Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shut Up and Listen

Dear Friends,

A couple of Sundays ago, during my morning prayer time, God told me to “shut up.” Of course He said it nicer than that. I’d been praying and thinking about a couple that we’ll call Denise and Bob. You don’t know them but I have a suspicion that you may know a “Denise” – most of have at some point in our lives. Denise is a dear lady but talks non-stop and dominates and controls every conversation. If you were ever so bold as to try and interject a comment to join the conversation, she will simply raise her voice over your unauthorized attempt to interrupt her monologue.

We had joined them for dinner one night and the two main topics on her agenda were her recent trip to Germany and her attempts to learn the German language. No detail, no matter how insignificant, was deemed too trivial for our entertainment. She has the amazing gift of being able to actually talk while eating and when I say she talks non-stop, I mean that literally. At one point, she had finished talking about her vacation and asked me a question about the church. But before I could reply, she immediately switched her gaze back to Rhianna to clearly signal to me that she was not interested in my response. I had the audacity to answer anyway and gave her a ten second sound bite which judging by the expression on her face was twice as long as was warranted. She didn’t acknowledge that I had spoken but immediately switched the conversation to the remodel of their Big Bear cabin. I glanced at Bob as he thoughtfully chewed his burrito. He had mentally checked out more than an hour ago and seemed to be happy and content in his non-speaking, support role of husband to his celebrity wife. Dinner was over but we were now hearing about her adventure at the paint store while selecting colors for the new cabinets and Denise didn’t seem to be in any danger of losing her momentum. I signaled to the waiter for more chips...

Back to Sunday morning when I’d prayed for her salvation but now my thoughts about her were becoming more critical than kind. I was feeling a sadness for Bob and thinking that because her only area of interest is her, just how dysfunctional and one-sided any relationship with her would be. I’m thinking the biggest bore has to be the thoughtless, selfish person who can talk at you for an hour and a half non-stop without a shred of interest in what you have to say... 

And at that exact moment the quiet still voice of God interrupted and said: “That’s how you pray to me.” And, that was when He told me to “shut up.” Actually His exact words to me were: “Be quiet and listen..” 

The church often does an outstanding job at teaching us how to pray. We’re given prayer guides and words like A.C.T.S. to remember “Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving & Supplication.” Prayer warriors and intercessors are lifted up to a place of honor as we covet their articulate extemporaneous prayers while we are far less comfortable with the quiet mystics among us who meditate on God’s word to hear His voice. 

And in America the “doctrine of prosperity” has leaked into and polluted our traditional theology and given rise to our practice of presenting our list of wants, special requests and demands to God as if He were a cosmic vending machine at the ready to do our bidding. 

The prophet Samuel said, “speak God for your servant is listening” and too often we seem to be saying, “Be quiet God, for your servant is speaking.” But God has always desired a two-way conversation between Creator and His creation and He has things He wants you to hear. Let’s just be quiet for awhile and listen.  Amen? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Where Are You On The Zealous Scale?

Dear Friend,

Burger Wrapper – Rev 3:20
Beverage Cups – John 3:16
Milkshake Cups – Proverbs 3:5
Double-Double Wrapper – Nahum 1:7
Water Cups – John 14:6
French Fry Tray – Proverbs 24:16

Rhianna and I had just polished off a gourmet meal catered by In-N-Out. (Yes mom, I know their hamburgers have enough fat and cholesterol to drop a horse, but we really only go there a few times a year.) And so now I’m picking through the wrappings trying to spot the Bible verses. Did you know that In-N-Out was established by a Christian family and even today, every paper container has a Bible reference printed on it in tiny letters and numbers? There it was on the hamburger wrapper: Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Do we really know what is being said here? Well-meaning evangelists and pastors (including this one) have slyly lifted this verse out of context as we use it to encourage non-believers to open the door to Jesus and invite Him into their lives. But while this verse may apply to non-believers, the truth is that Jesus was not talking to them. Go get your Bible and read Revelation 3:14-22 for yourself. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here for you...

Jesus said there’s a closed door between you and Me and I’m waiting for you to invite Me in. And, our Lord is addressing this invitation to believers. To good church-going, believers. Folks like you and me. Christians who were once on fire for the Lord. Believers whose passion for God burned hotly in their spirit. The scriptures came alive for them and they were excited when God’s Word spoke to a specific circumstance or a situation they were struggling with. And then the fire cooled and the passion faded. Their Bible was no longer on the table by their chair, but lived in the back seat of the car where it could be easily found on a Sunday morning in the rush to church. And to apathetic Christians who have become comfortable in their complacency, the words of Jesus are graphic and direct. “..because you are lukewarm..I’m going to vomit you out of My mouth.” Rev 3:16.

Where are you on the “Zealous Scale”? Filled with a burning passion for the Lord with a constant desire to be in His presence? Or hearing the knock of Jesus trying to wake you out of a spiritual slumber before He spits you out? If you don’t like where you’re at, remember that Jesus is not the one who closes doors. And yes, Jesus can kick them open faster than a SWAT team on steroids, but that’s not how the Son of God works. He patiently waits. And he knocks every so often to remind you that He’s still there and waiting for you to reach out and turn the knob.

God allows us to keep the door to our own heart closed with the deadbolt snapped in place if that’s our choice. He will pursue us quietly and relentlessly all the while extending mercies and graces that we don’t deserve. In fact, many times we are not even aware of the favors He has granted us. That’s the mystery of God. Yet the mystery of us is the most puzzling of all. How are we able to remain so complacent in the face of God’s overwhelming love and His goodness to us?

Before Jesus reminds lukewarm church-goers that He’s waiting to be invited back into their lives, He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” Rev 3:19. You know where you are on the “Zealous Scale.” Now, where do you need to be? Are you hearing a faint knocking sound? Reach out for that knob. Repent. Be Zealous. Are you not sure how to get there from here? Give me a call. We’ll go out for a burger and talk about it.  Amen?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

God's Shekinah

Dear Friend,

I wasn’t having a bad week. Really I wasn’t. But I was just feeling spiritually dry. For awhile my prayers had felt shallow and ineffective. I did all the things I know that “work” to bring me into God’s presence and instead of being filled with a spiritual joy, I just felt tired and worn out. I had tried various monastic disciplines and Christian practices that usually help to spiritually recharge my dry, empty soul but this time to no avail. 

Then God showed up on His own. I was in my study one morning working on a sermon while my dog Elysee slept beside my chair. I turned and saw that the morning sun had streamed through the window where a red, stained-glass cross hangs. It was as if God was saying to me, “I’m here with you.” The presence of God and His glory filled my house and I remembered the Story of the Shekinah.

Shekinah“The majestic presence or manifestation of God which has descended to dwell among men."

The Hebrew word “Shekinah” is found in the Bible but the “Story of the Shekinah” comes from mystical Judaism. The Jews returned to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity to  find that King Solomon’s temple, where they had worshiped for 500 years, had been destroyed. The Persian king had conquered Babylonian, and given the Jews special permission to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. Their hope for a renewed civilization on their native soil was at an all time high. They worked hard to rebuild that once magnificent temple but the riches and splendor, available when the original temple was built, were no longer there. When the Jews saw their restored temple they wept in despair. The floors that once glowed with a gold-leaf overlay were now plain stone. The once glorious temple had lost its majestic opulence. As they wept, a dazzling, light-resplendent Presence descended. The Shekinah – God’s personal presence – filled their new humble, modest temple with glory. The people knew they were home and in God’s presence once again. The Shekinah faded out, but God’s glory stayed behind.

The word Shekinah is used to describe God’s illuminating and light-filled presence that brings an awareness of God to a time and a place where God is not expected to be. It’s when God shows up unexpectedly to encourage or affirm. It’s when in the midst of spiritual emptiness, the shadow of the cross glows in a dazzling, brilliant square of sunlight, and God says, “I’m here with you.”

We need the Story of the Shekinah to remind us that in the middle of our humble, modest, disorganized, cluttered, busy and exhausting life, God shows up. In the magnificent temple, the well-worn church building, the small, cramped apartment and in the back alley, God manifests His presence. In the places where we would least expect God to be, He says, “Here I am.” And, during our times of spiritual, dry emptiness, God reminds us that He has been there all along. In the Story of the Shekinah, when God’s presence filled the restored temple, the people lifted up their arms in praise. There is nothing other that we can do in His presence but to give Him our praise.  Amen?