Category Archives: 31. Quieting

Quieting (Sunday) – Isaiah 30:15-18

In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength. (Isaiah 30:15)

However Israel rejected repentance and rest. They refused quietness and trust. Consequently they were put to flight by the bluff of an inferior force. Even with the swiftest of horses it was a terrible route. The outcome of Israel’s independence was isolation and exposure.

We no longer ride horses into battle armed with swords and spears but the nature of warfare has not changed; there is an enemy who seeks to destroy us. When I hear God declaring that our salvation will be worked out through repentance, rest, quietness and trust, I have a vision of a grace-saturated inner-life, one that we compose, taking our lead from the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, I suspect we too have turned down God’s terms of rest and repentance, and of quietness and trust. Our hearts are the battle field. We still have a diabolical enemy who would love to destroy us. His chief weapon is deception. He is referred to as the prince of the power of the air. When I think of the war he is waging in this air-space, I picture radio waves travelling unseen through walls carrying their messages of advertising, news and entertainment. I see the prince of this age crafting the bulk of these transmissions from carefully blended amounts of fact and fiction. This content too frequently passes unchallenged through our hearts and minds. However, because of God’s part in this war, I picture a day when Satan’s lies will be filtered out. On that day I believe we will be astounded that this singular master lier caused so much paranoia and drove so many into chaos, bondage and misery. We can take courage though because our passage concludes with…

Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isaiah 30:18)

To compose our hearts for a war with the father of lies we must remind ourselves that light obliterates darkness. Our God is the Father of Lights and we are the children of his light. Our spirits were created to be clothed in truth and light.

Father, may it not be said of us that we rejected your means of working out our salvation. May we establish our secret places of retreat and prayer. May we become adept in discerning spiritual reality, in distinguishing religion from relationship, in separating truth from error. Help us to cultivate longing where there is complacency. We long to see Your justice exercised against Your enemy and ours. Amen.

Quieting (Saturday) – 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

Because we share a divine origin and are now joined together in Christ, our stories are essential to each other. Your story will hold light and encouragement for me and I pray that mine will do the same for you. Telling our stories is important in learning how God’s creative and redemptive love plays out amidst our impure motives and messy lives.

I mentioned on Thursday that 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 was one of three passages I had claimed for myself as a young Christian. Based on what I thought of myself at the age of 23, which was not much, I just knew these verses were for me. Another verse was from Psalm 131;

I do not involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.

If you read Thursday’s installment you know my motives in the selection of these verses were tainted. Since I was a young teen I had been in flight, distancing myself from anything that might cause me pain. One of the big things I was fleeing was our family’s business which I had come to associate with the undesirable aspect of complexity. Another was the company’s president (my Dad) who represented the intolerable pain of rejection. Complexity is not too inviting if you have come to believe your intellect and social skills are substandard and rejection cannot be tolerated if you are already hyper-sensitized to it.

There was still another layer to my mess – it had to do with the stigma of wealth. As a young kid I started picking up on the attitudes my classmates had toward those who ‘came from money’ as they would say. I didn’t at all like what I was hearing about golden spoons and where they should be stored. I did everything I knew to hide my social status but in my small town it was futile. Hiding seemed innocent enough in grade school but it became neurotic in junior high and high school. I dreaded every social situation where this attitude might be lurking. Fear had driven me to the point of being nearly invisible. Alcohol, and eventually drugs, became my refuge. However, while numbing my short-term pain, chemicals were compounding it for the long term.

After the better part of a decade of mixing alcohol and drugs with the already toxic things inside me, I had exhausted all hope of a future. At 23 I was utterly lost and suffice it to say – free falling into darkness. Enter Jesus. He made nothing less than a dramatic entrance into my life, immediately setting this prodigal free from a bunch of nasty stuff and introducing him, for the first time, to love, hope, peace and joy. It was a pure miracle! Frogs do become princes! My old mission which had been raising hell had now become – how to sustain this new place of safety. Better yet, how can I expand (or exploit) it?” The question before me was simple “What do I need to do?”

Some of the believers I threw-in with and many of the authors I began reading believed the narrow path we were now traveling must be paved with self-imposed austerity. Following their lead, I began, unknowingly, blending religion (compliance to external and internal standards) with my already contaminated, wound-driven motives. I developed the conviction that monetary success would damn my soul. Therefore to sustain my new sense of well being, I must flee wealth before it sunk its talons in me.

I was confusing my insecurity and inferiority with brokenness – a much desired spiritual attribute. Embracing brokenness was how I could honor my depravity – the inappropriate center piece of my theology.  Most of the preaching I had listened to reinforced the notion that I was, in my essential identity, a monster of iniquity – a sinful creature with irreversible, prideful motives. This type of person would be woefully incapable of managing prosperity should it come knocking. So, the plan that formed in the dimly lit space of my heart was to flee from this temptation, work with my hands, insure a lower middle class wage and work exceedingly hard (which was the religion of my father’s family). While it was really about avoiding pain, my tortured reasoning was as follows; if I perform well, I will please God and consequently sustain (and improve?) my relationship with him. However, one question I kept conveniently at bay was; “Just how poor does one have to be to please God?” Or stated differently, “At what point of financial success would one become displeasing to God?”

I would have crawled on glass for the balance of my days to avoid going back to the the hell my life had become before Christ. Even though it was driven by an illogical fear (how can one earn what has been a gift?), I’m glad the Lord taught me to pray; “Search and try my heart and expose wrong motives.” Over time, I believe God answered this prayer. Through his kindness and mercy I would eventually learn the difference between fear driven flight into religion and an appropriate response to God’s love.

Not that he needs it, but our relationships wth God work best if he superintends our hearts -having been invited to do so. Overcoming my inner-vows and wrong-hearted motives represents one of his greater victories in me. It has been no small thing for him to undo the strongholds that bound me to religion. How astounding God is – that while I was bent on acquiring his favor with my labors, he was leading me toward green and well-watered pasture where I would ultimately find myself resting in His arms. Carnal sin was the yoke that Jesus delivered this young prodigal from at 23. Religion was the even heavier yoke he rescued this elder brother from at 57. I am stunned by his kindness. (By all means read Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God. It’s a treasure.)

I believe works drivenreligion is at least as binding a yoke as raw debauchery. It looks so impressive with all its labor and accumulated doings. Inherit within the religious-spirit is the deception that the doings have earned a credit balance with God while in fact the opposite is true. The doings within religion create a false-salve to the conscience of  wounded and insecure hearts. Religious darkness is greater because the religious do not know they are lost while most carnal sinners are keenly aware of it.

Our journey is all about discovering who we are in Christ and resting in him alone; its is about becoming the beings he originally created in his image. By his grace we shall learn that our efforts to do anything to create or to preserve relationship with God are backward steps. Laboring to earn a gift will undermine our enjoyment of it. Religious doing undermines relational being. Whatever doings God requires of us must ultimately flow from hearts at rest in Christ.

Father, Help us to see where we have undermined Your grace through our entanglement with religion. Heal our hearts that we might truly enjoy You. Expose religion for what it is – a demonic ploy to distort our image of ourselves, others and You. May You continue Your editing of our stories. All to Your glory. Amen.

Quieting (Friday)—Lamentations 3:19-28

A child we knew described that time of day when the sun was setting as “darking.” Darking may be an apt description of what was going on in Jeremiah’s world. Here’s a sample;

He has driven me and made me walk

In darkness and not in the light…

In dark places He has made me to dwell,

Like those who have long been dead…

He has filled me with bitterness.

He has made me drunk with wormwood…

My soul has been rejected from peace;

I have forgotten happiness.

So I say, my strength has perished,

And also so has my hope from the Lord.

Admittedly, calling and context are important. Jeremiah was the watchman on the wall observing the rise of Babylon and the fall of Israel. He knew Israel’s demise was due to her idolatrous and unrepentant heart. Her sin was so grievous, her heart so hardened, God had arranged Babylon as her punishment. Jeremiah had the additional burden of knowing that God himself was in the middle of it all. Perhaps our circumstances are not as severe but even so there are valuable things to learn from Jeremiah. This passage reveals some of them. One is his response to suffering, especially of the God-prescribed variety. How Jeremiah handles his relationship with God is worthy of our attention.

He begins by remaining in communication with God and emotionally open to Him. He intentionally names his sufferings and asks God to remember each of them. He tells God outright that he will be unable to ever forget. However, he also demonstrates that emotional responses to hardships do not have to be our determinants. In other words he was not a victim of circumstance, however nightmarish his was. Jeremiah demonstrates that emotional responses must be subservient to our powers of choice.

Regardless of how we feel, we must choose how we think and what we say. Even in the midst of punishment, Jeremiah demonstrates this as he deliberately recalls God’s loving providence as the greater context of his life. So, in the presence of dire circumstance he says, with great intentionality (and I believe we can say in worship), “I have hope that….

 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,

For His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning.

Great is Thy faithfulness. 

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

“Therefore I have hope in Him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,

To the person who seeks Him.

I believe our love of black-and-white explanations generates many inaccurate doctrines about God. Some cast Yahweh as the angry Old Testament sovereign with a hair trigger on judgment, ready to disperse suffering aplenty where warranted (which is mostly everywhere). Others are designed to get God off the hook for having any association, direct or indirect, with suffering. When the Bible has not gone to this trouble, why do we? Could it be in our inability (or unwillingness?) to reconcile suffering with what we want the will of a good and sovereign God to be, that we fashion an image of Him more to our liking, then hire teachers who will represent this god to us—one bent on delivering us from all pain in this life?

The bottom line is that suffering is a mystery and a potential stumbling block unless we learn a crucial lesson from Jeremiah. Based on what I read in scripture and what I’ve experienced so far in life, I believe God is more often inclined to help us through suffering as opposed to delivering us from it. Yet, as God moves us through suffering we find we are brought to a question: Is it essential for to us to know why we suffer? Jeremiah may not answer our question directly, but his commentary may keep our hearts attuned to God in the midst of the universal and unwanted mystery of suffering. Listen to his wisdom:

 For the Lord will not reject forever,

For if He causes grief,

Then He will have compassion

According to His abundant lovingkindness.

For He does not afflict willingly,

Or grieve the sons of men.

Jeremiah’s own heart is conflicted regarding the origins of suffering. In the first 18 verses of chapter 3, he clearly portrays God as the willing author of suffering. Then, in verses 31-33—not so much. So what’s the application?

My takeaway is that God permits us, even encourages us, to vent our anguish directly to him. It is a big deal to sustain communication with God and remain emotionally honest with him. This is not an easy path, but it leads us to that precious place where we are exhausted by, and have emptied ourselves of, our questions—a place where all that remains is our willingness (in our darking) to be quiet before Him.

At some point, all the tears have been cried and nothing remains to be prayed. It is there in the lull after our storm (which may last for days or for years) where we discover an ember still burning, which waits for the breath of God. In this place, many of our whys remain unanswered; surprisingly, they are now less insistent. The heart left with nothing discovers it now has everything and can say with certainty: The Lord is my portion.

Father, nothing has been so vexing to my intellect as suffering. Even the modest amounts of it I have known have seemed like bitter wormwood to me and at times have caused me to stumble. Forgive me for viewing You and others as the authors of my pain. Teach my heart that in all circumstances: I live and move and have my being in You. You alone are my context and my sufficiency. Truly, Lord, You are my all in all.

 

Quieting (Thursday) – Psalm 131:1-3

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever. (Psalm 131)

This verse sparks vivid memories. It was one of three verses I had claimed for myself as a young believer. For the record, claiming bible verses was a very spiritual thing to do in the mid-seventies. At that time it was doubtful God was leading you if you were without them.

Another of my verses was …

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

I believed these verses fit me perfectly in my mid twenties. However, through hindsight, I discovered there were mixed motives in my choices of my life-verses. Yes, I passionately wanted to know and follow this Jesus who had so radically altered my life but why had I latched onto simplicity and manual labor as conditions to this relationship?

At a younger age I had made some vows in order to avoid, at all costs, ever becoming involved in anything great or complex; more precisely, any greatness or complexity associated with my family’s businesses and their contentious owners – my dad and my uncles. I could not have articulated it as a child but now I know that those vows were made to insulate me from something I perceived would hurt me.

Neither did I know as a young believer that my life-verses were also servants of my agenda – to live a pain free life. While my Dad’s vocation as a contractor provided material security, for me it seemed to create relational insecurity. The business consumed my Dad’s time. During my junior and senior high years, my Dad left on Monday and returned Thursday or Friday. I did not fair well during those adolescent years. There is no need for details, suffice it to say, I was a troubled kid who was always in trouble. Sadly, I have no memory of a normal conversation with my Dad. I only recall words of correction and punishment, always delivered with frustration and disappointment.

As a very young boy I overheard violent exchanges between my dad and his brothers. This undid me. I knew I could never involve myself in anything like that. I vowed that I would not. I watched a nasty ulcer which was likely enflamed by family stress significantly rob dad of sleep and quality of life. No, I could never – would never – do the family business thing.

With my vows in the backdrop, exerting themselves subconsciously for the most part, I had followed a vocational path which had led me to the verge of fulfilling my life verses. I never had to leave my young family like Dad did because my place of work was in the town I lived in and ultimately in my home. My garage was a woodworking shop where I worked with my hands. My little cottage business was a sole proprietorship so I had no one to be at odds with (if we exclude God and my wife). In this cozy arrangement it seemed, at least to me, that God had set things up perfectly. Indeed he had, only not quite as I had expected.

One day I will record the details of the Monarch Millcraft / Heirloom FlagChest venture but today I will condense things to say that on the verge of succeeding in my ambition of a simple lifestyle, the rug was suddenly pulled from beneath me. The problem arose from my theological vantage point which placed God at the scene of this crime as either the agent of cause or, at the very least, a party of interest.

In the aftermath of this shaking, the violent oaths being exchanged were not between my dad and his brothers, they were between God and I. The demise of Monarch Millcraft, which was not an isolated heartbreak, was the final straw between God and myself. This sounds like tough talk but I really did not have any energy left to fight with. Nor did my theology provide a Plan B. In my heart I knew it was with God whom I had to do. In simple terms, I concluded I was being intentionally and lovingly broken. I think, in this moment, I both loved God and hated him with all my heart.

In the deepest parts of me where peace might be ruling there was a war raging. My soul was not like a weaned child within me. Like Jacob, I was in a serious wrestling match with God. And although I was angry as a hornet with God, the only resolve I had left was simply to not, if at all possible, allow this season to pass without discovering just what it was God was up to, in me. Although I hadn’t figured it out at that time, I now understand that he was simply answering my most frequent prayer….

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

This prayer was the third of my three life verses. (1 for 3. That’s not too bad.) I will forever by grateful to the late Paul Billheimer for writing Don’t Waste Your Sorrows and Destined For The Throne. In these books he assembles a redemptive framework for suffering. He explains how suffering plays into a believer’s destiny in a way that makes room for God’s sovereignty and our free-will. I believe this introductory course in “mystery” has equipped me to persevere at times when I might have chosen a more black or white cosmology – one that is either overly triumphant or fatalistic.

I have seen both in play in the church and even in my own life. The overly triumphant approach has the believer lying on the floor bleeding to death, singing, “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me!” The fatalistic view say’s, “Well…I suppose I’m dying – God’s will be done!” We have constructed systematized theologies to give supposed hard biblical proof for both positions. I don’t see either of these positions well represented in the New Testament. In the pristine mystery of God’s life in us, I believe both the fatalist and the triumphalist are on ground apt to be mercifully shaken.

Since the time of these events I think I have a better understanding of what God’s point is. He doesn’t like heart-schemes which insulate us from pain because they ultimately cripple our capacity to love and be loved. Nor does he like our theological schemes which implicate him as either a Santa Clause or a Scrooge. He is our Father. He wants to be our provision. He does not want us leaning on anything which might insulate us from him. Suffering is the place where we discover he alone is our life.  For those who are serious about following Jesus, he is committed to demolishing every faulty foundation. He loves us too much to leave us in our unstable deceptions.

You may have guessed (or know), I did end up joining our family’s business. It has not been particularly simple and I have not worked with my hands much. However, in God’s infinite kindness, and sense of humor, he has permitted me to, more and more, make the same claim as David in Psalm 131, that my soul is at peace and is at rest in him as a contented child in a mother’s arms. How amazing is God to permit me to adopt verses for the wrong reasons only to arrange for me to be the beneficiary of them in ways I could have never imagined.

For the record: In the years before my father passed, much healing took place in our relationship and through further divine agency, Jesus saw to it that my earthly father would come to know him. I am stunned at God’s patience and generosity toward my family and myself. Here is a humble and humorous man’s read on his life as he perceives it, resting in God’s hands.

I’m easily fooled most of the time but nobody’s ever gonna dig too deep / We’re all in a hurry to somewhere else with distractions and too little sleep / Got a list of questions long as my arm and the only second chance I see, to live and die without permanent harm, is if God can outmaneuver me.   (2nd verse from “Faithful” by Bob Bennett)

I too am utterly dependent on God to outmaneuvering me.

Father, help us to see Your redemptive intentions in our lives which are made possible only by Your sovereignty and kindness. Help us to entrust ourselves to You when we are hurting. Help us to lean into You instead of hiding ourselves away in some theological or heart delusion. Give us faith and courage to move forward in whatever trial we are facing, realizing, all the while, we are staring You in the face. Amen.

Quieting (Wednesday)—Habakkuk 2:18-20

Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, ‘Awake!’ To a mute stone, ‘Arise!’ And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all inside it. But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” (Habakkuk 2:19-20)

Most years I manage to take a weeklong fishing trip somewhere in the wilds, and for those years I have failed, I vow to repent. What an abundant collection of friends and memories this habit has generated! This year’s adventure into Idaho and Wyoming were no exception. We fished little waters and big waters, waters in woods and waters by meadows. All were chock-full of aquatic life, providing a feast for both eagle and angler.

Speaking as a fisherman who has cast into the hallowed waters of four countries, I was asking myself (after experiencing the Henry’s Fork) why I would want to fish anywhere else. The fishing was unsurpassed, and the fellowship with my son Daniel was precious. But there was something more going on. With each cast I was conscious of a question taking shape, even beckoning me: “Rob, what accounts for your deep pleasure here?” And while they were good indeed, I knew the answer was more than just fishing and fellowship.

As one who credits God for creation, it was only natural to consider the beauty of all I was taking in as the source of my deep pleasure; but even then, there was something escaping me. As I often do, I let the question meander through my thoughts.

Questions are no strangers to my mind. In fact, I am concerned they accumulate faster than answers. I typically let a question simmer; then I stir it, modestly at first, and if warranted (as in this case), more deliberately… Where was my deep joy coming from?

Was it the music? Maybe. Admittedly, Daniel’s playlist provided a rich atmosphere on our drives from one wild place to another. It seems appropriate here to just pause and say I too am “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash.” (and for that matter, Buck Owens).

Each evening I read about John Coulter; his forced marches through this landscape became prominent in my imagination. But if you have ever driven with a millennial you will know what a forced listen is. This is where conversation (even thought?) is suspended, and one is prevailed upon by the customized audioscape of the twenty-something’s playlist.

I would categorize Daniel’s music as “Americana Glorifico,” and I 90% love it. The scant 10% is best represented by the cool-sounding Darius Rucker and Brad Paisley’s “I Don’t Care”. (Daniel tells me he only appreciates it for its irony; given it’s catchiness, though—it’s now stuck in my head—I have my doubts.) I’m just sure there will soon be a movie produced called Millennial Cowboy with this musical declaration as its title song.

So, to contend with the 10% of the forced listen, I had to keep reminding myself, “I do too care, and I darn sure want to know!” In particular, I still wanted to know what this visceral, almost palpable pleasure was that was haunting me. My answer came together as I watched Daniel on the Yellowstone River. Here is my diary entry from that day:

We drove for an hour to get from Little Firehole Creek to the Yellowstone River where I set up with a hopper and Daniel with a golden stone fly imitation. This section of the river (just a few miles below Yellowstone Lake) looks like you could wade across it. This is an illusion. We waded as far as we dared, which was just above the waist (go farther and you become a bobber moving downstream at roughly 5 mph). From here, our best casts might reach mid-stream. We learned the formula quickly though: In big waters, big casts + big dry flies + big mends = big rewards!

Within two hours I hooked four big trout (20” or better) and landed half. So did Daniel, but he hooked and landed a monster. Our guide, Matt Murphy (Murph) had worked in Yellowstone and fished the river extensively. When he first saw Daniel’s fish coming at him and his net, he convulsed, “Oh my &*@, that’s the biggest cutthroat I’ve ever seen in here!” The fish measured 25” and had a huge girth. A true elder of these waters, Mike Lawson confirmed: “25 inches is about as big as a cutthroat will get on the Yellowstone River.”

It is impossible to put into words the magic of what I witnessed. Lot’s of people try to fish the Yellowstone. Most leave empty handed. The smaller, easier-to-catch cutties have mostly all been eaten by the lake trout upstream.

The Yellowstone is “big” water and it’s just flat-out tough to fish. Daniel’s conquest began after a beautiful long cast and at the end of a long 50 to 60 foot drift. It was a solo hook set, meaning no guide yelling, “Hit him!” (If you’ve fished with guides much, you know this is a savory moment since “Hit him!” eventually feels like the end of a whip—especially if you happen to have missed some hook sets.)

There are so many things that can go wrong in fly-fishing. Daniel’s 25” cutthroat didn’t voluntarily attach itself to his hook. It required some mastery of casting to have even delivered the fly to the place this fish was feeding. It then took mending skills to keep the fly drifting with the current so that it would appear a legitimate meal to the trout. The hook had to be set very quickly with that much line out. The line then had to be kept taught: any slack at all at any time would release the trout. The fish had to be reeled in at a pace that honored both the fish’s efforts to escape and the strength of the 5x tippet connecting the fly to the fly line. If just one of those things went south, the fish would not be joining the fishermen in the shallows for high fives and holy $#!+s. But on this occasion, Daniel and the stars were in perfect alignment. It was a privilege to witness this communion of skill, circumstance, and creation merge into something sacred.

Nature had become his pulpit, and my son my teacher. His sermon on this bright Wyoming afternoon provided the answer as to why joy was crowding in on my thoughts. It was communion. What I had been experiencing and was now watching was communion, not the Christian ceremony where bread and wine are consecrated and shared, but communion in which God shares himself with man.

It was to no mute stone Daniel’s fly had beckoned, “Rise!” The eldest cutthroat in the Yellowstone River took his fly, and after seeing its desperate protest, it was a joy to release him back to his tribe. What we experienced was, in its way, overlaid with gold and silver. Everything we beheld burst with breath, and for certain—the Lord was in His holy temple. And, with the exceptions of the Yellowstone’s murmurs (and our own gasps of delight), “the earth was silent before Him.”

With ospreys and eagles patrolling overhead, with buffalo and bears over the next hill, with geothermal power pulsating beneath us, and the Yellowstone River itself coursing with life, I saw a dance. Created things were being drawn together into the deeper rhythms of God. What I beheld was deep calling unto deep. Communion was the backstory to my joy.

Father, may we apply the lessons learned in the Yellowstone Sanctuary to the daily affairs of our own wild places. Even where we do not perfectly hear your symphony, or have not yet mastered our step, teach us to risk the dance into which you’ve invited us. Amen.

 

Quieting (Tuesday) – Mark 1:29-39

I would like to have heard Jesus preach. How do you think His message would be received today? He had no building, no public address system and I sure can’t picture him using notes. Stranger yet, his gospel did not directly contain himself as one who had been crucified or raised from the dead. What were listeners supposed to do with Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom which did not mention himself as one who must be invited into the heart?  What was the good news Jesus was preaching? At least we know what those privileged to hear Him thought.

They were amazed … for He was teaching them as one having authority. (Mark 1:22)

Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity, What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!  (Mark 1:27 MSG)

The saying and the doing were perfectly aligned in Christ’s life and he had the upper hand over demonic powers and illness. Had they enjoyed print media, the headlines of the Galilean Times would have read; “THE WORD HAS BECOME FLESH; Demons Silenced and Evicted in Jesus’ Presence”. The sense of amazement was not just a response to his excellent sermons; it was a response to the powerful manifestations of God’s life as it was being displayed before them.

We have great communicators and communication technology today that are assisting in the gains being made in preaching what we have come to understand as the gospel. I have wondered though; is the gospel as we understand it the same gospel Jesus preached? If the earth today were exposed to Jesus’ version of good news would we be as dependent on media? The results-oriented gospel that Jesus preached was doing pretty well without public relations. When Jesus ministered…

Immediately the news about Him went out everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee. (Mark 1:28)

Scripture tells us Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying,

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)

We may not know the exact content of all his messages but we do know, because of His deeds, the kingdom of God was at hand. It was accessible and in it, there was a now-authority over the powers of darkness. I believe this is an element of the good news we have somehow lost. Without the now-ness of the kingdom, we are left with only a then-ness. How much of the fruit of our indifference can be traced to this root? What a powerful demonic strategy; get the called-ones to adopt a thenis-the-day-of-salvation attitude.

I too have read the Bible with a that was then – this is now mindset. While I may confess with my lips a fuller, more powerful gospel, I often live complacently as if the kingdom will be then – at hand with a then – authority rather than living responsively toward the kingdom as a now – reality. So today, as I hear Jesus say, “Repent and believe in the good news“, I believe he is telling me to repent of my blasé attitudes about His now – kingdom and His now – authority and my fatalistic projections of where I perceive the trends of an evil society are taking us. Yes, the trends do seem obvious; hopelessness is in the air we breath but, scripturally speaking, where there is evil is not grace to abound all the more?

Did Jesus say it was better that the Holy Spirit come and indwell us just so he could collectively affirm (by the absence of power) a dispensation of Christianity focused on buildings, programs, or on our knowledge of the Bible, or limited to the refinement of our character? Is the Holy Spirit contentedly residing quietly inside us, as we halfheartedly (or whole-heartedly) embrace a Christianity that is lean (or completely barren) of kingdom authority and reality?

I can only explain the relative impotency of my Christianity (and that of my generation in the west) by considering that the demonic spirits have not yet been silenced nor have they been sent packing. They are still present. In the west they may not be flinging their writhing victims into fires but they have set our culture on fire by weaving their lies into our narrative, encouraging unbelief within and without the church. If we will look at our world through the lens of God’s kingdom, we will see there is much writhing within the collective soul of society. It will be a sad shock one day when we discover that in our accommodation to these lies we had effectively flung ourselves into the fire.

Father, may the renewing of our minds include an upgrade in our perception of Your kingdom government which we know will continue to increase until You place all your enemies beneath Your feet as a footstool. Please impart to us a righteous indignation where the kingdom of darkness is outshining the kingdom of light. Amen.

Quieting (Monday) – Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Daniel (my son) and I had just floated “The Box” of the Henry’s Fork River which the locals know as the North Fork (of the Snake River). This stretch of river is famous for the numbers of fish it holds. (Idaho Fish and Game estimate 3500 hundred per mile.) The six hour float we took through The Box, making hundreds of casts, tended to confirm this as well as the fact that some of these fish are ginormous!

How did this come to be? Where does such an abundance of life begin? At day’s end we decided to find out. We pulled out our map and began our search. What we discovered surprised us. This river did not begin as snow melt, cascading dramatically from thousands of feet above; it was coming from beneath our feet!

Our search led us, within a short drive, just a few miles upstream, to Big Spring. Here, without much fanfare, 150 million gallons a day of cold, crystal clear water bleed out from a fifty foot gash in the mountainside. From an overlook only a brief walk from our car we looked down to see Big Spring pumping its quiet torrent, first into an inviting pool of shear beauty then spilling out onto the descending rocky gradient which is the Henry’s Fork. It turns out this spring was the inconspicuous origin of the abundant life of which Daniel and I had just partaken.

In the ecosystem of this flowing water, plant life had taken hold and had become in itself a perfect habitat to the crustaceans, leaches and insects which in turn become the feast of the hungry and awaiting trout downstream. To me, the earth was declaring the glory of her maker and preaching an unforgettable sermon.

Then (an angel) showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1

If you read further in Revelation 22 you discover this river is also the origin of an ecosystem, one of eternal life that brings healing and abundance to all those downstream. Not only did the Henry’s Fork nourish the fish in the river and the birds that hunted it, it was also drawn upon to irrigate hundreds of thousands of acres of rich farmland. This brings us to the grand miracle which it seems few discover; this Spring is within us and would run through us, would we permit it.

Most of us know of the book by Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and the movie that made it famous. Maclean leaves his readers with a deeply personal word, a synthesis of a life’s observations; “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it…I am haunted by waters.” If the scriptures are true and the testimony of the saints who have tasted abundance is accurate, our story (that of the Church) should be titled; A River Runs Through Us, subtitled; We Are Inhabited By Waters.

As I read scripture it seems apparent that living water was meant to come from Christ who is the Big Spring deep within us. As we learn to live out of that stream, we become the stream bed where life may propagate. Surely it was God’s intention that our hearts be that place where abundance is cultivated and eventually spills out to those downstream from us. How does this come to be? Where does such an abundance of life begin? We must each decide to find out and trace it back to the source. Those who will take the time will discover it is but a short distance to the Spring and that it is less conspicuous in presentation than we have perhaps been inclined to think.

Our theme this week “Quieting” is surely a pathway to personally discovering our Big Spring.

Father, may your life find its way within us. May the river which comes from your throne birth in our hearts sufficient abundance to nourish us and those you have placed nearest to us. May this eternal system of life even spill out and bring healing to the nations. Amen.

Quieting (Sunday) – Isaiah 30:15-18

Quieting – Isaiah 30:15-18

The passage begins with God making a powerful declaration over His chosen people;

              In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.

But they rejected R&R and Q&T. Instead they elected flight and even though they used the swiftest horses the result was a chaotic affair where a paranoid mob of a thousand are being put to flight by the bluff of a single enemy. The outcome of Israel’s independence was being left alone and dangerously exposed.

We no longer ride horses into battle armed with swords and spears but the nature of warfare has not changed. When I hear God declare that our salvation will be worked out through repentance, rest, quietness and trust, I picture the intentional cultivation of a grace-saturated inner-life.

Do we really understand that our hearts are the battle field? Is it possible we too have turned down God’s terms of R&R and Q&T? We still have a diabolical enemy who would love to destroy us. As far as we know his chief weapon is deception. He is referred to as the prince of the power of the air. When I think of the war he is waging I picture this air where radio waves travel unseen through walls carrying their messages of advertising, news and entertainment. I see the prince of this age overseeing the bulk of these unseen transmissions crafted from carefully blended amounts of truth and lies. This content typically passes unchallenged through our hearts and minds. I picture a day though, when Satan’s lies have been filtered out. On that day I believe we will be astounded that this singular master lier has caused so much paranoia, and driven so many into chaos, bondage and misery. But our passage concludes with…..

Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.

To compose our hearts for a war with the father of all lies we must remind ourselves that light obliterates darkness. Ours is the Father of Lights and we are children of light. Our spirits were created for Truth and Light. The Blue Book is an excellent tool which has helped many in personally developing the best practices of watching over our hearts. The Blue Book has been a faithful servant to repentance,rest quietness and trust.

Father, may it not be said of us that we rejected your means of working out our salvation. May we establish our secret places of retreat and prayer. May we become adept in discerning spiritual reality, in distinguishing religion from relationship, in separating truth from error. Help us to cultivate longing where there is complacency. We long to see Your justice exercised against Your enemy and ours. Amen.

 

Quieting (Friday) – Lamentations 3:19-28

Lamentations 3:19-28

A child we knew described that time of day when the sun was setting as “darking”. Darking may be an apt description of what was going on in Jeremiah’s inner and outer worlds. Here is a sampler…..

He has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in the light…..In dark places He has made me to dwell, like those who have long been dead. He has filled me with bitterness. He has made me drunk with wormwood. My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, my strength has perished, and also so has my hope from the Lord.

Admittedly, calling and context are important. Jeremiah was the watchman on the wall observing the rise of Babylon and the fall of Israel. He knew Israel’s demise was due to her idolatrous and unrepentant heart. Her sin was so grievous, her heart so hardened, God had arranged Babylon as her punishment. Jeremiah had the additional burden of knowing that God himself was in the middle of it all. Perhaps our circumstances are not as severe but even so there are valuable things to learn from Jeremiah. This passage reveals some of them. One, is his response to suffering, especially of the God-prescribed variety. How Jeremiah handles his relationship with God is worthy of our attention.

He begins by remaining in communication with God and emotionally open to him. He intentionally names his sufferings and asks God to remember each of them. He tells God outright that he will be unable to ever forget. However, he also demonstrates that emotional responses to hardships do not have to be our determinents. In other words he was not a victim of circumstance, however nightmarish they were. Jeremiah demonstrates that emotional responses must be subservient to our powers of choice.

Regardless of how we feel, we must choose how we think and what we say. Even in the midst of punishment, Jeremiah demonstrates this as he deliberately recalls God’s loving providence as the greater context of his life. So, in the presence of dire circumstance he says, with great intentionality (and I believe we can say in worship), “I have hope that….

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.

I believe our love of black and white explanations generates many innacurate doctrines about God. Some cast Yahweh as the angry old testament sovereign with a hair trigger on judgement, ready to disperse suffering aplenty where it is warranted (which is mostly everywhere). Others are designed to get God off the hook for having any association, direct or indirect, with suffering. When the Bible has not gone to this trouble, why do we?  Could it be in our inability (or unwillingness?) to reconcile suffering with what we prefer the will of a good and sovereign God to be, that we fashion an image of Him more to our liking, then hire teachers who will represent this god to us – one bent on delivering us from all pain in this life?

The bottom line is that suffering is a mystery and a potential stumbling block unless we learn a crucial lesson from Jeremiah. From what I can read in scripture and from what I have experienced so far in life, I believe God is more often inclined to help us through suffering as opposed to delivering us from it. Yet, as God moves us through suffering we find we are brought to one primary question: Is it essential for to us to know why we suffer? Jeremiah may not answer our question directly but his commentary may keep our hearts attuned to God in the midst of the universal and unwanted mystery of suffering. Listen to his wisdom…..

For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men.

Jeremiah’s own heart is conflicted regarding the origins of suffering. In the first 18 verses of chapter 3 he clearly portrays God as the willing author of suffering. Then, In verses 31-33, not so much. So what is our application?

My takeaway is that God permits us, even encourages us, to vent our anguish directly to him. It is a big deal to sustain communication with God and remain emotionally honest with him. This is not an easy path but it leads us to that precious place where we are exhausted by, and have emptied ourselves of, our questions – a place where all that remains is our willingness (in our darking) to be quiet before Him.

At some point all the tears have been cried and there is simply nothing left to be prayed. It is here in the lull after our storm (which may last for days or for years) where we discover an ember is still burning which awaits the breath of God. In this place, many of our why’s remain unanswered but surprisingly, they are now less insistent. The heart which is left with nothing discovers it now has everything and can say with certainty….

                                                                 The Lord is my portion.

Father, nothing has been so vexing to my intellect as suffering. Even the modest amounts of it I have known have seemed like bitter wormwood to me and at times have caused me to stumble. Forgive me for viewing You or others as the authors of my pain. Teach my heart that in all circumstances, I live and move and have my being in you. You alone are my context and my sufficiency. Truly Lord, you are my all in all.

 

 

Quieting (Thursday) – Psalm 131:1-3

Quieting – Psalm 131:1-3

I do not involve myself in great matters or things too difficult for me.

This verse sparks vivid memories. It was one of three verses I had claimed for myself as a young believer. For the historical record, claiming verses was a very spiritual thing to do in the mid-seventies. At that time it was doubtful God was leading you if you were without life-verses.

Another of my verses was …

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. 1 Thessalonians 4:11

I believed these verses fit me perfectly in my mid twenties. However, through hindsight, I discovered there were mixed motives in my choices of life-verses. Yes, I passionately wanted to know and follow this Jesus who had radically altered my life but why had I latched onto simplicity and manual labor as conditions to this relationship?

The truth is at a younger age I had made some vows in order to avoid, at all costs, ever becoming involved in anything great or complex, more precisely, any greatness or complexity associated with my family’s businesses and their contetious relationships. I could not have articulated it as a child but now I know that those vows were made to insulate me from something I perceived would hurt me.

Neither did I know as a young believer that my life-verses were also servants of my agenda – to live a pain free life. While my Dad’s vocation as a contractor provided material security, for me it seemed to create relational insecurity. The business consumed my Dad’s time. During my junior and senior high years, my Dad would leave on Monday and return on Thursday or Friday. I did not fair well during those adolescent years. There is no need for details, suffice it to say, I was a troubled kid who was always in trouble. Sadly, I have no memory of a normal conversation with my Dad. I only recall words of correction and punishment, always delivered with frustration and disappointment.

As a very young boy I overheard violent exchanges between my dad and his brothers who were also his business partners. This undid me. I knew I could never involve myself in anything like that. I vowed that I would not. I watched a nasty ulcer which was likely enflamed by family stress significantly rob him of much sleep and quality of life. No, I could never, would never do the family business thing.

With my vows in the backdrop, exerting themselves subconsciously for the most part, I had followed a vocational path which had led me to the verge of fulfilling my life verses. I never had to leave my young family like Dad did because my place of work was in the town I lived in and ultimately in my home. My garage was a woodworking shop where I worked with my hands. My little cottage business was a sole proprietorship so I had no one to be at odds with (if we exclude God and my wife). In this cozy arrangement it seemed, at least to me, that God had set things up perfectly. Indeed He had, only not quite as I had expected.

One day I will record the details of the Monarch Millcraft / Heirloom FlagChest venture but today I will condense things to say that on the verge of succeeding in my ambition of a simple lifestyle, the rug was suddenly pulled from beneath me. The problem arose from my theological vantage point which placed God at the scene of this crime as either the agent of cause or, at the very least, a party of interest.

In the aftermath of this shaking, the violent oaths being exchanged were not between my Dad and his brothers, they were between God and I. The demise of Monarch Millcraft, which was not an isolated heartbreak, was the final straw between God and myself. Final straw sounds like tough talk but I really did not have any energy left to fight with. Nor did my theology provide a Plan B. In my heart I knew it was with Him whom I had to do. In simple terms, I concluded I was being intentionally and lovingly broken.

In my heart where peace might be ruling there was a war raging. My soul was not like a weaned child within me. Like Jacob, I was in a serious wrestling match with God. And although I was angry as a hornet with God the only resolve I had left was simply to not, if at all possible, allow this season of pain to pass without discovering just what it was God was up to in me. Although I hadn’t figured it out yet, I now understand that he was simply answering my most frequent prayer….

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

This prayer was the third of my three life verses. (1 for 3. That’s not too bad.)

I will forever by grateful to Paul Billheimer for writing Don’t Waste Your Sorrows and Destined For The Throne. In these books he assembles a redemptive framework for suffering. He explains how suffering plays into a believer’s destiny in a way that makes room for God’s sovereignty and our free-will. I believe my introductory course in “Mysteries” has equipped me to persevere at times when I might have chosen a more black or white cosmology, one that is either overly triumphant or fatalistic.

I have seen both in play in the church and even in my own life. The overly triumphant approach has the believer lying on the floor bleeding to death, singing, “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me!” and the fatalistic view say’s, “Well, I’m dying. God’s will be done!” Elaborate theologies have been systematized to give supposed hard biblical proof for both positions. I don’t see either of these positions well represented in the new testament. I believe both the fatalist and the triumphalist are on ground which is apt to be shaken.

Since the time of these events I think I have a better understanding of what God’s point was and is. He doesn’t like our heart-schemes which insulate us from pain because they cripple our capacity to love and be loved. Nor does he like our theological schemes which implicate him as either a Santa Clause or a Hard Task Master. He is our Father. He wants to be our provision. He does not want us leaning on anything which might insulate us from him. Suffering is the place where we discover he alone is our life.  For those who are serious about following Him, he is committed to demolishing every faulty foundation. He loves us too much to leave us in our unstable deceptions.

You may have guessed (or know), I did end up joining our family’s business. It has not been particularly simple and I have not worked with my hands much. However, in God’s infinite kindness (and sense of humor) He has permitted me to, more and more, make the same claim as David in Psalm 131, that my soul is at peace and is at rest in Him as a contented child in a mother’s arms. How amazing is God to permit me to adopt verses for the wrong reasons only to arrange for me to be the beneficiary of them in ways I could have never imagined nor managed!

For the record: In the years before my father passed, much healing took place in our relationship and through further divine agency, Jesus saw to it that my earthly father would come to know him. I am stunned at God’s patience and generosity toward my family and myself. Here is a humble and humorous man’s read on his life as he perceives it resting in God’s hands.

I’m easily fooled most of the time but nobody’s ever gonna dig too deep – We’re all in a hurry to somewhere else with distractions and too little sleep – Got a list of questions long as my arm and the only second chance I see, to live and die without permanent harm, is if God can outmaneuver me.   (Verse 2 from Faithful, a song by Bob Bennett)

I too am utterly dependent on God to outmaneuvering me.

Father, help us to see your redemptive intentions in our lives which are made possible only by your sovereignty and kindness. Help us to entrust ourselves to you when we are hurting. Help us to lean into You instead of hiding ourselves away in some theological or heart delusion. Give us faith and courage to move forward in whatever trial we are facing, realizing we are staring you in the face. Amen.