Monthly Archives: April 2014

On risking earthly things

It sounds so simple, this business of trusting God.

But even when I’m wracked with uncertainty and brutally aware of my own need for God, I often fail to understand how exactly we go about being faithful.  Even as I strive to know and trust God with my present and my future, I discover that once again I’m going about it all wrong.

Chesapeake Bay.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’ve placed my trust in earthly things instead of in who God is, has been, and always will be.

When we’re reticent to truly trust God, our vision is limited.  We place our trust in human endeavors–promotions, houses, even people–but earthly securities are but illusions.  They crumble, they fall, they fail us.  At those moments of despair we often cry out to God, feeling betrayed.

But it is God whom we have betrayed.  

We’ve put our trust, our devotion, and our service in the things of this world instead of our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.  And when God doesn’t have our whole trust and our whole lives, God can’t grant us the vision and possibilities and promises that lie beyond our own limited perspective and imagination.

I heard a great sermon yesterday challenging us to faithfully cast out our nets as the disciples do in the last chapter of John and trust Jesus to fill them with provision that defies common sense.

The Yong River.  Nanning, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The Yong River. Nanning, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

But we’re so stubborn.

We human beings cling to our common sense like it’s all there is, like we’d rather settle for our own plans and dreams and ideas rather than God’s expansive vision.  Have the Biblical stories taught us nothing?  Has the promise of Easter fallen on deaf ears?  Do we truly believe Christ has been raised from the dead, and with him, we, too have been given eternal life?

I’m realizing that living as Easter people means risking the earthly things for the eternal ones, and relying on God to provide possibilities that we cannot fathom or imagine, but that we earnestly trust come from the hand of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer who never fails us.  For me, this requires daily commitment.  It requires me to continually let go of my plans, however seemingly perfect, and find rest and peace in who God is.  My restlessness, in fact, is a good sign to me usually that I’m relying on my own vision rather than seeking God’s.  

So may you find rest in who God is, has been, and always will be this morning.  May you seek eternal rather than earthly things, and may you be raised alongside Christ to taste and see the possibilities that only God has in store for you and your life.  Amen.

Scripture: Colossians 3; John 21

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Weekend Links

It’s been a fabulous weekend celebrating my husband’s 35th birthday and enjoying the company of lots of friends and the lovely spring weather in NJ.  In addition to a photo from one of those lovely walks with the babe, here are some great stories and posts around the internet for your enjoyment this weekend:

“The Five Lessons of Good Friday,” a great article to ponder during Eastertide: I love the nuanced points about suffering and the proclamation that suffering does not have the last word!  For my own reflections on how to live in light of Easter, see last year’s post, “Holy everything.”

On the subject of men, women, and the workplace, “The Confidence Gap,” was a lengthy, but good read about what may be holding women back.

“Saving Minds Along with Souls,” the latest installment from Anthropologist of Religion, Tanya Luhrmann, provides a great challenge to the church to love, include, and care for the mentally ill.  For other posts on Luhrmann’s work, see  “What it means to be a child of God” and “God behind the scenes.”

“China On Track to Become the World’s Largest Christian Country by 2025, Experts Say,” …and in my non-expert opinion, it may be even sooner.  For more posts on Christianity in China on this blog, see “Chinese churches” and “Church Renewal from Below.”

FInally, another gem to ponder this week from Zen Habits, “The Reality of This Moment.”

What if we lived in this moment rather than the fantasy of our worries and fears about the future? 

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Have a wonderful weekend! 

On unconditional love

Since Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about unconditional love.  

Do you have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, for whom you could do no wrong, or even if you did, every wrong would be and is forgivable?  Do you have someone who knows all your faults and flaws and seems to love you the more for them?  Do you know someone whose love for you is constant, not based on what you do or what you achieve, but comes from a seemingly endless and otherworldly source?

If so, how do you respond to such love?

As I continued to ponder unconditional love, it occurred to me that there seems to be but one human response to it, which is fear.  When you discover that someone loves you unconditionally, you also discover that such love cannot be earned, achieved, or repaid, and it’s a scary feeling to find  yourself forever indebted to another.  That fear can turn toward denial and betrayal as we try to run as far away from such love as we can, in order that we can establish our own independence and find a life free from obligation or humility.

It’s what happened to Judas, Pilate, even to Peter.

Spring on the Princeton University campus.
Spring on the Princeton University campus.

But if we recognize our own humanity, our own futility, and instead of running, revel in the awe and wonder that such love exists, and turn to acceptance as opposed to denial, the only response to such love is praise.

We are not like the women at the tomb that morning who did not know that he had arisen and yet, faithfully returned.  We are children of the promise, filled with the knowledge that his command to love one another at that fateful last supper would be fulfilled by his ultimate act of unconditional love on the cross.  

We love because He first loved us.  May we spend our lives pondering not only that love, but how to serve Him with a life full of praise.

Grace for eternity

Spring on the university campus.  Iphone photo by the husband.
Signs of spring on the university campus. Iphone photo by the husband.

There is a mantra among new parents, oft repeated and spoken with a mix of exhaustion and hope, that “everything is temporary.”  

That is, the sleepless nights, the afternoons filled with crying, the growth spurts, they’re all necessary phases, but blips on the map of childhood so quickly turning to youth and adulthood, and life.  Young parents remark that if you can keep this perspective that everything is temporary, you can endure anything…temporarily.

I do find this advice helpful and comforting, not only for parenting, but for other aspects of life.  And I find it similar and perhaps more poignant alongside the wisdom that we are to abide in God as God abides in us.

Abiding has always been instructive to me, because it reminds me not to project outward from my fears, but to trust that there is more than this moment.  Rather than the existential promise of all of life being temporary, abiding reminds me of the importance of choosing and praying for faithactive, strident faith–that humbly believes and resolute, unswerving hope to accompany it.

It is only through abiding with God, gladly placing some of my fear and worry at his feet, and coming plainly to him with my raw hunger and thirst, that I am reminded that God abides with me not temporarily, but for eternity, ordering all moments around a life-giving sacrifice that brings eternal grace and peace.

This is what I choose and try to fixate on when life seems mundane and contrived, that what is extraordinary about the ordinary is God’s grace that makes each morning fresh and new, grace for more than this moment–for eternity.

 

An invitation to listen

As many of you who have been reading my blog during Lent have apprehended, I’ve been pretty transfixed by the simple instructions on spirituality in Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  But the other day as I read through the final chapters of the book as I nursed my baby before sunrise, I realized that in the busy-ness of my mind and the eagerness of my heart, and despite the silence, I’d forgotten about listening.

I’d forgotten that what sent me on this deep spiritual quest during Lent was the increase in silence in my life since the birth of this baby, and the subsequent invitation to let God fill those silences.  Since that realization, I’d picked up Foster’s book in an effort to be more intentional about my spirituality, and therefore, I’d been the one filling the silence with all sorts of things, from counting precious hours of sleep to pondering the tasks for the day ahead, and even my devotional study.

This is not another mommy guilt blog about how I should have been treasuring the moments with my infant suckling at my breast, but rather a mere realization that I hadn’t been faithful enough in those moments to allow God’s voice to be louder than my own.  In a previous post, I shared Foster’s words about how our fears about entering into the silence often reflect a distrust of God, and for me it’s no different.  I recently read this post from the author of the blog, Becoming Minimalist, in which he ponders our collective societal aversion to silence.  Joshua Becker writes, “While anyone can experience silence at any time by finding a quiet place to sit for an extended period of time, I have found solitude does not occur naturally in our noise-centered world. It must be intentionally pursued by each of us.”

In my own post on “The God of Silence,” I talk about the value for me in practicing centering prayer and reframing the experience of silence not as one of absence but of presence.

But I still struggle.

I still doubt over and over whether God will truly meet me in the silence.  

But what if God was already there?  What if the essence of God was that God goes before us, is ever-present, always waiting on us when we call?

My sister's photo of the first flower of 2014 in her neck of the woods.
My sister’s photo of the first flower of 2014 in her neck of the woods.

Perhaps that was why some of the words from the liturgy this weekend at church seemed to jump off the page.  We prayed together, confessing, “Fear and worry hold us back.  We confess that we try our very best, carrying the weight ourselves.  We gladly hand some of our worry and fear to you today.”

What a simple action, I thought, handing our worry and fear over to God, and yet we cling to these things as if we love them more than peace, hope, and love.

And as we took communion, we spoke, “When we come to this table together, we trust God will satisfy our hunger and our thirst.  Jesus shared this meal with a hungry crowd long ago and he shares it with us today.  Let us bring our hunger and our thirst to the table of the one who called himself the Living Bread.”

Fear and worry, hunger and thirst, these are the little that Jesus asks of us, and yet we cling to our noisy lives with such cowardice.  I don’t know about you, but the thought that our mighty God wants our heartache, and that God is so pure and humble and innocent and present, moves me.  The least I could do is listen, right?

And so I’m returning to that simple message on this foggy Tuesday morning.  I’m returning to the silence with my ears attuned to the presence of God.  I’m bringing my fear and my worry, my hunger and my thirst, and I’m trusting that God is already there, listening, as I listen for him.

 

Where is the joy?

I’m nearing the end of my Lenten devotional, Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, so besides needing another short book to fill the rest of April (any suggestions, guys?), I’m also finally starting to discover the meaning behind the curious title.

As Foster writes, “Joy is the end result of the Spiritual Disciplines’ functioning in our lives.  God brings about the transformation of our lives through the Disciplines, and we will not know genuine joy until there is transforming work within us…Celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed” (Foster 193).

Plymouth, MA.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Plymouth, MA. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Foster describes how we can’t take a shortcut to experiencing and exhibiting joy, but we can certainly experience joy through seeking God in prayer, confession, service, and worship, and it is God who is the source of this great gift.

That last line, “celebration comes when the common ventures of life are redeemed,” reminds me of a reflection I read this morning from Micha Boyett where she discusses the ordinary tasks of readying her two boys for school alongside the rather extraordinary miracle that Jesus does by turning water into wine.  Boyett’s pastor described the miracle as Jesus “replacing the joy,” and then points to our own lives, saying, “Look where you’re frantic and that’s probably the place where you’re trying to find joy.”

But the challenge is that finding joy, requires little of us and so much of Jesus, that we often spend the better part of our days scouring and scrubbing only to miss the promise of the dirt, the simplicity, the ordinary holiness of our bent up, misshapen lives.

Foster goes onto discuss a spirit of carefree celebration where we rely completely on God, and experience radical joy through our trust in God’s greatness rather than ourselves.  I look at the last few weeks and this controversy over World Vision’s decision and retraction for hiring gay staff in committed relationships, and I wonder, where is the joy?  I look around me at churches working arduously and desperately to spawn last ditch ministries to save themselves, and I wonder, where is the joy?  I look at each of us going about our busy lives, failing to truly see those in front of us, to listen, to love, and to rely on God and one another, and I don’t see strength or independence or carefree celebration, but fear and greed and angst.

I certainly don’t see joy.

The Sonoran Desert.  Tucson, Arizona.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The Sonoran Desert. Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Evan Schneider.

The Church in America is in need of God’s joyful transformation.  We need less of us and more of God, less of our will and more of God’s grace and love and mercy.  And it’s only by way of the cross, that we are found by grace, and the we experience such true, unadulterated joy.

We don’t often think of Lent and the journey to the cross as a journey toward joy.  We often place the story of Jesus turning water into wine and Jesus’ death on the cross in two completely different literary categories, but what if we are called to live out the whole of our faith as ordinary, yet joyful people?  What if the transformation God enacts on the cross and in each one of us amounts to replacing the joy of humanity, and we’ve been missing something as we try so hard to just “get things right?”

We need look no further than our ordinary lives to answer the question, “where is the joy?”, and yet we struggle against what God has done for us.  We need look no further than the cup of wine to remind us of both Jesus’ holy sacrifice and great joyous celebration.  Let us accept the joyous transformation that Jesus brings to our lives, and let us live with great reliance on God, great grace for one another, and above all, great joy.

A photo so full of joy.  Bridal party at my friend's wedding on Chesapeake Bay.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
A photo so full of joy. Bridal party at my friend’s wedding on Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Amen.