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

Things that affect your judgement

A recent episode of Law & Order (the show, incidentally, got renewed for its 21st season, making it the longest running primetime drama in the history of America TV) has our intrepid detectives on the hunt for the murderer of four police officers.  The captain of the slain officers follows the investigation closely, regularly criticizing how the detectives and attorneys are handling the case.  At one point, S Epatha Merkersonhe makes a dig at Lt. Anita Van Buren.  Now, you have to know that at the beginning of this season, Lt. Van Buren was diagnosed with cancer and, as the season has gone on, we’ve overheard conversations with her doctor, watched her receive chemotherapy, and vicariously felt her boyfriend’s assuring embraces.  It’s been a tough, uncertain road for our by-the-book, no-nonsense police lieutenant.  Well, the captain of the four slain officers knows about this and, at the height of his displeasure of how the case is proceeding, he alleges that Lt. Van Buren’s current illness is affecting her judgement.

Lt. Van Buren has this great reply:  “I certainly hope so.”

The show’s writers were probably hoping we viewers were expecting Lt. Van Buren to defend her decisions, to say that she’s running things exactly as before, that her judgement has not been affected by her diagnosis and treatment of cancer.  However, she not only admits that her cancer is adjusting how she sees things, she is glad about it.

As our lives go on, we are constantly experiencing new things – both good and bad, both mundane and profound.  These new things affect how we think and how we act.  To think that we’re the same person we were 7 years ago or 3 years ago or 6 months ago or even just last week is not all that realistic.  Events and experiences have changed some opinions, ideas, and likely even our judgement.  We can either deny that we’ve changed, or we can embrace those changes as Lt. Van Buren has.

If you look back over the past weeks, months, and years, and you don’t care for the changes you see in yourself, then it’s a little harder to embrace them, isn’t it?  In that case, you may wish to spend some time looking to and praying about the future, considering what sorts of changes you’d like to see with the good Lord’s help beginning with the coming minutes, hours, and days.

As I continue learning and growing and maturing, I hope someone who sees me for the first time in a while will say, “I think you’ve changed a bit since we’ve last been together.”  At that point, I want to quote Lt. Van Buren: “I certainly hope so!”

Photo credit:
NBC publicity photo of S. Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Anita Van Buren.

Still falling asleep while praying

After a year and a bit of blogging, a “4th Point” post that consistently gets lots of hits each month is the one I wrote about falling asleep while praying in which I quote from Kevin G. Harney’s book Seismic Shifts.  Brennan Manning also has something to say on the subject in his book The Furious Longing of God.

After referring to the intimacy and trust that’s implicit in calling God our “Abba” (“Father”), Mr. Manning writes…

Is your own personal prayer life characterized by the simplicity, childlike candour, boundless trust, and easy familiarity of a little one crawling up in Daddy’s lap?  An assured knowing that the daddy doesn’t care if the child falls asleep, starts playing with toys, or even starts chatting with little friends, because the daddy knows the child has essentially chosen to be with him for that moment?  Is that the spirit of your interior prayer life? (p. 44)

Granted, if we consistently fall asleep while praying because talking with God is boring or we consign Him only the final few drowsy moments of a too-busy day, we need to re-examine our praying.  However, if we 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 quoted Brennan Manning
a couple days ago, too.
::  A
series based on the themes of Seismic Shifts begins this Sunday at Telkwa CRC.

The impact of God’s furious love for us

Brennan Manning - Furious Longing of God After someone at Telkwa CRC recommended it, I just finished reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God.  Between Mr. Manning’s compelling use of Scripture and powerful stories, it’s definitely worth reading.  It will impact how you think about and live for God.

Something he suggests we do each day is say these words:

Abba, I belong to You.

Pray these words with childlike trust and deep reverence.  They will help you and me (re)discover God’s great love for you and me personally.  Mr. Manning helps me put into words this great love of God’s…

The love of God … knows no boundary, limit or breaking point.  …The wild, unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea.  When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth, it determines why and at what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes your heart happy. (p. 75)

As we internalize God’s love, we are called to reflect it towards others.  Mr. Manning writes a couple chapters later…

Jesus said you are to love one another as I have loved you, a love that will possibly lead to the bloody, anguished gift of yourself; a love that forgives seventy times seven, that keeps no score of wrongdoing.  Jesus said this, this love, is the one criterion, the sole norm, the standard of discipleship in the New Israel of God.  He said you’re going to be identified as His disciples, not because of your church-going, Bible-toting, or song-singing.  No, you’ll be identified as His by one sign only: the deep and delicate respect for one another, the cordial love impregnated with reverence for the sacred dimension of the human personality because of the mysterious substitution of Christ for the Christian.  (p. 86)

Christ’s deep love for us profoundly impacts how we relate with others – even our enemies.  As they say, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Fear and change

I spoke about our fears this past Easter Sunday and how Jesus’ victory over death puts our fears in perspective, especially our fear of dying.  The next day, this was the reading in Forward Day by Day based on Matthew 28:9-15

I once conducted a service of worship shortly after Easter for the patients of a mental hospital. I began by asking the congregation, mostly patients, what they thought the first words spoken by Jesus when he returned to the disciples might have been. They answered, “Do not be afraid.”

Those who are ill in the way that those patients were know with a certain instinct what the words of life are. When the struggle for existence has defeated you, you withdraw into fear: fear of enemies in the far distance; fear of “them;” even fear of yourself. Life is lived in terms of suspicion, never of trust.

We all exist on a continuum, I think, with those patients; we are all somewhat ill. Jesus comes and wipes away our fear. For many of us it is the fear of being wrong, the fear that we will be less than we thought we were, the fear that we will fail and our dreams come to nothing. If we will hear his words and trust him, then we can start again, this time on the basis of a sure hope, never again because we are afraid.

Jesus comes and wipes away our fears.  The result: We should expect to be changed.  And that connects with something Neil deKoning writes at the CRC’s Network I just read…

…The [Good Friday and Easter] story we tell was not intended to simply give us a wonderful celebration 2000 years later. Jesus came to bring change. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new life, and the power of resurrection are descriptions of change. The way of the cross is a description of change. We believe that in this way God brings redemption into our lives…

What does this mean for our ministry? What change ought we be praying for – not in general but in the particulars of our members and in our community? If Jesus said the way to transform lives and communities is through the power of the cross and the victory of the resurrection, what impact ought that have on the way we do ministry among the members?

Just asking the questions forces us to consider our ministry. Do we have a vision of change that is born out of our understanding of work of Jesus? Do we believe that confession and forgiveness, that self-sacrificial love, that the Emmaus Bible study (Luke 24), that obedient suffering are in fact transformational practices of the Christian life? Do we believe that communities bound in unity to Christ serving Christ can deeply impact community life?

Change is not easy. I look at the trouble of our communities and the struggles of community development and I see countless obstacles. But I notice that God in his ministry of changing the world went to the cross. It was the only way. If this is what God did, there is wisdom in seeking to follow that path…

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”  How does that change you?  How will that change the way you interact with your family and neighbours?

Rich beyond belief

“We Can All Be Rich,” proclaims the March 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest.  There’s a huge assumption in that statement, namely that everyone actually wants to be rich.  Of course, questioning that assumption in our all-too-often greedy Western culture is borderline insane.  The only thing you’ll see more of than get-rich-quick schemes are people trying to follow them.

Do you desire to be rich?  If yes, how rich?  Do you have a target, or will wealth perpetually be defined for you as “more than I have now” regardless of how fat your bank account becomes?  I suspect that the desire to be rich and the feeling of dissatisfaction are frequently wed together.

It turns out that the Reader’s Digest article about being rich is not so much about amassing financial wealth as it is about building one’s reputation.  Entrepreneur Austin Hill is convinced that “once you attain a certain level of wealth, more money will not make you happier.  This is where a person’s reputation comes in.  In this world of future abundance [as predicted by Mr. Hill], it will be social capital, not money, that will matter most.”

I wonder if Mr. Hill has it backwards.  Perhaps having a good reputation will bring you happiness even before you attain “a certain level of wealth” (which is not calculated in the article).  Maybe a well deserved reputation of generosity will be the secret to your contentment regardless of how much money you have – financial generosity, but also generosity of goodwill, of kindness, of spirit.  Once you’ve got that down, maybe you’ll find yourself rich beyond belief regardless (and maybe even worry-free) of what’s in your bank account.