcare, with his wonderful wife, Vena, and their two sons. They're still rescuing!

Wilfred Rugumba, the vibrant young director of Mercy Childcare, with his wonderful wife, Vena, and their two sons. They’re still rescuing!

Not quite two years later Patrick officially became an Underwood–though he was in our hearts long before that. We pray that he, like the saint he shares a name with, will love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind and will use his incredible talents and gifts to love his neighbors as himself.

So, in honor of both Patricks, I share this prayer of the bold Englishman who returned to the land where he once lived as a slave to share the power and love of Christ.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

 

The Teller and Star of the Best Story Ever

DSC_0743The “Prodigal Son” is one of the best-known stories in the world: a rebellious child runs away from a loving father; the father mourns; the child returns; the father welcomes; the sibling struggles with the restoration. (Luke 15:11-32)

Now I know the story speaks of “sons,” but because I am a woman and because many who read this blog are women, I want to remind us that we can fully identify with these two sons. We know we can do this because of how Jesus treated women and because of Paul’s words later in the New Testament. So even though I’m going to refer to the two characters as “sons” simply because I think it might be confusing if I didn’t, we can substitute “daughters” if it helps us to identify more easily.

The first “character” in this story is this wonderful Father figure. He loves His children. He longs for them to have fullness of life with Him. There’s no hidden story or sin. He is what we see: the beautiful, perfect Dad.

This Father has two children. (There’s actually a third one, but we’ll get to Him later.)

One of his kids is called the prodigal.

It’s an accurate title. This kid thumbs his nose at all his dad stands for. He is rude and disrespectful to him. We Westerners can’t quite get the full cultural ramifications of what he does in this story, but he is basically saying, “You’re standing in my way, old man. I don’t want to wait until you’re dead to do what I want to do. So fork over now what’s going to be mine when you kick the bucket, and I’m outa’ here. I don’t care about your way. I think all this love and peace stuff is boring and stupid. I want some excitement, and I want it MY way.”

He’s an obvious prodigal. Obvious. Some of us identify with this prodigal. We think, “Yes, that’s me!”

But some of us identify more with the other son. He’s the one working out in his dad’s business. He’s the one who looks like he’s his dad’s right-hand man. This guy appears pretty good, squeaky clean in fact. He’s very focused on pleasing his Dad, and he wants the other brother and everyone else to see that he’s the “good child.”

Somehow we see that as “better” than the prodigal’s attitude.

It’s really not, though.

Because deep down, this son is just as self-serving as the prodigal.

He doesn’t really “get” the Father’s way of living either. He doesn’t think it’s measurable enough, so he adds rules of his own. He wants the Father to look at him and say, “Good job! You’ve come up with such a great system. Why didn’t I think of that? This, yes, this, is how I should measure people’s rightness.”

This child is a legalist.

Not long ago I read a fantastic quote by Max Lucado. “Legalism,” Lucado wrote, “is the search for innocence—not forgiveness.”

The legalist child doesn’t want God to be bigger than he is. He wants to think that his level of “goodness” is better than God’s, so that God has to declare him INNOCENT.

He’s not seeking forgiveness. That would mean he was WRONG!

But he is.

He’s missing the mark just like the prodigal is! Neither of their ways—the lawlessNESS or the nit-picky rule-keeping—is anything like the beautiful GOODNESS of the Father.

The prodigal is at least honest about his waywardness. He leaves.

But the hypocrisy of the “good son” becomes very evident when the prodigal returns and the father’s will and desire are drastically different from the “good son’s.”

The father wants to forgive and restore and love and celebrate and move forward.

Not the “good child.” He wants to hold grudges and remember wrongdoing and use the “rules” to condemn the prodigal and exalt himself. His “goodness” is revealed to be self-serving, bitter, and proud.

They are BOTH prodigals.

WE are prodigals. All of us. Like one or the other of the two kids in this story—or somewhere in between them.

The Father is holding out His arms to all the prodigals. “Come to me!” He calls. “I’m looking for you. I want to hold you in my arms and heal your heart wounds and draw you into right, real relationship with ME! Come into the house and celebrate with me.”

Somewhere inside us we want this—but we also don’t want it. We’re not capable of choosing it for ourselves because we’re not good—and true, unselfish goodness is alien to our core nature.

If we stopped right here—with the Father’s open arms and our inability to be in His embrace—this story would be a tragedy.

And if some regular human were telling the story, it would be nothing more than a fairytale, a story told to entertain for a few minutes before we have to return to “real life.”

But the storyteller, Jesus, is not a regular human being. And he didn’t tell the story as mere entertainment. He told it because He has the power to make it come true—for each of us—and He wants it to become true.

Though He is the narrator of the story, He is also IN it. He’s the Son of the Father’s heart, the perfect representation and exact image of Him. He reveals to us in the flesh the beauty of the Father and the Father’s way. When we look at Him, we see our need for something bigger and better than ourselves.

In the story, the prodigal did both of these in the far country. In the pigpen he realized how lost he was. Then he thought about his Father and saw clearly the Father’s goodness. He went home because he knew the Father would extend mercy. (Little did he know how MUCH mercy the Father would extend.)

At this point, we still have a problem. Jesus awakens in us the realization of the Father’s perfection. In Him we clearly recognize that WE are not perfect. But if He simply told the story, and then didn’t DO anything more, we would still be in the far country like the prodigal or laboring in the fields with bitter hearts like the legalist.

We are simply not capable of true, eternal heart change.

But the Storyteller did more.

He died.

And through his death, He became the Way to the Father’s embrace.

He made the story Truth rather than fiction.

He delivered real Life that does not disappoint—unlike any fairytale we can imagine.

He accomplished LIFE through horrific death. That vertical line of His cross created a way for relationship between God and humanity. Clothed in the perfection of Christ, the Father can pull us close to His perfect heart. You and I both know that we couldn’t be there on our own.

Now here’s another wonderful thing about the cross of Christ. Its horizontal line created relationship between humans. When we’re gathered together at the foot of the cross, awed by the Christ and the Father’s perfection and goodness, all our own personal differences fade into nothing. The prodigal and the legalist can have relationship with each other because coming to the Father requires a stripping away of the outer to find we are all the same underneath. Put us in the light of eternity and in the presence of the holy, wholly good God, and those outward differences are GONE! Then we can relate—in reality, in truth and honesty, without pretense and masks, without competition.

Jesus is the Teller of the Best Story, in which He stars as our Way, our Truth, our Life.

NOTE: This is the script of a Gospel presentation I recently prepared, so it may sound more like a “talk” than a blog post in some spots.

Holy Spirit Help

Yesterday a friend and I were emailing back and forth about the idea of applying the “Opposite technique” (last blog post) to our prayer life—and to our “doing” lives as well—and she wrote this: How are we to do that? We cannot give what we don’t have. I personally churn negative/yucky/critical/judgmental/poopie thoughts all day long, um… why cannot I churn the OPPOSITE?!

Later I read that day’s devotional from Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. This is part of what he wrote:

All that the believer has must come from Christ, but it comes solely through the channel of the Spirit of grace. Moreover, as all blessings thus flow to you through the Holy Spirit, so also no good thing can come out of you in holy thought, devout worship, or gracious act, apart from the sanctifying operation of the same Spirit. … Do you desire to speak for Jesus—how can you unless the Holy Ghost touch your tongue? Do you desire to pray? Alas, what dull work it is unless the Spirit makes intercession for you! … Let us do him the due homage of feeling our entire weakness apart from him, and then depending alone upon him…

Hmm. We cannot DO the opposite technique without the power of the Holy Spirit, and first the Spirit must reveal to us that our natural inclination is “yucky” (or “poopie,” your choice!).

This reminds me of a visit to a coffee shop last week. I ordered my favorite hot, sweet drink. The barista who made it is the son of a good friend, and when he handed me my cup, he said, “You do not want to know how much bad stuff we put in there! That thing is loaded!”

“Stop!” I told him. “You’re right! I don’t want to know!”

That’s the Spirit’s first job—to reveal to us what we don’t want to know about ourselves.

The problem is that we often think we’re supposed to take it over from there.

But the rest of the transformation—the thinking/doing the opposite of our natural inclinations, is ALSO the Spirit’s job.

To which I say, Hallelujah!

O God, send forth your Holy Spirit into my heart that I may perceive, into my mind that I may remember, and into my soul that I may meditate. Inspire me to speak with piety, holiness, tenderness and mercy. Teach, guide and direct my thoughts and senses from beginning to end. May your grace ever help and correct me, and may I be strengthened now with wisdom from on high, for the sake of your infinite mercy. Amen. -a prayer by Saint Anthony of Padua