As He Receives

We are accustom to associating “Christ-likeness” with sacrifice. Christ is the Great Giver. The One who put the needs of many above His own. The One who laid down His life, so that we all might live.

We have a tendency to elevate people who demonstrate such sacrificial lives and so we bestow upon them the title “Christ-like”. I wonder, are we so generous in our elevation of  the self-sacrificing because we regard asking for a service as a lack of humility? Or receiving a gift as selfish? I confess, I find it quite difficult to relate to or even maintain authentic relationship with one who gives and refuses to receive.

As we strive to follow Christ, we must look at all of Christ. Consider this: God asks. God receives.

God, who offered the greatest sacrifice, or Jesus, who was the greatest sacrifice — however you want to look at it — does more than give and bless. He also asks. He asks for and wonderfully receives our love, our gifts, and our service. Our gifts are not a means of earning, but being. Love, gifts, and service are the sweet fruit generated from being in His presence. It is relationship! He desires for us to engage in a beautiful relationship of giving and receiving. This is relationship’s heart, after all. It is reciprocity; albeit, not equality. Our love, gifts, and service will never match that which God so generously pours upon us. However, He still requires the gift of our hearts. Christ-likeness is giving and receiving.

Christ surely welcomes our meager sacrifices/gifts as if they were great works of art. He does not turn them away. He received from humanity when He walked the earth (money, food, service, assistance to carry the cross, etc) and He receives from us in heaven. In fact, I would suggest that He is eager to receive from us! I’m hesitant to say that God demands our love as that sounds too autocratic. Yet, we were made to love Him. Perhaps it is better to say that He patiently waits for us to love Him/serve Him as freely as He loves us. Can you imagine how He must rejoice when we give to Him from a heart of love?? How He must look upon us and say, “My child, thank you.”

Embrace this perspective! When you worship, whether it be through the Word or in music or in any other discipline, God looks upon you and says, “Thank you for loving me. It is your greatest gift to Me. I receive it – no strings attached.” Sometimes, He may even ask, “will you receive My Love for you?

As we strive to emulate Christ, let us not deny others from loving us, especially the Living God. Let us, instead, follow in His example of giving and receiving. Your greatest gift to someone may not be what you do, but what you receive. When you look upon those gifts from the heart, rather than turn them away at pride’s request, simply say, “thank you. I receive it.” Give as He gives; receive as He receives.

Garden

But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. (Psalms 52:8 NASB)

Ancient_Olive_Tree_in_Pelion,_Greece

Photo by Dennis Koutou

Olive trees are impressively resilient. Their root systems are vast and robust having the ability to restore or regenerate the above-ground tree if ever destroyed or handicapped. Amazing! They are also long lived. Though I have not yet spent much time near olive trees, the pictures I have seen give me the impression of sturdiness, vitality, and even wisdom.

As I held this verse, this image of a green olive tree in the house of God, during my morning meditation, I heard the voice of God whisper “grow deeper.” Words cannot adequately describe God’s gentle voice. I dare not try knowing how short they will fall. There are those who exclaim, “impossible!” and others who cry, “delusion!” But to those who know the intimate touch of our Father, you know the peace and joy that comes from hearing His voice. From knowing that the Living God speaks directly and personally into our lives. From the infinite space of Heaven, to the finite vessels that we are. What awe comes with the knowledge that He is the treasure living within us and speaking through us to reveal the Kingdom of God to the world!

Grow deeper. With this life-giving word, I see myself as the olive tree in His house. My roots drive deep and wide through the dark and fertile soil that represents His presence or perhaps His Kingdom. He is my source of life providing all of my nutrients, everything I need. Hiding my roots safely within Himself, I grow upward as a monument of His grace for all to see.

Prayer: Rain down, Living Water. Nourish me. Replenish me. Because of You, I will stand when the storms and the wind of destruction come. If, perchance, I fall, my roots will remain. New growth will come.

As I worship and offer thanks to God who is within me and always surrounding me, I cling to this truth: I am not simply an olive tree in God’s garden; I am His garden. Daily He walks within me, pruning when necessary, pulling weeds, watering me with His Love, and celebrating and tasting my fruit. There is joy and pride in His eyes. I am drawn God-ward to His tender touch. There is no limit to the depth, width, or height of His love. Likewise, He places no limit on me. Only beckons me to grow ever deeper, ever wider, ever higher.

Experiment in Meditation

A few years ago, while serving with a missionary family in a Buddhist community, I received an in depth, crash course in the local Buddhist traditions and customs at a well-regarded monastery. It was there that I first encountered the discipline of meditation. Prior to this, I was loosely aware of meditation as a Christ-centered, spiritual discipline, but hadn’t yet fully embraced the depths of stillness. Though I learned to meditate from Buddhists, I assure you my heart and focus is fully committed to Christ. I can’t help but laugh! What lengths and distances God takes us to reveal Himself! Some of my greatest encounters with the Living God, indeed my first, were on the other side of the world, far from home and what is familiar.

In fact, from my first experience with Christ (a story for another day) I learned that God was in pursuit of me long before I began my journey in pursuit of Him. Over the years this truth has solidified within me and Philippians 3:12 has become my close friend.

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12 NASB)

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14 MSG)

What does this verse have to do with meditation? Mediation is a form of pursuit. I have recently re-engaged in an exhilarating experiment in meditation that I began several months ago. Exhilarating because any endeavor to pursue greater intimacy with God is exciting!!! Can meditation, quiet, and stillness be exciting? Isn’t meditation the antithesis of such energetic emotion? Perhaps I am abnormal. I hold such anticipation when I prepare to enter meditation, which is simply an exercise of stillness with God-ward focus, because I expect the Presence of God. It is a holy exercise whereby I not only set aside time and space for God’s majesty, but I set aside myself. I quiet the world so that I can hear the voice of God. This is my purpose. This is my pursuit. It is a sacrifice that I believe is well honored and my experience confirms it. After all, what is meditation except entrance into what Jesus calls the inner room?

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6 NASB)

Call it whatever you like, but give it a shot. Find a place of stillness both physically and mentally. I sit in the 7-point meditation posture that I learned from the Buddhists. It keeps me alert and allows me to focus my breath. Start with a 5-minute exercise where you quiet your mind and body and focus all of your being on God. When I first started, I would recite scripture to help me focus upward. Don’t be dismayed if you find it difficult to focus on God the entire 5 minutes. It takes practice! Our minds are excellent wanderers! Do what you can and wait for God’s response!

Cadence

Hear the drum.
Beat, beat, beat.
I raise my head in search of its origin.
Beat, beat, beat.
Steady.

The ever present tempo wraps me in comfort,
But there is something more.
There is a gentle drawing,
A building desire to seek out the familiar cadence.
Beat, beat, beat.

The journey begins.
A pursuit for the call.
Louder, louder, louder.
My spirit yields to the rhythm.
My feet begin to step in time.

Beat, beat, beat.
I join a multitude marching onward,
Marching in unison.
Beat, beat, beat.
Purpose. Direction.

No more distractions.
Only the alluring sound.
Louder, louder, louder.
Wooing me
Deeper, deeper, deeper.

From where does it come?
First distant, then near.
Now, it resonates through my being.
It is within me!
Beat, beat, beat.

I am in time, in rhythm.
Every step planted firmly,
In confidence.
I march on in harmony
To the heartbeat of God.

Practicing Stillness

Have you ever practiced stillness? Those moments when you calm your body from movement and activity. You release your mind from all thoughts except for the most worthy, which is The Living God. Here you dwell focussing all energy and effort. Time fades away and the beauty of rest begins. The door to intimacy with God opens. Dare we step into the supernatural!

There is power in the Word of God. Some verses hold more than others depending on where we are in the journey. For me, as I continue a practice of stillness, Isaiah 30:15 has captured me most magnificently. “In repentance and rest you will be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.” Straight from the mouth of God. Beautiful! I write these words on my heart.

As I learn to practice stillness, quietness, silence, my purpose is one-fold. Intimacy. This is my pursuit. As David sings,

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord
And to meditate in His temple.

This is also my song.

On a more practical note, when I am a mature “still-lite” for Christ (I say that mostly in jest!), I do not think posture and such will be as important. By then, it will be part of my lifestyle, my being, if you will. For now, however, in the beginning, posture and location are important for me. They are boundaries that allow me to soar high. I find stillness hard to attain when sitting on my couch, for example. I prefer a floor cushion. I find even less success when reclining! It is far better when my posture is upright and my hands rest gently on my knees or in my lap. With this posture, I am less distracted in my endeavor. Does this sound like a Buddhist monk or Hindu yogi? Perhaps. I smile at the thought. Thankfully, God sees beyond the physical and into the depths of the heart. Here we dance and romance.

This is my journey, my pursuit: to “lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I pursue the One who first pursued me. Whatever it takes. Wherever He leads. I am in pursuit.

The Justice of God

Who can comprehend the justice of God?
Mere flesh, finite, fallen?
No, not I.
I cannot fathom it.

For the justice of God is Holy.
True. Right.
Beyond this world.
Beyond our understanding.

Did He not say,
He longs to be gracious,
And waits on high to have compassion
For the Lord is a God of justice?

Justice for who? I sometimes ask.
How short humanity falls,
Demanding what we refuse to give.
Meting out judgment without fear of the Lord.

I do not understand the justice of God.
The pain and hurt of a broken world confuse me.
Though I confess, the lens of my humanity is limited.
Great Judge, when will Your justice be upheld?

You hear our cries from Your Holy Temple.
Our tears you hold in Your Hand.
O Lord, how I have cried.
Illumine my darkness!

Arise, O God of Compassion.
Do not forget the afflicted, the oppressed,
The widow and the orphan.
The broken and the bruised.

One thing is certain, my King.
You are righteous.
You see all. Nothing is hidden.
Everything is laid bare before you.

Alas, my soul looks up to hope.
For a second thing is certain.
One day, we all will know and face what we cannot own.
The Justice of God.

I Am. . .

I am a sinner. What feels like multiple lifetimes filled with sin is, in actuality, only one life in a fallen world. A fallen world of which I am no longer a member. I have a trusted membership in God’s Kingdom. It is here that I belong.

Sometimes…
I make mistakes. God kisses my tears away.
I fall. God lifts me up.
I rebel. God is my gentle discipline.
I am blind. God is my Light.
I am bound. God sets me free!!

No matter the past, I am still blessed.
I am still chosen.
I am still adopted.
I am still accepted.
I am still forgiven.
I am still redeemed.

Healing Salve

Anger, O anger, why so near?
You boil to my surface.
Hot.
Threatening to spill over.

I do not call out to God, my Peace.
I call to my fury.
I feed the beast that hides my pain.
Patient God, how much longer will you wait?

I do not call out to God, my Healer.
I am blinded by the steam.
Drawn in. On the edge.
Will I fall in?

I hear a quiet voice alongside me.
My faithful God,
Blowing gently on my hurt,
Binding my wounds.

I reach for the familiarity of the burn.
He whispers again, “Let it go.”
The soul-binding blanket of anger slips away.
My sight restored.

There I am, on the pinnacle of God’s grace,
His breath on my face.
I draw deeper into His Presence.
Stillness, at last.

________________________________________________

This is my attempt to capture a sweet vision of God’s healing salve. We wrestled last night over my anger. O, to be human and in pursuit!! I am thankful He is so much stronger than I! In my mind’s eye, God lifted me from the heat of anger that had captured me and set me gently on a peak. There, the anger fell away – fell into oblivion. Only He remained. It was just the 2 of us. Freedom.

Lady Grace

Behold, who is that fair lady across the way?

What perfection have my eyes set upon!

Her form, the essence of elegance; her face, more beautiful than the brightest star.

So white. So pure. So lovely.

If only she would glance in my direction.

 

I wonder how she smells; how she might feel.

What I would give to be near her!

To taste the peace of her presence.

To know the safety and warmth of her bosom.

Oh, that she would bless me with her smile.

 

Like a swan she glides amidst the crowds.

See how she captures their attention; her very being scintillating.

How high this magnificent woman! From heaven she has surely fallen!

Here she does not belong. Sadness seeps into my spirit.

How dare I hope for her.

 

What could bring Exquisiteness to this vile place?

Surrounded by muck and grime, hawkers and the impoverished.

Yet, how white her dress remains as the dust swirls about.

What must she think as she beholds the unlovely around her?

May she never look upon me.

 

Yet, what do I observe! This cannot be!

She stoops to embrace those reaching for her.

Into their eyes she looks. No filth does she see.

With tender purpose, she offers herself to each one.

Her soft lips caress their bowed heads.

 

What is this?

What transformation is taking place before my eyes?

What power has this gentle woman?

How can she change what is unclean to clean?

Can this be? Is she looking at me?

 

She glides straight toward me.

I look around. Where can I go? Where can I hide?

Shame overtakes me and I kneel to hide my face.

Fear and trembling as she approaches.

“Forgive me, for I am unpresentable before you.”

 

Her fine fingers lift my chin and I see her face-to-face.

Those penetrating and beautiful eyes dissolve all fear and insecurity.

“I see you.”

What music her words! The song of freedom.

Comfort and hope envelop my fragile form.

 

She draws me to my feet and intimately close.

I feel the warmth of her breath; her lips upon my face.

All weight dispelled, I collapse into her embrace.

Rest.

I am washed.

 

“Fair Lady, Fair Lady, do not leave me,” I cry.

She softly whispers, “I am always available. Call upon me as you need.”

As she begins to move, I cry out again. “Fair Lady, Fair Lady, what be your name?”

She turns to me with a generous smile and mellifluously replies, “Grace.”

I fall to my knees in reverent joy for I have seen and now know the beauty of Lady Grace.

The Way

In dreaming of the future and seeking God for the next steps, I was recently reminded of a powerful past experience. Funny how that happens! Dreaming of the future sometimes reminds us of the past. Yet, when I consider how many times the word “remember” is used in Scripture, it doesn’t seem funny at all. Rather, it becomes another demonstration of God’s Love and touch upon my life.

Several years ago on a remote trek in Nepal, I discovered “the Way”. Before I go any further, let me first say that Nepal is a magnificent discovery in and of itself. This small but incredible country is packed with the most beautiful scenes on the planet, not to mention 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains!! I have visited several times and even lived for a short period. As I reminisce even now, I long for its hospitality, rich culture, and beautiful people. All that lacks is the name of Jesus. But He is coming! Soon, He will be declared on every mountaintop and in every valley!

Way to Larke PassSecond, let me set the stage of this trek for you. We were a day away from ascending over Larke Pass, roughly 17,000 feet. The land at this altitude was barren, to say the least. There were no settlements, no people, and little wildlife. The only sounds were the whipping of the wind and the occasional kick of a rock. It was like a vast, empty desert with no end or destination in sight. In fact, when I looked out, I could not detect a trail or path. I was quite vulnerable traveling alone. I had no idea where I was. No cell phone. No food. I didn’t speak the language. I was completely dependent upon my guide and the Living God. I had been praying for God’s strength to endure and seeking some sign that I was OK and headed in the right direction. My only choice was to follow. I didn’t know the way.

Spiritually, this may sound familiar. Many of us can relate to those seasons where there is little or no fruit. We may feel alone and stripped and the only sounds we hear are our own pleas as we fumble upon a path that seems hidden and obscure. We question our direction and next step. Similarly, our best choice is to follow our Guide.

Despite the landscape’s lack of life, its beauty was overwhelming. Still, I spent most of the journey with my head down, reciting memorized scripture like cadence to keep my feet in time. Each step was intentional, but I took plenty of rest breaks to look around and praise God for the glory of Creation. Every couple of hundred meters or so, I would pass a tall metal stake. At first, I thought they were random. Finally, I asked my guide what they were. I was surprised by the profound response his answer elicited from my spirit. He simply replied, “the way.” My spirit quickened. Under my breath, I finished his statement with “the Truth, and the Life.” It amazes me still that a simple word from the Lord has the power to sustain and even revive us! Seemingly all alone and lost in this foreign land, God faithfully remained with me as He does even now. My Provider. My Protector. My Way.

For the remainder of that amazing trek, each metal stake I passed was a marker of victory! I was following. God was leading. When we crossed Larke Pass and descended to our campsite, I collapsed in joy. . .maybe just fatigue. I made it! It was a night of celebration. But the trek wasn’t over. We woke the next morning and kept walking following the way.

Today, as I dream and look out at the path ahead of me, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness. I take a breath. I am in foreign territory; the path seems difficult and obscure. I cling to the Word to keep in time with God’s rhythm. Each step is intentional. I don’t know the way, but I’m on the trek and I’m looking for the next metal stake. I continue to walk and follow knowing God is my Way, my Truth and my Life. When I make it out of this valley and over the pass, much celebration will ensue!! But in the morning when I wake, I know I will continue walking.

“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)