Beneath the Surface

I have nothing to add so I’m going to let this statement speak for itself:

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level, we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs, but deep within, behind the scenes at a profounder level we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathing” (Thomas Kelly, Testament of Devotion).

Prayer, Pure and Simple

(Sorry about no post Tuesday. We were without power for over 24 hours due to fires in the area.)

I decided to give equal time to showing the positive side of devotionals. I’m reading one on prayer by Pete Briscoe, who said we might need to throw out our old ideas about prayer and think of it in a new way. It’s not new to some of us, but the implications are far-reaching enough we could all give it some thought – and prayer.

He said, “Most of our traditions, teachings, and examples miss the simple, pure, liberating essence of prayer: prayer is an intimate conversation with the One who passionately loves you and lives in you.” This understanding changes the way we pray – a conversation is two way; an intimate one is between two people or in this case, one person and a Father, who love and know each other well. And it’s not just one chat a day during your quiet time, but “a never-ceasing intimate conversation.”

Briscoe also points out that it’s liberating to realize we don’t have to follow any of the traditions and teachings we may have heard all our lives. I don’t pray the same as you and you don’t pray like me. We all relate to our Father God in our own unique way so it makes sense we would all talk to him differently and have our own way of relating and being with him. This also eliminates the guilt most of us have carried or still carry with us. In Christ, we can converse with him freely, simply and purely, from our hearts, with no reservations or inhibitions, just as we would with a close friend, because that’s what he is.

Self-Care and Soul-Feeding

Jokes have been going around about people not getting dressed, skipping showers and letting themselves go during the health crisis. I must admit to wearing sweatpants unless I go to a grocery store, which is only once a week, and my hair desperately needs attention. But there are some areas of self-care I try to uphold.

I’ve discovered five things that feed my soul, help me maintain my equilibrium and give me reasons to carry on day after day. They are spending time with God/practicing his presence; riding my bike; baking; creating and sending greeting cards; and reading for pleasure. Some days I manage all five, most days at least three. (When I say discover, I don’t mean they are new to my life, rather I’m thinking of them in a new way.)

Feeding the soul is something King David did in a time of great distress. In 1 Samuel 30:6, David encouraged or strengthened himself in the Lord. He probably reminded himself how God had always been with him, fought his battles and took care of him. Strengthening ourselves by remembering how his grace has covered us is something we can and should do on a regular basis.

Self-care is important for all of us on whom others depend – most of us are in that category. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of others? Or even do the basic job of a Christian – to love others? Your list may not look like mine, but you no doubt can think of one or two things that lift your spirit, bring a smile to your face and leave you energized and ready to keep going. Consider that God probably gave it (or them) to you for these reasons. He doesn’t like us to be discouraged any more than we do.

We can wear our sweatpants, skip a shower or two and let our hair grow, but let’s pay attention to what’s on the inside – what’s most important – by practicing self-care and feeding our souls.

Adjust, Accept, Appreciate

Going to college was exciting but also a little frightening. It was all so new; I was far from home and my trip to get there was only my second time on a plane. Even though I enjoyed meeting other students and liked my classes, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I quickly learned I would have to make a lot of adjustments if I were going to survive and thrive. I came up with a little motto to help me whenever I encountered a new and/or stressful situation: adjust, accept, appreciate.

Since then, I’ve been in many settings requiring all three of these. I’ve had to make major adjustments in every area of life; I’ve had to accept things I would rather not; and I’ve learned, or rather, I’m still learning to appreciate the beautiful things, especially God’s grace. His grace is a thick thread running through each day and every experience.

The three words in my motto can be summed up in one: attitude. Early 20th century psychologist William James sheds some light on how important our attitude is: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” A good attitude can make a huge difference in everything we do, every second of every day. It’s not always easy, but how much in life is? We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13), even change our attitude. It could be the best thing we ever pray for.

Can We Activate God’s Presence?

One of my favorite movies is Galaxy Quest. It’s a spoof of the original Star Trek series and is a lot of fun. At the end of the movie, to save the universe (this happens frequently on Star Trek), the captain activates the Omega 13, which is a device that turns back time for 13 seconds. It’s not long, but it’s long enough to redeem a single mistake.

To activate the Omega 13, he opens a compartment, a plunger rises, and he pushes down on the plunger. Then the science fiction magic happens. Sadly, this is how some people think God works. They talk about activating his power and invoking his presence, as if pushing a button or casting a spell of some kind can get God to appear or grant wishes like a genie. (I’ve been reading devotionals again.)

As I’ve said many times here, God is all about relationship. I didn’t understand that for most of my life, but seeing God through this lens, as a being in relationship as Father, Son and Spirit, changes our perspective on everything. He’s not a vending machine, a genie or someone whose power and presence we can invoke. He’s not watching us from a distance, keeping a list of sins and offenses against him. He’s not sitting on a judge’s bench, anxious to send us to the executioner.

God has a father’s heart for us. Jesus loves us like a brother. The Spirit is always on our side. God loves us with an unfailing love and delights in us loving him back. We don’t need to push a button or rub a lamp to enjoy his loving presence.

Ultimate Beauty

It’s easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to our thoughts about God. For too many, maybe all of us, we sometimes think of him as a means to an end. We want him to bless us, protect us and keep us from trials and sufferings. This is only normal as we’re human. But as my pastor friend from Florida Steve Schantz said in a sermon, God is not a commodity:

“… faith becomes a magic wand you wave over your life to get the one thing you most want from the Lord. And God now becomes a means to an end…. Can you imagine treating God as a means to something greater? King David couldn’t. But God is perceived to be very useful and very practical in our day and age. This utilitarian thinking is warping the image of the Triune God. The prosperity gospel has come home to roost in churches of all stripes and sizes across our land. Even our secular poets and authors know the power and necessity of experiencing beauty. D.H. Lawrence once wrote, ‘The Human Soul needs beauty even more than it needs bread’ (Nottingham and the Mining Country, 1929).” As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the beauty of God surpasses everything we can begin to imagine and nothing we desire in this life comes close.

Seeing God from a utilitarian viewpoint can lead us to want to use him rather than being in awe of the beauty of his character and personality. But God will not be used – how could we mere humans think we could use the creator of everything? Conversely, God doesn’t use us, though many like to believe he does. People use people, God doesn’t. The life he has given us is participation in Christ’s life. He doesn’t use us for his purposes as if we are minions, rather he loves us as a father.

Nothing is more beautiful than the intimate, loving, sharing relationship we get to share with Father, Son and Spirit. Nothing.

Jesus Hurts with Us

Old sayings stick around because they are usually true, but sometimes old sayings need revision. We’ve all heard the only sure things in life are death and taxes, but we could add pain and suffering to that list, though pain and suffering are implied in both death and taxes. I’ve often wondered how people who don’t or won’t find peace and consolation in the love of God handle the pain that inevitably comes to us all.

Many are hurting now, perhaps more than usual in our broken humanity. Many turn to God but others become angry and/or disconsolate. It really helps when a friend sits with us in our pain, like the little boy in the story that went around a few years ago. He spent time with his grieving friend and when his mom asked what they talked about, he said nothing, they just cried together.

We have a friend who shares our pain. He’s the one who understands it, feels it and cries with us. Because he took all our pain and sorrow onto himself when he went to the cross, he enters it and inhabits it still. When we hurt, he hurts with us; at the same time, we feel his pain, not only the pain he suffered, but the pain of the whole world, which he continues to carry on his shoulders.

When we’re hurting, we can be sure Jesus is hurting with us. What a beautiful friend and what a beautiful savior.

Lasting Beauty

Today’s post is by Hilary Buck, a friend who writes for Day-by-Day, an online devotional produced by Gracecom UK. She pastors Grace Communion in Lewes. (Re-posted by permission.)

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10 (ESVUK)

The Greek word Paul used for ‘workmanship’ in the scripture is one from which we get our English word: poem. So he’s pointing to creative, quality workmanship. Some have thought it should be read as God’s creation of a ‘masterpiece.’ Thinking of ourselves as God’s masterpiece might make us wince a bit when we consider ourselves. What me, a masterpiece? Others might look askance if I claim I am God’s workmanship, let alone his masterpiece. And do I think of myself as a piece of divine poetry?

Great poetry – poetry sales have been booming in these recent years. Thousands of people travel each year to see great works of art – the masterpieces of our minds and hands – in our museums. Take the British Museum: five million come each year; the national Gallery about another five. At the Louvre, over ten million come to see the Mona Lisa alone. Over four million come through the doors of the Victoria and Albert, called the nation’s attic, where only twenty five percent of what they have acquired is on display. Nearly four million go to music festivals here, let alone the numbers that attend concerts.

Enough of statistics. We we cherish the great creative works that have been made in music, writing, painting, sculpture, architecture, and all the crafts. We admire them, we are enchanted and moved by them. But none of them will last forever. There’s only one work of art that will last – and that’s us.

Michelangelo, one of the world’s greatest artists, was asked how he created his sculptures: ‘The sculpture is already complete within the marble block’, he explained, ‘before I start my work. It is already there; I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.’ Of one particular piece he said: ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ God is, if you will, carving out the new you and me, into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

Jesus said his Father works and he works. And Paul reassures us in Philippians 1:6 that as God has begun a good work in us, he will complete it. The detritus of our way of life, of our old minds and outlook is being carved away, one day to reveal the stunning beauty of us, his new creation in Christ.

Our Father, we give you thanks that you have made us in your image, and now, in Jesus Christ,  you are making a new creation—one of perfection and beauty to live with you forever, to your glory.

The Beauty of Grace

Did you spend some time contemplating beauty last week? I was able to ride my bike through the forest near my home and admire God’s creation – the pine trees, blue sky, clouds and of course, wildflowers. I even spotted some deer crossing the road ahead of me. I am in awe every time I ride through this amazing area and give thanks for these blessings.

But do you know what the most beautiful thing is in the entire world? It’s knowing all I see is because of God’s grace. It’s living in the reality of God’s unbelievable love, assured of my place in his embrace for eternity.

When I think of grace, I remember all the years I spent believing what God wanted most was my obedience, then learning what he really wants is to love me and have me love him in return. His beautiful grace has freed me from seeing him as judge, jury and executioner. It’s opened my eyes to the tenderness of my father, the self-emptying and sacrificial love of my friend and brother Jesus, and the loving guidance of my comforter, the Holy Spirit. His grace is truly amazing – and beautiful.

Our Love of Beauty

We human beings have a lot in common, even though we tend to forget just how much we share. One of those things is our affinity for beauty. All people are attracted to the beauty of nature. We love art, architecture and creative landscapes. We are attracted to sparkling jewels, fine clothing – anything well-crafted and well-made. This is not to say we can afford or need to own any of these things, but we do admire them. Museums are filled with objects of beauty and showcases of homes or anything lovely are usually well-attended.

We also tend to forget who created beauty. God not only created all the beauty we see, but he himself is beautiful in every way, and our love of beauty comes from him. Ancient people made the mistake of worshiping the creation instead of the Creator. But after admiring the beauty we see around us, either natural or made by human hands, our thoughts should turn to admiration and adoration of the most beautiful being in existence. I love Psalm 27:4, which says, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (NIV). Instead of gaze, The Message uses the word contemplate.

The Bible, and the psalms in particular, give us many ways to contemplate our God of wonders. Just spending time thinking about his amazing love for us could fill the rest of our days. In his great love for us, he has made it possible for us to gaze on his beauty for eternity. But why wait? Let’s start right now!