Friday, March 30, 2012

Lenten Reflection: Mother Theresa on Praying for the World

In various writings and speeches, Mother Theresa revealed that she thought of herself as both a “saint of darkness” and “a pencil in the hand of God.” As she put it simply, “I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor. It was an order.”

Here she frames her compassion into a prayer for the poor and neglected—a prayer that comes from her entering into suffering.
Make us worthy, Lord,
to serve those people throughout the world
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread,
and by our understanding love,
give them peace and joy.
 Let this be our prayer, Lord. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lenten Reflection: C. S. Lewis on Our Hope for Heaven

“I go to prepare a place for you…” John 14:3 

C. S. Lewis in this passage describes “heaven,” or our life in the age to come. (Our future is really a “new heaven and a new earth,” but I hate to quibble with St. Clive.) He reflects on the way heaven will be a fulfillment of each person’s life in this striking passage:
The mold in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. 
Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.
Consider the state of your soul. Where are you longing? Missing something? Seeking a deeper experience. Ask God to bring a little of heaven into your day.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Apostle Paul on Love

This week we move into the theme of love, and the way that suffering develops our compassion and humility, Paul’s reflections on love develop some critical themes. The first comes from Romans:
12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:12-21
The second is a stunning, treasured passage from 1 Corinthians 13:
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Gracious God, even though we may find ourselves surrounded by hurt, let us learn to respond with love.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

John Donne on Hope in Light of Death

When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57

John Donne, the brilliant seventeenth century poet lived in an age of brilliance. Donne knew death and its woes through the plagues of his day. He penned a poem that has been rightly treasured. It usually goes by the first line, “Death Be Not Proud” (although it’s also called “Holy Sonnet 10”). Poetry requires time—so read this slowly and meditate on the victory of Jesus Christ in a world of death.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
 Lord, we praise You. You have defeated death itself and opened the way to eternal life.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Apostle Paul on Hope

In this passage, the Apostle Paul set our suffering in light of hope. I'm just going to let this incredible passage speak for itself:

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:18-28

Can you name a weakness that is inexpressible where you need to ask God’s Spirit to graciously intercede? Take a moment to do just that. Rest in God’s provision. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

When Life Says No

Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked? Ecclesiastes 7:14 
(In the Lenten devotional I put together--look to the right of this post for a link--I snipped out a piece from my book Say Yes to No. Below is the entire except. Let me know how you respond when Life says No.)

What happens when you say Yes to pursuing a dream, but life says No, right back in your face? Maybe it’s important to remind ourselves that we don’t control all the dials. Often the circumstances of life take over, and so we have to admit we no longer maintain control of our lives’ directions and the means of reaching our goals. Still what we can direct is not those circumstances, but our response. More importantly, I’ve found that these Nos can present an exciting option: Are you ready for something you hadn’t planned?

I begin with an inspiring example of using life’s No to bring about a new, totally serendipitous direction.

It’s 1990. Joanne, age twenty-five, is commuting by train between Manchester and London, England. She’s held various secretarial positions for the past six years, but secretly dreams of working as a novelist. Constantly imagining these stories does not help her job performance. In fact, in her own words, she’s one of the most pathetic secretaries imaginable. Later she offered reasons why:
Whatever job I had, I was always writing like crazy. All I ever liked about offices was being able to type up stories on the computer when no one was looking. I was never paying much attention in meetings because I was usually scribbling bits of my latest stories in the margins of the pad or thinking up names for my characters. This is a problem when you’re supposed to be taking the minutes of a meeting.
During today’s long railway commute, characteristically she’s reading, and encounters her first problem: The train experiences a mechanical failure, and Joanne hears the announcement that it’ll require four hours to fix. Problem B: Today she doesn’t feel like reading. What should she do? She looks through the window and begins to focus on some cows grazing in a meadow in front of her. During those hours, the want-to-be author begins to imagine a whole new universe. Those bovine companions are the catalyst.
I was sitting on the train, just staring out the window at some cows. It was not the most inspiring subject. When all of a sudden the idea for Harry just appeared in my mind’s eye. I can’t you why or what triggered it. But I saw the idea of Harry and the wizard school very plainly. I suddenly had this basic idea of a boy who didn’t know what he was.
At that moment, Joanne wants a pen and paper to sketch out some notes. Problem C: she has neither. Right then she could have stopped and spent the afternoon in aggravation (which is what I would have done). Instead she finds the best solution. Using her only available tool, imagination, she sketches out the characters and plot of her novel in her mind. And, by the time the train stopped at Knight’s Cross Station in London, she’s conceived the basic premise for Harry Potter’s “Philosopher Stone.” By the way, it didn’t resemble the final product (or its actual title), but so what? She was on her way.

Nevertheless, Joanne’s dream took several more years to realize. Her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, appeared in 1998. Joanne, aka J.K. Rowling, subsequently won the Hugo Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the Whitbread Award for Best Children's Book, a special commendation for the Anne Spencer Lindbergh Prize, and a special certificate for being a three-year winner of the Smarties Prize. (I’m not even sure what that is). The Harry Potter series has sold over 100 million copies and have been translated into over fifty languages. Wow. All from four extra hours on a stinky train and a few stupid cows in a field.

This story leads to a what if. What if J.K. Rowling had decided that her life’s No was the word of defeat. What if she heard those cows murmuring, “Forget about your fantasy. Forget about writing. Just sit in this train and wait… frustrated.” (Actually, if she heard the cows speaking, that would have been a different kind of problem.) Nevertheless, what if her life’s No had presented an unanswerable dead-end?

Or to phrase this concern differently: “Great, Greg, you’ve told me all about No and how it leads to a truly successful life, one filled with integrity, with health. It sounds to me like blah, blah, blah. You’ve got to realize that it’s not always possible to say No to the demands of life. Sometimes life says No to you.”

I know. In my life, I slowly realized that I couldn’t triumph over the simple, daily demands of caring for small children in No-resistant New York City with a pressure-cooked job. Sometimes life engulfs your Nos. For you it may be illness, someone else’s decision (as in unrequited love), physical limitations, and other commitments, to name a few. But my discovery is life’s Nos led me to reflect on this topic and change my life. Thus I wrote this book, which I hope will help others in realizing the kind of life they truly desire.

Thinking about Nos that way does in fact change these mere problems into something more. I’ve gradually realized that just beyond life’s Nos, there often lies some new path. Now don’t get me wrong. I hate when life says No. I’ve read my self-help books. I’ve learned to “seek my dreams” and “never give up.” I’ve learned to have faith that life Nos are often better than what I would choose. Nevertheless, there’s nothing I can do about the roadblocks in these situations, and so I’ve learned to take these experiences as a call to stop and reorient.

So life has limitations, but even within those bounds, we can still experience dreams and the freedom to experience the fullness of life. Consider the sonnet. It’s a poem with one of two rhyming structures and only fourteen lines. No more, no less. Yet, as the masterful 18th century English poet, William Wordsworth once presented, the sonnet possesses unusual potential that he named “the paradoxically liberating power of restriction.” Wordsworth argued that, within those precious lines, we are offered an amazing power of freedom—freedom to tackle issues of life and death, of love and loss. Within those few lines, poets grapple with all the major issues of life. Those constraints provide channels for creativity and freedom to flow. And sometimes life is a sonnet. If offers far fewer hours, skills, and dollars than we had expected. But within those precious few resources, we can still grasp what’s truly important.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Faith and Hope: A Lenten Reflection

The Book of Hebrews ties faith and hope closely together. When we hurt, we want it solved now. “How long, O Lord?” But faith is trust—trust in the God who holds and knows the future. 
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain's. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and "he was not found, because God had taken him." For it was attested before he was taken away that "he had pleased God." 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:1-6
This confidence--this "putting our trust in the faithfulness of God"-- leads us to hope. In Romans, Paul also addresses this connection between faith and hope... and the Holy Spirit.
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5

Father, help my unbelief and move me to trust you as the God of the future, just as you have been the God of my past and my present.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

God’s Megaphone

How does God use suffering to increase our faith? Let's start with what faith is: True faith implies full surrender to God. Sometimes, sad to say, the only way to get us there is through suffering.

This is a tough truth, but C. S. Lewis, at least, was willing to say that we are often asleep, or at least, deadened to God’s voice. We can become complacent. So God uses pain in our lives to rouse us.
The human spirit will not even try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it…. We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone who as watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did no know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasures. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
 Is God trying to get your attention through pain?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A Short Meditation for the Second Sunday in Lent

At the heart of staying in there in times of suffering, we need to hold to faith, and as Paul says our faith is always dependent on the faithfulness of God. The book of Romans tells us what is at the center of our faith:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith."
Romans 1:16-17
Lord, when we hit times of suffering, give us strength to hold to your faithfulness.