Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Certain Joy

Joy is one of the indicators on the dashboard of the spiritual life that help us gauge the life of the soul. As we move closer to maturity, joy becomes more constant and less related to circumstances. Joy combines three core elements – the root in reality, the inner convictional sense, and the outward expression.

The more solidly rooted we are in what is true, the more stable and certain is our joy. Think for a moment about some of the realities which shape view of the world and ourselves. The King and Creator of the Universe has made this world for us – and us for this world. He has provided life and sustenance for us. He has chosen us to be the bearers of His Image and His Name. He has told us His name – allowing us to call Him Father. He has defined the nature of beauty, and the beauty of nature. He has given us access into the heavenlies. He has provided a way to deal decisively and completely with everything that separates us from life – His and ours. He has promised that He would never leave us alone in the world but would be present with us until the very end of the age, when we will be fully present with Him.
These are the core realities in which joy is rooted.
Based on these core realities, we can allow the full flourishing of an inner convictional joy as consequence. Because those things are true, we can live in freedom. We can learn and live in contentment, knowing that no matter what happens, God is committed to us. We can calm down from the frantic craziness of trying to be by doing – and increasingly allow what we do to flow naturally and easily out of who we are. We can more easily establish priorities centered on the Kingdom we seek, allowing life to become simpler and more focused. We can live without fear in relationships, willing to risk intimacy because the core of our identity is established with God in Christ.
The third element of joy is external. It shows up in exuberant and reflective worship, gentle and boisterous laughter, a sense of calm certainty, stability and strength in the middle of chaos and crisis, tears drifting down over smiles which remain, hope, a certain lightness of being, an  unquenchable optimism based in reality, . . . and a few thousand other things that vibrate with glory!
No matter how dark may be the night, a certain joy guides us through to morning.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The dull, aching heat of summer has faded into the cool mornings and warm afternoons of a Southern California fall season. There are all kinds of reasons why I like living here, but this time of year has to be close to the top of list. To step outside in the early morning and breathe in deeply of the crisp clean is the very definition of refreshing. We are probably not done with heat – but notice has been served, winter is slowly on its way. And in between, this wonderful season of refreshing.

God provides these refreshings equally in many of the seasons of our lives not tied to the calendar. After a season in the searing heat of seemingly overwhelming temptation to despair, a gentle cool breeze blows over the hill of deliverance and we get a hint of what might lie beyond. It is enough to refresh for the next season of struggle.

Sometimes the refreshing comes in a flash during a worship service when all of a sudden what you are singing becomes fully really real. It grips your soul and gives it a playful shake, reminding you Whose you are.

Occasionally while reading the Bible, something leaps off the page and dances on the coffee table right in your living room – and you are caught up in the wonder of a Living God who knew where you would be and what you would need at just that moment.

Every once in a while a conversation with a friend will become charged with the energy of the heavens. A chance comment, a wry remark, a gentle smile – and glory fills the place where you are meeting!

Perhaps a short walk through a familiar neighborhood erupts with the song of the angels in the crushing beauty of a single dew drop clinging to a rose petal – daring you to turn aside and see. And there, learn a new name for God, Who is.

When those moments happen, we need pause and offer our thanks, and give in to wonder.

And, perhaps, consider how we might be a refreshing in the life of some other weary traveler. And pray God that it might be so.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Expanding the Kingdom

Kingdoms are not something we think about much – except when the British royal family has done something gossip-worthy. And even then, our thoughts are less about kings and queens than they are about a peculiar kind of celebrity. The idea of a king with a kingdom just seems anachronistic to a democratically informed mind. The English model is moderated by a parliamentary structure, but there are monarchies in the classic sense in many places in the world – with real kings who take themselves and their duties very seriously. Their word is law – they define and arbitrate justice. They have “say” over people and property.

Pilate was well trained in the classic model. For him, Caesar  was Lord and Sovereign – his word was law to the farthest reaches of the empire. You can imagine his confusion, then, when a simple Galilean peasant, accused of treason, stood before him. There was no imperiousness in His stance – but an unmistakable authority rested lightly on his bloodied shoulders. When pressed, He simply acknowledged Pilate’s assessment. Pilate was by equal measure confused and comforted by Jesus’ statement that His kingdom was not of this world. He would probably have been stunned to know that Jesus fully intended to take this world over.

Had Pilate been paying a bit closer attention, he might have gotten a hint of Jesus’ strategy. His kingdom would not be extended by means of force on the part of His followers. Rather, they would extend the Kingdom as He did, by bearing witness to the truth and gathering those who resonate with that truth into a community. In that way, the Kingdom will be extended and expanded.

The goal is to increase the area over which Jesus has “say.” This will be accomplished as Jesus’ followers live and speak in such a way that their spheres of influence are brought, one at a time, bit by bit, under His control – as their individual kingdoms become part of the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ.

As followers of Jesus, we begin by submitting our own spheres of influence to His control – by considering how to live our lives as He would, were He us. It might begin as simply as cleaning up a mess  ­– picking up trash – putting things where they belong. And who knows what faithfulness in those little things might lead to.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering vs. Remembrance

As important as it is to remember, I am not sure that it counts as remembrance. And may, actually, get in the way of remembrance. Remembrance requires a certain distance, a certain separation, a certain space to allow for reflection, for soaking, for engagement. Remembering doesn’t allow much of that. Remembering is insistent, directive, pointed. Even though it is personal, in the age of media driven remembering, it is objective in the extreme. Almost voyeuristic. We are looking in on memory. Or, really, on images that define memory. And those images are common – the same for everyone, except those actually present with their own eyes and ears.

Our remembering is shaped, as it was first formed, by a mosaic of oft-repeated images and sounds – a tower reaching into the clear blue September sky seeming to lean into the aid of its fatally wounded partner which has smoke pouring from the gaping wound that would eventually lead to its collapse. Then the collective gasp of those nearby as a shakey handheld video camera captures the second plane flying into the second tower. Towering billows of smoke and dust darken the sky throughout the day as a camera across the river captures the twin towers, each with their own mortal wound. Images of first reponders, covered with dust and grime, continuing to press in and out of the building – directing startled and stumbling office workers down what must have felt like miles of darkened staircases to the relative safety below. Finally, the damage sustained being too great to bear, the towers collapse sympathetically – moments apart. Men and women in suits and shoes more suitable for lunch at the top of the tower than for running who knew where, pursued by roiling clouds of smoke and dust taking over the streets. And so the images continue to pile up and up and up – the stuff of our remembering.

But looking at those same images over and over again, remembering, is not the same thing as remembrance any more than looking at news footage of an fatal accident over and over is the same as honor the loved ones lost. The latter requires an entering in, a slowing down and stopping. Not a relentless reminded remembering. If we are not careful, we will have remembered – that is, we will have recovered the images and lived them again. But will not have given pause for remembrance. For that, a long, slow silence is needed. Time and stillness to allow meaning to emerge, if it will, from the remembering. Time to soak into the deep mystery of unknowing, unillumined by remembering. Time to re-collect fragments, shards, broken pieces and let them arrange themselves into a mosaic of meaning. Time to close our eyes to remembering to allow for remembrance.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Root of Hope

All around
     All around
          All around
               cause for despair
     to any who look

Children in
     grave danger
     grave . . .

The winds
     tearing at      
     the roots and

Seeds of terror
     sown shrapnel
     forced beneath
     the skin of

We must not
     turn away
     from such
          from such
               from such

But we must not
     stop with such seeing.

We must look deeper
     beyond the bleak
     beyond the despair
     beyond the overwhelming dark.

Deep into the core
     and there
see what is
     also real.

The root of hope.
     now and always
     with us
     and who has a
     first name.

 “You shall call his name . . .