Confiding

From time to time I need someone to whom I can confide my deepest thoughts. It is a great blessing to have such a person (wife, family member, friend, co-worker) in my life. It is an equally great blessing when someone confides in me, sharing their secret joys, dreams, disappointments, hurts.

Confiding (com + fidere = with faith) at its heart is a matter of trust. Graphic from Google's definition of ConfideI open my heart only with those I trust. Misunderstanding, rejection, indiscretion are always the risks of confiding. David writes, “The Lord confides in those who fear him.” Solomon writes, “The Lord takes the upright into his confidence.”

Imagine that! When I fear the Lord and live uprightly, he is willing to tell me some (though certainly not all) of his secrets. He risks misunderstanding, rejection, indiscretion on my part.

What does the Lord want to confide to me? The parallel second half of the quote from David above is: “He makes his covenant known to them.” When God makes his covenant known to Abraham, he tells him two secrets: “I will … be your God” and “I will bless you … and you will be a blessing.” Two secrets that Abraham was not to keep to himself, but spread around to others!

Perhaps God’s greatest risk in confiding in me is not that I’ll spill the beans, but that I’ll hoard them!

I very much appreciated the devotional Dale Vander Veen wrote
last week from which this is an excerpt. You can subscribe
to his insightful daily e-devotions by contacting him directly:
dalevanderveen@sbcglobal.net.

Falling asleep while praying

Sleeping cat photo found via Google

From time to time, Monica or I (you’ll have to guess who) am asleep by the time the other is done praying at bedtime. Sometimes we chuckle about it. Sometimes it makes us feel guilty.

Then I read this in Kevin G. Harney’s book Seismic Shifts (it’s a long quote but worth reading)…

Seismic Shifts by Kevin G. Harney[This is] a picture that captures the heart of prayer. It comes from a confession I have heard many Christians make over the years: “I feel guilty because there are many evenings I try to pray but end up falling asleep right in the middle of my prayer time.” These people feel they let God down each time they doze off be­fore uttering their official Amen for the day.

This is what I tell them, and I hope it speaks to your heart.

Imagine a mother cradling her 5-year-old girl in her arms. It is the end of the day, and the two are talking. The mom is telling her about the plans for tomorrow. The little girl is talking about the fun she had that day. As the daughter talks, she yawns and rubs her eyes. They keep chatting, but the little girl is fading quickly. The mother looks down at the one she loves so tenderly. As they are talking, in midsentence, her little girl falls asleep, right in her arms.

How does the mother feel? Is she angry? Disappointed?

As the mother looks on her precious daughter, she smiles and rejoices. There is no other place she would rather have her little girl fall asleep.

When we end our day with God and we happen to doze off, he is not angry or disappointed. He holds us in his arms, embraces us, and gives us a kiss on the forehead. God loves to be with us, to speak to us, and hear what is on our hearts. And if we happen to fall asleep in his arms, it brings joy to his heart. There is no better place for us to end a busy day.
(pages 95-96)

Granted, if I consistently fall asleep while praying because talking with God has become boring or I consign him only the final few drowsy moments of a too-busy day, it might be a good idea to rethink my prayer habits. However, if I fall asleep in the loving and familiar embrace of our Father’s love, well, what father won’t be filled with deep satisfaction and joy?

I think also of how sleep (and sleeping securely in safety) is a gift for which the psalmist prays (here and here). I like imagining God answering that request even before the psalmist is finished asking for it!

I wrote this column for The Rock Valley Bee.
It combines a couple of popular blog posts I wrote
soon after I started blogging.

Working in the vineyard

This past Sunday I spoke on Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner who had two frustrating sons. When asked to work in the vineyard, one son told his dad to take a hike. Later, however, he changed his mind and indeed went to the vineyard. The other son quickly agreed to help with the work. Unfortunately, he was all talk and no action – he didn’t lift a finger to help his dad. A number of things can be said about this parable including the importance of our words matching our actions – and God’s grace when they don’t.

The Gospel of John - A Commentary by F. Dale BrunerCommentary writer Frederick Dale Bruner pointed out a couple interesting things in this parable that I didn’t have space for in my message.

First is the obvious observation that the father has a vineyard and work needs to be done in it. Likewise, our God our heavenly Father has a people and we are called to work with one another and for the benefit of one another. When Jesus calls us to life in His name, He is inviting us, among other things, to come to work. The Kingdom of God is growing and expanding around us; it will continue to grow and expand with or without our help, but blessed Vineyard photo found via Googleare those who serve God and one another and are part of God’s Kingdom-building enterprise.

Second is the attention to the urgency to the father’s request: “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” It’s not a panic, but there’s certainly pressure to get going. Likewise, there is urgency in our calling to work in God’s Kingdom. Regardless of our age in life or stage in faith, God has put us right where we are for specific reasons. Each one of us has connections and can help others in ways that maybe no one else can. God calls us to make the most of those opportunities today because tomorrow could be too late.

The Holy Spirit of God breathes life in the people of God, equipping us to work – and to do that work promptly and eagerly. This week I’m working on cooperating with Him.

Losing Jesus

Epiphany starts today. The liturgical season of Christmas is officially over.

In another week or two, our family will take down our Christmas decorations. One of our favorite pieces is our Precious Moments nativity display. Each November we carefully unpack it from a box we have specifically for it and each January we carefully pack it all back in again.

Our Precious Moments nativity set

As you can see from the picture, baby Jesus is the smallest piece of this set. And baby Jesus is the first piece I look for when I open the box and the last piece I double check to ensure was safely put back in. I mean, it would be sad if we lost a sheep or even the shepherd, but it would be nearly tragic if we lost baby Jesus!

I think there’s a bit of irony in the thought of losing Jesus: As He is fully and holy God, I never need worry whether Jesus will become lost or stray from carrying out His redemptive plan for me. He came at Christmas so that I would never be lost!

So each time I put away the nativity, I give thanks that the care I take in not losing baby Jesus is actually infinitesimal compared to the care He took – as well as the pain He endured and the victory He achieved – to ensure I’m never lost.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

A Christmas prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,

Your first disciples heard, saw, and touched you. They concluded that you are the very life – the essence – of God. You are eternal life. Yet they never forgot this crucial fact: You are also flesh and blood.

Too easily we lose touch with this reality. Too easily you become a pious name, an abstract idea, a theological term. Too often we talk about you as if you are not present with us. (But though we cannot see you with our eyes, you are near.) Lord, have mercy on us, sinners.

Grant us, Lord Jesus, during this Christmas season, the grace to contemplate you as the Incarnate One. In you, there is no darkness, no sin, no loneliness. You are light.

So we desire this same integrity that you embody in flesh and spirit. As we contemplate you, O God-made-flesh, dry up the roots of our sin and transform our inner lives into the likeness of you.

The Cradle and the Crown - A Regent College Advent Reader edited by G. Richard Thompson, et alAmen.

I slightly adapted this prayer for Advent
written by fellow
Regent College alum Alvin Ung
who suggests praying it in light of 1 John 1:1-2:2.
It appears in
The Cradle and the Crown.

God’s prepositions

…All this took place to fulfill what
the Lord had said through the prophet:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel”
(which means “God with us”).
– Matthew 1:22-23

In the birth of Jesus, we see God coming in weak and vulnerable human form. God chooses to share our location and condition.
God is with us.

In the death of Jesus, we see God present in suffering human form. God chooses to take our part instead of being our enemy.
God is for us.

In the resurrection and ascension, we see God in victorious human form. In this form, insinuating Himself into the depths of our very being…
God is in us – as the Spirit of Christ.

…Here is what God is really like. He is the God who is with us, the God who is for us, and the God who is in us.

::– –::– –::

Days of Grace through the YearI just had to share this, my daily reading from Days of Grace Through the Year, a book of meditations drawn from the writings of the late Lewis Smedes. It not only connects with Advent-Christmas but with the entire church calendar as it follows the life of Jesus. Casting Crowns beautifully captures these truths about God in their Christmas song “God Is With Us.”

“God Is With Us” by Casting Crowns

What to wear for Advent

As I make my way through this Advent season, a quote shared with me by my retired colleague Dale Vander Veen continues to echo in my mind and resonate in my soul…

Our God, you dressed yourself
in the tattered garments of our human nature,
that we might dress ourselves with
your divine ways.
Help us, therefore, to wear our human frailties
with the dignity and resolve
of those who are the earthly cradles
of the nature of God.

– from Rueben Job & Norman Shawchuck,
A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People