Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Also Ran

Tuesday 11/25/2014 4:42 AM
In horse racing, the first three finishers are awarded the positions of Win, Place, and Show. Those who wager on the race receive a payout for those positions. The other horses running the race, that do not finish in the top three, are given the moniker, Also Ran.
Today my assigned reading included the last verses of Hebrews 11 and the opening verses of chapter 12. Chapter 11 ends with a description of some of the heroes of faith who performed mighty deeds and others who were jeered at, sawn in two, beaten, tortured, flogged, imprisoned, etc. Chapter 12 begins by referencing those witnesses and then gives this encouragement, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. … Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Emphasis added)
In this life it seems that everyone has a different road to travel. Some seem to lead a life of faith where everything goes their way. They accomplish great things for God and they see the results of their efforts. Others seem to be confronted by evil at every turn. Their efforts seem to be ineffective and their lives are characterized by persecution and trouble. God commends both types of people.
I have a tendency to want to have the first type of life, one characterized by a vibrant faith proving its validity with great signs, notoriety, and fanfare. I want to win, place, or show. So when I go through a dry spell in which I do not hear clear direction from God and when there are no great leaps of faith required, I tend to think I’m on the wrong path. Today the word of Hebrews 12 remind me to run the race that has been set out for me with perseverance.
I want to run the races of others, to hear the accolades that come with breaking the tape at the finish line, of being the best, or nearly so. I need to follow the example of Christ, who ran the race set before him, which included the shame of the cross, and to not lose heart. I place great value on those who win, place, or show. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. He can make great use of an also ran.

Monday, November 24, 2014

When the Light Goes Out

Monday 11/24/2014 4:32 AM
In his book Creation in Christ, George MacDonald writes about the necessity of dying to self in order to fully experience the life of God. He then states, “Friends, those of you who know, or suspect, that these things are true, let us arise and live­ – arise even in the darkest moments of spiritual stupidity, when hope itself sees nothing to hope for. Let us not trouble ourselves about the cause of our earthliness, except we know it to be some unrighteousness in us, but go at once to the Life. Let us comfort ourselves in the thought of the Father and the Son. So long as there dwells harmony, so long as the Son loves the Father with all the love the Father can welcome, all is well with the little ones. God is all right – why should we mind standing in the dark for a minute outside his window? Of course we miss the inness, but there is a bliss of its own in waiting.”

Over the course of the past three days I have heard the same message on different occasions: Wait. I am longing for the feeling of inness that MacDonald describes, of knowing what God wants from me or what he wants me to do specifically. That kind of direct communication has been lacking in my life over the past year or so. Evidently God wants me to stand in the dark for a while. I need to stop and enjoy the solitude, trusting that God continues to work both in me and through me in spite of the silence.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Barren Desert

Tuesday 11/18/2014 4:23 AM
Psalm 19 begins with these words, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” This past weekend I went on a motorcycle ride with three of my friends. We took a short three-day trip that lead us through Death Valley, through the Owen’s Valley, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, through gold rush country and into the San Joaquin Valley before returning home. We saw a wide variety of scenery from the dry desert to snow-capped mountains, from the lowest point in North America to a nine thousand foot pass and from barren land to land filled with crops and livestock. David was right; they had no speech, they used no words, no sound was heard from them yet their voice spoke to anyone who took the time to listen.
I have complained over the past year that God seems silent; his voice seems still when I tune my ear to listen. But I heard more from God in the past few days riding my motorcycle through the beautiful California landscape than I have over the past two years reading my Bible. Seeing plants clinging to life in the bone-dry desert gives me hope that some semblance of life with God may lie beneath the barren landscape of my soul.
One of my concerns about my current lack of connection with God is a fear that I have lost my voice in proclaiming the glory of God to the world around me. How can I encourage others to have intimacy with God when I am not experiencing it myself? How can the love of God ooze from my pores for others to see and to experience when the love of God seems absent from me? I wonder if, like the heavens, my voice will go out to the ends of the world even when there are no words, no speech, and no sound echoing within my soul. I pray that the glory of God can be evident to others in my barren life in the same way the plant clinging to life in Death Valley revealed the glory of God to me.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Quicksand

Sunday 11/9/2014 6:04 AM
Lately I have spent much time reflecting on my relationship with God and I’ve found it lacking fervor. I’ve been reading the book Crazy Love, by Francis Chan, and I realize that I am not completely sold out to God. I’ve tried to muster up enthusiasm and excitement in my spiritual life but all the efforts I have put forth are without effect. It seems as if I’m stuck in spiritual quicksand that is slowly, but inexorably, sucking me downward.
I want to hear God’s voice. I want to experience his leading. I want to feel his loving embrace. I want … fill in the blank, but all I get is silence. It makes me question my faith and my commitment to God, or the lack thereof. This excerpt from The Spiritual Life, by Evelyn Underhill, is a good reminder for me today. “Our spiritual life is his affair; because, whatever we may think to the contrary, it is really produced by his steady attraction, and our humble and self-forgetful response to it. It consists in being drawn, at his pace and in his way, to the place where he wants us to be; not the place we fancied for ourselves.” Evidently he wants me to spend some time in a quagmire.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Doorkeeper

Monday 10/27/2014 4:25 AM
My devotional theme for the week is “A Friend of Souls.” Part of my reading included a poem entitled I Stand by the Door, by Samuel Moor Shoemaker. The poem is a description of what he desires to do in life, stand by the door to God and show people the way in. In the poem, God is portrayed as a vast, roomy house with a single door for entry. He sees his job as simply pointing out the door to passersby, those seeking after God. He will occasionally look into the house to hear the voice of God and to hear from others who live within how wonderful the house is but he quickly returns to his post by the door, lest anyone should miss finding it.
He says there are those who live within the house and plumb its depths, which is an encouragement to others, but he prefers to stand by the door. I feel called to be someone who explores the depths of God’s love and mercy. There needs to be someone who can tell others of the beauty that lies within, one who invites those who enter to do some exploring rather than to go back outside the door. Shoemaker agrees, but warns that those who live within should never forget the millions who are still outside, seeking to find a way in.
Finding a balance between losing myself in the love of God and interacting with those who live apart from God, to point them toward God, has always been a difficult thing for me to do. I don’t want to be so heavenly minded that I am of no earthly good. Lord, help me to explore the height and depths of your love without losing touch with those with whom I rub shoulders daily.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Drought

Sunday 10/19/2014 6:17 AM
California is in the middle of a drought. I have not watered my lawn at all this past summer and the grass is pretty much dead. There are mandatory water restrictions and farmers have also been restricted to the amount of water they can use. There has been unusually low rainfall and snowpack for the past few years and reservoirs all across the state are nearly empty.
My assigned scripture today included Joel 2:23ff, “Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. … Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other…” I also read Psalm 107:33ff, “He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased.” Both of these passages talk about rain being sent to thirsty ground by a loving God. Our modern society denies the work of God in the cycles of drought and flooding. They attribute it to chance at best and, lately, they have attributed it to the work of man in the world, who has deposited too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.
At first I thought perhaps God was letting me know that the drought in California would subside this year, that there would be plenty of rain. But then I thought about my personal life and my relationship with God over the past year or so and how I have been in a drought in that aspect of my life. Over the course of the past few days I have had meaningful devotional times. Maybe God is telling me that the drought I am experiencing in that regard is ending. A prayer by Peter Marshall is mine today, “Father, I am beginning to know how much I miss when I fail to talk to thee in prayer, and through prayer to receive into my life the strength and the guidance which only you can give. Forgive me for the pride and the presumption that make me continue to struggle to manage my own affairs to the exhaustion of my body, the weariness of my mind, the trial of my faith.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Perspective

Friday 10/17/2014 7:35 AM
Yesterday I attended a meeting that became somewhat contentious. People had differing ideas on how best to proceed and eventually people started to nitpick, citing violations of Robert’s Rules of Order when we have never previously used them. Then we began discussing a document and the word Nazis came to life, parsing sentences, arguing about the tenses of verbs or the most appropriate adjective, etc., bickering about the jots and tittles. It seemed obvious to me what everyone’s intent was but progress was being hindered by divisiveness. I became really upset and nearly walked out of the meeting because of my frustration but I didn’t want to disrespect the others so I decided to look out the window instead. There were beautiful clouds layering the sky, a welcome relief after the past few weeks of record-breaking heat. The jacaranda trees were sporting clusters of their characteristic purple flowers, unusual for this time of year. A young couple was sitting on the grass, obviously in love and enjoying each other’s company. I immediately felt the stress start to dissipate.
Today I read an excerpt from Prayer, a book by Simon Tugwell in which he notes the contrast between the grumbling preacher of Ecclesiastes saying, “there is nothing new under the sun” with the writer of Revelation proclaiming, “Look! I am making all things new.” He writes, “We may all of us sometime get Ecclesiastes moods, and if we do, it is comforting to know that they are not utterly debarred from God’s domain; but we should not devote our minds and imaginations to prolonging and justifying them. We should aim rather to have minds and imaginations able to respond joyfully to the truth that in Christ everything is given back its youth and at least something of the freshness of the very first days of creation.”
Over the past year or so I have been experiencing more of the darker side of life, frustrated with the lack of movement in my relationship with God and an inability to discern God’s will. I’ve felt like walking out on God, giving up, taking my ball and going home. Perhaps I need to glance out the windows of my life and see the world from God’s point of view, seeing the clouds as the means to bring relief from drought rather than as agents who are out to block the sun. It’s time to look for the unexpected beauty of blooming jacarandas and the joy of young lovers in my present circumstances instead of longing for my rose-colored past. Behold! God is doing a new thing.